Waterproof, breathable fabrics keep out rain, but let sweat through so you don't get 'boil in the bag cyclist' syndrome.
Even the best breathable fabrics can't transpire the sweat of a cyclist working hard, so look out for zips and vents to help.
Classic 'hardshell' fabrics combine a waterproof, breathable membrane with DWR (durable water repellent) coating to make water run off and usually an inner layer to protect the membrane.
'Softshell' fabrics like Gore Windstopper are softer — the clue's in the name — and thick enough to provide warmth as well as water resistance; they're very well suited to British conditions.
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 bin bag is waterproof. Making a fabric waterproof and breathable, so it lets sweat out, 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 getting 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. Many fabrics use more than one approach. Membrane waterproofs have a DWR coating that provides the first line of defence against the wet.
It’s also worth considering that many jackets will need to be reproofed regularly to replenish the DWR. 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. Water repellant fabrics use a hydrophobic treatment that reduces the amount of water the fabric absorbs. 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.
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 when you're stretched out on the bike, leaving your wrists exposed. 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 fabrics are not breathable enough to cope with the amount of sweat put out by a cyclist working hard, for example while climbing a hill. 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.
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 jacket for your riding situation, whether it's a jacket for commuting, touring, racing, training or sportives. We've picked 31 of the best that represent the variety of choice and what you can expect to pay. Many of these jackets are offered in both a men and women's cut and different colours too.
Unarguably some of the very best ones are expensive, but in real terms a high-end cycling waterproof is a lot cheaper than it once was. One of the earliest Gore-Tex cycling jackets, the North Face Velo, retailed for £150 in 1988. Allowing for inflation, that's the equivalent of almost £400 now.
The Howies Herald is a fantastic waterproof jacket that's ideal for commuters. A little more reflectivity for night riding would make it nigh-on faultless.
The Herald is clearly designed as a jacket for active wear, even if it's not obviously cycling-specific. It's made from a two-layer, matt waterproof and breathable nylon shell, with a mesh polyester lining. Seams are double taped for added water protection while the lightweight fleece collar is there for a spot of comfort.
Perhaps more exciting than the Herald's fabric is its practical design. There are two typical zipped hand pockets, a subtle zipped chest pocket, a zipped internal pocket and – my personal fave – a zipped forearm pocket with fitted bungee cord and clip for secure holding of your front door key. (I'm going back a bit with my references here, but I'm pretty sure Frank Spencer or Mr Bean had something similar.)
The Galibier Tempest Pro Jacket has an impressive ability to shrug off the heaviest of rain for ages without soaking you from the inside out, and when you don't need it, just stuff it in your rear pocket. There's a bit of a plasticky feel to the fabric, but it works really well.
Using a HydraStop membrane, the Tempest Pro delivers factory results of 9,000mm when it comes to waterproofing; that means it can resist 9,000mm of water from a hydrostatic head (tube of water) before it can't hold any more and it leaks through. In the real world that means heavy rain and downpours.
The biggest plus point is the staggeringly low price. The Galibier Tempest Pro compares favourably with jackets like the Endura Pro SL Shell II or even the Rapha Pro Team Lightweight Shadow but is over £100 cheaper.
The Rapha Women's Lightweight Shadow Jacket has gained me many a compliment from fellow riders while I have been out testing it. It has a simple, classic design and excellent fit and it performs brilliantly... with a price tag to match.
I put the jacket on for the first time to model it for the photos you see in this review, and immediately mentioned what a lovely fit it was. There is room for a jersey and light layer or two underneath on colder days, but no unnecessary flapping or extra material hanging around.
It is surprisingly stretchy for such a water-resistant and windproof layer, which also allows it to fit over well-filled pockets at the start of a long day's riding. In fact, with the right layering underneath, I can see myself wearing this most of the year in the UK.
Light, packable, windproof, completely waterproof and with superb breathability, Gore's C7 Women's Gore-Tex Shakedry Viz jacket works brilliantly on the bike, whether it's raining or not. It's not cheap, but with such impressive performance it really will earn its keep.
Gore Shakedry really is in a class of its own. The jackets are expensive, but if you consider that they can act as both a waterproof and a windproof, packable but protective enough for the wettest days, and light enough to take the place of an emergency showerproof in your pocket, it's all manner of garments in one.
