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Best women’s gilets: hiking vests and body warmers to keep you snug outdoors from fall to spring

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Best women’s gilets
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Gilet, hiking vest, body warmer – whatever you call them, the best women’s gilets are warm, winter-friendly insulated vests ideal for staying cosy and comfortable when you’re outdoors in cold conditions. Whether you need extra warmth around your torso while keeping your arms free or just need a lighter, less bulky alternative to a down jacket, sleeveless vests are brilliant for layering with on cold days and for wearing alone in changeable conditions in fall and spring.

Gilets weren’t always considered the most stylish bits of outdoor kit, but in recent years they’ve become a lot more common, and you’ll spot them worn on mountain peaks, at climbing crags and by cyclists. Outdoorsy types have embraced gilets, having realized these insulated hiking vests are one of the most practical layers you can wear, trapping heat around your core while leaving your arms free to move and working over base layers and under waterproof jackets

If you want to get in on the layering action, we’ve picked ten of the best insulated gilets designed specifically for women, suitable for different weather conditions (you can also check out our best gilets buying guide if you’re looking for more unisex options). We’ve included both warm padded vests that can double up as outer wear as well as slimmer body warmers that you can pop under a winter coat. Plus, our buying guide below explains what features to look for in a gilet and explores the key differences between animal down and synthetic insulation materials. 

The best women’s gilets: down gilets and body warmers

Best Women’s Gilets: The North Face Women’s 1996 Retro Nuptse Vest

(Image credit: The North Face)

The North Face Women’s 1996 Retro Nuptse Vest

Retro looks meet great performance and design details in The North Face’s versatile vest

Specifications
RRP: $287 (US) / £210 (UK)
Insulation: Goose down
Sizes: XS / S / M / L / XL
Colors: Summit Gold / Faded Rose / Recycled TNF Black
Waterproofing: Water-resistant
Compatibility: Functional and fashionable from the streets to the peaks
Reasons to buy
+Smart retro looks+Packaway hood+Multiple pockets+Packs into own pocket
Reasons to avoid
-Outer pockets aren’t zippable-Expensive

Party like it’s 1996 in The North Face’s new collection of down jackets and gilets, inspired by the designs the brand turned out before the turn of the millennium. We love the old-school looks of the 1996 Retro Nuptse gilet, and this vest ticked all our boxes for design when on test, too: it includes a hood that can be packed away into the collar when it’s not needed: roomy pockets (including handy interior zipped pockets ideal for stashing your phone or other valuables); and a bungee on the hem that helps you adjust the gilet to get a snug fit and further trap in body heat. 

While the Nuptse looks rather boxy when on, it packs down small enough to stuff into its own pocket, which is great for popping it in your rucksack on the go. It’s also just about slim enough to fit under a jacket. While appearance isn't the most important factor when choosing an insulated vest, the Nuptse was definitely number one of our best women's gilets when it comes to looks. Top marks.

Best Women’s Gilets: Montane Women’s Featherlite Down Gilet

(Image credit: Montane)

Montane Women’s Featherlite Down Gilet

A lightweight and brilliantly comfortable fit make the Featherlite a lovely mid layer for all-day exploring

Specifications
RRP: $177.50 (US) / £130 (UK)
Insulation: Duck down
Sizes: S / M / L / XL
Colors: Black / Orion Blue
Waterproofing: Water resistant
Compatibility: Great comfort makes this vest ideal for long days exploring or working outdoors
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight+Delightfully comfortable+Recycled outer material
Reasons to avoid
-Would benefit from stretchy side panels

Featherlite by name and by nature, Montane’s down gilet totals just 255 grams. If you don’t like to feel weighed down by heavy outdoor layers, this is a freeing choice that you’ll barely notice you have on – well, besides the fact that the water-resistant down insulation is doing a great job of warming up your core. The silky outer material looks rather thin but is actually made of reasonably tough recycled nylon, and the soft inner lining feels lovely to wear, too; this is a great vest to pop on to stay cosy and comfy from dawn until dusk. If we could change anything, we’d have made the side panels stretchy, so that this gilet moves with you when you’re picking up the pace, although the adjustable hem and elasticated arm holes go a long way to getting a comfortable fit that still traps in heat.

