One of the most underutilized pieces of gear, the humble vest, is both simple and practical. Sometimes called a gilet, there are now many styles of the armless accessory built for different weather: rain, cold, wind, and everything in between. Protect your chest from the chill of a descent, or from the sprinkles on an overcast day, with less bulk than a full jacket.
Here, we’ll review a wide range of vests, from thin and wispy, to weatherproof, to warm and insulating. For the amount of material, vests pack plenty of utility. Keeping the torso warm can make the difference between a comfortable ride and an unpleasant one.
A word of warning about vests: It’s hard to choose just one, since they are so useful in so many situations. You might just end up wanting more than one from this list.
Ashmei Cycle Gilet – $150 (107 grams)
The light fabric used for the Ashmei gilet packs down to the size of a tennis ball, and fits into an improbably small but stretchy internal mesh pocket.
It may seem wispy to the point of being irrelevant, but the windproof, water-resistant front fabric, and water-resistant, breathable, ultra-stretch, laser perforated rear fabric combine to make for a versatile garment. A DWR (durable water repellent) outer finish adds a degree of weather protection.
It features reflective shoulder seam tape and a rear stripe for increased visibility, and also boasts a reflective hem binding with silicon gripper. Note that what look like zippered pockets on the rear are not pockets at all; they are, in fact, openings that allow you to access the pockets on your jersey underneath.
The technical microfiber stretch fabric conforms to many shapes and sizes, which helps as the cut is trim. Overall, this lightweight, performance-oriented vest weighs just 107 grams.
The biggest drawback to this innovative and refined piece of kit is that price.
Rapha Pro Team Lightweight Rain Vest – $190 (130 grams)
The Rapha Pro Team lightweight rain vest is one technical piece of kit, designed for those unpredictable days when rain could fall and sun could shine. Constructed of a proprietary three-layer fabric, the race-cut piece features high-stretch fabric which also boasts excellent waterproofness.
The vest packs down small — not quite as small as the Ashmei, but small enough to easily fit into the rear pocket — and doesn’t compromise on design details. In fact, the accumulation of finer details is what sets this piece apart.
The outside of the rear pocket is lined with a clear, rubbery coating, protecting against road spray. The single rear pocket has a drain hole in case of torrential pours. The front flap features velcro tabs, and in combination with the bi-directional zipper, the vest can be worn in an “open” position for maximum ventilation, while decreasing flapping.
The front and side panels feature reflective graphics for added visibility. The seams are internally taped to protect against the elements. Rubberized grippers at the rear of the tail prevent the vest from riding up, meaning you stay drier.
The one drawback, and you’ve heard it already about some of the other examples in this roundup, is that price. That said, if you live in a place with unpredictable weather and you want an excellent do-it-all vest for nearly every ride, this could be it.
Pactimo Torrent Stretch Waterproof Vest – $165 (100 grams)
The Torrent vest is a pure piece of kit: no pockets, no frills, just protection from rain and chill. The sleeveless shell features a DWR laminated fabric with four-way mechanical stretch, a seam-sealed outer layer, and waterproof double zipper. Yet it weighs just 92 grams (size medium), and packs into the size of a tennis ball. For the tech nerds, the waterproofness rating of this piece is 20,000mm, while the breathability is 37,000mm.
The Torrent remains quite breathable, and combined with 37.5 fabric technology, which helps move heat and moisture away from the body, we found the piece to be comfortable and easy to regulate temperature over the course of long days in the saddle. The double zipper allows for increased regulation. The knit fabric is soft to the touch, and a bit quieter than some other stiff shell materials. It never has that cling-wrap feel to it, even when wet. Finally, the long tail provides ample coverage in the rear, to protect you from road spray.
While Pactimo describe this vest as an aero fit, we found it had a bit of extra material in the sides. We prefer a closer fit, yet this hits the middle ground between race-fit and club-cut well. We also prefer pockets in our vests, or at least openings to jersey pockets beneath, but the lack of either of those features means there are fewer seams to leak, meaning the vest is, overall, that much more impenetrable.
Endura Pro SL Primaloft Gilet – $165 (158 grams)
In the past couple of years, clothing brands have introduced vests that provide extra warmth using lightweight synthetic insulation. The Endura Pro SL is a great example, providing a cushy layer of warmth to go with windproof performance. Use it on cool days as an outer layer, or for really cold days, wear it underneath your shell for extra protection around your core to keep as much warmth inside.
The Primaloft filling provides fairly luxurious warmth for those slower miles. Yet it’s thin enough that it packs tidily into its own rear pocket. The “pro” label identifies this as something trimly cut, which means there’s no excess fabric to flap when riding or to bulk up your pockets when stowing it.
The stretch side panels and well-tailored arm holes make for a comfortable, trim, and non-restrictive fit. The double zip — pull down from the top and up from the bottom, simultaneously if you so choose — is one of our favorite features as it allows for heat regulation without having to open the vest all the way, which leads to annoying flapping.
Laser-cut vents on the back of the vest also help with temperature regulation, while the bulk of the insulation stays up front on the chest. On a day with stable temps, the vest will regulate your temperature well enough that you should be able to wear it all day long — no stowing necessary.
The rear of the vest features two small, angled side pockets, and a larger central zipped pocket. It is lined for a bit more protection from the cold, wet conditions coming off the road. The pocket isn’t weatherproof, so keep any valuables in their own case.
The finishing touches include small reflective details across the back, and a flap under the zipper to further protect from any drafts across the chest.
Mavic Allroad Insulate Vest – $160 (196 grams)
Another example of a lightly insulated vest, the Mavic Allroad takes utility in a different direction. Geared toward the gravel or all-road crowd, it is less a piece for the racer and more a piece for the versatility-minded, who may need more warmth and visibility on a training ride one day and then the next may want a layer for a casual commute.
One side of the vest features a bright, hi-viz orange color for added safety in low-light conditions. The other side features a more casual grey style. It is intended to be paired with Mavic’s other Allroad pieces, including the like-colored jersey and baggy shorts. But that certainly isn’t necessary.
The insulated design is both warm and lightweight — the vest can pack into its own pouch, though it isn’t as small as the Endura vest. It also takes a bit of fiddling to get it into a tidy package.
The weather-resistant surface treatment effectively sheds water, mud spatter, and tire spray. The insulation is strategically positioned in the chest area to block out wind and cold. Overall, it is a minimalist, simplistic piece without a lot of bells and whistles. That said, there are some nice details: the upper collar closes tight with a small magnetic closure; there’s a small chest pocket (or when orange is facing out, an internal pocket); and there is a reflective tab at the very bottom of the vest’s tail.
While the main zipper can be fiddly, and often got jammed on the inner flap, we have very few complaints about this piece. The bonus, of course, is that the vest easily doubles as a casual piece for everyday wear as well. In a way, it’s two pieces of clothing in one.