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As we entered a new year I was keen to add some new challenges to my agenda – mainly in two areas I have generally been pretty inconsistent in training: running, and calisthenics. And what better way to try and train them BOTH than by adding a nice, shiny (metaphorically in this case!) bit of kit to the home gym.
A Bulldog Gear 20kg weighted vest has found its way in to my online basket and has burned a premium priced, vest-shaped hole in my bank account.
This is my review of the 20kg weight vest – and not to give too much away – it is fantastic! Read on to find out exactly WHY.
At a glance…
- Bulldog Gear 20kg Weight Vest is a great bit of kit for calisthenics and heavier training
- It can be loaded heavier than a tactical vest, but is less suited to distance running
- Premium price tag is matched with premium quality
- Very easy to adjust fit and weight on the fly
- Click here to check it out on their site now
Bulldog Gear 20kg Weight Vest Review
At the time I purchased the weighted vest it cost £125, plus I had to pay £11 shipping. I baulk at paying shipping most of the time (an unfortunate side effect of having access to Amazon Prime), but for a fairly bulky and heavy item it is – begrudgingly – fair cop to charge. At least the weight vest comes with all the weights!
I was really impressed with the packaging – the box was very neatly sizes and the packaging was heavy duty cardboard. There was virtually no superficial damage to the box from shipping. Opening her up brought more good news – the vest was neatly folded in a plastic bag (complete with the usual sachet of silica gel), fully loaded at 20kg. All in all I was up and running (quite literally) in a few minutes.
Premium construction quality
For the £125 I was expecting a top of the line product. You could say I had high expectations!
Luckily I was not disappointed as the vest feels very robust. The initial unpacking and heaving of the weight vest when fully laden showed absolutely NO sign of weakness. The body of the vest is thick & strong with the excellent form and padding extending over the shoulders. Across the front and rear there are a total of 4x banks secured with a velcro flap to take weight bars. 18 slots = 18kg of added weight, with the vest itself weighing around 2kg to give us the total 20kg.
Materials used all seem perfectly suited to the task in hand – the bulk of the vest is non-absorbent material which makes it great for workouts where it can be simply wiped clean. Bulldog advise washing by hand and so far I’ve had no issues with this – the odd wipe down and it’s as good as new!
Velcro straps for a tighter fit
The vest secures to the body with thick velcro straps. I’m pretty apprehensive about using velcro usually, but these strips of it are stitched to the vest with thick, black stitching to try and avoid the strips ripping or falling off.
I would have preferred a metal clip or similar for longevity if I could have picked at the time of purchase – but having used the vest quite a lot since buying I concede that velcro is the better choice for getting a really tight fit in the easiest, quickest way possible without any jangling when running – even if it does reduce the lifespan of the vest…
My apprehension around velcro is in case it loses its sticking power over time. After some poking around, Bulldog sell replacement straps which is a weight off my mind (excuse the pun…) BUT at £25 I think they are pretty pricey, especially when you consider you have already forked out £125 for the vest in the first place.
The ability to really ratchet the tightness up with the velcro makes it feel MEGA secure, so jumping, running, kipping and any other sort of movement feels so natural with the vest on. As with all great bits of kit you really don’t focus on the tool, but rather the task at hand. This is the best compliment I can really pay any bit of home gym gear – you hardly notice it while you focus on form, sets and reps 🙂
Cut & design of the vest works well for most exercises
I was initially worried about using the vest for calisthenics style workouts – as a smaller user I thought the cut of the vest around the arms and shoulders might not suit me and result in discomfort while doing pull-ups. So far I have had absolutely NO issues – I am quite surprised at this and have even started varying my grip width – but so far, NO discomfort at all.
Design works well on shorter athletes
At 5’7” I am not a particularly tall individual. One of the appealing features of this vest is the short design. The vest stops an inch or so above my belly button so even when fully loaded it does not interfere with my range of motion – so I can do squats, lunges etc without the vest jabbing or hitting my thighs.
Depending on your body shape the smaller design is more comfortable than the longer alternatives – there is more give in the structure and the individual bricks are more manoeuvrable than the far larger tactical weight vest plates. So if you have lumps, bumps or curves this vest will work better for you.
Tactical weight vests – like the Bulldog Tactical Weight Vest – are usually loaded with thin weight plates that have a fairly large surface area. These mean the overall design needs to be longer to accommodate. This just wouldn’t work for me or anyone shorter as the longer length will bash your legs, and the tactical plates are big and flat and not designed to flex around different body shapes.
Adjusting the weight of the vest is easy
An empty vest weighs around 2kg and it comes with 18 bricks which weigh around a kilo each. The bricks are made of some kind of metal material and are branded with the Bulldog name/logo which I think is a nice feature.
It might have been nice to coat the bricks in a textured rubber finish to make them easier to hold, but this would have the downside of being a bit more difficult to slot in and out on the fly – so overall probably a good design choice.
As noted there are 18 pouches to load the vest up. These are split over a bank of 4 weights above a bank of 5 weights on the front and rear of the vest. Each bank has a robust flap with velcro to lock the weights down – absolutely CRITICAL for running with a weighted vest!
One negative is the velcro strap that secures the vest around your body & torso covers the flap of the lower front weight bank. This means rapid on the fly weight changes to that area are a bit less convenient than the upper front bank. Obviously the rear slots are also more difficult to adjust without taking the vest off.
Downsides & other considerations
So it’s safe to say I like my weighted vest – A LOT. But it’s not perfect. Here are a few considerations before you pull the trigger on one for yourself:
Made in China?
Upon delivery I noticed the box was tagged as ‘Made in China’ – I have absolutely no issues with outsourcing production, but for the £125 I had hoped to be supporting a UK based manufacturing facility. That said there are no issues with the vest – just sharing this fact for completeness.
