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How to find the best winter outer layer for you

There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing,
goes the old saying that always does the rounds at this time of year.
After incredible developments in textiles over the past decade, there's
no reason to wear the wrong cycling clothing any more and there's a
large selection of winter jackets that'll keep you warm, dry and
comfortable.

A winter jacket not only has to protect you from the elements, it has to
cope with the heat and sweat that you produce when you ride at a decent
pace. Producing materials that are highly protective and breathable at the
same time is the key challenge facing fabric engineers.

The right clothing is more important than those fancy wheels yo have your
eyes on, a 20g lighter saddle, or any other bling. If you really want to
get out and ride your bike this winter then invest your money in good
clothing. It’ll transform your winter cycling.

Jackets for the conditions

First, you need to decide what type of winter jacket you need; there is a
jacket designed specifically for every type of weather you might
encounter. The most common conditions you’re likely to face in a typical
British winter are rain, wind and cold down to freezing point or just
below.

Cycling jackets can be broadly distilled into three types: waterproof,
windproof, and soft shell. Add in variations on those and cross-over
jackets and you’re suddenly looking at a huge choice.

Keeping dry: waterproof jackets

A waterproof jacket will keep the rain out but all but the very best ones
(that is, the most expensive) compromise on breathability. It's
practically impossible for a waterproof fabric to allow out as much sweat
as a hard-working cyclist can produce, so you can get very hot and sweaty
if you're going hard. Nevertheless, a good waterproof jacket is crucial
for those days when it’s pouring heavily for the entirety of your ride.

It’s easy to make a fabric waterproof, but waterproof and breathable is
tricky. You can keep the water out, but you need to allow the moisture
that your body generates to escape somewhere, otherwise you’ll end up in a
sweaty mess. Manufacturers are able to produce fabrics with pores that are
big enough to let the small water molecules in the moist air escape, but
small enough to keep water droplets outside.

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Fabrics are getting better all the time, and there’s a wide choice.The
more expensive the jacket, the more likely it is that a branded fabric
like eVent or Gore-Tex will be used. Gore-Tex is one of the most common
fabrics you’ll see used on higher end jackets. Gore-Tex is created by
laminating a PTFE (polyetrafluoroethylene) membrane, with pores 20,000
times smaller than a water droplet, in the fabric. This makes it
completely waterproof.

Some manufacturers make full use of the latest fabrics offered by
companies like Gore but some go their own way and produce their own
fabrics that aim to offer the same technical merits. DWR (durable water
repellent) is a finish used in conjunction with waterproof membrane
fabrics that encourages water to bead up and roll off, preventing the
material from becoming saturated with water.

How the jacket is constructed is important, and for a jacket to be
properly waterproof the seams have to be taped to prevent leaks. For the
best possible breathability, some vents are a must, and these have to be
designed so they let sweat out, but don't let water in. They're usually
under the armpits, or conclealed under flaps round the body.

Keeping out the wind: windproof jackets

If you’re not planning to ride in the rain, then a windproof jacket is a
good option. Windproof jackets are commonly made from a fabric that's
lighter than a waterproof one and much more breathable. They are usually
designed only to be a little water resistant making them fine only for a
light shower. This makes them a good choice for many conditions,
especially if you get to pick when you ride, but not necessarily the best
choice if you have to head out come what may, like if you're commuting.

Gore Bike Wear Oxygen SO Jacket - shoulder detail

Keeping the cold out: soft shells

And then there's the soft shell, a relatively new style of jacket.
Waterproof and windproof jackets are sometimes referred to as hard shells,
because they’re designed solely to keep the weather out, not keep you
warm. That’s the idea behind a layering approach to clothing, using
multiple layers to provide warmth and comfort.

Soft shells turn this idea on its head and essentially combine an outer
and mid-layer, providing insulation and keeping the elements out. They’re
softer and more flexible than hard shells so are more comfortable, and
they're comfortable next to the skin. You can wear one over just a short
sleeve base layer and feel fine.

Hard shell v soft shell

In the last few years soft shells have risen in popularity among
cyclists. The greatest appeal of a soft shell is that, unlike a hard
shell, you can wear it most of the time, even when it's not raining. A
soft shell isn’t waterproof, instead it is water resistant and much more
breathable so it copes with a far wider range of typical British winter
conditions.

A hard shell provides the ultimate protection against prolonged rain but
the compromise is that it doesn't provide the best breathability so you
can get sweaty inside. A hard shell needs to be worn as part of a layering
system and deciding how many layers for any given ride can take some
experience and trial and error to get right.