On cool, dry days its windproofing keeps you warm, and if the sun comes out you won't overheat and get sweaty. It's thin, not insulated, but wear the right layers underneath and you'll be fine. The fabric has a pleasant feel against the skin, too, a kind of smooth, warm silkiness.
The Resolute Bay Reflective Cycling Jacket is impressive. It's a high-quality design, offering superb protection against the weather, excellent breathability, and some strong cyclist-specific features, and the fit works really well both on and off the bike.
One thing that tends to plague commuter cycling jackets is that they're either too cycling-specific or not cycling-specific enough. The Reflective Cycling jacket aims to balance the two – and succeeds.
As with all foul weather jackets, waterproofing is one of the most important elements, and the Resolute Bay has stood up to all of the rain that the British spring has thrown at it. I tested it on some torrentially rainy rides and it performed admirably, not letting in a drop. The only slight downside was that when wearing it with the hood down (if you have a helmet on), you can get water caught in the hood.
The 7mesh Rebellion is an excellent bike-specific jacket that offers Gore-Tex Active waterproof protection, a slim fit and easy packability.
Gore-Tex Active is used throughout. It comprises a nylon ripstop outer fabric with a durable water repellent (DWR) treatment and a lining that's integrated into the Gore-Tex C-Knit membrane.
It's impressive stuff that keeps the rain out superbly. We used the Rebellion for all kinds of winter rides – everything from all-weather commuting to long Sunday morning jaunts – and the fabric didn't let water through. The seams are sealed with 13mm tape that shows no signs of lifting or bubbling several washes in, which is a good sign that they'll keep the outside world outside for a long time to come.
The Rapha Pro Team Light weight Shadow Jacket is a very impressive piece of kit for wind protection, waterproofing, packability and breathability, and though it comes at a hefty price it's still cheaper than some rivals.
I was initially a little worried about its ruggedness, but after dozens of rides and stuffing it in pockets it still looks as good as when I first took it out of the packet.
Luckily Rapha has managed to reduce the thickness of the material without reducing its effectiveness, and the jacket took everything that the weather could throw at it.
The Metier Beacon Rain Jacket performs brilliantly in foul conditions and can also pack down small and compactly into a jersey pocket. Its USP, the flashing LEDs, work really well too, although if you're thinking it'd be great for everyday commuting with a backpack, they're not ideally placed. This isn't your typical commuter jacket, though, it's a piece of high-performance kit – with a price tag to match.
The idea of incorporating flashing lights within clothing isn't new, but can be a little garish and needs to be done subtly in order that the wearer doesn't look like a walking traffic light. Metier has managed this well with slim strips of LEDs, one set of white lights on the front of each shoulder, and a set of red lights on the bottom hem at the back of the jacket.
The lights offer a decent amount of visibility – so bright you could probably get away without bike-mounted lights (not recommended at night), though I tended to use them as additional visual aids rather than primary lights.
Pactimo's Vertex WX-D has proved to be a top performer in the cold and wet British weather. It's warm, dry and light while being breathable enough to wear all day in comfort.
It can be hard to gauge what to wear in winter – how cold is it, will it rain, blow a gale? The usual response seems to be layers and extra clothing in your pockets, but you end up looking like the Michelin man or without the bits you need. A jacket that claims to cover all aspects is a tantalising prospect, then, but can it deliver? The Vertex W-XD claims warmth down to -17°C, windproofing and waterproofing too, with its three-layer outer fabric providing the weatherproofing with taped seams (reflective on the outside) and waterproofed zips, and brushed fleece grid providing the warmth.
It's reasonably thin and light for a cold weather outer – not quite enough to fold up into a jersey pocket, but you shouldn't need to as breathability is good and it has two small zipped vents for fresh air if needed.
The Assos Mille GT Winter Jacket is a very strong performer, offering excellent protection against low temperatures and heavy downpours, and although it comes with a fairly heavy price tag, it goes a very long way to justifying it.
Away from the very depths of winter, one of the elements that's difficult to get right is knowing what to wear, as you can often start the ride in under 5°C and come back in the mid teens, but one of the key elements of the Mille GT jacket is that it not only keeps you warm, it also has fantastic breathability.
