Review: Howies Merino Base Layers
We spend our days running in the mountains, walking in the fells and playing with…
X-Bionic SphereWind Vest 205g (Men’s medium) £169
I’ve had the SphereWind vest for about nine months now and I’ve worn it a lot. I’ve used it over a light base layer during the summer when it was warm but windy and I found it really useful in June in the Lake District where it was still quite cold on the summits. As the weather got colder through the autumn I added a long-sleeve base layer and it kept my core warm and protected on the Kinder Skyline in the Peak District in October. We have spent most of the winter on a Dartmoor and it’s been quite wet; the SphereWind is actually quite waterproof and has normally been more than adequate teamed with a warm long sleeve merino base, hat and gloves. I’m looking forward to running in it with just a tee again as the weather warms up.
The first thing that needs to be said is that this is an expensive gilet. Actually it’s very expensive, you can get a really good gilet for half the price of the SphereWind! X-Bionic are a Swiss company and their products are high quality and super-techy. They are all made in Italy at their own factory where they can be sure of the quality. X-Bionic are leaders in product development and regularly win international design awards within the outdoor industry (they have won the most innovative sportswear brand of the year 7 times in a row) and also against the likes of BMW, Apple and Sony. Maybe the price includes a donation to this development which benefits the whole outdoor industry – anyway I’ll leave the cost issue there, continue reading if you will.
As I’ve mentioned this is a technical gilet aimed as a high performance peice of running wear. Unsurprisingly then it is cut with a slim athletic fit. I’ve tested a medium which is my normal size and it fits me well. It’s slim around my stomach with no extra flappy material which I sometimes get with gilets and jackets. It has a runners’ cut which means that I find the chest ever-so slightly too tight when the zip is fully done up; I would say that I have a triathlete/climber’s build rather than a pure runner’s build, I’m a bit triangular. I’m being picky here though, the cut is good and I can comfortably wear one or two base layers underneath it. It would be a good idea to try it on before you commit to buying one so that you can be sure you get the size that fits you the best.
The styling of all of X-Bionics products is quite “in your face”. Its contrasting colours of either black and white or black, white and lime green look striking and eye catching, and it also proudly flashes the X-Bionic name and logo on the rear pocket and over both shoulders. Personally I quite like it and it makes me feel a bit like a sponsored athlete when I wear it which is great for a race day edge. Reflective details are built into the design and offer good visibility from any direction if you happen to be running or riding on the roads.
The SphereWind has wind- and water-resistant front, shoulder, side and lower back panels made from 100% polyester. In use this material feels pretty much totally windproof and it also feels almost waterproof, although it being a gilet you’re obviously still going to get a bit wet and it’s therefore quite hard to tell how waterproof it really is. I’ve just held it under a running tap after almost a year’s use and several washes and the water still beads up and runs off the front fabric rather than soaking in; in fact the water didn’t appear to come through the fabric at all. Water did start seeping slowly through the seams after about 30 seconds but the tap was on quite hard and directed at the seam and it isn’t supposed to be waterproof so I’m quite impressed with how well the fabric is wearing.
The ribbed back panel and the black fabric are both made from an 80% polyamide, 20% elastane mix which adds some nice stretch and breathabillity. The front panels provide a lot of protection for your core and the rear panel helps you regulate your temperature and hugely reduces sweat build up in the top. Gilets are much better at this that jackets anyway as they don’t encase your arms but it’s noticeably more breathable than a similar weight gilet without the vented back.
If you are to believe X-Bionic (and the design awards appear to back this up) then it’s the technology in the back panel which make this gilet special. The ribbed panel down the centre of the back is called the 3D-BionicSphere system; it’s designed to regulate temperature by allowing excess moisture to evaporate quickly during exercise which means that when you stop you stay warmer because the material is drier. It’s hard to say how well this actually works but it does feel good to run in across a wide range of temperatures, and I don’t feel like I need to take it off as soon as it warms up and it does feel warm on my back when I stop.
The collar of the vest also has a technical twist, it has a 3D ribbed material on the inside against the skin which is designed to channel air out of the gilet and help the breathability. The outside material of the collar is windproof. Again it’s hard to say how well this works but it does create a well cut, protective and snug collar that feels great against the skin and very protective.
There is one fairly large cycling jersey-style pocket on the lower back of the vest. It’s in the water resistant fabric which offers the contents of the pocket some protection and its location means that although it will get splashed from water and mud kicked up by your feet it won’t be subjected to the worst of the weather. It has a quality YKK zip and a internal organisational pocket which I found fitted my phone and stopped it bouncing around. There is space for a phone, keys, a bit of food and a very small and light emergency waterproof jacket. The zip is flat and low profile but if you intend to wear a rucksack with the vest it may rub; try it with your favorite bag and check if the zip lines up with the bag or not.
The finishing touches on the SphereWind are all well designed and functional. The main zip is a full-length reversed solid-feeling YKK item with a nice rubberised puller with the X-Bionic logo stamped into it. There is a neat zip garage under the chin to stop it catching. The hem is elasticated with an adjuster on each hip; this makes the gilet fit better and is also easy to use while running. The arm holes are elasticated and snug without being tight.
All in all the SphereWind Vest is well-featured and well made, all the individual items from the fabrics to the cut and the features have been well designed and work well. I’ve used it quite a lot for almost a year and the fabrics still hold their protective characteristics. The durability is good too: none of the stitching is coming undone and despite running through a few gorse bushes over the year there are no tears or snags.
I know that I said that I wouldn’t mention the price again but I feel that to justify the high price the product has to be perfect; the product is very good but to get 10/10 in my book it also needs to be produced as ethically as possible. If I’m convinced a garment has been produced with high levels of corporate responsibility then I’m happy to pay a bit more for it and give it a top mark. There is some talk of sustainability on the X-Bionic website but it doesn’t appear to be high on their agenda. The products are all made in Italy which means that it’s probably safe to assume that the human rights of the workers are good but I couldn’t find anything about where the materials come from and they don’t appear to use any recycled content. Many manufacturers manage to produce very high quality products that are also ethically sound and in some cases certified by a third party such as the bluesign system.
To sum up: The X-Bionic SphereWind Vest is an excellent gilet; well-made, well-designed, durable and packed with innovative features. X-Bionic are market leaders in design and development and this shows, but more focus is needed on sustainable production. And did I mention the price…?