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Soft shells, on the other hand, can simply be worn over a base layer of
your choice when it’s not too cold. Add a thicker long sleeve mid-layer
for really cold days and you begin to see that soft shells are the best
solution for cyclists looking for a do-everything winter jacket. Paired
with a lightweight, packable waterproof jacket, it’s a good combination.

Features

Generally, the more features a jacket has, the more it costs, but good
features can improve the performance considerably.

Well-designed pockets are useful and many winter jackets come with three
rear pockets or variations on this theme. For more versatility, chest
pockets and side pockets can be useful for things like keys and phones, or
keeping your hands warm when you’re not riding. Some people like lots of
pockets, some don’t — it's up to you.

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A decent full-length front zip is a must, with a good size puller that
you can use even with thick winter gloves on. Some zips will have a storm
flap behind to stop draughts, and a zip garage (a fold of fabric at the
top) will prevent the zip snagging the soft skin of your neck.

Castelli Expresso Due Jacket - side pocket.jpg

Velcro cuffs will keep baggy sleeves in order and drawcords at the waist
will help tailor the fit. Hoods are occasional options and can be useful
for dual-purpose commuting jackets, but separate headwear is typically a
preferred option.

Most cycling jackets will have a dropped tail, the rear section extending
lower than the front. This is so that when you're on the bike the jacket
keeps your bum covered and the front doesn't bunch up around your stomach.
The more race orientated a jacket, the more extreme this cut will be.

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Many jackets will feature some sort of ventilation. Of course, there’s
the full-length front zip that is an almost universal feature. Extra
zipped ports on the chest and under the arms can help deal with any excess
heat when you’re riding. The more breathable a fabric is, the less it’ll
need extra vents.

Fit

Like any garment, a cycling jacket needs to fit well. One key
consideration is the arms. They need to be long enough to cover your
wrists when you stretch to the handlebars.

The fit of the jacket can range from loose for casually style jackets,
popular with leisure and commuting cyclists, to more snugly fitted jackets
with an emphasis on aerodynamics that are suited to more
performance-driven cyclists. When trying on a jacket it’s vital you
consider how many layers you could be wearing underneath and allow a bit
of space for, say, two long sleeve layers.

Some jackets, especially those lightweight shells designed for occasional
emergency use, skimp on the features in pursuit of lightness, so don’t
expect pockets or other extras from this style of jacket.

Choices, choices, choices

Now you know your waterproof jackets from your windproof shells, let’s
take a look at some of the options out there. We’ve picked a few of each
type to present the choices currently available.

Soft shells

Galibier
Mistral Foul Weather Jacket — £72.79

Galibier Mistral Foul Weather jacket.jpg

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.

The Mistral has a three-layer membrane with a waterproof rating of
8,000mm and a breathability rating of 10,000gr/m2/day. That's both more
breathable and more waterproof than the previous version, and it's also
treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating to help it shed
water. The seams aren't taped, and it's not as waterproof as a full
hardshell, but it's plenty waterproof to be a good choice on rides where
you know you're going to get wet, especially if it's cold and showery and
you don't want to be pulling a rain cape on and off. On a long ride some
water will make it inside, normally around the shoulders. But not much.

Read
our review of the Galibier Mistral Foul Weather Jacket

Assos
Mille GT Ultraz Winter Jacket —£260

Assos Mille GT winter Jacket Ultra AZ - riding.jpg

The Assos Mille GT Ultraz Winter Jacket offers fabulous cold weather
performance, requiring very little to be worn underneath, with the inner
being exceptionally soft. The attached snood is perhaps more hinder than
help, but overall this is an excellent bit of kit.

The Mille GT Ultraz has been designed to let you tackle the worst that
winter can throw at you, but at a more affordable price point than Assos'
Bonka jacket. When we say affordable, this is still £260 (the Bonka is
£370!). If you've not got that kind of cash, there are plenty of great
alternatives at a much lower price, but if you can afford the Mille GT
Ultraz then it's worth every penny.

Read
our review of the Assos Mille GT Ultraz Winter Jacket

Castelli
Alpha RoS Jacket — £214

Castelli Alpha Ros Jacket - riding.jpg

As an all-in-one winter jacket, the Castelli Alpha RoS is hard to beat.
The Italian brand really means it when it calls it the 'Rain or Shine'
(RoS – geddit?) jacket, and there's plenty of insulation for when the
mercury falls.

