Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review: Vulpine Ultralight Quilted Thermal Gilet

Vulpine Quilted Gilet

For wandering about outdoors in cool weather, I have long been a fan of the down vest (or, as it's known in the UK, the gilet.) Allowing my arms to move without constraint while enclosing my torso in what's essentially a wearable winter-weight duvet, the vest/gilet has been a wardrobe staple for nature walks and photo expeditions since my teenage years. I have not, however, found this garment to be ideal for cycling. The prototypical EMS and the LL Bean vests I'd owned since my pre-bicycling days proved both too short and too heavy for the bike, overheating my torso while at the same time exposing a good chunk of my lower back to the frigid wind. They also pulled at the sleeve openings and bunched up around the tummy area uncomfortably on anything but the most bolt-upright of machines. And so, what was once a wardrobe stable became relegated to the back of said wardrobe once I switched to life on two wheels. But that did not mean I didn't miss the mighty down vest. Which is why when Vulpine released their cycling-specific puffy gilet, they immediately had my attention. Available in navy or red for women, and in navy, charcoal, or marigold for men, the Vulpine Ultralight Quilted Thermal Gilet is priced at £119. I've been testing this vest for a couple of months now, and over that period of time I've found myself wearing it at some point of nearly every day, on the bike and off.

Vulpine Quilted Gilet
One feature that makes the Vulpine gilet work well on the bike is the fit. This vest is cut long, so that even in a drop bar position it cannot ride up in the back to expose any skin. In the front, it is roomy, yet somehow resists bunching up. The women's version is cut generously in the midsection, while also adhering to the curves of the female figure. The result is a sensation of wearing something comfy and loose, combined with the appearance of wearing something quite tailored. I find the vest to be true to size and relaxed in fit. I am normally a US size 4 (UK size 10/12, EU size 38), and the size Small fits me with room for several layers of clothing beneath. In these photos I am wearing the gilet over 3 layers: two wool long sleeve tops and a button-down shirt.

Vulpine Quilted Gilet
The sleeve openings are cut generously - but with a subtle stretchy action happening, preventing the openings from gaping and letting cold air in. The soft finishing of the edges further prevents them from pinching or cutting into the skin if you stretch your arms way forward.

Vulpine Quilted Gilet
The gilet's two front zip pockets are so low key, they would hardly be noticeable if it weren't for the V-stamped leather tabs - which makes it all the more surprising how enormously deep they are. I can fit a large SLR camera lens in each pocket easily - which comes in handy, as it allows me to avoid carrying a photo bag. And while that's not a bicycle specific feature in itself, what's interesting is that when I place something heavy in a front pocket of this vest, I do not notice the weight puling down much in a leaned over cycling position. This is a contrast to my experience with other tops or jackets with large front pockets, where I've found that even if the pockets can fit stuff, it's just uncomfortable to carry weight there while cycling. The fabric of this gilet must be quite sag-resistant to eliminate this issue.

Vulpine Quilted Gilet
A smaller internal chest pocket and rear pocket fit items like phones and keys.

Vulpine Quilted Gilet
The high neckline provides extra wind protection when on the bike, and the shoulder panel is constructed from a material that is meant to resist abrasions from backpack straps.

Vulpine Quilted Gilet
The other notable feature that makes the Vulpine gilet a good choice for cyclists, is its compactness. The nylon shell is filled with Primaloft Gold synthetic down alternative, which feels barely 2mm thin when pinched between the fingers. The entire vest crumples up into a tiny ball, which fits easily into a small handlebar or saddle bag and even in some jersey pockets. Because the weather can change so quickly here in Ireland, this is a much-appreciated quality in any piece of outerwear.

Vulpine Quilted Gilet
Importantly, the Vulpine gilet strikes a good balance between warmth, windproofing and breathability. When cycling for transportation I can wear it over a wide range of temperatures without overheating. On a roadbike that range narrows, and it needs to be quite a bit colder for the vest to come out. But even on a roadbike it works well for those days when the temperature starts out freezing in the early morning, then spikes an hour or two later. I can wear the gilet to warm up, then stash it in a bag or pocket.

Finally - and granted, this might be just a personal neurotic thing (Ed, just listen to this!!) - but I love that the Vulpine gilet is silent. I find that a lot of nylon outerwear makes annoying swishing noises when I move around in it, which especially drives me nuts when I pedal and the noise becomes rhythmic. This gilet doesn't make a peep, no greased cotton balls required.

Vulpine Quilted Gilet
(I am smiling, because of the silence. And because I've stashed an 85mm lens in my pocket and no one is the wiser.)

As far as critical feedback... truthfully, I've had a hard time coming up with any. Fans of hi-vis will be disappointed that this gilet absolutely lacks any reflective elements. But I'd rather have it this way myself, as it makes the vest more versatile for off the bike daywear. I am not crazy about the shade of magenta they used to contrast the women's navy blue colourscheme, but that's a matter of personal taste and doesn't bother me that much anyhow. The only thing I can really think of, is that I'd love this vest even more were it equipped with a two-way zipper for a wider range of ventilation options. Perhaps on a future rendition?

I've been testing Vulpine products since they opened up shop, and the Women's Quilted Thermal Gilet is my favourite piece so far. I was looking for a versatile, reasonably attractive puffy vest that could be worn on and off the bike, and this lovely thing fits the bill better than I'd hoped. I should also add, that to equip a women's garment with huge, useful pockets without making it look bulky is no small feat. Thank you, Vulpine, for reinstating the vest - erm, gilet! - into my cold season wardrobe.

31 comments:

  1. This is a handsome piece and you wear it well. But I have to laugh because you make it look almost old fashioned. I recall my (chic and practical) mother owned something similar in the 70s!

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  2. i found this via twitter, love the blog! not the point of your review i know, but what is the shirt you are wearing please?

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    1. I am pretty sure it's from Benetton. Not sure the season or model as I've ripped the tags out.

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  3. It looks stunning on you, V! Unfortunately, the largest size Vulpine offer is about 3 sizes too big around my waist, open and gaping around the shoulders... and will not close over my chest. I have found this with all Vulpine's jackets. Fortunately (and strangely) all their merino tops and jerseys fit beautifully. It must be the stretch.

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    1. Sorry, I forget that some women actually have proper breasts! Thanks for the feedback. It is probably safe to generalise that Vulpine jackets are best suited for ladies with an "athletic" (C cup or smaller?) build.

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    2. That's been my own conclusion, yes, but I'm still in some form of denial and keep trying their stuff on anyway. Oh well.

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  4. I'm a fan of (as we call them in the yew ess ay) vests for cycling and about town. But the big question is: how does one pronounce "gilet" in the yew kay? the effete "jilay" or (as I extrapolate) "jillet"?

    After all, it's "garridge" and "caff", is it not?

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    1. Put it this way:
      You could wear your jillet to the balley.

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    2. Bertan, not enough r's in garrrrridge but caff is bob on. Gilet, to us cosmopolitan northerners, is either gill-et hard g, or jee-ay soft j. We are in the process of convincing our Swiss colleagues to say aye up! as a greeting and that Morecambe is pronounced Moh-ray-cam-bay

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    3. (forgot to add, I like to wear mine while sipping clarit.)

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    4. My affection for the ewe kai and its idiosyncrasies stems from a boyhood in ex-Raj states (India, Kenya, Pakistan) in the 60s and 70s, as well as regular visits to London on home leave. My first bike lore was largely British.

      One of my recent clients is an executive working for the US division of a Korean company: he is from Northern Ireland and I string out our conversations just to enjoy his accent (and the down-to-earth outlook that, I think, must go with the accent). AND I just discovered that a "path racer" is not a bike designed for road and dirt track but for road and racing track. But it's British.

      Sipping clarit in my gillet even as we speak.

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    5. What's "clarit?" Is in some kind of variation of "claret?"

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  5. Not a great cut for bend-over-cycling, more suited for the more upper righter cyclist.

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  6. Awww. I got all excited until I got to the comment about "athletic" builds. As an H cup I guess I'm out...

