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Vanguard ICS Vest Review

Vanguard ICS System

Not long ago I wrote a review of the Vanguard ICS Photography Belt & Harness System, which really impressed me and made for an alternative, lighter and less cumbersome way to carry my binoculars and photography equipment whilst on safari.

But because I had not ordered it, I didn’t get to test and review the ICS vest that can also be used with the rest of the ICS collection. My thinking at the time being that with the amount of gear that I used, the Vest was not necessary. This in a way, is part of the beauty of the ICS System – you can mix and match the different belts, bags, harnesses and vests until you get a setup that works for you and your equipment.

Vanguard ICS Vest

I have now also acquired the ICS vest and thought to finish off my Vanguard ICS review properly, I should write about it and give you my thoughts and opinions:

I guess the ICS Vest is intended for photojournalists and sports photographers who require quick access to their equipment, which also means that it has the potential to make an ideal photographers vest for travel and safaris.

Unlike most standard photography jackets or vests that come all in one, the Vanguard ICS Vest actually consists of two parts, the ICS Harness that hangs on your shoulders, which is then threaded through and attached to the “webbing” that fits around your body. It can be used just like this, or if you want you can attach the ICS belt (sold separately) and a variety of camera and lens cases (also sold separately) to the vest and belt to suit your particular requirements.

On the Vest there are a variety of fastening points where you can securely hold your camera even with a large zoom lens attached and within the vest there’s a number of pockets designed to hold small accessories like memory cards, filters, batteries, etc.

Fit and Comfort

I have tried a few other standard photography vests, jackets and travel vests in the past and have never jelled with them. I often found that I could not get them to fit correctly and that they were often too long. For me they tended to hang down well below my waistline, which some photographers possibly don’t mind, but it really irritated me as the lenses in the lower pockets would bounce around when walking. They were mostly uncomfortable and I would be a little nervous of turning around too too quickly, fearing that my lens would swing into a brick wall.

The ICS Vest comes in two sizes, small and large, add to that the fact that it is extremely customizable (see below), it means that you should be able to set it up to fit your body perfectly which will ensure that your equipment does not move about too much and the vest stays securely in place to make it as comfortable as possible even when carrying heavy gear.

On its own the ICS Vest is lightweight, and when used correctly with an appropriate number of bags it distributes the weight evenly. How comfortable the vest is when fully loaded depends largely on how well it fits and the padding. If you are going to be carrying a lot of gear, I highly recommend pairing the vest with the ICS belt as it will further improve the weight distribution add stability and it has the advantage of a greater number of loops to attach your camera and lens cases to.

Padding
The shoulder straps on the vest are very well made and will take much more weight than you could ever hope to carry. They are about 7.5cm wide at the point that takes all the weight and are well padded. Indeed they have an added padded flap on each shoulder to add to the overall padding in this area. Whilst I may not use the heaviest gear, I never had any problems with aching shoulders even after long walks carrying all my equipment.

Length Adjustment
The length of the harness part can be adjust in two locations and therefore you can accurately adjust how far down on your body the webbing and attached belt will sit: On the front thre are two straps with the looped metal belt buckles on each of the harness straps and then on the back there is what Vanguard call their “innovative adjustment system” – This “system” not only lets you change the overall length of the vest, but you can also thread a shoulder bag/zoom bag through it to carry on your back, effectively turning the bag into a backpack. This is not something that I have yet tried, but because of the many straps, buckles and Velcro fasteners on the back, I am sure that there are a number of ways that you could adapt it to carry a bag on your back.

Circumference Adjustment
The body section of the vest has as a sturdy metal zip in its centre and for added security it is held in place with a robust strip of Velcro down the entire zips length. On each side of the vest there two straps that enable you to adjust the circumference of the vest to fit your body snugly. Too loose and your equipment will flop about, too tight and it will be difficult for you to breath – so here again, I really like the fact that you can adjust the looped straps to make the vest fit you perfectly.

