Best packable jackets for road cycling

We round up the best light packable tops for changeable conditions

You might wonder whether you’ll use a lightweight packable jacket enough to justify the investment. Compared with a winter jacket, a long-sleeve jersey or gilet, it could be easy to move them further down your list of ‘must haves’. But while testing, during typically variable climatic conditions, we found ourselves questioning whether they shouldn’t be an essential item in every cyclist’s wardrobe, thanks to the versatility of having a removable layer when you’re out riding.

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We tested our selection of jackets for spring and autumn (or Australian winter) riding – those days when the temperature is changeable and there is a chance of rain showers and wind. But we were also ‘blessed’ with near freezing conditions, and found they make a useful difference as an extra layer even in very cool weather.

Related reading: Best waterproof jackets for cycling

For clarity, a packable shell is a garment that is ideally windproof, at least water resistant and compact enough to fold into a jersey pocket. Even with a relatively simple brief like this, it’s interesting to see how many ways manufacturers have found to address this challenge.

The range of garments on test covers a breadth of designs from the ‘classic’ transparent packables, to new jersey-style fabrics, and combinations of both. Fit varies noticeably from brand to brand, so as always checking the measurements and ideally trying them on before you buy is always a good idea.

The manufacturer’s choice of fabrics is key for a product like this, and is crucial when it comes to the levels of wind- and waterproofing and breathability. Even with materials getting more sophisticated, the ‘perfect’ balance of these qualities has yet to be achieved, so manufacturers work around this. And in addition to the materials, the details of zips, cuffs, venting and finish also make a difference to how successfully the complete product performs.

Ultimately, choosing a packable jacket means deciding what’s most important to you: packability, wind protection, water resistance or breathability. Our winners are the jackets that we reckon offer the strongest combination of packability, wind protection and water resistance.

What to look for when buying a packable jacket

  • Packability: All the jackets on test fold up small enough to fit into a jersey pocket. Some pack into a pocket of their own but this can make them harder to carry; folding or rolling them might be easier.
  • Venting: Jackets like these tend to focus on keeping weather out, with breathability secondary. In some cases venting is provided, but depending on the fabric and how long you’ll be wearing it, it’s not essential.
  • Fabrics: With a number of manufacturers submitting jackets made from materials more like jerseys in touch and stretch, innovation means that traditional shells are no longer the only option available for riders.
  • Closures: Many of the jackets have toggles or pulls to their zips to make them easier to use wearing gloves. Many packable jackets have limited breathability, so rely on the zip for temperature regulation.
  • Cuffs: There are several different approaches to cuffs on test, from full-Lycra stretch cuffs to minimalist elastic. How well these keep the air out can make a real difference to ride comfort and the success of the jacket.
  • Visibility: If you want it, there are plenty of bold neon or highly visible colours to choose from. Sometimes these are combined with reflective elements that show up in headlights, making it easier for drivers to spot you.

Best packable jackets for road cycling

Altura Podium – best jacket on test

In terms of its fit, performance, packability and cuffs – at a high, but not astronomical price – the altura podium was our clear winner

In terms of its fit, performance, packability and cuffs – at a high, but not astronomical price – the Altura Podium was our clear winner

  • Price: £100 / €130 / AU$TBC
  • Pockets: 1
4.5 out of 5 star rating

Altura is well known for its commuter products, but its packable Podium is every inch a road product. It packs very well into a cylinder shape perfectly designed for a rear jersey pocket, and uses Altura’s proprietary React Fabric to impressive effect, providing a good barrier to the elements while retaining decent breathability. The sizing is very good with a slim race fit and nice long tail, while the stretch cuffs ensure a good transition to your gloves and help to keep the elements out. It may cost 100 quid, but this excellent jacket is worth the asking price and deserves its podium position.

Verdict: The Podium lives up to its name, grabbing number one spot with its blend of fit and performance

Endura Equipe Compact Shell – best value jacket

Endura equipe compact shell:

Endura’s Equipe Compact Shell performed superbly for the price and was a worthy value winner

  • Price: £65 / US$120 / €90 / AU$115
  • Pockets: 1
4.0 out of 5 star rating

Endura has a reputation for high quality, well-priced products offering impressive protection from the elements, and its Compact Shell fully lives up to that. It offers a great fit for slimmer cyclists, reflective elements for night-riding safety, decent levels of water resistance and very good windproofing. It lacks the venting of some jackets on test, which contributes to not-quite-as-impressive breathability, but as a shell for when you need extra protection from the weather, it does a fine job for the money. It packs down well, too, and even shrugged off a hail shower during testing.

