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Buyer's guide: Best cycling gilets

Cyclist magazine
12 Aug 2021

Cyclist puts several pockets worth of wind-cheating gilets to the test

Whether mitigating an early start, shielding your chest on a prolonged descent or resisting an autumnal chill, a gilet is an excellent adjunct to any cycling wardrobe.

In fact, given the unpredictability of the British weather, a gilet or vest is one of the most valuable items of apparel you can own at any season of the year.

Serving as an additional obstacle between you and the wind, these simple sleeveless jackets will keep the cold from infiltrating your core, while some also provide water resistance to resist showers. However, doing without sleeves and leaving your armpits to profit from a bit of breeze means they’re unlikely to make you overheat.

Most are also lightweight and sufficiently packable to cram into a jersey pocket when not needed. Endlessly useful, there’s a broad range of designs sporting diverse fabrics, technical features, and colours to pick from. As a result, there's likely something out there to suit everybody’s wants and resources.

Below you’ll find a round-up of our current favourite lightweight gilets…

The best cycling gilets

Rapha Classic Gilet 

Rapha’s gilet uses a mix of solid panels to keep the wind outside with stretchy mesh panels under the arms and at the back to add breathability. It’s paper-thin and packs down into a tidy little bundle that can be tucked into one of the two rear pockets. A further petite zipped pocket on the chest rounds out its carrying capacities.

It’s water-resistant, rather than waterproof, while the elasticated armholes further help block the elements. Thoughtful branding on the neck and back provides a splash of reflectivity.

We like the little clip that along with the zip keeps it closed, while there’s also a label inside which tells you all about Le Mistral, the Mediterranean wind that bothers Mont Ventoux, among other places.

As ever with Rapha, it’s all the detail. Available in sizes XS-XXL and in mauve, navy and black. Despite its slightly ‘stiff’ feel, this does a fine job. As you’d expect from Rapha, it also looks rather smart.

Buy now from Rapha for £100

Santini Redux Vigor Vest Gilet

Santini’s packable, lightweight vest offers surprisingly abundant insulation. Provided by a layer of Polartec Alpha fabric across the chest and upper body, it’s a material that was created for US Special Forces, so you know it’s doubly super tough. At the same time, it still squishes down to a pocketable size.

However, despite this extra insulation, the Redux Genio is one of only a handful of gilets we’ve wanted to keep on for the entirety of most rides. This is because, although it does a marvellous job of repelling the bite of the wind and frosty early air, it’s still breathable enough to keep zipped to the neck on hilly rides with no chance of experiencing the dreaded ‘boil in the bag’ feeling.

Very much falling into the race-cut category, we’d recommend sizing up. For reference, our tester has a 36-inch chest and found a size M vest a snug fit over an aero jersey. You can read our full review of its predecessor the Genio here

Buy now from Santini for £105

Castelli Perfetto Vest Gilet

We're not surprised by how good the Perfetto Vest is. After all, it’s a direct relation Castelli's Gabba jacket – the critically acclaimed jacket for the most howling wind and rain, a garment which is practically impenetrable.

The Perfetto hasn’t got the same hardy waterproof membrane that the Gabba does, but it does possess a more breathable alternative that's still pretty waterproof while also being absolutely windproof.

And anyway, what it concedes in its waterproofing credentials it makes up for by being windproof. Regardless of how cutting and cold the wind has been over the winter, the Perfetto has managed to parry the cold gusts away and keep my core warm.

The slightly thinner material used in the Perfetto also has the benefit of making it packable. Even my XL on test weighed in at under 200g and (when folded correctly) could comfortably fit into a jersey or jacket pocket. A relative of the Gabba, the Perfetto vest should prove an able staple in any cycling wardrobe. You can read our full review here

Madison RoadRace Windtech Gilet

This made-for-the-pros garment impressed our tester, especially on speedy descents, keeping the cold out thanks to the lightweight, stretchy Windtech panelling across the shoulders, chest and side panels.

The material also did a good job of keeping out the wet, although a mesh panel across the rear of the garment compromises its water-resistant capabilities a little.

Its fit, as you’d expect, is aero, with a pre-curved shape making it supremely comfortable when you’re hunkered over your bars, while the elasticated armholes prevent drafts from sneaking in.

Three ample rear pockets and one diminutive zippered one for valuables provide adequate space for race-day gels and the like. Available in black, black/red or blue in sizes XS to XXL. 

Built for smashing out the miles in fast times, this also has the kudos of having been tested by some fine pros.

Buy now from Tredz for £63.99

Ashmei Men's Cycle Gilet

The material used in this has the nicest feel of any on test. Soft to the touch and elasticated, it stretches in all the right places to give a comfortable yet never slack fit, kept in place by elasticated armholes and waistband.

The solid front panels are highly water-resistant, while the perforated rear panel aids breathability – this may reduce its ability to keep the rain off your back, but the long tail will at least protect your bum from road spray.

There are no rear pockets, but two sturdy zips allow access to your jersey’s pockets beneath, while the zip at the front takes an interesting journey from the waist to the zip garage at the neck.

As well as giving it the look of something from a 60s sci-fi show, this means it doesn’t sit directly above the zip of your jersey – so there's less chance of drafts getting through. A well-thought-out product that will serve you well in early autumn and late spring alike.

Buy now from Ashmei for £108

Pearl Izumi Pro Barrier Lite Gilet

For blustery days when you want to keep your core snug, the highly packable PRO Barrier Lite Vest is windproof and water-resistant while its stretch panels create a slim fit.

The PRO Barrier vest looks simple in both design and construction, using the same windproof panelling on the rear as the front. Many others on test have a mesh rear for breathability but when riding in the cold it’s vital to keep that heat in – and this certainly kept us toasty.

A sole pouch in the back helps to ensure the vest is lightweight as well as functional. This did its job well and we’d mark this one down as a solid purchase, although the high-vis ‘Screaming Yellow’ – as Pearl Izumi designates it – may not be to everyone’s taste. Still, get a colour you do like and you'll be in line for a simple but very effective windproof gilet from the dependable American brand.

Buy now from Freewheel for £69.99

Sportful Fiandre Light NoRain Vest

At first touch, there isn’t much to this vest, and its stretchy polyester mix made us query its elevated price tag. Once we put it on, though, it was clear that the feel and fit match the premium price, as does its performance.

The windproofing on the front worked well despite being so light, although the NoRain claim for its rear panel is a bit misleading as it only really qualifies as water-resistant, not waterproof. Perhaps SomeRain might be more accurate!

Otherwise, it does exactly what you’d expect, keep you fairly dry and pretty warm. Plus it packs down small enough to stash in your jersey pocket, though it doesn’t have a pocket of its own. A solid gilet that works surprisingly well considering how light it feels.

Buy now from Wiggle for £105

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