CT Recommends: Cycling rain jackets that work
Whether you’re a fair-weather rider or the no-day-off type, a rain jacket is sure to come in handy at some point.
Personally, I’m very much in the former camp, and if I’m riding in the rain, it’s either because I grossly misjudged the weather or I’m forced to ride at a bike launch. Yeah, I’m soft like that. Meanwhile, my Melbourne or North American colleagues are far more game, and they’ll often be found trashing their brake pads and chains while others stay indoors.
Part of my deep dislike for riding in the rain are the painful memories I have of feeling soggy and cold to my bones. The reason why: rain jackets used to carry either one flaw or another. They’d either keep the rain out, but you’d sweat buckets within them, or, they’d ‘breathe’ in both directions. But times have changed.
As we share here, the latest and greatest rain jackets manage to keep you dry and comfortable inside. Word of warning – there is an obvious (and well deserved) theme to our recommendations in this instalment of CT Recommends.
Choosing a rain jacket for cycling
There’s a staggering list of options when it comes to rain jackets suited to outdoor activities, however, cycling carries a few unique demands. The speed of cycling will see the rain hit you with higher pressure than if you were on foot, and with the help of your wheels, from more directions, too.
At the same time, your engine is likely to be running hot and you’ll need a jacket that lets sweat vapour escape. It’s easy to make a jacket waterproof – a plastic bag achieves that – but making it breathable will ensure you don’t get wet and cold from the inside. Thankfully, waterproof and breathable are features that can co-exist.
A cycling jacket should also take the finer details into consideration. Your position on a bike is vastly different from when you walk, and a cycling rain jacket should be optimised for your riding position. It should be snug enough to not flap in the wind, but not so tight as to inhibit movement. Similarly, being able to easily zip up the jacket on the move, or access your jersey pockets are things to consider, too.
And the style of bike you ride may impact your jacket choice, too. Riding a road bike will result in a more hunched position and greater material flapping than when you’re on a mountain bike. For off-road use, look for more durable materials and fit that allows a little more freedom in movement.
When choosing a rain jacket, it’s important to decide whether you’re the type to go out even if the rain and cold have set in, or whether you simply want to carry a jacket because the mountains dictate that you should. While those two can be the same thing, generally speaking, the emergency jacket must be compact and light to go in a jersey pocket, while the dedicated rain jacket is something you’ll wear when you’re unlikely to take it off.
The weight provides an easy way to judge whether a jacket is suitable for stuffing in a jersey pocket. The lightest and most packable jackets start at about 80g for a medium and even double that figure can be stuffed into a pocket. However, cycling jackets well beyond that 160g figure are likely intended to be left on.
Any waterproof jacket should also be windproof, and as long as it breathes enough to keep you dry, you’ll stay relatively warm. However, there are dedicated jackets that offer insulation to add warmth. Generally speaking, it may make more sense to achieve warmth with your layers, and keep them dry through a thin but effective waterproof shell.
To ruin a good story, almost every one of our staff and VeloClub members that have used a jacket made of Gore-Tex’s new ShakeDry material have immediately become converts. This material creates jackets that are so ultimately lightweight, packable, breathable and amazingly waterproof and windproof that it should have its own superhero comic series.
If the term ShakeDry is new to you, go ahead and read James Huang’s ShakeDry jacket shootout, and then come back to this article. I’ll wait.
A key element to consider is that most waterproof jackets on the market achieve a combination of breathability and water resistance through a durable water repellent coating, otherwise known as DWR. This coating encourages water to bead up on the surface and stops the material beneath from getting damp, without it, the breathability function will eventually clog. However, as it’s a coating, DWR does require maintenance and will eventually wear off – requiring reapplication. ShakeDry uses no such coating and should continue to keep you dry and warm no matter how many times you wash it.
