Castelli's Free Vest is made using windproof and water-resistant Windstopper X-Fast fabric and it offers you a load of warmth for off-season rides.
The Windstopper X-Fast, which is used for the front, side and yoke panels, is a softshell fabric, similar to (but not as thick as) the one that Castelli use for their Espresso Due jacket, for example. As the name suggests, it stops cold air getting through, while a fleecy inner surface provides extra warmth.
There's water-resistant and there's water-resistant, and the Windstopper X-Fast fabric sits towards the top of the scale. It seems to me that little, if any, water gets through the fabric itself – it just beads up and rolls off.
It's pretty breathable stuff too, although taking off the Free Vest is always an option if you start to overheat. Castelli say in their write-up that it doesn't really fit in a back pocket, and it's certainly not as packable as a superlight windproof, but I managed to get it into most jersey pockets by rolling it up first. There was sometimes a bit of forceful persuasion involved, and you certainly wouldn't get anything else in the pocket at the same time. Occasionally it just wasn't possible.
Although it's not as elastic as a standard jersey fabric, the Windstopper X-Fast does stretch and the fleecy fabric used at the rear stretches more so you can get a fit that's both close and comfortable. Speaking of the rear, you get three deep pockets back there along with a couple of reflective tabs to add to the visibility.
The YKK front zip comes with a large puller that you'll find easily even with your fattest winter gloves on, and the tall collar helps to prevent cold air getting in there. Down at the bottom, the waist is elasticated so the chills won't weasel their way in there either.
There are more expensive windproof gilets, but the Free Vest is at the high end of the range. That's partly because it's very well made - we expect it'll last ages - and partly because the excellent Windstopper X-Fast fabric is itself expensive stuff.
High-quality Windstopper gilet for adding winter warmth.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Castelli Free Vest
Size tested: Large, Black
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Castelli say, "Long winter rides are warm and comfortable with the new Free Windstopper Vest. This vest is made for full insulation with high breathability to keep your core warm when used with a long-sleeve base layer and long-sleeve jersey. The vest doesn't really fit in a back pocket, but this system is ideal for higher-intensity training when you want to avoid overheating and let the sweat evaporate quickly. It's highly practical with the three easily accessible rear pockets and YKK Camlock zipper for easy opening and closing.
* Windstopper X-Fast 2 stretch fabric on front is windproof and water resistant
* Warmer fabric on back for warmth with extra breathability
* Anatomic form-fit cut for cycling position
* Silicone elastic band keeps vest from riding up
* Full-length YKK Camlock zipper
* 3 Rear pockets"
I actually got the Free Vest into most (but not quite all) rear jersey pockets but, as Castelli acknowledge, stowability isn't its strongest suit.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Windstopper X-Fast is a softshell fabric that's windproof, water resistant, breathable and insulated.
You can wash it normally in the machine.
There's no doubt that this is a high price for a vest/gilet, but the Windstopper X-Fast is an excellent fabric.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The Windstopper X-Fast is a really impressive softshell fabric
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
I guess the fact that it's not as stowable as a lightweight option makes it slightly less versatile.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Perhaps.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Perhaps.
About the tester
Age: 43 Height: 190cm Weight: 75kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over the past 20 years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for seven years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a youthful 45-year-old Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.