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LOOK Illuminate Vest – review

There's been something of a trend in recent years for performance-focused, high-visibility clothing and the LOOK Illuminate Vest fits the bill. It'll help keep you seen on the road without sacrificing much in the way of fit and function - but it'll cost you.

The gilet is primarily made from four fabrics but there’s one which dominates. It’s impossible to ignore the highly-reflective material which makes up the majority of the front of the vest (or, rather, gilet) and a smaller panel on the rear. It uses what LOOK call ‘Reflect Technology’, which essentially means countless tiny glass particles are embedded in the fabric to boost its reflectivity.

The material itself is also reflective, and there’s lots of it (on the front, at least), so this makes for a piece which easily catches and reflects light. There’s also a Reflect Technology panel on the rear of the gilet but it’s significantly smaller than the front, mainly because most of the back of the vest is made from a mesh fabric to aid breathability. It seems odd that the Reflect fabric is used so disproportionally across the front and back but there has to be a trade off between visibility and breathability, particularly on a performance-led piece like this, and the panel is well-placed at the bottom of the back (and still mostly visible below a backpack if commuting) to catch the headlights of vehicles approaching from the rear. Continuing the visibility theme, the full-length zip is a bright, fluoro yellow colour, as is the inside of the high collar.

Reflectivity aside, the entire front of the gilet is windproof and fleece-lined, so it does a good job at keeping the chilly breeze off your chest. It works well at this time of year, during the spring, when there’s still a nip in the air (particularly first thing in the morning or at night) and you want a protective barrier to put on top of a short sleeve jersey and arm warmers. There’s often a compromise to be made with reflective fabrics and breathability, but this does a pretty good job (not quite as good as a lightweight gilet, but nor would you necessarily expect it to be) at keeping things relatively dry. That’s in part thanks to the mesh back mentioned earlier, which increases ventilation in an area where you don’t need any windproofing.

The Illuminate Vest is part of LOOK 2015 spring/summer collective but the windproof fabric and fleecy lining mean it’s much more likely to get regular use in spring, autumn and winter, as by our reckoning it’s too heavy to make regular appearances in summer. There are significantly lighter jerseys out there for summer use – like the Sportful Hot Pack Ultralight Vest – and the Illuminate Vest is a gilet which you’ll pull from the wardrobe expecting to wear it for most of the ride (rather than taking it as a ‘just in case’ layer), but it will roll up and fit into a jersey pocket (like any good gilet should) when not needed.

The bottom half of the rear of the gilet is made from a stretchy, fleece-lined, softshell fabric, which has overlapping slits to provide quick access to jersey pockets. It’s a neat idea but I found it quite difficult to navigate the slits when wearing gloves as they sit a little low on the gilet to comfortably reach into the top of a pocket. It’s easier without gloves, though, and the stretchiness of the fabric means it’s also fairly easy to hitch the gilet up and dive in.

On to the fit, and the Illuminate Vest combines its high-vis features with a good, performance-focused cut, and that’s something we particularly like. It’s not too difficult to find reflective/high-vis clothing out there but it’s normally aimed at the commuting market, so the fit is more relaxed. That’s not the case here and while the Illuminate Vest isn’t as aero as some gilets we’ve tried, it remains close in the right places and there’s limited bunching when hunched over in an aggressive position on the bike. Drop down from your normal cycle clothing size if you want a really close fit (six sizes are available from XS to XXL).

Conclusion

If you place a high emphasis on visibility and ride regularly in low light and cool conditions, whether that’s when commuting, on night rides, or the midweek chaingang, then the LOOK Illuminate Vest will likely be a valuable addition to your wardrobe. However, there’s no escaping that it’s one of the most expensive gilets out there at £109.99, even if few can match its reflectivity.

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