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Looking to feed my gym equipment buying habit, I have been feverishly researching weighted vests (and I have since bought one, used it a ton and reviewed it here!)
I love training with barbells – but sometimes it is good to have OPTIONS, and I found myself keen to do weighted exercises (mainly pull-ups initially) without a dip belt constantly digging in to me.
So I’ve pulled together this blog post to share what I’ve learned about weight vests – and answer the most important question (of course!) – what is the best weight vest to buy in the UK?
At a glance…
- The Bulldog Gear 20kg weight vest is the best weight vest in the UK for MOST people
- BUT if you are a distance runner you will be better off with the Bulldog Tactical Vest
- Weighted vests are great for CrossFit, calisthenics or for adding variety to strength & bodybuilding routines
- While I love my vest, I still prefer my barbell for most of my training 🙂
UK’s best weight vest for bodybuilding, calisthenics and general use is…
If you’re interested in strength training, bodybuilding, calisthenics or general use there is one clear winner for me (and also Mens Health who declared it as best tested): The Bulldog 20kg vest.
I personally bought this one and have been regularly using it ever since. I have written a review you can check out if you want a super detailed run through.
What we like:
- 20kg maximum weight is high for a vest
- Loadable with 1kg bricks – allows micro-loading and weight can easily be adjusted on the fly
- Velcro straps for a tight fit regardless of your attire
- Well established, strong brand that sells spare parts (such as replacement velcro or weight bricks) to keep you vest looking top notch and functioning for life
- Comes with 20kg of weight so nothing extra to set up or buy
- Overall design is compact which works well for shorter athletes and ensures the vest doesn’t impact any squat movements, pull-ups etc.
What we don’t like:
- Premium product and brand means a premium price: Not for those on a tight budget
- Product is made in China – not an issue in itself, but the premium price doesn’t work through to a UK based supply chain
- Thinner designs are more comfortable for long distance running
Overall the heavy weight capacity and ability to incrementally load the vest make this the most versatile for an average user. You can run, do pull ups, perform CrossFit WODs, or anything else you like with this beast of a vest.
For calisthenics or bodybuilding being able to finely adjust weight is critical – sneaking an extra kilo or two on to your lifts is an achievement for an intermediate trainee. That is much harder with the plate loaded vests.
So for these reasons the Bulldog 20kg weight vest is the best solution for MOST people.
The best weight vest CrossFit training in the UK is…
One of the main reasons I invested in a weighted vest was to add in more dynamic CrossFit style WODs to my workouts. The mix of cardio with weight training is super appealing as well as being quite time efficient.
My priority is still weight training – but variety is the spice of life, and all that…
Many popular CrossFit workouts of the day (WODs) involve weighted vests – Murph for example – and the ability to incrementally load the vest as you improve is a huge plus.
For this reason I think that the Bulldog Gear 20kg weight vest is the best option for CrossFit training. Check out the vest here, or take a look at my more detailed review.
Bulldog is a UK brand which is very much in the CrossFit space so it should be no surprise they are offering suitable kit for WODs. I like the fact the brand has been around for years as it means the support is actually likely to be there if you need it, and things like the ability to buy spare straps or weight bricks for your vest could be useful a few years down the line instead of having to replace entire bits of kit for simple wear & tear items.
Best weighted vest in the UK for distance running & lighter work is…
While I am spending more time running, it is not my primary training modality. For me, I still love weight lifting – be it strength training, body building or calisthenics I like training in these styles the most.
So while the Bulldog 20kg vest works well for me – if YOUR preferred training style is centred around running you may be better served with the Bulldog Tactical Vest.
What we like:
- Thin weight plates for loading are far less bulky for prolonged wearing in public
- Mega comfortable shoulder straps
What we don’t like:
- Weight plates are far less adjustable
- Only comes with one pair of plates – so if you do want to adjust you need to buy additional plates
- Lower total weight capacity – heaviest is 20lbs / around 9kg
- Physically larger vest may interfere with some movements (squats, for example)
While the Bulldog Tactical vest is awesome, I think for MOST people they would be better served with the 20kg vest which has a few more pros.
Why should you want a weight vest anyway?
You might not (although unlikely, given you have stumbled in to this page!)
Ultimately how useful it is DEPENDS ON HOW YOU TRAIN.
A weight vest is a seriously NICE TO HAVE bit of kit for most people. I use mine regularly, but it hasn’t quite broken through in to the ESSENTIAL kit list. I use it for variety, CrossFit style WODs and more effective loading of conventional movements (such as pull-ups) compared to a dip belt.
