Fifteen years ago, when I closed the book on city life and moved to a Colorado mountain town, it seemed as if all the women I met wore puffy vests. I swore I’d never adopt the uniform, as I then called it, but now my closet is stuffed with the tops—which I now understand to be the perfect midlayer. They’re uncomplicated but brilliant. For exercising in cool or cold weather, vests simply cannot be beat.
Some would call this apparel dorky and staid. In his book, Stuff White People Like, Christian Lander mocks the “performance vest, which solves the age-old problem of cold chest/hot arms.” Laugh all you like, Lander, but I am grateful for the sleeveless simplicity of a vest. It streamlines the traffic jam on my wrists: stack up multiple shirt and jacket cuffs under a glove, and the result is a bulky as a handcuff. And by keeping my core warm, I can play outside longer in cold temperatures, without worry about overheating if I'm being active.
Many of them have also gotten better looking, for wear beyond exercise. Just look at these standouts.
Smartwool Double Propulsion 60 Hooded ($160)
Breathable merino jersey under the arms dumps heat while running or skate-skiing uphill. During chilly descents, wool-poly insulation through the hood, chest, and back provides just enough warmth.
After testing many iterations of Voormi’s Core Construction technology—it's essentially waterproof wool—I’ve found its best application in this tough-as-nails vest. Backpack straps can’t abrade it, it’s way warmer than it looks, it laughs at precipitation, and it’s a thing of beauty, too.