For a jacket that weighs little more than a windproof, the Santini Guard Rain Jacket packs a lot of protection into a pocket-sized package.
Softshell garments like the Santini Guard have revolutionised weather protection for high-effort sports like cycling, and I can't for the life of me imagine why anyone would want to buy a bulky hardshell outer layer any more. This one packs down to fit easily into a jersey pocket, but does the same job as a windproof and a waterproof, with nearly the same stretch and freedom of movement as your jersey.
This is the Guard version 3.0 and Santini has made some tweaks, including improving the breathability and doing away with one pocket. There's a new colour range too.
The outer elasticated fabric is bonded to an inner hydrophilic membrane, for weather protection and breathability. That's the Santini claim, and as tested, I would say it's a good one. Windproofing is excellent: on cold days I could ride hard without getting soggy inside. When it was milder, my jersey would dampen across the back and shoulders. Some jackets incorporate vents or pit zips to help combat this, but that all adds to weight and bulk. If you're too warm, it's small enough that you can take it off and stuff it in your pocket.
In showers, the water beaded effectively, and even when the fabric did wet out I didn't notice any ingress. The exception was a weekend's mountain biking in the Lake District, where the riding had more in common with white-water rafting and everyone and everything was sodden after a few hours. In conditions like that, you can't keep the water from going down your neck; my waterproof gloves were sopping and my Gore-tex lined boots filled up as the puddles splashed up my legs and ran down into my socks. It was quite mild, too: breathability must have been reduced because the humidity was already at 100%, so condensation and sweat were added to the conditions. Well, it's a credit to the jacket that through it all, my spirits remained high.
Santini makes a point about the 'super-slim' fit but I didn't find it so. On me, it was quite spacious, a little around the arms and more around the chest (it's not me in the photos, but you get the picture with Ash modelling). Combined with the relatively inflexible waterproof zip, this led to the jacket bulging a bit at the chest and stomach when in the riding position. It didn't affect the comfort or function. It may well fit you better if you're of stockier build than me. At least there was room underneath to fit a warm jersey.
I loved the sleeve length and the stretchy cuffs slipped easily over my gloves at the wrist to form a good seal. Santini says the cuff material is treated for water repellency, but I found it did take a good while to dry out there after that heavy soaking.
There's a reflective strip down the back for night visibility but not much on the front; and the dark grey is not eye-catching in any conditions. There's an orange version if that's more to your liking, or all-black. The fluoro yellow cuff adds a little daytime visibility. There's more at the collar, but since it's on the inside it doesn't help. The neck is comfortable, though, with a good 'garage' for the zip pull. The elasticated neck didn't make a particularly tight seal and I think rain got in there.
The waterproof zip has a good size pull, but is difficult to do up or undo single-handed. There's another on the back pocket, which has a strange quarter-circular shape. I also found that if I put tools in it, it pulled noticeably on my left side. Believe it or not, it upset my balance a bit when climbing, out of the saddle. It's okay for a phone or wallet, though.
The waist gripper isn't massively wide but works fine. I found the overall length a bit lacking – I imagine an XL would help there, but that would make it even roomier around the chest and stomach, as well as the neck, which I wouldn't welcome.
The fabric, being lightweight, is not made for hard knocks. I put a hole in mine, but since I was sliding down a rock slab on my elbow, about ten feet away from my actual bike, I'll concede this might have been user error. For road riding, it's fine. Keep it away from thorns.
At £160 it's not cheap, and you can spend less – Galibier's Mistral Foul Weather Jacket is half the price – but you're looking at another £100 or so if you were to step up to Sportful's Fiandre Extreme or the lightweight Gore Shakedry or its Castelli or 7Mesh equivalents.
Overall, if you buy a Santini Guard Rain, I'd say you'll use it lots.
Remarkable weather protection in a fully-featured but pocket-sized jacket
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Santini Guard Rain 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?