Best Women’s Gilets: Columbia Women’s Bulo Point Down Vest

(Image credit: Columbia)

Columbia Women’s Bulo Point Down Vest

The Bulo Point offers excellent warmth thanks to a reflective liner – and even doubles up as a camping pillow

Specifications
RRP: $245.85 (US) / £180 (UK)
Insulation: Goose down
Sizes: XS / S / M / L / XL
Colors: Mineral Pink Iridescent & Malbec / Black / Dark Nocturnal
Waterproofing: Water resistant
Compatibility: Ideal worn as outer wear in cold conditions
Reasons to buy
+Heat-reflecting lining+Comfortable elasticated arm holes+Stuffs into stuff sack
Reasons to avoid
-Shiny finish

Insulated gilets are either slim-fitting and easily layered, or big, bulky and seriously warm for use as outer wear – and Columbia’s Bulo Point is firmly in the second category. This is a chunkier, padded gilet that offers impressive warmth – zip it up and it immediately traps in warmth thanks to plentiful down insulation and Columbia’s clever Omni-Heat gold lining, which reflects body heat.

The elasticated arm holes and neck are great for getting a comfortable close fit without restricting movement, and we also like that the vest packs down into its own stuff sack – this could double up as a handy pillow on winter camping trips. You’ll probably either love or loathe the slick, shiny finish of the Bulo Point – we like its urban feel but others may think it looks a tad too much like you’re wearing a bin bag. All in all, this is a high-performing vest that will keep you cosy even in snowy conditions. 

Best Women’s Gilets: 66 North Dyngja Puffy recycled down vest

(Image credit: 66 North)

66 North Dyngja Puffy recycled down vest

Cosy up in this padded, puffer jacket-style vest, which is insulated with recycled down

Specifications
RRP: $341.46 (US) / £250 (UK)
Insulation: Recycled goose and duck down
Sizes: XXS / S / M / L / XXL
Colors: Ossis / Black Midnight
Waterproofing: None
Compatibility: Casual winter use in the city and the country
Reasons to buy
+Recycled down filling+Super comfortable +Stylish+Great pockets
Reasons to avoid
-Too bulky to layer over-No waterproofing

If cosy comfort for winter wear is top of your shopping list for the best women's gilets, try the Dyngja for size. This highly padded vest is as close as you’ll get to the feeling of taking your duvet from home out and about with you – it’s stuffed with highly insulating goose and duck down. 

If you’re choosing animal down, this is a more eco-friendly choice than many, too, as 66 North use recycled down reclaimed from used clothing and bedding, diverting waste from landfills and extending the lifecycle of the down. 

On test we liked the well-placed zipped pockets, handy for valuables, and the high neck, which keeps you warm without feeling restrictive. While we like how smart the creamy white version of this gilet is, the navy blue is probably a more practical choice for keeping it looking clean, and its neutral looks make it work for city streets as well as country strolls. This gilet isn’t water-resistant, so save it for dry but chilly days out. 

Best Women’s Gilets: Nobis Elora Ladies Vest

(Image credit: Nobis)

Nobis Elora Ladies Vest

Warm, fully waterproof and with a smart, slim-fit finish, the tough Elora vest is well worth splashing out on

Specifications
RRP: $885 (US) / £650 (UK)
Insulation: Duck down
Sizes: XS / S / M / L / XL
Colors: Black
Waterproofing: Waterproof
Compatibility: A versatile vest that can tackle grim weather
Reasons to buy
+Fully waterproof+Multiple pockets+Smart looks
Reasons to avoid
-That price tag-Lack of color options

