We work with foresters all over the country, and this means we get to see a million different ways that things are done. While some tools are universally accepted everywhere (looking through you, prism), other tools find popularity by region. Sometimes it may be a case of the forest type- calipers seem to be more common in southern pine plantations, and Relaskopes are most commonly seen in the tall trees of the northwest. For whatever the reason, we also see more chest packs in the northwest.  Possibly it stems from the region’s history of search and rescue, where chest packs are more common for two-way radio handset storage. But with the growing popularity of using tablets for field work, chest packs are starting to displace forestry vests for many cruising purposes.

I was first introduced to the tablet chest pack in 2015 by forester Brian Saunders in Vancouver, British Columbia. Brian founded Tablet-Ex-Gear, a company that designs and builds chest packs for various industries, with forestry being one of the primary markets. The chest packs come in a couple sizes and configurations, but the common theme is a front compartment that folds down to support an iPad, Toughpad, or any tablet style device. This means that your data collector and mapping tool can be supported at your midsection and available for handsfree operation. The chest packs can be set up with a huge variety of accessories to manage paint, radio, water bottles, universal pouches, flagging, and more.

I have been sporting a Tablet-Ex-Gear in the woods and at conferences and workshops ever since, as the system makes using a tablet in the woods exceptionally convenient. While some forestry vests can accommodate tablets, and folks rig up different shoulder strap configurations for their tablets, the dedicated chest pack is an elegant solution. In the other front pouches I have my laser hypsometer, flagging, and incidentals, while in the side pouches I keep snacks, small tools such as prisms and my Leatherman. I clip my GPS transceiver to the shoulder strap and my d-tape to the other side, so it’s a complete cruising package. For the overflow items, like extra clothes, water and dog food, I’m using a small backpack. I’ve found it’s a good system, because I can easily shed the backpack at plots and give my shoulders and back a break.

Is the forestry vest going away? Of course not, but it’s interesting to consider alternatives. If you want to learn more, find us at a meeting- I always have my pack with me- or check out www.tablet-ex-gear.com. Brian has several informative videos demonstrating it’s use. Use the discount code FFM18 (Friends of Forest Metrix) to get 10% off.