If you like variety, want to pursue CrossFit WODs (like Murph for example) or simply want to level up your existing training movements then a weighted vest is a GREAT purchase.
Another great reason to pick up a weight vest is if you don’t have access to a conventional gym with barbells or dumbbells and need a bit of kit that is space efficient. A vest is a great way to add resistance training in to your home workouts without needing all that space. You can load it up and get squatting, do press-ups, pull-ups and any number of other movements to still get an awesome pump going.
So what all can you do with your new vest?
There are a TON of options here – you can basically do anything with the vest on and bang, it’s in use – but I’ve focused on the MOST impactful exercises and things I’ve enjoyed personally since getting my vest:
- Walking – walking with an extra 15% of weight on you burns roughly 10% MORE calories! So if you want to drop some fat relatively easily, start pounding the pavement.
- Resistance training –
- High rep sets of squats with a fully loaded vest are not fun, but great for leg hypertrophy. I’ve been doing them with my heels on a plate to add some variation and hit my legs slightly differently.
- Push-ups with the vest are an AWESOME way to add some volume work to your pecs
- Bench dips – similar to push-ups these are ace when weighted and are one of my preferred ways to hit my triceps
- Pullups & chin-ups – weighted variations are a nice break from bodyweight sets
- CrossFit – covered above
What should I look for when choosing a weight vest?
If you want to do more research in to weight vests yourself instead of using the above then that is great – here are a few things to take in to consideration when trying to work out which weighted vest is best for you:
How you train
So the theme of this page – as you have probably picked up – is buying something that suits YOU. What suits me MIGHT be different.
If you were exclusively strength training, you would likely have little use for a treadmill. Similarly here training needs will dictate the style of vest that is useful.
Running, cardio and endurance focused athletes will be better served by the thinner profile, more evenly weighted vests like the tactical style vest. These spread the weight around your torso more evenly compared to the brick loaded vests and have shoulder straps designed for running.
Conversely those focused on strength, HIIT or callisthenics benefit from the heavier, smaller vests built for use in a more traditional gym environment.
Weight capacity & loading mechanism
Brick loaded vests are generally heavier than plate loaded equivalents – the Bulldog examples covered above show a maximum weight of 20kg using bricks vs 9kg tactical plate loaded vest.
This will force the hand of many who want to load press-ups, pull-ups etc with more than 9kg.
There is a rule of thumb online that suggests a vest of no more than 20% of your bodyweight is useful for some training modalities – at 9kg that would mean you weighing 100lbs… That is quite light. This rule of thumb is a bit of a red herring however so I would probably ignore it. My experience with vests – as with anything weight related – is to start light and incrementally increase the load over time. That might take you to 10% of bodyweight, or it might take you to 50% of bodyweight!
Regardless, the signs are there that 9kg might be on the light side for those looking to do other things besides longer distance work.
Tactical style vest loading increments are much larger (so while in a brick-loaded vest you can go up 1kg at a time weight plates are usually larger jumps). Adjusting the weight is also more fiddly so they are less suited for quick change outs, super setting or sharing equipment.
The trade off is the weighting of a tactical vest is dispersed more evenly around the torso so it is a more settled experience for distance running when you settle in to your gait.
Make sure you know what is included
Make sure you know how much weight is INCLUDED IN THE PRICE. For example Bulldog 20kg weight vest comes with the full 20kg, if you buy the basic Bulldog tactical vest it is a little cheaper, but by default does NOT COME with any weights.
Similarly a lot of the cheaper vests from other brands are sold without weight. Not an issue as long as you budget or plan for it – just highlighting to help avoid disappointment!
Another thing I came across when researching my vest were alternative brands and designs, but they had no loading mechanism available to buy – instead the small print suggested to use sand bags or water bottles as ballast. This is fine if that’s what you choose – but for me this was 100% terrible. I definitely don’t want multiple bottles of water lying around for months, nor do I want to fill sand bags or – even worse – have them leak sand all over my gym space.
Fastenings: Velcro vs clips
I will hold my hands up – I was apprehensive about buying a vest that uses Velcro. Why? Well it loses its stick over time and the strips themselves can rip off.
I’ve changed my opinion having now used it for a while – it offers a tighter fit and is quick to pop on and off with no risk of the clip snapping. The key is to make sure the Velcro strips are stitched on so there is no damage.
One of the features I like with the Velcro on the 20kg vest is that it is replaceable with an OEM part from Bulldog themselves. Admittedly it’s more money out the door – but it means the vest can go on for years even with heavy, regular use.