After living with the Alpha RoS jacket for the past month or so when
temperatures have dropped well into single figures at times, it has shaken
up our perception of how we should dress for this coming winter.

Read
our review of the Castelli Alpha RoS Jacket

Madison
Sportive men's softshell jacket — £49.99

The Madison Sportive Men's Softshell Jacket offers a good fit, generous
warmth for the chilliest winter rides, looks smart and is reasonably
priced.

Read
our review of the Madison Sportive Men's Softshell Jacket

Find a Madison dealer

Bontrager
Velocis S1 Softshell — £119.99

Bontrager Velocis S1 Softshell Jacket - riding.jpg

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.

Bontrager has chosen to use windproofing only on the chest and side
panels. The back, using Cocona's Patented 37.5 technology, is aimed at
getting heat and moisture away from the body. Cocona says 'patented active
particles permanently embedded at the fiber level capture and release
moisture vapor.' The idea is to keep the humidity inside your clothing to
around 37.5%, where, it claims, your body is most comfortable.

Read
our review of the Bontrager Velocis S1 Softshell

Find a
Bontrager dealer

dhb
Aeron Hybrid Softshell —£67.50

dhb Aeron Hybrid Softshell - riding.jpg

The perfect top for those days when you don't know if you need a jersey
or jacket – the dhb Aeron Hybrid Softshell serves as both. It's windproof,
water-resistant, breathable, and well cut, though it's not fully
waterproof. It fits and feels like a winter jersey as the fabric is soft
and it's not overly heavy. It's the type of top you'd chuck on over
whichever baselayer you think would suit the conditions and it'll keep you
toasty warm without having to overplan your layering.

Read
our review of the dhb Aeron Hybrid Softshell

Pearl
Izumi Elite Pursuit Softshell Jacket — £94.99

Pearl Izumi Elite Pursuit Softshell Jacket - riding.jpg

This softshell jacket provides very good windproofing in a rather stylish
jacket.

When Neil tested it in... well... testing conditions, he said; "I thought
this was an excellent garment that made the prospect of venturing out in
some premature winter conditions a lot less off-putting. And anything that
encourages me to ride more is a good thing."

Read
our review of the Pearl Izumi Elite Pursuit Softshell Jacket

Find
a Pearl Izumi dealer

Sportful
Fiandre Light WS Jacket — £94-£150

In designing clothing for Flandrian weather, Sportful have created
clothing that is perfectly suited to typical UK weather conditions: lots
of rain, rapidly changing conditions, fluctuating temperatures during the
course of a ride. It's difficult to know what to wear sometimes. This
Light WS Jacket makes it all a bit easier, as it copes with all of that
weather with ease.

Read
our review of the Sportful Fiandre Light WS Jacket

Lusso
Aqua Extreme Repel V2 — £150

Lusso Mens Aqua Extreme Black V2 Jacket - riding.jpg

The Lusso Aqua Extreme Repel Jacket V2 is made in the UK, and it's one of
the best waterproof jackets on the market. Made 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.

Made from waterproof, windproof yet breathable Windtex Storm Shield
fabric, with a 10,000mm hydrostatic head and breathability of 10,000ml of
moisture per square metre per day, it's good technically. Not as
breathable as some fabrics, but certainly equal to most at the price – you
can pay over twice as much for a jacket with similar-spec fabric.

The seams aren't sealed but it doesn't seem to matter. On a ride that
involved two and a half hours of heavy rain and temperature a few degrees
above freezing it fought off the elements with aplomb. Unlike many
materials found on waterproof garments with various coatings, water
doesn't bead off the Storm Shield fabric. Instead, it quickly looks sodden
and we were waiting for that feeling of the rain starting to seep though
but it never came. The membrane clearly does its job very well indeed.

Read
our review of the Lusso Aqua Extreme Repel V2

Find a Lusso dealer

Ashmei
Cycle Softshell Jacket — £159 (limited sizes)

The Ashmei Cycle Softshell Jacket is a very high-quality top that's
particularly suited to spring and autumn days, and it comes with a
multitude of excellent features. It's an incredibly well designed piece of
kit.

Read
our review of the Ashmei Cycle Softshell Jacket

Lightweight windproof shells

B'Twin
R 500 UltraLight Wind Jacket — £19.99

The Ultralight Wind Jacket from B'Twin (Decathlon's in-house cycling
brand) is a low-priced lightweight jacket designed to give you some
protection when the weather catches you out. It stuffs into its own tiny
pocket, about the size of a fist, and weighs very little, so it's no chore
to keep it in your bag or pannier for when it's needed. As you might
expect, it's aimed more at the casual cyclist than those wanting highly
technical cycling wear, but it does a decent job especially at this price.
(It was previously known as the

Read
our review of the B'Twin 700 UltraLight Wind Jacket

Find a B'Twin dealer

Polaris RBS Pack Me Jacket — £39.99

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.

