Buyer’s guide: Waterproof cycling jackets
What to look for in a waterproof jacket, and ten jackets costing from £40 to £240
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ideally suited to prolonged rides in heavy rain, though relative lack of breathability limits use.
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.