A sturdy and well made protection vest from the Swedish brand.
Top-end Swedish brand POC has a varied line up of protection vests and jackets stretching up to almost £300 for some of its AIR range. This Spine VPD sleeveless vest is much more affordable at £130, but still maintains the brand’s reputation for well-made products built with quality materials.
On top of three sizes (think torso lengths), POC’s vest also comes in two different widths; slim and regular, so taller/thinner people and chunkier/shorter people can achieve a snug fit for the optimum stability and comfort. There’s also an optional waist strap that fastens to the outside of the vest via a Velcro panel. Being broad, this helps draw in and stabilise the back panel, as it isn’t quite as curved to the arch of the back as some rivals, but because it’s not permanently attached to the jacket it can be a bit difficult to manage and store when not worn.
POC’s rear protection panel covers the spine and the ribs over a broad area, both vertically and horizontally. The triple-layer backplate has varying thicknesses and densities to absorb different kinds of impacts, and there’s also a foam-backed mesh fabric where the panel contacts the body that’s super soft next to bare skin. As mentioned, this panel is a bit flat and less sculpted to the body’s curves, and there are no supplementary pads at the coccyx or flanks like some rivals.
The vest’s main fabric is a micro-mesh with very fine holes that effectively shifts moisture off the skin to evaporate fast. This material is reasonably stretchy for good freedom of movement and it holds the vest pretty steady as well, providing you get the right size/width. Because the back panel covers a big area, and also seems to be stiffer vertically than it is horizontally, a lot of twisting about on very dynamic trails can see it get pushed upwards and sideways a little, and I found the VPD can ride up the back easier than some more pre-shaped or flexible D30 protectors I’ve used. Using the waist band definitely helps it from peeling off the small of the back in this regard, but pulling it in at the bottom can also see the back panel stick out a little higher up and be visible through a jersey or coat at the shoulder blades and rear ribs.
POCs vest is well priced for the quality on offer, and cooling and comfort next to skin are excellent. In back-to-back use, I slightly preferred the VPD to the Paragon vest, as the back panel seemed to stay closer to my body when riding, whereas the bottom of Alpinestars back plate can occasionally get pushed up or sideways by the waistband of riding trousers. On the coldest days, this also lets in an icy draft. The Spine VPD isn’t perfect though, and I’ve used vests that have more storage and a more flexible (or pre-shaped and curved) rear back padding that traces the contours of the spine/body better when riding. This ultimately improves stability and makes it easier to forget you’re wearing any protection.