Giro Cascade Insulated Vest review – fast riding Polartec protection

Is Giro’s new Polartec insulated vest worth the high cost for high performance, low sweat warmth?

Giro Cascade Vest
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

BikePerfect Verdict

Giro’s eco-friendly, feature-loaded Cascade vest adds a lot of low sweat core warmth with minimum weight and bulk. It's very expensive though and the chilly back won’t suit everyone.

Pros

  • +

    Polartec Alpha is awesome

  • +

    Warmth and windproof front

  • +

    Minimum sweat

  • +

    Zipped hand and back pockets

  • +

    Three colors and five sizes for both men and women

Cons

  • -

    Seriously high price

  • -

    Cold back won’t suit everyone

  • -

    Fabrics tear easily

  • -

    Short-lived DWR

  • -

    Hand pockets don't match high-performance focus

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Giro’s new winter range has two new Polartec Alpha options, the sleeveless Cascade vest and a full Cascade jacket. However, their very binary performance means whether you’ll love them or not likely depends on how hard you ride - or don’t.

Design

It might not have any sleeves but Giro has still put a lot into the Cascade vest. The Polartec Alpha Active insulation sits behind the stretchy Renew Series recycled polyester front and side panels. The back and shoulders are then uninsulated Renew Series shell, with a slightly dropped, doubled-over hem. While it’s not seam taped, the whole vest is treated with a CFC-free DWR (Durable Water Repellent) layer. The stand-up collar and two zipped hand pockets get a soft fleece lining and the two-way front zipper gets a beard guard at the top. There’s another suspended zipped pocket at the back with reflective trim and reflective logo and collar panels (silver on the orange here, stealth reflective on the green and black options). The three colors are available in both men's and women's and cut in five sizes. 

Polartec Alpha Giro Cascade vest

Highly efficient, fast wicking/drying Polartec Alpha Active insulation lines the front of the vest (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Performance

Giro describes the tailored cut of the vest as ‘relaxed’ but it’s definitely not billowy. Stretch in the fabric means you can size down if you want a really snug fit (I’m wearing a small in the pictures) and obviously you don’t need to worry about the sleeves being too short. Considering its low weight and sparse fluffy tufts appearance the Polartec Alpha Active insulation is remarkably effective at trapping warm air. That means the wind-resistant 20 CFM (The US measurement for windproofing which ranges from 60 (basic fleece) to 0 (totally windproof) fabric feels a lot more weatherproof than it would normally. It also transmits the sweat sucked up through the open weave Alpha fleece out into the fresh air very quickly so you stay impressively dry. Even when you do get wet the jacket dries super quickly. 

That makes the typically short-lived shower protection of the eco DWR coating less of an issue. The fact I’ve stayed perfectly comfortable even when soaked in sleet for two hours is highly impressive for the light weight too. The fact the whole back is also completely uninsulated keeps heat, and therefore sweat, down when you’re working hard. 

The obvious downside is that it doesn’t keep you remotely warm across your back when you’re not working that hard or when the rain is rattling down. Even if you are putting effort in the difference between front and back warmth levels also takes a bit of getting used to until you realize the overall result is really effective. 

The face fabric holes easily on pointy plants and the Alpha fleece can get snagged and pull threads if it shares a washing machine with unguarded Velcro items. The fat seams that Alpha needs to be captured with also add packing bulk but they aren’t noticeable in use. The hand pockets are of questionable value in a vest that works a lot better when you're riding not just standing around in it. 

Giro cascade vest rear

The whole back of the vest is completely uninsulated which makes it a lot colder and will divide opinion between lovers and haters (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Verdict

Giro’s Cascade vest is definitely a divider. It’s an outstanding choice if you’re a high-output rider who wants lightweight thermal protection with minimal sweat. Fit is well thought out for a blend of performance and practicality too and personally, I love both the vest and the jacket. 

However, if you’re a steadier rider who’s more concerned with overall warmth than maximum wicking, something with a more insulated back like Endura’s Freezing Point vest is likely to be more comfortable and versatile. The price is also very high compared to other Alpha vests or similar alternatives.  

Tech specs: Giro Cascade Insulated Vest

  • Price: $200.00 / £159.99 / €200.00
  • Sizes: S-XXL (men’s) XS-XL (women’s)
  • Options: Black, Green, Orange (tested)
  • Weight: 220g 
Guy Kesteven
Technical-Editor-at-Large

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect's technical editor-at-large. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg