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 either way there’s plenty of choice out there to keep you well covered…
What to look for in a waterproof mountain bike jacket
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.
The best mountain bike jackets reviewed
Altura Mayhem 2 waterproof mountain bike jacket
An exceptionally waterproof jacket that can compete against high end versions. Do check before you buy though, we found the sizing came up very generous.
Pearl Izumi MTB WRX waterproof mountain bike jacket
A 300g jacket that works well as an all-day option but can pack away easily too. Breathes well, comes with a hood and plenty of space for elbow pads.
Pace 3×3 waterproof mountain bike 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.
Madison Zenith waterproof mountain bike jacket
At 325g, this is a heavier packable, but it’s packed full of features and provides plenty of protection, including a superb hood with reinforced peak.
Endura MTR shell waterproof mountain bike jacket
Ultra light at just 215grams, this jacket doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles but it’ll keep you dry and you’ll barely notice it in your pack the rest of the time. It even includes a useful hood.
Scott Trail MTN Dryo 20 waterproof mountain bike jacket
Attention to detail is second to none when it comes to this heavy weight jacket which comes with fleece lined cuffs, solid storm flap and water resistant zip. One for truly wet and wild days at 410g.
Gore Bike Wear One waterproof mountain bike 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 waterproof mountain bike 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 waterproof mountain bike 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.
Rab Spark waterproof mountain bike 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.
Sweet Protection Delirious waterproof mountain bike 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.
Mavic Crossmax Pro H2O waterproof mountain bike 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.
7Mesh Revelation waterproof mountain bike jacket
7Mesh has gone all Savile Row with the cut of the Revelation. It’s about as tailored a jacket as you’ll find this side of Mayfair. Both jackets are hard to criticise for their fit, but the Gore Tex Pro fabric isn’t as light and supple as some and can seem more restrictive at times.
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
Upper Downs Neo waterproof mountain bike jacket
On the trail, the homegrown start-up from the South Downs impresses. Yes, this level of performance doesn’t come cheap, but it’s often on sale for £189, so there couldn’t be a better time to bolster your foul weather defences.
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.
Lightweight packable winner was 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 Roam 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.
We handed the win heavyweight jacket 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.
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.
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.