Is this… a technical vest that actually looks stylish? Canadian brand Nobis do a fine line in high-quality outdoor clothing that you can rely on all winter long, and the new Elora gilet is no different. Plentiful duck down insulation provides instant welcome warmth for all-day wear but the jacket still has a slim profile that looks very smart. The front material is a brushed twill that is fully waterproof and that repelled even heavy rain on test – obviously your arms will get damp, but keeping your torso warm and dry will go far to staying comfortable and cosy if you’re out in the elements all day. Four front pockets are ideal for storing essentials and tools whether you’re working, gardening, fishing or camping. This is an investment piece for sure, but if you plan to wear a gilet daily all winter long, the Elora is worth splashing out on. 

The best synthetic-fill gilets and body warmers for women

Best Women’s Gilets: Proviz REFLECT360 Women's Down Gilet

(Image credit: Proviz)

Proviz REFLECT360 Women's Down Gilet

Light up the night in this clever – and cosy – reflective gilet

Specifications
RRP: $150 (US) / £100 (UK)
Insulation: Synthetic down
Sizes: XS / S / M / L / XL
Colors: Black (with reflective properties)
Waterproofing: Water-resistant
Compatibility: Great for walking and biking after dark
Reasons to buy
+Reflective at night+Zipped pockets+Water resistant
Reasons to avoid
-Too warm for more active sports 

We’ve tested out multiple reflective jackets designed to make you more visible when you’re out and about at night, and while they’re very effective many of them do make you look like a blindingly bright beacon whenever you encounter a light source. 

The more subtle reflective details on the Proviz REFLECT360 vest’s shoulders, back and sides make you easily spotted under street lighting or in car or bike headlights, but when worn in daylight the vest is a neutral, versatile black that doesn’t make you look like you’re part of a construction team. 

This isn’t a one-trick-pony safety vest, either: the down filling offers instant warmth but isn’t too bulky, with a great warmth-to-weight ratio. 180g of insulation traps in heat quickly, but this vest is too insulated to be suitable for fast-paced sports, and is better kept for chilly winter walks and frosty city cycles. The outer material of the gilet proved water-resistant enough to repel light rain, so it’s ideal if you’re heading out in changeable conditions. You can easily layer jackets over this slimmer insulated gilet.

Best Women’s Gilets: Alpkit Sierra Women’s Insulated Vest

(Image credit: Alpkit)

Alpkit Sierra Women’s Insulated Vest

Make like an onion and get layering in this slim and lightweight vest, perfect worn as a mid layer for outdoor adventures

Specifications
RRP: $110 (US) / £80 (UK)
Insulation: PrimaLoft Gold
Sizes: S / M / L / XL
Colors: Black
Waterproofing: None
Compatibility: A brilliant mid layer for active sports
Reasons to buy
+Great for layering+Lightweight and comfortable to wear+Easy to pack away
Reasons to avoid
-Not enough warmth for winter use on its own-Not water-resistant-Lack of color options

Ever heard of the onion method? Layering up, onion-style, is the best way to keep warm in the outdoors in cold weather, and a lightweight gilet like Alpkit’s new Sierra insulated vest is the perfect mid layer to pop over a base layer and under a warm jacket. 

This gilet is so light and comfortable to wear that you’ll barely notice you have it on, but a layer of synthetic PrimaLoft insulation adds welcome warmth around the torso. This lighter vest is ideal for faster-paced sports and outdoor activities, as it’ll keep you cosy without overheating whether you’re climbing, cycling or hiking, and stretchy side panels keep the gilet in place even when you’re moving fast. 

We found it worked brilliantly worn under rucksack straps, and it also compresses down for easy storage in a backpack pocket. It’s a pity the vest’s outer material isn’t water-resistant, like many others on the market, but neutral looks and a black colorway make the Sierra work for nigh-on any situation, from commuting to country strolls. 

