There are few garments for cycling that are more flexible than the vest, or traditionally known as a gilet.
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, popping in your back pocket just in case, while the second making itself useful in colder conditions where you want to add a 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.
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
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dhb Aeron Polartec Alpha Gilet
Best cycling vest for breathability
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.
Read more: dhb Aeron Polartec Alpha Gilet review
Endura Windchill II gilet
Best cycling vest for protection again the wind
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.
Read more: Endura Windchill II review
Endura FS260-Pro Adrenaline Race Gilet II
Best cycling vest for low level light
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.
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
Best cycling vest for versatility
We are big fans of the Castelli Perfetto Vest, giving it a 9/10 on test and a Cycling Weekly Editor's Choice Award.
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.
Read more: Castelli Perfetto Vest review
Sportful Women's Bodyfit Pro 2.0 WS Vest
The women's specific Sportful Bodyfit Pro W Vest is a well fitted wind stopping option and a perfect cycling vest for the spring and fall months when you want something a little more robust than just an emergency layer.
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.
Read more: Sportful Bodyfit Pro W Vest review
Gore C3 Windstopper Vest
Best cycling vest for a looser fit
The Gore C3 Windstopper Vest comes with a more relaxed fit when compared to the likes of the the Castelli Perfetto, so the perfect cycling vest for anyone not wanting a body hugging option.
Gore C3 Windstopper has a number of key attributes to make it a more than capable cycling vest for most occasions, right the way through winter in to the summer months. On test we found it especially good for springtime rides when there was still a cold wind even on sunny days.
Read more: Gore C3 Windstopper Vest review
Le Col Sport Soft Shell Gilet
Best cycling vest for spring rides
The Le Col Sport Soft Shell Gilet is 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 colour way, but it's great to see a male and female specific options on offer.
Easily stowed in to a rear pocket, it quickly became a great go-to cycling vest for even warmer rides when there was a long descent mid way to wrap up for, meaning if you do invest, you get a lot of use from it and won't be disappointed.
Read more: Le Col Sport Soft Shell Gilet review
Proviz Reflect360 CRS Plus cycling gilet
Best cycling gilet for riding at night
There's no questioning the reflective capabilities of the ProViz, covered in reflective detail meaning just as visible the car headlight shining on you.
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.
Rapha Pro Team Insulated Gilet
Best cycling vest for pockets
Rapha has done a great job producing a warm, stylish and well fitting vest. On test we found this the best cycling vest for the shear practicalities of riding with it's all important pockets.
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.
Read more: Rapha Pro Team Insulated Gilet review
Your full guide to dressing for spring rides
What to look for
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.
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.
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, but 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.
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.
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 of 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.
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 vest 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.
As with any piece of cycling kits, 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 your specifically thinking about road riding safety features as have your concerns, 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 it’s 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 dollars 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 are quite a selection that come 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.
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