Choosing a body protector, or ”crash vest,” is as personal as choosing a saddle, a pair of boots or a pair of breeches. The style or cut that fits you, or even the color that you like, might be horrifying to your friends or fellow riders across the countryside, but it doesn’t matter if it’s right for you.
What does matter, though, is if the vest bears an ASTM/SEI logo or not. The American Society for Testing Materials, or ASTM, sets standards for body protectors. The Safety Equipment Institute, or SEI, then tests the vests to see if they meet or exceed these standards.
A safety vest is required for eventing competitions. The U.S. Equestrian Federation recommends that ”the vest should pass or surpass the current ASTM standard F-1937 or be certified by the Safety Equipment Institute.” Some vests state they meet ASTM standards but have not been tested by the SEI.
You may see a vest that states it’s certified BETA-2000 Level 1, 2 or 3. BETA stands for the British Equestrian Trade Association, and they do write standards and test vests to see if they meet specific levels of safety (level 1 is the lowest level and 3 is the highest). A third standard is called the European Standard, which is similar to BETA Level 3.
Where To Place comfort. With the safety part already done, we compared vests for comfort in periodic or daily use and their apparent value. In the case of crash vests, some riders prefer a softer, more pliable feel, a design and materials that allow them to feel as if they’re wearing nothing more on than a winter down vest. Others like to feel as if they’re wearing a bulletproof vest.
The Tipperary vest felt like a vest you might wear in the winter for warmth. The Charles Owen jl9, the WoofWear Ergo and the Airowear Outlyne fell somewhere in between — there was no question you were wearing a safety vest, but their materials were quite flexible and they molded well to our bodies.
The Intec Flex-Rider and the Lami-Cell felt like we were wearing a suit of armor, ready to deflect a lance. They’re the only two we had that are listed on the SEI site as meeting ASTM standards.
It’s Still Safety. Each of these vests is well-made, but the prices vary by quite a bit. With the exception of the Tipperary Eventer, they’re all so similar that you’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart on a store rack unless you are a product representative.
The Tipperary 1015 Eventer is the only one we think would fit well under a riding jacket, such as for foxhunting or horse shows. Leslie Newton of Phoenix Performance Products, the maker of the Tipperary vests, said that their proprietary foam and the breaks between the squares of foam is what makes their product unique. ”It gives you full coverage and mobility. You can move in this vest, which is why people like it so much,” she said.
Nevertheless, the Tipperary Eventer is not ASTM/SEI-certified, meaning that it hasn’t been proven to meet those rigorous shock-absorption and protection standards. Consequently, we are hesitant to recommend it as a safety product. Event riders can wear it in USEF/USEA-sanctioned events because the rule requires safety vests but only recommends that they are ASTM/SEI-certified.
Of the other five choices, wefound the Charles Owen jl9 and the Airowear Outlyne to be the most comfortable and least restrictive choices. The jl9 is $60-$90 less expensive than the Outlyne, although the Outlyne has bust darts.
Roy Burek of Charles Owen, which also produces and markets ASTM/SEI-certified helmets and other riding safety equipment, said that the jl9 is manufactured with a new generation of foam called Gelfoam European TM. ”It closely flows around the contours of the body, unlike previous stiffer foams that will form a tube and tend to slide up the body, and it avoids the need to create creases or cuts in the foam that will be weak points when kicked by a horse or landing on a raised object,” said Burek.
Chrissie Beatty of Airowear said that the Outlyne, which was introduced in 2008, uses multiple layers of shock-absorbing foam (called UltraFlex Technology) that becomes increasingly pliable when combined with the wearer’s body heat, allowing it to mold to the wearer’s body. It is also slightly lighter in weight than other similar vests.
Our testers found the Airowear roughly comparable to the Charles Owen jl9 in comfort, although one petite tester, who tried extra-small-sized versions of both vests, dramatically preferred the jl9’s cut.
Unlike the Charles Owen and Airowear vest, the WoofWear Ergo vests are made of EVA foam that is designed to not to be affected by body heat. Therefore, said John Felton of WoofWear, it remains more pliable in colder temperatures than other vests. Our male tester wore the WoofWear Ergo vest in several horse trials and found it comfortable, adjustable, and easy to put on and take off.
Since the WoofWear vest is priced $10 to $40 below the Charles Owen, and as much as $100 below the Airowear, some riders may prefer it.
Certified. Comfort is the direct result of fit and materials. The Intec Flex-Rider and the Lami-Cell vests were the stiffest in our trial. They are also the only two ASTM/SEI-certified vests in our trial.
Izzy Straus, the owner of Intec, has been making and marketing safety vests since 1997. He responded, ”We try to make the most comfortable vest we can within the constraints of the ASTM standard. The name of the game is protection, not just comfort or looks.”
Intec uses polyethylene foam instead of vinyl nitrile foam, which becomes more pliable when warmed. Straus said that vinyl nitrile foam loses its shock-absorption strength in the extreme temperatures (over 90?°) that can be found at some U.S. events.
The Lami-Cell vest uses two layers of combination foam. According to company spokesman Kim Kulers, the vinyl nitri le foam provides the impact protection and the Flexotech foam gives it flexibility, allowing it to fit the body.
Bottom Line. The Charles Owen jl9 was our testers’ favorite. It fits well and comfortably, has excellent ventilation. But it’s not listed on the SEI site as being certified to meet ASTM standards.
We also liked the Tipperary 1015 Eventer, especially for use under a riding jacket, and it’s a decades-long favorite among American event riders. But many riders do not realize it’s not certified. (Tipperary has a new vest in progress that is expected to be certified.)
Of the two vests that are ASTM-SEI certified — the Intec Flex-Rider and the Lami-Cell — the Lami-Cell earns top choice and the Intec Flex-Rider earns Best Buy. It makes sense stick with certified.
Article by John Strassburger, our Performance Editor.