Buyer’s guide: Waterproof cycling jackets

What to look for in a waterproof jacket, and ten jackets costing from £40 to £240

by David Arthur   August 1, 2013  

Howies Dyfi Active Shell jacket

road.cc reviews

The year-round unpredictability of the UK weather can make dressing for cycling tricky, so whether your typical riding consists of commuting to the office or 100-mile sportives, you need a high quality waterproof jacket in case you get caught in the rain.  

Fabric

The fabric is the most important point to consider when you buy a jacket. Our advice is not to skimp if you want a decent high-quality jacket that is going to provide years of outstanding service. You really do get what you pay for.

Making a waterproof fabric is relatively easy - a binbag is waterproof. Making a fabric waterproof and breathable, now that is a lot more challenging, but it’s not impossible. With a hard-working cyclist inside a jacket producing a lot of sweat, the fabric needs to let water vapour escape outwards, while stopping the rainwater get in. Fortunately, water vapour can pass through pores in the fabric that are too small to let water get through as a liquid.

There are all manner of fabrics on the market. Some have a waterproof treatment applied to the actual weave of the fabric (the lightest and most breathable option), some have a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) layer that causes water to bead up and roll off, and some have a membrane sandwiched between several layers.

It’s also worth considering that many jackets will need to be reproofed regularly. If water isn’t beading off your jacket, and it was when it was new, then it needs reproofing. There's plenty of choice of reproofing products. It's typically a matter of just putting your jacket through the washing machine with this special proofing product added.

Pay close attention to manufacturers' descriptions when buying a jacket. They can claim to be waterproof, water resistant or water repellant. To be considered waterproof, a jacket must be made from a waterproof fabric and have taped seams. Anything else is water resistant, which will hold up to some rain but eventually water will find a way in. And water repellant fabrics use a  hydrophobic treatment that reduces the fabric from picking up rain droplets. A water resistant jacket might be okay for short showers, but if you're likely to be out in prolonged heavy rain you want a waterproof jacket.

Taped seams

Fully waterproof jackets will have taped seams to stop water getting in, while some might just have taped seams in key places. Fewer seams provide less opportunity for water to get in, but more panels, and therefore more seams, often lead to improved fit, and better fit leads to greater comfort on the bike. Some manufacturers are now combining different fabrics, some with stretchy panels, to improve fit.

Dropped tails and adjustability

Waterproof jackets regularly have dropped tails, to keep your lower back and bum covered up when you're crouched low over the bike. Some jackets even have a stowable drop tail. For the same reason, the arms are usually given some extra length so they don’t ride up your arms, leaving your wrists exposed, when you're stretched out on the bike. The collar and cuffs are places for rain to get inside so look for a design that is close fitting with elasticated and/or adjustable openings. Drawcords at the hem and neck and Velcro cuffs let you adjust the fit.

Ventilation

Even the best fabric can still struggle to let enough water vapour escape, especially when you’re riding very hard. A full-length zip obviously provides good ventilation, but if it’s raining heavily you don’t want to be opening it up and letting the water in.

Some jackets therefore have various ventilation options - zips on the sleeves or in the arm pits, for example - to let some of the moist air escape. Extra zips and features like pockets cost more money though and will push the price up, plus they add weight.

Mesh lining

The reason you get sweaty inside a jacket is because your sweat rate exceeds the capability of the jacket to pass the moisture out. For this reason some jackets have a mesh lining that helps remove the moisture and makes it a lot more comfortable and less clingy on bare arms, but all that mesh adds weight and bulk.

Ten jackets from £40 to £240

Waterproof jackets range from heavy duty fully featured designs to ultra minimalist emergency jackets. There’s a huge choice, so you can choose the right hacket for your riding situation, whether it's a  jacket for commuting, touring, racing, training or sportives. To giv you an idea of what’s available, here’s six jackets from the road.cc review archive:

Ride Protector Jacket  £39.99

Bright, light and competitively priced but it can be a bit hot under the collar.

dhb Minima S Waterproof Jacket  £49.99

Ideally suited to prolonged rides in heavy rain, though relative lack of breathability limits use.

Altura Blitz Waterproof Women's Jacket  £59.99

Great value for money, well featured waterproof jacket. Best suited to cooler conditions or less sporting rides.

Sugoi Hydrolite jacket  £69.99

Lightweight and stretchy waterproof with plenty of comfort

Solo Winter Rain Coat  £85.00

Water resistant and windproof jacket that packs small enough to squirrel away in a jersey pocket.

Mavic Vision H2O Jacket   £120.00

Superb jacket for anyone who regularly rides in bad weather or at night.

Sportful Fiandre Norain Jacket  £170.00

The Sportful Fiandre Norain is a technical marvel and its ability to shrug of the worst weather makes it my favourite winter jacket even with some cleaning and pocket gripes.

