Cycling will, at some point, demand a rain jacket or two. Given the regularity of downpours in places like the UK, you need to have the right outerwear to hand.
A huge range of options are available in terms of cut, weight and weather-proofing so, once you’ve set a budget, think about how you will use your jacket. If you like riding fast and light on a road bike or a cross-country MTB, opt for breathability, a slimmer cut and packable weight.
If you need something more heavy duty – for commuting or hanging around by the bike park, for example – head for a looser cut and possibly a hood. Consider off-the-bike practicality and style too.
Bear in mind that two things will add cost to your waterproof – fabric and features. Light, extra durable and more breathable fabrics cost more to make, and adding seams and pockets means it not only takes more time to make the jacket but that there’s more to seam-seal.
Materials are made waterproof by the addition of a coating or a membrane. Broadly speaking, membranes tend to be more breathable, but not all are created equal because the techniques used to attach the membrane to the outer differ and will also affect breathability.
Even more confusingly, materials don’t actually ‘breathe’ – that’s just become the official shorthand for describing how efficiently water vapour (by which we mean sweat) passes from the inside to the outside of a jacket.
If you’re sweating faster than that process is happening you’ll start to feel as damp inside as it is outside, but you can help the performance of any waterproof jacket by wearing either a wicking baselayer or jersey, which will hold sweat away from your skin until it can disperse through the outer shell. Even the most expensive jackets will be compromised if you insist on underpinning them with a cotton T-shirt, so be warned.
The following jackets have all won awards in the latest tests by Cycling Plus, Triathlon Plus and Mountain Biking UK. And on the off chance it stops raining and you need a good windproof jacket, we've also rounded up the best packable windshells, some of which also offer some weather protection.
Gore Xenon 2.0 AS
£149.99 / US$199.99
Its thin Neoprene cuffs are supremely comfortable, fitting flush to banish draughts and not foul gloves. A perfect bike cut and the linings make it wonderfully cosy, with no billowing in the wind, and for an unventilated jacket it’s impressively breathable.
£110 / US$127.99
Untaped construction minimises weight and bulk while maximising breathability. Smart seam placement meant we didn’t got sodden even when we were standing around waiting for rides to start or in bouncing rainstorms.
Gore Fusion 2.0 GT AS
£199.99 / US$259.99
It can be hard to justify spending this much on a jacket but once you’ve ridden in this you’ll start to understand why you should – the technical performance is outstanding, and the attention to detail for the cut and on-the-bike comfort is unmatched.
Mission Workshop Orion
£285 / US$460
How much?! Yes, really. But we’d sell granny in a heartbeat and want this jacket more than it’s decent to admit. In performance terms the Orion is right up there, but it’s also so street-sexy we really don’t want to crash in it…
Gore Oxygen GT AS
£189.95 / US$249.99
Gore’s latest Active Shell jacket uses their highest performance fabric to its maximum potential thanks to superb cut and detailing. The amount we’ve used the previous Oxygen AS this year confirms the high price is a very worthwhile investment too.
£115 / US$189.95
The Mavic Cyclone has a jersey-like, heavyweight mesh back that wicks and breathes well, but the front and sleeves are a windproof/water resistant softshell that keeps off sudden showers and chill breezes.
DHB Minima S – GREAT VALUE
£49.99 / US$62.80
The Minima S’s Teflon-coated material shrugs off water well, while the waterproof zip and taped seams slow down seeping dampness if the shower turns into a storm. As you should expect for the price, breathability isn’t amazing so it feels clammy pretty quick if you’re working hard – though no worse than most jackets at twice its price.
The fleece-lined collar adds a slice of warm comfort without compromising pocketing. Reflective details add safety if you don’t want the full fluoro yellow option, while the slightly short tail means you can use it for running or walking the dog without looking weird.
Lusso 2XS Skylon – GREAT VALUE
£39.99 / US$N/A
While the price is undoubtedly what will attract a lot of people to Lusso, broad cuffs and long dropped tail with silicone gripper and carefully positioned contrast stitched seams are snug, effective and stylish.
The lightweight fabric works as well as many dearer tops we’ve tried too, so while it will start to feel clammy if you push the pace, it offers useful wind and rain protection if the weather turns. Sizing is generous, though, so drop a notch if you want a snug rather than flappy fit. Lusso has deliverd another top value product in the shape of the lightweight but usefully protective Skylon shell.
Royal Racing Matrix – GREAT VALUE
£99.99 / US$N/A
The two-layer fabric is about as breathable as we’d expect at this cost, but because it has a mesh lining, the waterproof coating is protected and it does help wick sweat and keep you more comfortable when you get warm.
- Assos Sturmprinz (£348.99 / US$569.95)
- Castelli Gabba WS (£219.99 / US$199.95)
- Sportful Survival (£200 / US$250)
- Endura Equipe Exo Shell (£179.99 / US$N/A)
- Polaris Pulse (£144.99 / US$175)
- Hincapie Tour LTX (£109.99 / US$129.95)
- Pearl Izumi P.R.O Barrier Lite (£74.99 / US$85)
- Santini Guard (£139.99 / US$N/A)
- Zero RH Aquaria Pocket (£74.99 / US$N/A)
- Castelli Compatto Lite (£160 / US$174.99)
- Sportful Hot Pack Stretch (£120 / US$N/A)
- X-Bionic Spherewind AE 2.1 women's (£204.99 / US$N/A)
- Scott Helium AS (£250 / US$N/A)
- Pearl Izumi Select Barrier WXB (£139.99 / US$228)
- Surface Pertex (£49.99 / US$80)
- Sportful Hot Pack 4 Donna (£70 / US$102.08)
- Polaris Granite X0 Storm (£145 / US$225.86)
What to look for when buying a waterproof cycling jacket
Taping: Taping is used to seal the seams in a waterproof jacket on the inside. It does add bulk, though, and reduces a jacket’s breathability – so some of the jackets here trade a bit of seam leaking for a better overall performance.
Breathability: It’s no good keeping rain out if you get soaked by sweat from within. Different fabrics have different water vapour transfer rates but cut, lining and vents all make a significant difference to how dry you stay.
Care: The worst enemy of your wet weather gear is your washing machine. Detergents strip off waterproof coatings and conditioners will clog the pores and fibres that help fabric wick and breathe. Always read washing instructions.
Waterproofing: To be officially waterproof a garment has to withstand the pressure of 1000mm of water without leaking. This test concentrates on jackets that keep moisture managed so you stay warm however foul the forecast.
Features: Pockets, hoods and zipped vents might seem a good idea on a hanger, but not if they make a jacket too bulky to shove in your back pocket when you’re not wearing it. Extra features will all add to the cost too.