8 jackets: tested and rated
From a light drizzle to a full-blown deluge, there’s a rain jacket perfect for any wet-weather riding, explains Iain Treloar.
Jackets are a tricky item of clothing to get right. Compared to the low expectations we have of jerseys, knicks or baselayers, jackets need to perform well when the weather is at its worst, but still need to be comfortable in better conditions. It can be a complicated balancing act for manufacturers to find the correct often-contradictory combination of water-resistance, wind-resistance, breathability and compact dimensions, and in the end, a jacket purchase almost always ends up being a compromise in one area or another.
There are a vast amount of different fabrics out there and it’s easy to get lost in the marketing technobabble when researching your next jacket purchase. So here’s my advice: when comparing jackets with waterproofing as a primary goal, check for things like sealed or taped seams—most rain jackets, even at the low-end, will technically be made from waterproof fabrics, but won’t have taped seams or a waterproof zip and will still allow water in during prolonged exposure to the elements.
Breathability of fabrics is much harder to judge without actually riding in a jacket, so if it’s a cheaper jacket check whether there is any built in ventilation, such as underarm zippers to help allow moisture out. As a general rule, take any claims of breathability with a grain of salt—despite the miraculous claims made about many fabrics there’s nothing I’ve yet encountered that is as breathable as I wish it was.
Don’t get too hung up on how warm a jacket will keep you—for riding in Australian conditions, you will rarely need anything particularly heavy weight. You are far more likely to get cold from wind-chill or from being wet, so a lightweight rain-jacket will usually be adequate for warmth as long as it’s suitably wind-proofed.
For this test, we asked eight different brands to provide us with jackets that had the greatest versatility. This was interpreted in a range of ways, highlighting just how much diversity there is in determining what the best jacket will be for a given situation. Readers will most likely know from their own experiences and riding style what attributes they desire in their jackets, so in addition to the usual Ride On ratings for Function, Quality, Price and Appearance, we have included a second rating scale encompassing:
As such, an all-weather tourer carrying panniers might desire absolute protection from the elements, but be able to stash a bulky jacket away in panniers when it is no longer needed, where a fair-weather roadie might prioritise compactness and light shower resistance.
If you fit into a number of different categories, there’s no harm (other than financial!) in getting a range of different jackets and different needs. Riding every day, and mixing it up between the road bike and my mudguarded commuter, I have four or five jackets to choose from depending on weather conditions and what attributes are most desirable on any given day. Whilst this may be approaching overkill, a compact jacket for showers and a serious jacket for absolute waterproofness are both equally worthwhile items to have in the wardrobe.
Testing for this article was conducted over several weeks, with assistance for the women’s jackets. All these jackets have a direct equivalent in the opposite gender, so if you like the sound of one or other of the products on test here, it should be available in a cut for you.
One of the more compact jackets in Rapha’s extensive range, the Rain Jacket is seam-sealed, water- and wind-proof and rich in the attention to detail Rapha is known for. At first glance it’s a fairly stripped-back garment, but there are a lot of nice touches that reveal the care that’s gone into the design. There are numerous reflective details, including the armband on the left sleeve, and there is a coating on the sleeves from the elbow down making it more comfortable and less clammy on the arms when riding with just a short sleeved jersey. If you’re after something for riding in the absolute worst of conditions, I’d suggest the Rapha Hardshell jacket over this—it’s the best waterproof I’ve ever used—but nonetheless, the Rapha Rain Jacket has a broad appeal for a range of conditions and is typically excellent quality.
• Folds to a size that fits into a jersey pocket
• Superb slim fit with perfect arm length; looks great
• Neoprene cuffs to stop chill and water sneaking up the arms
• Small zipped pocket on the side for smartphones, keys, money
• I would have preferred more storage
• Completely waterproof even after hours in torrential rain
It’s difficult to imagine a more visible jacket than the Endura Luminite 2. Available in a couple of colours, including this super-lairy fluoro yellow, the Luminite is also covered with reflective panels and has an LED light built into the rear pocket to boot. It’s completely seam-sealed throughout, and comes with a pleasing amount of storage—two hand pockets, a large rear pocket and a chest pocket—note that the pockets on the front of the jacket are not seam-sealed. The sizing of this jacket runs very large—order one size down from your usual fit.
• Armpit zips
• More for extremely poor weather than everyday
• Lacking a little in breathability
• Rear LED light a little gimmicky
• Can tighten in the cuffs to stop chill getting up the arms
• Almost too much jacket for Australian conditions—Endura is
a Scottish brand and this was apparently designed with that
kind of weather in mind
Castelli have a proud history of technical innovation, and the Confronto jacket is a superb example of this. At first glance, it doesn’t appear to be a waterproof jacket—the fabric is soft to the touch, and it looks like a heavy-weight long sleeved jersey rather than a plasticky rain jacket. When the heavens open, however, it’s fantastic—water beads up on the outside and doesn’t get through. Because it’s such a soft fabric , it’s very comfortable and conforms well to the body. It’s a bit warm for everyday use, but for a trusty companion for the winter commute, it’s a solid option.
