Updated Jun 25, 2022 5:21 PM
Turkey vests have come a long way. When my Pop and I started turkey hunting in Ohio back around 1990, we didn’t have so-called turkey vests. Hell, we barely had camouflage clothing. Times have changed. Today, the turkey vest is as much a part of the experience that is turkey hunting as are calls, shotguns, and ammunition. These form-fitting suitcases pack everything we turkey hunters need, and then some, into the field. And with luck, they will also haul a long beard back out to the truck.
A good turkey vest should be comfortable, feature a vast array of pockets and pouches, incorporate a seat cushion, and come in a variety of camouflage patterns. I took the time to sort through some of the top choices available to hunters today. Here are some considerations to remember, as well as a few recommendations for the best turkey vests on the market.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Turkey Vest
Sure, it would be an easy thing to go online, throw a dart (figuratively), and buy the very first turkey vest you come across. But with the 16.5 million results that your Google search for “turkey vests” turned up, how would you know you were getting the right one? Using the following criteria can certainly make narrowing the field to only the best turkey vests a whole lot easier.
I don’t know about you, but price just about always factors into the equation for me. Turkey vests run the gamut from a low-end of $30 or less to top-of-the-line garments costing $300 or more. My mantra always: Get the best you can afford without causing your wallet to hemorrhage violently. And remember, expensive doesn’t always translate into better. Some of the best turkey vests can be had for a very reasonable price.
Do you want web-style shoulder straps, or would you prefer full (wide) shoulders, a sort of sleeveless shirt type of design? Do you want a removable game bag to carry your Tom after a successful day? No game bag? Do you plan on carrying your shotshells in your pockets, or do you like the convenience that shell loops provide? What about zippers, or would you prefer quick clips? Vests are like an ala carte buffet; they can be a little of this and a little of that. It just takes time to look over the menu.
In my opinion, Mossy Oak or Realtree are the two major players in the camouflage arena. However, there are others available. Some of this decision is personal preference. Some of it depends on where you’re hunting. The important thing is that the camouflage pattern you pick blend in in most of your hunting situations. Your call there.
Typical Weather Conditions
The best turkey hunting vest is often dictated by climate. Are you in southern Florida hunting Osceolas? Or in the Black Hills of South Dakota with six inches of snow on the ground for half the season? If you hunt Florida, you’ll want a lighter vest; something with ample airflow to help keep you cool. If you’re in Dakota, maybe that full-shouldered vest with back padding and room for a sweatshirt underneath is the ticket.
Most turkey vests today include some type of seat or seat cushion; some don’t. I personally don’t wear a cushioned vest, but pack an old school Bunsaver by Hunter’s Specialties in the game pouch and deploy it on each stand. Still, seating is an option, and often adds something to the final price tag. Can you get by without and save a little? Or is something like Tenzing’s TR18 vest, with its integrated support arms/backrest a little more your speed?
Bells and Whistles
Many vests are filled with gimmicks, meant to hook the fisherman rather than the fish if you know what I mean. So, think about the extra features that would benefit you. Do you really need 5,492 cubic inches of space? If you filled it up, the vest would weigh in at 1.32 metric tons. Magnetic closures. Horizontal this. Vertical that. Pockets inside pockets inside pockets. Retractable lanyards. Impressive, but do you really need it?
If you need help filling your new vest, check out our round up of the best turkey calls. We also sorted through the best shotguns for turkey hunting. And you can round out the rest of your kit with the best new turkey hunting gear. And don’t forget to check out the National Wild Turkey Federation for more info on gobblers in your area.
Why It Made the Cut: If I were King and could give my court direction to build me a turkey vest precisely to my specifications, it would be this one. The Super Elite 4.0 is a dedicated turkey hunter’s turkey vest. And I mention 22 pockets?
- High neck offers protection on many levels
- Twenty-two pockets; many zippered
- Integral silent box call holster
- Divided pot call pockets
- Wide shoulders distribute weight of gear and/or gobbler
- Game pouch
- Seat cushion is easily removable
- Can be a bit hot when the weather warms up
- Lack of traditional shotshell loops
I’ll admit it. I’m awfully particular when it comes to a turkey vest. Year after year, I’d swap all my gear into a new vest, only to field it once, pull everything out, and go back to old reliable. But I’m giving serious thought to just leaving all my gear tucked away in the Alps Outdoorz’ Super Elite. Will wonders never cease?
