We pick out some of the best waterproof cycling jackets and explain what to look for in a light protective layer
Riding in wet weather is no one’s idea of fun, but if you want to make it a little more bearable then a good waterproof cycling jacket is an essential investment.
A quality waterproof cycling jacket will keep you dry through the foulest weather, making you more likely to head out of the front door whatever the weather, avoiding the dreaded turbo trainer.
When it comes to selecting the right waterproof jacket for you, it can be a bit of a minefield with lots of technical terminology to wade through from a huge selection of clothing manufacturers. This guide is designed to help you find your ideal jacket, at the right price for you.
Key elements to look for in a waterproof jacket are waterproof-ness, breathability, fit and packability. We’ve got in-depth details of all these features below our product picks – but as a quick summary:
- Waterproof-ness: There’s a big difference between waterproof and water-resistant. Waterproof will normally come with a claimed waterproof rating of at least 10,000mm, be multiple layered, have taped seams and storm-proof zips. Water-resistant will usually have a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) coating and be lightweight, making it more packable.
- Breathability: It’s a tricky balance between staying dry from rain and staying dry from sweat. Breathability can also be rated and claimed ratings of above 10,000g will help prevent you boiling on the inside. Generally speaking the more waterproof a fabric is, the less breathable it becomes, although there are some expensive exceptions to the rule. Jacket design often takes account of breathability with the inclusion of more breathable fabrics under arms, or additional ventilation.
- Fit: It’s horses for courses, or in this case jackets for jockeys. Fast riding or racing will desire a tight fitting rain cape, which minimizes fabric flap to maintain your aero performance, while slower all day affairs may require a looser fit for layering up underneath. Other fit details, such as a longer tail to keep your backside dry or thumb loops will appeal to some, but not others.
- Packability: If conditions are changeable, then it’s likely you’ll want to be able to stow the jacket in a rear pocket. Waterproof jackets tend to be heavier and bulkier, and don’t often pack down small enough for a rear pocket, while water-resistant options can usually be scrunched in to a ball the size of a fist.
Our pick of the best waterproof cycling jackets
Sportful Hotpack NoRain jacket
White might not be the most practical option for a waterproof cycling jacket (so thankfully Sportful also makes its Hotpack NoRain jacket in high vis yellow or black), but the performance is still exceptional.
Not only is this jacket exceptionally waterproof and breathable, but Sportful has also nailed the little details with the thumb loops and zip garage.
Sealskinz Waterproof Cycling Jacket
Known for it’s socks and gloves, Sealskinz are now applying over 20 years of waterproof knowledge to clothing. The mid-weight triple-layer waterproof is packed with details, such as drain holes in the pockets and a dropped tail for bum protection. It’s an athletic fit, so worth going up a size if your not quite a racing snake.
Gore ONE 1985 Gore-Tex Shakedry jacket
At just 98g, the packable and breathable waterproof is proof that you get what you pay for. The GORE ONE 1985 Gore-Tex Shakedry has the versatility of an emergency lightweight rain cape, yet the performance of a hardshell waterproof – giving you the best of both worlds, but at £230, doesn’t come cheap.
POC Raceday Rain jacket
Yes, £230 is a huge amount of money to blow on a waterproof cycling jacket, but if you can afford it, and you’re riding in the rain a lot, then this POC Raceday Rain jacket is worth the outlay.
Everything about this jacket is superb, with perfect waterproofing, exceptional breathability and fit, and a quality construction which means that it is built to last.
Polaris Hexon jacket
For a penny under £90, the Polaris Hexon waterproof jacket is incredibly hard to fault, even when you compare it to jackets of double the price.
The fit might not be that aero, but this jacket is incredibly waterproof and very breathable, making it a perfect choice if you’re doing hard efforts in bad weather
Castelli Gabba 2 jacket
Ok, so it’s not technically a waterproof jacket, but if you’re looking for a piece of clothing to get you through horrible wet and cold rides, then the Castelli Gabba 2 jacket is a great option.
The water-resistant clothing will keep you dry through showers, but if the rain does get through in heavier downpours, then the insulation will still keep you warm
What to look for in a waterproof cycling jacket
Clearly the most important thing you want to know about any waterproof cycling jacket is how waterproof it is. There are plenty of jackets out there that claim to be “water-resistant” (usually meaning that they have a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) coating applied to the fabric), but these will only keep you dry through showers and relatively light rain. If you want a proper waterproof cycling jacket for real wet weather riding, then you’re going to want something with a little more protection.
The good news is you can get some idea of how waterproof a jacket is by doing a bit of research into any prospective purchase, with an increasing number of manufacturers stating the waterproof rating of their waterproof cycling jackets.
“But what’s a waterproof rating!?” I hear you cry. Well, it’s basically a number, and the higher the better. The number is calculated on the basis that if you put a 1in x 1in square tube over the fabric, how high could you fill the tube water before it started to leak through.
For a good waterproof cycling jacket you’re going to want something with a waterproof rating north of 10,000mm, although there are a number of jackets on the market that claim to offer more than this. However, “claim” is the key word in this sentence, with no central body set up to test these figures, and manufacturers generally doing the testing of their own products.