Santini says: "Now you have no more excuses; with our Guard jacket you can train and compete even in the rain! Made of an elastic fabric coupled to a breathable hydrophilic membrane to ensure maximum protection from rain and wind, Guard features thermos-taped stitching with a waterproof zipper to have you 100% covered! The inside collar and cuffs are made of soft and warm thermofleece. The reflective detail on the back ensures maximum visibility on the road in the dark. The side pocket with waterproof zipper allows you to carry everything you need with no risk of rain damage. Guard is super-light and pocketable making it easy to carry it in your jersey back pocket and has a slim fit which makes it ideal also when you race."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the jacket?
Fit - Super-slim aerodynamic cut and ultra-light construction make it ideal for speed when rain is forecast. Elongated back for added protection and elastic grippers to keep the bottom of the jersey in place.
Performance - Made from an elastic fabric coupled to a breathable hydrophilic membrane to ensure maximum protection from rain and wind. Reflective detail in the back ensures the maximum visibility on the road in the dark. Side pocket with waterproof zipper allows you to carry everything you need with no risk of rain damage.
Comfort - Engineered to keep you 100% dry while maintaining elasticity and above all breathability, to avoid the 'sauna effect' of lower quality rain jackets. Thermos-tape stitching with a waterproof zipper ensures no water will get through even after hours in the rain. The inside collar and cuffs are made of soft and warm thermofleece that is also treated with AcquaZero water guard.
Durability - Made from high quality locally sourced materials. Polyamide and spandex materials are long-lasting and won't lose their waterproof and formfitting qualities even after years of use. Made in Italy.
8 sizes from XS to 4XL
In grey, black or orange
All the seams are stitched, then heat-taped to keep the water out. The waterproof zip is neatly attached, with tape over the stitching for completion.
A surprising amount of weather protection for such a light garment. Wind resistance is excellent. Insulation is fairly light, but you may want that if you're already warmly layered. It only kept me dry for so long in really terrible Lake District conditions but I don't think the water came through the fabric – more likely down the neck.
It's a thin and light fabric so avoid abrasions. Thorns will make small plucks too. In normal road riding conditions it'll be fine.
Santini rates it 5 out of 5 for waterproofing. There was so much water about on the wettest ride I did in it, it's hard to say where it was all coming from and going to. Everyone was soaking wet, whatever they wore. A hose test showed the inside stayed dry even when the outer surface had wetted out.
Santini gives it 4 out of 5 for breathability and on that basis I'd say it's right. I did work up some condensation on milder, faster rides. A vented jacket might do better in these conditions, but that all adds bulk.
Santini says "Super-slim" but I've worn slimmer. There was a fair amount of space around the chest and arms. That's good for wearing over layers. For a bit of extra length I might have gone XL but that would have made the fit even less slim.
I fall between L and XL in Santini's size chart and that's where I'd say I ended up with this Large example. Good sleeve length, but a bit short around the bottom.
Amazing for the protection on offer. It rolls up small too and fits in a pocket.
I really enjoyed wearing this; there's plenty of stretch and give, and the cuffs and collar are well executed. The inner fabric feels a bit clingy against bare skin so if you're using it as a summer layer take that into account.
£160 isn't cheap, but it is an Italian made product.
How easy is the jacket to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
I worry about washing waterproof jackets for fear of ruining them, but having made a mess of the Guard I stuck it through on the normal programme and it came out fine – surface water still beaded ok.
Tell us how the jacket performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It shrugs off the wind, the rain too if it doesn't get down your neck. Breathability is good for a non-vented jacket. Pleasant to wear, good-looking.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the jacket
Packability, weather resistance, stylish looks and good quality.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the jacket
I didn't particularly dislike anything but there were quite a few areas that could be tweaked.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Dave tested the Galibier Mistral Foul Weather jacket recently and loved it. That's half the price of the Santini. Then again, you pay another £100 or so for the Gore Shakedry and jackets made with the same Gore fabric.
Did you enjoy using the jacket? Yes
Would you consider buying the jacket? Maybe
Would you recommend the jacket to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
I've picked quite a few faults with this, as I think that if you're shelling out £160 you need to know the full picture, but actually I think it's a very good jacket and you'll find it useful all year round.
About the tester
I usually ride: Cannondale CAAD10 My best bike is: Tomassini Prestige
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking