A useful travel vest that won't make me look like my father-in-law?
March 24, 2007 11:15 AM   Subscribe

We're traveling abroad for the first time this year (UK, Ireland). My wife has decided that she doesn't want me carrying bags (camera, book, etc.) around with me when we're sight-seeing. She wants me to wear a vest like this one. I admit that all of the pockets are cool, but I'm not that keen on the idea otherwise. I think the vest looks dumb. And I doubt its practicability. What can you tell me about travel vests? Are they useful? What should I look for when shopping for one? Can I get one that actually looks good? Is durable and comfortable? I haven't checked my Filson catalog yet, but that's my next stop.
posted by jdroth to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (53 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Filson does have a travel vest, but of course, being Filson, it costs twice as much. I have no idea how to evaluate these things...
posted by jdroth at 11:29 AM on March 24, 2007

As somebody who has been traveling, living and working in various parts of the world for most of my life, I can tell you that wearing a travel vest like that is a BAD idea. Mainly, none of the natives are going to be wearing something like that, and you'll stick out like a sore thumb.

Why is your wife objecting to bags? Is she objecting to specific types of bags? If you need to carry around stuff, a fairly unobtrusive way to do so would be to carry around a courier bag or one of those nylon briefcases sold by places like Eddie Bauer. You'll still be able to haul stuff while not advertising to the world that you're a tourist.
posted by needled at 11:33 AM on March 24, 2007

Oh, yuk. I don't think you'll be able to get one that looks good. Why doesn't your wife want you to carry a bag? Suggest to her that you'll wear one of these if she gives up her purse.
posted by sfkiddo at 11:34 AM on March 24, 2007

How about cargo pants? Lots of pockets but more style than the vest.
posted by gfrobe at 11:37 AM on March 24, 2007

Response by poster: Needled, I have a Filson courier bag already (I'm a Filson junkie), and that's what I'd planned to carry with me. I'm not sure why my wife is so sold on this vest idea.
posted by jdroth at 11:37 AM on March 24, 2007

What type of sightseeing is involved?
If it's urban sightseeing, think for a minute - would you wear a vest like that to New York City or Washington, D.C.?
I guess if you'll be sticking to outdoorsy stuff then the vest might make sense.
posted by needled at 11:45 AM on March 24, 2007

What would you take if you were going to walk around all day in a nearby US city? Take that. Unless you're going to go hiking all the time in the UK and Ireland, there's no need to change your bags just because you'll be going somewhere else. But please don't take a vest -- I agree that it'll make you stand out instantly as a tourist.
posted by suedehead at 11:45 AM on March 24, 2007

You're going to obviously be tourists anyway, so I wouldn't let that factor in. I agree the vest looks daft, and what I'd be worried about is all the postcards/local crafts/magazines/etc that you inevitably pick up aong the way when you're travelling. If you're going to end up carrying multiple carrier bags (which you have to pay for in Ireland) you may as well have a nice little daypack. Also it looks like it would be uncomfortable to carry camera, guide book, and all else I'd need in that vest; daypacks will take the load off your back.
posted by jamesonandwater at 11:49 AM on March 24, 2007

Maybe your wife hates you and is trying to get you mugged? There is no way to wear a vest with that many pockets and not stick out.
posted by Loto at 11:49 AM on March 24, 2007

I'm not sure I understand why your wife has an aversion to bags.

Does she feel that you'll look like tourists? I just returned from the UK, and I assure you that Britons carry bags too. There are plenty of ordinary, simple, stylish bags you can carry without drawing attention to yourself. Britons don't generally wear ridiculous-looking travel vests (in their home country, at least).
posted by Count Ziggurat at 11:54 AM on March 24, 2007

Criminals that prey on tourists (pickpockets, scam artists, etc) will be able to spot you with or without the vest. But WITH the vest, it'll be like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

A daypack is also a target, so whichever option you choose, keep the real valuables (wallet, passport) in a safer location than a big, roomy cargo pocket.
posted by frogan at 11:57 AM on March 24, 2007

I'll echo the previous poster who questioned what, exactly, needed to be carried around. Besides a camera and a guidebook - which could easily fit into either her handbag or a little shoulder bag or something of yours - what would you be carrying that couldn't fit into pockets?
posted by mdonley at 12:11 PM on March 24, 2007

Maybe you are going into lots of museums and places where you have to check your bags and your wife is impatient?