Best Women’s Gilets: Sundried Women’s Recycled Quilted Vest

(Image credit: Sundried)

Sundried Women’s Recycled Quilted Vest

A well-priced, hooded and water-resistant gilet that makes a good quiver-of-one vest for more casual use

Specifications
RRP: $82 (US) / £60 (UK)
Insulation: Recycled synthetic
Sizes: S / M / L / XL
Colors: Black
Waterproofing: Water-resistant
Compatibility: Casual wear in dry or wet conditions
Reasons to buy
+Water-resistant+Good value for money+Hooded+Recycled insulation
Reasons to avoid
-Limited warmth-Lack of color options

If you want just one handy gilet you can sling on for more relaxed outings in rain or shine, Sundried’s quilted body warmer is a good contender. The outer fabric is water-resistant enough that rain will bead off the surface, while the satin-y inner fabric is soft and cosy to wear. 

Hooded gilets aren’t usually very easy to layer, but Sundried get around that with a well-designed detachable and adjustable hood – pop it on if you’re wearing the gilet over a base layer, or zip it off if you want to add a waterproof jacket over the top. 

Sundried’s gilet isn’t as warm as some bulkier models we tested, but for warmer days when you don’t need a super-insulated layer it’s useful to sling on. We like the two zipped pockets and the fact that you can cinch in the neck of the gilet using the hood toggles. We also think this body warmer sits at a good price point at well under $100 / £100 – a fuss-free, versatile member of our best women's gilets collection, to wear in fall and spring. 

Best Women’s Gilets: Craghoppers Compress Lite V Vest

(Image credit: Craghoppers)

Craghoppers Compress Lite V Vest

The fully reversible Compress Lite offers two gilet looks for the price of one – this lightweight vest is a nice mid layer for warmer weather

Specifications
RRP: $82 (US) / £60 (UK)
Insulation: Synthetic
Sizes: XS / S / M / L / XL / XXL
Colors: Navy & White / Raspberry & White
Waterproofing: None
Compatibility: Useful as a mid layer under a waterproof or alone for casual use
Reasons to buy
+Reversible design+Slim and easy to layer+Cut longer on the hips
Reasons to avoid
-Low neck-Limited warmth

Fancy two gilets for the price of one? The Compress Lite V from Craghoppers is fully reversible, so you can swap between the navy blue and the white sides from day to day. The gilet itself is lightweight, slim-fitting and easy to wear over long-sleeved base layers, and the lack of bulk makes it comfortable to pop under form-fitting waterproofs and tight cycle jackets. 

At just 265g, the Compress Lite won’t weigh you down, but it also offers less warmth than a more padded vest, so it works best as part of a layering system, or worn alone in warmer weather. On test we found it a nice vest to reach for when you want a touch more warmth without any bulk when out walking, or even for use indoors when the temperature drops. We also like the longer length, which adds warmth around the hips. The only thing we’d change about the design is that the neck is cut quite low – we prefer a high neck for extra warmth and wind resistance.

The best wool-filled gilets and body warmers for women

Best Women’s Gilets: Icebreaker Women's MerinoLoft Helix Vest

(Image credit: Icebreaker)

Icebreaker Women's MerinoLoft Helix Vest

Warm and moisture-wicking merino wool is the hero fabric in this gilet, which offers a great warmth to weight ratio

Specifications
RRP: $232.50 (US) / £170 (UK)
Insulation: Merino wool
Sizes: XS / S / M / L / XL
Colors: Black
Waterproofing: None
Compatibility: Ideal for climbing, cycling and hiking in the winter months
Reasons to buy
+Great warmth to weight ratio+Merino wool is warm but breathable+Nice longer cut
Reasons to avoid
-Sizes small-Lack of color options

We’ve always rated Icebreaker’s base layers highly on test, so we were excited to put their insulated vest through its paces. Unlike all the other gilets we tested out, this body warmer uses merino wool rather than animal down as insulation – merino is a bit of a wonder material for base layers and mid layers, as it’s naturally warm, breathable, moisture-wicking and more sustainable than animal down. 

