A packable bike jacket is often considered an essential emergency item that’ll see you through a shower, but not weather a storm; but thanks to the latest in lightweight, breathable waterproofing technology, all that is changing.
Gore are at the forefront of this, with their Gore-Tex Shakedry technology (appearing on one of the jackets on test here) being treated into the weave of the fabric so an additional durable water repellent (DWR) coating isn’t needed. This also cuts down on the weight of the garment, and makes it more breathable because there are less layers.
If you’re looking to buy a packable jacket, think about what you want: if it’s waterproofing, then you want a jacket with taped seams to stop water ingress. If you prioritise comfort, then more seams will lead to a better fit, but this means more entry points for water. Some brands will combine taped seams with more stretchy fabrics to give the best of both, a feature of high-end packable jackets with tech such as Gore-Tex. Also, be aware that DWR coatings will lose their effectiveness after a few washes, which means water will no longer bead off the surface. But you can buy DWR sprays to restore the water repelling properties of your jacket.
The range of options on test here represent everything from the big budget and cutting edge for serious weather protection on longer rides, to the simple and affordable for a Sunday spin where the weather might turn volatile.
Although offering some visibility, the RC Pro Wind Block isn’t going to win any style points for us, and looks a bit like a piece of promo gear with the Scott logo plastered across the chest. At 187g, it’s heavier than the very packable options on test, but we just about managed to stuff it in our jersey pocket. The decent-sized water repellent pocket did the job, protecting our phone adequately during some quite heavy showers. For a size medium we felt the sleeves were too long, so much so that rain water collected into the creases, which required shaking off. So we’d suggest sizing down if you’re in between, although the jacket is quite short in the body so cyclists with a similarly small wingspan may struggle to find the right fit. Elsewhere, the jacket is slim-fitting and has a soft, stretchy hem at the bottom. The split section on the small of the back is an interesting feature, offering plenty of ventilation and giving you easy access to jersey pockets.Although, in strong winds and showers, we found it can actually be an entry point for rain, so it needs an update for the next version.
Verdict: Good ventilation but underwhelming for the price and features some design flaws 72%
Buy from www.triathlonstore.co.uk
The Pro Barrier Lite is definitely light and packable, stowing away in our jersey with ease and weighing just 123g. A bold design includes important reflective detailing and a thin pocket on the middle of the back, while the softshell protection is supposedly windproof and water resistant. While it might be unfair to judge showerproof packable jackets during a deluge, we’d at least expect some level of prolonged protection, but unfortunately the Pro Barrier Lite lost any ability to keep us dry after just 20 minutes.
Both phone and wallet were soaked in jersey pockets underneath and the sleeves had stuck to our skin, making for an unpleasant end to our ride. It does pick up marks for the form fit offered by Softshell Lite fabric, which means the jacket doesn’t flap around in the wind and it’s stretchy enough to give you a decent range of movement. Sadly it’s so thin that the water-resistant fabric just doesn’t stand up to medium to heavy rain. The Pro Barrier Lite is fine for a light shower, is adequately windproof and breathable, but there’s better out there and for less money, too.
Verdict: Points for visibility but not built to withstand more than a brief, light shower 68%
Buy from www.tredz.co.uk
The 365 Atmoshield from British brand Planet X looks quite robust for a packable option, but we managed to get it in a jersey pocket with relative ease and it weighed just 158g on our scales. The ‘Showerflex’ fabric offers windproofing and a three-way stretch, the latter giving the garment a form fit without the added bulk of fully-taped seams. We found that the collar was a bit too big and loose, so required zipping right up to stop it flapping and letting the wind in. The slippery, polyester inside lining of the jacket isn’t massively breathable either, so it’s perhaps best for training rides with a base layer in single-digit temperatures. The fit is regular but not too baggy, so we’d recommend sizing down if you’re in between.
Overall, the 365 Atmoshield is a simple, no-nonsense jacket that, if anything, is undersold as simply showerproof, as it also provided good protection in heavy rain, too. You can pick it up in red or fluro yellow if the all-black feels too invisible, plus, for £40 on the Planet X website at the time of writing, the Atmoshield is easily the best value option on test. www.planetx.co.uk
Verdict: Collar issues but offers decent protection for the price and is built to last 82%
Buy from www.planetx.co.uk
The 240g Brevet from high-end cycle clothing brand Rapha is of a different mould to other offerings on test, with insulation to make it more suitable for cooler temperatures as the off-season gets into full swing. Polartec’s Alpha technology is responsible for the insulation, aiming to be breathable and core temperature-regulating. While we found this to be true, to a point, in temperatures of 10ºC or above the Brevet was just a bit too warm for training rides, but fine for casual jaunts and fending off rain very well.
Though Rapha describe the Brevet as packable, this is the only jacket we couldn’t fit into a standard jersey pocket, so isn’t really suitable as an emergency option, requiring further on-bike storage unless you’re wearing it for the duration of your ride. Annoyingly, there’s also no access point to your jersey pockets and, although you get a small phone-sized pocket on the jacket, we’d have liked this to have been considered for longer rides. Still, it’s soft to the touch and looks great, if a bit short in the body. There’s also a hi-viz yellow version.
Verdict: Not the most breathable or packable, but comfortable in cooler temperatures 78%
Buy from www.rapha.cc
‘Finally, the miracle jacket is here’, Castelli boldly claimed of the Idro jacket when it was launched late last year. The supposed miracle is to be found in the two-layered Active fabric courtesy of Gore-Tex. Where most jackets have a third textile layer with water repellent treatment, this has a waxy outer coating that’s totally water repellent, meaning it’s lighter because you lose a layer and it doesn’t absorb any water, instead it just beads onto the surface. It’s a hardshell so, despite excellent breathability, you’re still going to hold some sweat inside on those very rare occasions in the UK when it’s very warm and wet.
There’s a side zip opening (don’t mistake it for a pocket) so you can access your inside jersey pockets on the go, with both this and the front zipper being extremely strong and durable. So far we’ve put the Idro through countless rides and over 10 washes, and the performance is yet to diminish at all. Also weighing just 123g and easily packing into a jersey pocket, when it comes to packable waterproofing there’s little out there to match the Idro at the time of writing. Black is currently the only colour available.
Verdict: An immense jacket that’s durable, light, water-resistant and also immensely expensive 93%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
The final verdict
Of the men’s options, all but one of the jackets fit into a jersey pocket, but we found big differences in levels of rain protection between them. At £90 and leaving us soaked through in middling levels of precipitation, we wouldn’t recommend Pearl Izumi’s Barrier Lite for more than a back-up emergency layer.
The offering from Planet X is impressive, and considering you can often pick one up for £39.99 via the Planet X website, this is the one we’d go for on a budget. Rapha’s Brevet was easily the heaviest on test at 240g, but it’s a good choice if you can afford to have more than one rain jacket in your kit collection.
Our out-and-out winner without a doubt is Castelli’s Idro. Yes it’s a huge spend, but to have this much rain protection in such a small space marks the next step in packable waterproofing, of which the rest of the contenders here don’t come close to matching. It deflects water, is suitable for a wide range of temps and offers a close fit, with robust zips. We’re hoping they’ll do a non-black version soon, for visibility.
All images by The Secret Studio