Of course, ShakeDry comes with compromises. For a start, it’s a damn expensive material, and any jacket using it sits at the premium end. Additionally, the minimalist construction means ShakeDry is only suggested for road use and isn’t so good at warding off tree scrapes or regular backpack rubbing. And lastly, even the Ford Model T had more colour choice; the uncoated material is naturally very dark, and not so great if you’re wanting something flouro. But despite all that, those who have made the investment are sold.
However, while the ShakeDry material may have revolutionised the cycling rain jacket category, it’s far from the only option, and there are plenty of other good picks if you’re looking to stay dry. Onto our suggestions.
Gore Wear C7 and C5 1985 Gore-Tex ShakeDry jackets
As the only of our staff to have tested all three popular jackets using Gore’s ShakeDry material, James’ opinion arguably counts the most. From his in-depth comparison, his favourite jacket was Gore Bike Wear’s One 1985 Gore-Tex ShakeDry jacket (now named the Gore Wear C5 1985 Gore-Tex ShakeDry), a fitting win given it’s from the company that created the wonder material and the entire concept of membrane materials that can be both breathable and waterproof.
According to James, this jacket stood above the Castelli and 7Mesh ShakeDry jackets due to its cut that was more comfortable, more forgiving and better thought-out for a road bike position.
Our Boulder-based Editor-at-Large, Neal Rogers, is another true believer in Gore’s jackets, but prefers Gore’s C7 ShakeDry Stretch, a jacket that is lighter in construction and fitment features, along with offering a racier fit when compared to the C5 1985 of James’ choosing.
“It’s lightweight, it breathes extremely well, it’s form-fitting, and it keeps the rain and wind on the outside. Gore markets this jacket as providing an “impenetrable barrier,” and while I can’t say I’ve tested that claim, it’s damn impressive, particularly given the weight and breathability,” said Neal of the C7 Stretch jacket, before flagging one clear obstacle. “It’s also damn expensive, retailing at US$370, though it can be found for less online. I’m not sure I would have spent that much without experiencing it first-hand; now that I have, I can honestly say it’s worth it,”
Our membership director (and the ruler of Hells 500, while humans would be sleeping), Andy van Bergen, is another who loves the Gore C7 ShakeDry jacket. “My Gore ShakeDry is one of my favourite bits of kit,” said Andy. “[It] packs down to nothing, weighs nothing, suits someone with slightly longer arms, is beautifully fitted, and very waterproof.”
Andy does joke that it acts as a weather deterrent. “I get excited that I will finally get properly nailed in it, and then the forecasted rain never comes. That said, on the occasions where it’s been required it is brilliant, and as the name suggests, it literally shakes dry. Because it packs so small I’ll tend to take it when there is a hint of rain – where usually you’d go into a ride being prepared to get a bit wet.”
Now living in Squamish, BC, where it rains more than 170 days a year, tech writer Sarah Lukas is yet another fan of Gore’s Shakedry jackets. For road cycling, Sarah picks the C5 Women Gore-Tex ShakeDry. “I like to look good while I ride, and this definitely lets me have a little bit of fashion fun with the asymmetrical zipper. I don’t mind the black on the road, especially with the reflective logos.” For sizing, Sarah does say the women’s jacket runs on the small side. “The size small is a little snug in the shoulders in my size small, and I usually don’t run into issues there as I am relatively narrow framed, but not enough to limit my motion or make me uncomfortable.“
Sarah’s pick changes on the mountain bike, and swaps to the R7 Women ShakeDry, a jacket intended for running. “A running rated jacket, you say? Yes. This is my go-to for mountain biking. I am able to fit this into my small hip back and still have room for all the other goods. Pockets don’t matter too much to me for the jacket, as I am more likely to carry things in my pack or shorts before I go to a jacket pocket. The hood is nice to have for when we transition off the bike to loading up the Jeep and such. Additionally, the Lava Grey colour with pink accents is a nice touch.”
