Rapha's use of the excellent Polartec Alpha in its Pro Team Insulated Gilet provides a top that will keep you warm when training without overheating and the versatility of a sleeveless vest top. In usual Rapha fashion, it's nicely finished with some cracking details, and looks fine to boot.
I've tested several garments in recent years with Polartec's Alpha insulation. It was apparently developed for the needs of the US Special Forces – a fun fact to share in the cafe – and comprises a synthetic down material with a high warmth-to-weight ratio, trapping air in the insulation while providing impressive breathability. In short, it's really good at keeping you warm while at the same time regulating your temperature to prevent dreaded overheating.
The Alpha insulation is easy to spot on this gilet. It's the fluffy stuff you can see in the photos and is used primarily in the front-facing panels. Yes, it does look like something your gran might have worn if you were to turn it inside out.
But looks aside, it works jolly well out on the bike. Worn over a short sleeve baselayer and long sleeve jersey, I found the gilet added wonderful warmth and it's ample for most typical rides that stay north of zero. It's ideal for high-tempo riding and training, and in the hills too, as it copes with increases in body temperature really nicely.
The Alpha material is able to provide this high level of insulation with minimal bulk, which contributes to the low weight and easy packability. An added bonus of the synthetic insulation is that it's quick drying; whether damp from rain or sweat, the gilet dries very quickly. I never finished a ride with it feeling in any way soggy.
It's not just adept at keeping you warm, the front panels are DWR treated so it's able to cope with some light rainfall, certainly enough to keep you moving during a light shower. Anything heavier or more sustained and it's time to break out the waterproof shell.
The fit, as with the entire Pro Team range, is on the figure-hugging/racing snake side. A stretchier material is used around the back and the cut of the gilet is really well executed so it remains comfortable.
The two-way zip is a nice touch. It means, for example, you can unzip the gilet from the hem when you want to get into your jersey pockets for food, rather than from the top. It also provides a handy cooling option on the climbs if you need to manually regulate your temperature.
A gilet is that most wonderfully versatile of cycling apparel, and this is one that can be rolled or folded up very small to fit inside a jersey or jacket pocket. You can wear it for the first hour or two of the ride until you or the air temperature warms up, then whip it off and stash it away. It provides adaptability to meet changing conditions.
If you don't take the gilet off – because, let's face it, it has been bloomin' cold recently – you get three large rear pockets plus one zipped, so plenty of cargo capacity for any typical ride.
I've been using this gilet a lot recently and it's a great addition to your wardrobe, providing more usefulness at this time of year than most typical lightweight and windproof-only gilets.
When this gilet was first on sale it was priced at £140, which is a lot of money, but it's currently discounted to £80, which makes it a bit easier to justify. It's currently only available in limited sizes, but next season will return in new colours, we're told.
Warm, breathable and packable gilet
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Pro Team Insulated Gilet
Size tested: Small
Tell us what the product is for
Rapha says: "The Pro Team Insulated Gilet makes use of the revolutionary Polartec Alpha® insulation to create the perfect outer layer for hard rides on changeable days, pre-race warm-ups, or even for café stops. The Alpha® insulation delivers class-leading warmth without the volume of down and is highly breathable, ensuring you don't overheat during harder efforts. Equally fast-drying and hydrophobic, the gilet won't hold moisture like natural down, allowing you to work a sweat up without wetting out. A DWR-coated, windproof front keeps your chest warm, while the stretch fabric on the back ensures a great fit, as well as letting body heat out. The gilet has three pockets on the back for storing valuables, and the double-ended Vislon zip provides easy access to your jersey pockets or to help you regulate body temperature. A game-changer for those who like their kit fast but warm."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Polartec® Alpha® insulation
Stretch fabric on back lets body heat out
Windproof fabric on front
Triple rear cargo pocket
Vislon zipped valuables pocket for easy access
Headphone sockets in rear pocket and loops inside
Reflective piping under rear pockets and on centre front left of jacket
Expensive at retail price, but easier to digest at the current sale price; grab it while it's still available.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Very easy, goes through a regular wash.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Provides good warmth with minimal bulk and weight.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Looks great, keeps you warm, four pockets and good insulation.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
It's a snug fit.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
I've had nothing but positive experiences with Polartec's Alpha insulation in various garments, and it's smartly deployed in this gilet.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.