Product Review: Airowear Outlyne Body Protector

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.

I highly recommend leaving your foam panels in their correct place on a flat surface so you remember where they went and where to put them back.

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.

Actual Use
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.

Just hopping on bareback? 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?