Read
our review of the Polaris RBS Pack Me Jacket

Find a
Polaris dealer

Endura
FS260-Pro Adrenaline Race Cape — £45 (limited sizes)

Endura FS260-Pro Adrenaline Race Cape - riding.jpg

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.

Read
the full review of the FS260-Pro Adrenaline Race Cape

Find an Endura dealer

Showers
Pass Ultralight Wind Jacket — £65

Showers Pass Ultralight Wind Jacket - riding.jpg

The Showers Pass Ultralight Wind Jacket ticks every box for staying warm
while dodging showers in the shoulder seasons. Light, trim-fitting, tiny
when packed and budget-friendly, it's hard to see how it could be improved
on.

Read
our review of the Showers Pass Ultralight Wind Jacket

Find a Showers
Pass dealer

Waterproof jackets

dhb
Aeron Lab Ultralight Waterproof Jacket — £150

dhb_aeron_lab_ultralight_waterproof_jacket_-_riding.jpg

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.

The Ultralight is rated to 30,000mm on the waterproofing scale, which
means that in laboratory testing the fabric could withstand 30,000mm of
water from a one inch diameter sealed tube of water before it soaks
through. That's pretty impressive, as most of the jackets we test here are
around the 10,000mm mark.

Read
our review of the dhb Aeron Lab Ultralight Waterproof Jacket

B'Twin
500 Waterproof Cycling Jacket — £24.99

The B'Twin 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.

Read
our review of the B'Twin 500 jacket

Find
a B'Twin dealer

Endura
FS260-Pro SL Shell — £74.99 (limited sizes)

Endura FS260 Pro SL Shell - riding.jpg

The Endura FS260-Pro SL Shell is an exceptionally breathable,
fully-fledged miserable-weather jacket with a host of features but no
excess faff. It's a cracker.

Being based in Scotland, Endura should know a thing or two about keeping
dry. That's not stereotyping – it rains a lot up there. And if you like
riding a bike, fast, in the rain, below a certain temperature, you want a
proper shell.

Modern design, fabrics and fabrication mean that even humble-priced
garments can perform exceptionally well, so to stand out the technical
features of a garment need to be spot on, and it's here where the
FS260-Pro shines.

Read
our review of the Endura FS260 Pro SL Shell

Find an Endura dealer

Gore
C7 Gore-Tex ShakeDry Stretch Jacket — £196

gore_c7_gore-tex_shakedry_stretch_jacket_-_riding_1.jpg

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 is Gore's new Stretch technology. It was developed with the
military for use with body armour and is also windproof and completely
waterproof.

Read
our review of the Gore C7 Gore-Tex ShakeDry Stretch Jacket

Find a Gore
dealer

For even more
choice view all our cycling jacket reviews.

About road.cc Buyer's Guides

The aim of road.cc buyer's guides is to give you the most, authoritative, objective and up-to-date buying advice. We continuously update and republish our guides, checking prices, availability and looking for the best deals.

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Road.cc buyer's guides are maintained and updated by John Stevenson. Email John with comments, corrections or queries.

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.

16 comments

Avatar
Alder [9 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Paramo. A bit heavy, a bit warm but waterproof with amazing breathability. When you first pick one up you won't believe it can be waterproof, but it is. Also the best hood for cycling I've used. I use mine for cycling and hill-walking.

Avatar
brooksby [4594 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes
Alder wrote:

Paramo. A bit heavy, a bit warm but waterproof with amazing breathability. When you first pick one up you won't believe it can be waterproof, but it is. Also the best hood for cycling I've used. I use mine for cycling and hill-walking.

I've read nothing but good things about Paramo.  However: I don't have any spare organs or children to sell, to be able to afford their kit...

Avatar
Simboid [142 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Alpkit Gravitas for on or off the bike. Failing that, the DHB one above as it's eVent which is a great fabric. Goretex cycling kit is overpriced but still good, though mostly it's heavy.

All the others are in fabrics inferior to even average jackets from the likes of Rab, ME, Berghaus, Alpkit, Haglofs, etc. Too sweaty!

