Although we’re always hoping for a wet Paris-Roubaix, we’ll acknowledge that riding in the rain isn’t generally a pleasant activity. But unless you live in a desert, it’s an unavoidable fact of life for most cyclists.
Old advice might have been to toughen up. A baggy, ‘boil in the bag’ rain cape would soak you through with sweat anyway. But waterproof fabrics have evolved massively over the past few years, and the holy grail of waterproofness and breathability isn’t the impossible combination it once was.
With that in mind, and with winter bearing down on the northern hemisphere, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the best waterproof jackets for cycling in 2020.
Our expert testers have ridden in all conditions to bring you great options for both road cycling and mountain biking. So no matter what kind of riding you do, you’re sure to find something that will suit your needs.
Best waterproof jackets for cycling in 2020
Gore C5 Shakedry 1985 Viz: £250 / $300 / AU$360
Madison Road Race Premio: £120
Sportful Stelvio: £270 / $299 / AU$463
Castelli Gabba 3: £160 / $179 / AU$230
Métier Beacon: £250
Scott Trail MTN Dryo 20: £220
Gore C5 Shakedry 1985 Viz
Gore’s C5 Shakedry 1985 Viz addresses many of the issues we had with the original jacket. Immediate Media
- £250 / $300 / AU$360
- Fixes many of the issues with the original jacket
- Ludicrously light and breathable
- Weighs 134g
Made from Gore’s now-legendary Shakedry material, the C5 Shakedry 1985 Viz jacket is an update to the original model and addresses many of the issues we had with that jacket.
The new model is available in a range of high-vis colours, is ridiculously light, has unrivalled breathability and it’s better than the old one — what’s not to love?
Madison Road Race Premio
Madison’s Road Race Premio jacket is great value for money. Dave Caudrey / Immediate Media
- Race friendly cut developed in conjunction with Madison/Genesis team
- Subtle reflective details
- Weighs 145g
Like the Stelvio, the Madison Race Premio jacket is cut for racing, so take this into account when sizing. If you want this to fit over a thick, winter jersey, you may need to size up.
The jacket uses Madison’s own P3DRY fabric, with a claimed hydrostatic head of 20,000mm.
The jacket is light and small enough to fit into a jersey pocket or saddle bag and has nifty reflective highlights to boot.
The Sportful Stelvio has a proper race fit. Immediate Media
- £270 / $299 / AU$463
- Proper race fit
- Chunky hard-wearing zip
- Weighs 165g
The Stelvio is Sportful’s lightweight and robust waterproof and was developed in conjunction with Team Tinkoff for racing and intense training in foul weather.
The jacket is made with RainWick fabric, which was developed specifically for Sportful in Japan.
The Stelvio has a claimed hydrostatic head of 20,000mm – the measured height of a column of water the jacket can hold before it seeps through the material – which is an impressive number, but one that was in line with our experiences out on the road.
The race fit means that most will have to size up, but this also makes it a great choice for more lithe racers.
Altura Mayhem 2
The Altura Mayhem 2 is a practical waterproof that delivers and at a great price. Immediate Media
- Good cut
- Well featured for the price
- Weighs 369g
The Altura Mayhem 2 is a practical waterproof jacket that delivers great performance and at a good price.
It’s not the lightest, nor does it use the best technical fabrics, but it delivers on value. Its cut is as good as many high-priced jackets, and it delivers on waterproofness.
Breathability is helped by vents under the arms, but in an ideal world these would be slightly larger to promote even better airflow. This is only a minor quibble though, because in reality this jacket offers excellent value for money.
The Ashmei waterproof jacket is stretchier than most. Dave Caudrey / Immediate Media
- £238 / $258
- Super-stretchy fabric
- Well made
- Weighs 240g
Ashmei might be a relatively new name to the cycling world, but this super stretchy waterproof did not disappoint.
The jacket is made from a super-thin (7 microns!) fabric that is stretchier than most — a good thing given the cut of the jacket is relatively racy.
Uniquely, the jacket features three jersey-style pockets on the back. These feature drain holes, so shouldn’t cause any issues in truly wet weather.
Castelli’s Gabba is the ‘jerket’ that started the trend. Castelli
- £160 / $179 / AU$230
- Four-way stretch Windstopper X-Lite Plus fabric
- Racy fit, with three large rear pockets
- Weighs 291g
Available in both short- and long-sleeve versions, the Gabba was the one that started the jerket craze.
