Cycling in the wind isn’t just hard work, it can also make it feel much colder than it really is. You produce a lot of sweat when cycling, and the wind chills this sweat and can make you very cold, very quickly. A windproof cycling jacket will stop the wind in its tracks and keep you from feeling the wind chill.
A lightweight windproof jacket can prevent you being caught out in the wrong kit if the weather turns during the ride, or you’re out longer than planned. They add a lot of flexibility and versatility to your cycling outfit at this time of year, and are useful into spring, even summer too. Most lightweight windproof jackets can be rolled up very small and will fit into a spare jersey pocket, and most use technical fabrics that are very breathable if you need to wear for the entirety of a ride.
Fabric is key in a windproof jacket. There are quite a few options on the market. How much you pay will dictate the quality of the fabric, and typically the more you pay the lighter and thinner the fabric. Breathability - the degree to which a jacket lets your sweat vapour escape - differs from jacket to jacket too.
Gore Windstopper is a very popular choice. It’s manufactured by laminating a lightweight PTFE microporous polyurethane membrane to a fabric. Unlike Gore-Tex, which is waterproof, Windstopper is designed to just keep the wind out. That said, it does a fine job at keeping quite a bit of lighter rain out too.
Other choices include Polartec, where a polyurethane membrane is bonded onto the face of the fabric, and Pertex which combines a moisture moving inner layer with a tight weave outer layer that stops wind getting through.
While only designed to deal with the wind, some windproof fabrics are reasonably adept at keeping rain out. We’re not talking here about torrential rain, but they can often keep you dry if you have to cope with several short showers during a ride.
Lightweight windproofs don't provide much insulation. They're intended to be used in conjunction with insulation layers to provide the warmth. These jackets purely stop the wind from getting through to those layers.
Fit is very important. Jackets range from generously sized to race fit, the right one for you depending on the type of riding you do. If you’re commuting you probably want a relaxed cut that can go over a couple of other layers easily. If you’re racing or training, you want to minimise any excess material flapping in the wind so choose a close and slim cut.
It’s always worth trying a jacket on before buying if possible. Sizing can vary so much between manufacturers, and details like the length of the arms, how much the tail drops down, and the fit around the shoulders and waist, can change from one brand to another.
To keep the weight down, you don't usually get many features. All lightweight windproofs will have a full-length zip, and some might have ventilation ports around the arms or in the side panels to boost ventilation. You don't normally get pockets, but some of the jackets below do provide pockets, it all depends on the type of cycling you do and your requirements.
High-collars can be good for ensuring the wind doesn't sneak in around your neck. A dropped tail and raised front will give a better on-the-bike fit, and elasticated waist bands can stop the jacket riding up. Some jackets will have a pocket that doubles as a pouch to stuff the jacket into, as the photo above shows.
Light enough to pack away
Lightweight windproofs are made from thin fabrics so they pack away very small and will easily disappear inside a jersey or backpack pocket when not in use. If you commute by bike, it's worth having one in your backpack/pannier at all times, so it's there if you need it.
11 of the best windproof jackets
We’ve picked some of the best reviewed windproof cycling jackets recently tested on road.cc. Most of these jackets are lightweight windproof jackets that can be added to your existing outfit, some are very packable so you can stuff in a jersey pocket when not needed, and some are designed to be worn all of the time.
The cheapest windproof jacket in this article at just £19.99, the B'Twin 700 UltraLight Wind Jacket is light enough to stuff into its own pocket about the size of a fist, and weighs very little so you can take it in a backpack, pannier or jersey pocket on all rides. The jacket is very light and hard-wearing, and does a very good job of blocking the wind. Basic but effective windproof layer, best for upright riding positions; good value.
The Classic is a slight revamp of the Turbulence jacket from dhb (the in-house brand from on-line superstore Wiggle). It's a lightweight windproof top that's an ideal outer layer for cycling on cold days, and it easily packs down small enough to stuff in your back pocket if the weather should turn balmy while you're out on your bike. dhb offers the Classic in a women's cut and size range too.
RBS stands for Really Bright Stuff, and you're certainly going to get noticed with this on. It's a packable light weight windproof that's just right autumn and milder winter days. Its windproof qualities keep the morning chill at bay. The 100% polyester fabric is thin but is a good barrier against the wind and will stand up to a bit of light drizzle too.
This three season windbreaker looks good while striking the difficult balance of warmth against breathability. It's made of a single layer, coated fabric called Airdry which is intended for mild and windy conditions and which is quite soft; it feels just like a normal jersey against the skin.
There are vents at the rear which helps the warm air escape should your work rate increase, but it's more at home when descending or riding in a group, not necessarily pushing too hard sitting on a wheel.
The FS260-Pro Adrenaline Race Cape is a great garment from Endura, proving breathable race capes can be relatively affordable. Packable race-light 'shells' are usually either super-expensive yet breathable and comfortable, or cheap and boil-in-the-bag. I'm delighted to report here that the FS260-Pro straddles the two definitions.
It performs very well. Of course, there's a limit to how effective any breathable fabric can be. Even industry standard Gore-Tex meets its match in the right (or wrong) combination of humidity, warmth and exertion. But, if you're riding at a high tempo, theEndura keeps you as dry as I've experienced in a shell such as this. It works best in cooler conditions – and layering up too much negates its effectiveness – but it really is quite impressive.
A windproof jacket can be lightweight and easily packable, so you just wear it only when you need to. The BBB Rainshield Women's Jacket is a good example, with a performance fit and a very thin fabric that is impressively breathable and very light. It’s a great little pack-away jacket for the price tag.
The Castelli Donna Velo W jacket is a very lightweight bit of kit. Weighing in at 89g and packing up to the size of a fist, it is portable and practical. It protects against the elements, to an extent, and offers a good additional layer of warmth on cooler days.
Made from lightweight Forcefield micro ripstop fabric, the weight is one of the first things you notice about this jacket. The fabric is claimed to be water repellent, and this theory was well tested. Water rolled off when there was a light shower and it stood up well when I held it under the tap for a better test. It only got wet through after about 30 seconds of constant hard water hitting it. Considering it isn't waterproof, it holds up to a decent shower. And the lightweight fabric dries in no time too.
This is an excellent packable jacket that offers even better protection than Pearl Izumi claims. It's billed as "wind and water resistantant" but actually offers excellent wet weather protection – it's very packable, and capable of shedding even torrential downpours for a short period of time.
Some packable jackets on the market claim waterproofness, but in reality fall short of it, only able to deal with showers before being overwhelmed by their own fragility. The Barrier Lite is no such garment – it really could claim to be waterproof.
Taken out in a wintry deluge – and I mean a real deluge – it lasted the full 10 minutes I could bear to be out in it, keeping me dry underneath. Even when used for intermittent showers on longer rides, it was a dream in this regard, with water beading off effectively and efficiently. It only begins to come unstuck in prolonged rainfall.
The British weather can change fast, and Endura’s Hummvee Convertible jacket is designed to adapt to such rapidly changing conditions. It’s fully windproof and very breathable, and in an instant the arms can be removed and stuffed inside a rear pocket. That’s ideal if the weather improves and it’s too warm for a jacket, and you only need the protection from a gilet. It’s a good top for commuting, when the ride home can be in completely different weather and temperatures to the morning commute.
Sportful’s Light WS jacket was designed for the demands of cycling in Flandrian weather, which involves a lot of icy cold wind, so it’s well suited to UK cycling too. It’s made from Windstopper Lightstretch fabric with a NoRain water barrier on the arms and shoulders, so it not only keeps 100% of the wind out, but provides a decent level of protection in showers too. Really good fit and good attention to detail make it a top winter performer.
The Chapeau! Echelon Jacket brings together some really nice features combined with good performance and an excellent fit, even if it looks a little Star Trek-y.
One of the key points of judgement for the Red Echelon, as with any other jacket, is how well it performs in bad conditions. Luckily, testing in the UK in December means it's been put through its paces.
In terms of windproofing it works really well, with Chapeau! choosing a fabric that kept even the fiercest wind off. I was really surprised by how effective it was, simply because it is so thin – it can't be thicker than a regular sheet of A4 paper, but managed to keep the wind off even in the freezing cold. It is genuinely impressive.
[This article was last updated on August 1, 2017]
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.