Requiring excellent breathability, a hard-wearing construction and protection from the foulest of conditions, the best mountain bike jackets have a hard life. Here's our pick of the ultimate outerwear.
The best mountain bike jackets are an investment you will never regret, especially when it starts tipping down halfway through an already wet and muddy winter ride.
Pair any one of the jackets with some of the best mountain bike trousers and you’ll have no fear of getting out there on splashy trails.
Fantastic breathability and minimal weight
Weight: 238g | Sizes: XS-XXL | Colours: Red, green, black | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Excellent fabric put together… excellently Cons: Slender fit
We’re far more used to seeing Endura jackets with a ‘MT’ prefix (MT = mountain biking) so what’s this here ‘GV’ labelling all about? It’s the dreaded G-word: gravel biking. But fear not, this jacket is not specifically about the cult drop-bar phenom. It works really well as a no-nonsense, nicely tailored waterproof jacket for the average trail rider on a mountain bike. There’s enough adjustability and features on offer here and the key thing is that the fabric performance speaks for itself; super breathable and more than capable of withstanding the typical rainy day’s ride.
Best women’s jacket
Sizes: 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 | Weight: 475g | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Great fit and protection Cons: Lack of features (which can also be a Pro for some riders!)
Madison’s DTE jacket won our women’s waterproof test, with its three-layer construction proving a match for the worst of a British winter. Our tester praised the hood for having enough room for long hair or a ponytail, and came away extremely impressed with the performance of the Durable Waterproof Repellent coating, with water sheeting off the surface perfectly. A heavy duty jacket, the DTE is the ideal match for even the most stinking of winter days. The jacket to reach for before every wet ride.
Great value winter jacket
Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL | Weight: 355g | Rating: 8/10
Pros: Great price/performance ratio. Packed with features and good breathability for a two-layer jacket. Cons: Looks a bit army surplus and superfluous rear pocket.
Madison claims 10k ratings for breathability and waterproofness for its 2.5 layer mtb jacket, which is nothing to shout about, but it outperformed similar spec jackets from other rivals in the field, both in terms of keeping water out and allowing sweat to escape. There are generous pockets and a usable hood, as well as a cut that’s generous without being baggy. If you want a functional winter jacket without spending the earth, the Madison Roam is a great option.
Perfect winter warmer
Sizes: S-XXL | Weight: 218g | Rating: 9/10
Pro: Toasty warm yet breathable. Great value Con: Not designed for full-on downpours. Rustles a lot.
Polartec’s Alpha material is a brilliant new insulating fabric originally designed for special forces. Now incorporated into this jacket from Wiggle in-house brand Föhn, it does an great job of keeping you warm in the winter, and manages to regulate temperature better than any insulated jacket we’ve tested. Great value at £120, too.
Significant investment but the ultimate blend of weight, waterproofing and breathability
Weight: 253g | Sizes: XS-XXL | Colours: Green, beige, blue | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Money-no-object perfection Cons: £300! Zip pulls can loosen
7Mesh stuff ain’t cheap. It’s a relatively small brand formed by folk who used to work at Art-teryx and design mountain bike specific gear over in Squamish. The general vibe of 7Mesh is one of no-compromise. Take the fabric – Gore-Tex Acxtive – it’s pretty much the best full 3-layer fabric that Gore-Tex make. This alone makes for a high price tag due to its unbeatable rating for both waterproofness and breathability. The cut is a bit looser than some but the light nature of the fabric means it’s not annoying or bunchy. 7Mesh’s secret weapon is their after-sales policy of low-price repair (or replace) service for any damage that happens to the jacket.
Compact and incredibly lightweight package
Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL | Weight: 262g | Rating: 9/10
Pro: Minimalist Con: Not the most stylish design
It really was a close-run thing between this and the Endura MT500 for the test win. The performance of both jackets is superb but C5 Trail Hooded gets the runner up spot because the lightweight build is just a bit more fragile and we feel that under hood isn’t as practical and doesn’t offer the same level of protection as an over-helmet design.
How we test the best mountain bike jackets
To check the waterproofing, we subjected each of the jackets to a 10-minute dousing from the same water source at the same distance and measured the volume of water that soaked through the fabric. We then took them all on the same test loop in the same ambient temperatures wearing the same base layer to check their breathability, while also rating the fit and function of any features while riding on a variety of trails.
