One of the simplest bike garments, a cycling gilet is also one of the most useful. Also known as a vest or simply as a sleeveless jacket, a gilet protects your torso from the wind chill and sometimes from the rain too.
Your torso is your largest area exposed to the wind; by keeping it warm a cycling gilet helps keep all of your body warmer
By leaving your arms and especially armpits covered just by your jersey, a cycling gilet lets you sweat through those areas
Details & features vary: mesh backs are good for working hard or less-cold weather; some cycling gilets have pockets, some don't
Handy cycling gilet feature that's not mentioned often enough: a breast pocket for your front door key
A decent quality gilet costs from £20 for a simple windproof and (usually) water-resistant shell up to over £100 for a gilet with high-tech fabrics, clever detailing and — in some cases — extra insulation.
This well-made and perfectly shaped gilet has a full suite of useful detailing: a bit of stretch in the fabric; pockets big enough to be useful; that handy little key pocket on the front; a comfortably lined neck; and baffle/guard behind the (stylishly offset) zip.
It's Rapha's attention to detail that earn this gilet our choice as the best overall choice in cycling gielts today; it doesn't hurt that the price has even come down since its introduction.
Rapha says the Women's Classic Gilet is designed for milder weather and it certainly proved the perfect extra layer to keep out the wind chill, just as it intended.
Tester Ashia says: "The gilet feels incredibly light and the material thin, which initially left me concerned about how windproof it would be. I need not have worried – the front panels keep the wind chill out nicely, while three mesh panels on the rear help to prevent any unwanted flapping or ballooning in the wind and add plenty of breathability.
"The gilet has also survived some light drizzle, but it's only claimed to be water resistant so, as expected, it did little to keep the rain out. The lightweight fabric packs away tightly and can be easily stuffed into a jersey pocket if the need arises."
Galibier's Izoard gilet is a cheap and effective way of adding a warm layer to your cycling wardrobe, and its neutral styling means you can wear it off the bike too.
This Izoard gilet uses a more traditional hollow fibre insulation in a 40g weight, rather than the Polartec Alpha you'll find in more expensive gilets. It's enough to take the chill off without being especially bulky, and it certainly has a less chilly effect on your bank balance. The insulation is used on the front and back sandwiched between a thin nylon ripstop fabric. Ripstop isn't stretchy so Galibier has included Roubaix Lycra side panels to keep the gilet nice and fitted on the bike.
Tester Big Dave writes: "On the bike it's a comfortable and well-fitted gilet, and it's great at keeping the wind off your organs on a cold start. The insulation is well judged: enough to make a difference without bulking the gilet out too much. You can just about stuff it in a jersey pocket later on, or it won't take up too much space in a frame bag or seatpack."
There are some excellent insulated cycling gilets out there, but the Galibier Izoard gets the nod as best warm gilet because of its very reasonable price.
As it so often does, French sport megastore chain Decathlon shows that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get decent kit. This gilet is easy to pack, fends off the cold and has a good feature set for its low price.
The front is wind- and water-proof and there's a mesh back for ventilation when you're working hard. Since you're likely to be wearing a gilet at dusk there are also several reflective patches to boost visibility in car headlights.
Decathlon seems to only have very low stocks of the RR500 gilet, but for another fiver the new Van Rysel hi-viz gilet looks similarly excellent value for money.
Slate grey under normal, daylight conditions, the Proviz Reflect360 Plus Gilet turns brilliant white when graced by vehicle or street lighting. The retro-reflective component is achieved by impregnating the fabric with millions of tiny glass beads and is incredibly effective.
Tester Shaun writes: "There's some trade-off if you're wearing a rucksack or messenger bag, but otherwise the design is pretty extrovert, especially good for junctions and roundabouts. Around town, I seemed to register on most drivers' radars at 150m or so; along unlit lanes, friends reckoned they could spot me at 250 metres – further on a crystal clear night.
"Performance is generally good across the board. As a technical, training garment, the shell does an excellent job of blocking chill, and a slimmer cut for this new version rules out opportunity for wind and rain to sneak inside."
The B'Twin Men's Visibility PPE Certified Sleeveless Reversible Gilet 560 is aimed at commuters who want to remain temperate and visible on the ride, yet discreet and subtle when sans bike. It's not waterproof but will repel light to moderate showers, and is surprisingly effective – and flutter-free – worn atop winter jerseys on bitterly cold training runs.
Tester Shaun writes: "Testing in predominantly chill, damp conditions (1-10°C) the Reversible Gilet 560 proves light enough to go unnoticed, while still adding welcome warmth that a laminated shell-type gilet can't. Haring down descents at 25mph plus, I could feel the winds blasting me, but they never pierced the gilet or caused annoying, power-robbing flutter.
"It isn't waterproof, but light, persistent drizzle fails to make much impression for 90 minutes. Moderate rain or sleet takes an hour or so to seriously get through, and it dries relatively quickly. The perforated back helps here."
Café du Cycliste's Women's Albertine thermal gilet is a thickly padded layer that absolutely keeps your core snugly warm, and provides excellent windblocking on descents. It also looks pretty smart with its two tone front and stitched logo patch.
This is not the sort of gilet that can be squeezed into your back pocket. With its bulkiness compared even to other thermal gilets, either you commit to wearing it all day or you bring a bikepacking bag to stash it in.
Tester Anna Marie wriotes: "The back is merino polar fleece with a decent stretch, and it's incredibly comfortable to wear. Combined, these fabrics successfully defend against wind and trap body warmth – but not unpleasantly so, thanks its breathable qualities.
"I found pairing this gilet with a short-sleeve base layer and long sleeve jersey kept me happy from 10° all the way down to zero. It can definitely manage below freezing, too, as I wasn't even starting to get cold at zero."
If our selection of the very best gilets doesn't do it for you, check out these highly-rated options.
The Lusso Stripes Gilet takes the basic concept of keeping wind at bay and turns it into a technical and performance tour de force, for reasonable money.
Tester Mike writes: "Hailing from Manchester, close to the Peak District and not far from the Irish sea, Lusso knows a thing or five about changeable weather. I've previously reviewed a number of Lusso items with a bent towards the damper end of the cycling environmental spectrum, and found them eminently capable. The Stripes gilet picks up that venerable heritage of preparedness, looks outside at scudding clouds over a wavering garden shed barometer and says, 'Let's be having it then'."
"Where the Stripes gilet excels for me is in the fit – it's like the proverbial glove on my 74kg frame. With a 38in chest and 33in waist the Medium's sizing is bang on. This means there is zero flap, at any speed. None. Silence. Which is quite some achievement in a class of garment noted for its flappability when made from thin, water-resistant fabrics.
"The high neck is again very snug, and the arm elastics are tight but not restrictive on the bike, keeping breezes at bay, while the underarm mesh panels allow a bit of venting. Although the rear isn't a mesh panel, I never felt like autumnal Scottish Highland temperatures couldn't be controlled by use of the zip. This probably isn't the gilet for a warmer day – there are lighter, more vented options around with their own specificity. As the saying goes, there's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing – and I'd say you need more than one gilet."
The Stolen Goat Men's Palace Bodyline Gilet fits really well, is windproof and packs down small enough to forget it's there until you need it. Pocket flaps allow easy access to your jersey, and it looks good, too.
Tester Iwein writes: "The Stolen Goat Bodyline Gilet works really well. It is windproof, the zip goes up and down easily (even with gloves on) and it's a pleasure to wear. It packs down small enough and looks good to boot – all that's really missing is reflective detailing, but beyond that the strong design and comfortable, stretchy fit make this a very versatile choice."
"The Bodyline Gilet'fabric is a mix of 80% polyester and 20% elastane. The material is very stretchy, and feels comfortable on the inside – not the plasticky feel you get with some gilets. The front is windproof, with a breathable vertical mesh panel on the back.
"The windproofing is helped by a storm flap behind the YKK full-length zipper, and by the high, snug-fitting collar. There is a layer of thin, soft fabric inside the collar for upping comfort levels, and a zip garage too. The arm openings are cut just right; tight enough not to let any wind through, but not noticeably tight when riding."
The Proviz Men's Classic Gilet is a comfortable, light and practical bit of kit that's extremely noticeable both day and night. It's very well made, cleverly designed and boasts some of the highest levels of breathability and waterproofing possible. The pockets could be better situated for cargo carrying, though, and beware the sizing as it comes up pretty large.
The UK-designed Proviz Classic Men's Gilet uses a blend of four-way stretch fabrics and feels premium and soft to the touch. It has sealed stitching across all seams, and very high levels of waterproofing (20,000mm) and breathability (20,000 grams).
It weighs 211 grams and, if wrapped up tightly, is just about stuffable into a generous jersey pocket.
The ashmei Men's Cycle Gilet is a very lightweight yet high performing piece of clothing. It's at the upper end of the pricing scale, but the fabric is brilliant, along with the cut and fit of the gilet.
For the gilet, ashmei has used a microfibre ultra-stretch fabric that is very thin yet offers great windstopping properties. It's very soft too, which means you don't get that plasticky feel like you do from a lot of lightweight gilets.
ashmei gives it an optimal temperature range of 6°C to 15°C and that is about right.
This insulated cycling gilet from Wiggle's own brand is impressively breathable and absolutely brilliant at keeping you warm.
Tester Stu Kerton is impressed. He says: "the dhb Aeron Alpha gilet really benefits from the inclusion of the Polartec material. The balance of how warm you are without ever feeling clammy keeps you really comfortable on long, hard rides. While it is at the upper price point for a decent gilet, it's a worthwhile investment if you spend a lot of time riding in the cold."
The Van Rysel RC 500 Women's Windproof Cycling Gilet weighs next to nothing, scrunches down to the size of an orange, and does a great job of keeping the chill off your chest – all while looking good and costing next to nothing.
This Van Rysel (Decathlon's new in-house performance brand) is a superb piece of kit, and will stand you in good stead from spring through to autumn – plus its miniscule size and weight mean you can stuff it in a jersey pocket and barely know it's there.
Construction is very good indeed – the windproof front panels are made of a ripstop-style fabric, while the back panel is very fine mesh with additional perforations for excellent breathability.
The Lusso Essential Thermal Gilet combines stylishly dimpled Windtex panels with a fleecy, four-way-stretch rear to provide excellent core warmth on bitter days. It's breathable, easy to ventilate with the high-necked zip and is windproof. Yes, it's bulky if you try to pack it, but on cold days – early morning commutes perhaps – it performs so well you won't want to.
Gilets are invaluable on cold rides where you're already wearing several layers, and have reached the point where another set of sleeves is going to leave you bulked out and restricted. Most gilets are thin and merely for wind protection, though – there's a lot less choice if you want proper insulation as well.
This Lusso is one of the more affordable insulated options we've tested recently and, while it's still a fair chunk of change at £90 (albeit with 15% off in January), its no-nonsense build will easily earn its keep through multiple winters.
The Lusso Skylon Gilet doesn't make a fuss, it just keeps the wind off your body and helps to maintain core temperature while being small enough to scrunch into a back pocket.
The Skylon is a cut above bargain basement gilets; build quality is considerably higher and a little more thought seems to have gone into the design. For example, there is no loose fabric to snag the zip. The Skylon fabric which gives the gilet its name (and a whiff of 50's nostalgia, go Google it kiddies) has a slightly rubbery feel, a bit like latex workshop gloves. It's not unpleasant, just a little odd.
Lusso claim it's showerproof, but a short ride into a rainy headwind left our tester’s jersey quite damp. It's not a huge problem; after all you wouldn't expect a gilet to offer much by way of foul weather protection, especially one with a full length mesh back. What you want a gilet for is wind proofing and the Skylon scores full marks on that front. The mesh back stops it from turning into a mobile sweat tent and the whole thing folds up into its own back pocket.
The RH+ Acquaria Pocket Vest is so lightweight and packable it's a proper three season item of clothing.
It's made of a single layer coated fabric called Airdry which is intended for mild and windy conditions and is designed to be worn between 14°C and 22°C.
With a mesh back it's highly breathable and wicks sweat away quite impressively for this kind of fabric.
The Chapeau! Echelon Gilet is an innovative, well made and good looking vest that keeps the worst of the weather out. Chapeau! has clearly thought about how to make this as good as possible and done a superb job – though you have to pay accordingly.
A good place to start is with its ability to keep out the wind and rain, which it does really well. The material used – a four-way stretch polyester and polyurethane blend – is thin, which I was initially worried about, given that thin normally means flimsy. I needn't have been: it's hardwearing as well as very protective.
If you need a gilet that can provide some vital insulation on top of windproof performance, then the Endura Pro SL Primaloft Gilet could be the layer for you.
It all starts with the filling – a Primaloft stuffing that provides vital heat retention. It's thin, so thin in fact that it's still possible to pack the gilet down into a decent-sized pocket. Moreover, it's cut so that there's little fabric wastage anywhere, which helps keep the form small when it's rolled up into a pocket or its own carry pouch.
It's not cheap, but universal rave reviews for this weather-resistant vest mean it surely has to be on your shortlist if you're a year-round rider. The front is made from the same Gore-Tex Infinium Windstopper fabric as the latest version of Castelli's much-loved Gabba rain jersey, while the back is made from fleecy, water repellent Nano Flex Light for breathability.
In short, this is the sleeveless version of the Gabba, and welcome torso protection for crummy Spring and Autumn weather.
It may not sound like a big deal, but the way a cycling gilet keeps your torso warm even though your arms are still out in the wind can make a big difference to your comfort. Keeping the chill from evaporating your sweat gives your clothing a chance to move it away from your body, and the windproof shell of a typical cycling gilet traps a layer of air against your body so that helps keep you warm too.
Fabric thickness and level of ventilation varies a lot between gilets, so you can choose one that’s best suited to your needs. Some have side vents, others have mesh panels at the back so you’ll be comfortable if you’re riding hard with your front protected from the breeze and heat able to escape at the back.
Gilets intended for all-day riding in winter are made from thicker fabrics such as softshell or heavier breathable waterproof materials. Lighter fabrics are used for gilets that pack down small so you can stuff them in a pocket. They’re ideal for days when you know (or at least hope) that it’ll warm up after a chilly start, or to carry for sudden weather changes.
In the last couple of years clothing makers have introduced gilets that provide extra warmth from the latest ultra-light synthetic insulation. These are useful for extra protection when it’s very cold, or for cool-weather casual cycling; they’re usually styled so they look fairly normal off the bike too.
Gilet manufacturers provide pockets in several different ways. At one end of the complexity scale, some gilets do without, some simply have slots so you can get through to your jersey pockets. Many have the usual two or three rear pockets, sometimes with a small front pocket for your keys.
Other features to look for include material with a bit of stretch in it so it’ll accommodate those post-Christmas extra pounds; a fleece liner at the neck for extra cosiness; a windproof flap behind the zip; and a ‘zip garage’ at the neck to stop the top of the zip digging into the soft skin there.
Beware: gilets are addictive. You’ll soon realise you ‘need’ more than one for different conditions. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
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John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.