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Ibex Shak Vest : For Men and Women

People here in Seattle are such weather wimps. Anything under 40 degrees and they complain about the "cold." When it dips into the mid-20s, you'd think the world was ending. All they need: a cozy layer of merino wool, like Ibex's Shak Vest.

While my friends and neighbors have been whining and my walking partners have been bailing on our daily outings, I've been braving the "cold" in my favorite new mid layer. The Shak Vest is made of a sturdy but soft midweight merino wool that's very effective at providing warmth when I need more than my winter jacket but don't want bulk.

The Shak Vest is also ideal for my power walks because I don't really need a long-sleeved mid layer under my wind shell (and over my ultra-thin long-sleeved merino top). The Shak allows my armpits to breathe. It's also more comfortable than a jacket because I have less fabric to deal with under my arms.

During our brief "cold" snap, my Shak vest did an incredible job of insulating, breathing, and wicking during many fast-paced power walks. I get moving pretty fast and heat up quickly, but because wool is so breathable I never overheated or end up drenched in sweat. I love that.

I'm 6" tall and fairly lean, and the men's size M fit me just right. I usually wear a women's size L, but I opted for the men's vest because I wanted more length through the torso. I've tried other Ibex men's tops and found them big and boxy, but the Shak Vest is cut fairly slim, which is how I'd want a vest for exercise and layering to fit. It hangs close enough to my body to capture heat but it's not tight or binding. I like the wide collar that provides weather protection for my neck when the vest is fully zipped.

I love the Shak Vest's cut and style because it's simple and it hugs my body enough that it's easy to use as a layering piece. I've also been wearing it around my home over a long-sleeved top to keep the chill away when our radiators don't quite kick out enough heat.

The Shak Vest is actually quite elegant. I tested a black vest, and it looks great with jeans. I normally don't wear my exercise gear out to parties, but since merino doesn't hang on to odors, my vest doesn't smell (and I've been wearing it for weeks). I've received many compliments on it!

Available in men's sizes S-XL, colors Black, Dark Ivy, and Navyish, and women's sizes XS-L in Black, Snow, and Shiraz. The vest has a discreet, flat zippered pocket on the left side of the jacket.

Bottom Line: I love this vest. It fits well, it performs well, the wool is top quality, and it's versatile. I count on it for both cold-weather exercise and an added layer under my winter jacket.--E.D. (December '10)

BUY ONLINE: $120, on sale for $79.93 at REI. Shop for women's vest at Altrec.

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When hiking or camping, always carry the "10 Essentials":

Extra clothing, extra food and water, lighter or water-proof matches and fire starter, map in waterproof envelope, compass, pocket knife, sunscreen and sunglasses, flashlight or headlamp, first aid kit, emergency shelter.

Source: Seattle Mountain Rescue and Seattle Mountaineers.