Country Innovation Raptor Waistcoat Review
Photography vest with military-spec fabric and 15 pockets
Photography waistcoats like this are basically load-carrying vests and systems for a very civilian market, and the Raptor waistcoat from Country Innovation seems to be pitched straight at that market of photographers, birdwatchers and anybody who regularly points optics at wildlife.
I admit from the start that Country Innovation was a new brand for me, but a quick look through their website shows that their kit is trusted by the outdoor and wildlife photographers that I admire – so if it’s good enough for the likes of Simon King and Bill Oddie then it might be good enough for a scruffy outdoor instructor in North Wales?
There isn’t a lot of option or choice to be made when picking this product – it comes in one colour (olive-ish) and there are size options from Small to XXXX-Large. Country Innovation describe it as “ideal for travelling, as a photographers vest, or as a birdwatching gilet” and the optic-centric design of the Raptor is fairly obvious once you start investigating the size and placement of the 15 (there really are 15, I checked) pockets.
There are two bellows-style pockets on the lower front, each with a handwarmer pocket behind and a zipped pocket inside. These are big enough for a DSLR body, fairly bulky binoculars or just a huge bundle of ‘stuff’. Above these are a pair of smaller pockets sitting atop two large map pockets that run across from the zip to the armpit in either direction. The left of the upper, outer pockets has slots for pens/pencils etc.
Flipping the vest over you’ll find a capacious pocket on the outer rear (about level with your belt) which, like the outer front pockets, is secured with metal press studs.
Inside there’s another wide pocket (this one fastened with velcro tabs) and two zipped pockets on the inner front, just above the hips. There’s also a small notedbook-sized pouch on top of one of these.
On the shoulders there is subtle padding, with epaulettes and a generous length of folding collar to protect the neck when using straps etc.
To improve the overall fit there are volume-reducing tabs on each side, and a pleated back with scalooped lower half. A double-ended zipper fastens the whole thing together.
The fabric is a soft, quiet and non-reflective ripstop (Rip-Tec apparently), and there is no inner liner.
The turnaround time for this review has been fairly quick by my usual standards (only 3 weeks) but in that time it’s been dragged through forests and scrubby heather near Pitlochry, bashed around in the sand and surf of the Galloway coast and stamped on a few times during a tracking course here in North Wales. A fitting test period for something that is meant to be rugged and suitable for a hard life in the British outdoors?
Waistcoats like this (the load-carrying type) are only useful if you can put enough useful things in those pockets. To be truly of use to a photographer, ornithologist or similar heading into reasonably remote areas it would need to be able to store and keep safe several heavy items – such as lenses, filters, triggers, spare batteries, optics, maybe lighting kit and also all the stuff that the human inside the waistcoat might want (gloves, hat, foam mat etc).
When I started testing this waistcoat I noticed a curious phenomenon – all of my stuff started disappearing. Useful objects like head torches or lens caps began to go AWOL and I spent a ridiculous amount of time looking for some of them – only to discover that they were in the sodding vest… I can happily report that the Raptor does an admirable job of storing useful kit for use in the field – but sadly my own personal admin is poor enough for me to forget to take it out again afterwards. Even in the review video below I find a lead fishing weight in there – a complete surprise to me when filming and probably a leftover from our last coastal foraging course.
So in terms of overall capacity I can’t fault it. The pockets are sensibly sized and placed – larger pockets lower down and smaller pockets higher up to aid balance and comfort. The handwarmer/side entry pockets are a good height for my hands to naturally find a home there, and they are reinforced and strong enough for me to rest my arms there without worry of blowing the stitching out.
There is enough padding in the shoulders for it to add some comfort without it becoming too obvious, and the epaulette size and placement does help when using a shoulder strap. That collar does also help protect the neck, but folds down naturally to keep it out of the way.
The fabric colour and choice is appropriate for the likely use, and as long as you make sure you close all of the pocket press studs then you will pass the ‘jump’ test for noisy clothing. It’s about as quiet as any other ripstop fabric but importantly doesn’t have any reflective properties. The stitching is all good, nothing is fraying as of yet and it has an overall feel of solidity and reliability.
All of this fits in the Raptor – don’t believe me? Watch the video below!
