Keep dry and warm with these jackets
We stare down the seasonal showers with our pick of some of the best lightweight and heavy-duty waterproof jackets.
Broadly speaking, you’ve got two choices when it comes to waterproof jackets. You can either go lightweight and breathable, but sacrifice ultimate protection from the rain in the process, or you can seal yourself from the elements and pay for that shelter with a bulkier garment that may get a little steamy and clammy when you start working up a sweat.
Which type is right for you depends on how and when you ride. If you rarely go out when it’s raining, a lightweight jacket, that you can leave in your pack, may be all you need to ward off unexpected downpours. But if you like to stick two fingers up to the elements and relish the idea of your Sunday ride turning into an Antarctic expedition, a durable, heavy-duty model with a hood would be a better choice.
Only you know which camp you fall into, but to cover all the bases we split this waterproof jacket test into two: heavier, all-day jackets on one side; clean-shaven, minimalist jackets on the other. Then we pushed the door open, fought past the howling wind and rode off into the wet night to test them.
A good fabric is far from the whole story when it comes to breathability and comfort — ventilation, pocket design, zip styles and seam taping all impact more on this — but a quality fabric is a good place to start. The contrast between a top-flight fabric such as Gore-Tex Active and a cheaper alternative is striking, and you will be far more comfortable and dry with the former. Make a note of the fabric specs — a waterproof rating over 10,000mm is pretty watertight in normal conditions, while breathability (MVTR or Moisture Vapour Transmission Rate) above or around 20,000g/m²/24hr is pretty good.
Two-layer fabric is the most basic, with the outer face fabric bonded to a membrane, usually with a mesh drop liner hanging inside. A 2.5 layer uses a micro ‘half’ layer bonded inside the membrane instead of a drop liner, so is lighter but still reasonably tough. Three-layer is the toughest, with the outer layer, membrane and tough inner bonded together into one flexible fabric.
Even fabric with stellar breathability ratings will build moisture up when you are working hard, so it is important to have extra ventilation. At its most basic level this is just unzipping the front of the jacket slightly or loosening a cuff, but pit-zips, yoke vents and laser-cut holes offer a more sophisticated level of venting and moisture management.
In days gone by zips used to be backed up with storm flaps inside and out to reduce rain and draught ingress. This method is still used in heavier jackets, but to reduce weight and bulk manufacturers now opt for waterproof zips in the more packable units.
Some riders like hoods, some don’t. They’re handy to stop torrential rain running down your neck, or even to keep some heat in when waiting for mates on a frosty morning. A tab or collar that stows the hood is handy, especially with lightweight hoods that can be prone to inflating on the move. Make sure the hood fits over your helmet but an adjustable volume hood is best because it can fit both your helmet and your head if need be.
Bike waterproofs need longer sleeves and a dropped backside to increase coverage when in the riding position, but beyond that the cut is personal preference. A snugger fit will reduce flapping and bulk, while a looser fit gives more room for air movement and layering.
Adjustable cuffs, collars and hems aren’t just for comfort, they regulate airflow around the inside of the jacket, removing moisture and reducing temperature. Snug them up when you take off on a cold wet ride, open them up when you’re warmed up and need to vent some heat.
Pockets are handy on a jacket you have to wear all day. Adding them does introduce several layers of fabric over important areas such as your chest, though, which can lead to reduced breathability and damp areas.
Madison Roam jacket
Yet again, Madison delivers top value. It was pretty basic in the breathability department, a reflection of the price no doubt, but when we kept the air circulating, the drop mesh liner never got too wet inside. If you can live with the bulk and weight, the Roam is a bargain
Gore Bike Wear One jacket
As with all Gore bike kit, it was beautifully made and well cut, with just a little bit extra room for layering up underneath, but not too much to create flapping or unnecessary bulk. The hood was excellent too, although we felt it could have been a fraction bigger to fit over the bulkier all-mountain style helmets.
Endura MT500 II jacket
Endura claims a monumental 60,000g/m²/24hr for the flagship three-layer waterproof Exoshell60 material that makes up the MT500; a breathability figure that comfortably blows just about every other fabric out the water.
Altura Attack 360 jacket
A removable hood meant we could stash it when not in use, or forget it completely when we would rather go without, which most of us did when we realised it wouldn’t go over our helmets. Ventilation was impressive though, with an adjustable hem and some lengthy zipped vents under each arm. Finally, the Altura had plenty of cargo space, with two small chest pockets and a cavernous back pocket to hold all our odds and sods.
