From soft duck feathers to water-resistant outings, choose your body armour to stay warm this winter as Phoebe Smith tests out the latest and greatest gilets...
We asked gear manufacturers to submit the gilets that they felt were most suitable for travellers. Our editor, Phoebe Smith, then took them out on the road to assess the available options. The 'Value Buy' and 'Best in Test' are indicated.
Despite being the only one here under £100, this gilet has good stats: 650-fill down (certified responsible), water- and stain-resistant fabric, four pockets, a zip draught excluder and heat-sealed (no stitches) baffles. But its weight - 246g (size M); third heaviest on test - and lack of a scooped bottom does hold it back.
Verdict: A great budget option with some nice touches.
Buy from: columbiasportswear.co.uk
This gilet is the lightest by far at just 157g (size M), and its outer fabric is wind-, tear- and water-resistant. Two zipped hand-warming external pockets, a scooped bottom and an 800-fill hydro-down complete the stats; it's just a shame it's not certified responsible.
Verdict: A superb weight and well-featured.
Buy from: haglofs.com/gb/en
For a responsible, 750-fill hydro-down gilet, this is a good price. Extras like a zip draught excluder, adjustable hem with slight scoop and light wind/water-resistant outer fabric - 240g (size 10); fifth lightest - are good, but the lack of covering on the arm holes is a miss.
Verdict: A well-priced hydro-down with neat features.
Buy from: rab.equipment/uk
This only comes in a men's fit (size S is 270g; heaviest on test) but it's worth a look. Made from a sustainable, light outer fabric that's water- and wind-proof, its 600- fill down is responsible and hydrophobic. But the lack of an adjustable hem or elasticated armholes is a loss.
Verdict: Some good features, though lacking others.
Buy from: berghaus.com
With 800-fill down that is traceable from a parent farm, this is both ethical and practical - the hem niftily adjusts from inside the two zipped outer pockets and its outer fabric is water/wind-resistant and ripstop. Plus, it's a good weight - 330g (size S); fourth lightest on test.
Verdict: Good but you can get hydro-down for less.
Buy from: eu.patagonia.com
This 650-fill responsible-certified down vest is a good weight - 210g (size S); third lightest - and packs an adjustable hem, fleece-lined pockets and draught excluder zip into its water/wind-resistant ripstop shell.
Verdict: Nice, but a shame the down fill wasn't higher.
Buy from: outdoorresearch.com
The wind/water-repellent outer fabric of this gilet feels durable, but you do pay for it - at 252g (size S) it's the second heaviest here. A 650-fill down lines the inside, and synthetic fill on the sides stops the build-up of moisture. But while its two external zipped pockets are fleece-lined, the elasticated hem/arms aren't covered.
Verdict: Durable but with less fill power for the money.
Buy from: rohan.co.uk
At 175g (size M) with 850-fill down, this is the second lightest here, but robust as well as water-repellent and windproof. Synthetic down at key moisture points helps reduce damp, and it has a scooped bottom and adjustable hem but, sadly, no zip draught excluder.
Verdict: Well designed but not perfect (for the money).
Buy from: arcteryx.com
Comfort: For added comfort, check to see if there is a chinguard behind the top of the zip, to help keep the metal away from your face. Look for elasticated or adjustable drawcords around the hem and make sure the armholes are covered with a soft elasticated fabric, to allow movement but also help keep warm air in.
Fit: Gilets work best when they are a close fit. They are designed to be worn over other layers, so do check that it at least allows for a baselayer without being too baggy. The key is that when you lift your arms up, it doesn't rise up too far and expose your back - scooped hemlines help with this. It's also worth bearing in mind that they come in men's and women's specific fits.
Fabric: Lightweight but durable wind resistant fabric will help keep you warm. Water-repellency is also useful if the down inside is not hydrophobic. While a gilet isn't made for heavy rain, they should be able to deal with light drizzle.
Draught Excluders: Behind the main zip, you'll ideally want a draught excluder - a thin strip of fabric that runs the length of it, helping to trap in heat.
Pockets: External pockets are usually of the hand-warming variety. Look for a lining, such as taffeta or fleece. Internally, a zipped pocket is handy for keeping cash, phones or passports and tickets close to hand.
Fill: Duck or goose down is a warm filling that traps a lot of heat at a very light weight. To stop the fill migrating around the jacket, it is usually packed in compartmented baffles.
For a guide to how warm it is, look at the fill rating; the higher the number, the warmer the jacket - less than 600 is low and 800 is high. Remember that if down gets damp, the feathers will stick together and won't 'loft' - which is how the warm air is contained.
If going somewhere likely to be wet, look for hydrophobic (waterproof) down instead. From an animal welfare perspective, many manufacturers are now also doing what they can to make sure the down is responsibly sourced and/or traceable.
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