When I broke my back 2.5 years ago, I committed to riding in a vest going forward. Not just for cross country, not even just for jumping, for every ride, every time. While I was on bed rest recovering, I had a lot of time to research just which vest I wanted. While the ASTM system allows manufacturers to follow standards and gives them certification so long as they claim that those standards were followed, the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) actually test their vests. So their standards actually mean something.
BETA has pages and pages of information on how to pick a vest, how to fit a vest, store a vest, everything. I highly recommend anyone interested start there. I don’t think anyone should ride on Cross Country without wearing an appropriate vest. And Tipperary’s are not appropriate vests. I have no problem with Tipperary as a manufacturer and in fact own multiple helmets made by them. But their vests are not up to BETA standards.
Once I’d determined that I was going to get a BETA 2009 vest, I looked at all of the options and compared them. What made me pick the Outlyne? The following features:
1. The customizable fit.
Although I’m tall, I found that the regular sized vests were hitting the cantle of the saddle when I was sitting. I could have gone custom, but the Outlyne has a lot of different sizing options and you can mix and match them to fit your specific body. They have 8 sizes and 4 different lengths for 32 different sizing options. It’s a hell of a lot better than just S-XL. I ended up in an L5 Slim short.
As you wear the vest, the heat from your body will mold the foam and the vest will form itself to your body for a pretty perfect fit. It really only gets ruined by being left in a lump in the freezing cold. Though it’ll come back from that, it’s just uncomfortable at first.
2. It was designed to fit a woman’s body, not a man’s.
Look, women have boobs. Generally, this is a feature, not a flaw so designing riding vests for women as if we don’t have boobs is dumb. And this vest really does fit around my body. I never feel like my chest is being squeezed or the waist is loose beneath my chest. The straps allow me to change the vest slightly as my body/weight changes so it has never not fit me in the almost three years of ownership.
3. It’s washable.
Seriously. You can take the cover off and throw it in the wash. It needs to be babied – washed on delicate and air dried – but it’s so nice to be able to do that. Even if you never fall, your vest is going to get sweaty. And if your husband falls off in the mud and makes your vest look like this…
you can wash it.
How to Wash the Outlyne:
Remove the foam panels.
Separate the parts and then re-velcro the velcro together or cover the velcro with some cloth. Otherwise it’ll grip onto some other part of the vest while in the wash and rip it up.
Wash on delicate – cold only, low spin, short cycle, no fabric softeners, no harsh chemicals, and certainly no bleach. Dry flat. A clothes hanger is great for this.
For any newer readers, I’ll re-tell this story: when I broke my back (every vertebrae in my back except for four) I was riding western and I was going for a short trail ride. I had every excuse people would use for not wearing a helmet, let alone not wearing a vest. I would probably not be alive if I hadn’t been wearing the helmet. It was broken and I had a sever concussion despite the helmet. While I don’t think anyone should ride without a helmet ever, I do not have the same opinion on vests. I wear one because I want to, not because I think everyone should have to. This is my personal choice, not an agenda I’m trying to convince anyone else to follow.
In the almost three years I’ve owned this vest I can count on 2 hands the number of times I’ve ridden without it. Those few occasions are usually quick photo opportunities while standing still. I have also ridden without it for dressage tests at shows. But really, I wear this vest all the time.
Just trail riding? Wearing the vest.
Just flat work? Wearing the vest.
Just riding western? Wearing the vest.
Just tack walking? Wearing the vest.
On Vacation? Wearing the vest.
At a show? Wearing the vest.
I have had hundreds of rides in this vest. So what do I think of it?
I like it a lot. The fit is great. It’s comfortable because of that. It does not interfere with my riding. It can go over a few layers if I need to and it fits under coats if it’s really cold or raining. It even fits under my show coat. It’s not terribly flattering under a show coat, but I can make it happen. Would it pass at a rated hunter show? Probably not, but I don’t show rated hunters, so I don’t care.
The construction is fabulous and the vest is still in pretty good condition for years of intense and often daily use. I don’t try to abuse the vest, but I don’t baby it either: I put it on the ground, I toss it around, I throw it into the trailer, I use it hard. There are some scratched parts of the fabric, but all the seams are intact without any sign of coming part. The velcro that stays put all the time is still as strong as day one, but the velcro over the main zipper which gets done and undone every ride is starting to get a little less sticky.
So what are the cons? It’s heavy and hot as hell. I’ve worn this vest in 100+ degree weather. I’ve done endurance rides and conditioning rides in intense heat. Even when it’s not that bad out, this vest is baking hot. Here’s a shot where you can see a sweat outline created by the vest:
See how even my armpit is dry and the sweat mark is only where the vest touched me? I was able to literally wring out my shirt after this ride. On longer rides, the heaviness of the vest starts weighing on me. Literally. I get shoulder and neck pain. However, this takes a while to happen. I don’t notice this issue in lessons or short arena rides. These vests are designed for people to ride in for cross country. You’re not supposed to be in it for hours. I know that I am an exceptional use case, so I don’t fault the manufacturer for the heat and weight issues, but they do exist.