Premium price: Is it expensive?
At £125 plus delivery this is a premium priced product. I was apprehensive about ordering for this reason as I struggled back and fourth comparing the vest to generic, unbranded alternatives.
Where Bulldog Gear have excelled here is with the quality of the product – the cheap generic tat does not hold a candle to the robust Bulldog design. This plays out in the reviews as well – not only am I singing its praises here, but there are 200+ very positive reviews on the Bulldog Gear site. Plenty of happy customers. The generic alternatives on Amazon or equivalent have a raft of mediocre reviews, but at least they undercut on price.
Personally I would rather pay A BIT MORE for a quality product. Different budgets and preferences do exist however!
Regardless, it is still a chunky outlay for most of us. I went back and fourth on it trying to decide if it was worth it for me and my training style – but I am glad I have it in the garage gym as I’m loving the variation to calisthenic style workouts!
As with a lot of these gym accessories – it is worth it IF IT FITS YOUR TRAINING.
Range of motion when loaded can be reduced
with 18x individual weight brick pouches the bricks themselves need to be space efficient – as a result they have a bit of profile and protrude out from your chest when in their pockets.
If you have shorter arms, a larger chest or some other similar factor you MIGHT find your range of motion impacted on some workouts such as press-ups. I’ve not had an issue with this personally at 5’7” and the associated short arms, but it CAN be a factor.
A couple of work arounds I had planned to utilise if this WAS an issue:
- Load your back first so the front pouches are empty
- Perform press-ups with your hands on weight plates to create a cavity to press in to
Other designs might suit longer distance running
The Bulldog Tactical Vest is better suited to longer distance running. The longer design which can interfere with the range of motion of squats is less of an issue when just plugging the miles in. The lower weight capacity offered by the Tactical Vest is also less of an issue as you won’t be as heavily laden on these longer runs.
The trade off on the Tactical Vest is the comparatively light weight options, difficulty to change weights and longer, more clumsy design for calisthenics.
Choose your vest based on your workouts
Ultimately your choice of vest design will be steered by your intended uses – calisthenics, CrossFit, weighted chins and short distance running all benefit from a more adjustable, heavier vest which the 20kg weight vest I have offers.
For the Bulldog 20kg weight vest I would say there are far more positives than negatives – money well spent!
Bulldog Gear 20kg Weight Vest vs Bulldog Tactical Weight Vest
There is a great video that helped me pick between the two vests on the Bulldog site – which I’ve embedded here too:
I pulled together a comparison table between the two vests when I was deciding:
|20kg Vest||Tactical Vest|
|Loading style||Uses 18x 1kg bricks||Interchangable metal weight plates|
|Max load||20kg||9kg (being 20lbs converted to kilograms @ 2.2)|
|Weight changing||Quick to add or remove single bricks||Whole plate needs changed out|
|Design style||Bulkier due to brick style & heavier capacity||Thinner due to plate loading & lower capacity|
|Length||Shorter / cropped – good for shorter athletes||Longer – less suitable for shorter athletes|
|Strengths||Calisthenics; Heavier loading||Running|
|Weaknesses||Bulkier due to bricks – can impact ROM in press-ups to floor; Shoulder design less suited to distance running||Lower weight capacity; Incremental loading more difficult;|
|Link to product||Available here||Available here|
Ultimately I went with the 20kg vest (obviously, given I am reviewing it here) as I was more focused on calisthenics over running, and as a shorter person the more cropped style looked more suitable for me. Further I wanted to be able to load my pull-ups specifically and I was concerned the largest 9kg tactical vest wouldn’t be sufficient for this.
If you’re looking for something primarily for distance running then maybe give the tactical vest another look before ordering either.
Do weighted vests actually work?
Of course they do – it’s simply a vest, with weight! But I know what you mean – do they ACTUALLY add anything to training?
I was initially sceptical myself but have found myself using it regularly for pushups, pull-ups, dips (using my bench – ideal as I needed to overload this movement but I don’t have dip bars at the moment) and incorporating these in to my mini CrossFit style WODs (so for example I use an air bike for 15-20 calories, jump off and then do 10-20 press ups with a vest on: rinse and repeat.)
I’ve found it adds a welcome bit of variety to my workouts as I can load up on these otherwise bodyweight movements and give myself a decent bit of low fatigue, high volume work to stimulate some hypertrophy. It also adds this weighted dynamic to my WODs to keep them challenging and interesting without just adding reps indefinitely.
The Bulldog Gear 20kg Weight Vest is a high quality, highly versatile bit of kit that is perfect for those who want to focus on heavy calisthenics style workouts, or incrementally load what would normally be bodyweight movements such as pull-ups or chin-ups.
As someone who has focused on strength and hypertrophy training in recent years I am enjoying the diverse range of exercises and movements this vest is opening up for me – even simple air squats with it are a novel and fun way to keep adding volume on leg day without grinding myself in to dust and adding too much fatigue in to the training program!
It is also a great way to facilitate training if you can’t get to your commercial gym as often as you’d like and you don’t have space at home for a full rack / barbell / plates set up. A simple weight vest and possibly a pull up bar and you can still keep yourself looking jacked!
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows however. While I think it is great, what I would say is the vest sits firmly in the ‘nice to have’ bracket. It’s really cool to grab it and go and it is an excellent toy to play with for variety and keeping things fresh, but it’s not an essential purchase. I think it’s great for someone with the interest and budget available who already has the basics nailed (so barbell, plates, rack, bench, possibly dumbbells) but if you’re not there yet I wouldn’t feel bad about putting the money towards more traditional free weights first.