For as long as I’ve ventured afield in search of whatever nature might wish to show me, I’ve gone fully vested. That is to say, I’ve worn a field vest. Not that I have anything against day packs or shoulder bags, mind you; I just find that vests (or as my British friends call them, waistcoats) allow me to carry what I need in a way that allows me easy access to all of it while still letting me move about with a feeling of being unencumbered.
Not surprisingly, I’ve sported quite a few different field vests over the course of my years. My closet presently holds two Royal Robbins Field Guide vests that I quite like, Filson‘s Travel vest as well as their much coveted but long-since discontinued photojournalist vest (which I could likely now sell on eBay for twice what I paid for it), a truly exquisite Ventile® Country Innovation Kestrel (also sadly no longer available – though I doubt I shall ever be able to wear it out to the point of needing to replace it) and that same firm’s much lighter weight Venture. While I have tended to switch between these as conditions and whim dictate, over the past couple of years I have tended toward the Kestrel in the cooler months and the Venture in the warmer ones.
However recently a bit of news from Country Innovation caught my attention; they were bringing out a new vest, the Raptor, to fill the empty space in their stock list formerly occupied by their famous Kestrel model. I thought this curious as the Kestrel was as close to a perfect field vest as I could image. (It’s discontinuation was not brought about by any flaw in its design or construction but rather by the rising cost and extremely long wear-life of Ventile®.) As I said, my curiosity was piqued.
I contacted Country Innovation and placed an order for one of these new Raptor waistcoats thinking to put it through it’s paces, and if thus found worthy to write about it in a field gear review. The fact that you’re reading this now should give you a clue that I did indeed find it worthy, both for reasons I had expected as well as a few I didn’t.
First off, the Raptor is not made of the same Ventile® as the Kestrel was – but then neither is it the same premium price as the Kestrel was either. Made of peat-brown (and highly variable with various hues of green also noticeable according to light conditions) colored Rip-Tec, a very durable, military grade fabric with tight square weave that is surprisingly lightweight for its stoutness, the Raptor takes its essential silhouette and design from the Kestrel. However Country Innovation’s designers added a few things to the Raptor that I have long thought would have been nice to have in my Kestrel.
Like the Kestrel, the Raptor features two capacious chest flapped pockets and two even larger lower front flapped pockets suitable for carrying everything from notebooks and field guides to binoculars and camera gear. The two lower front pockets are given even more capacity as the result of having elastic sections at the top of their side panels so that they can expend if needed yet remain close to the wearer’s body when less carrying capacity is required. Behind these two lower pockets are hand warmer pockets, and – true to all the Country Innovation’s waistcoats I have ever seen – inside the lower pockets are zippered security pockets.
At chest level, behind each of the large chest pockets are zippered vertical slash pockets that I find quite handy for a mobile telephones, smaller notebooks, or other small items I want to keep secure. Inside the left chest pocket sits a pair of pen pockets – the very addition for which I have many times considered taking my Kestrel to a tailor to see if they could be added. And what’s more, rather than be at pocket-top level, these pen pockets are set slightly lower to allow the chest pocket flap to close naturally rather than being forced over the top of the pen or pencil. (It’s this very type of attention to detail and knowledge of how their customers will be using their products that has long since fostered in me a great respect for Country Innovation and made the small amount of extra work to acquire their clothing here in the U.S. so very much worth the effort.)
Rounding out the storage capacity of the Raptor, there are two lower interior zip-top pockets with a smaller strap closure pocket on top of the one on the right (Country Innovation refers to this as a “communication pocket” as it is intended for a mobile telephone but it also works very well for other small items such as pocket cameras, battery packs, or GPS units), an interior rear pocket large enough to carry a rain poncho or other similar gear in, and a large exterior flap closure pocket suitable for any other large items not already stowed in the other fourteen pockets.
Then, of course, there are the utility features offered by the Raptor. The Country Innovation designers carried over the stout snap closure shoulder epaulets (absolutely essential for anything to be carried by a strap over the shoulder) and the lightly padded shoulders (tripods get heavy after a while) from the Kestrel design. And, of course, as the Raptor is a County Innovation product, it has a pleated back for extra freedom of movement, side adjustment tabs for tapering in the fit if needed (not something particularly relevant to my rather ursine physique), and a generous collar to protect the wearer’s neck from both camera or binocular straps as well as chilly winds or burning sun.
A quick observation regarding the sizing of the Raptor: they run a bit small and trim. My XXL Raptor fits a bit more snuggly than my Kestrel of the same size. Therefore I suggest purchasing one size larger than you otherwise might – even if this means opting for the XXXL model.
As a dedicated Kestrel-wearer, I have to say that I am quite impressed with Country Innovation’s new Raptor. In fact, I liked it so much that I added the logo to it of the firm for which I’m a product manager – Celestron – and on behalf of which I make dozens of appearances at birding and natural history events throughout the year. It looks just smart enough for wearing while chatting with people in an event hall and at the same time I know that it’s every bit up to the task of being loaded up for leading a field trip at the same event the following morning (or just sneaking off before or after hours for a bit of solitary rambling afield).