The HC is the top-of-the-range jacket from British brand Le Col, designed to keep the wearer protected from wind, rain and other road users. It uses high-performance Windtex fabric to give excellent weather protection, with some generously proportioned reflective panels to ensure you're seen at night. It's not a heavyweight jacket, so for really cold rides you'll need to layer up. The price is likely to be an issue for a lot of people, though.
Le Col was created by Yanto Barker, a pro cyclist currently riding for One Pro Cycling. The company is based in the UK but the manufacturing is done in Italy, with Barker apparently involved throughout the design and development process. Lots of brands work with pro teams as the feedback from people who spend many hours a day in the saddle is valuable; increasingly we've seen this go beyond simply testing and further into the R&D process.
The HC designation – Hors Categorie – is used by Le Col to denote its top-of-the-range, most technical products. Mat reviewed the HC summer jersey last summer and was impressed by the particularly high-quality construction. Le Col says it places a high value on having all of its gear made in Italy, and the Italians certainly have a proud history of making really good cycling kit.
When I first received the HC jacket, it was lighter-weight than I'd expected. Many top-of-the-range jackets are designed for the very coldest of days – the more you spend, the more insulation you get. According to Yanto Barker, he decided to go against this, figuring that if you spend £300 on a jacket, you'll be wanting to use it across a wider range of temperatures. Hence the HC is designed as a high-performance outer layer, but with plenty of stretch in the fabric so you can have multiple layers underneath if needed.
So, whereas something like the Stolen Goat Climb and Conquer jacket kept me warm at zero degrees over just a baselayer, here you'd want a couple of good layers underneath when it gets cold. Of course, the flipside is that I've been able to wear this regularly in the unseasonably warm November and early December temperatures we've been having.
Le Col does have a couple of winter jackets in its range – the Sport at £170 and the Pro at £250 – which have more insulation than here, so there are options if you want something heavier-weight.
The Windtex used here is a similar weight to the Gore fabric used in the Castelli Gabba, and the overall weight is not dissimilar to that of a long-sleeved Gabba. If Windtex sounds familiar, it's the same family of laminated membrane fabric as used in the Parentini Mossa. Just as Dave found with the Mossa, the protection from wind and rain is very impressive – significantly better than you get with something like the Castelli Alpha Wind jacket.
I've been commuting in this for a few weeks, through some pretty wet and windy conditions, and my upper half has stayed pretty much completely dry. On a two-hour chaingang in really foul conditions, some moisture did penetrate – primarily through the unsealed seams across the front of the shoulders – but short of a fully-sealed shell, it's the most water-resistant jacket I've yet tried. Wind protection is also excellent.
In addition to Windtex, there are several other fabric used here. Down the rear of the arms is a strip of waffle-textured Roubaix fabric. It has zero water resistance but is positioned so that it's out of the wind and rain, and I never had issues with water getting through. I particularly hate getting clammy arms in a waterproof jacket, and this highly breathable fabric helps avoid that.
Breathability on the jacket as a whole is very decent, and the Windtex membrane is effective at letting moisture out. As I've noted before, a good indicator of this can be the contrast with the areas which aren't breathable. Here, there are sizeable reflective panels on the shoulders and the wrists, and after a hard ride I sometimes noticed damp patches on my shoulders underneath the reflectives. Not to the extent that it ever bothered me during a ride, but it is a good indicator of how effectively the Windtex fabric is shifting moisture elsewhere.
Those reflective panels are very visible from the front and the side. Being picky, I would have positioned the cuff panels a little more to the outside to make them more visible from behind when indicating a turn. At the rear is a further stripe of reflective material laminated to the centre pocket, so drivers should be able to see you from all directions at night.
One unusual feature is the use of Kevlar fabric elbow patches. Le Col says that these are designed to protect you in the event of a fall, and also to help prevent damage to the jacket. I've managed to stay upright while testing this (thanks Conti), so they've not been tested, but it's a neat idea.
On the inside of the jacket there's no fleecy surface, but the smooth inner laminate feels comfortable against the skin – I had no issues wearing it over a short-sleeved jersey. Le Col recommends it for use over a baselayer, although when it's really cold I would sometimes use a baselayer and a jersey.
As you'd hope from a jacket designed by a racer, the fit is really dialled: close-fitting but not at all constrictive. Using a stretchy fabric helps here, obviously, but you need to get the panels shaped right too for it to hit the spot. There's a dropped tail, although as the silicone gripper is located above it, it doesn't always stay in place, as you can see in the photo.
