When I first started riding, I thought wind vests were stupid. Why would I want to spend money on a sleeveless shirt to keep me warm, when I could buy something with sleeves for the same price? At some point I realized that all of the really good cyclists in the area did the majority of their training in a vest, and decided to buy one myself to see what the advantage was. Now, I wear a vest on almost every single ride I do in the late fall, winter, and early spring. It’s a really versatile piece of clothing.
A vest with arm warmers can cover a much larger range of temperatures than a jacket or long sleeve jersey. Paired with a warm base layer and arm warmers over the top, you can get down to some very low temperatures and still remain comfortable. You can roll the arm warmers down halfway or unzip the vest if you get just a little warm. If you are still warm you can take the arm warmers completely off and leave the vest on.
A wind vest blocks…wait for it… the wind from hitting your core. It’s almost strange how warm a vest can keep you on a cool day, yet you never really seem to overheat because most vests are breathable in the back and out the sleeves.
A vest and arm warmers is going to be more aerodynamic than a jacket or long sleeve jersey. That makes it great for racing. Often I’ll wear the vest under a jersey so that it doesn’t blow around in the wind as much, but it still keeps the wind off my torso. I’ve done that in the rain too, so that the vest keeps the water off my chest. It works great. It’s also nice to have the vest under your jersey so that you can pin the number on your jersey, rather than your vest. A lot of vets don’t have much real estate on the back for a race number. And, since you aren’t putting pins through your vest it will last you a really long time. The downside is that you can’t easily take your vest off if you get hot. All you can do is unzip, which helps. Even when I wear a jacket, I usually wear a vest underneath it. If I get warm i can unzip the vest under my jacket and that allows a little extra ventilation, but not as much as it would if it was just paired with a jersey.
There’s a lot of different styles of vests. The Sugoi ones that I use (I have 4) have 3 pockets on the back, just like a jersey, and a mesh panel above the pockets to make it breathable. This works out nicely, because it allows you to store everything securely in normal pockets. The DNA team has new vests this year from LG that look pretty neat. The vest is completely open where the pockets would be on a normal vest. This allows you to access your jersey pockets. Wind vests made for runners typically don’t have pockets in the back. They are in the side. I would stay away from this style.