The GO Outdoors Guide to Gilets and Bodywarmers
A gilet is a sleeveless vest designed to offer warmth and protection to your core, also known as a bodywarmer.
The sleeveless style allows total freedom for movement which is popular for a variety of activities. You can wear a gilet in numerous ways, as a casual day item, for hikes on autumn days over a long t-shirt or shirt, or combined with a fleece and/or jacket.
Zips or poppers are common features with gilets, so they are easily adjustable for venting qualities. Flat lock, or seam stitched designs means the bulk has been compressed so you have a packable shape.
Unlike wearing a full jacket or fleece, a gilet lacks sleeves, which provides additional venting and breathable capability, without restricting movement or overheating your arms.. For the maximum warmth, look for a gilet with a layer of insulation, either in the form of down or a manmade synthetic. Other options can include a gilet made from wind-blocking material, to protect you from cold without overheating.
- Fleece linings at the cuffs and neck to prevent rising heat from escaping
- Zipped hand warmer pockets for comfort
- Toggles and elastication at the neck and cuffs to seal in heat
Inner padding in gilets is created from either down, or synthetics and can be distributed evenly, but more often is distributed in varying percentages so that areas that need more flexibility are less padded. You should be able to wear layers beneath your gilet, such as a baselayer.
Outer fabrics of gilets:
The outer fabric of your gilet should be durable, and can be water resistant if required. It should be lightweight as possible for both wearing and packing, with the highest fill power for the maximum amounts of warmth.
This refers to the volume the insulated jacket is filled with. The fill power is measured in cubic inches. The higher the fill power, the warmer the insulated jacket will be. In general terms, 500 is a low fill power, and 800 is a high fill power.
Generally, the higher the fill-power is, the lighter and more compressible the down will be The best gilet to pick will have the lowest weight, for easy packing, and the highest fill power.
Fill volume is similar to the Fill Power, but expresses the amount of expansion the gilet will provide. The greater the expansion, or higher the ‘loft’ of insulation, the warmer the gilet.
Fabrics for the padding within insulated gilets can vary. The correct insulation is key to your comfort, and you can usually choose from two main types- manmade synthetics, or natural down. To read more about insulation, and the benefits of down or synthetic padding, read our guide here.
Down Insulation – Best for periods of low activity/inactivity in cold temperatures
Down is a luxury fabric, usually utilizing goose feathers in order to maintain natural body heat and to keep it circulating. Natural down is often a more bulky and heavyweight purchase than a manmade synthetic alternative and is usually more costly.
The natural construction of feathers, either duck or goose means that down is designed to store and trap in heat, making it an ideal choice for used during stationary periods in activity, or long periods of inactivity.
- Down is easily compressed
- Down fill keeps its warmth with ease
- Down fill does lack some of the breathability and opportunity for freedom of movement
- Down tends to be more expensive, but is highly durable
- Down needs to be kept dry
- Quality is usually expressed as a percentage, which shows the ratio of down to feathers
- The fill power is in a rating style, and this will indicate how well the down retains its loft, or simply, how efficient it is
- The higher the percentage and fill number, the better, lighter and warmer the gilet.
Synthetic Insulation – Best for periods of exertion in cold temperatures
Man made, synthetic insulation is the lab made equivalent of natural down.
Synthetics are used to attempt to replicate the warming and heating effects of down, without the bulk, and with the chance to achieve higher levels of breathability, all at a lower cost.
Although heat is circulated with ease, synthetic insulation does suffer from heat loss at a quicker rate than a natural down jacket, making it more suitable for times when your body is still producing its own heat, for example during periods of exertion. Synthetic Insulation generally provides plenty of circulated heat with more freedom of movement.
However synthetic insulation loses heat quicker than a traditional down fabric. Synthetic insulation performs better when wet unlike natural down Synthetic insulation is cheaper and easier to care for than natural down synthetic insulation is heavier and bulkier, meaning you will need more pack weight to accommodate it.