There are three large pockets at the back, giving loads of space for just about anything you'll need to carry on a ride. These have mesh sections at the bottom to prevent any water pooling in there – necessary given how impermeable the fabric is. You've also got a zipped pocket for your phone, which is of a size to actually accommodate a modern phone (bonus point) and is made of a waterproof fabric. If that is still not enough storage then there's yet another pocket inside – this time a large mesh pocket with a zip on the left breast.
The only real niggles I had with the HC jacket concern the zips. The main zip at the front is a good quality cam-lock affair, neatly concealed behind a thin vertical flap. It goes straight up – none of that faddish asymmetry here – and doesn't have a protective flap ('zip garage') to keep it away from your throat. Possibly because I'm currently with beard, the zip frequently irritated my throat, which meant that I almost never fully zipped it up. Given that you can buy a Dhb jacket from Wiggle for £12 which has a zip garage, it's a surprising omission on a jacket costing 25 times that. Being picky (as you would be, at this end of the market), a larger zip pull would also be welcome, especially when you've got winter gloves on.
There are zips on the cuffs, which can be opened to allow some air into the sleeves. They're designed to make it easier to get the jacket on and off, and they possibly would if they weren't so infuriatingly difficult to operate with one hand. It's not an issue I've had with similar zips on other jackets, but it seems to be problematic here because of the stretchiness of the fabric. It's not a deal-breaker, but it was a regular annoyance.
What is likely to be a deal-breaker is the price: £300 probably puts this jacket beyond what 90 per cent of cyclists would consider spending. It's on a par with Castelli's Elemento 2 jacket (which is a warmer jacket but has no water protection) and is higher than any of Rapha's current range of jackets. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Assos still manages to top it, with a couple of predictably weirdly named jackets.
If you live somewhere where winters aren't really cold, then you might buy into the idea of a lighter jacket for use with layers. I think it does make sense – I've got other winter jackets which I can really only use when it's below 5°C – but it might be a tough sell, especially given that the Parentini Mossa costs rather less.
The HC jacket certainly ticks a lot of boxes, offering a very impressive combination of wind and rain protection with high breathability and a great fit. I'd just like to see some work to improve the zips.
Excellent protection from the wind and the rain – you'll need layers for when it's really cold, though
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Le Col HC Jacket
Size tested: Medium, Black Reflective
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Le Col says: "The Le Col HC Jacket is the newest and most technical in the Le Col range, created to keep you warm, safe and seen in a wide range of temperatures and conditions.
"Manufactured with a bonded 4 way stretch waterproof and breathable material for the best fit"
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
high neck collar
3 large pockets with drainage
4th waterproof security pocket
storm flap down front zip
large reflective panels on shoulders and forearms
kevlar patches on elbows
High-quality materials and mostly well-resolved detailing. Lack of a zip garage to prevent irritation is an oversight.
Impressive barrier to wind and rain, with above average visibility thanks to the large reflective patches. Nice slim fit makes it a good option for making brisk progress.
No issues found in testing.
Really good. Stretchy material and a well-designed cut make for a great fit.
The chart says I'm an M and an M is what I am.
Not ultra-light given that it's not a deep-winter jacket (well, without some other layers) but that's not really a big deal.
Generally I found this a very comfortable jacket to wear, with decent breathability. The fabric feels nice even against bare skin, and my only reservation was that the zip irritated my throat – the lack of a protective flap is a bit baffling at this price.
To score highly for value at this price point, you need to be doing something beyond what any of your competitors are. This is a really nice jacket and the Windtex material does perform really well, but I'd find the price hard to justify.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
No real problems. The outer layer is a little less hydrophobic after a few washes, but the membrane is still doing its job and keeping the winter on the outside.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Offered excellent protection from a wide range of bad weather, combined with unusually good reflectives for night-time visibility.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Great fit, high-performance Windtex fabric, really eye-catching at night.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The zips. The main one irritated my throat, and the cuff zips were really fiddly to open one-handed. Sealing the seams would make it more comprehensively waterproof.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? No – it's more than I would spend on a jacket.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Maybe
Use this box to explain your score
It might be a similar weight to the likes of the Castelli Gabba but it offers a significantly higher level of protection from the elements (not to mention more visibility and elbow scuff pads!). Some people might expect more warmth for their money, but you can always layer up (and may get more use out of it) as it's not massively thick.
About the tester
I usually ride: Commuter - something with disc brakes, drop bars and a rack My best bike is: Rose X-Lite CRS
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking
Jez spends his days making robots that drive cars but is happiest when on two wheels. His roots are in mountain biking but he spends more time nowadays on the road, occasionally racing but more often just riding.