The 10 best lightweight windproof jackets
What to look for in a lightweight windproof jacket + ten of the best
Cycling through the autumn and winter is all about having the right clothing for the conditions. This is made difficult by how varied and changeable the weather can be, but one fairly constant guarantee is that it’ll be windy.
What is called for is a lightweight windproof jacket, and avoiding wind chill is the aim of these jackets. When you cycle, you generate a layer of insulating air close to the body, if that layer is exposed to the wind it pulls the heat away and you feel the cold. The wind can make it feel much colder than it actually is, and throw a cyclists sweat into the equation and you can quickly feel very uncomfortable if not wearing windproof clothing.
While only designed to deal with the wind, some wind resistant fabrics are reasonably adept at keeping some of the rain out. We’re not talking here about torrential rain, but instead they can keep a surprising degree of rain out, generally it can be enough to cope with several short showers through a ride.
That makes them pretty versatile for this time of year, and it’s that versatility that really makes them an ideal addition to your cycling wardrobe. And we’re not just talking autumn here, they can be used throughout the year in the UK. Because they are typically made from very thin fabrics - hence the lightweight tag - they pack away very small and will easily disappear inside a jersey or backpack pocket.
They're useful for commuting too, as they take up very little space and weight next to nothing, it's worth having one in your backpack/pannier at all times, so it's there if you need it.
Windproof jackets come in many forms. There are lightweight jackets, which as their names suggests, are designed with minimal features and will easy pack away into a pocket if not needed, and concentrates on just being a wind stopping layer. What they don't do is provide 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.
You can get softshells that provide insulation along with wind resistant panels in key places, basically a windproof jacket and long sleeve jersey rolled into one. These are good for riding on cold days when it's certain to be windy, and can remove the need for a lightweight windproof jacket, but you do lose versatility. We'll covere softshells in a future guide.
What we’re looking at in this guide are lightweight windproof jackets that can be pulled over any layers you’re already wearing and give you a wind resistant outer shell.
Obviously, the 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. How much a jacket lets your sweat vapour escape differs from jacket to jacket, so breathability can vary a huge amount.
Gore Windstopper is a very popular choice. It’s manufactured by laminating a lightweight PTFE microporous polyurethane membrane to the fabric. Unlike Gore-Tex, which is waterproof, Windstopper is designed to just keep the wind out. That said, it does a damn fine job at keeping quite a bit of lighter rain out.
Other choices include Polartec, which bonds a polyurethane membrane onto the face of the fabric, while Pertex combines two combines two fabric yarns to form a capillary action, moving moisture from the larger to the smaller filaments, with a tight weave outer layer stopping wind getting through.
There are a whole host of other unnamed fabrics out there so be sure to carefully check the details and the manufacturers claims for the jacket, and be sure to read our reviews first.
Fit, as with all cycle clothing is vitally important. Jackets range from generously sized to race fit, depending on the type of riding you’re doing. If you’re commuting you probably want a relaxed cut that can go over a couple of layers easily. If you’re racing and training, you want to minimise any excess material flapping in the wind so choose when that is cut very close and slim.
It’s always worth trying a jacket on before buying if you can. Sizing can vary so much, 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 by a factor of lots.
To keep the weight down, you don't usually get many features like pockets. All will have a full-length zip, and some might have ventilation ports around the arms or in the side panels to boost ventilation.
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 fit, and elasticated waist bands can stop the jacket riding up. Some jackets will have a pocket that also doubles as a pouch to stuff the jacket into, as the photo above shows.
Purna ProteKt Windproof £22.95
The Purna ProteKt Windproof shell jacket is so thin you'd expect it to tear at the first brush with a prickly bush but it has proved me quite wrong. Weighing 99g including carry sack, it's designed to be donned in a flash, protecting against wind chill whether screaming along a mountain pass or dribbling through Drabsville.
The howies Dyfi Active Shell is a lightweight windproof shell with a good fit, nice details and smart looks, and all for a very reasonable price.
RH+ Acquaria Pocket Jacket £65.00
The way the weather has been going as far as 2013 is going an easily stowable jacket like the RH+ Acquaria Pocket Jacket is pretty much a must on most rides at the moment. With a name like Acquaria you'd expect the Pocket Jacket from Italian clothing specialists RH+ to offer some type of water resistance but it is actually designed as a windproof.
The Turbulence jacket from dhb (the in-house brand from on-line superstore Wiggle) is 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.
The Polaris Shield windproof jacket has been my trusty companion in the turbulent weather we've been having. It's a lot more waterproof than its name suggests, and it packs down nice and small.
Storck Windbreaker Jacket £99.00
The Storck Windbreaker Jacket is a very high quality windproof jacket that is surprisingly breathable and keeps a good amount of rain out when you get caught short.
Rohan Windrider Jacket £115.00
High quality windproof that's breathable and shrugs off even heavy showers with ease. This isn't a waterproof: the fabric is described as 'advanced Polyamide' which means it's similar to most other windproofs out there. It's light at 215g, and easily stowable in a jersey; it also packs into its own rear pocket and there's a velcro loop to attach it to stuff.
Sportful's Hot Pack Ultralight is an incredibly light jacket, just 50g, that is fully windproof and water resistant. It can be rolled up into it's own integrated bag and will disappear inside a jersey pocket. With jackets like this we're running out of excuses to cancel the ride when the weather is looking iffy.
The Gore Bike Wear Xenon 2.0 AS Jacket is a lightweight jacket that's a bit pricier than most, but then it's more water resistant and breathable than most too, and cut to be ridden in comfortably with thoughtful details that'll help defer the cost.
Rapha Wind Jacket £170
The Rapha Wind Jacket (formerly the Stowaway Jacket) is made from a windproof, water resistant and extremely breathable 100% Nylon fabric, the cut of its jib is classic cycling with a long-cut back for a better fit on the bike and a dropped tail too, the sleeves are tailored and long enough to be stretched in the drops without wrist-gap creeping in.