The Good Stuff and the Other Stuff
As outlined above – the pockets are good, generously sized and sensibly placed. The four front pockets are mostly obscured when wearing a rucksack, but I probably wouldn’t choose this type of vest if I was planning on wearing a rucksack anyway. The upper front pockets are a little bit tight at the entry, but big enough for a flash or small lens. The map pockets will easily swallow and OS map or guidebook and the other inner pockets are great for phones, head torch or other important kit.
There is no windproofing or water-resistance of any kind in this waistcoat – not a problem for me as I value breathability over waterproofing in most cases, but worth bearing in mind if full protection from the elements is in your criteria for a photography vest. The fabric does stop some of the wind though, and I found that a Woolpower top combined with this vest was perfect for a day of scrambling over rocks on a windy Scottish coast the day after Storm Callum.
I found it very comfortable to wear, even with a couple of kilograms of glassware and batteries in the pockets. The sizing chart on the website seems about right – I came in at XXL with my 50-51″ chest and 38″ waist and found plenty of room for a midlayer underneath. The volume-reducing straps are tightened up completely for my body shape, but I suspect that I would still have the capacity for thicker jackets underneath.
The market for these kind of vests is slightly limited – it’s a load-carrying system rather than a true outer layer, so if you’re wearing it you’re probably expecting to put stuff in it. That market then is likely to be photographers, wildlife-watchers and probably travellers. I think I can add another likely user to that list – working dog handlers and similar. There is ample room for all of the stuff that goes along with working alongside a K9 in the field (literally) and it’s tough enough to be dragged through bushes and woodlands without fear of something being torn.
There were also a couple of things I found myself looking for but not finding – like those small metal D-rings that you often find on clothing of this type. Somewhere to clip or tie a lanyard from something small but crucial (compass or small torch). Somewhere near the entrance to those two map pockets on the upper front would seem like the ideal place. It’s not a big problem and could easily be installed by the user if they are at least halfway-competent with a needle and thread, but this is a review not an advert and I have to mention everything.
[EDIT: Apparently I am a blind idiot and didn’t notice the small, plastic keyclip on some webbing inside one of the zipped security pocket on the lower front]
The market for photography waistcoats like this is fairly niche, but I strongly suspect that the Country Innovation Raptor Waistcoat is in the upper tier in both quality and function. The price tag reflects this somewhat, but I have some faith that the build quality and materials will give this at the very least a decade of hard use.
The 15 pockets are well-placed and useful, and I found it to be a lot more comfortable and wearable than my first impressions suggested.
It’s simple and subtle, but that’s what I want from this kind of garment. As I have said several times in these reviews – if I am spending time thinking about my clothing or kit rather than the job I am doing then there’s probably something wrong, and the Raptor just got on with the tasks I gave it and didn’t complain.
My review sample is currently hanging up in the cloakroom of the office, with my head torch, hat, gloves and dog lead in the pockets. It was used for a photography job yesterday and the dog walk this morning – that probably tells you a little of how I feel about it.
You can read more about this workhorse of a waistcoat on the Country Innovation website and take a look at the rest of their range.
Country Innovation Raptor Specifications:
- Weight : 800g
- 15 Pockets:
- 2 Chest Pockets – 20cm (H) x 15cm (W), incorporating pen slots
- 2 Large Vertical Chest Pockets – 28cm (H) x 30cm (W) tapering to 20cm large enough to take the Collins Birdguide
- 2 Large Lower Pockets with flaps – 22cm (H) x 20cm (W), plus 2 inner zippered security pockets and 2 side entry pockets
- 1 Large External Rear Pocket – 22cm (H) x 40cm (W)
- 1 Large Internal Rear Pocket – 21cm (H) x 37cm (W)
- 3 Inner Pockets – including 1 communication pocket
- Shoulder Padding – for comfort when carrying heavy loads
- Shoulder Epaulettes – to secure straps
- Collar – to prevent the rubbing of straps when hanging binoculars or a camera around your neck
- Two Way Main Zip – for ease of movement
- Side Adjusters – for a closer fit
- Rear Pleat – for comfort across the back
- Longer Scalloped Back – for added lumbar protection
- 15 Pockets: