Best cycling vests: gilets for extra warmth when you need it

Cycling vests are one of the most flexible pieces of clothing in your cycling wardrobe. We explain what should you be looking for and round up our favourites.

Best cycling vests
(Image credit: Cycling Studio)

A cycling vest - traditionally known as a gilet - is one of the most versatile garments out there to keep you warmer and drier as you ride. 

Cyclists are notorious for obsessing over what they wear, and finding that goldilocks clothing combination (not too hot, not too cold) can often be a tricky task. The key is having a wardrobe full of versatile pieces of clothing, including a couple of your favourite cycling vests.

Different types of cycling vests

Fundamentally there are two different types of vests: lightweight packable vests and heavier insulating winter vests, the first being suitable for spring and fall riding, when you can pop it in your back pocket just in case, while the second makes itself useful in colder conditions where you want to add an extra layer of warmth to your torso.

Designed to provide an extra layer of protection for your torso on chilly mornings and nippy descents the perfect cycling vest for fall and spring is a lightweight storable option. These are great for teaming with a pair of the best arm warmers as both can be popped in your back pocket once the (hopefully) rising temperature makes them surplus to requirements.

While a thermal version isn't as common, this can be the best cycling vest for adding an extra layer of warmth over one of the best winter cycling jackets without increasing bulk. Generally these aren't designed to be packed down into a rear pocket, but will offer more insulation to protect your torso from wintry conditions and are normally kept on for a whole ride.

best cycling vests

The thin material of lightweight gilets offer less protection against the cold but should still keep out the wind

Our pick of the best cycling vests

best cycling gilets

dhb Aeron Polartec Alpha Gilet

Best cycling vest for breathability

Reasons to buy
+Warm and breathable+Plenty of pocket space+Nice visibility at the rear
Reasons to avoid
-Light but too bulky for pocket stashing

Dhb's gilet offers excellent breathability while keeping you super warm. It has a windproof layer with a DWR water repellent treatment, plus mesh stretch panels under the arms to help create a good fit and moderate heat build up.

It comes in at 138g which is lightweight for the warmth it provides, but we found it didn't comfortably pop into a jersey pocket.

best cycling gilets

Endura Windchill II

Best cycling vest for protection again the wind

Reasons to buy
+Excellent quality+Lots of pockets+Good insulation levels+Good value
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy-Comes up very large-Not pocketable

The excellent-quality Windchill II features three deep, open pockets and a fourth smaller zipped pocket on the rear making it the perfect cycling gilet for an extra layer for the colder days on the bike. A fifth zipped pocket on the front has a headphone port and a little cloth for wiping sunglasses sewn into it — all nice touches for a reasonable price.

best cycling gilet

Endura FS260-Pro Adrenaline Race Gilet II

Best cycling vest for low level light

Reasons to buy
+Uber lightweight+Packable+Good windproofing+Waterproof but breathable+Reflective detailing
Reasons to avoid
-Tight neck when zipped up

This Endura gilet is super lightweight and breathable. We were really impressed with its ability to keep spray at bay and minimise wind penetration while remaining breathable. We found the neckline a little tight though.

Reflective details are also included in the rear central Endura logo and the full length of the zip, as a nod to visibility while out on the road.

Castelli Perfetto Vest

(Image credit: Cycling weekly)

Best cycling vest for versatility

Reasons to buy
+Close fit but with plenty of stretch+Enough pockets to carry kit +High level of protection from wind and rain
Reasons to avoid
-Back can ride up slightly over jersey pockets

We are big fans of the Castelli Perfetto Vest, giving it a 9/10 on test and a Cycling Weekly Editor's Choice Award.

With the RoS bit standing for rain or shine, the Castelli Perfetto vest is the perfect cycling vest for those changeable conditions that we are met with so often on a bike. It fits well, has pockets and is rain and wind resistant too.

It'll be a great addition to anyone's riding wardrobe, adding adding versatility to your outfit without adding bulk or being a nuisance when the temperature rises or it starts to rain.

Made from Gore-Tex Infinium Windstopper fabric, it is a little bulkier than some vests, so worth remembering to save pocket space if leaving home with it on hoping to strip off when the ride warms up later in the day.

Giro Chrono Expert Vest

(Image credit: Future)

Reasons to buy
+Close fit without being constrictive+Breathable rear helps stop you getting sweaty+Highly packable
Reasons to avoid
-No pockets and not easy to access jersey pockets underneath

With a lightweight design and stretchy fabric, the Giro Chrono Expert Wind Vest works well in spring and autumn conditions. It's very packable, folding into its own pocket, so it's easy to carry when not in use as well.

The rear is highly breathable, while the front is wind resistant and DWR coated for water resistance. On the downside, there are no pockets in Giro's gilet and it's not easy to access jersey pockets underneath either. 

Gore Windstopper

Best cycling vest for a looser fit

Reasons to buy
+Well priced+Good level of protection on milder rides
Reasons to avoid
-Fit is quite relaxed so can be subject to windflap

The Gore Windstopper Vest comes with a more relaxed fit when compared to the likes of the Castelli Perfetto, so the perfect cycling vest for anyone not wanting a body hugging option.

The Gore Windstopper vest has a number of key attributes to make it a more than capable cycling vest for most occasions, right the way through winter into the summer months. On test we found it especially good for springtime rides when there was still a cold wind even on sunny days.

Le Col Sport Softshell gilet

(Image credit: Le Col)

Best cycling vest for spring rides

Reasons to buy
+Wind and shower resistant+Light weight+Excellent fit+Packable+Comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-High price-Colour choice not that great

The Le Col Sport Gilet is a great, well fitted lightweight layer that on test offered a great balance of breathability and protection.

It is a little pricey and ideally there would be an alternative colourway, but it's great to see male and female specific options on offer.

Easily stowed into a rear pocket, it quickly became a great go-to cycling vest even for warmer rides when there was a long descent midway to wrap up for, meaning if you do invest, you get a lot of use from it and won't be disappointed.

ProViz Reflect360 CRS Plus cycling gilet

(Image credit: proviz)

Best cycling gilet for riding at night

Reasons to buy
+100 per cent reflective+Choice of colours+Male and female fit options+Waterproof
Reasons to avoid
-Fit is a bit loose-Weight means it's not packable-Breathability level isn't great

There's no questioning the reflective capabilities of the ProViz, which comes covered in reflective detail for great visibility in car headlights.

It's a heavy vest and certainly not packable, and if you are looking for a performance fit, then best look elsewhere, but if you are commuting at night and just want to be safe in the knowledge you stand out in traffic then the Reflect360 CRS Plus cycling gilet is the best we've seen.

Wind proof and water resistant thanks to a DWR coating, it's a great performance focused vest, and conveniently  packs down well too if you want to stow it away.

Your full guide to dressing for spring rides

Cycling vests and gilets: what to look for

Wind Protection

When buying any gilet, protection against the wind should be top of your agenda. The insulation should take care of this on thermal gilets, but for lighter weight offerings, things are not always so simple, with only a thin layer of material, most commonly some form of nylon or polyester, to keep the chill off your chest.

However it’s not just the material that’s important, it’s what you do with it. A high neck with a close fit will prevent cold air from rushing down your front, while it’s also key that the holes for your arms are not overly generous to prevent air from getting in at the sides. This will also avoid windflap.

Good quality gilets will also offer some sort of design feature to prevent cold air getting through the zip. This usually comes in the form of either a taped zip or a storm flap, essentially a strip of material which covers over the back of the zip.

best cycling gilets

Choosing a gilet with a high collar will help to keep out the elements

Rain Protection

While the best waterproof cycling jackets will protect you from wet weather, it's handy to have a bit of extra protection in a vest. As pieces of clothing designed to be worn in spring and fall, plenty of the best cycling vests will also give you some sort of protection against the unexpected April shower.

While some vests are completely waterproof, this is obviously of limited use seeing as even if your torso is dry, your arms are still going to get soaked. Instead you’re more likely to find water-resistant gilets, designed to protect you from light showers and road spray, without sacrificing breathability.

best cycling gilets

A breathable mesh panel on the rear of the vest will allow hot air to escape

Breathability

Although not as much of a problem as with some waterproof jackets, the boil-in-the-bag effect is not something we want to see from a vest at any price-point. This can be a particular issue with vests which attempt to offer higher levels of protection, with windproof and waterproof fabrics doing a good job of keeping the elements out, but also, unfortunately, keeping body heat in.

To this end, many manufacturers include mesh panels in their vests, occasionally constructing the entire rear panel from a more breathable material in order to let hot air escape without compromising windproofing.

best cycling gilets

A good lightweight cycling vest should pack down small enough to be stashed away in your jersey pocket

Packability

Obviously this doesn’t apply to thermal vests, but seeing as you’re hopefully only going to be wearing your lightweight vest for the first hour of a ride, while the temperature starts to rise, or for the duration of an Alpine descent, it’s important that you choose one that can be easily stowed away for the rest of your ride.

It’s really a case of the smaller the better when it comes to packability, and ideally you should be looking for a vest that packs down small enough not to take up an entire jersey pocket. Unfortunately, choosing a more feature-packed vest offering things like pockets and water resistance often comes at the cost of packability.

If you do find that you want to stow away a larger vest, then it's worth also investing in one of the best bike saddlebags for packing the essentials and freeing up some pocket space from tools or spares.

Finally, some vests come with their own stuff sack, which although useful when packing your gilet in luggage, often doesn’t keep it as small as if you really stuffed it down into the bottom of a jersey pocket.

best cycling gilets

A simple opening in the rear of a gilet will offer access to jersey pockets

Pockets/Access

Of course you can just flip up the rear of your vest to access what’s in your jersey pockets, but this risks knocking items out of your pockets in the process. To mitigate against this, some vests offer a hole or two in the rear so you can get at your energy bars and gels.

Many vests also offer pockets for a little extra storage, although these are less useful on lightweight gilets as you don’t want to be emptying out your pockets at the side of the road when it’s time to shed the outer layer.

best cycling gilets

Be on the lookout for reflective details if you want added safety after dark

Bonus features

As with any piece of cycling kit, it’s possible to add countless extra features onto the humble gilet. Plenty of brands offer either high viz gilets or gilets with reflective elements for added safety after dark.

If you’re after a little extra protection, some gilets also offer a bum flap to keep your backside warm and dry, while others come with a drawstring or elasticated hem to stop cold air entering from below.

If you are specifically thinking about road riding safety features,  it's worth reading our page that reassures you that it is safe to cycle on roads but here’s how you can be safer.

Should I buy one?

As with any piece of cycling kit, this depends a lot on what sort of riding you’re doing. Lightweight vests are particularly useful for chilly mornings, so if you’re the sort to start your weekend ride while the dew is still on the ground, they can be a very worthwhile investment.

Also if you’re lucky enough to be planning either a training camp or summer getaway to the mountains, then a lightweight vest will be worth its weight (or perhaps more) in gold. Even at the height of summer you’re going to feel the chill on descents that will often last more than half an hour, so sticking one in your back pocket is a must.

How much should I pay?

On average, we’d say that you should be looking at something just south of 70 bucks or quid for a good-quality lightweight windproof vest, although extra features such as rain protection might add a little more to the price tag.

However as with most things, the brand name is almost as important as the product itself when determining the cost, so expect to pay more if you’re looking to buy from some of the more fashionable names in the cycling market.

Of course cheaper options are available, and there is quite a selection that comes in for much less, but be careful to look for one with a decent fit, as less expensive gilets can be liable to flapping in the wind. In addition a lack of breathability in some cheaper vests can make things pretty sweaty.