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    1. Forgive me, but I had to check whether "H cup" was a real thing. In my ignorance, I had thought the scale went from AA to DD.

      That said, I see a lot of comments from disappointed voluptuous ladies on reviews of cycling wear. Would be good if someone started a line aimed specifically at this target market.

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    2. Jayne, my wife, hasn't tried any yet, but Fat Lad at the Back now have a Lasses range http://fatladattheback.com/product-category/lasses/

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    3. Tim - good shout out. However, the issue often isn't one of size but proportion. That is in fact what bra cup sizes measure: the difference between the measurements of the "fullest point" (ahem) and the ribcage circumference. Lots of very small women out there wearing cup sizes F and larger.

      Velouria - your understanding may be a result of how the USA sizing differs from the UK. The UK goes from D to E and doesn't mess about with Double This, Double That! ;)

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    4. Yes, Rebecca. Part of the problem with clothing manufacturers is that they imagine that all women with full breasts are also overweight. I'm a small, fit woman who wears a DD.

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    5. Jayne, here , it is a question of proportion, just cos you have large boobs does not mean you are large all over! Try looking at the Bravissimo site. They do sizesD to L, and lots of double letters. They also do a clothing range, but its smart work wear. Which is fantastic, but we need the leisure industry to catch up. I would also like to see different arm lenghts, being short in that area!

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    6. Oh yes, it is a real thing! And the UK system is so much better then US if you're on the small back, big rack end of the spectrum. I would love it if a bike clothing line was aimed at this target market! I think I would be one of their biggest customers. And if in addition to jackets, they sold bike friendly pants for ladies with a high waist and hip differential (mine is around 11 inches) and went past a size 10 or 12 they could just take all my money.

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    7. Re Rebecca: Wait, so in that case a US AA would be a UK A, which means a US A would be a UK B, and so forth, so that each UK bra size is the equivalent to one smaller in US sizes? How did I not know this. That would actually explain some discrepancies I've noticed.

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    8. Anon 2:35pm - On the latter I am in the same boat. 12" waist/hip differential here (though the "hip" measurement is really mostly in the butt). There are very few trousers or jeans I can wear off the shelf.

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    9. Oh and I haven't even mentioned (continential) European bra sizing... or the Aussies... or the Japanese?!
      This might help: http://www.85b.org/bra_conv.php

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    10. I'm the 12:43 anonymous from earlier. Yes on the waist-hip differential! 10-inch difference for me. I've found lately that a lot of women's pants have huge waists. There seems to be almost no difference at all between the hips and the waist. It's frustrating.

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  7. Help me visualise the fit/lower back coverage: Which (if any) of the jerseys and/or button-up shirt are tucked into trousers in these photos?

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    1. Only the first base layer I'm wearing (which you can't see in the photos) is tucked into my trousers. The floral button-down and the maroon top you see peeking out of it are both untucked - so the vest covers the undone hems. Make sense?

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  8. Firstly, Twin Peaks reference was not lost on me. Secondly, I'm a fan of wearing vests while riding, having done so as recently as yesterday. But I often wear Crocs while riding, too, so my credibility is dubious.

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    1. I did a multi-day tour in Crocs a couple months ago.

      With White Industry and Bruce Gordon boot size half clips the Crocs proved comfortable and effective. Their light weight reduced fatigue.

      Your credibility is intact with me.

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  9. Thanks for the detailed review. I've been looking for a vest for bicycling and thought this may be it until the end -- no double zippers! This seems like such an easy thing, yet manufacturers too often overlook this small, but important detail. And, yes, I could add one myself, but I shouldn't have to. In any case, I really enjoy your blog. I've been reading it for some time now, but have never commented. As the owner of a '62 Raleigh Ladies Superb (you can see it here http://bonjourbicycle.com/2014/10/06/raleigh-reunion/), I've found your posts on Raleighs particularly interesting, but really just enjoy everything. Thanks!

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    1. Not sure about this season's offerings in particular, but Ibex is usually pretty good at doing the 2-way zipper on jackets; you might want to have a look!

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