Dark Skies Apparel Observing Vest Review

Dark Skies Apparel Observer Vest
By Jason Hissong and Jim Schoultz
Photos by Roger Wiltfong

Jason and Jim with their new observing vests ready for a night of observing. (Photo: Roger Wiltfong)

Every once in a while a product comes along that is so useful in a particular endeavor, seems so obvious once released, yet no one seemed to have come up with it before now.  The Dark Skies Apparel Observer Vest is one of those products.  How can I make such a bold claim?  Easy, read on.

Observers have long known that a vest that has eyepiece sized pockets is a great way to have your eyepiece collection quickly within reach.  This promotes eyepiece swapping for various magnifications.  Short of purchasing (or building) some type of eyepiece turret (lots of money there!), a vest is a less expensive alternative.

One of the challenges of deep sky observing is that things are faint.  You want things as dark as possible so that your eyes can tease out that faint wisp of nebulosity or those galaxies in the Coma and Virgo Cluster.  Ambient light can rob these faint details from your eyes, especially if there is a porch light blazing its light to the surrounding area.  Having a dark cloth draped over your head can block this ambient light to aid in seeing fainter objects.  Plus, you can leave both eyes open to relieve the fatigue of closing one eye all of the time.

What would happen if you combined the convenience of an observing vest and the practicality of a dark hood?  The Dark Skies Apparel Observer Vest of course! I mean, I would have thought this would have been around a while already.  But I have not found anything that combines these two things together.  The product was just something I had to get.  After one of my observing partners, Jim, purchased one and showed it to me, I went ahead and bought one of my own.

The item shipped quickly after my order.  I ordered it on a Friday and it arrived at my home the following Monday.  Just in time for an observing run some of our club members had planned.

Upon initial inspection, you can tell the vest was made of nice materials.  The outside material is made of brushed cotton 10 oz. denim and the inside lining is made of a cotton-poly blend material.  The stitching is tight and strong.  I paid a little extra for the XL so that it can go over my heavy winter coat.  There is a single plastic clasp to connect the two sides of the vest together.  The XL fit easily over my winter coat (and multiple layers underneath).  And of course, there is the large “monk” hood.

This hood is large.  When raised, it extends at least 10” beyond your face.  This is a nice length to drape over the focuser when you are at the eyepiece.  You can leave the hood hang, or you can pull the bottom of the hood together to get things darker if you like.  You can control how much you do this so that if your eyepiece starts to dew up, you can loosen this up.  Clear skies were calling, so it was time to put the vest to the test!

Jim and I both brought our vests and put it through its paces.  The sky had high thin clouds and contrails, so we thought we would go “monk-like” and pray to the observing gods for clearer skies.  It was worth a shot.

Praying for clear skies.

Praying for clear skies. (Photo: Roger Wiltfong)

Once it got dark, it was time to try it out.  My first object was M42.  I put the hood on, and was pleased with the darkness that engulfed my field of vision.  The eyepiece field of view hung there in the blackness as it should.  I pulled the bottom of the hood together to block some ambient light coming in from the bottom.  I did this too much and the eyepiece fogged up a bit.  I found a nice sweet spot to keep the fog at bay, but also keep things nice and dark.  Another great thing was that I could leave my left eye open while using my right eye for observing.  That is so nice.

At the eyepiece with the hood. (Photo: Roger Wiltfong)

The pockets are wonderful.  There are 4 large pockets at the bottom of the vest.  These are good for 2” eyepieces.  There are 4 midsized pockets in the middle of the vest.  Good for smaller eyepieces.  At the top of the vest are smaller pockets for laser pointers or pens.  I used the middle pockets for Naglers: one for 9mm, 13mm, and 16mm (thanks Jim for letting me use this!).  My 24mm Panoptic eyepiece was placed in one of the larger ones.  I reserved one of the middle pockets for my digital recorder (I use this for logging).  This arrangement worked well for me.  In fact, it totally transformed how I observe.  Usually, I like to use one eyepiece most of the time and just observe with that.  This time, I was swapping out eyepieces more often.  This adds a new dimension to your observing as some objects are just better to look at with higher power.

Pockets for eyepieces. (Photo: Roger Wiltfong)

I also started pulling out my Orthos and using some of the large pockets for them.   The Orthos are much shorter than the Naglers so it was harder to fish them out of the deep middle pockets, especially with gloves on.

Jim mentioned that he would like to have a couple of D-rings on the vest so he could put a flashlight or digital recorder, attached to a lanyard and strung through a D-ring, in a vest pocket. This arrangement secures things from accidental drops,provides quick access, and prevents things from getting tangled up. His wife sewed a couple D-rings on his vest (see the 1st photo above). A few days later she added 2 to my vest (thanks Marty). Jim found the D-rings were a nice addition to the vest.

By the end of the night, it became clear that the observing vest will now be an integral part of my observing equipment.  It just added so much to my enjoyment of observing.  There is a Zen-like quality to being underneath the hood.  You are in your own dark world, with a single portal to the greater universe beyond.

Oh yeah, the skies did clear out that night and we collected lots of photons.

~ by jhissong on 2011/03/11.

2 Responses to “Dark Skies Apparel Observing Vest Review”

  1. Thanks for the great review and photos. I ordered one myself last night, also the XL version to go over my puffy down coat.

  2. I was lucky enough to win a black DSA vest at the 2012 Texas Star Party (A big Thank You! to Dark Skies Apparel for supporting TSP). When I found out there was a Solar version (I observe in Texas) I ordered one right away. Complete with a hood for blocking out light and enhancing the finest detail possible, his is a wonderful accessory for every type of observing one can imagine.

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