Keep dry and warm with these jackets
Staying warm and dry in winter is easy with the right outer layer: we put the best waterproof mountain bike jackets to the test.
Waterproof jackets fall into two camps – lightweight ones that you can sling on when there’s a sudden down pore and heavier jackets that you’d wear from start to finish on a wet day.
A lightweight jacket usually features a stripped down 2.5layer construction but to make it packable features are also kept to a minimum. It’s still breathable and waterproof but the low weight makes this type of jacket perfect for stuffing in a pocket or carrying in a hydration pack.
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In an all-day waterproof, the material is much thicker and hard-wearing, and you’ll get a ton of features such as a double storm flap, permanent hood and lots of pockets, toggle adjusters and vents to manage temperature.
In an ideal world you’d buy one of each but in the real world you may only be able to afford one. The problem both jackets are quite specific to the conditions, so what’s good in a light shower isn’t something you’d want to wear all-day. The reason for this is when riding in one of the all-day jackets you tend to layer accordingly and that often means a long-sleeve base layer underneath, so you can’t just strip down to that once it stops raining. Conversely, a lightweight jacket is not going to offer a lot of warmth, and if you layer up you can get too hot and being soaked in sweat feels exactly the same as being soaked in rain.
Ultimately your choice is between a jacket that you carry with you on a ride or one that keeps you dry at all costs. Only you know which camp you fall into, but either way there’s plenty of choice out there to keep you covered…
Most quality waterproof jackets are built from a laminate fabric, which consists of a waterproof and breathable membrane sandwiched between nylon layers. The membrane is the bit that keeps you dry and Gore-Tex is the most common but dozens of jacket manufacturers make their own version.
All waterproof fabrics are rated for waterproofness (you’ll usually find this on the label) and anything over 10,000mm is pretty watertight in normal conditions. Breathability is also rated – look for the MVTR (Moisture Vapour Transmission Rate). A figure above or around 20,000g/m²/24hr is pretty good.
Manufacturers describe their jackets as having two or three layers but what does this mean? A two-layer fabric is made up of 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. On a three-layer jacket you still get a membrane but it’s sandwiched between two tougher nylon layers.
Riding hard generates heat, and then sweat, so if you want to expel that you’ll need some form of venting. Look for zipped vents under the arm pits or over the chest area and also exhaust venting, simple slits over the shoulder blades. Mesh-lined pockets that you can just open to let air in also help with condensation build up.
Adjustable cuffs, collars and hems stop water getting in but also help regulate airflow the inside of the jacket. They do add weight, so on some lightweight jackets they’re eliminated in favour of elasticated seams.
Some zips are waterproof, some are not. If it’s the latter you will need a storm flap to stop the water passing through. Also look for an easy to pull toggle and a zip gutter (garage) to stop the end of the zip cutting into your neck.
A hood prevents water running down your neck and keeps heat in. Nine of the jackets here have the, and most designed to fit underneath the helmet, a few over the top and one that can do both. The best hoods have dual adjustment, so you can get them tight against your bonce.
These are handy for keys, phone and tools. Look for a waterproof napoleon or chest pocket for your dosh, large internal pockets for a map or bottle and a zipped rear pocket to stash the jacket in when not in use.
The best waterproof mountain bike jackets for 2018
Altura Mayhem 2
We tested Altura’s entry-level Attack 180 a year ago but the Mayhem 2 is the next rung on the ladder; it’s a higher price but you get a better fabric and more features. The jacket is built using the company’s three-layer Stormshield material, which is rated 15k for waterproofness and breathability. All the seams are fully taped to stop water ingress and there’s a full-length waterproof zip as well as an internal storm flap for added security. It’s fit is snug at the neck with a fleece-lined collar and integrated zip gutter. Like the Alpine Star’s Tahoe the Mayhem 2 has reinforced rip stop sections over the sleeves to reduce crash damage.
“To keep the rain off, there’s a small storm peak on the front of the hood but the single toggle adjusters are too long and it can’t decide whether it works over or under a helmet – it’s too small for the former, too loose for the latter
Once out on the wilds the Mayhem 2 proved fully waterproof and the high neck stop the worst of the spray. There were a few patches where the DWR hadn’t quite penetrated the material but water pooled off the surface reasonably well.
“The Mayhem 2 is a decent allrounder but we’d like to see some bigger vents and it could also do with a bit streamlining, even with several base layers it’s really billowy in the chest and arms but oddly short in the body. Overall a great value, hard wearing waterproof but let down by the hood and odd sizing.
Endura MTR shell
Endura’s MTR Shell was the test winner in our lightweight waterproof jacket test a year ago and 12months on it remains relatively unchanged. It’s still constructed from Endura’s in house Exoshell 40 fabric, which is rated to 20k for waterproofness and a whopping 40k for breathability. It’s pretty minimal jacket with no pockets, vents and only stretchy elastic rather than toggles at the hems. There’s silicone gripper on the bottom to stop the jacket riding and micro-printing on the shoulders to reduce strap abrasion.
The hood clips on via press studs, so can be removed easily if you don’t want it flapping about, we’d just like to see a small storage pocket to stash it in. With elastic round the front, the hood sits okay over the helmet but it’s less comfortable underneath.
With its lightweight design the MTR Shell doesn’t feel like it’s going to cope with more than a light shower but the waterproofing is excellent with the water droplets all coalescing together and pooling on the surface fabric. It’s also incredibly breathable so we never felt clammy or too hot riding hard in this shell.
