Best Cycle Gilets: Buying Guide For A Portable Outer Layer

For changeable days or the transition seasons of spring or autumn a gilet – a light, sleeveless outer vest worn as part of a layered clothing system – is an invaluable addition to your cycling wardrobe.

Why do I need a cycle gilet?

Cyclists are notorious for obsessing about what and when to wear the appropriate clothing when out on the road or on trails. A cycling gilet can help to find the perfect balance between being too hot or too cold. Paired with arm warmers a gilet can be used to regulate your body temperature along the ride, protecting your torso from wind chill, rain, and road spray.

While not as resistant to the elements as a full jacket, a gilet will offer a degree of wind- or rain-resistance on breezy, showery days or long descents, and is light and small enough to be packed into a jersey pocket when not required.

What cycling gilet is best for me?

You may want to think about the conditions you plan to use the gilet in. However, they don’t offer much in the way of insulation so are mainly for summer use, or for autumn and spring when worn in conjunction with warmer mid- and base layers.

  • Windproof – provides a great level of protection from the wind. Protecting your torso against the chilling wind during your ride.
  • Water Resistant – Not fully waterproof but capable of stopping spray and light rain from penetrating and reaching the skin. Using a waterproof repellent coating (called DWR) is applied to the outer fabric to prevent absorption of water, allowing it to just run off the jacket.
  • Softshell – a smoother, softer gilet made using a more breathable and waterproof fabric. Softshell gilets offer an excellent level of insulation and regulating airflow.
  • Packable – Perfect for those unpredictable weather days, gilets can often be packed away for easy fitting into your back pocket.

Key considerations

Some of the key things to consider when buying a gilet are cut, design, fabric, and additional extras.

Cut – Cycle-specific gilets – as opposed to running vests – will additionally be cut anatomically to reflect the on-bike position, with an elongated back and drop tail to prevent the gilet from riding up and exposing the back, and to protect against spray from the rear wheel. Multi-directional stretch fabric panels will typically be used in areas such as the shoulders for comfort, while armholes are cut to offer ample room for the rider that likes to stretch forward.

Design – It’s worth noting that pro-style ‘racing’ gilets or vests will be closer-fitting and more aerodynamic than more casual cuts for commuting or MTB use, and may also be restrictive in terms of the layers that can be worn underneath – worth bearing in mind, for example, if you are looking for a commuter vest under which street clothes can be worn.

Fabric – As with most technical cycling garments, look for lightweight, breathable fabrics with good wicking properties (the ability to draw moisture away from the surface of the skin to the exterior of the fabric, where it can evaporate). Some gilets may also feature a water-repellent coating or a special windproof textile to the front of the garment, to offer additional protection against the elements. Conversely, some gilets have mesh panels on the rear to enhance airflow and offer optimised ventilation.

Extras – Other features to consider are zippered rear pockets for ride essentials, and for commuting and low-light training, high-viz colours, or piping to offer extra visibility to other road users.

Tom Adams

Tom is a bike enthusiast! Originally a mountain biker, Tom enjoys going fast on two wheels, whether it's on the road or on the gravel, mountain bike or commuting! Tom has been riding bikes for almost 18 years and loves nothing more than getting out on the roads or trails and testing out the newest and most innovative things on the Chain Reaction website!

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