Gore-Tex ShakeDry shootout: Who makes the best waterproof cycling jacket?
Innovation in cycling clothing is a rare thing, but Gore-Tex managed just that when it introduced its ShakeDry fabric technology on the Gore Bike Wear One Gore-Tex Active Bike Jacket in December 2015. Ultralight, extraordinarily breathable, and yet still highly protective from wind and water, it offered a genuine revolution in cycling outerwear. Castelli and 7Mesh have since developed their own jackets using that same material, and while they share several key traits, they’re also quite different. Which one is the best?
The magic of ShakeDry
So what exactly makes ShakeDry such a special material, anyway?
With virtually zero exception, outerwear marketed as “waterproof and breathable” is constructed with some sort of ultra-thin membrane. Microscopic holes in that membrane are far too small for water droplets to pass through, but more than big enough for water vapor to move across — basically a fancy colander. In that way, users stay protected from incoming rain and road spray, but also don’t gradually get soaked from accumulating perspiration.
The problem is that those membranes aren’t tough enough to be used on their own. As a result, they have to be laminated to a more durable outer fabric — usually nylon or polyester, in the case of cycling outerwear. There’s also almost always an additional layer on the inside to provide better comfort against the skin and to promote moisture transfer. Those extra layers add needed substance, but they also slow the progress of water vapor through the membrane.
Making matters worse is the fact that the outermost layer usually has to be treated with a durable, water-repellent (commonly referred to as “DWR”) coating so as to keep the fabric from saturating. That coating helps prevent the membrane from effectively getting clogged up, but it only further limits breathability.
The magic of ShakeDry is that the membrane essentially is the garment; there’s an ultra-thin layer of polyamide textile bonded to the inside, but there’s nothing on the outer surface. According to Gore-Tex, ShakeDry marks the first time a waterproof, breathable membrane has been made sufficiently strong to be used in this way.
As a result, the breathability of ShakeDry is truly remarkable —so much so that it can legitimately change your clothing strategy. The range of ambient temperatures in which a ShakeDry jacket can be ridden is far broader than any other material I’ve used over the years, and there’s little worry of getting chilled due to sweat build-up from within.
Moreover, the material inherently sheds water without any DWR coating, meaning it starts dry and stays dry, and there’s no coating to eventually wear out over time.
Eliminating those extra layers cuts down on bulk and weight, too. Each of the jackets discussed here weighs less than 130g in a medium size (about half the norm), and if packed with even just a modicum of care, compresses to the size of two energy bars. Folded just right — or better yet, rolled — a medium-sized ShakeDry jacket can even fit inside a snack-size Ziploc baggie.
That said, the material has a few downsides.
Currently, ShakeDry can only be made in a dark grey (essentially black) color, which isn’t exactly ideal for visibility in low-light conditions where something like this would often be worn. All of these jackets include some reflective elements to help compensate, but there’s simply no getting around the dark body. If you combine that with the unique texture, the look isn’t far off from an industrial garbage bag.
Despite its increased toughness over other waterproof-and-breathable membranes, Gore-Tex also still only approves ShakeDry for use on the road. Users can risk wearing these jackets for cyclocross or trail riding as they like, but don’t be surprised if they tear or abrade easier than expected.
Although incredible in terms of the level of protection it provides, ShakeDry isn’t stretchy at all, either. Crafting garments with a high-quality fit is tricky, and it’s even more important than usual to try before you buy with these. Whereas my 1.73m, 70kg (5ft 8in, 153lb) frame is normally best suited to a medium, I ended going down to a small in two of the three jackets tested here to achieve comparable fits.
Finally, all of the ShakeDry jackets currently on the market are very expensive. Each of the jackets covered here costs far more than traditional membrane-equipped shells, which is precisely why it’s critical that you choose wisely. That said, keep in mind that all three of these jackets are quite fantastic, and it’s mostly due to pedantic criteria that any sort of logical ordering is even possible. In other words, you basically can’t really go wrong with any of these.