This combination of warmth and breathability comes from the use of three different materials: Neos Medium on the front panels, Neos Light on the upper back and upper sleeves, and RX on the underside of the sleeves and the spine. The triple-layer Neos Medium takes the brunt of the weather because of its positioning, and is water repellent and wind resistant. The Neos Light has a similar construction but with around double the breathability (Assos quotes 27,000 gr/m2/24h vs 14,000 for the Neos Medium) and is used in areas that are less impacted by the weather, still allowing for good protection but letting heat dissipate nicely. The RX is used in areas most hidden from the weather, and offers high wicking and temperature control.
Galibier's Mistral foul weather jacket will cover off nearly all of your winter rides if you like to work up a sweat. It's windproof, waterproof, breathable, close fitting and exceptional value. Only the pockets let it down.
Fully black winter jackets aren't always that visible on murky days, and if you wear full neon and it's sunny some enterprising defence lawyer will probably claim your jacket was camouflage. So the best bet is probably a mixture of the two; the Mistral has plenty of neon on the back and the arms, as well as a substantial reflective panel on the pockets. The zip piping on the front is fluorescent yellow too, but other than that and the embroidered logo, the front is black.
dhb has created an excellent bad weather top layer with its Aeron Lab Ultralight waterproof jacket. It keeps the weather at bay better than most, especially at this price and weight, plus it's packable too. It's quite an outlay, but it's justified by the very good performance.
tester Stu Kerton reported that he was was still dry after two hours of constant heavy rain mixed in with road spray from lorries and puddles. And there was a pretty nagging headwind too, just for good measure.
The Gore C7 Gore-Tex ShakeDry Stretch Jacket provides total rain protection with incredible breathability. The stretch panels help to give a perfect fit that lasts through machine washing and tumble drying.
This jacket is packed with tech features. The Gore ShakeDry fabric that made the last iteration so good is still present, and it works really well in heavy rain. Put simply, nothing gets through.
Added to this latest edition, which we first looked at in May, is Gore's new Stretch technology. It was developed with the military for use with body armour and is also windproof and completely waterproof.
One of the best waterproof jackets on the market. Made right here in the UK, in Manchester, the Lusso Aqua Extreme Repel Jacket V2 keeps serious rain out without creating that boil in the bag sensation found with many others on the market. A huge amount of reflective detailing makes this jacket perfect for night rides too.
The 7Mesh Oro jacket might be expensive but it keeps the rain out, it's super-lightweight and it takes up an incredibly small amount of space in a jersey pocket. Tester Mat Brett wore the Oro in the rain a whole load of times, most memorably on a ride in Italy where a couple of cyclists had to get bussed home for fear of getting hypothermia (really), and the results were superb. If anyone's in danger of getting hypothermia it's usually Mat, but rain didn't once get through the fabric or through the internally taped seams. You almost expect water to get in because the jacket is so lightweight, but it doesn't.
The B'Twin RC 500 High Visibility Waterproof Cycling Jacket provides excellent rain protection with a coated membrane material and taped seams plus plenty of reflective details to help you been seen on the commute to work. There are vents and breathability is very good. For £25 it's a good deal.
Altura's Microlite Showerproof jacket is designed to be packed down and carried for emergency use. It is a simple, single skin waterproof jacket more suited to light showers than prolonged downpours, but at this price (reduced from its usual £40) it's an absolute steal.
The Proviz Reflect 360's unique feature is that it's entirely made from reflective material. If you spend a lot of time on the roads in the dark it'll certainly get you noticed. The cut of the jacket is more commuter style than race so it's safe to assume that a streetlit urban environment is where the designers expect it to be used most.
The Reflect 360 is water resistant rather than Proviz claiming any waterproofing ratings but the material keeps out moderate rain for a decent amount of time backed up by taped seams and a storm zip. The rear drops slightly to which also adds protection if you aren't using mudguards.
The dhb Waterproof Jacket does what it says on the tin, at a price that would get you an arm and half a collar from some other brands. It's not loaded with tech – in fact there's almost no tech on show – but if fifty quid is your budget it's hard to go past.
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, the Endura 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.
The Showers Pass Pro Tech ST is a light weight, clear race cape, so that when the heavens open you can stay dry and your club or team kit can still shine through on race day or just on a training ride.
