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10 best men’s gilets to keep you warm during outdoor adventures

Choose down, synthetic or fleece for sleeveless warmth

James Forrest
Friday 21 January 2022 12:39
<p>We’ve attempted to include something for everyone, from dog walkers to high-altitude mountaineers </p>

We’ve attempted to include something for everyone, from dog walkers to high-altitude mountaineers

For those days when a full-on insulated jacket would be overkill, but you still need a hint of warmth, there’s a simple solution – the humble gilet.

This sleeveless layer will keep your core warm while giving your arms unencumbered freedom of movement, ensuring you can hike, climb, run or paddle to your heart’s content.

Some puffy-style gilets are thickly-padded and best worn as a standalone outer. Others are slim with an athletic cut and versatile approach – wear them over a base-layer or slip them under a waterproof jacket, the choice is yours.

Several gilets in this list are highly technical and designed for off-grid expeditions and mountain activities. Others are far more “lifestyle-y”, with contemporary flair and a street-ready look. We’ve attempted to include something for everyone, whether you’re a dog walker, fashion-conscious hiker, fanatical trail runner or high-altitude mountaineer.

Most gilets feature baffles filled with warming insulation – either down or synthetic - around the torso. But which insulation type is best? Choose down for a superior warmth-to-weight ratio, or synthetic for better value and improved insulation when wet. Or, if you want something completely different, opt for a body-warmer made from fleece or a softshell material.

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If buying down, remember to check the fill power – a rating system for down insulation that measures compressibility and loft (fluffiness), and gives an indication of its insulating properties. A higher fill power indicates better quality down and a greater warmth-to-weight ratio.

Other vest features to look out for include zippered hand pockets, elasticated arm openings, waist drawcord, DWR finish (for shower-proof protection) and comfy collar.

How we tested

We tested all of the gilets on long runs and hikes in the Lake District’s north-western fells during December and January.  We’ve carefully assessed the technical performance of each vest, and graded them in terms of comfort, fit, warmth, style and value for money.

The best men’s gilets for 2022 are:

Rab cirrus flex 2.0

Best: Overall

Rating: 9.5/10

  • Insulation type: Primaloft silver luxe synthetic insulation
  • Weight: 248g (medium)

Derbyshire-based brand Rab rarely misses the mark, and the cirrus flex 2.0 vest is no exception. It’s warm, lightweight, packable, good-looking and fully-featured – everything you want from a gilet. The horizontal micro-baffles are filled with Primaloft silver luxe, a 100 per cent recycled synthetic insulation that is fast-drying, water-resistant and clump-free, while the sides of the vest feature stretchy panels of Thermic fleece for added comfort, breathability and freedom of movement.

The fit is athletic and slim, meaning the cirrus flex 2.0 works well as a standalone outer or under a waterproof, and the warmth boost you get is noticeable without being stifling. Other useful features include two hand-warmer pockets, an adjustable waist hem and an integrated stuff sack built into the left-hand pocket. For hiking and mountain climbing, it stands out as the best we’ve tested – and all at an affordable price.

Shackleton ross down

Best: For mountaineering

Rating: 9/10

  • Insulation type: Goose down, 850 fill power
  • Weight: 383g (small)

This gilet has a split personality. In one sense, it’s a highly-technical, expertly-engineered item of exploration clothing you could wear up a Himalayan peak or on an Arctic expedition; on the other, it feels like a fashion statement for the discerning outdoorsman with cash to splash and socialising to attend to. Either way, it’s a superb gilet and a real favourite of ours, only missing out on the “best overall” award because of its ludicrously lofty price.

That said, everything else about this jacket is impressively premium – the 850 fill power goose down (the highest grade featured in this list) is toastily warm and ethically sourced, while the Japanese-made ripstop nylon shell fabric is 100 per cent recycled. First-rate features include a wonderfully soft fleece lining at the collar and chin, two external chest pockets for your phone or valuables, and elasticated trims at the waist and arm openings for sealing in warmth. Or, in other words, this is a gilet worthy of association with legendary polar adventurer Ernest Shackleton, the hero this newcomer brand idolises and takes its name from.

Haglofs roc down vest

Best: For lightweight warmth

Rating: 9/10

  • Insulation type: Hydrophobic duck down, 800 fill power
  • Weight: 170g (small)

If you’re looking for technical outdoor gear at the lowest weight possible without compromising on performance, Swedish brand Haglofs is the place to be. This ultra-light DNA threads through every aspect of the roc down vest, an excellent down-insulated gilet with three major advantages over its competitors.

Firstly, while many other down gilets can quickly feel too hot and stuffy, this lightly-insulated and thin vest provides just a hint of warmth, a versatile approach that’s suitable for a range of conditions. Secondly, unlike regular down, which loses its loft and becomes wet, heavy and poorly insulating in rain, this gilet features 800 fill power down insulation with a special hydrophobic treatment so that “it stays dry for up to 5,000 minutes of exposure to wet conditions”, according to Haglofs. And thirdly, the 20-denier Pertex shell fabric is wind-resistant and shower-proof, further protecting the down. We’re big fans of all these features and materials, particularly for the versatility and year-round use it enables.

Columbia powder lite vest

Best: Value

Rating: 7.5/10

  • Insulation type: Columbia thermarator synthetic insulation
  • Weight: 415g (small)

At sub-£50, this jacket is a stone-cold bargain and easily the best value insulated gilet we’ve tested, with good warmth, nice features and even some innovative tech. It does have a few drawbacks – it’s a tad heavy and the long cut and tight fit around the backside is a little odd (for some body shapes, at least) – but at this price point, you can’t really complain.

We wore the powder lite vest out hiking in the Lake District fells in January, and it provided ample warmth in sub-zero winds. This came courtesy of the generous filling of synthetic insulation and the clever Omni-Heat shiny, metallic lining – think silver space suit meets sequinned dress – that reflects back your body heat for an added temperature boost. We also liked the two zippered hand-warmer pockets, adjustable waist hem, internal security pocket, and water-resistant shell.

Montane alpha vest

Best: For winter running

Rating: 8.5/10

  • Insulation type: Polartec alpha direct
  • Weight: 156g (small)

During our inevitable January fitness push, we wore this lightweight gilet on several fell runs in the northern Lake District, including a 15km dusk foray up Carrick Fell (661m) from Mosedale. It worked brilliantly, cutting out the cold of a Baltic wind without feeling bulky, heavy or restricting our hill agility and speed.

The key to this delicate balance? The use of Polartec alpha direct, a complex mesh of zig-zagging fibres and fluffy tufts of fleece-like synthetic insulation. Originally designed for the US special forces, this intricate fabric is a revelation and offers a genuine alternative to traditional puffy-style down or synthetic insulation. We found it far easier to dump heat wearing Polartec alpha direct than down, and it generally kept us warm without making us sweat uncontrollably. Other nice touches we enjoyed were the close-fitting collar, full-length central zipper with internal flap, zippered chest pocket, lightly elasticated arm holes, and cinchable waist drawcord.

The North Face 1996 retro nuptse

Best: For retro styling

Rating: 7/10

  • Insulation type: Goose down, 700 fill power
  • Weight: 480g (small)

Retro 90s vibes are in vogue in the world of outdoor clothing, with vibrant colour-blocking and heritage styling all the rage. This thickly-padded, super-warm gilet from polarising brand The North Face (are you a fan or a hater?) takes such a tack, reimagining the original nuptse down gilet from 1996 with a modern twist. Ironically, for a body-warmer named after a monstrous Himalayan mountain, the 1996 retro nuptse is actually designed for “urban exploration’” as TNF put it, and for that purpose it’s great.

The oversized baffles, effervescent colours, boxy silhouette, shiny shell fabric and diagonal hand pockets create a distinctively retro look, while the 700 fill power down delivers loads of cosy warmth while you’re pottering around the city or taking a gentle weekend stroll. The jacket version of the nuptse was the official “hottest product in the world“ back in 2020, with Kendall Jenner, Kanye West and virtually every other celebrity listed as big fans of the retro style. Whether that’s a good thing to you or not, you’ll get similar street cred from this gilet version.