In fact, so much of the pro peloton started using them, that, as a joke, the brand began shipping them with a Sharpie so you could black out the logos.
Made from Windstopper X-Lite Plus fabric, the Gabba is meant to be worn as a jersey instead of a temporary shell. It has three rear pockets and fits close to the skin. Because of this, it doesn’t pack down well – it’s intended to be worn all day.
The thin soft-shell material wicks well even when you’re hammering along, and two big zippered vents help control core temperature.
It’s completely windproof and largely water repellent, with the coating shrugging off showers, and long sleeves and a dropped tail mean excellent coverage. For riding hard in foul conditions, the Gabba is tough to beat.
The Beacon’s inbuilt lights are more useful than you might imagine. Immediate Media
- Inbuilt lights genuinely boost visibility
- Soft touch lining feels great
- Weighs 404g
Metiér’s four product lineup is focussed solely on jackets and gilets fitted with its signature integrated lighting technology. The Beacon is its all-round shell jacket.
The jacket is easy to live with and comes with a dedicated wash bag and a cleaner included, alongside extensive care instructions.
Sizing is snug, so pay attention if you can stomach the £250 price tag and are interested in buying one.
The RAB Arc is a durable, multi-purpose jacket. Immediate Media
- £200 / $ 260
- Multifunction styling that works on the bike
- Sturdiness means good warmth and durability
- Weighs 466g
The RAB Arc jacket isn’t made specifically for cycling, but this compromise means it brings more versatility to the table.
In particular, the cut feels a little boxy on the bike, but it’s great when you’re not riding – unlike cycling specific jackets, which are often poorly shaped for off bike wear.
Generously sized front pockets, and a hood that fits comfortably over a helmet, only furthers its credentials. The fabric is three-layer rip-stop with a high-quality and durable feel. This adds a bit of weight and a fair bit of warmth, but it also means it’s more likely to stand the test of time.
The Rapha Commuter jacket is a relatively affordable offering from the premium British brand. Immediate Media
- £100 / $135 / AU$175
- Feature-packed jacket with smart details
- Range of bright colour choices (and black)
- Weights 280g
Coming in at a surprisingly cheap (for Rapha) price, the Rapha Commuter jacket is nevertheless a fully-featured waterproof.
Designed, as the name suggests, for commuting, it’s available in a selection of bold colours – though black is still offered if you just can’t stomach high-vis.
Features such as zipped front pockets, a relaxed fit and a hood that can be worn under a helmet, help it stand out from standard road cycling jackets.
The jacket breathes well thanks to its 2.5 layer fabric and shoulder-width vent. The dropped tail also offers some protection from road spray, and is covered with a reflective print for increased visibility.
Scott Trail MTN Dryo 20
The Scott Trail MTN Dryo 20 offers high levels of weather protection for long days out. Immediate Media
- Gear functionality
- Lots of great bike-specific details
- Weighs 407g
Scott consistently makes high performing waterproof jackets, with the kind of small, bike specific details that make a big difference in use.
The chest pockets, for example, are large enough for easy access with gloves, or freezing hands at the end of a long ride. Extra-long vents complement an already breathable fabric, for excellent airflow. They can also be quickly closed off for long descents.
The triple layer waterproof fabric is durable, and the lining bonded to the inner layer makes for a much more comfortable feel than single layer jackets.
What to look for in a waterproof jacket for cycling
A waterproof jacket used to mean a hard-shell garment made from a fabric that felt more like plastic. However, we’re now seeing the rise of the ‘jerket’ or rain jersey.
These are softshell tops that feel like a jersey but use a waterproof membrane or DWR (durable water repellent) treatment to repel precipitation.
Things would be easier if it were simply a matter of keeping the rain out, but pedalling makes you hot and sweaty, and the heat and moisture you generate needs an escape route.
The trouble is, the properties that allow a waterproof jacket to keep the rain off also make it difficult to deal with the damp building up on the inside.
The ideal solution, therefore, is a cycling jacket that combines being waterproof with breathability, which is difficult, but by no means impossible. Some garments manage it by using advanced materials, others solve the problem by incorporating vents into their designs.
Aside from being waterproof and breathable, it’s worth seeking out a jacket that packs down into a tiny package that’s easy to stow. Better still, if the rain stops, you can take it off and put it away rather than keep wearing it long after it’s done its job.
How waterproof fabrics work
GoreTex, eVent and Windstopper membranes all use a similar construction. GoreTex
Waterproof fabrics are either multi-layer laminate fabrics or regular woven fabrics that get a DWR treatment designed to keep water out. While both achieve the same goal, they work slightly differently.
Durable Water Repellent or DWR is your wet weather gear’s first line of defence. It’s not a laminate or coating but a treatment applied to the fabric’s outer surface.
All waterproof garments, except those where the membrane is the outermost surface, receive a DWR finish.
The treatment does not inhibit breathability because it doesn’t fill the gaps between the fibres, instead it bonds the individual fibres to help the garment shed water and prevent saturation.
DWR treatments shed water because they increase the contact angle of moisture on a fabric by forcing a water droplet to maintain its surface tension; so when you see water beading on a fabric, the DWR is hard at work.
When the DWR is applied to a fabric it creates micropegs or microspikes that protrude from the fibres and prevent water from spreading out, forcing it to form beads that slide off the fabric without seeping in.
However, DWR treatments wear off over time, accelerated by abrasions and some detergents. When this happens, the fabric no longer causes water to bead and will become saturated and heavy.
Not to fear, though — refreshing and retreating a garment is simple and there are plenty of spray-on or wash-in options available. Check out our guide on how to rejuvenate your waterproof cycling gear.
Most waterproof breathable fabrics are made from laminate materials, which usually consist of an inner fabric optimised for wicking moisture, a waterproof membrane, and an outer face fabric with a DWR treatment.
Gore-Tex, Thinsulate, Polartec and eVent are all internal membranes that are sandwiched between two other materials – usually something abrasion-resistant on the outside, with a soft liner on the inside. Even the Castelli Gabba Jersey is made using a Windstopper laminate fabric.
The reason these lamination techniques allow for water repellent characteristics is that the inner membranes are full of holes. This may seem counterintuitive, but a Gore-Tex membrane boasts nine billion pores, each 1µm – a millionth of a metre – wide per square inch. The holes are big enough to allow water vapour created by sweat evaporation to escape, but are too small for water droplets to sneak through.
These internal membranes are quite fragile, which is why there’s an abrasion-resistant layer on the outside of the garment. This outer layer receives DWR treatment and, as we mentioned before, the problem with DWR treatments is they eventually wash away, causing a jacket to ‘wet out’, meaning the moisture escaping from inside and landing on the outside saturates the outer fabric, clogging the pores of the membrane and eliminating breathability.
When a jacket stops breathing, the moisture your body creates gets trapped inside, creating that unpleasant, steaming-hot sensation.
Most outerwear today is based on this two and a half- or three-layer lamination, but the fabrics and membranes are continuing to evolve and we’re now seeing jackets eliminating the outer fabric.
Pioneered by Columbia with its OutDry fabric, brands have figured out how to toughen up these membranes and eliminated the DWR-treated outer fabric.
We’ve now seen a few cycling specific jackets using GoreTex’ version, the One Active fabric, which allows the membrane to be used as an outer ‘beading surface’.
The advantage of these fabrics is they can’t wet-out because there is no face fabric to saturate, and weigh next to nothing and breathe better too.
What to look for when buying a waterproof cycling jacket
Taping is used to seal the seams in a waterproof jacket on the inside. It does add bulk and reduce a jacket’s breathability. So some of the jackets in this list trade a bit of seam leakage for a better overall performance.
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, membranes and vents all make a significant difference to how dry you stay.
To be officially waterproof a garment has to withstand the pressure of 1,000mm of water without leaking. This test concentrates on jackets that keep moisture managed so you stay warm however foul the forecast.
Usually, this is achieved through an internal membrane like those from Gore-Tex and eVent.
The worst enemy of your wet-weather gear is your washing machine. Detergents strip off waterproof coatings and conditioners clog the pores and fibres that help fabric wick and breath. Still, it’s important to keep waterproof fabrics clean because dirt and oil can clog membranes and degrade DWR treatments, too. Always read washing instructions.
Often overlooked is the outer DWR treatment. If your jacket is wetting-out as described above, there are ways to revive the treatment on your jacket.
Some manufacturers say to throw the garment in the tumble dryer for a few minutes on low to medium heat, others recommend ‘touch ups’ with an iron on the warm setting. Again refer to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Finally, if the DWR treatment can’t be saved you can re-treat it — there are quite a few spray-on and wash-in products available from brands such as Granger’s and Nikwax. Again, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Pockets, hoods and zippered vents might seem like a good idea on a hanger, but not if they make a jacket too bulky to shove in your back pocket. Remember, extra features all add to the cost too.