We have two vests to review for you over the next 48 hours. One is the monster pod carrier Echo Vest, and the other is the Molle milsim style Tango vest. Given the title, I guess I should tell you about the Echo vest first. My first impressions of both these vests after examining them through the sealed plastic they were delivered in is that these are some pretty robust pieces of gear, and after taking the Echo vest out and trying it on, I was not disappointed. There are tonnes of tabs, belts, and buckles, all easily accessed from the front while wearing the vest for adjusting to fit the user perfectly, but there aren't so many that it becomes a chore figuring out which does which and later worrying one will loosen while playing. The stitching which holds it all together is very tightly done with no space under the stitches for something to slide under, pull, and break the stitch. It also seems to be made of a tougher sort of thread than on much of the other gear but I may be mistaken on this point.
This product can be called a vest thanks to the shoulder straps it's been given, but in my eyes, it's still more or less a pod pack with suspenders, but how well does it function as a pack? It's actually better than any belt pack I've ever used! With this pack, you get many more points of contact with the added shoulder straps, the usual elastic belt piece for your gut, as well as an additional strap across the chest, and all these additional points to secure the device to your body ensures that there is a very small fraction of the movement of pods on your back compared to the usual belt pack. To ensure zero movement on your pods on a regular pack, you need to position the belt just right around your torso or waist and then do it up fairly tight which for some players means sacrificing breathing capacity. The Echo vest has a large belt which wraps around the user's stomach just as on most pod packs. It's a thick piece of an elastic material with velcro panels for tightening it to the user's preference and since there are shoulder straps on the vest, this part can be left somewhat loose. It doesn't restrict the wearer's ability to bend in the midsection and it doesn't subtract from comfort while playing. Some belts like this on other vests and podpacks can cause pinching between this belt and the waist area of the pants, especially if the user has a bit of extra weight in the midsection, but I'm glad to say that I haven't felt any sort of pinching from this vest in that region while demoing it, and my team mate who owns the product also can't comment on discomfort here. To limit side to side and up and down movement of the pack area of the vest while running, there is a moderately sized rubberized panel to hold the pack tight to your lower back. It doesn't take up much room and the surrounding material is a high quality mesh to facilitate ventilation. A small molle panel just above the pod pouches can also hold a remote pouch if you so desire to carry a tank on your back and I should probably mention to you now the pack's true coup de grace. How many pods does the Valken Echo vest hold? A whopping nine 140 rounders!
So what are some cons of the vest? For what the Echo vest is designed to be, I really can't comment on any shortcomings. I know that some other products like it, such as one particular vest made by NXE includes a remote pouch and a reservoir for a hydration bladder, however the addition of both those features rockets the price of that product up to over 100$ in Canada and the remote pouch location on that vest lowers the number of pods which can be carried. There is no real estate on the front for adding additional pouches but to add some there would mean more material and restricting ventilation. If there was one thing I have to say I don't like, it's the 'top' of the pod pouches where the bottom of the pod sits. This is a rigid piece of material, what would have been excellent here is an elastic loop to help eject the pod into your hand when opening the pouch it's sitting in. Aside from this, only one other minor gripe and it's with the shoulder straps. They are a little close to the wearer's neck and like to make you aware of this fact. Though I did not have any issue, my team mate whose played some more with the vest has noted a little abrasion from the vest in the neck area from the close shoulder straps.
For the price of this vest (Roughly 36-40$ US, a little more CAD), and the variety of camoflages it comes in, you really can't go wrong picking one of these vests up. If you use a speedball gun but never go to tournaments, or a recball gun with a tank on the ASA instead of on a remote this is probably the best option out there for you, even if you're experienced and have a healthy budget for a vest. It's less expensive than high end pod packs and does the job of holding paint just as well, if not better than many other companies' offerings.
Valken's page (link) has more images of the Echo Vest.