We pick out some of the best waterproof cycling jackets and explain what to look for in a light protective layer
The modern packable jacket can do far more than the traditional rain cape used to do. With the latest breathable fabrics riders no longer need to worry about the famous boil in the bag scenario.
Even basic, relatively cheap packable jackets allow sweat and condensation to be transferred from the inside to the outside of their fabric while keeping out rain and a quality waterproof cycling jacket will keep you dry through the foulest weather, allowing you to head out of the front door and 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.
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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. Although, the technology has come a long way since the original Gore-Tex days, and Gore’s new ‘Shakedry’ technology, adopted by some third parties such as Castelli, is exceptionally waterproof and very lightweight.
Our pick of the best waterproof cycling jackets
Castelli Idro Pro Shake dry cycling jacket 9/10 (best on test award) – £335
This jacket is a highly technical, hydrophobic piece of kit incorporating Gore-Tex’s Shakedry technology, something that truly needs to be seen to be believed. Wet the surface of the jacket and the water beads immediately with seemingly no water absorption at all. Shaking it sees the water fall off the jacket, leaving it bone dry.
It’s a good fit for long arms while the darker, stretchier material on the chest and elbows does a great job of letting the jacket sit close to the body and not flapping in the wind.
The Castelli is thicker than most packable jackets and the additional heft did take up a bit more space in a rear pocket.
dhb Lab Aeron Ultralight 9/10 – £180
It uses a three-layer waterproof fabric with a DWR coating, as is standard for this type of garment, but since dhb’s is so thin it packs down smaller than the others in this test, weighing only 103g. Despite this, it’s tough and survived a tumble on hardpacked ground.
The fit is skinny, with long arms and narrow shoulders. There’s a fleece-lined collar for extra insulation, which also stops water trickling down; all the seams are taped and the lightweight YKK zip works smoothly. It’s rounded out by a perfectly judged drop tail covering the bum area
Endura FS260-Pro Adrenaline race cape II 9/10 – £77.99
The FS260-Pro Adrenaline is made of a stretchy waterproof fabric so it will fit just as effectively over winter layers or a summer jersey. It’s quite sheer too, so a race number is visible through the fabric, and there are lots of reflectives front and rear.
All the seams are taped and there are nice features like the padded collar to help reduce trickle-down.
Endura’s sleeves have long cuffs with stretch fabric inserts on the undersides and breathability is pretty good although although we did get a bit sweaty when riding hard.
The cut of Endura’s garments tends to be a bit more generous than some other makes and this leads to a bit of windflap around the arms and sides. However, the dropped tail ensures your rear end is kept a bit drier.
The Endura is not super-light, but it’s reasonably priced for a fully featured, stowable waterproof. It also comes with separate stuffsack that compacts it well but would create a bulge – it’s better stashed manually.
Sportful Stelvio waterproof cycling jacket
A close fitting, lightweight stowaway jacket which we found went a long way to reducing the misery of a wet ride.
The price is high – but some of the other stats explain why. This jacket weighs just 156g but comes with a breathability rating of 50,000g/m2/24hrs (most come with a rating of 5,000 to 8,000g/m2/24hrs!) and waterproof rating of 20,000mm.
Sportful Hotpack NoRain waterproof cycling 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.
Gore ONE 1985 Gore-Tex Shakedry waterproof cycling 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.
Also available at Amazon
Castelli Perfetto long sleeve jersey
Ok, so strictly speaking this may not be a jacket, but it’s as good as. In wet weather its water resistance is good enough to keep you dry, with visible beading on the surface as it repels water. A high collar keeps the wind and chill out while a long tail protects your back from road slop.
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. Although new technology is making smaller jackets ever more waterproof it should come as no surprise that 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. Gore’s Shakedry technology is a great example, it’s extremely lightweight, highly hydrophobic but usually only comes in the most expensive jackets.
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 nudging north of £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