Some riders call them gilets, others vests, but whatever name you prefer these are some of the handiest bits of kit a cyclist can buy.
Some offer protection from the rain when it arrives out of the blue on a summer’s day, while others will keep your core warm on winter rides when the temperatures dip towards zero.
Many are designed to pack down super-small to carry in a jersey pocket, either as insurance in high summer or after you have warmed up on a spring or autumn trip.
Others are meant to be worn all day – as a waterproof layer or to make you more visible to dopey drivers.
Look out for features such as oversized zips that you can grab while wearing gloves, and pocket slots so you can get to items stowed in your jersey without having to hitch up the whole vest.
We have ridden in all weathers over recent months to see which vests work best in a range of conditions – from summer mornings through to cold winter evenings – and at a variety of prices. You’re sure to find something to suit your needs here.
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Rapha Brevet insulated
We have used an earlier version of this gilet for a couple of years and it’s become one of our favourite bits of kit – always one of the first items in the bag when heading off on an adventure. It’s seen service as an extra layer under a waterproof on really cold days and over T-shirts on summer rides around the Scottish islands. A layer of Polartec Alpha insulation does an astonishing job of keeping you warm yet it is thin enough for you to roll the whole vest down small enough to fit inside a built-in elastic loop so you can store it in a pocket. The Rapha stripes around the chest are reflective, and there’s now a two-way zip so you can open it from the bottom up if getting too hot. The only thing it’s missing is a couple of rear pockets.
Castelli Perfetto ROS Light
The yellow fluo version of this race-cut top stands out incredibly well on a dull day. It uses Gore-Tex’s excellent Infinium to hold the chilling wind at bay while keeping you dry in drizzle and light rain – hence the “rain or shine” (ROS) in the name. For extra protection, there’s a slightly dropped tail to protect against road spray, plus a higher collar that we really appreciated when the wind was whipping up. The armholes are trimmed with reflective tape to make them extra-visible, and there are two rear pockets – one of which has a slot for a mini pump. Bear in mind that it’s race-cut so you may need to buy a size larger than your usual.
Cafe du Cycliste Petra Superlight
At under 70g for a size medium, this stylish design is light enough to carry in the pocket of your summer jersey just in case the weather turns. There’s a windproof and water-resistant front to keep you warm and dry on long descents, while the back and side panels are made from breathable mesh to stop you from overheating. It’s a race fit with an elasticated opening at the rear to allow easy access to jersey pockets.
Proviz has cut this one a little more generously than some gilets, meaning you can pull it on over everyday clothes if using it on a commute or around town. The reflective material is astonishingly bright when headlights hit it – no one will be able to claim they haven’t seen you. As it’s aimed at commuters rather than racers, and there are zipped pockets at the sides for your keys, phone and wallet. It’s probably a little heavy for really sporty riders but is perfect for commuters and leisure cyclists.
Endura Pro SL Primaloft
Another insulating vest to wear as an extra layer under a jacket on cold and wet days or over your jersey when it’s crisp and clear. Buy it in black and you can wear it down the pub after a day’s hard riding on a bike-packing adventure. The PrimaLoft does a great job of retaining heat without getting too sweaty, and if it does get damp it soon sheds the moisture. There’s a two-way zip for extra ventilation when climbing, and three pockets at the back – plus a little zipped section. Buy this one and you could be helping to save the planet as Endura promise to plant more than a million trees every year to fight climate change.
Lusso Essential Thermal
This one is similar to Lusso’s excellent Pro Extreme jacket but without its sleeves and fluo detailing. The quilted Italian-made Wind-Tex fabric at the front does a great job of keeping the breeze out and has a coating to repel light rain and drizzle too. That high collar stops chills and drips getting down the back of your neck, and it’s also got three open rear pockets plus a zipped one. It’s a great garment to pull on over a long-sleeved jersey on chilly days – combine it with a decent waterproof and it should see you through the worst of the autumn and winter weather.
Need an affordable vest as an extra layer in spring and summer? This could be the one. It’s got a windproof front panel and breathable rear section, plus a generous back pocket covered by a flap rather than a zip. The body is dotted with reflective silver spots that will catch headlights, and the whole thing is light and thin enough to roll up and stuff in a pocket. Unusually, it has an internal chest pocket that contains a square of fabric for cleaning your sunglasses mid-ride.
Le Col Hors Categorie Reflective
Here’s a top-spec vest with a price tag to match. Italian-made, it’s waterproof and windproof using a reflective grey nylon that shines with a rainbow iridescence in low light when caught in the beam of a headlamp. It’s beautifully tailored too – cut close to the body so it doesn’t flap when you’re riding hard. There’s a grippy silicone strip at the waist to hold it in position, plus an oversized puller on the zip to make it easier to use when wearing gloves. Be careful when you wash it – it can go in a machine on a cooler setting, but make sure you turn it inside out to protect that astonishing finish.
Spatz claims this one could be the most versatile bit of kit you ever own – and it might just be right. We have worn it as base-layer, as an extra layer under a jacket and on the outside for some extra protection when the weather is dry. It’s a close fit – so aimed at more sporty riders – and rolls up small enough to fit in a jersey pocket when you have warmed up. We really liked the combination of windproof fabric across the upper chest and shoulders, with stretchy material used elsewhere to ensure the perfect fit.
Stolen Goat core
Want a no-frills windproof to see you through most of the year? Take a look at this one. While the wind-cheating front panels will prevent you getting chilled, the mesh back will let heat escape so you don’t get sweaty. The designers have used a combination of a single middle pocket at the back plus two access slots so you can reach in to grab energy bars, gloves and the like from your jersey pockets too. If you want something eye-catching, check out the bright orange version we had on test – it really stands out on the road.
The verdict: Men’s cycling gilet
We gave the Rapha brevet our best buy as it’s been a faithful friend on rides all year round – and even after two years, it still looks new. Sporty riders should take a look at the Spatz and Castelli offerings, while the Proviz is great for anyone who rides to work.
For more products to inspire you to get your bike on the road check out our guide to where to buy cyclist Chris Froome’s full UAE Tour kit, from bike to bibs
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