Vulpine Cotton Rain jacket  £195.00

Typically well designed water resistant jacket from the 'ride and destination' cycle crew

Sportful Survival jacket  £200.00

Designed with racing cyclists' feedback and the most advanced waterproof fabric: impressive performance in the worst weather imaginable with a price tag to match

Rapha Hardshell Jacket  £240.00

Simply the best jacket I've used - but I'm not into the yellow version.

22 user comments

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Lovely timing - was just looking for info on this yesterday.

Nothing from Castelli?

Asolare

posted by Goldfever4 [165 posts]
1st August 2013 - 11:23

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I bought the Sportful UK Rain Cycle Jacket from PDK on a special. Has a tail, looks to be good quality. The proof will be when it arrives & it rains!

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posted by fancynancy [56 posts]
1st August 2013 - 12:00

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I have and recommend ;

Castelli Lightweight Leggera jacket, £70, mens version also available (the Sottile I think), excellent compact,good fitting rain cape.

http://www.castellicafe.co.uk/castelli-leggera-womens-lightweight-cyclin...

Goretex Oxygen GT AS jacket, £180, more heavywight but still just packs down into jersey pocket, as reviewed here ;

http://road.cc/content/review/74764-gore-bike-wear-oxygen-gt-jacket

posted by seanbolton [126 posts]
1st August 2013 - 13:29

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I have the Castelli Liner Jacket (Event fabric). It's fantastic. Oh so breathable (you can barely feel it on, even in heat), and very waterproof. The Muur is probably just as good.

The only minus point would be that while it can fit in a jersey pocket, it doesn't fit in snuggly. But you are really looking to use this sort of jacket when the chances of rain are great, and the rain prolonged. Otherwise a lighter weight jacket will probably get you through the odd shower. I have a small mavic jacket which is more of windproof jacket for that sort of thing.

How breathable is the Rapha top?

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1092 posts]
1st August 2013 - 13:39

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I've got the Rapha Rainjacket, in the cream colour. I wanted the red or dark grey but they were out of stock - wish I'd waited as the cream gets minging swiftly! Love the jacket though. Totally impermeable, never clammy, and it fits in the back of a jersey really easily. Not sure I'd have invested in it if I hadn't had gift vouchers to spend, but I'm glad I did.

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posted by davecochrane [90 posts]
1st August 2013 - 21:15

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Craft Performance Rain Jacket is really good. Can be had for less than 90 quid. I've found it to be highly breathable and completely waterproof. Very light and pocketable too. Would recommend highly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVWRgiViNG0&feature=player_detailpage

posted by toetruck [15 posts]
1st August 2013 - 21:55

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Nothing from Gore? Seems an odd omission.

posted by jacknorell [287 posts]
2nd August 2013 - 2:14

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As a result of reading this, I went looking for a Mavic Vision on all the usual internet sites and it seems to be pretty much unobtainable now; I think it has been discontinued. There are some available from European distributors, but only in the smallest sizes. A shame, because it looks ideal for my winter commuting. Perhaps a new version is on the way? Anybody know about that, or of a UK stockist that I haven't found?

posted by mattsr [17 posts]
3rd August 2013 - 19:29

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I have both Sportful jackets. The Norain jacket got me through the winter. On the coldest days this and a thermal long sleeve baselayer was enough. Got the Survival jacket for use in the warmer weather. Worn it a number of times in both heavy rain and showers. Worked a treat; the only problem is it doesn't roll up very small. This means I tend to wear it from the off, rather than trying to stuff it a pocket.

Both I managed to find at a discount over the prices quoted in the article.

posted by BobE [9 posts]
4th August 2013 - 9:39

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Assos Sturmprinz is very good for wet rides, it's not really packable but it's so breathable you don't need to worry about taking it off when the rain stops.
If the weather's just a bit iffy I take a Sportful hotpack with me, OK in a pinch but not something you'd want to ride in a lot, it packs up tiny though (fag packet size).

posted by fuzzywuzzy [59 posts]
5th August 2013 - 8:32

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And no review of the Aldi - crane (£9.99) lightweight jacket. Shame on you... ;-}

To slo to live, to slo to die! ::-}

posted by OldnSlo [122 posts]
6th August 2013 - 17:46

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I have an Aldi jacket which is very waterproof to the extent that if water gets in it collects in the sleeves

Zero emissions so Zero tax

posted by petethegreek [23 posts]
17th September 2013 - 21:56

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Can't beat the Sportful Hot Pack, in my opinion. The zip weighs more than the jacket.

Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades. (Merckx)

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posted by obutterwick [527 posts]
17th September 2013 - 22:36

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If the answer isn't Castelli Gabba and Nanoflex arm warmers then you're asking the wrong question Smile

Seriously though, best cycling kit I've ever bought.

Did Newcastle to London 24hr at the end of August. Lashed it down from 2pm until 7am the next morning. Wearing a gabba, normal base layer & nanoflex arm and knee warmers. Was very comfortable and the bits covered by Castelli were as dry as you can possibly be in sustained conditions like that.

posted by VeloPeo [216 posts]
18th September 2013 - 11:16

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Here's my 2p's worth:

Chance of showers: Sportful hotpack 4 in the jersey pocket. Keeps a shower off but if you're going hard you will overheat.

