Hunting Vests Create an Emerging Market
- March 8, 2017
- By Brian Lovett
Years ago, hunters regarded vests as a one-function piece of apparel, handy for carrying a squirrel or, in orange, some grouse or pheasants.
But vests, much like the modern outdoors-lifestyle scene, have expanded considerably. In fact, the many modern variants of vests represent one of the hottest trends in the industry. And if you examine the phenomenon closely, it’s easy to see why.
“I think people wear vests because they are comfortable,” said John Gordon, who handles media and public relations for Banded Holdings and Avery Outdoors, which offers upland, waterfowl and lifestyle vests. “They are great from fall to spring, so we build vests that are light and offer a warmth level for cool conditions. It’s also a layer that’s easy to remove when the weather warms during the day. They are great for fishing too, leaving your arms free for casting. People look for convenient storage, core warmth and convenience in a vest.”
Dave Larsen, vice president of Gamehide, a multi-faceted outdoor apparel company in Burnsville, Minnesota, agreed. Gamehide offers a ladies’ vest, two youth models, four blaze safety vests and three in the camo-layering category, and Larsen said that versatility has caught on with consumers.
“Most seasoned outdoorsman and women know how useful a good vest can be for warmth without adding excess bulk,” he said. “Hand-warmer pockets and the chest pockets are popular features on these vests, too, and our Reversible Deer Camp vest has been a steady favorite for years. It reverses from camo to blaze orange, making it the perfect layer for any season. Today’s fabrics and insulations have made these layering vests even less bulky and more comfortable. The synthetic downs that are now available perform great in the field, as they are extremely lightweight and packable and not affected by moisture like real down. I always pack one of these in my backpack when I’m on Western hunts.”
But the increasing interest in vests isn’t just a reaction to specialized hunting needs. Gordon pointed to the style and everyday function vests provide for general outdoors enthusiasts.
“Lifestyle is where the emerging market is,” he said. “Banded has five models: the Reversible, Redfield Quilted, Lined Heathered, Vintage and solid-color Agassiz. Vests are fashionable and functional, so we have seen a definite popularity increase.
“Our lifestyle line has quite a few vests, as they are popular for hiking, camping and general wear. I use one often. It’s perfect as a core layer that doesn’t restrict arm movement.”
The growing fondness for vests seems to be consistent across the country, too. A recent Google Trends revealed that Mississippi is the top state for people who searched for “hunting vest.” Montana was second, followed by West Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Alabama and Kentucky.
Top related search queries included orange hunting vests at No. 1, followed by hunting vests for dogs, upland birds, turkeys, birds, doves and squirrels. Of course, manufacturers have taken note.
“Blaze safety vests are growing in popularity,” Larsen said. “They have been the choice of Western big-game hunters for years, but as deer hunters moved away from doing deer drives, many Midwestern and Northeastern hunters, who traditionally wore blaze from head to toe, are opting to wear their camo outfits with a blaze vest. Handy shell loops for both rifle and shotgun slugs are a great to have, and we even include a built-in tunnel-style hand-warmer pocket on our Mountain Pass Extreme vest, along with a back accessory pouch for gutting gloves, deer drags and other useful gear. We added pack straps last year, so it’s really easy to strap on a jacket while you hike to your stand. Vertical zippered chest pockets have become really popular on all hunting garments for handy storage and access to your cell phone.”
Larsen said manufacturers tailor vests specifically to various genres, making them more appealing to many customers with specific needs.
“Most upland hunters prefer a vest, but a catalog often overlooked by retailers is the small-game guys hunting rabbits and squirrels,” he said. “This category of hunters, along with dove hunters, prefer a camo vest with shell pockets and blood-proof game bags. Most bird hunters prefer to have some blaze orange for safety. You’ll see some cheaper vests out there that either use coated fabrics (which don’t breathe well and cause one to overheat and get sweaty), or they fail to put coating in the game bag to prevent moisture and blood from soaking through. Front-loading game bags are another popular feature that allows the hunter to quickly stash a bird, squirrel or rabbit so they are ready for the next one. We always include the larger rear game bag as well, since you can carry more game on the back, and it’s more comfortable if you are carrying several harvested critters. Many of these hunters are using dogs, so specialty pockets made to keep your e-collar controls handy and secure are popular. We like to include tie-off loops on our full-feature vests so we can tie a safety strap to your e-collar for extra security as you bust through thick cover.”
Likewise, Gordon said Banded’s waterfowl line — which includes the Atchafalaya and Agassiz vests, which are in the mid-layer category — are specialized for the needs of duck and goose hunters. Both vests are warm and water-resistant, making them ideal for a cold-weather layer or use with a pullover or long-sleeved shirt. The company also offers a versatile Big Stone Oxford Upland Vest, with an easy-grab shell system and multiple storage pockets.
Comfort, function, versatility and style — it’s no wonder vests are hot. And with consumers and manufacturers getting on board, the trend will likely continue.
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