You CAN take it with you. When it comes to hand tools and all sorts of consumables used on a construction site or carpentry job, a tool vest can be a very convenient way to carry around and have instant access to what you need, when you need it. Not to mention the trips you’ll save to the toolbox or van and the holes you’ll prevent in your pants pockets.
Some tool vests are designed specifically to carry an assortment of hand tools, such as wrenches, pliers, and screwdrivers, in individual slots and bulkier tools, like rulers, tape measures, and laser measuring devices, in reinforced pockets. Other vests are outfitted primarily with multiple large pouch pockets of different sizes that can hold various tools loosely as well as consumables such as nails, screws, staples, or small parts. What all these garments have in common, however, is they shift some of the weight of the load from the hips (as with a tool belt) to the shoulders.
When evaluating which vest to buy, considerations include which tools you want to tote on your body; the configuration and arrangement of pockets and slots inside and outside the garment; the material the vest is made from; the ability to hang a hammer from a hammer loop and other tools off the vest in sensible locations; the ability to add additional capacity; how the pockets close (zippers, Velcro, snaps, flaps, or self-sealing magnets); and style.
Some vests include mesh panels on the sides and/or back in place of fabric for breathability, as well as reflective strips for added visibility in dim lighting. For those wearing a tool vest year-round, adjustable straps or a double set of front zippers offers easy fit adjustment to accommodate seasonal clothing.
Below are six representative examples of tool vests designed for enhanced productivity and convenience on the job.
The Blaklader Kangaroo Vest 3120 is a good-looking, sturdy, flexible, medium-weight (8 oz.), 100% cotton vest well designed for even weight distribution on the body when the pockets are loaded. There are two hanging utility 5¾-inch pockets secured at the chest, with reinforced stitching on top and two hidden snaps on the bottom, and a 4½-inch safety strap on the outer sides; two hanging, 7-inch-deep utility (nail) pockets below the waist in the front; and two wide, 7¾-inch-deep pockets below the waist in the back.
Using the chest pockets with the bottom snaps open enables easier storage and access to bulky or tall items, and lessens the chance that items will fall out when bending over. There is a cell phone pocket outside the wearer’s upper-right chest pocket and a knife holder on the left chest pocket.
The garment has two zippers up the front, 3¼ inches apart, to ensure a comfortable fit with or without a jacket. An extra-wide belt loop above the lower pockets can accommodate a tool belt, though long tools would hang over the lower pockets. There is also a hammer loop at waist level on the right. While the vest has no dedicated tool slots, there is plenty of compartmentalized space for consumables, bulky tools, and a phone. A long tail provides extra protection in the back and adds to the overall stylish look.
Pros: Flexible material; comfortable
Con: No mesh for venting
The Builder’s Vest™ 2535 from Occidental Leather is the linchpin of a cleverly designed framework of a tool-carrying system for professional woodworkers, carpenters, and others in the construction field. Handcrafted of rugged, lightweight duck canvas and leather, the open-backed vest incorporates 16 very heavy-duty, particularly sturdy pockets and tool holders and can be worn as an independent tool-carrying system or with optional proprietary clip-on bags and holsters of various configurations, weights, and capacities. A multizone lining on the inside neck wicks away moisture.
The basic vest comes preconfigured with a leather tool sleeve; a calculator pocket; a leather phone case with elasticized sides; a large utility pocket with a Velcro closure that could hold a tape measure or other bulky item; four pencil sleeves; a notepad pocket; a wide pocket for safety glasses; a removable protective pocket holder for a chisel, utility knife, or pliers; a flashlight; and a removable clip-on utility pouch.
The vest is also available in a drill package, which includes a clip-on drill holster and a clip-on builder’s bag, and a framer’s package, which features a clip-on carpenter tool bag and a clip-on carpenter fastener bag.
Size: One size fits all
Pros: Sturdily made; heavy duty; likely would stand up well to daily wear and tear for a framer or other carpenter
Con: Very heavy even when empty (but lots lighter than most leather tool belts)
Duluth Men’s Lightweight Working Man’s Utility Vest 82014 has 16 pockets (eight inside and eight outside), some with zippers and some featuring Velcro closure; a two-way front zipper; large, front, bellowed pockets; and style and flair to spare.
The vest is made from 5.6 oz. 70% cotton/30% nylon fabric, front and back, with breathable, flexible, poly mesh sides and upper back. The mesh on the back is covered by fabric open at both sides, creating a wide, open pocket for horizontal items while not compromising the sleek look of the vest.
The mesh is dyed to match the rest of the vest, for a “client-meeting-ready” look. Most of the seams are tightly double stitched. The fabric is treated for up to UPF 50+ sun protection for outdoor work. There’s also a heavy-duty tab on the back to hang the vest off a hook. The garment comes in five attractive muted colors: khaki, coffee, moss, steel blue, and black.
Pros: Looks sharp; machine wash/dry; provides a lot of storage space in a very lightweight, noncumbersome garment
Con: No hammer loop
The Ergodyne Arsenal® 5590 Industrial MOLLE Vest kit is made from sturdy starched polyester mesh for strength and breathability, with removable reflective strips on the front, back, and shoulders. “MOLLE” stands for “modular, lightweight, load-carrying equipment,” which pretty much describes the vest. It has two pockets on the chest and three fasteners across the front to hold it in place.
The vest uses a 2-inch PALS (pouch attachment ladder system) webbing ladder system for securing pouches by clip, snap, or hook to various sections of the garment. There are also an interior pocket for storage, a sleeve for a hydration bladder, and a shoulder ring for hanging an ID tag or radio mic.
The vest includes five points of adjustment on the sides, front, and shoulders to accommodate wearers of various sizes and heights, as well as seasonal clothing. Available in black and high-visibility lime, the vest has belt loops on the bottom to facilitate hooking to any Ergodyne tool rig or tool belt.
Size: One size fits all
Pro: Lots of customizing options
Con: No hanging pockets
Made with a heavy canvas body and open mesh panels in the back and along the shoulders, the Craftsman Work Vest has all the action on the outside front. There are nine pockets in all: four deep pockets on the wearer’s right, and on the left two large, open pockets; two narrow pockets; and a deep, zippered pocket.
The chest pockets are very deep—about 8½ inches. Adjustable straps on either side of the garment enable custom fitting over seasonal clothing, and pull cords in the back at the shoulder and hip tighten the vest further. A hammer holder on the wearer’s right sits just below the lower right-side adjustment strap.
Size: One size fits all
Pro: Most of the pockets are wide and deep, providing room for consumables such as nails or screws and versatility as to what one can carry
Con: Most of the seams are only single-stitched
The waist-length ToolPak ToolVest from Paktek is all about pockets and adjustable fit, with 14 quick-access pockets, six flap-covered pockets, and four quick-release buckle adjustment points (two on each side) that enable a comfortable fit over seasonal clothing (expandable for up to a 62-inch chest). The zip-up vest also has an extra-large rear pocket that spans the full width of the back and is accessible from both sides of the garment.
The frame of the vest is made of rugged, breathable mesh for optimized air circulation, with the tool panels made from 1000 denier Cordura fabric (heavyweight nylon with a urethane coating). Bright orange flaps on the front and the orange fabric of the back pocket, along with silver reflective bands at the base and mid-chest, help keep the wearer visible in low lighting.
Size: One size fits all
Pro: Capacity for a lot of tall, thin hand tools
Con: Holds only tall, thin hand tools