I have thought about getting a lighter weight vest for trail riding. Since I’m not actually jumping and not going to fall onto a solid cross country jump (though rocks and trees abound) I doubt I need the full BETA protection of the Outlyne. I’ve even thought about getting a Tipperary for endurance rides. My husband has an air vest, but the weight of those is actually comparable to the Outlyne because of the canister. There would be a lot more airflow though.
Would I recommend the Outlyne? Absolutely. The quality and fit is amazing. The price is really very reasonable for the amount of use you can get out of it. In addition to actually helping in a few minor falls (yes the vest was checked for damage and it was fine) the confidence that the vest gives me is valuable on its own. I know some people have purchased them in custom colors. I might do that for my next one. And yes, unless some new, better technology comes along, I will probably be getting another one.
I’d love to hear what other people think of vests. Do you use one? If so, what for? What brand would you recommend?
I have this vest too! It's quite bulky but made me realize how shockingly inadequate my old Tipperary is! I've not worn it enough for it to mold to me I don't think, but I feel very protected in it. The technology has come along way in vests (not just the hit air ones!). Great post
how clever is that washable feature?!? i pretty much only wear my vest on cross country (tho there have been a few rides where i didn't have it with me…) but recently upgraded from a tipperary to a harry hall zeus (beta level 3 certified). haven't worn the harry hall yet other than to try it out, but the difference between it and the tipp is CRAZY. hopefully i'll be able to do a full review of it sooner rather than later (whenever the weather cooperates enough to actually get out on xc!)
I guess I have not yet been persuaded that vests would really help stabilize the spine in case of an accident. I think they are excellent tools to disperse the shock of an impact to help blunt trauma, and to prevent against sharp objects like a stick or stone that you might encounter while riding out. You'd need a true exoskeleton style vest – I think they do make some, for racing and whatnot – to really help prevent spinal impact.
I wear a vest when jumping cross-country. That's basically it. I wear a helmet for every ride. Like you, I think that everyone, no matter what, should be wearing a helmet, but vest-wearing should be up to an individual and his or her own risk assessment.
What a great write up! I wear a vest when jumping cross-country, but that's it. I'll have to look into the Outlyne; the idea of a vest that accommodates boobs is really appealing!
I don't think they would stabilize the spine. My back injury was fractures to all of the wing bones – I forget the actual term for these – on my vertebrae. So I didn't have any spine damage and having this vest on probably would have prevented those breaks. I think of them like helmets for your torso.
I know. It's such a shocking concept.
It is pretty bulky, but I've gotten used to it at this point.
Yes. The washable feature is absolutely the best idea.
Thanks for the excellent review! I've been eyeballing this vest ever since I relatively recently became aware of my tipperary's woeful inadequacy. The general bulkiness/hotness of it had me worried – though I know that essentially everything safer than a Tipp is going to be bulkier/have less airflow – but it's really nice to know that it isn't completely unbearable, even wearing it for such long stretches of time! If you can handle it for hours in the 100 degree CA heat, I think I'll be ok during an XC schooling in MA!
Exactly. It's hot and annoying, but I've survived 25 mile rides in 100 degree weather in it, so I'm sure you can make it around XC in it. I do wish someone would make a decent one that isn't sweltering.
I am hoping to purchase a beta level 3 vest this year. I love all of the points you make and it is very informative. This will most likely be one of the contenders!
It really is a great vest for the purposes of fit and protection.
I've never used one of these before, but they might be nice to have with working with younger horses. Love your mule by the way! My boyfriend really wants one and I've been a bit hesitant! Are they pretty easy to work with?
God No! I would not get a mule unless you know what you're doing with horses. You might be able to get an older ex-packstring mule that would be well-behaved, but young, fit mules are difficult to train and can be very dangerous. I've been incredibly lucky that Nilla is fairly easy for a mule. And she is not easy. Just easy for a mule.
Oh, the washable feature would be SUPER important I'd think!
It really is. I can't imagine not being able to wash it. And since the foam inside isn't supposed to get wet, it's not like you could turn a hose on it.
I love this post. When I got my baby horse I rode him the first several rides with the vest, and now I always jump with it. ALWAYS. I didn't even have a serious injury I just am too worried I will and even if it's purely a mental thing on my part why WOULDN'T I want to feel safer?
How do you ride in it at shows? I compete mostly at events so the stadium is right before the xc and I can wear the vest, however eventually I'll be at a show where I have to ride in a jacket. Do you wear it over the jacket?
I also have the aeroware. It's the only one that accounts for le boobeez 😉
My show coat is large enough that I can wear it over the vest. It's not a really attractive look, but it works. It's not that you look fat, it's more like bulky. My friend commented that I looked like Trunchbull from Matilda. I don't show rated hunters so I don't know the rules. I'd guess it wouldn't be allowed or at least the judge would place you low, but I can't imagine it would matter in eventing.
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