The Super Elite offers all the criteria a good vest should have. It’s comfortable and quiet. I find myself often shedding a vest when I set up, and the quick release clips in front allow me to drop it in short order. Pocket placement nears perfection, as if the vest had truly been designed both by King and an avid turkey hunter—which it might have been. The box call holster does, as advertised, eliminate the unnerving SQUAWK of an unintentional yelp. The divided pot call pocket means an end to dropping our slates in individual cloth bags to keep them clean. The drop-down seat cushion is thick enough, wide enough, and, perhaps most importantly, sports a waterproof bottom, so you’re not packing around five extra pounds of morning dew, rain, snow, and mud.
Why It Made the Cut: Sitka has come a long way from the days of their first waterfowl garments, and the Equinox Turkey Vest is a prime example of their closer-to-perfection journey.
- Magnetic pocket closures
- Lightweight (44 ounces)
- Unique compression style box call pocket maintains silence
- Integrated blaze orange flags hidden when not in use
- Perfect for run ‘n gun hunting style
- Fully adjustable for physical size and clothing
- Plenty of pockets, but gear doesn’t get ‘lost’ inside
- Back portion is hydration compatible
- Price point is right up there
- Seat deployment can be awkward and/or slow
- Underside of cushion is light gray; should be OD or camouflage
I remember when Sitka Gear first introduced their waterfowl clothing line. To me, it left a lot to be desired on any number of levels. Fast forward a decade and Sitka is, and rightfully so, one of the leading names in waterfowl apparel.
So I wasn’t surprised, given the evolution, to find their new Equinox Turkey Vest a winner on several levels. For my tastes and style of hunting, it’s small and perhaps a bit too minimalist. However, the innovation involved, which includes a fully adjustable cam-lock system that fits the vest vertically precisely to the wearer, is just downright cool! There are plenty of pockets. For the most part, they’re located right where they need to be in terms of ergonomics. As for the magnetic closures, they’re undeniably quick, but I’m concerned about them ‘popping’ open unintentionally. I’m a zipper guy; call me Old School.
At $250, the Equinox Turkey Vest isn’t what I’d call budget priced. However, nothing says you can’t scrub the seat and use it for any other outdoor application—early season elk, spot-and-stalk deer hunting, squirrels, or even stream fishing—and pull 365 days out of it.
Why It Made the Cut: It doesn’t take long to realize Drake Waterfowl’s Ol’ Tom line of turkey hunting gear has been designed by folks who hunt turkeys. Hard. Proof in point: the Time & Motion Essentials 2.0 Vest.
- Unique removable ‘Gun Cradle’ strap
- Integral full-length blaze orange safety flag
- Slim and body-fitting; doesn’t ‘flop’ around even when full
- Locator call lanyards
- Adjustable chest and side straps allow personalized fit
- More than a dozen pockets of various sizes
- Elastic pocket closure provides quick access
- Wide, comfortable shoulder straps distribute weight evenly
- Magnetic seat cushion ‘catch’ isn’t as secure as a pair of quick clips
- Locator call lanyards, with calls, can be cumbersome
My apologies if the phrase “bare bones” is a cliché, but bare bones is an excellent phrase to describe the Time & Motion Essentials 2.0 turkey vest by Ol’ Tom/Drake Waterfowl. But that’s what it’s meant to carry, the essentials. So, if you’re a minimalist, this one deserves a look-see.
It’s a simple vest, but there’s been some thought put into the Time & Motion’s design. The lower right pocket unzips on two sides, allowing it to ‘flop’ open and provide fast and easy access to different calls, strikers, and what-have-you while you’re working a bird. A winner there! The game bag is plenty big enough for decoys, Hostess fruit pies, and should the stars align, a big old long beard. Like many, the seat cushion is waterproofed on the bottom and is detachable via two quick clips. The small foam pad between the shoulder blades makes backing up against a tree and waiting out a bird for two hours a great deal more comfortable.
The so-called gun cradle? This simple loop is meant to hold the butt of your shotgun close to your shoulder, leaving your hands free to run calls, read a book, eat a sandwich, whatever. I can see the intent, but I’ve not used one in 30 years, and probably won’t start now. Roll the dice and take your chances, I reckon.
Why It Made the Cut: The Finisher offers all the essentials turkey hunters need and can be found on sale for less than a five-pack of premium shells.
- Plenty of pockets; zippers and button closures
- Rip-stop construction; lightweight and breathable
- Excellent for late season/warm weather hunts
- Single strap attachment drop-down padded seat
- Affordable for most, if not all hunting/outdoor budgets
- Elemental design keeps things simple
- Large game bag holds accessories, decoys, and harvested birds
- Deep pockets; zippers and buttons keep gear secure
- Shotshell loops on the outside = lost shotshells
- No ‘silenced’ box call holster
I’m not cheap, I’d rather think of myself as frugal. Budget-minded. Ah, all right … sometimes I run to the cheap side of the track, but when I can get a turkey vest like Blocker Outdoors’ Finisher that does everything I need it to do and for less than a week’s worth of gas.