At 216g, the MTR Shell is one of the lightest jackets on test but with handy packing strap, housed in the collar, it can be packed down in seconds. This is the perfect jacket for taking with you on a ride but it’s also substantial enough to be worn all-day. Lightweight, versatile and surprisingly good value – easily our test winner!
Gore Bike Wear C3 Gore-Tex Paclite
Usually Gore Bike Wear jackets are some of the most expensive we test but the C3 Gore-Tex Paclite is mid-pack price wise but still features a proper Gore-Tex fabric and the company’s excellent attention to detail.
The C3 Paclite isn’t the lightest jacket on test but it is minimal with slim adjustable cuffs, tiny draw-string toggles and a compact hood. This is fixed permanently to the jacket, so will flap around if you choose not to use it but it can be cinched down really tight under the helmet. We did try it over the top but on most modern trail lids it only reached half way.
All the seams are fully taped and, to keep water at bay, there are storm flaps on the zip and a high collar, which tucks neatly under the chin. To stop irritation, you get a semi-fleece collar and a zip garage. There are no vents but to be honest they’re hardly necessary with a jacket that breaths this well.
With its cut back design, there’s only a single Napoleon pocket on the chest but this doubles as a stow-away pocket, it even comes with a double-sided zip.
Gore has recently switched to a PFCec Free DWR coating on all of its garments and while this pools water reasonably well, there were some patchy areas on the C3 Paclite. This doesn’t affect the waterproofness but the jacket did take longer to dry out. The C3 Paclite is in a select group – it packs down small but it has enough protection so you can easily wear it all day.
Madison DTE Storm
At over half a kilo, the Madison DTE Storm is definitely a jacket you’d wear on a cold wet ride rather than one you’d pull out when there’s a rain shower. It’s constructed from a heavy duty, three-layer fabric that is fully seam sealed and features a high-wicking inner layer and some large mesh panelling to absorb moisture. The fleecy collar is quite deep but we found it gapes open and in heavy downpours water can get in.
The hood on the DTE Storm is biggest on test and easily fits over a full-sized trail helmet but with the dual adjustment you can cinch it down tight and run it underneath. There’s a storage strap to secure the hood but rolled-up this just feels bulky against the neck, so we just left it hanging loose when we weren’t using it..
Of all the jackets the DTE Strom had the best surface finish –water seemed to fly off the out layer. It’s also one of the warmest jackets too, which is great for colder conditions but in milder weather we found we had to layer up carefully and make full use of the large 12-inch pit vents under the arms. The two side pockets and a central chest pocket can also be opened to act as secondary vents.
The type of waterproof you wear is condition dependent and if you’re up on the moors or high hills on a cold wet day the DTE Storm is the jacket we’d choose.
Scott MTN Trail 30
As the name suggests, Scott’s Trail MTN stretch hybrid 30 jacket is a combination of two materials – a four way stretch DUROxpand material used for the bulk of the jacket and DRYOsphere 3L on the lower back, shoulders and hood. These are the areas where you get spray and constant soaking, hence the waterproof material.
The four way stretch material does get a DWR treatment, so pools water pretty well and it feels great against bare skin, such as when wearing a short sleeve base layer, but it does tend to pick up dirt and water does eventually soak through.
The MTN 30 does have some really smart detailing such as a microclosures on the cuffs, a plush fleece collar, front storm flap and a zip garage. The permanent hood is designed to go under a helmet and comes with a bonded brim and neat adjustment, fastening round the head like a bandana.
Storage capacity with the MTN 30 is off the chart with two gigantic front pockets, one of them features a security pocket to store your essentials, and two massive internal sleeves, which can easily swallow an OS Map and a soft water bottle.
With only strategic waterproof panels the MTN 30 doesn’t offer the same sort of protection as a full-on waterproof but if only showers are forecast it’s more than capable. It’s more a winter jacket than a waterproof but it’s comfortable, sleek fitting and great value.
The best waterproof mountain bike jackets: winners
The best waterproof mountain bike jackets in the all-rounder category: Endura MTR Shell.
The best waterproof mountain bike jackets money-no-object: Gore Bike Wear C3 Gore-Tex Paclite.
Two jackets stood out in this test simply because they straddled both lightweight and all-day categories, meaning they’d offer plenty of protection on a cold wet day but they’re also light and packable, so you can carry them with you and throw them on at the tea stop or when there’s a sudden rain shower. The Gore Bike Wear C3 Paclite and Endura MTR Shell both are fully waterproof but the MTR Shell has better run off and breathability whereas the C3 Palite has a way better hood, that can be cinched down really tight, nicer detailing and overall feels more substantial.
It was hard to separate both jackets during the test, which means you wouldn’t make a mistake buying either one but what swung in the vote in the Endura MTR Shell’s favour was the price. It was simply better value for money.
A note about e-bike apparel
Usually when testing the warmth and breathability of waterproof jackets we use conventional trail bikes because you can really feel how the temperature increase by just cranking hard up hill. However, this year we’ve been out a few times on the e-bikes and things are a lot different when you’re assisted – you usually don’t generate as much heat when you’re climbing and you’re going faster, so wind chill can have a greater effect. When that happens, you don’t want the jacket to breath that well and you actually want to retain some heat. We not suggesting there’s a new category of e-bike specific waterproof, although we wouldn’t put it past companies to do this, but if you’re riding an e-bike full time you may need to tailor your wardrobe accordingly. The jackets we recommend for e-bike riders are the Madison DTE Storm and Altura Mayhem. These jackets are also good for all-day riding because you can really shield yourself from the elements if you venture up onto the high hills.