Klattermusen nal vest

Best: For year-round running

Rating: 8.5/10

  • Insulation type: N/A
  • Weight: 144g (small)

Wonderfully minimalist and gossamer thin, this vest from Scandinavian mountaineering brand Klattermusen is so light you’ll probably forget you’re wearing it. Consequently, it’s far from the cosiest, delivering only the slightest of warmth boosts. But, for many high-intensity activities such as trail running, cycling or ski touring, it provides exactly what you need – something to take the edge off without risking over-heating within minutes of pulling it on. Indeed, on a 10km run along the Keswick to Threlkeld railway path in the Lake District during unseasonably mild January conditions, we got too sweaty in the Montane alpha vest and switched it out for this Klattermusen offering.

The nal is made from a material known as ultramid biomass balanced polyamide (eh?). It has all the usual stuff – including two hand pockets, zipper stormflap and adjustable waist hem – and also has a few innovative touches. The best are the zipper puller whistle for use in emergency situations and the high neck for sun protection. If you’re after winter warmth we’d definitely suggest shopping elsewhere, but if you’re in the market for an ultralight, flexible and wind-resistant trail running vest, look no further.

Canada Goose freestyle crew

Best: For warmth

Rating: 7/10

  • Insulation type: Duck down, 650 fill power
  • Weight: 715g (large)

Another gilet in the hybrid adventure-meets-fashion niche, the Canada Goose freestyle crew has a classic look and boxy style complemented by that distinctive (and ultra-expensive) blue, white and red circular logo. Over-sized baffles are filled with 625 fill power duck down, which is hardly a premium grade of insulation, but there’s so much of it you still get a real warmth boost. This gives the jacket a rather bulky, puffy-style feel to it, which just doesn’t work underneath a waterproof whatsoever, but on dry days it hits the spot as an indulgently cosy, standalone outer layer.

Rather unique triple-layered pockets and a vertical line of black press studs buttons over the central zipper complete the look, which is probably rather Marmite-y – you’ll either love it or hate it. We certainly wouldn’t recommend this gilet for hiking or mountain climbing, but for overseas travel, gentle countryside bimbles and everyday use, it offers debonair practicality.

Element mini jack

Best: For urban style

Rating: 8/10

  • Insulation type: N/A 
  • Weight: 353g (small)

Billed as a “nod to urban culture, the great outdoors and skateboarding”, this gilet from lifestyle brand Element is part of a special capsule collection in partnership with Hotel Radio Paris. It is a piece with many faces. For some the lichen green colour-way and multiple pockets will deliver a countryside-chic look reminiscent of a shooting jacket or fishing vest; for others it’ll be all about the cutting-edge, non-conformist street style; and for a few it’ll be the outdoors credentials that catch the eye. It is the latter that is most surprising because – despite all of the style points on offer here – this gilet is actually pretty technical.

Made from a Polartec neoshell fabric, with a really impressive 20,000mm hydrostatic head waterproof rating, this three-layer vest is warm, breathable, well-cut and comfy. You could happily wear it on a hike up Snowdon, at a swanky hotel break in the country, or chilling in Shoreditch – it’s multi-functional.

Keela zenith pro

Best: For versatility

Rating: 8/10

  • Insulation type: Thermal fleece lining
  • Weight: 387g

As is Scottish brand Keela’s modus operandi, you get a lot of bang for your buck with the zenith pro gilet – it’s warm and durable, yet still relatively light and streamlined, and it only costs just north of £50. Diverging from the approach of other gilets in this list, this vest has a softshell construction – a windproof and water-resistant outer combined with a thermal fleecy lining. This approach is really versatile. Unlike puffy-style gilets, which are practical for hillwalking but too warm for trail running, the zenith pro is actually good for both. We wore it on a couple of canal-side runs in Birmingham during the Christmas break, and the simple, clean design worked absolutely fine – nothing spectacular or exceptional, but a solid performer. For about £50, that’s a solid result.

The verdict: Men’s gilets

Our top spot goes to the Rab cirrus flex 2.0, thanks to its technical performance at an affordable price. If you can stomach the price, the Shackleton ross down is an excellent gilet for more hardcore adventures, while for running we’d always choose the Montane alpha vest in colder climes and Klattermusen nal vest on milder days.

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