Bare bones, minimalist, whatever you want to say, you’re not buying a Cadillac here. The Finisher offers pockets, both zippered and slightly quicker-to-access buttons, left and right. There’s not a ton of them, but enough to pack what you’ll need for the morning’s hunt. I’m a fan of larger game bags in a turkey vest, as I tend to overdress and pack two to four decoys. The Finisher’s bag can handle my extra hoodie and my foldable Flambeau dekes. I can’t say much about the seat cushion other than it’s small and uncomfortable, but it’s there and works if you are skinny. And score one for the built-in blaze orange safety flag, a must-have in my book.
New turkey hunter? This one’s perfect. Young turkey hunter? Again, I’m leaning toward a decent vest like this one that will get the job done, and costs less than taking the family out to eat.
Why It Made the Cut: Hunter’s Specialties has long held the reputation as being one of the founding fathers of turkey hunting innovation. The UnderTaker Chest Pack is another feather in HS’ highly adorned cap.
- Compact yet roomy adjustable body-hugging design
- Off-side quick access striker pockets
- Quiet magnetic closures
- Bottom mounted ‘silent’ box call pocket
- Small and lightweight
- Works for turkeys, waterfowl, whitetails, or fishing
- Provides ‘tabletop’ type workspace when open
- Extra deep interior pocket
- It’s small (but it’s meant to be)
- Chest location can prove awkward to some
- No game bag
I’ll be honest. I’m not sure I could survive afield with only the gear contained within Hunter’s Specialties’ UnderTaker Chest Pack. Why? I’m a gear junkie, that’s why. That said, I would certainly be willing to give it a shot. And if you’re a turkey hunter who gets by with the most elemental of tools while in the field, this might be precisely what you’re looking for.
The first-generation chest packs used magnets to secure the primary (front) convex pouch/pocket, and these weren’t exceptionally strong. This allowed the front to flop open at the worst times—if there’s a good time to spill all your turkey gear into the leaves. The magnets have since been replaced by a quick-release (parachute style) clip that requires an extra second to unfasten but prevents those first generation accidents.
As for the lack of a game bag, I typically carry a full blaze orange carry bag, like the H.S. Strut Safety Game Bag, or Primos’ Simple Turkey Tote, in my vest. For those choosing a chest style pack, such a bag or tote could be the answer there.
Why It Made the Cut: Any reputable company that makes high quality wildland firefighting gear should be able to put together an exceptional fanny pack applicable to turkey hunting. Mystery Ranch did that. Perfectly.
- Allows waist or over-the-shoulder (slingback) carry styles
- Extraordinarily strong zippers
- Compact but offers 385 cubic inches of interior space
- Robust stitching
- Easy access interior
- Side compression straps
- Ventilated/padded back side helps keep wearer cool
- Plastic back ‘plate’ provides semi-rigid support
- No camouflage options
- Relatively small containment space
- No game bag, but it is a waist pack
Summer 2022 will mark my fifth season as a wildland firefighter in Washington state. And it was in the fire camps and on the fire lines that I was introduced to Mystery Ranch gear. It’s one of, if not the, the most popular, brand of line pack I see in the field. That said, I’m not surprised Mystery Ranch makes the Full Moon. This dandy waist pack is perfect for pulling any number of duties, certainly not to exclude serving as a good—albeit smaller and quite non-traditional—turkey ‘vest.’
Turkey gear. Whitetail gear. Fishing tackle. Even as a modified everyday carry pack for your concealed firearm, the Full Moon provides almost 400 cubic inches of interior storage, secured with a sturdy YKK zipper. Maybe it sounds silly, but I judge a lot of zippered gear by the pulls. When they break, I’m instantly aggravated. It’s simple. They shouldn’t break, and MR’s do not, despite repeated attempts by me. No, there’s no specified pot call pocket; no box call holster nor shell loops. I’m okay with those omissions because what do I find inboard the Full Moon? Gloves, head net, four shotshells, two strikers, a pot call, crow call, one extra Primos A-frame diaphragm call, a one-liter bottle of high-quality H2O, and two granola bars. That’s what I need if I have an hour to hunt before work or weasel out that last hour of shooting time.
Side compression straps keep gear snug. And I like the option of slinging the pack over one shoulder and not having it bouncing up and down on my hip if I’m on an all-morning jaunt. If you’re looking for something tough you can abuse while it holds everything you need to chase a gobbler to the ground, the Full Moon is it.
