For most riders, the chance of rain is an all-too-likely occurrence. Having a waterproof cycling jacket to hand is essential when the weather is changeable. A waterproof layer allows you to go out and ride, confident that you can continue cycling no matter what the weather decides to do. While the best winter cycling jackets might offer more material for greater warmth, this can often be bulky. Developments in materials have meant that a resilient waterproof layer is now small enough to be stuffed in a jersey pocket for emergencies or when not in use, meaning they're useful year-round, rather than just your winter cycling endeavours.
A good waterproof layer will not only keep you dry but also create an effective barrier from wind chill. In wet conditions, the effects are multiplied and while you may ride through a storm without getting cooled, the resulting cooling effect of wet clothing will quickly reduce body temperature which can cause issues even on short rides.
We’ve rounded up the best waterproof cycling jackets, but first here are a few things you should consider before choosing.
Most waterproof cycling jackets are constructed from a multi-layer laminate, featuring taped seams and waterproof zips to stop water ingress. The multiple layers usually consist of a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) coated face fabric which protects a hydrophobic membrane underneath and is finished with a liner for comfort. Some manufacturers such as Gore have been able to develop a resilient membrane that no longer requires the outer layer.
This improves waterproofness as there is no outer layer to become saturated while significantly reducing weight and pack size. There are disadvantages as these membranes are still relatively fragile and its recommended to avoid abrasions (by wearing a backpack for example).
Jackets will often have a waterproof rating, this is measured by placing a 1”x1” tube over the material and filling it with water. The rating is based on the height of the water before it starts leaking through the material. To be considered waterproof a jacket must achieve a rating of at least 1,500mm, however, for reliable protection in prolonged rain look for ratings of 10,000mm and above.
In the past, packable waterproof layers might have kept the rain out but would suffer breathability issues resulting in you being soaked in your own sweat instead. Technology has greatly improved and with the development of breathable hydrophobic materials, jackets can wick away moisture from within while keeping out rain more effectively.
The hydrophobic membranes are covered in pores, by forcing the water to bead on the face of the materials they don’t soak through while the vapour from perspiration inside can still escape.
Moisture and temperature management can be further improved with strategically placed vents to offer some additional airflow. These will usually be positioned under the arms or under storm flaps on the rear of the jacket.
While some waterproof cycling jackets are simply a shell designed to pack away as small as possible, others will have added features built-in. It’s worth considering what extra features you need, as these details will often increase cost and reduce packability.
Pockets are useful for keeping items close to hand rather than needing to dig around under layers to find jersey pockets. Some manufacturers get around this by using zipped access or well-placed vents to make jersey pockets accessible. Some jackets will come with integrated storage pouches making packing and storing the jacket when it isn’t worn neater and providing protection from damage. Elasticated openings, drawcords and fleece lining are added around the wrist cuffs, hems and collars to reduce drafts, hold the material in place and increase comfort against the skin.