One obvious limitation of jackets made from GoreTex ShakeDry is that the minimal material doesn’t have much hope of warding off abrasion or scrapes, so they’re best kept for road use. It’s for this reason that VeloClub member Stephen Garland chooses to switch from his Gore Wear ShakeDry to a far cheaper rain jacket when commuting with a backpack during the week.
Another jacket made of Gore-Tex ShakeDry, the 7Mesh Oro takes a noticeably more minimalist approach and strips back the features found from Gore and Castelli, instead offering no elasticated areas, no velcro closures and no additional linings. The result? An 80g (medium) jacket that fits in the palm of your hand, and very easily into a jersey pocket.
As my only Gore-Tex ShakeDry jacket, I don’t have other modern super-jackets to compare it against. However, I’ve found the slim fit to be ideal, and the jacket a delight to wear on fast-paced rides. I recently got a chance to properly test it during the BMC RoadMachine launch – an event that saw us spend over three hours in the rain riding the valleys of Switzerland. During that time, the ShakeDry didn’t wet through or become damp with sweat; instead, I stayed perfectly dry, and relatively warm, too.
That Swiss ride ended in a pack ride through town in a blinding torrential downpour with rivers running through the roads. Returning to my hotel room I was amazed to find that while my bibs and socks had reached max saturation, my jersey and base layer were pretty much perfectly dry. Yes these jackets are expensive (US$300 to be exact), but now knowing how good they are, I honestly believe they’re worth the high asking price.
CyclingTips’ founder Wade Wallace owns both the 7Mesh Oro and the Castelli Idro, two ShakeDry jackets he swears by: “I’ve never had a rain jacket that I’d recommend before using these.” For Wade, the 7Mesh is the pick when there’s a risk of rain and you want something to fold up very small, however, he does note that it looks cheaper (compared to the Castelli) with its lack of nice cuffs and basic zipper.
I’m like Wade, and before this ShakeDry jacket, I had never enjoyed being in the rain or riding in a jacket.
The last of the ShakeDry trio, Castelli finished in second place in James’ comparison and is made with a feature-set more similar to the Gore jacket than the minimalist 7Mesh. It’s the jacket that Wade prefers if he knows it’s going to rain: “the Castelli is definitely more technical, but also bulkier (compared to the 7Mesh)”.
James liked the Idro for its ideal on-bike fit, easier to use zippers and efforts to increase visibility. However, many of those benefits also came with a little increased bulk and a noticeable bump in price over the already sky-high expensive ShakeDry options.
Since writing the ShakeDry review, Castelli has announced two updated ShakeDry jackets, the Idro Pro 2 and the Idro 2. The former is Castelli’s answer to a jacket you’d wear when it’s already raining outside – and it’s built to offer more all-day comfort at the expense of weight and absolute packability – while the Idro 2 is almost a third lighter, and is Castelli’s suggestion if you’re seeking a jacket for inclement weather.
Nobody on our team has used the new models yet, but it’s safe to say we’re fans of any jacket that uses the ShakeDry material so far.
Rapha Pro Team Race Cape and Core Rain Jacket
Our editor-in-chief, Caley Fretz, is an exception in having used a ShakeDry jacket, and then preferring something else. “I do love ShakeDry, but I’ve never had one that fit without flapping – the material is [just] so light,” he says.
As a Boulder-local, Caley prefers a top-tier jacket from Rapha. “I’m a big fan of the Rapha Pro Team Race Cape, which is an absurd US$295, but is fitted really well, wind/waterproof, and a bit thicker/more thermal than ShakeDry. I’d say 90% of the time I just use it for descending big mountains in winter, not in the rain.
Rapha’s jackets were a widely recommended product amongst our VeloClub members, too. Chris Young said the Pro Team Race Cape was the “best one I’ve owned and used. It’s not too hot, but still keeps you warm, and it protects from all but the heaviest of downpours.” Fellow member Glen Janetzki backed that sentiment, stating “I pretty much have to commute no matter what the weather is, so [I] splashed out and bought the Pro Team. Great jacket, exceptionally waterproof, but does get a bit hot inside.”
