This post is a complete guide to how to choose the best cycling jacket. A good waterproof cycling jacket is key to enjoying cycling in the rain. A high quality cycling jacket may cost you quite a lot of money, so take the time to research them before you buy. There are many factors to consider when you choose a cycling jacket – and this post covers all of them!
What Kind of Fabric is the Best for a Waterproof Cycling Jacket?
The fabric is the most important aspect to think about when looking for a waterproof cycling jacket. Bear in mind that it is easy to make a waterproof fabric – for example, a trash bag is waterproof. However, you would not want to wear a trash bag! Quite apart from the fact that it would not look good and would not have sleeves – it also does not BREATHE.
A Good Cycling Jacket should be Breathable AND Waterproof
The aspect that great waterproof cycling jackets get right is this: they stop the rain from coming IN, while letting the water vapor produced by your sweat get OUT. This means they are breathable AND waterproof. This is pretty sophisticated technology, if you think about it, because rain and sweat are almost the same thing – variations of water (H2O). Fabric manufacturers do this by putting tiny pores in the fabric. Water vapor can pass out of them, because water vapor molecules are not bound together, so individual tiny molecules can pass through the tiny pores. However, water molecules are bound together and therefore bigger, and cannot get in.
Gore-Tex Technology for Waterproof Cycling Jackets
The W. L. Gore Corporation pioneered breathable AND waterproof technology for outdoor clothing in 1978, when they invented their laminate technology. They called their revolutionary new fabric Gore-Tex. Since then, a lot of other brands have arrived on the market, such as eVent, Polartec and many others. But Gore-Tex is like Hoover – Gore-Tex is so associated with the brand that many people refer to the entire breathable and waterproof category as Gore-Tex. Gore-Tex still makes great products , but they are no longer the only company that makes great breathable and waterproof clothing.
GORE-TEX® fabrics are nylon and polyester face fabric, laminated with a GORE-TEX® membrane. They come in a range of grades, including GORE-TEX® Pro, GORE-TEX® Active, and regular GORE-TEX®. Active Shell is a newer Gore-Tex membrane, designed to be very breathable, waterproof, windproof, and lightweight. The company also offers soft shell fabric and a super light fabric called Paclite®. Their Paclite jacket is the best lightweight waterproof cycling jacket I have ever tried, but it is not very breathable. It has largely been replaced now by one of Gore-Tex’s newest offerings, the Gore Bike Wear Oxygen 2.0 Jacket. This is made of Active Shell fabric and is more breathable than the Paclite.
Fun fact: Gore-Tex fabrics have over 1.4 billion micro-pores per square centimeter!
Types of Waterproof Fabrics
There is a range of waterproof fabrics, with a range of levels of waterproofness. Most of them have two or three layers. For example, the top-of-the-line Showers Pass Elite 2.1 cycling jacket has three layers of premium eVent rip-stop fabric for ultimate waterproofness and durability.
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Note that there is also an excellent women’s version of the Showers Pass Elite 2.1 jacket.
Outer layer: This layer is called the “face fabric” – and is usually nylon or polyester. This outer layer is not waterproof, but it is usually treated with a durable water repellant (DWR) to bead water. This is a great thing to see on your sleeves as you are riding – rain falls on you, but then it beads together into big lumps, which do not penetrate the fabric. You can even brush the lumps off. Note that over time DWR layers start to wear off, but can be rejuvenated by simply running them through your washing machine. If it wears off completely, you can even spray on a fresh layer of DWR. For example, Nikwax TX Direct Waterproofing.
Middle layer: A coated or laminated membrane – which is usually Teflon or Polyurethane. This is where the magic happens: this membrane can breathe, but at the same time is waterproof, thanks to microscopic holes. So it keeps the rain in and lets your sweat out!
Inner layer: Some fabrics also have a tri-coat mesh bonded to the inner surface. This mesh helps to remove the moisture, so that the jacket is much less likely to cling to your arms.
These are the layers.
Most cycling jackets use a variety of combinations of the above layers. From all this, you can start to appreciate why good waterproof cycling jackets are not cheap!
Degrees of Waterproofness in Waterproof Cycling Jackets
Read the product description carefully when buying a waterproof cycling jacket. The manufacturer should tell you how waterproof it is. Basically, there are three levels:
Waterproof: made from a waterproof fabric and has taped seams (you can also turn the jacket inside out to check that the seams are taped over)
Water resistant: suitable only for light, short showers, as it is not made from a waterproof fabric and does not have taped seams
Water repellent: has been given a hydrophobic treatment to reduce the amount of water the fabric will absorb
Note: All of our top-rated best waterproof cycling jackets in this post are waterproof (and windproof).
Neck of your Waterproof Cycling Jacket
Always look for a cycling jacket with a high neck! There are many major blood vessels in your neck, and exposing these to cold and rain will chill you rapidly.
Dropped tails on Waterproof Cycling Jackets
Cycling is unique among sports in that cyclists will often be crouched way forward, especially when riding road bikes with drop handlebars. The problem with that is that if you are wearing a regular length jacket, your lower back and butt will be exposed to the rain. Cycling jackets compensate for this by having dropped tails – they are longer at the back, so that they are always covering you adequately.
These can occasionally be a problem – I have had the tail of my cycling jacket snag under my saddle, almost causing me to fall when I attempted to stop. Some manufacturers get around this by having a stowable drop tail. This is a good compromise – you get to have the dropped tail only when you actually need it.
Apart from that, a draw cord around the bottom will enable you to pull it nice and snug, so that it cannot snag under your saddle.
Long Sleeves and Cuffs on Waterproof Cycling Jackets
If you are stretched out on your bike, your sleeves could easily ride up and expose your wrists. This could make you very cold very quickly. To compensate for this, most cycling jackets have extra-long sleeves. Of course, you don’t want the sleeves covering your fingers, so look for a jacket that has elasticated or adjustable openings at the end of the sleeves. Personally I like Velcro cuffs the best, as they are quick and easy to adjust. You want to be able to cinch them over your gloves, so that no part of your skin is exposed, and no icy wind is leaking in.
Check this feature on the jacket you plan to buy, because if this aspect is tricky or time-consuming, you are going to be irritated every time you put your jacket on or take it off.
Zip quality of Waterproof Cycling Jackets
Look for a jacket with a high quality zip, and preferably also a large zip tag. Struggling to find your zip tag with gloves on, while cycling, can be extremely annoying. As with other kinds of jackets, high quality zips tend to come with the more pricey, good quality jackets. I once bought a regular (non-cycling) jacket at a “bargain” price, and I do still wear it – but every time I am standing in the bitter cold, bent over and battling to get the zip to engage, I curse myself for not having spent the extra money for decent quality. Won’t ever do that again!
Also, some jackets offer windproof zips, and others offer waterproof zips. Obviously, a waterproof zip will keep more water out.
Extra Ventilation for Waterproof Cycling Jackets
There is one thing that is certain on a bike – you will be warmer 10 minutes after you start cycling than when you start! So you might start off feeling very comfortable, and then feel unbearably hot once you have been riding for a while. Some jackets offer additional ventilation options to let more heat escape. Most common are zips that you can open under the armpits or on the sleeve.
The under-the-arm-pits zips are surprisingly effective, so I really like waterproof cycling jackets that have these. Of course, you are going to pay more for options like this.
Insulation of Waterproof Cycling Jackets
Waterproof jackets tend to focus on keeping water out, rather than keeping you warm. They can be quite lightweight, like the Showers Pass Pro Tech ST.
If you don’t get much rain during the winter where you live, but it does get bitterly cold, then you should focus on a jacket that is designed for maximum insulation, rather than complete waterproofness. These are now being manufactured with pockets of padded insulation, much like ski jackets.
There are jackets that are very warm and also completely waterproof and breathable. However, they are hugely expensive. This post is focused on jackets that are designed for maximum waterproofness. These are waterproof cycling jackets that can be stowed in your pannier all year around, ready to be put on over your cycling jersey if you are suddenly caught in a downpour. Ideally it should be breathable, so you do not get too hot when wearing it in the summer.
Alternatively, you can have a heavier weight but still reasonably waterproof cycling jacket for the winter, and a totally waterproof and windproof, super light shell that you carry around during the summer. That’s the way I do it – I find it impossible to use the same jacket all year around, as the temperature change is too great. But if you live in an area where seasonal variation is not too great, you might get away with one jacket that is designed for year-round use, such as the Gore Bike Wear Power Gore-Tex Active Jacket.
This post is focused on jackets that are waterproof, yet reasonably light and packable. If you are using one of them in extremely cold conditions, you have the option of putting very warm layers underneath, of course. Ideally you should have three layers – a wicking layer (such as merino wool or Under Armour) next to your skin, a warm layer (such as a fleece cycling jersey) over that, and then your totally waterproof cycling jacket over top. Read more about layering for warm winter cycling here.
Related Content: How to Dress for Winter Cycling
Sizing and Fit of Cycling Jackets
Because you are likely to have at least one and possibly two layers underneath your waterproof cycling jacket, it is a good idea to go for a more relaxed fit. Of course, most cycling clothes tend to be quite form fitting, but cycling jackets sometimes come with a more relaxed fit. The product description usually gives a good idea of what to expect. For example, the Castelli Confronto jacket is clearly aimed at a more form-fitting, slim cut for fast cycling.
Do you Need a Women Specific Cycling Jacket?
Good question! According to Maggie (Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist), most women do just as well with the men’s version. However, if you are especially curvy and like a snugly form-fitting jacket, then you might want to opt for a women-specific jacket. For example, a very form-fitting jacket is the Castelli Confronto. This jacket also comes in a really good-looking women-specific design.
Another option, if you like a looser fit, is the Showers Pass Women’s Cycling Jacket. Below, Maggie models it. It is her favorite cycling jacket, and she says it has one of the best women-specific fits she has tried. Showers Pass is highly regarded for offering quality that is just as high as Gore Bikewear, but not as pricey. Maggie posted a review of her Showers Pass jacket here.
Color of Waterproof Cycling Jackets
Your jacket will always be your outermost layer, so it is a good safety feature if it is a bright color, and even better when it has some reflective elements. You are going to be wearing it in the rain, when visibility is reduced for you and other road users, so it only makes sense to be easily visible, rather than wearing a black jacket. Bear in mind that you can sometimes get a good deal on a cycling jacket by buying an odd color that is not selling well (bright pink for example), or a size that is not selling (such as XXL – which is sometimes a lot smaller than you might think).
There you have it – everything you need to know about how to buy a really great waterproof cycling jacket. Make your choice based on the climate where you live, and your cycling needs. If you are lucky, you may be able to get away with just one jacket – possibly the Gore Bike Wear Power Gore-Tex Active Jacket. More likely, you will need a warmer jacket, such as the Gore Bike Wear Men’s Fusion or the Castelli Confronto, combined with something super light, such as the Gore Bike Wear Men’s Oxygen 2.0 or the Showers Pass Pro Tech.
Every one of these jackets will keep you dry, last for years, and help you to enjoy your cycling!
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