Definite/likelihood of showers/light rain: Gabba and nanoflex warmers - absolutely superb kit. What it doesn't keep out doesn't matter as the windstopper stops you feeling wet or cold. Only gripe is the arm warmers are too tight for a baselayer underneath if it gets too cold, and the next size up would be way too long for my arms (and I'll tall and skinny with monkey arms!). +1 for VeloPeo

Heavy prolonged rain: LS base layer + Gore Power Active Jacket. Keeps out the heaviest stuff all day long and you don't overheat if you're going hard. Worth every penny.

Went with the Gore jacket (£130) after considering the Rapha Hard Shell (@ £170 in the recent sale). Reviews seemed to suggest the Rapha was actually quite thick with a kind-of neoprene feel, ok for deep winter but not autumn. The Gore has that, as you can just layer up more when the temp drops in a couple months, or just ride with a single layer underneath now.

I'm so lazy I'd rather order something off Wiggle than go to the shops for Haribo...

posted by Mr Jono [90 posts]
20th September 2013 - 12:19

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Mrs G has a Hotpack and she loves it. She originally ordered a Rapha wind jacket but it did not fit as nicely.

Myself I use a Castelli Squadra - great in showers (not so good when the rain gets heavier) and a Craft jacket (don't know which one) if I set of in the rain which is a bit bulkier but keeps me dry, but does not fit in my back pocket as well.

Velotastic !

Too many hills, but too little time.

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posted by badback [264 posts]
30th September 2013 - 23:28

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The Sugoi Hydrolite is a very good "might rain" jacket. Lightweight and packable so there is no excuse not have it in your pocket if there is a chance of rain.

However if it rains moderately-hard you will get wet (as I can attest to after just finishing 1 hour riding through an unexpected downpour). If you choose an appropriate base layer/jersey, the Hydrolite will keep you comfortable (it was 10C today and even being soaked through I wasn't cold).

This jacket fits very well -- cut for road cycling, just enough stretch, etc. The material is breathable and with the pit vents you won't overheat so this can also be a cool weather jacket. However the zipper is a bit flimsy so I wouldn't expect it to last if you plan to use it regularly -- IMHO it is an emergency use jacket.

posted by massspike [30 posts]
19th October 2013 - 19:12

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Gore Oxygen GT jacket is superb. Slim cut, packs down to fit flat in your jersey pocket and very breathable. Looks great too.

gore-bike-wear-25th-anniversary-oxygen-gt-jacket.jpg
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posted by kiwiglider [22 posts]
20th October 2013 - 7:48

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I have the Sportful Fiandre Norain Jacket which is good no doubt and pretty waterproof although in persistent downpours you do tend to end up damp on the inside and when it's really cold ie. around 0-2 degrees I tend to get cold wearing it even when layered up.

The best jacket I have is the Castelli Gabba by far. More like a jersey but a brilliant insulator and totally waterproof. Get one!

JL

posted by jonnyllew [16 posts]
21st October 2013 - 10:05

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I'd say close but cigar-free for your general introduction...

The fabric is important, but not the most important. However wonderful the Super-Duper-Tex it's made of is, if it don't fit it won't be much good.

Para. 3 is a bit at sea. A DWR is used in combination with a coating or membrane to stop the outer face getting saturated, because if that happens breathability goes down to around nothing. But the DWR isn't what makes the jacket waterproof. re-proofing is just getting the DWR back up to speed, it doesn't affect the fundamental waterproofing bit.

Taped seams to be waterproof... yes, unless you've got a Paramo or similar jacket. It isn't technically waterproof as it will fail a hydrostatic head test, but it will keep you dry (which is the important bit) by the liner keeping the water away from your body. Bit warm for hard cycling outside of water but more breathable than any other waterproof system.

No mention of pockets. Rear pockets are popular but if you use a rucksack or ride a 'bent they're no use and may actually make the jacket less comfortable. And if you're off the bike in a crowd they're potentially a gift to pick-pockets. I prefer front chest pockets big enough to stick a map in, others prefer no pockets, some just a small one on the chest, etc. etc. But it's worth thinking about what (if any) storage you want (why that Rapha means nothing to me, even if I had the cash).

Hoods... never use them on a bike myself and don't recommend them on the road, but off-road they're liked by some and it can be handy to have something that works off the bike. If you want one and you wear a lid you'll need to consider how they'll work together.

Pete Clinch
often seen riding a bike around Dundee...

posted by pjclinch [58 posts]
16th December 2013 - 10:05

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ENDURA helium been brilliant so for this year . It's been tested a few times up here in Cumbria They do not call it the Lake District for nothing! Smile

Endorphines going up and adrenaline going down, who needs drugs?

posted by banzicyclist2 [188 posts]
16th December 2013 - 12:03

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Galibier now do a lovely looking jacket for £29. Mines arriving next week
http://galibier.cc/product/shield-lite-race-jacket/

posted by mattbibbings [102 posts]
24th May 2014 - 14:44

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