There is a website called Cool Tools that I read. It mentioned a travel presentation Jacket once at this site so I did a search for vests:
Duluth Trading
It's too bad they use drawings instead of pictures but there are several options here. Some specifically for hot weather and one with an ipod pocket.

Personally I'd buy a real slim digital camera and just cut the pages out of the travel book for the day.
posted by hokie409 at 12:11 PM on March 24, 2007

you will pick up stuff like leaflets, cards, guidebooks etc. but you may also be carrying stuff like water bottles and snacks as they are vastly overpriced in the tourist shops - take a bag and forget about the vest!
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:13 PM on March 24, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. You've re-affirmed that my gut reaction was correct on this one. It's not often that I'm right and my wife is wrong, but it does happen sometimes!
posted by jdroth at 12:23 PM on March 24, 2007

Think about a sports coat or blazer, they've got lots of pockets, and instead of looking touristy, you'll look classy.
posted by tew at 12:40 PM on March 24, 2007

I Love Tilly's stuff - a shoulder bag can be worn slung across the chest. Quite difficult to 'stach & grab'. Otherwise, yeah, cargo pants are awesome.

Some pants have 'inside pockets' that will fit identification/money in such a way as to make it very difficult to a) detect, and b) pickpocket.
posted by porpoise at 12:43 PM on March 24, 2007

As one of the natives, I can confirm that those vests would scream 'tourist' (and more specifically 'wealthy American tourist') in any British town or city. I can understand not wanting to carry a bag, though. I second gfrobe's cargo pants suggestion. I've found that Craghopper trousers are perfect for travelling and sightseeing - plenty of pockets for your guidebook, notebook, (small) camera, passports, tickets etc. and concealed pockets for cash and cards.

If your wife is a Monty Python fan maybe telling her that Michael Palin swears by Craghopper trousers for his travels would sway her.
posted by boosh at 12:47 PM on March 24, 2007

thanks for the heads up on the "Craghopper" pants-- I went to Steepplanet.com and thought they looked cool--- but I am nonplussed by a phrase on the site: "...if you want to boulder..."
How do I "boulder"?
Do they mean climbing large rocks?
Something else?
Dictionary.com told me only that it was a stone and a town in Colorado.
Please advise.
posted by Dizzy at 12:57 PM on March 24, 2007

posted by MsMolly at 1:07 PM on March 24, 2007

Do you end up giving the bags to your wife to carry after a while, and that's why she's trying to make you wear a vest instead? I think it does make sense to try to figure out her motivations here, because it does seem like a weird request. Maybe there's a way to make sure she gets what she wants without having you look like an 84-year-old black-socked photographer. :)
posted by occhiblu at 1:12 PM on March 24, 2007

what ever happened to a plain ol' backpack? as you walk around, you'll be buying little souvenirs, so you'll need something to carry those in, too. plus you'll probably want to carry an umbrella, a bottle of water, maybe even a snack. a backpack is unassuming, even if carried by an adult. use a safety pin to secure the zippers, and keep your emergency money and passports in a security wallet that straps to your calf, if you don't feel safe leaving them in the hotel safe. (keep a xerox of your passport to carry on your person)

i would avoid the vest like the plague--it will draw pickpockets to you as quickly as a fannypack will. save it for a fishing trip.

also, in my experience, people will respond to you differently (better) if you maintain a modicum of sophistication in your dress. leave the bermuda shorts and the t-shirts with goofy slogans at home. wear button-down shirts or polos with khakis, cargo pants, or jeans. that way you won't feel out of place if you decide to go somewhere nice, you'll look good in all your pictures, and the people whose country you are visiting will appreciate your efforts. business-casual, i guess you could call it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:14 PM on March 24, 2007

Many professional photographers love vests, they keep things close at hand and don't count as a carry on if you wear it.

There are options that aren't completely dorkish.
posted by Mitheral at 1:29 PM on March 24, 2007

Tilley makes some respectable-looking travel clothing with pockets aplenty; many are non-cargo, normal-looking things with 'hidden' pockets.

I think those vests are sold only for politicians. Really -- far too easy to spot the man who made the mistake...
posted by kmennie at 1:36 PM on March 24, 2007

Go to an upper-end department store and get a men's messenger bag made from a nice leather. Tod's makes a good bag without the logos that plague other designers. You'll look like an adult (I think a lot of messenger bags look tacky after say, 25) and you won't look like a doofus. I would go for higher quality leather, something that will withstand the abuse of travel. Most are also padded and have some sort of protection on the inside, along with the ability to discretely lock from the inside.

I like backpacks, but it can come across as unprofessional (which really isn't an issue when traveling), but isn't really secure unless you lock them, which is somewhat inconvenient.

And you'll have much more space than in a vest.
posted by geoff. at 1:44 PM on March 24, 2007

Why are they vests anyway? It makes a bit of sense for fishing or photography, where you want your arms free, but you don't need that for travel.

Does anyone make a jacket version?
posted by smackfu at 2:09 PM on March 24, 2007

I have to say, as a native of the islands you are planning to visit, that vest would make you look like an American tourist. Whilst true, this is probably not your aim. We're not all Fagin's apprentices. Don't assume you're going to get your pockets picked or your bag snatched. Indeed, there is nothing more likely to make this fear come true than dressing in totally obvious tourist gear designed to deter pickpockets. Maybe we like a challenge or something...

Overthinking these things is almost always a mistake. One year I went to the Glastonbury festival, totally convinced I was going to get my stuff stolen. So I took a money belt. The reason I remember this is because some grebo kid chased me half way across the site to give the belt back to me after it fell off.
posted by handee at 2:17 PM on March 24, 2007

Please do not carry a bottle of water around European cities. You will get robbed.
posted by dydecker at 2:17 PM on March 24, 2007

Backpacks can be a bit obnoxious on crowded public transit, because you're less likely to move them around to make space for your fellow passengers. If you wear a backpack, I'd recommend taking it off on the tube.
posted by craichead at 2:18 PM on March 24, 2007

Bottle of water? Robbed? That's crap. I've lived my entire life in European cities, and hey, we get thirsty too.
posted by handee at 2:20 PM on March 24, 2007

Datapoint: The only person I've ever known to repeatedly wear a cargo vest was tremendously lame in many ways.

Correlation does not imply causation, but I'm just saying.

In all seriousness, get a good rucksack or messenger bag. I'm personally a fan of earthpak, but my girlfriend swears by timbuktu. Depending on your age and/or the level of apparant sophistication you're shooting for, geoff is probably onto something too.
posted by Alterscape at 2:31 PM on March 24, 2007

When I was travelling in Asia, my tour guide referred to those as `paedophile vests'. Apparently they were mostly worn by creepy looking men who didn't appear to be in town for sight seeing purposes.

No offence meant to those who own and regularly wear their creepy vest.
posted by tomble at 2:35 PM on March 24, 2007

I have one of these. I tend to wear it only when I'm out and about explicitly for the purposes of photography and in situations where looking like a dork doesn't really matter. It's incredibly practical and useful, it has to be said, which is why lots of photographers like them, despite the dorkiness. I have to admit, when I use mine, the utility soon outshines the looking-a-complete-prat factor. But I am a dork, and probably a prat.
posted by normy at 3:03 PM on March 24, 2007

If you wear that vest, or any vest like it, you will essentially have a bright, blinking "DUMB TOURIST" sign on your body. You aren't going to the antarctic, or to a rain forest, or to rescue a fair maiden from an underground lair. You are going to two first world countries, from a first world country. Wear and carry the same kind of things you would at home. So, depending on your personal sense of style, let that be a small backpack, or a messenger bag, or (I can't beleive I'm saying this, but it's better than the vest) a fanny-pack.