The resulting vest offers impressive warmth despite its light weight, and its form-fitting design is easy to layer upon. On test we loved the high neck, the longer-length cut around the hips for added warmth and the large hand-warmer pockets. 

Elasticated side panels help the Helix vest to feel comfortable even as you move – this is a brilliant pick for faster-paced hikes, cycling (for work or play), climbing and other active sports where you need winter-appropriate warmth without too much heat or bulk. The sizing is on the small side, so consider ordering a size up to layer under. 

What to look for when buying the best women’s gilets

Alpkit Sierra Women’s Insulated Vests out on the trail

Alpkit Sierra Women’s Insulated Vest (Image credit: Alpkit)

We reckon you can split the best women's gilets into two camps: slimmer hiking vests that can be layered under jackets but that tend to offer less warmth, and warm but bulkier puffer-style vests that are best used as an outer layer. Think about whether you want to wear your new gilet as a mid layer or as a standalone jacket – the former are better for active sports, as you’ll have more freedom of movement and won’t overheat, while the latter will keep you cosy on winter walks and are often more wind and water-resistant. 

Fit

The main function of a gilet is to trap in heat around your torso, so whatever kind of vest you choose it needs to be slim-fitting enough that there’s no extra space inside the gilet once it’s zipped up. That said, you don’t want your vest to be too tight – make sure you can easily fit inner layers under your new gilet, and that there’s plenty of space to move your arms freely without any restriction, and that the gilet doesn’t ride up as you walk. 

We like gilets that are cut lower on the hips, to keep your torso that bit warmer. A hood and/or a high-cut neck are useful for keeping your neck and face protected from the elements, and don’t forget to check your new vest has roomy (and ideally zipped) pockets – more technical vests often also have chest or internal pockets too, handy for storing small tools and other essentials as well as for keeping your hands warm. 

Insulation

When picking an insulated gilet, the main question is whether you go for down or synthetic insulation. Down was traditionally higher-performing than synthetic materials, but the latter are catching up fast. If you want a mid-layer for high-intensity activities such as hiking or cycling, a lightly padded synthetic jacket is probably a better option. If you’re all about keeping cosy, warm animal down has traditionally been your best bet, but many synthetic insulating materials do now perform as well as animal down. 

There’s an animal welfare issue with the production of some down jackets. The cheapest down is harvested from live (and sometimes force-fed) animals. You’ll see other down jackets labelled ‘humanely harvested’, which means the down is a by-product of food production. Ethically traced down is more expensive, but is well worth spending more cash on. Synthetic down jackets avoid this problem all together. (See also: The best eco-friendly outdoor brands.)

If you’re on the market to buy one good-quality jacket, we’d recommend picking something that either uses synthetic insulation or a company using humane, traceable down. There are other options on the market – merino wool makes great insulation, and some brands are recycling old, discarded down in their gilet designs, which saves it from landfill. 

Waterproofing

If you’re wearing your new gilet in winter, it’s likely you might encounter some rain or snow. Down is notorious for being useless when wet, while synthetic insulation does retain some warmth when damp. These days, both kinds of insulation are usually treated to be water-resistant and will withstand a light shower or a bit of snow, and are thus a more versatile pick for the outdoors, where the weather can change at short notice. 

Sian Lewis

An award-winning travel and outdoors journalist, presenter and blogger, Sian regularly writes for The Independent, Evening Standard, BBC Countryfile, Coast, Outdoor Enthusiast and Sunday Times Travel. Life as a hiking, camping, wild-swimming adventure-writer has taken her around the world, exploring Bolivian jungles, kayaking in Greenland, diving with turtles in Australia, climbing mountains in Africa and, in Thailand, learning the hard way that peeing on a jellyfish sting doesn’t help. Her blog, thegirloutdoors.co.uk, champions accessible adventures.