Survival vests have long been worn by aviators. The idea behind the vest is that, if the aviator is ejected from the plane and unable to get to the emergency kit, they still have essential survival supplies with them.
Now, survival vests are popular with preppers who want to prepare for the worst.
If you are looking for the best survival vest for emergency preparedness, here’s our top picks and guide to choosing the right one for you.
Why Get a Survival Vest?
A lot of people consider getting a survival vest as an alternative to a Bug Out Bag. In some situations, this might make sense. However, a survival vest can’t carry the same type or amount of gear as a BOB. Good luck trying to get a bivvy bag into a survival vest!
Instead, it is probably better to have a survival vest as a secondary Bug Out Bag. If you had to ditch your BOB, you would still have the vest on with essential gear.
A tactical vest is also great to have for home defense. In a SHTF situation, you could just grab the survival vest and be ready.
How to Choose a Survival Vest
As when choosing any survival gear, you should first identify the problems you are trying to solve. Only then can you find the best gear.
For example, if your goal is to flee through an urban environment stealthily, a tactical vest is not going to help. You’d be better off with a discreet fishing vest that can hold a small survival kit.
I highly suggest you first make a list of goals you want your survival vest to accomplish, as well as a list of gear to include in the vest. Once you have this list, you’ll be able to use the following parameters to choose the best survival vest.
Types of Vest
If you search for “survival vests,” you’ll probably end up with a bunch of low-quality commando style vests (most of which are made in China). Instead, I encourage you to think outside the box.
For example, these can all make good survival vests:
Quality of Vest
I’ve tried a lot of survival vests and can tell you that there is a huge difference in quality. Some of those cheap survival vests rip very easily. Cheap vests also tend to fit poorly.
That doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on an expensive survival vest. Just be careful not to get caught up in the style of the vest and instead look for these signs of quality:
Comfort of Vest
How comfortable a vest is mostly depends on its fit. However, you also need to consider whether you’ll be wearing the vest with a backpack or seat belt.
Seat belt and backpack straps might go over the vest’s gear pouches, causing gear to dig into your body. To prevent this, look for survival vests which have more side pockets than front pockets.
Vests with back pockets are still usable, you’ll just need to keep flat gear like tarps or maps in them.
Fit of the Vest
The fit of a survival vest is incredibly important. A survival vest which is too big will get caught on things like branches. When worn for a long time, a poorly-fitted vest can also dig into your shoulders and armpits and cause chaffing.
For fit, pay particular attention to the length of the vest. At some point, you will be sitting down while wearing the vest. Gear in the lower pockets of the vest will dig into your waist while sitting (especially if you have a larger belly).
It might look a bit dorky, but good tactical vests don’t go further than your belly button.
The best vests will have interior flaps so you can adjust the size.
Avoid vests which can’t be adjusted. It might fit your body frame perfectly during summer, but will be tight if you have to wear the vest with more layers of clothing under it.
The best survival vests also can have their length adjusted. This feature isn’t very common though, so be sure you pay attention to how long the survival vest is.
Utility Features of Survival Vests
As mentioned before, you should first make a list of survival equipment you want to put in your vest. Then you can find a vest which has enough pockets to accommodate this gear.
Types of Pockets to Look for:
- Holster (exterior or hidden interior pistol pockets)
- Mag pouches
- Large back pockets (for carrying survival blankets, tarps, maps, or other flat gear)
- Radio pouch
- Cell phone pouch
- ID pockets
- Water bladder or canteen pouch
- Body armor slots
- Life preserver slot
Instead of getting a survival vest with lots of pockets, you might consider a MOLLE vest instead.
These vests give you a lot more flexibility with how much gear you can carry. However, all those MOLLE attachment pouches can end up costing a lot. Expect to pay at least $300 to build a complete MOLLE survival vest.
Survival Vests Reviewed
5.11 Tactical PacLite Pro Vest
Adjustable: No | Material: 35% cotton, 65% polyester | Molle: No
Torso Size: Small to XXX large | Lengh: Varies | Weight: 6.15 ounces
Here is another survival vest made by 5.11. Unlike their MOLLE vest, this one is made to be discreet looking for everyday wear.
Don’t let the subtle appearance fool you. The vest is still suitable for tough situations. It features durable-yet-lightweight ripstop material and quad stitching, so will hold up in outdoor environments.
At just 6 ounces, the survival vest is really comfortable to wear. It is cut a bit long and may go over your belt (depending on how tall you are). However, this design was intentional as a way of concealing your sidearm.
As for pockets, there are 17 of them in the TacLite Pro vest. It even has mag pouches and a hidden handgun compartment. Do note that you’ll probably need to buy the 5.11 holster or your gun will bounce around in the vest.
Some of the pockets are hidden within the interior of the vest. You’ll love that none of the pockets stick out too much.