Avatar
Alder [9 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
Simboid wrote:

Alpkit Gravitas for on or off the bike. Failing that, the DHB one above as it's eVent which is a great fabric. Goretex cycling kit is overpriced but still good, though mostly it's heavy.

All the others are in fabrics inferior to even average jackets from the likes of Rab, ME, Berghaus, Alpkit, Haglofs, etc. Too sweaty!

+1 for eVent, although my Rab Muztag walking jacket crackles like a bag of crisps.

Avatar
fenix [1195 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
brooksby wrote:
Alder wrote:

Paramo. A bit heavy, a bit warm but waterproof with amazing breathability. When you first pick one up you won't believe it can be waterproof, but it is. Also the best hood for cycling I've used. I use mine for cycling and hill-walking.

I've read nothing but good things about Paramo.  However: I don't have any spare organs or children to sell, to be able to afford their kit...

They are on offer at sports pursuit occasionally. Great bits of kit.

Avatar
macbob [50 posts] 10 months ago
0 likes

Castelli Perfetto followed as it gets colder by Gore Phantom softshell jacket

(both expensive & both worth it).

Merino base layer for when its freezy breeze blue.

 

Avatar
S1mWa1k [4 posts] 10 months ago
0 likes
macbob wrote:

Castelli Perfetto followed as it gets colder by Gore Phantom softshell jacket

(both expensive & both worth it).

Merino base layer for when its freezy breeze blue.

 

 

+1 for the Castelli Perfetto. I found it great all through the winter (and that's in Yorkshire). I just varied the base layers underneath (cheap but very effective dhb merino ones). Even in heavy rain I found the Perfetto has a very good wetsuit-like effect that means you don't get cold even once it does eventually start soak through. It dries quickly on a radiator too for the homeward leg.

It's very breathable so don't get too hot as I warm-up during the ride. I much prefer it to any fully waterproof jacket, which inveitably leads to overheating.

Avatar
ktache [1700 posts] 10 months ago
0 likes

I have just purchased a Perfecto in the Evans sale, had to go up a size, of course, just waiting for the cold to start to see if it's as good as all of the recomendations on here say it is.

Avatar
S1mWa1k [4 posts] 10 months ago
0 likes
ktache wrote:

I have just purchased a Perfecto in the Evans sale, had to go up a size, of course, just waiting for the cold to start to see if it's as good as all of the recomendations on here say it is.

 

Hope you like it. The most I ever wore under it was a dhb Merino Long layer with a sleeveless base layear under that, even in the depths of winter. Admittedly I tend to run quite hot compared to some other people. The advantage with lots of layers is that I could easily reduce them for the journey back home when the temperature had risen a bit.

A good neck warmer is a must too!

Avatar
srchar [1400 posts] 10 months ago
0 likes

Another happy Castelli Perfetto owner here.  Can be had for £100 if you can wait for a sale.  Gets more wear than any other item of clothing.

Avatar
Luv2ride [132 posts] 10 months ago
0 likes

+1 for the Perfetto here as well. Have had great results with the short sleeve version, and a couple of weeks ago managed to pick up a heavier weight Convertible ls/ss Perfetto for only 74 quid...that'll be autumn and winter sorted then cheeky

Avatar
maviczap [355 posts] 10 months ago
0 likes

+1 more for the Perfetto. Picked a short sleeve version up brand new on eBay and a convertible jacket from Ribble in their sale. 

Avatar
Stratman [167 posts] 10 months ago
0 likes

And another for the Perfetto.  My first was a long sleeve Gabba, but I’ve worn it out and replaced it.  Merino base layer under it, long sleeve on cold days.  Really cold go to the Alpha Jacket and a short sleeve base layer (ok to -7C) if I’m going reasonably briskly.  A bit off topic, but with sorpasso bibtights as well.  Yes, I’m a Castelli fan boy.

Avatar
Chris Hayes [428 posts] 10 months ago
0 likes

My Gabba isn't dead yet - I wear it most mornings (yesterday it was a miserly 13 degrees!)...I'd look at the Castelli Alpha and Mortirolo too. Not a big fan of wearing clothes designed for other pursuits on a bike....they're often too baggy or too noisy.

Avatar
jacknorell [1058 posts] 10 months ago
0 likes

Castelli Alpha jersey or jacket depending on temperature. Brilliant in anything but sustained heavy rain. The Endura race shell listed is good as backup on otherwise nice autumn and spring rides.

Avatar
Freddy56 [412 posts] 8 months ago
2 likes

Galibier Mistral it is. My £70 jacket is in its fourth year.