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. We've subjected over 130 gilets to thousands upon thousands of miles of road testing. These are the best cycling gilets you can buy.
Our pick for the overall men's bert cycling 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 Santini Redux Stamina Women's Vest Gilet is form-fitting, light, and packs down very impressively given the warmth it provides. Well-positioned wind panels give good defence, while allowing good breathability elsewhere. It's far from cheap, but it's the best cycling gilet for women that we've found.
The Redux Stamina is made in Italy from Ghisallo stretch-woven fabric, and its checkered lining is Polartec Delta, which is very effective at keeping you warm on chilly starts. The collar is cut high and feels wonderfully cosy thanks to the thermal lining.
Tester Anna Marie writes: "The Redux Stamina is an extremely well-crafted technical layer you'll find yourself reaching for all the time – for all sorts of rides, across all the seasons. It's effective at keeping you warm, while also being breathable, and small enough to carry with you on every ride. The only real issue is the 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.
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 in-house performance brand) is one of the best cycling gilets, 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.
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. We think it deserves the title of best cycling gilet for warmth because its extra insulation doesn't come with a massive price hike.
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.
Slate grey under normal, daylight conditions, the Proviz Reflect360 Plus Gilet turns brilliant white when hit by vehicle lighting. The retro-reflective component is achieved by impregnating the fabric with millions of tiny glass beads and is incredibly effective; if being seen if your priority, this is the best cycling gilet you can buy.
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."
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 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.
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.
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 – but given the very high price, you might well demand that.
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.
The dhb Aeron Lab Superlight Waterproof Gilet features a race cut which prevents rustling and material flapping, with a super-short front best suited for holding an aero position in the drops. The gilet is lightweight and packs down small, making it easy to stuff into a jersey pocket, yet despite this it offers surprisingly impressive protection from both wind and rain.
Tester Jamie writes: "You could be forgiven for wondering how much benefit the Aeron Lab, at just 88g, can really offer when conditions turn less than ideal. However, after six weeks or so with the gilet I've been thankful to have had it stuffed in a jersey pocket on plenty of occasions.
"I think the fact that it's so easy to take on rides is particularly important; I've worn plenty of gilets that offer good protection but are impractical to store when not needed, and so get left at home – the very good Lusso Aqua Challenge, for example. The dhb packs down to a size that comfortably fits into all but the very smallest of jersey pockets, and is now the first thing packed when conditions look anything but perfect."
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 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 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.
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 may not sound like a big deal, but the way the best cycling gilets keep 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. Yes, your arms won't be as warm, but our experience is that you don't lose near as much heat from your skinny cyclist's arms as from a wind blast to the body.
By leaving your arms and especially armpits covered just by your jersey, a cycling gilet lets you sweat through those areas, so can help keep you less sweaty than a full jacket.
The details & features of cycling gilets vary: mesh backs are good for working hard or less-cold weather; some cycling gilets have pockets, some don't. We particularly like a breast poscket for your front door key; it's just noce to be able to get inside quickly at the end of a winter ride.
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.
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.
Cycling 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 desirable features 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. The best cycling gilets have these features and they make a significant difference to comfort.
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.