Sweet Protection Delirious jacket
As you would expect of a Scandinavian brand that’s no stranger to rain and cold, Sweet Protection has got the basics right — superb Gore Active fabric, no clutter to affect breathability and adjusters at all the entry points. The austere approach did keep the weight down. A great featherweight jacket then, but at a price we found hard to justify.
Rab Spark jacket
A pleasure to snug up when the weather closed in. The long body was roomy for layering underneath if necessary and, along with the high collar, gave great coverage, while every draught could be sealed out at will with all those adjusters. The rest was clean and simple so it also packed down light and tight. A superb all-rounder, on and off the bike.
Pace 3×3 jacket
On the bike, large Velcro tabs on the wrists were easily pulled tight by gloved hands, as was the large main zip puller. To reduce draughts, the high collar could be snugged up tight one-handed, but we did miss adjusters on the elasticated hem. We missed a hood on occasion, and a few testers pointed out the slightly rough finishing around the Velcro wrist tabs, which looked like they wouldn’t take a lot of abuse before coming away. At £99 the Pace 3×3 is a great value lightweight jacket that you could also ride in year-round.
Mavic Crossmax Pro H2O jacket
Lightweight and well cut, the Crossmax was an instant hit among the weight conscious in our test team. It ticked all the boxes in terms of coverage and weatherproofing, with a pliable and light fabric that proved to be highly breathable under load.
Berghaus Hyper jacket
The fabric is extremely fragile so we took care not to go near sharp branches or rough rocks when wearing it, and the ventilation — with elasticated cuffs and hem — didn’t allow us to fully seal up or open out for cooling off, instead being set at a kind of middle ground between the two. A great piece of kit for those who count every gram, or are packing extremely light and compact for a trip that shouldn’t see sustained bad weather. Just be careful with it!
Scott Trail MTN Dryo
The thin, stretchy fabric allows for a close, flap-free fit, which backs up an excellent, cosy high collar by keeping internal draughts down. Intelligently designed asymmetric cuffs are easy to pull on and protect the top of the hand. The Dryosphere 3L fabric is nothing exceptional in terms of breathability. There are laser-cut ventilation holes under the arms, but expect to get clammy when you’re riding hard.
My other criticism of the Dryo jacket is the hood — it’s roomy, but not quite big enough to pull over a large trail helmet. It’s not a deal breaker, but a little extra room would be appreciated. Overall, this is a cracking jacket though, and hasn’t been off my back for many a ride now. Fit, function, practicality and looks are all there in spades. It also packs small and is lightweight, so you could happily stash it in a pack for emergencies.
Madison Flux Super Light Softshell
Weight: 247g • Fabric: waterproof • Colours: black, green, red • Sizes: S-XXL
When it comes to packable jackets, we expect to see a light nylon fabric construction. Not so with the Madison. Its soft-shell fabric is beautiful to handle and super-stretchy in all directions, and when combined with the close fit, it’s a shame to use it just for emergencies. It stuffs as small as any of the other waterproofs on test — barring the Berghaus — but just feels much more comfortable.
Waterproofing is excellent, too, and there is taping on all the seams. It’s very minimalist and there are great touches like the silicone gripper print on the shoulders to keep your pack straps secure. It’s a shame the hood is under-helmet only — but other than that, the Flux has excellent features and minimal clutter, which is the way it should be.
Scott Trail MTN WB
Weight: 152g • Fabric: windproof • Colours: blue, dark blue/light blue, green/blue, grey • Sizes: S-XXL
With a cracking, quiet and durable-feeling fabric, the wispy Scott Trail MTN WB was a pleasure to wear straight off, and felt like a more substantial proposition than most of the other lightweights on test here.
It really showed its colours when the weather closed in, and cold mornings could easily be
sealed out with the excellent high collar. The elasticated cuffs were well sized and sealed up properly, and the close fit kept out draughts and prevented flapping.
Our only gripe was the hood; while being well designed, with a practical fabric-formed peak, it wasn’t quite big enough to pull over a trail helmet comfortably. The Scott Trail MTN WB isn’t the lightest on test, but it’s great value and, with a small increase in hood size, could have scored top marks.
Endura MTR Emergency Shell
Weight: 151g • Fabric: waterproof • Colours: black, orange • Sizes: S-XXL
If we were to design a packable jacket, the result wouldn’t be a million miles away from Endura’s MTR Emergency Shell. Bulk and weight is kept to a minimum with an unfussy design — light, elastic cuffs and no pockets — backed up by a lightweight waterproof fabric that cuts a compromise between weight and durability. Taped seams also help keep the weather at bay.
