Unless you want to spend the winter on Zwift, it’s time to head outdoors and face the elements. Investing in a quality winter cycling jacket – one you know will protect you against wind and rain – can make the difference between staying indoors and venturing out.
For many riders, that means battling sub-zero temperatures, compounded by biting winds, and trying to stave off rain showers.
Knowing how to layer up is key to successful winter riding. Besides quality bib-longs, a baselayer, winter cycling gloves and a set of overshoes, a good jacket is essential if you live somewhere with a cold (and wet) climate.
When it comes to buying one of the best winter cycling jackets, one of the first things to consider is whether you need a hardshell or softshell jacket.
Hardshell jackets are typically designed to keep the elements out so, if you’re after something to wear in an outright downpour, read our guide to the best waterproof jackets for cyclists.
Many winter cycling jackets, however, use a softshell fabric to deflect those chilly blasts of air, and most will feature a durable water-resistant coating to keep showers at bay, even if they’re not completely waterproof.
A softshell cycling jacket will typically be more breathable than a hardshell jacket, so the intention here is to stay comfortable in a wide range of conditions.
With that in mind, here’s our round-up of the best winter cycling jackets, as tried and tested by the BikeRadar team.
Below the best list is our buyer’s guide to winter cycling jackets. It will help you know what to look for in a quality winter jacket and understand the various features and tech terms used by brands.
Best winter cycling jackets in 2023
Castelli Alpha RoS 2 Light Jacket
- £250 / $290 / AU$399 / €250 as tested
- Excellent in the wind and rain
- Pricey performance
The Castelli Alpha RoS 2 Light Jacket’s winter prowess comes from wind- and water-busting Gore-Tex Infinium fabric.
Despite its typically Castelli sporty sizing, it has a rain-proof phone pocket besides three open back pockets. The internal vest allows you to remove the outer layer should your or the outside temperature rise.
Although Castelli calls it a ‘light’ jacket, the Alpha Ros 2 provided insulation below its recommended 7-15°C range. If needed, you can add a jersey over a baselayer beneath.
The RRP is high, but there are deals to be had. It’ll save you buying a packable winter rainproof and the fabric proved durable through months of tough on- and off-road testing.
Castelli Alpha Ultimate Insulated Jacket
- £380 / $449.99 / €349.95 / AU$600 as tested
- Excellent in all conditions
- One of the most expensive jackets
The Castelli Alpha Ultimate Insulated jacket is the brand’s top-of-the-range winter jacket, targeting a wide temperature range of -5°C to 12°C.
The Ultimate Insulated variant departs from the Gore-Tex Infinium found on the Alpha RoS 2 and Alpha RoS 2 Light, opting for Polartec fabrics instead. A Polartec NeoShell outer layer is combined with an Alpha inner, the two-layer construction featuring separate double-opening zips.
This halo jacket performs as claimed and is impressively light for a winter jacket, as well as offering class-leading breathability. Simply pair it with the correct baselayer for the weather conditions and it’ll be the one jacket you need to survive the winter.
Whether or not it’s worth the £60 price hike over the Alpha RoS 2 is debatable though.
Castelli Perfetto RoS 2
- £245 / $280 as tested
- Improved cut
- Impressive fabric
Castelli has updated its Perfetto jacket to make it more suitable for everyday riders. It has a more relaxed cut in larger sizes, making the water-resistant jacket more comfortable on longer rides.
The Perfetto RoS 2 also sees a return to three rear pockets, which will prove popular with riders who value organisation.
The jacket still uses the same Gore-Tex Infinium fabric as its predecessor, which makes for excellent wind and rain protection from 4˚C to 14˚C.
The incorporation of a number of practical updates means the Castelli Perfetto remains one of the best mixed-weather jackets on the market.
dhb Aeron All Winter Softshell Jacket
- £120 / $265 / AU$220 / €130 as tested
- Great value
- Snug, warm and protective
dhb’s Aeron All Winter Softshell does all you want a winter jacket to do at half the price of other tops on test.
The fleece lining across the upper body is amply warm in freezing conditions. Silicone waist grips and close-fitting cuffs form a barrier against icy gusts, while lighter fabric over the armpits releases sweat when you’re working hard.
What’s more, the jacket will repel a shower and fits true to size. On the back, it has three large open pockets and one zipped pocket that’ll fit your phone.
Lusso Aqua Repel V2 Jacket
- £135 / $185 / AU$256 / €162 as tested
- Lightweight yet hardy
- Do-it-all option
Manchester-based Lusso should know a thing or two about miserable riding conditions and its Aqua Repel V2 Jacket is perfect for typical winter riding in the north of England.
Although hardly bulky at a claimed 363g in size medium, the racy-fitting jacket withstands the chill as well as a heavier top. The Aqua Repel does more than keep showers at bay – its Windtex fabric from Stormshield resisted heavier downpours. Since it wicks sweat too, it could be the only jacket you need for the colder months.
Useful features include a long tail to keep road spray off your back and three rear pockets with a zipped one for valuables. Reflective touches and good visibility come as a bonus.
Five things to consider when buying a winter cycling jacket
Here are five things to look out for when buying a winter jacket. We’ve also included a full buyer’s guide with more information at the end of the article.
- Being seen: The colour scheme of jackets has become less noir and more safety-centric, but also look for added hi-vis and reflective elements, often found on the hem, seams and/or pockets.
- Water-resistant: A good windproof jacket should prevent water ingress, but the favourable breathability compared to a hardshell jacket means full waterproofing is unlikely.
- Sleeves: Ensure these are long and secure enough to prevent draughts entering. The cuffs should sit neatly alongside your bike gloves but not be too tight if you want to read a sports watch.
- Pockets: Rear pockets can be open, zipped or both. Ideally, one will be waterproof. The key is that they’re accessible, especially if they contain on-the-fly essentials. A zipped chest pocket is also welcome.
- Dropped tail: Bike jackets feature a slightly longer rear to prevent draughts, especially when you’re down on the drops. They also help to deflect road detritus.
Bontrager Velocis Subzero
- £150 / $175 / €200 as tested
- Performs and fits well
- Reflective details are perhaps preferable to fluoro finishes
Bontrager’s Velocis Subzero is a shrewd choice for much of what the British winter can chuck at you, with 100 per cent fleece lining throughout the jacket interior and an outer softshell that beats the wind easily.
It’s an excellent performer in the rain – better than some rain jackets – and is helped on both wind and rain fronts by a flap that covers the full-length zip.
Fit is pleasingly snug, it has three stretchy and secure open rear pockets (plus a smaller zipped pocket on the right side). Fluoro finishes on the pockets and cuffs add visibility and are just about in keeping with the ‘Battleship Blue’ colour.
Endura Pro SL Waterproof Softshell Jacket
- £175 / $230 as tested
- Properly waterproof
- Undergunned for low single-digit temperatures
The Pro SL Waterproof Softshell is top of Endura’s jacket range and remained impermeable during heavy winter deluges.
But it does compromise on warmth and, therefore, doesn’t quite live up to the ‘softshell’ part of its name tag. You’ll need toasty layers beneath when it’s especially cold.
The jacket scores better for practical elements, including five cavernous pockets and two zipped underarm vents to regulate your temperature.
Huub Core 3 Peaks
- £150 / $303 as tested
- Good visibility and aerodynamics
- Not the warmest
Okay, it’s not one for the pub, but the Huub Core 3 Peaks’ visual assault gave us confidence in being seen on the roads.
As for on-road performance, it’s one of the leaner and racier jackets on test – more for aero than Arctic riding unless you seriously layer up – and it doesn’t rival the Castelli and Santini for near-freezing temperatures.
Where it does shine is in its surprising water-thwarting prowess, beading rain and surviving a significant shower before the first signs of ingress.
Breathability is aided by two zipped frontal compartments, but the zipped rear pocket is frustratingly small for stashing a phone.
Rapha Classic Winter Jacket
- £270 / $370 / AU$465 / €320 as tested
- Stylish, warm and windproof
- Value could be better
Rapha’s Classic Winter Jacket is made from Gore-Tex Infinium fabric. It copes with the worst of the British winter, while it’s sufficiently breathable for mild and damp days up to double digits centigrade. On top of a baselayer and jersey, this hardshell provided warmth when the temperature dial hovered around zero degrees.
On the downside, the jacket dealt less well with muck. Gravel riding on filthy forest tracks caused stains, which failed to come out in the wash. This is a shame for an expensive and snazzy jacket.
The Classic Winter Jacket has two open rear pockets, and two chest vents that can hold items at a push, but it could do with a zipped pocket for valuables.
Santini Vega Absolute
- £239 / €239 as tested
- Deep winter insulation
- No waterproof pocket
The Santini Vega Absolute is named after one of the brightest stars, aptly, given the hi-vis and reflectivity on display.
So the visibility boxes are ticked, but it’s also one of our top-end picks for mid-winter riding due to its dense, three-layer build and substantial collar.
Neat touches include a zipper guard to prevent chilly air intrusion and a circular zipper head that’s easy to grab with thick gloves.
The ‘secret’ zipped chest pocket sadly isn’t waterproof, so you’ll need to invest in a phone wallet, and the classy cuffs don’t repel showers like the core body materials. Think about sizing up as well.
The following jackets scored fewer than four stars in our test, but are still worth considering.
- £100 as tested
- Warm for its weight
- Uncomfortable collar
The Altura Mistral gets plenty right. The High Loft inner fleece has a high insulation-to-weight ratio, so it’s a light jacket considering how warm it is.
Its water resistance is more than competitive judged across the test, and the lack of a zipped pocket is tempered by the securing top flap that runs across all three pockets. The medium tested was a smaller fit than many others in the test, so perhaps size up.
Its big drawback is the high collar, which when zipped to the top puts pressure on the throat.
Pearl Izumi Pro Amfib
- £200 as tested
- Smart-looking and technical
- Better on milder winter days
With an understated style, lean weight and comfy shell, the Pearl Izumi Pro Amfib is the jacket we’ve returned to more than any other. Like the Huub jacket, there are sneaky powers of water resistance, with the coating preventing all but sustained deluges.
Windproofing for such a lean jacket is great, while breathability is top of the class. So what gives it the lower score? The context of this ‘winter’ test is what, with the lean materials making this more spring contender than mid-winter wonder.
Those with larger hands may also struggle to access the zipped pocket, while hi-vis points are dropped.
Proviz Classic Softshell
- £100 as tested
- Good commuting option
- Too light for bitter days
The Proviz Classic Softshell is more year-round, top-layer protection against the elements than a single-layer thermal cycling jacket.
There’s ample rain protection here but, on its own, it’s not enough; you’d need a warm baselayer underneath to enjoy a cold-weather ride. There’s also more wind protection than your typical rain jacket, though it doesn’t pack down small.
It’s less of a performance-based garment than many others tested here and the baggier arms in particular on our medium jacket boost its commuter-y credentials. So too do the reflective details, spread liberally across the jacket.
Specialized RBX Softshell
- £150 as tested
- Well-placed materials
- No zipped pocket and rain seeps through
Specialized has ticked the warmth and windproof boxes, but water-resistant? The RBX softshell cycling jacket falls short on this, against strong competition.
However, it’s fleece-lined throughout the inside, with multi-panels of different materials where they need to be; resilient windproofing on the chest and front of arms, thinner and more breathable on the flanks and arm undersides, plus a high fleece-lined collar, elasticated wrists and waist silicone gripper.
The three rear pockets are open but secure, though there’s no zip. This can lose you your keys, bank card or even a half-star in a group test.
Buyer’s guide to winter cycling jackets
As usual, the overall fit is vital for the effectiveness of a winter jacket and your riding pleasure. Riders who are solely covering short distances, for example when cycling to work, can probably get away with a looser cut.
But, for endurance rides, you should minimise flapping in the wind for both warmth and aerodynamic reasons, so we’d advise a close and slim fit.
That fit, however, needs to be large enough to squeeze a baselayer and, if necessary, a mid-layer underneath.
We realise this is sometimes easier said than done, which is why trying before you buy is recommended (as is a decent returns policy), especially as sizing can vary markedly between the manufacturers.
Other things to look for are the type and location of the pockets, from zipped to internal and rear.
The texture of the collar is also important, as is the effectiveness of the front zipper and the ability to adjust it up or down with one hand while on the move.
Aesthetics also play a role, because, if you’re anything like us, you’ll end up wearing yours on the school run and to work.
Finally, fabric choice is key, to find the right balance between waterproofing and breathability, and the small details, such as collars, cuffs and pockets, can make all the difference to the end product.
That’s the basics covered. Now let’s take a closer look at the key features to consider when buying a winter cycling jacket.
A good winter cycling jacket needs to keep out the cold without making you overheat, and it should prevent rain from getting in but not stop sweat evaporating out. It’s a tricky proposition, even with the advent of today’s advanced fabrics.
Suffice to say, coming up with a suitable solution means a winter bike jacket is as high-tech as any other cycling clothing item. Scratch beneath the surface and you quickly find yourself in a world of hydrophilic polyurethane coatings and ePTFE membranes with billions of micropores per square inch.
But why do they need to be so complex when all they’re doing is being a barrier between you and the elements? The answer to that is you, or more specifically, the heat and sweat you generate while riding.
Cold and wet weather can not only make you miserable, it can affect your performance. But so can getting too hot and soaking in sweat, which means a winter cycling jacket and the fabrics it’s made from need to work like an elaborate one-way system.
They need to be porous and gas permeable from the inside out, to allow heat build-up to escape, but non-porous and impermeable from the outside in, to keep rain at bay.
Waterproofing and water-resistant treatments have often been the enemy of breathability in a cycling jacket, but that’s improved recently and winter jackets are no longer the glorified bin bags of old. But where have the technological leaps been made?
“This is mainly through the addition of the DWR (durable water-repellent coating), which allows the surface fabric and the membrane to perform at their best by not letting the rain water ‘wet out’ the jacket and clog up the air permeability,” states Amy Spencer, design and development manager for Altura.
“This membrane also has a breathability rating – how much air it will let escape. This is given a rating of 5k, 10k, 15k or 20k [with 20K being the most effective].
“To ensure the breathability of the membrane performs efficiently, we also add a DWR to the face side (outside) of the fabric, which helps the rain droplets bead and fall from the jacket so they don’t penetrate the top layer of fabric and stop the jacket being as breathable.”
Cash, card, keys, phone, jelly babies, peanut butter sandwich, multi-tool, spare pump, banana, flapjack… if you’re anything like us, your pockets will be bulging when you exit the house before a long winter ride.
Happily, most winter cycling jackets can accommodate moving buffets, but increasingly important for us is a zipped and waterproof pocket that’s big enough to stash a smartphone.
A waterproof phone case is a smart addition for added protection and peace of mind, but it’s worth messaging the brand’s online customer support if you’re worried that your mobile – hello the iPhone 12 Pro Max – may be too big as a pocket companion.
The key remit of a softshell cycling jacket is to provide warmth and windproofing, but there’s also water-resistant tech at play.
Most winter cycling jackets will survive a shower, but many lack the fully waterproofing capabilities of a hardshell jacket.
Just where does the extra rain-thwarting element come from in the more spring and autumn-friendly hardshell?
“For a jacket to be fully waterproof, the fabric must have a membrane, described as a 2, 2.5, or 3-layer construction,” says Spencer. “The membrane makes the jacket waterproof by creating a barrier under the surface fabric.
“This is the part of the fabric that determines the hydrostatic head rating (waterproof rating) of 5k, 10k, 15k or 20k [as with the breathability rating, the higher the number, the more effective the waterproofing].”
Waterproof jackets are also made like a non-waterproof jacket by stitching panels together, Spencer adds. As the needle punches holes in the membrane, sacrificing waterproofing, many brands then add taping to the seams to provide an additional layer of protection.
Winter cycling jackets can be delicate pieces of kit, especially with materials having to balance the demands of waterproof and breathablity.
While you can reproof a jacket to reinstate some of its DWR protection, following the recommended washing instructions will not only preserve your jacket’s lifespan and save you pennies, but will help lower your ecological footprint.
That heightened environmental awareness is shown in the lack of plastic packaging many jackets now arrive in, and also in some of the material choices on display. It’s a movement that’ll only intensify, believes Spencer.
“Within five years, I’d like to see more fabrics that are sustainably sourced without compromising on the level of performance. As a rider, you need to feel comfortable that you’re protected from the elements, as well as buying a product where its whole life cycle has been considered.”