Why It Made the Cut: No tree? No problem if you’re wearing Tenzing’s TR18: the turkey vest that doubles as a recliner.
- Retractable spring-load reclining ‘legs’
- Well-designed; ergonomically sound
- Detachable foam seat cushion
- Hydration compartment
- Offers hunters the option of setting up anywhere comfortably
- Separate pot call pockets in lower right quadrant
- Easily reached box call holster in upper left
- Huge game bag
- At 5.4 pounds, it’s heavy right out of the gate
- Static frame can make tight maneuvering challenging
You’ll notice how heavy the TR18 is as soon as you pick it up. The internal aluminum frame, a requirement for the two retractable/spring-loaded support legs that transform the TR18 from ‘vest’ to ‘in-the-field recliner,’ make it heavy when compared to more traditional models. Heavy, as in almost six pounds empty. However, you get past that and the comfort of the TR18 really begins to shine.
I love the extra-large game bag on the TR18, which allows me to easily stash all my stuff. There’s roughly 2,200 cubic inches of storage in that game bag to tote decoys, dead turkey, extra hydration, cast-off clothing, Hostess fruit pies, whatever I need to carry into or out of the field. I’m a big fan of specifically designed pot call pockets, of which the TR18 has two. Although I’m personally partial to packing two or three one-liter waters, the TR18 does include a hydration pocket.
The padded seat cushion is thick (2.5”) and comfortable enough for all but the longest sits. But as with other seats, it’s small at just a smidge over a foot square. No, I’m not looking for a drop-down mattress, but I’d like a little bit more.
How I Made My Picks
I take my turkey hunting very seriously. I require certain elements in the turkey vest I’m going to wear every day from the middle of April to the last day of May. Your needs and requirements, of course, may differ. Perhaps you hunt only one or two days each season. Maybe all your hunting is done from a ground blind, thus effectively making a vest a moot point. There are 1,001 reasons for and against a vest, and yours are without question valid.
But to help you decide, these are the criteria I used to differentiate good vests from so-so vests:
Simplicity of design/build: I want the vest to be relatively simple, without a ton of bells and whistles and widgets. Certainly, sometimes I’m proven wrong and a fully featured vest is great. However, I tend to select simple designs so that when that old Tom gobbles I’m not lost in my turkey vest.
Fit and comfort: Like shoes, fit and comfort are important. I want a vest that fits well, and is comfortable when fully loaded, even after I’ve worn it all day. If the shoulder straps cut off the circulation to my hands, it’s out. If the straps aren’t adjustable to the point I can get the fit really dialed in, it’s out. The vest is an integral part of my turkey hunting gear, and I’m wearing it every day.
Ergonomics: I want a vest to put the items I need, calls, strikers, head nets, gloves, and snacks, within quick and easy reach. I need to be able to grab them without having to take my eyes off a long beard waddling his way down the fence line.
Security of personal items: I need a vest that doesn’t lose stuff. I’m fully capable of losing strikers, gloves, and other items on my own. So, the vest I’m looking for has zippered (preferable) or hook and loop (if need be) pockets that aren’t prone to spilling my gear every time I sit or bend over. In fact, I want all the fasteners, whatever that might be, to be strong and secure.
Q: Do you need camo for turkey hunting?
Turkeys have impressive eyesight, so you need to stay concealed. Wearing a camo pattern that matches your surroundings is all but essential if you’re going to hunt these wary birds. Choose a pattern that closely matches the terrain and colors found wherever you hunt. Should you be truly ambitious, you might buy two vests in different patterns: one for early season browns, and the other with an emphasis on various shades of greens for the mid to late season.
Q: What should you carry in a turkey vest?
Turkey vests are perfect tools for packing all the calls you need to lure long beards, decoys, ammo, and assorted snacks to get you through the day. In addition to those items, you should carry a small first aid kit and bottle of water or two. Many vests feature a blaze orange flag that can be worn as you move from spot to spot. If yours isn’t so equipped, you should consider stashing some high-viz fabric for safe commutes from the turkey hunting grounds.
Q: How much does a turkey vest cost?
Like most items, you can find turkey vests at a wide variety of price points. Bare bones vests can be had for as little as $30, and some full featured models reach into the triple digits. But you don’t need to drop a mint for quality, with many excellent turkey vests in the $50 to $100 range.
Like so many of the gear items we take into the field, the purchase of a turkey vest is a personal choice. Which one? What camouflage pattern? Seat? Supports? Integrated game pouch? The variables are almost infinite. Use the above advice to ensure you get the best turkey vest for your needs.