Know the best mountain bike jackets
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘there’s so such thing as bad weather, only the wrong type of clothing’, and rings true for mountain biking as any outdoor activity. But there are probably few disciplines placing such extreme, and often conflicting, demands on foul weather clothing as riding bikes in the dirt. Not only does a mountain bike jacket have to protect you from the elements, it needs to process sweat generated by your body too. It has to be durable enough to endure being sprayed by abrasive pellets of mud and dirt, and resistant to rips and tears when you crash, yet, ideally, lightweight and packable into a pocket or bag.
An obvious aspect to prioritise is water resistance. And while that’s crucial, we’d argue that waterproofing should never come at the expense of breathability, since you’ll only get soaked on the inside if your jacket can’t manage the heat you generate on a climb.
The reason jackets can be both waterproof and breathable is down to the size of the water molecules. Water droplets are larger than moisture vapour molecules, so by designing the size of the fabric weave, a jacket can block the rain while also allowing sweat to escape.
To help define a jacket’s performance, standardised lab tests have been developed. For waterproofness, this involves putting a piece of fabric under a 1in diameter tube and filling it with water until it leaks through. The height at which the water starts to penetrate the fabric is its hydrostatic head. Hence a 20,000mm jacket can withstand a column of water up to 20m high.
For breathability, the test examines how much water vapour can pass through 1m2 of fabric in 24 hours. So a 3,000g jacket lets through 3kg of water in 24 hours. Some brands publish the figures for their garments, but these tests don’t always tell the full story, as they can relate to the fabric itself rather than the performance across a specific garment taking into account zips, pockets and seams, which can alter performance.
Since jackets are expensive, it makes sense to take care of them. The best way to prolong the life of your waterproof jacket is to wash it in either pure soap liquid (available from most supermarkets) or a specialist detergent such as Nikwax Tech Wash. Use a low temp (300) and either air dry or tumble dry on low. Wash-in reproofers are also available to restore the DWR should you notice that water is no longer beading on your jacket.
Stands for durable water repellent and is a hydrophobic fabric treatment that helps any water to bead into droplets and run off the surface rather than collecting in pools and wetting-out, which impedes the transfer of water vapour (sweat).
A hood prevents water running down your neck and keeps the heat in. There are two types – over-helmet or under-helmet. Look for adjustable drawstrings on the crown and chin to keep them tight, and
a high collar.
Most quality waterproof jackets are built from a laminate fabric, which consists of a waterproof/breathable membrane either sandwiched between two layers (three- layer jacket) or stuck to the inside of one (two-layer or 2.5-layer). The membrane is the part that keeps rain out while allowing sweat to escape. All waterproof fabrics are rated for their waterproofness, and anything over 10,000mm is pretty watertight in normal conditions. Breathability is also rated as a MVTR (Moisture Vapour Transmission Rate) figure. Figures above 20,000g/m2/24hr indicate a good level of breathability.
To help expel heat, some jackets use a form of adjustable venting. Look for zipped pit vents under the arms, exhaust venting or a simple split over the shoulder blades and body vents down the front of the chest. Mesh-lined pockets can also increase airflow, but you do need to run them open. Certain fabrics (such as Gore- Tex Active) breathe better with a pressure differential between the interior and exterior, in which case keeping everything zipped up actually helps keep you cool in the long run.
Lots of jackets have waterproof zips, but some companies add a storm flap as a second line of defence. These are effective, but if they’re too narrow or flimsy they can snag in the zip. Also look for a zip gutter (garage) and/or a fleecy area at the collar – this stops the sharp end of the zip scratching your neck.
Manufacturers describe their jacket as having two and three layers, but what does that mean? A two-layer fabric is made up an outer face fabric bonded to the waterproof membrane, usually with a mesh liner hanging inside. On a 2.5-layer, the mesh liner is replaced with a micro (or half) layer, which is either bonded or printed onto the membrane. A three-layer jacket has a third layer attached to the membrane, which usually has some form of texture or open weave to help draw out moisture, promos wicking and feel good next to the skin.
Some jackets have a ton of pockets, while some have none. There are side pockets for keys, a phone or tools, a big rear pocket to stuff the whole lot in, or even a Napoleon chest pocket for putting your hand in, like er… Napoleon.