It’s also not all about the fabric when it comes to making a waterproof cycling jacket waterproof, with other features playing an important role. Most crucial of all are the seams. You can make a waterproof jacket out of the most waterproof material in the world, but if you then stitch a load of tiny holes in it, it’s not going to do its job very well.
The solution to this is taping the seams, a process which covers the seams with a waterproof material, helping to keep the water out. All of the best waterproof cycling jackets will have this feature, although some will only have taped seams in crucial areas such as the shoulders and back, rather than across the whole jacket.
The other area where water is likely to get in is through the zip. This is particularly the case if you’re riding in the wet in a group, where water is constantly being sprayed up onto your chest by the back wheel of the rider in front. Unsurprisingly the solution is a waterproof zip, which is either taped on the outside or sealed on the inside.
For all that, probably the major factor that distinguishes good waterproof cycling jackets from bad ones (or at least great one from good ones) is breathability. If you’re working hard (as we hope you are!) then you’re going to be building up quite a lot of heat, so a good degree of breathability will allow sweat to escape.
As with waterproofing, it’s possible to put a number to breathability, and again it’s a case of the higher the better. In this case the number refers to the weight (in grams) of water vapour than can pass through a 1m x 1m area of fabric over a 24 hour period. So if you have a jacket with a 20,000 breathability rating, 20,000g of water vapour can escape through the fabric in 24 hours.
Dress properly for your winter riding
Again, for a good waterproof cycling jacket you’re going to want that number to be more than 10,000 (g), but as with the waterproof rating you should always be a sceptic, with manufacturers carrying out all the testing rather than an independent body, and the testing is for the fabric only, which wi.
As with any piece of cycling clothing, making sure your waterproof cycling jacket fits properly is a crucial part of the equation. However, it’s not a case of one fit fits all, with different fits being better suited to different types of riding and riders.
If you’re using this jacket for fast rides, maybe heading out for the local chaingang whatever the weather, then you’re going to want a relatively slim-fitting jacket which won’t flap too much in the wind, holding you back with its poor aerodynamic performance. However you don’t want it to be tight, just in case you want to add extra layers underneath in really cold weather.
For everyone else, a slightly looser fit might be more suitable, giving the possibility for bulkier layers underneath and possibly greater comfort too. However you don’t want to go too loose, as this will not only slow you down, but will cause annoying windflap on bustery days, and loose-fitting collar and cuffs could also undermine an otherwise very waterproof cycling jacket.
If you’re riding in changeable conditions, then packability is an important thing to look for in a new waterproof cycling jacket. If the sun comes out after it’s chucked it down for the first two hours of your ride, then you’re going to want something that will stuff down small enough to fit in a rear pocket.
However, in general, waterproof cycling jackets that offer good waterproof protection are generally fairly bulky, so the majority will not pack down that small. So if you want a jacket that will both keep you dry in heavy, persistent rain, and will pack down small enough to fit into a jersey pocket, then expect to pay dearly for it.
Other fit details such as thumb loops are probably the most common extra feature found on many waterproof cycling jackets. These are designed to stop the sleeves from riding up, creating a gap between the cuffs of the jacket and your gloves.
In general, these basically consist of a piece of elastic sewn into the cuff, an unsophisticated design that can quite often pull at the webbing between your thumb and index finger if the sleeves are slightly too short. Better designs incorporate the loop into the cuff, which is more comfortable and looks better too.
To keep your bum dry from wheel spray it’s also worth looking for a waterproof cycling jacket with a long tail (or bumflap). However this isn’t just a case of manufacturers just adding an extra bit of material at the bottom of their jacket, and it’ll need to have some silicon grippers or other devices to prevent it from riding up.
If you’re on a long ride, then you’re also likely to need to access the rear pockets of your jersey in order to get at any energy bars or gels you might have stashed in there. With this in mind, many waterproof cycling jackets will have some sort of opening at the rear, but if your one doesn’t then it’s easy enough just to lift up the tail of the jacket to access your pockets that way.
Finally, it’s also worth looking for a waterproof cycling jacket that has some sort of soft fabric on the insides of the cuffs and collar. This will really help with comfort, feeling much nicer against the skin than the slick, cold material found on the inside of most waterproof cycling jackets.
How much should I pay?
The sky really is the limit when it comes to buying a waterproof cycling jacket, with some options from certain premium bands even nudging close to the £300. However the good news is that you don’t need to spend nearly that much to get a great jacket.
If breathability isn’t a massive issue (for example, if you’re just using the jacket for commuting to and from work) and are willing to do a bit of shopping around, then you can easily pick up a really good waterproof cycling jacket that will keep you nice and dry for less that £50.
For something that will offer better breathability, more features, and probably a closer fit, then you are going to have to spend a little more money. However, there’s no need to go crazy, with the £100-£150 price range offering a whole host of options without getting you in too much trouble with your bank manager.
How we score
10 – Superb, best in its class and we couldn’t fault it
9 – Excellent, a slight change and it would be perfect
8 – Brilliant, we’d happily buy it
7 – Solid, but there’s better out there
6 – Pretty good, but not quite hitting the mark
5 – OK. Not much wrong with it, but nothing special
4 – A few niggles let this down
3 – Disappointing
2 – Poor, approach with caution
1- Terrible, do not buy this product