Glycosylation of HIV-1 envelope proteins (Env gp120/gp41) plays a vital role in viral evasion from the host immune response, which occurs through the masking of key neutralization epitopes and the presentation of the Env glycosylation as 'self' to the host immune system. Env glycosylation is generally conserved, yet its continual evolution plays an important role in modulating viral infectivity and Env immunogenicity. Thus, it is believed that Env glycosylation, which is a vital part of the HIV-1 architecture, also controls intra- and inter-clade genetic variations. Discerning intra- and inter-clade glycosylation variations could therefore yield important information for understanding the molecular and biological differences between HIV clades and may assist in effectively designing Env-based immunogens and in clearly understanding HIV vaccines. This review provides an in-depth perspective of various aspects of Env glycosylation in the context of HIV-1 pathogenesis. © 2013 Future Medicine Ltd.