Third place: 7Mesh Oro (US$300 / AU$TBC / £250 / €329; 80g)
7Mesh isn’t the best-known cycling apparel brand around, but it’s likely only a matter of time before its visibility becomes more widespread. Started by several ex-Arcteryx employees, 7Mesh prides itself on a more tech-focused approach to cycling apparel, and the Oro is a good example of that philosophy at work.
Despite the ShakeDry material being especially tricky to tailor given its total lack of stretch, 7Mesh manages to deliver in the Oro an impressively aggressive cycling-specific cut (at least after I downsized from my usual size medium in that brand). The chest area is almost uncomfortably snug when your arms are hanging by your side, but nicely form-fitting when your hands are on the bars. The sleeves leave barely enough room for a long-sleeved jersey underneath, and the tail reaches nearly all the way down the saddle for the most comprehensive coverage here.
Needless to say, there’s no issue with excess fabric fluttering at higher speeds, and riders concerned with the aero drag that poorly-fitting cycling clothing can generate should have little to complain about here. The Oro is the most packable jacket here, too, as well as the lightest at an almost-unbelievable 80g.
That said, 7Mesh may have gone a little too far with the minimal theme.
For example, some of that extra coverage out back is squandered by the fact that there is no gripper material or elastic to help hold the hem in place. In addition, the close-fitting sleeves have tight-fitting wrist openings to match, and the thin elastic bands that 7Mesh uses tended to dig into my skin over time. And while the collar offers a reasonably close fit to guard against rain, it sits curiously low and leaves much of your neck exposed to the cold.
Unfortunately, 7Mesh’s novel solution to jersey pocket access is both one of my favorite features of the jacket as well as its biggest liability.
The Oro includes no built-in storage, but a pair of simple diagonal openings on either side of the lower back allow for the easiest access to jersey pockets of the bunch — just wiggle your hand through, grab what you need, and then pull your hand back out. It’s an admirably simple and elegant solution, and it does a good job of keeping water from sneaking through — well, most of the time.
Overlapping bits of fabric are meant to keep those openings closed to the outside, but it’s critical that the fabric be pulled taut and lays flat. However, those flaps can easily become wrinkled, especially if you’ve just pulled a rolled-up jacket out of a jersey pocket, and they would often stay open after you’ve reach a hand through unless you’re careful to pull the lower hem back down afterward.
The idea is brilliant, but the execution could use a bit more refinement. In some ways, it’s a minor flaw, however it’s much harder to overlook when you consider the fact that that one oversight can easily leave your lower back soaking wet (and cold). Road riders in drier climates who are considering ShakeDry jackets primarily for their wind protection, breathability, and lightweight packability will find a lot to love in the 7Mesh Oro. But for everyone else, that vulnerability alone relegates the Oro to second runner-up in this competition of three.
Second place: Castelli Idro (US$350 / AU$445 / £260 / €290; 128g)
The fit of the Castelli Idro is similarly aggressive to the Oro: a bit awkward-feeling when standing upright, but draping perfectly over your body when your arms are stretched over the hoods or drops. As with the Oro, it’s quiet on the road with no fabric fluttering to speak of — even at 65km/h — and aside from the fact that you stay curiously dry, you hardly even notice that you’re wearing it. Notably, the Idro was the only jacket here where I didn’t need to size down.
The relatively snug-fitting collar is cut higher than the 7Mesh for better protection, but the rear hem isn’t quite as long and doesn’t offer as much protection as I would prefer for a rain jacket. That said, it’s the only jacket of the three fitted with a grippy silicone rubber liner, so the rear of the jacket does a better job of staying put.
Castelli uses wider elastic on the arm openings than the Oro, making them far more comfortable over time. Curiously though, they don’t seal as tightly against your wrists yet they’re much harder to get on and off, especially while in the saddle, since the elastic only runs about half the way around.
Like the Oro, there’s no built-in storage on the Idro; just a single zippered opening on the right side of the lower back that affords some access to your jersey pockets. It’s only marginally useful since the jacket fits so snugly, though, and obviously of little use if you’re left-handed — and of no use at all if you need to get to something in a left-side pocket. That said, the waterproof zipper seals reliably, and provided you don’t accidentally leave it open, is much less likely to leave your lower back wet than the 7Mesh Oro.
Typical for Castelli is the fact that, despite the limited styling options for the black ShakeDry fabric, the Idro is the best-looking (and most visible) choice here with contrasting red stripes along each sleeve, bright red zippers, and big reflective stripes down each side. Those zippers are bigger than what is offered by Gore Bike Wear or 7Mesh, too, with generously sized pulls that are easier to operate while riding.
The bulkier zippers do make the Idro less compressible than the other two ShakeDry jackets — and also marginally heavier — but it’s still worlds better than any conventional rain jacket on the market.
Overall, the Idro was what I reached for most often when heading out the door — if only for the visibility factor — but it’s also more expensive than the other two ShakeDry jackets, and by a considerable margin depending on region. Style doesn’t come cheap, it seems.
Note: Castelli recently announced two updated ShakeDry jackets, the Idro Pro and the Idro 2, but neither will be available for several months.
First place: Gore Bike Wear One 1985 Gore-Tex ShakeDry Jacket (US$300 / AU$385 / £250 / €300; 107g)
Gore Bike Wear was the innovator in this category, and it’s benefitted from its head start over the competition. The original One Gore-Tex Active Bike Jacket I began testing almost two years was a revelation in terms of what a lightweight shell could do, but the cut was admittedly a little boxier than I would have ideally preferred.
Gore Bike Wear still offers that same jacket today, but has since added a new One 1985 Gore-Tex ShakeDry Jacket model, which offers the same level of protection — better, in fact — but cut in a pattern that’s better suited to road riding. It fits slimmer throughout, with tighter-fitting sleeves and a torso that doesn’t leave much extra material flapping in the breeze, and the tailoring is much more specific to the riding position than its predecessor.
“Riding in some of the worst rain I have ever experienced on the bike, I can fully attest to the ShakeDry’s reliable waterproofness,” Ella CyclingTips editor Anne-Marije Rook told me after a recent trip to Norway for the road world championships. “Even in the heaviest rain, the water noticeably beads off the jacket; nothing collects, and all the seams are taped to keep water from seeping in. Once the rain stops — or you’ve reached a coffee stop — you can simply shake off any remaining water and the jacket dries in no time.”
Although not quite as aggressively cut as either the Oro or the Idro, the One 1985 is a good compromise for riders who want a trim fit, but still with a bit more room for layers. A new two-way zipper — the only one here — allows for easier temperature control, too.
Up top, a new Velcro closure around the neck seals tighter than before and is more accommodating of different body types. However, it’s slower to operate while in the saddle than a standard full-length zipper. Some sort of cinch on the back of the neck, coupled with a proper waist-to-neck zipper, might be preferable here, as you could set the neck opening where you like it, but still keep getting the jacket on or off to a single operation.
The tail could still be cut a bit longer for better coverage, though. And like the Oro, there’s no gripper material on the inner edge, but some light elastic helps keep the hem in place.
On-board storage is essentially nonexistent, consisting of a single tiny zippered back pocket. It serves primarily as a stuff sack for the jacket, and since Gore Bike Wear has wisely sized it with the material’s awesome compressibility in mind, it’s utterly tiny. Even an iPhone won’t fit in there. That isn’t a big deal in and of itself, but there’s also no easy way to access underlying jersey pockets without exposing your lower back to the elements.
Those minor flaws are easy to overlook when you consider that the One 1985 ShakeDry Jacket ties the 7Mesh Oro (depending on region) for the lowest-priced option here. When you combine that with its excellent cut and solid feature set, it’s an easy choice for the top step — although, again, the material is honestly so good that there are no real losers here.