But please, no vest. If you aren't concerned about the dorkiness of looking like a stupid tourist, then at least be concerned with the fact that your blatant touristy-ness will make you an instant target for theives and unscrupulous cab drivers.

Why doesn't your wife want you to carry a bag, anyway?
posted by Kololo at 3:20 PM on March 24, 2007

The only people who can wear one of those vests and actually look cool are journalists in war zones. When you go on holiday in Darfur or Iraq, take the vest along. But for your UK trip, wear cargo pants.
posted by HotPatatta at 3:23 PM on March 24, 2007

You'll end up looking like a dotty old BBC reporter, like the one I saw at a political protest in Kathmandu. Not the best way to blend in.
posted by AArtaud at 3:32 PM on March 24, 2007

If she doesn't want you to look like a tourist, that vest would be the exact opposite of what she wants you to look like.
posted by wfc123 at 3:32 PM on March 24, 2007

Erm, you'll be quite obvious as tourist no matter what. Not only will your clothes not match (with or without the vest), you don't speak the language. And you're walking around gawking with a camera and bags.

So I'd say there's no point in avoiding the vest if it would be helpful. There's no advantage by not wearing it. The question of whether there is something to be gained by wearing it up to you.

Actually though, if you're going to be touring Ireland, what you want for outerwear is a good raincoat.
posted by jellicle at 4:03 PM on March 24, 2007

As Mitheral mentioned, the Scottevests aren't too bad as far as the dork factor (although I look like a dork anyway, it's not because of the vest), and they hold a lot of stuff without it looking like you have an abnormal number of pockets, unless of course you have it packed so full that you look like a fat person who swallowed a bunch of gear. ;)
posted by wierdo at 4:13 PM on March 24, 2007

Erm, you'll be quite obvious as tourist no matter what... you don't speak the language.

I suspect that an American in the UK would, in fact, speak the language. Maybe not well, but we do manage some rudimentary form of it here, too.

posted by occhiblu at 4:25 PM on March 24, 2007

Don't carry your whole guidebook around with you everywhere. Copy or cut out the relevant pages and then just carry those with you.
posted by grouse at 4:35 PM on March 24, 2007

Seems to me she just wants you to become her human purse. I could use me one of those, actually. I hate carrying stuff.

If you want to stand out as "a tourist traveling abroad for the first time" then wear the vest... and be sure to wear white tennis shoes with white socks as well. The fact is, there are many times where the vest will be TOTALLY out of place. For example, you decide to go to a play in London, let's say. Not a lot of vest wearers in there. I mean, would you wear a vest every day of your REAL life? No. Just because you're on holiday in another country doesn't mean that you should suddenly start dressing lame. Quite the opposite, people in the UK dress quite nicely.

Personally, I like to have one or two fashionable & sporty little travel totes that blend into any scenario. One bigger, one smaller that is better for slightly fancier things. I pick which one to carry with me depending on where I'm going and how much I want to drag along with me.

And I nth the suggestion of tearing your guidebooks apart... I just rip out the pages about wherever I'm going to be that day and throw them away when I'm done.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:30 PM on March 24, 2007

Erm, you'll be quite obvious as tourist no matter what. Not only will your clothes not match (with or without the vest), you don't speak the language. And you're walking around gawking with a camera and bags...

Actually though, if you're going to be touring Ireland, what you want for outerwear is a good raincoat.

I'll agree that you might need a raincoat depending on the season. But they do sell them there. I wouldn't bring one. Anything you forget in the States? I can guarantee you will be very readily available and no doubt easily found in a store in the U.K. And nine out of ten times when I've forgotten something I end up realizing I never needed it anyhow.

But as far as not speaking the language & having clothes not match? Wow.

Hey jellicle, we are all trying to help the poster together so that's very cool. I'm just curiously wondering what travel experiences your advice was coming from (if you've been to the UK and had a problem understanding the accents or something?). Unless he's heading to Northern Ireland where the accents are thick, those issues probably won't be a problem for him. English originated in that part of the world before coming to North America, so it's even more their native language than it is in the U.S. or Canada.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:50 PM on March 24, 2007

The last couple of jean jackets I've bought have big inside pockets in addition to the regular chest pockets and handwarmer pockets. You can stow a lot of gear in one of those, and not look too odd.

