The Elite Barrier Vest from Pearl Izumi is a very lightweight, full polyester cycling outer layer that you can pack extremely tightly. In fact, it folds into such a small volume that it easily fits into a jersey pocket. Take it with you on a ride if you want a little weather insurance and you won’t regret it.
Like most cycling outer layers, the Elite Barrier Vest is designed to keep water and wind out. Its polyester construction is what takes care of this, but not so much that you’ll regret slipping it over your jersey once you warm up on the bike. In fact, the vest has a large mesh area on the upper back to keep a bit of hot air moving out. The armholes are also large enough to give you full range of motion and let some air move through the vest.
Down the front is a full-length zipper with a draft flap. Though the zipper closes very tightly, this roughly inch-wide reinforced length of fabric sits just behind the zipper and ensures that any cold air slipping past the zipper still won’t streak past your core. When the Elite Barrier Vest is zipped up, the sturdy zipper tab can park in what Pearl Izumi calls a “garage,” a flap of fabric near the chin that folds down on top of the zipper. Park it there and it’ll never be in your way.
At the waist is an elastic draw cord that can be tightened only on the left side of the vest, where one end of the draw cord is cleverly and permanently tucked into the hand pocket. The design is meant to be worked with one hand so you can keep the other one on your handlebars but this is a craft I still need to master.
The mesh hand pocket is found on only the left side. It comes with a really well sewn zipper that essentially draws the polyester fabric on top of itself as it closes. This is a continuation of the design to keep water and wind out so it’s a great place to store a phone if you need to. The inside is fully mesh, as is the sizeable pocket that sits on the lower back and is accessible via the same kind of zipper but on the right side of the vest. Here you can put a number of things, including a phone, some nutrition, keys and anything else you need to keep dry.
Lightweight, warm, very visible, breezy with a great fit: what’s not to love about this vest? I generally wore the Elite Barrier Vest over another layer like a simple wicking long sleeve top or a cycling jersey. It’s thin enough that it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing an extra layer but the polyester barrier makes a huge difference in keeping your trunk warm. You can pair the vest with arm sleeves if you need some protection at only certain times during your ride, or if you prefer a top that’s breezier than something like a wind jacket. Not to mention, cycling isn’t the only activity you can use this vest for. I took it on a couple of runs as well and it worked splendidly in those weird in-between temperatures where it’s too cold not to wear some wind-protection but too warm to wear a full jacket.
The Elite Barrier Vest has a semi-form fit, so like most of Pearl Izumi’s cycling gear for women, the apparel has a great form but it doesn’t hug every ounce of muscle. Though I generally wear a size small in tops, I was a size medium in this vest and that fit me very well. While I have a feeling I could still slip into a size small, it wouldn’t allow me to wear any other layer underneath or move around in it without feeling restricted. A small jacket and definitely a simple long-sleeve jersey, for example, will fit just fine under the Elite Barrier Vest one size up. So, definitely consider going up a size for a more comfortable fit. Check out Pearl Izumi’s sizing chart online if you’re unsure which way to go.
This vest can get a little stinky after one wear but like most cycling apparel these days, you can toss the vest in with your regular laundry but keep the detergent simple and the water temperature low. Finally, hang this vest to air out and you’ll be surprised to see how quickly it dries.
You don’t have to simply be a cycling to appreciate this well-constructed vest. Any triathlete living in a place that experiences at least cool winters will find a ton of use for the Elite Barrier Vest well into the spring. Like really all of Pearl Izumi’s gear, the $80 price tag is not a steal but definitely worth it.
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Born in Colorado, Tanya was raised in both the US and Switzerland. She’s a biologist who loves playing in the water and up in the mountains. Tanya now lives with her husband, Ben, and dog, Angel, in Lucerne, Switzerland.