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The Le Col Hors Categorie Reflective Gilet performs extremely well, as you'd expect for this price! It doesn't pack down quite as small as some, but does offer excellent protection against the wind, rain, the cold and even night-time traffic.
Designed to have 'a close but not overly aggressive' fit, the Hors Category gilet comes up ever so slightly larger than similar gilets I've used from other brands such as dhb and Castelli. Compared with the dhb Aeron Rain Defence, for example, the Le Col is quite long in the body, sitting about an inch below my belly button at the front and with a dropped tail at the rear to provide as much protection as possible from wheel spray.
The majority of the material isn't stretchy, but the black panels down the sides, the bottom hem and around the arm holes are elasticated to keep unnecessary material flapping to a minimum.
Having some extra length at the front is great while you're sat up during climbs and even when off the bike at the café. However, if you're lucky enough to not be carrying extra podge around the gut, the extra material and lack of stretch does cause a little bunching when you're getting low on the drops. If you're not racing then this will be of less concern, and actually makes the garment suitable for more occasions.
At 181g it's not the lightest of gilets, but it packs down to a small size – I had no problem fitting it in various jersey pockets. This meant I was happily donning and removing the gilet as showers came and went, whereas gilets of a similar weight – such as the 189g Lusso Aqua Challenge – are best kept on unless you have an abundance of pocket space.
Despite being so packable, the gilet really shines when it comes to protection from the elements. The material is impressively waterproof, and the seams are taped, although Le Col hasn't published any waterproof rating of the fabric.
The zip is also waterproofed, which is the downfall of many gilets and jackets, and Le Col has managed to achieve this without making the zip get stuck on every pass. It could do with a longer pull tab, as numb fingers or thick gloves make the small tab hard to find in a hurry.
The windproofing is also excellent, which makes it ideal for taking abroad where altitude and much longer descents require serious protection along with the need for it to be packable enough to lug up mountains.
I found that the HC gilet was most at home in temperatures of around 8-14°C when used over a jersey, but it could quite easily be used as part of your winter wardrobe if paired with a thermal layer underneath.
Night-time visibility is phenomenal – this thing seems to amplify light and gives car drivers very little excuse for not spotting you. In daylight, the 'petrol' colour is quite understated – personally, I'm a big fan.
Other features include a brushed inner collar which adds to the premium feel, but the gilet has no pockets, which for some could be a deal breaker. Some gilets have openings that allow access to jersey pockets underneath, such as on the Stolen Goat Palace Bodyline, but Le Col has decided these aren't necessary either. If you're happy to take the gilet on and off during rides then this is unlikely to be an issue, but on rides when the gilet stays on for lengthy amounts of time, it does make accessing food a bit tricky.
With its £260 price tag, it's the most expensive gilet we've ever tested at road.cc – and by some distance too! The fact that Le Col always seems to have some form of Strava competition in which you can earn some discount does mean you might be able to pick it up for a fair chunk less, but even with a sizeable discount it's still going to blow the prices of some very good gilets out the water; the Rapha Classic Gilet (£100) or Lusso Aqua Challenge Gillet (£64.99), for example, both have fit, waterproofing and pockets nailed, although neither can match the Hors Categorie's waterproofing or night-time visibility credentials.
Whether that's enough to tempt you to fork out the cash, I'll leave you to decide...
Packable gilet offering excellent protection from wind, rain and cars at night, but super-expensive
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Le Col Hors Categorie Reflective Gilet
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for
Le Col says: 'Essential cover for dark and damp conditions, the Hors Categorie Reflective Gilet is bright under the lights but a reliable low-key waterproof when caught in a storm. Packable, lightweight and designed to endure, this gilet is a must for winter epics."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
From Le Col:
Reflective Iridescence for unparalleled low light visibility
Waterproof composition with waterproof reflective zip
Black reflective logos
Brushed inner collar
Fully taped seams
Lightweight packable protection
Silicone hemline gripper
Made in Italy.
Main Body: 100% Nylon - weight 210 gsm
Machine Wash at 30°C / 86°F
Slight bagginess when in an aero position, but the extra length at the front does mean it looks less silly when sat or stood up. Fits perfectly everywhere else. It does come up a tiny bit bigger than dhb or Castelli.
Gilets a quarter of the price of this one can do 99% of the job...
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
No issues, wash at 30 inside out.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Well, but not perfectly. Very warm considering how easy it is to store in a pocket when not in use but a one-way zip means it's hard to access jersey pockets while on.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
I do really like the petrol colour and reflectivity.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Other than the price... the bagginess at the front when in an aero position.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It's the most expensive gilet we've ever tested.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? No
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
It offers excellent protection from wind and rain and yet packs down smaller than many gilets of a similar weight/warmth. However, a few small niggles such as the length at the front causing excess material when in the drops, the lack of pockets or access holes and only a one-way zip mean that it's hard to justify it over excellent products at a quarter of the price. Buy if you want maximum waterproofing and night-time visibility.
About the tester
I usually ride: Specialized venge pro 2019 My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Under 5 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, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, mtb,