As far as the argument that "nobody wears those vests where you're going" - it depends. They aren't that uncommon on Beijing residents, for instance. No, a huge percentage of Chinese men don't wear them, but some do. I didn't see mothers scooping up their children when such men appeared, nor clouds of pickpockets following them around, either.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:04 PM on March 24, 2007

FYI, he's going to the UK & Ireland, Kirth.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:52 PM on March 24, 2007

occhiblu and miss lynster, I think jellicle is somewhat figuratively making the point that even if jdroth manages to look so much like a native that few could tell the difference, people will still be able to tell that he's not from around these parts as soon as he opens his mouth.
posted by grouse at 6:59 PM on March 24, 2007

miss lynnster, I did read the question. My second graph was responding mostly to this:
As somebody who has been traveling, living and working in various parts of the world for most of my life, I can tell you that wearing a travel vest like that is a BAD idea. Mainly, none of the natives are going to be wearing something like that, and you'll stick out like a sore thumb.
If the comment did not imply that a pocket vest would cause sore-thumb syndrome everywhere, then I misread it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:17 PM on March 24, 2007

Slap me around with a Baedecker and make me fly coach, but what is soooo wrong about "sticking out like a sore thumb"?
I travel to have fun and learn more and meet interesting human beings, not to camoflage myself in some desperate attempt to fool the local people so they won't hurt me.
I'm all for "personal reinvention", but wear what you would wear in your own town, and just be yourself.
posted by Dizzy at 7:34 PM on March 24, 2007

I travel to have fun and learn more and meet interesting human beings, not to camoflage myself in some desperate attempt to fool the local people so they won't hurt me.

First, you aren't going to be able to fool the local people completely, so that's not the point. But blending in will help you "learn more and meet interesting human beings," as some will want to avoid you if you are screaming "ugly American" in your outfit and manner. People in the country you are visiting want to meet interesting human beings as well, but if you obviously fit stereotype of an obnoxious North American tourist then they might decide you aren't that interesting.

You might want to say "forget those people, they've got no right to expect me to dress differently" but part of "learning more" is learning that the cultural norms are different as well. These are much more interesting to learn than the sort of things you could learn by reading a guidebook or Wikipedia at home.

There's a compromise—I'd blend in better and look better without a backpack, but I'm still going to wear it because I'd rather avoid the shoulder pain inherent in a messenger bag or the like. But still, the more I blend in, the more likely people are going to want to talk with me, and the less likely I will stand out like a sore thumb as the clueless person who is an easy mark for pickpocketing or a scam. (I said you wouldn't be able to hide completely, but the scammers might go after someone who looks much more clueless.)
posted by grouse at 4:16 AM on March 26, 2007

The travel vest is more for if you are going on Safari. It's not going to help you carry anything you buy, and other than that, how much do you need to carry? The only thing you should carry around is your wallet, in my opinion. I would use a backpack.
posted by xammerboy at 7:51 AM on March 26, 2007

If you're going to get one, go for something quality like the Domke. Pro photographers swear by these because they can stand up to the abuse and load of heavy camera gear. They will make you stand out as much as carrying a bag though.
posted by JJ86 at 8:00 AM on March 26, 2007

I take your thoughtful points.
I'd hoped the legacy of the "Ugly American" died with NASCAR fanny packs, Bermuda shorts and black socks with Birks, but then I realized I haven't been out of the country in years.
posted by Dizzy at 9:47 AM on March 26, 2007

It boils down to this: in London, Dublin, and most of the other places on your likely list, you'd be walking around some of the most pickpocket- and mugger-heavy areas of the UK and Ireland.

Wearing something which marks you out as an American tourist to the exact same degree as if you were goose-stepping around town waving the flag and screaming the national anthem at the top of your lungs.

I mean... just... *exasperated*

Add me to the more-or-less-unanimous local chorus saying that from a personal safety point of view, what your wife is suggesting is nothing more or less than a fucking stupid idea.
posted by genghis at 5:12 PM on March 26, 2007

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