Trade-offs. Like most everything in life, you have to base choices you make off of the advantages and disadvantages of alternate decisions.
When it comes to snowmobiling, often we make decisions based on safety, protection or convenience. We choose whether we carry avalanche gear in our backpacks or strap it to our sleds. We choose if we wear chest protectors or avi packs. Sometimes, we even choose whether we dress for warmth, comfort or convenience.
All of these choices come with some sort of trade-off. Some make sense. Some don’t. But these are the choices we make.
Although most snowmobilers ponder the advantages and disadvantages associated with each trade-off, not all choices fit the needs of all snowmobilers.
For some, it would be nice to ride with a chest protector all the time … but when you also ride with a backpack, you find your movement restricted to the point that you may actually need a chest protector because your ability to control your sled is compromised. However, if you eliminate one or the other (chest protector vs. backpack), your mobility isn’t compromised. So what do you leave behind—avi gear or personal safety?
We have found a product that tends to alleviate this quandary.
TekVest has created the Outback, a backcountry vest featuring protective body armor that covers your upper torso and is designed to accommodate your backpack and storage needs.
It is neck brace friendly, can accommodate your current avalanche backpack and features all those things presently incorporated in chest protectors. It is designed to be worn over your jacket. But this isn’t the best thing about the Outback. It is also designed to allow you to attach modular storage compartments, including a Mountain Pack capable of carrying your avi gear.
In all, the Outback can accommodate the TekVest Mountain Pack, a center pouch (that has three separate compartments), two side pouches and an integrated heating system (heats the front and side panels of the vest).
This past spring we were able to get one of the first vests produced for some on-the-snow testing. It took a little bit of adjusting to get a comfortable fit … but once we got the straps adjusted for a specific rider, we found that it was extremely comfortable and not too cumbersome, considering you wearing a combined chest protector, front pack and backpack. We also found that it provided enough protection from the elements that we could wear a lightweight jacket to help with rider mobility.
On our first ride, we used all the optional storage pouches—backpack, front pouch and side pouches. This provided ample room for storage, including our shovel and avi probes, extra goggles, gloves, water and lunch. It made for a heavy vest, but not much heavier than a full backpack.
But with the front and side pouches, the Outback did put a little bit of bulk that competed for space between one’s chest and handle bars. And the side bags were actually a little small for practical usage.
On our second ride, we removed the side pouches and found that helped streamline the vest a little and eliminate some of its weight. And we also found that we really didn’t miss the storage reduction.
Although the front storage compartment still had a tendency to make contact with the bars, several times putting some unexpected pressure on the throttle, it didn’t restrict mobility.
Perhaps the best thing about the Outback vest is that it’s designed to be versatile and meet the needs of the user. It’s not a “One-size-fits-all” product, but rather something that will adapt to the user’s needs depending on the riding conditions.
The base model Outback retails for $489. Backpack ($139), front pack ($79), side packs ($79) and integrated heating system ($199) are all sold separately. For more information, check out www.tekvest.com.