Northwave's Extreme H2O Light Total Protection Long Sleeve Jacket is like a high-end winter weight jersey combined with a three-layer laminate shell. Intended for temperatures between 5 and 15 degrees, it's probably the best of this genre that I've used to date for general winter riding and training.
Waterproofing is reckoned to be around the 10,000mm mark, provided by Northwave's windproof H2O Flex membrane, and breathability is good, if not as efficient as more sophisticated Gore-Tex calibre kit. Breathable membranes in the armpits and at the sides help, expelling rider-generated heat before it can turn soggy and potentially lead to chill.
A figure-hugging fit and the four-way-stretch fabric really deliver in terms of unrestricted movement. I was able to shuffle about, change position effortlessly without any hint of bunching or exposing my lower back. There's plenty of give in the shoulders, too, so I never felt restricted on longer outings, cruising on big flared drops.
Sleeve length is perfect, too, running just past the wrist, and this ergonomic theme runs to the collar, which is compliant and tactile. Designed for a racing position, it keeps rain from trickling inside.
The jacket has a good operating temperature range: I've been out when the mercury's creeping towards 2 degrees and, although aware of icy gusts permeating the outer layer, I've never actually felt cold. This might be a different story should you need to stop longer than a few minutes. At the other end of the scale, I've not seen 15 degrees during the test period, but a relatively mild 12-degree ride suggests it should be a practical option until late March.
The Northwave's three rear pockets are deep and secure, capable of swallowing a mid-size mini pump, tube, snacks, keys and phone without permitting them to creep out or being launched at the first hint of a lumpy lane. Intermittent singletrack shenanigans cemented this impression, and the fabric resisted thorny encounters without bobbling, or worse.
Offered in either fluoro yellow as tested or stealth black with low-key retro reflective detailing, the jacket is relatively straightforward to use and care for.
My only minor gripe concerns the zipper, or more specifically the tag. I've never felt the need to drop the front zip during a ride, which is handy, because the tiny tag makes it nigh-on impossible to get hold of while wearing full-finger gloves.
Otherwise, the Northwave has exceeded expectations. It's a well-thought-out, slim-fitting and high-performing jacket that's also very good value.
Very good weather-cheating jacket for spirited winter riding and training
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Northwave Extreme H2O Light Jacket
Size tested: Large
Tell us what the jacket 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?
Northwave says: "Never had a jacket that combines a second-skin fit with total bad-weather protection? Now you can! Not only does the H2O Flex membrane offer incredible waterproof protection and create a windproof barrier, but it's also so exceptionally stretchy that we've made a jacket that fits like a glove so you won't lose even a watt of your power."
I say: "Bereft of wind tunnel/similar testing facilities, it's difficult to comment on the latter scientifically. Subjectively, it's a brilliant choice if you don't like shell type jackets but want to remain warm and dry."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the jacket?
From Northwave's distributor i-Ride:
* The 3-ply main fabric has a windproof H2O Flex membrane with up to 10,000 mm waterproof protection and four-way stretch for exceptional freedom of movement
* The BioMap construction positions cuts and seams for the most ergonomic fit
* The aero design delivers a snug, second-skin fit: combining a softshell fit with hardshell protection
* The ergonomically shaped collar is custom designed for a race position
* Breathable mesh inserts on the sides and under the arms
* YKK full zip covered by a storm flap with camlock puller
* Extended back for added protection from road spray
* 3 back pockets
* 360° reflective inserts
* Thermo Range: +5/+15 °C
H20 Flex Membrane
- STRETCH POWERED PROTECTION
The bad-weather protection offered by H2O powered with exceptional stretch. Its incredible super four-way stretch properties enable the membrane to mould perfectly to the cyclist's body to ensure maximum freedom of movement and a snug aero fit. It provides a windproof barrier with up to 10,000 mm waterproof protection that retains body heat while rapidly wicking moisture to the outside.
Very well made throughout.
Seems rugged, and hasn't shown any signs of distress following some forest detours either.
Pleasantly surprised – performance of a shell type jacket with a jersey-like feel, so long as the temperature is between 3 and 15 degrees.
Again, refreshingly good, even paired with more basic baselayers.
Second-skin close, but sizing was perfect for me.
Excellent, even when the mercury is hovering at 2-3 degrees. I might be tempted to carry a neck warmer or Buff in the rear pocket in case I was caught out in very cold, wintry showers, but otherwise, climate control has been excellent.
There are cheaper designs that do a very reasonable job of keeping the elements at bay, but persistent showery rain eventually finds its way inside. That's not my experience of the Northwave Extreme H2O.
How easy is the jacket to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Very easy to live with and emerges from a 30-degree wash looking fresh.
Tell us how the jacket performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The second-skin fit ensures minimal drag and flutter, and although I've been conscious of cold, blustery winds pulling at the mid-layer, I've never felt cold or remotely damp in persistent, showery rain and temperatures around 3 degrees. Nor have I needed to drop the zipper mid-ride for additional ventilation, though a bigger tag would have been welcome.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the jacket
Pretty much everything, given the design brief and price point.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the jacket
Nothing, although a larger zipper tag would be good.
Did you enjoy using the jacket? Yes
Would you consider buying the jacket? Yes
Would you recommend the jacket to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
It's a very good jacket for winter riding that genuinely delivers.
About the tester
I usually ride: Rough stuff tourer based around 4130 Univega mountain bike frameset My best bike is: 1955 Holdsworth Road Path and several others including cross & traditional road
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking
Shaun Audane is a freelance writer/product tester with over twenty-eight years riding experience, the last twelve (120,000 miles) spent putting bikes and kit through their paces for a variety of publications. Previous generations of his family worked at manufacturing's sharp end, thus Shaun can weld, has a sound understanding of frame building practice and a preference for steel or titanium framesets.
Citing Richard Ballantine and an Au pair as his earliest cycling influences, he is presently writing a cycling book with particular focus upon women, families and disabled audiences (Having been a registered care manager and coached children at Herne Hill Velodrome in earlier careers)