The only issue with the TacLite Pro vest is its price. You can find similar vests for much cheaper. However, don’t expect them to hold up as well as this vest due to its quality stitching.
Best For: Preppers who want the best, discreet survival vest available.
Blackhawk Omega Phalanx Survival Vest
Adjustable: Yes | Material: Nylon Mesh | Molle: No
Torso Size: Adjusts up to XXX large | Lengh: Adjustable | Weight: 2.2lbs
While not as well known as other tactical gear brands, Blackhawk makes some pretty impressive gear that is designed for military situations. Their Omega Phalanx survival vest is for men who want something hardcore and don’t mind paying for it.
As for quality, the vest is heavy duty in every sense. It has tough YKK zippers, a reinforced drag handle, STRIKE webbing, and sturdy nylon mesh. You can carry a lot of heavy gear in this vest. Despite this, the vest is still lightweight at 2.2lbs.
For such a tough survival vest, it is surprisingly comfortable. This mostly has to do with the fact that the vest is fully adjustable. The girth can expand up to an additional 32 inches and even the length adjusts 6 inches. There are side-release buckles so you can get it on/off easier.
The only major cons of the Omega Phalanx vest is that the pockets stick out and there are no MOLLE attachments. It surprisingly doesn’t have body armor plate slots in it either. And you can forget about looking discreet while wearing this vest!
Best For: Hardcore survivalists who need to reliably carry a lot of heavy gear.
Rotcho Uncle Milty Vest
Adjustable: No | Material: 55% cotton, 45% polyester | Molle: No
Torso Size: Small to XXX large | Lengh: Varies | Weight: Under 1lb
If you are looking for a more discreet style survival vest, this one by Rothco is worth considering. It is designed to be a travel or camping vest, so it doesn’t have mag pouches or a holster. However, it does have 17 pockets that can fit a lot of small survival gear like your compass, whistle, and water purification tablets.
Considering the price, the Uncle Milty vest is very good quality. However, the material is a bit thin. If you load up the vest with heavy items, expect the pockets to start fraying. I’m guessing it would also tear easily if snagged on bushes.
I wouldn’t rely on this vest to get you through a complete SHTF situation, but it is a good cheap solution for carrying survival gear every day without drawing attention to yourself.
Best For: Outdoorsmen who want a survival vest they can wear everywhere.
5.11 MOLLE LBE Vest
Adjustable: Yes | Material: Stiffened Nylon Mesh | Molle: Yes
Torso Size: US sizes 34-68 | Lengh: Adjustable | Weight: 2.86lbs
5.11 is a really popular brand for survival vests and their products are great quality. Even though this MOLLE vest was made in China, it is still the “real deal.” The nylon mesh is sturdy and the seams are secure.
The MOLLE webbing goes over the entire vest (including the back), so it is completely customizable. Of course, you’ll have to pay for these customization pouches and it can take some time to get the vest just right.
I really like that the MOLLE vest comes in multiple sizes and is adjustable. Even its length is adjustable, which is a feature you don’t find in many other survival vests. The vest is designed in a way that doesn’t affect the MOLLE attachments as you adjust it.
In addition to the MOLLE, you also get two interior pockets (one on each side) for holding flat items like maps. The back pocket is approximately 13x15inches and can easily hold a 100 ounce water bladder.
The only major complaint you might have with this MOLLE vest is that there is no belt or loops. There are plastic tabs on the bottom of the vest, but these are for leg holsters. If you want to attach a belt, you’ll have to use your own loops.
Also, the base weight of the vest is a bit heavy at 2.86 pounds. By the time you’ve added your MOLLE pouches, the vest is quite heavy.
Best For: People who are prepared to fully customize their survival vest.
Barska Loaded Gear Survival Vest
Adjustable: Yes | Material: 600 denier ballistic polyester | Molle: Yes
Torso Size: 38 to 50 inches | Lengh: 22 inches | Weight: 3.15lbs
At first glance, the Barksa survival vest looks like the perfect tactical vest. It has a lot of pockets including mag pouches and hidden interior pockets. The pockets are positioned in a way which distributes the weight very well.
The material is a sturdy 600 denier ballistic polyester with a webbing system for breathability. The polyester thread is high tensile strength and the pockets should stay attached well. For such an affordable tactical vest, it is great quality.
Upon further inspection, we do find some issues with the Barska vest (which isn’t surprising considering the cheap price). The main issue with this vest is its pistol holster. It seems like the holster was made for a different vest but just added on. As a result, the holster sticks out. It also points the pistol towards your body, which could be a safety risk.
Some reviewers also reported that the holster doesn’t carry larger pistols. The holster is detachable, so you may need to replace it with a different holster.
Best For: Survivalists who want a decent tactical vest without spending a fortune.
I'm Jacob Hunter, founder and chief editor of Primasurvivor.net.