Melbourne-based Jason de Puit has been using Rapha’s cheaper Core rain jacket and is really happy with it. “[It] fits great, sheds water, folds up very small, [and] it was only $117 (ed. on sale) which seems like good value for a waterproof jacket. I’ve actually started taking it on rides that I’d normally take a gilet, as its so compact.”
Our production editor, Iain Treloar, also recommends a Rapha jacket, but one that isn’t technically a rain jacket. “I really like the Rapha Pro Team Softshell. It’s perfectly cut for me, has good arm-length even though I’m fairly lanky, is very warm and has a number of thoughtful touches like the zippers at the wrist.”
For Iain, this Pro Team Softshell is his pick on cold rainy days: “Whilst it’s not fully waterproof, it stays cosy even in vile weather. It’s far from perfect for all conditions – given it’s rather bulky, you really need to choose your day to wear it as you can’t easily carry it in a jersey pocket or anything. However, for wet and/or cold rides below 10-degrees celsius, this is the only jacket I reach for.”
However, where the weather is warmer, Iain changes his approach. “For rainy days above 10-12 degrees, my go-to is the Rapha Classic Rain Jacket, which is more of a light outer-shell and will actually fit into a jersey pocket (albeit, a bit bulkily).” Warmer again and Iain drops the sleeves altogether: “I tend to just go with a water-resistant vest and just let my arms get wet. We’re not made of sugar. As long as I’m not getting cold, I don’t mind getting wet.”
Search and State S-1J
The S-1J from Search and State is the “go to” for VeloClub member Mark Lawrenson, something he prefers over his Rapha jacket. “Mine is in a Slate colour which I much prefer to the common black ones as riding in the rain is sketchy enough.”
Priced at US$275, the S-1J is a jacket that’s constructed of Schoeller C-Change Fabric, something the company claims offers a temperature-sensitive “bionic climate membrane”.
While Andy van Bergen is a card-carrying member of the ShakeDry cult, he also gets plenty of use from a Cuore Elements Gold jacket, stating “It’s brilliant for cold conditions”.
“It’s a thicker jacket material, so not great for stuffing into a pocket, but more the jacket you want to wear if you know it’s unlikely to be unzipped or removed during the ride. Twice I’ve worn it in constant cold rain for 3-4 hours, and both times it only started to soak through at the end of the ride.”
Andy likes the longer than usual sleeve length, and also the widow’s peak on the sleeves. The latter “sits nicely above or below gloves, and no doubt stops a little bit of runoff into the gloves.” However, Andy does suggest that this is a cold-weather pick only, and that it would feel hot in anything above 10-degrees Celsius.
“I’ve also found this jacket to be a great little winter commuter, when the stopping and starting means you never really get super-hot, and you’re really just looking for a shell over a winter jersey. As a quite fitted jacket it also looks quite good on the bike, and the longer tail is handy when you know you’re going to get wet,” said Andy, pointing out just how much dressing for the occasion can matter.
Kitsbow Trials Softshell
Just as Sarah pointed out with her choice in Gore jackets, mountain biking often calls for a change in clothing. For Neal, that is the Trials softshell waterproof jacket from Kitsbow.
“While somewhat tailored, it’s a looser fit than Gore’s ShakeDry Stretch Jacket, and uses Polartec’s NeoShell fabric to keep the rain off while allowing air to flow in and out of its membrane.”
“Features include forearm zipper vents, a Z-fold back vent, and a roll-top helmet-compatible hood. However this is most definitely not a jacket you stash in a jersey pocket; it’s a stylish — and at US$395, pricey — outer shell for cold and wet days where you’ll be going hard to stay warm.”
So what about you? What’s left you feeling unusually sweaty and cold at the same time? And other than Zwift, what have you used that kept you protected from the rain?