Plastic clips are an alternative but having used a vest for a while I think getting the snug fit for kipping etc would be harder with the clips as some days I wear the vest over a jumper, other a t-shirt, some days are fat days, etc. So the clip would need adjusted regularly vs the grab-and-go-Velcro fixing.
Metal clips or carabiner style fixtures would be awesome to really lift the look and feel of the products up a tier but in practicality terms I think Velcro is the right choice for most people – even if it goes against my initial preference.
Getting this out of the way early doors – you won’t be hitting any catwalks with one of these on. They all look like variations of a bullet proof vest!
My preference is for a smallish overall package as I am a smaller individual, with good adjustment to get a decent ‘muscle-fit’ and a fairly low-key aesthetic, that helps me feel less of a moron when I’m wearing it in public. Nothing too bright or saggy please!
In terms of cut look for decent shoulder padding – not overly thick but it needs to be wide to spread the load evenly on your traps and the fabric should be nice and thick nylon if possible. The majority will be wipe clean which is great for keeping it in good condition over the long term.
Cut around the arms and neck should allow for full range of motion for pull-ups – aim for something akin to a tank top with no protruding bits of fabric or padding on the top of the shoulder.
An area to watch is cut of the lower part of the vest – a tactical or plate loaded vest tends to be longer. This can interfere with bodyweight squat-type movements as the vest bashes your legs when doing them. A shorter vests gets around this and is one of the reasons I went for the 20kg vest over the plainer styled (but longer) tactical vest.
Aim for a vest with robust fabrics like nylon and good quality padding – something thick does not equal better. If it breaks up and ‘drifts’ away from the key areas like the shoulders it’s no use. This is where paying a little more for a premium vest comes in to play as these details are generally better executed than cheap alternatives.
Brand: Budget vs premium?
Your decision on brand will largely be driven by budget and value for money given your training. Personally, I bought a premium branded vest because:
- I have experience with products from the usual UK premium manufacturers and I value the quality of their products
- Supporting the local suppliers is a nice perk
- The product was available to order at the point I was looking to buy
- Customer service and product support likely to be strong with established brands
- My chosen vest has spare parts available to buy if I were to lose any weight bricks or wear out any fixings. Budget brands would likely require a full replacement
The downside is obvious however – cost. I genuinely think it is a false economy to go super cheap as these vests don’t come with weights included, but once you are trying to differentiate between premium manufacturers where the products are all great the choice comes down to minor design differences, brand allegiances, etc.
The above bullets outline my thought process when choosing Bulldog – yours may vary.
What are the benefits from training with a weighted vest?
If you’ve made it this far then you are likely pretty keen on a weighted vest – if not, then this might be the final push for you to decide between going for it, or passing for now:
This is one of my buzz words when talking about my weight vest – VARIETY. It has added a bunch of options to my usual training routine by simply weighting options up (pull-ups, chin ups, dips, etc) as well as allowing me to load up when doing CrossFit style WODs to keep them in the sweet spot of fatigue / benefit.
This is great as I love these dynamic workouts – but don’t want to smash myself to pieces as my priority remains my weight training.
Walking with a weight vest can help you burn more calories – carrying around 15% of your bodyweight results in burning around 10% more calories when walking.
If you don’t have space for a full home gym with a barbell, plates and a power rack then a weighted vest is a pretty good way to give you workout options at home without a home gym.
You can throw it in the cupboard when not in use, then pull it out and piece together a routine with burpees, weighted dips, step ups on your stairs, air squats, etc.
They are safe
Weight vests are safe and they are not bad for your spine, contrary to what some may think. I read in to it online and the vest itself was not causing any issues – albeit like ANY bit of gym equipment it CAN cause injuries if used incorrectly.
The key is to treat the vest with respect: keep focused when working out and simply be judicious with your movement.
When I was experimenting with wearing a weight vest all day for another article I did feel a little exposed to joint injury from twisting and turning doing regular day-to-day movements (walking around the house basically) with the extra weight. This was because I was wearing the vest for so long I was simply forgetting I had it on and not moving with the deliberate, safe movements I would when moving around the gym.
That’s not the vest at fault, it’s my concentration span!
So there you have it – the Bulldog 20kg Weigh Vest is the best option for MOST people looking to use a weight vest for general training – so calisthenics, bodybuilding, CrossFit or similar, while the alternative Bulldog Tactical Vest suits those looking to specialise in longer distance running.
Both vests are great – but the smaller, heavier style of the 20kg equivalent suits a general trainee more than the larger, lighter tactical alternative.
I’ve got the 20kg vest myself and am REALLY happy with it and look forward to using it regularly for years to come!