Verdict: The Compact Shell can’t quite match the high-end competition for breathability but otherwise delivers maximum bang per buck

Rapha Classic Wind Jacket – best jacket if money’s no object

The design, performance and fit of rapha’s classic wind jacket add up to a near-flawless garment, but only the wealthiest riders need apply

The design, performance and fit of Rapha’s Classic Wind Jacket add up to a near-flawless garment, but only the wealthiest riders need apply

  • Price: £140 / US$220 / €165 / AU$225
  • Pockets: 1
4.5 out of 5 star rating

Rapha’s Classic Wind Jacket is a good looking garment, and as you’d hope when you’re forking out this kind of money, it also performs extremely well. So well in fact that it’s unlikely you’ll be needing the 30-day money-back ‘Classics Guarantee’ offered. The Classic Wind Jacket packs well, offers strong wind protection, and good water resistance and breathability.

It features a long tail, valuables pocket, reflective details, taped seams on the shoulders and wind-blocking cuffs. If your budget can stretch this far then it’s a terrific outer layer to add to your collection.

Verdict: Aptly named, a classic packable that looks good and is a great performer

Ale Klimatik

Alé’s klimatic is an innovative garment that’s cleverly designed and performs well, but it’s eye-wateringy expensive too

Ale’s Klimatic is an innovative garment that’s cleverly designed and performs well, but it’s eye-wateringly expensive too

  • Price: £165 / US$210 / AU$TBC
  • Pockets: 0
4.5 out of 5 star rating

Alé is a relatively new Italian brand and perhaps this has allowed it some freedom to bring new ideas to the market. The Klimatik Premium Class Race Fit, to give it its full name, is very different to your typical shell and excels in wet and cold conditions. A fusion of jersey and rain jacket, it offers excellent windproofing, a fine race fit, as the name suggests (you might need to size up), good water resistance and breathability – albeit at a price many may find preposterous.

Ale uses eVent DVL, a highly water-repellent fabric – it’s rated at 10,000mm H2O, which is acceptable for a rain jacket – that’s also breathable. This is further enhanced by armpit ventilation and different fabrics on the back and arms to manage your temperature. Though the Klimatik doesn’t have any pockets, a flap in the back allows access to those in your jersey.

Verdict: Newcomer Alé changes the rules, creating a fusion between a jacket and jersey

Mavic Helium

Mavic helium: mavic helium

Mavic’s Helium is supremely packable but it offers less weather protection when it gets chilly

  • Price: £85 / AU$TBC
  • Pockets: 1
  • Packable Into: Rear Pocket
4.0 out of 5 star rating

This is one of the easiest jackets on test to pack – fitting into its own rear pocket – and thanks to holes on the sides of the torso and under the arms, it’s also one of the most breathable. The main fabric is very light without seeming fragile, while a second, stretchy fabric under the arms and on the back of the shoulders provides give as you move, helping to maintain a good fit. The zip and toggle are also easy to reach while riding. This is a great lightweight barrier jacket for cool mornings before the temperature rises, though not quite so good for a spring or autumn ride that might turn cold.

Verdict: Unbeatable packability from Mavic, though shouldn’t be yout first choice on chillier days

Sportful Fiandre Light NoRain Top

Sportful’s fiandre light is stylish, slim-fitting and comfortable but is less packable and not as windproof as some of the competition

Sportful’s Fiandre Light is stylish, slim-fitting and comfortable but is less packable and not as windproof as some of the competition

  • Price: £100 / US$TBC / AU$TBC
  • Pockets: 0
4.0 out of 5 star rating

Sportful’s Fiandre Light NoRain Top is a fine example of how new fabrics and thinking are transforming some of cycling’s traditional apparel for the better. Yes, it sacrifices a little packability, though it will still easily fold into a pocket, but in return you get a technical jersey-cum-jacket that’s water-resistant, windproof – particularly on the chest – and offers some warmth too. Sportful uses its WindShield 3L on the chest, shoulders and upper arms and NoRain Light fabric on the forearms and back. You do get more air on your arms, but the NoRain’s stretch helps with the slim, typically Italian fit. It’s a great looking top, and can be used in a range of circumstances. It performs well and makes a fine alternative to the traditional packable shell jacket.