The neat fit keeps flapping fabric and internal draughts to a minimum, but we did find the lack of ventilation meant it got a bit clammy when working hard on the climbs.
On the upside, the dropped tail protects you from wheel spray, and it was finished off with a neat elastic strap to keep it rolled up in your pack. A well-considered jacket, at a very reasonable price.
Sweet Protection Air
Weight: 151g • Fabric: windproof • Colours: blue, red • Sizes: S-XL
There is very little not to like about the Sweet Protection Air — it’s simple, sleek and a great example of what a packable jacket should be. It’s light on features and only has one back pocket, into which it also stows, and there’s no hood or an adjustable hem but it weighs and packs as light as any, yet has everything you really need.
A drop tail covers your backside perfectly when you are hunched over the bars, and most testers liked the soft-feel fabric with its subtle stretch. Showers were easily shrugged off, and any water that did soak in was very quick to dry. In fact, the only real complaint we have is the price — at £20 more than the Scott, for a comparable level of performance, it doesn’t make as much sense when it comes to opening your wallet.
Altura Attack 180
Weight: 225g • Fabric: waterproof • Colours: black, red • Sizes: S-XXL
Altura gear is usually pretty well made, so we were disappointed to see a broken zip on one of the waist pockets within a few weeks of use. It would be a warranty replacement, of course, but it’s a nuisance nonetheless.
Ignoring that glitch, it was a nice jacket to ride in. The drysuit-style elasticated cuffs sealed well on even the smallest wrist and, with the adjustable hem and high collar, we felt pretty weather-tight.
There’s no hood to back this up, but the fabric is waterproof and taped, although not everyone was a fan of the sticky coating inside — the jacket proved tricky to pull on when sweaty. It is very light and packable, however, so you can squeeze it into the corners of a pack without a problem. The fit is on the slim side, which discourages draughts, but we reckon our large is more like a medium. As usual, it pays to check the fit before you buy.
The packable jackets are characterised by lightweight fabrics and clean lines, staying away from too many pockets or vents that would otherwise add to the bulk and weight.
Mavic’s Crossmax Pro H2O impressed in just about every department, with only the Lycra cuffs taking the shine off.
The Sweet Protection Delirious was similarly excellent but austere to a fault and unnecessarily expensive in our opinion. The Pace shone for us as a great value-for-money jacket, with performance fabric and a no-fuss attitude to features, although you might write it off straight away if you want a hood.
The Berghaus was out on its own: far too light and fragile for any kind of regular use, but well worth considering if you wanted a pack-and-forget jacket for emergencies or a superlight bike-packing trip.
This left the Rab Spark, an excellent all-rounder with great weatherproofing and breathability, while retaining a super-light and packable profile. It proved a worthy winner that could easily be used for just about any type of riding, any time of year.
At the opposite end of the scale we felt the Madison more than lived up to it’s £80 price tag, with the soft and pliable fabric looking great on and off the bike. It was a little heavier than we would like, however, but the score reflected the excellent value for money.
With intelligent placement of more pliable fabric, the Altura Attack 360 combined toughness with a nice fit. However, we did have a few issues — the hood is non-helmet friendly and the Lycra cuffs blocked ventilation and held on to moisture.
The Gore could have easily graced the top table of either category — as tough and practical as the all-day heavyweights but almost as light as the packables. It was durable without feeling too bulky, well cut yet managing to leave a bit of breathing space for more layers if needed. In fact, the only reason we didn’t whack a gold star on straight away was due to the exorbitant price. It’s just far too salty in the world of mountain biking, where a ruined jacket is only ever a rocky spill or broken tree branch snag away.
Instead we handed the win to the Endura MT500 II. Every feature is well thought out and executed, the only reason it didn’t score a perfect 10 was due to those unnecessary cuffs.
How we test
You don’t get a harsher testing ground than Scotland for waterproof jackets. There’s rain, wind, sleet, snow and midges all jostling for position to whistle up your oxters at any one time. And that’s just the summer!
Sitting on our Scottish test panel were lightweight racing enthusiasts, battering out marathons, alongside bearded mountain men that like nothing more than sleeping rough atop a Munro. They all have different requirements and expectations for waterproofs, so we sent them out with a selection of each.
We checked for fit, waterproofing and breathability, then shoved them into packs and forgot about them for days, before pulling them on again when the weather closed in. A round of coffee, a pile of jackets and a heated round
table discussion decided the final scores.