The Bontrager Velocis S1 Softshell Jacket keeps the cold off your front, lets the heat out at the back and provides an impressive level of winter protection. It might have saved our tester Neil from a dose of exposure on one occasion.
The Altura Podium Night Vision Waterproof Jacket is a bit of a gem: a slim-fitting jacket that provides very good waterproofing and packs down small enough to stow easily in a rear pocket.
Altura says the fabrics it uses (mainly nylon with stretchy polyester panels) have a waterproof rating of 7,000mm. That means this jacket should be able to withstand moderate rain, and that has been our experience. Water doesn't get through in these conditions. The zip isn't waterproof but it has a storm flap behind it that does a pretty good job of stopping water seeping through.
The Altura Podium Elite Waterproof Jacket features added waterproofing to a well fitting softshell jacket.
Stu had it out in the worst of weather and thought that "the rain beads on the outside for a while, but after 15-20 minutes or so of constant rain the fabric does get penetrated. You do stay warm, though, thanks to the insulation, so in my eyes it's not a major concern. I'd rather be warm and wet than dry and cold."
If you're after a highly waterproof jacket and are willing to accept a small amount of extra bulk over some other offerings, the Polaris Fuse is well worth looking at. Its waterproof quality is up with the best, keeping you dry in rain that, speaking from experience, would see others fail. It's really well made, and represents good value for money.
Made with lightweight stretch waterproof fabric, the jacket's breathability is good enough that you don't notice any uncomfortable overheating – even in our wet yet warm UK winter like the one we've just had.
The Pearl Izumi Women's Elite WXB jacket is on the expensive side at its £150 RRP, but it will keep you warm and dry on horrible days. Lack of storage could be a problem, but there is room for that in your jersey. It is worth the sacrifice just to stay this dry, and for this sale price, it's a great deal.
The first thing you notice about this jacket is the high visibility colour scheme – in the bright yellow and pink you really shouldn't be missed. Love it or hate it, it's perfect for day time riding visibility, and there are enough reflective accents on the rear and the arms to make sure you stand out come evening too.
The Endura Pro SL Shell Jacket II has impressive waterproofing and will really keep out the worst of the rain and wind. It just about fits in a large jersey pocket, and is a good investment for cooler days when you need a robust level of weather protection.
Endura's Exoshell 40 waterproof fabric is a three-layer construction, with fully taped seams to keep the rain out and a claimed waterproofing level of 20,000mm – meaning nothing from a tube of water 20 metres tall would seep through a patch of fabric from this garment. And nothing did: no complaints about the waterproofing at all.
The collar is quite high, which is good for protection and I didn't find that it irritated me at all, even on hard rides.
One of the things I like most is the fit. Endura has gone for a shaped, multi-panel construction with strategic stretch sections to make the jacket move with you, and although it looks quite rigid and robust (I thought it was more commuter-orientated when it was first given to me) I found it was perfectly flexible on the bike.
The Parentini Mossa is a race-fit waterproof and windproof jersey that copes well with the rapidly changing and impossible-to-predict British winter conditions.
The Mossa is actually fully waterproof, not just water resistant. This is achieved with the Windtex Membrane fabric, which comprises two layers sandwiching a membrane, plus a hydrophobic treatment providing water repellency. Water simply beads off the fabric and even on a ride of 2-3 hours in steady rain, the Mossa copes admirably.
There are waterproof jackets that are best suited to being emergency jackets, rolled up in a rear jersey pocket in the hope that they'll never actually be required. Then there are jackets that are there to be worn on the wettest, filthiest ride, giving all-day comfort and making a bad day not so terrible. The Showers Pass Women's Elite 2.1 Jacket sits firmly in the latter camp and does a great job of it too.
The first thing that's noticeable about the Women's Elite 2.1 Jacket – aside from the not inconsiderable price – is how well featured and how meticulously designed it is. This is not a walking or outdoor waterproof repurposed for cycling, it's a cycling jacket from the ground up.
This thing is crazy-light. At 123g, it's possibly the ultimate pocket-jacket. The idea is that it’ll go more or less unnoticed in a jersey pocket until you need proper protection from the rain.
The Gore-Tex Active technology with a new permanent beading surface is an innovative fabric construction that eliminates the textile on the outer face of the fabric, resulting in a two layer fabric that is lighter weight and doesn’t absorb moisture on the outer face,” says Castelli.
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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.