Verdict: A fine alternative to the traditional shell, offering extra warmth for cooler days

Castelli Velo

Castelli velo: castelli velo

Castelli’s Velo is a stylish though traditional take on the packable jacket

  • Price: £80 / US$90 / €90 / AU$150
  • Pockets: 0
  • Packable into: Collar
3.5 out of 5 star rating

Italian styling lifts Castelli’s good, if somewhat traditional, packable jacket. Windproofing is courtesy of the ripstop fabric, which combines with a DWR (durable water repellent) coating to deter water ingress. There’s ventilation on the back of the shoulders and neck, though it’s less breathable than the best jackets, and the fit was a little loose around the shoulders and flapped in use on our slim tester. In spite of being devoid of pockets, the Velo packs neatly into its collar, and we also like the colour – an attractive alternative to the neon yellows favoured by some manufacturers.

Verdict: Traditional shell jacket lifted by Italian styling but the fit won’t suit everyone

Bontrager Race Windshell 

Bontrager race windshell: bontrager race windshell

The Bontrager Race Windshell is keenly priced and delivers excellent breathability

  • Price: £45 / US$80 / €70 / AU$110
  • Pockets: 1
  • Packable into: Pocket
3.5 out of 5 star rating

Light, easily packable and highly breathable, the Race Windshell is a solid all-rounder that’s well made and keenly priced. It may not offer as much protection as the very best shells, but its breathability is first rate. It also packs easily into its own pocket, the fabric feels good to the touch and the fit is pretty decent – though the company’s American roots are reflected in a cut slightly broader in the shoulders. This represents a fine budget buy, though it’s at its best in warmer conditions, on rides where breathability trumps the need for significant protection from the elements.

Verdict: If you’re on a budget or are after a slightly bulkier fit, the Race Windshell should be on your radar

Also tested

Pearl Izumi PRO Barrier Lite

  • Price: £90 / US$110 / €100 / AU$169
  • Pockets: 0
3.0 out of 5 star rating

Sugoi Hydrolite

  • Price: £75 / US$90 / €100 / AU$120
  • Pockets: 1
3.0 out of 5 star rating

Craft Performance Bike Featherlight

  • Price: £60 / US$100 / AU$120
  • Pockets: 1
3.0 out of 5 star rating

Polaris RBS Pack Me

  • Price: £55 / US$71 / €62 / AU$TBC
  • Pockets: 1
3.0 out of 5 star rating

DHB Wisp Windproof

  • Price: £33 / US$33 / €36 / AUD$45
  • Pockets: 0
2.5 out of 5 star rating

Northwave Breeze Pro

  • Price: £70 / €80 / AU$TBC
  • Pockets: 0
2.0 out of 5 star rating

Odlo Mud Hardshell Transparent

  • Price: £75 / €90 / AU$TBC
  • Pockets: 0
2.0 out of 5 star rating

Santini Balthus Wind

  • Price: £90 / €115 / AU$190
  • Pockets: 2
2.0 out of 5 star rating

Final verdict

Whatever you’re looking for a in a jacket, you’ll find one here that suits. Any that score three or higher performed competently against our criteria of packability, wind and water resistance, although your preference might mean some trade-offs – if you just want the most packable, for example, the Mavic Helium is very good, but it offers less weather protection on colder days.

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The weather proved changeable during testing, but we kept returning to three jackets that stood out right from our first rides. The Endura Equipe Compact Shell gave a strong performance for the price that we felt made it a worthy value winner; others are cheaper, but it’s the least expensive jacket here that does everything well. If your budget isn’t limited, it was close but Rapha’s Classic Wind Jacket pips the Alé to our Most Wanted award, but our overall winner, delivering a great combination of fit, fabric and performance at a competitive price, is the aptly named Altura Podium.