• Lots of reflective material
• Cut won’t be for everyone—the medium sample we tested was a little short at the front, and a little short in the arms. Also a fairly loose fit for an Italian brand
• Can be a bit warm unless you’re careful with your layering—I was comfortable with a merino base-layer at 10 degrees
• Underarm zips are useful for moderating temperature
• Waterproof zips and externally sealed seams
• No pockets
• High visibility and fairly large folded size means it’s more suited for commuting than long road rides
The Bellwether Convertible is really two garments in one—a vest and a jacket. Using press-studs and two zips running up from the armpits, the shoulders and arms detach quite quickly and easily, and can be stowed in the zipped rear pocket. I found the fit to be slightly awkward on the Convertible—the arms were a little short when reaching for the brake levers of a road bike, but would be OK for a flat handlebar. Nonetheless, it offers great versatility in one garment, especially for shorter distance commuting use.
• Soft fleecy lining on neck
• Reflective strips placed strategically
• Elasticated cord around waist band
• Two pockets on the front, one on the back
• Not seam-sealed—water resistant only
• Not particularly breathable, and the elasticated cuffs were very tight
Available in indigo and military green, the Vulpine looks snazzy from a distance, but the genius of the design is in the details: magnetic buttons, roll-up, reflective cuffs, a wrist pocket with a small carabiner for your keys. A vented back mesh panel allows breathability, but by using Epic Cotton instead of synthetic fabrics—a process where each individual thread is coated in silicon—it’s already one of the most breathable jackets we’ve encountered. It’s not strictly water-proof as seams aren’t sealed, but this is a conscious decision from Vulpine who were looking to strike the optimum balance between breathability and water-resistance. This jacket scores extra points for versatility, looking as good off the bike as it does on, and despite its high asking price it really is a beautiful piece of gear.
• Fold-away, removable splash guard
• Elastic toggles can be pulled tight to prevent ingress at the neck and tail
• Handmade from Epic Cotton
• Wind and stain resistant
• Adjustable waist
• Rear light loop
• Fleece-lined collar and cuffs; cuffs can be turned up to show reflective panels, of particular use when signalling
The She Shell is the pinnacle of practicality. Thoughtful touches demonstrate that GroundEffect have a solid understanding of what riders want: a spare tube patch sewn into the hem, elastic thumb loops to prevent the sleeves riding up over your wrists, zippered vents beneath the arms, a tail to protect your rear. All seams are tape-sealed, and the collar is nice and high for those cold mornings.
• Available in four colours
• Folds into a bum bag for easy transport
• Hood that zips into collar when not in use
• Sizing is generous
• Reflective piping
• Zipped underarm vents
This semi-transparent jacket prioritises portability over absolute water-resistance, and is a great example of a style popular with road riders. It’s a shower rather than a rain jacket, with some sealed seams on the front of the jacket helping keep the damp (ergo, chill) off the chest. The mesh panels down the back and arms increase breathability, but aren’t waterproof, and one of our testers reported finding it a little too warm. However, the fit is excellent and it folds to fit snugly in a jersey pocket or corner of a handbag, making it ideal for drizzly in-between weather, particularly when riding at higher intensity.
• Hemline gripper prevents jacket riding up
• Rear pocket which the jacket can fold into
• Fleece collar lining
• Reflective piping
• Lightest and smallest jacket on test—it’s a great choice for those days when you’re not sure if you’ll need a serious rain jacket, but would love to have something on hand in case the weather changes. It’s also light enough that you can keep it in your handbag or backpack year-round
In fire engine red, the Netti Elite Rain Jacket stands out on a drizzly day and a high collar and elasticised cuffs prevent ingress. However, while the fabric is thin, it’s not well-ventilated, quickly feeling clammy on the arms, and the sizing is a little off. One of our testers found the jacket very tight around the hips and baggy across the chest and arms, whilst the other found it a little short in the arms even on a flat-bar commuter. It is, however, quite compact, as well as being nice and visible—we particularly like the reflective strips running down the full length of the arms.
• Seam sealed, with waterproof zippers
• Reflective details
• Single small front zippered and seam-sealed pocket—no pockets at rear
• Scrunches down to fit in jersey pocket or bag
• Soft fleecy lining on collar
• Waistband not adjustable
• Two-way zip on the front, which is useful to increase mobility of the legs and breathability
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