Review: Ibex Wool Aire Vest

Insulated Vest
Ibex Wool Aire Vest
$235, 7.5 oz./213g (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL

How useful—and valuable—is your insulation layer? Consider this: I wore the Ibex Wool Aire Vest as my only outer layer over the same two base layers (a lightweight, wicking long-sleeve and a warm fleece hoody) on days of vigorous Nordic skiing in radically different conditions in Idaho’s Boise Mountains: from sunny, calm, and mid-30s Fahrenheit to cloudy and below freezing with strong winds that made it feel much colder. And I did not overheat in the first circumstance or get cold in the second. I also stayed comfortable wearing it as my sole middle layer under a winter shell in temps from around freezing to the mid-teens, with a low overcast and frigid wind, on days of snowshoeing and backcountry skiing downhill, and as my outer layer when skinning uphill (without wind).

That degree of versatility speaks volumes about the value of any layer, especially insulation.

We know that when we’re active in cool to cold conditions—whether hiking, running, any form of skiing, or whatever your activity—the key to staying warm is maintaining core warmth. A good vest does that while also helping to prevent you from sweating too much—which in cool to cold temps leads to getting chilled through evaporative heat loss—by letting your arms release abundant excess body heat. But while vests may appear to be similarly simple, there are reasons the Ibex Wool Aire Vest performs better than many.

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Ibex Wool Aire Vest
Ibex Wool Aire Vest

Its 80g Merino wool insulation delivers a significant boost in warmth for a garment that weighs under eight ounces (for the men’s medium)—which is measurably lighter than a comparable middle/outer layer insulated jacket. (The fill incorporates 20 percent polyester to hold the wool fill in place; otherwise, it would shift around inside the vest.) But it’s also better than many jackets at helping you avoid overheating. In some respects, this is a rare instance where less is more.

Just as importantly, the 20-denier shell fabric blocks wind well and sheds light precipitation—spilled water rolled right off the vest.

The fit is another key part of the performance equation that’s easy to overlook. Lacking sleeves, a loose-fitting vest becomes ineffective at trapping heat and very effective at allowing cold wind to suck heat off your body. The Wool Aire Vest’s comfortably athletic fit trapped heat in my core quite effectively—even as I skate-skied fast downhill in a cold wind with no jacket over the vest. The fit still has space for combining lightweight and warm base layers underneath without the system feeling bulky, bunching up anywhere, or inhibiting motion while moving at any pace. That also makes it easy to incorporate into a layering system that includes insulated and shell jackets as needed.

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Breathability in any vest is inherently good, although the Wool Aire shell’s wind resistance also means body heat and moisture don’t easily escape from inside to outside—but wind resistance is what you usually want in cool or cold temps, especially in a vest. I found that only the upper back of the vest got noticeably damp from sweat and, typical of wool, it doesn’t dry fast; but it also remains effective at trapping heat when damp.

The two zippered hand pockets each fit a warm winter glove with room to spare. The single zippered chest pocket is similarly spacious—almost too large, because it would be a good place for a smartphone except that a phone bounces around and tilts onto its side in that pocket, making it more of a nuisance than if the pocket was narrow enough for a phone to remain upright. I don’t see wanting to put as much stuff in a chest pocket as this one would fit.

While an insulated vest proves most useful in cool to cold temperatures—I almost never carry one, for example, on typical summer dayhikes and backpacking trips in mountains where temps may range from around 40° F to 80° F—it becomes highly versatile as an outer or middle layer on any outing where temps will range from the 50s F down to freezing and well below.

You want sleeves? Ibex also makes the men’s and women’s Wool Aire Hoodie ($285).

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The Verdict

With its good fit, warmth for its low weight, and wind resistance, the Ibex Wool Aire Vest offers excellent versatility—even compared to other vests—as a middle or outer layer for a variety of moderate- to high-intensity activities in cool to very cold temperatures, including hiking, running, and any form of skiing.


You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this affiliate link to purchase the men’s or women’s Ibex Wool Aire Vest or Ibex Wool Aire Hoodie at

See all reviews of outdoor apparel that I like, including “The 10 Best Down Jackets,” “The Best Gloves for Winter,” “The Best Mittens for Winter,” The Best Clothing Layers for Winter in the Backcountry,” as well as my blog stories “How to Dress in Layers for Winter in the Backcountry,” and “12 Pro Tips for Staying Warm Outdoors in Winter.”

NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.

—Michael Lanza

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