There’s nothing worse than being caught out in the wrong kit when the weather turns nasty, and with a predominantly outdoor pastime, we really should be prepared when we go out riding.
Gone are the days of boil-in-the-bag thick plastic rain capes, which could make you as wet from perspiration as the rain would. With the proliferation of super-technical materials for all purposes, there’s really no excuse not to find a jacket that can keep you warm, dry and comfortable no matter what the weather throws at you. Better still, many modern jackets pack down so small that they fit easily in a jersey pocket.
Read on to find out which of the lightweight, packable jackets we've tested this year do the job best. Universally capable of resisting the wind, some offer extra weather protection, but all have varying degrees of insulation and cooling. Collars, pockets, garages and vents all influenced our decision, and should be considered when deciding on the best jacket for your needs.
If you need something a little more heavy duty, try our round-up of the best waterproof cylcing jackets, some of which you’ll also be able to pack away.
Overall winner: Gore Bike Wear Xenon 2.0 AS
£149.99 / $199.99
A fantastic riding cut, good visibility, a pocket and great packability add up to make the Gore Xenon 2.0 AS a ride essential. This jacket will shield you from the elements, while offering great comfort with its lined sleeves, which are perfectly acceptable against bare skin.
From: Gore Bike Wear
Most packable: Sportful Hot Pack 4
£65 / $103.89
With a stuff sack attached inside its rear pocket the Sportful jacket was child’s play to pack and a cinch to open and use quickly. It offers excellent protection from the elements too, along with effective cooling, making it one of the very best jackets we've tested this year.
Budget choice: Polaris Aqualite Extreme
£49.99 / $79.58
A great specification, well thought out design and good fabric make the Polaris our clear winner in the budget category. Fitted enough not to flap in the wind, yet relaxed enough for casual commuting, pocket sized and under £50 – what’s not to like? Plus, in this colour, you’ll definitely be visible.
From: Polaris Bikewear
Assos SJ Climaschutz
£183.99 / $329.99
Construction quality of the Climaschutz is second to none, with a faultlessly tailored riding cut and excellent features. The material grips onto jerseys, and the smooth rubbery outer surface shrugs off the elements, stretching to give a figure-hugging fit. Superbly snug cuffs and collar keep draughts out, and there’s plenty of cooling. Flapped vents on the lower back also allow access to the jersey, while an internal mesh pocket doubles as the stuff sack. Great fit and ventilation, but it’s not one for standing around in as the cooling is so effective.
Capo Pursuit Wind Jacket
£65 / $99.95
Capo’s Wind Jacket is mostly constructed of a slippery, soft, stretchy ripstop polyester that is very windproof and not too shabby in a shower. The arms are articulated via circular woven polyester panels, which are very breathable and still relatively impermeable. With a more open mesh down each side, it regulates temperature well. Microfleece lines the close-fitting collar and internal storm flap, and a small zipped pocket on the right hip contains a clip for keys and doubles as the stuff sack. Packing it is a challenge, but once zipped shut it only partly fills a jersey pocket.
Mavic Helium H2O
£144.99 / $200
Although far from being the heaviest jacket tested, the Helium H2O provides impressive protection. The fabric feels very strong, but still soft to the touch. An external storm flap covers the asymmetric zip and large zip pull, and all seams are fully taped. A soft lined collar and stretchy material make the Mavic very cosy indeed, and the ideal choice for a damp day in the mountains. Cooling comes via three small side vents and a larger one across the lower back, in fact all this jacket is missing is a pocket or means of keeping it together when packed.
MCipollini Fastline Windstopper
£125 / $182.30
Mario Cipollini’s super-light, black-only wind jacket has plenty of nice touches, such as a waterproof zip with fold flat pull and garages top and bottom with added throat protector. The lined collar is high and close fitting, and a small rear elasticated mesh pocket can take valuables when the jacket isn’t stuffed into it. Three vertically stepped rear vents work well, and there was little trace of sweat build-up. The light but quite stiff fabric fits very well, but does rustle in the wind, and only has two small reflective patches. A protective washing bag is supplied.
£140 / $237.98
As the originator of ultra-packable jackets, Montane knows a thing or two. The Photon uses a highly breathable, tough Pertex fabric with taped seams and a drawcord adjustable hem and collar to customise the fit. The microfleece-lined collar incorporates a zip garage; zips are waterproof with easy-to-grip pulls. The main zip is further protected by a baffled inner storm flap. Several feet of reflective piping extend from the elbows to the rear hem so it’s visible from all sides. Velcro closures on the large cuffs are a bit cumbersome, and the cut isn’t racy, so maybe try a size smaller for a closer fit. The Photon packs down well into its separate bag, and makes a good commuter choice.
Rapha City Wind Jacket
£150 / $220
Only Rapha could offer a race cape for the city, but then, why hide your suit under opaque rain wear? Silky smooth transparent nylon makes a form-fitting jacket, with a waterproof zip, closed by metal ring pulls, whose zip garage extends into a fleecy throat protector. A drawcord-adjustable tail and stretchy Roubaixstyle cuffs keep the fit close, while a full width shoulder vent and underarm perforations that continue to the elbow keep it ventilated. The jacket stuffs into one of the two small zipped waist pockets, and the material is fairly breathable.
£119.99 / $N/A
Santini’s Taka uses a Gore Windstopper membrane, and while the fabric’s not stretchy, it fits superbly, with the arms being the best of any jacket tested, and no excess material flapping in the wind. A forgiving shoulder panel allows comfortable arm articulation, and combines with the side and sleeve mesh panels to ventilate effectively, keeping us comfortable during hard rides. Packing down into one of the three flapped rear pockets, the Taka easily stows into a jersey pocket. A leathery throat protector and zip garage plus soft lined collar prevent irritation when it’s zipped up tight, making this a practical all-day choice.
What to look for in a packable jacket
There are plenty of windproof materials available. Properties such as breathability, warmth and weather-proofing vary enormously depending on the material used and the design of the jacket.
Well-shaped zip pulls are easier to use with gloves on and can lock flat, while zip garages and neck protectors improve comfort. Storm flaps or rubberised and waterproof zips keep the weather out.
Even the most breathable technical fabrics won’t cope with a very sweaty rider and moisture will build up on the inside. Vents – mesh panels, punched holes, slits covered by flaps, or a combination of these – all help to eject perspiration as fast as it forms.
The ultimate packable jacket would protect against the most extreme weather and still pack into half of a jersey pocket. That’s not quite possible, as the level of protection usually increases with bulk, but there are a host of impressive jackets on the market.