What is a Gilet? Bodywarmer & Gilet Buying Guide

If you’re at work or out walking, hiking or enjoying any other outdoor activity in a moderate temperature, a full jacket may be too much. This is where a gilet and bodywarmer comes in handy.

If you’re at work or out walking, hiking or enjoying any other outdoor activity in a moderate temperature, a full jacket may be too much. This is where a gilet and bodywarmer comes in handy.

You may have heard about gilets, possibly because of the debate of how to pronounce it, and wondered what they are and whether they are better than a traditional mid-layer, such as fleeces and softshell jackets. But why should you consider one?

Winfields is here to explain everything about gilets and bodywarmers and why these versatile layers are ideal for cool to moderate days and various activities. These jackets are cleverly designed to help you stay warm while having various fillings for different scenarios.

Read on to discover about gilets and bodywarmers for cool temperatures and outdoor activities…

What is a gilet?

What is a gilet?

Gilets are a great layering option when it’s cool and dry and you don’t want the bulk of a down jacket or restrictions of a fleece.

The sleeveless design of a gilet and bodywarmer provides you with a full range of movement while retaining your core body warmth at the same time. Gilets are also great as part of a layering system over a shirt, fleece, softshell or under a waterproof shell, as long as it isn’t hooded, which may make it a bit trickier.


Gilets can be made from various materials as they are a cut-off version of a jacket or mid-layer. So, they can be fleece, synthetic insulation or filled with down. Down has a better warmth-to-weight ratio than fleece, so it will be the best option in extremely cold conditions. Down is also highly compressible so it can be packed away easily in your rucksack.

A common thought is that there is a difference between a gilet and a bodywarmer when, in reality, they are the same piece of clothing but the names are interchangeable. You may find that gilets are used for insulated and down pieces while bodywarmer refers to fleece and softshell versions.

What are gilets and bodywarmers filled with?

What are gilets and bodywarmers filled with?

As we’ve mentioned, gilets are made from various materials because they are sleeveless versions of other outdoor jackets and mid-layers. So, we’ve gone into more detail on each one.


Down gilets, like jackets, contain a layer of “down” – fine duck or geese under feathers – to help keep you warm.

Down is used because normal feathers are unable to retain their fluffiness. This is why you may see percentages while shopping. This is the balance of feathers. So, if there is a percentage of 80/20, this means it contains 80% down, and 20% normal feathers. Using feathers a great warmth-to-weight ratio, meaning down is very light but incredibly warm.

Read more: Down & Insulated Jackets Complete Guide

The main drawback to down gilets is how they handle moisture because they are not waterproof. Rain and moisture cause the down to get clumped together. This limits the insulating abilities and it also means that it takes a long time to dry out.


Synthetic insulated gilets contain poly fibres, a man-made equivalent of natural down.

These gilets will replicate the warming and heating effects of down but without the thickness and better moisture control. They also do this with higher levels of breathability and will often cost less than down.

Although heat is circulated easily, synthetic insulation can suffer from heat loss quicker than a natural down. Therefore, it is more suited for activities when you are producing your own heat.


Fleece is a man-made soft, warm and lightweight fabric mid-layer that’s ideal for outdoor activities because it keeps you warm without adding weight.

Most fleece is made from polyester and comes in different weights. It traps air and keeps you warm while the different weights and features will suit various activities. Fleece will often be cheaper than synthetic and down gilets.

Read more: How do I Choose a Fleece? Fleece Buying Guide

Fleece is not waterproof but can be moisture-resistant, so you’ll need to consider this when wearing your fleece gilet. It will keep you dry in light showers, but anything heavier, it won’t stand up to these conditions.


Softshell is a woven fabric, which makes it a comfortable warm layer that doesn’t have restrictions on movement.

The material is an all-rounder when it comes to outdoor clothing. Softshell offers more flexibility than a fleece, which makes it ideal for outdoor activities, such as hiking, climbing, activewear or as an everyday layer.

Read more: What are Softshell Jackets?

A softshell is designed to bridge the gap between a fleece, which offers little waterproofing ability and wind protection, and a waterproof jacket, which is less flexible. Softshell does not have a lining but is instead made by bonding two layers of fabric together for warmth.

What are the features of a gilet?

What are the features of a gilet?

Gilets come with a wide range of features, including hoods on some options. So we’ve highlighted the main features in the diagram below before going into more detail. For this example, we’ve used an insulated gilet.

  • Baffles: Baffles are sections that contain insulation. Stitch-through baffles keep insulation evenly distributed while box wall baffles allow insulation to expand.
  • Hood: Not all gilets come with a hood, but they will shield you from wind and rain, trap warmth, and add a stylish touch.
  • Pockets: External pockets can be lined for additional warmth. It is also possible that you will have internal pockets for insulated and down gilets.
  • Chest Pockets: These are a zipped pocket to provide practical storage for keys, phones, wallets and anything you may need more urgently.
  • Drawcords: To help keep the gilet closer to your body and retain heat.
  • Body-Mapped Design: This has insulation strategically placed to ensure the best possible warmth without adding weight.
  • Reflective Technology: Some gilets will have a reflective lining to reflect your core warmth back on you.
  • Fleece: Consider the weight of the fleece and how it relates to the activity you will wear it for.
  • Softshell: A stretchier fabric than fleece, ideal for more active use.

Why should I wear a gilet?

While you may think a gilet or bodywarmer is a bit unnecessary as it looks like a jacket with its sleeves missing, a gilet is highly useful.

Gilets can act as an outer or mid-layer but it won’t just keep your torso nice and warm while your arms get caught out in the cold. Like softshells jackets, the great thing about a gilet is its versatility as a piece of clothing for the whole year. You can wear just about anything underneath it, from a fleece to a long or short-sleeve top, or wear it as a mid-layer.

They are an excellent option for spring and autumn if you are doing an activity that requires a lot of movement. This could be anything from climbing to golf or even horse riding. It could simply be that you don’t want to get too warm by having sleeves for a light outer layer.

How should a gilet fit?

How should a gilet fit?

When it comes to looking for and buying a gilet, it should be a snug fit, to trap air on your chest to keep it warm – the main function of a gilet.

A gilet is an added layer to keep you warm, so you don’t want it to be too loose that a draft gets through at the hem. On the other hand, you don’t want it too tight because it will add bulk and prevent any potential moisture wicking away from your body.

For the shoulder and armholes, you don’t want the gilet to overlap or overhang your shoulders. Any easy guide is to look at the hem or stitch line on your top where the sleeve joins the body – you don’t want the gilet to go beyond this point. You also don’t want to feel restricted.

Finally, the gilet shouldn’t be too long – no longer than a top. As these are often worn in a layering system, it shouldn’t be longer than an outer layer, popping out of the bottom of the hem, for example.


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