Sweating
The body webbing part of the vest fits very snugly around your body and apart from two mesh panels on the back and one behind your shoulders, it is not breathable. This is great for cooler or cold environments and indeed when I first tested the vest on a winters morning it kept me nice and warm. But on a long walking safari under the hot African sun, you will sweat quite a bit especially around your stomach area. In these situations, you may consider removing the body webbing part from the vest and just use the ICS Harness attached to the belt, which covers far less of your body and will be much cooler. Again it is this flexibility of the ICS system and being able to adjust it to your current needs is it’s real strength.

Carrying Capacity

How much you can carry using the whole ICS system depends very much on which parts you are using and how many of the Bags and cases you want to carry.

The Vest itself has a variety of fastening points where you can securely hold your camera even with a large zoom lens attached and I like the two very handy Velcro fastening loops on the shoulders that allow you to thread your camera strap through and so stops your camera from sliding off your shoulder.

Within the body section of the vest there is a pocket on each side that can be zipped closed. These pockets almost cover the entire area of the front part of the vest and are about 17cm tall and 14cm wide. They are designed to hold small accessories, personal items, money or even a small booklet like a guide book or to take notes with.

For details on the carrying capacity of the rest of the ICS system, including the cases, bags and belt, take a look at my review of the Vanguard ICS Photography Belt & Harness System.

Video: Vanguard ICS Collection

Below is the Vanguard promotional video that that demonstrates how all the ICS photo products fit together and includes a section on the ICS Vest pointing out it’s main features and how to put it all together with the rest of the collection:

Conclusion

Vanguard advertise the ICS vest coupled with your choice of the other ICS components as the perfect photography carrying solution and in many regards I have to agree with them. Just like the rest of the Vanguard ICS system, the vest is made to a very high standard and combined with the belt and your choice of camera and lens bags it really is a great lightweight and far less bulky alternative to a camera bag. It is for this reason and it’s flexibility that I recommend it as the ideal camera equipment carrying solution for activities like walking safaris where weight and size are very important factors.

A few points to keep in mind:
1) Because the vest has a number of metal buckles and loops, it can make some noise when moved about, which means you have to take extra care if you want to get really close to timid wildlife and birds.

2) The body webbing part of the vest fits very snugly around your body and so it is warm. This is great for cooler or cold environments, but on a long walking safari under the hot African sun, you will sweat quite a bit. Here you may consider removing the body webbing part from the vest and just use the ICS Harness attached to the belt, which covers far less of your body and will be much cooler.

3) You also need to keep in mind that unlike a Camera Bag which encloses all your equipment, the Vest is designed so that you wear all your equipment. This means that it is all pretty much on display and therefore may not be ideal if you are at all concerned about standing out from the crowd. I am thinking of specific instance like when travelling it is sometimes better not to advertise that you have a bunch of expensive camera equipment with you. In these instances I recommend getting a bag – something like the excellent Vanguard Skyborne 45 Camera Backpack that I still often use.

Build Quality: 9/10 – Very well made using high quality materials. All zips, buckles and fasteners work well and are secure
Design: 9/10 – I love how flexible the Vest and the rest of the ICS system is and that you can mix and match which parts of the ICS system you want.
Carrying Capacity: 8/10 – The Vest itself can carry quite a bit, combine that with as many or as few bags as you need to suit your requirements.
Style: 8/10 – You do look a little like you have joined the SWAT team with it on and I will leave you to decide if this is a good or bad thing, but what I will say is that you definitely look like you mean business!


Cost and where to Buy

At the time of writing, the Vanguard ICS Vest costs around £64 in the UK and £99 in the US. Below are some links to where you can buy it and the rest of the system both in the UK and USA:

UK: Amazon.co.uk

Vanguard ICS System on Amazon.co.uk

USA: Amazon.com

Vanguard ICS System on Amazon.com


Further Reading

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