An Ode to the Performance Vest
Plus five of our best-looking favorites
For exclusive access to all of our fitness, gear, adventure, and travel stories, plus discounts on trips, events, and gear, sign up for Outside+ today.
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.
Skhoop Vera ($159)
The collar on this lightweight, synthetic-fill puffy is a stroke of genius: when zipped, the chin-height ribbing seals in heat and feels as cozy as pashmina.
Big Agnes Late Lunch ($150)
I like the flattering diagonal baffles, which are stuffed with 700-fill DownTek insulation that holds in enough heat for single-digit days on the ski hill.
Voormi Convex ($299)
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.
Duckworth WoolCloud ($200)
Styled like the vintage puffies your mom once wore but filled with breathable wool, this is your everywhere top. Snap up the extra-wide collar and you’ve got a frostnip fighter for your chin and nose.