The three main considerations for your top layer, are wind protection, rain proofing and breathability. The only thing worse than being soaked to the skin is feeling like you’re cycling in a plastic bag. On warmer winter days, sometimes a gilet or wind vest is all you need but if whichever you choose is packable enough for your jersey pocket then you’ve got all bases covered. If you’re going to be out all day in the rain, then water-proofing and breathability will be top of your list, and this can extend from rain jackets though to water-proof shorts.
Altura Women’s Synchro Waterproof Jacket » £80 » women
All our female testers took to this waterproof jacket on first sight. Our sample came in an understated black, but is lifted perfectly by some subtle but effective pink highlighting on the zip to give a little zing.
The cut is close and flattering, perfect for spring to autumn as we found there wasn’t a lot of room underneath to layer up in the cold. Breathability is good, which is just as well as the plain design doesn’t include ventilation options.
A dropped tail, long sleeves and lightweight fabric means it easily stuffs in a pocket, but still gives excellent protection when needed. Three back pockets finish an excellent, lightweight waterproof.
+ The fit, subtle styling and price
- The zip failed after only a few rides but Altura’s 2-year warranty will cover that
Endura FlipJak Reversible jacket » £100 » men
On the face of it this could be just another insulated jacket so perhaps an unusual choice for a cycling magazine.
Actually we think it’s a stroke of genius. In high-vis mode it is a great cold weather jacket with its Primaloft Silver insulation – just enough for chilly rides, and yet highly compressible for packing in a pannier.
The dropped tail and long arm length mean it’s genuinely useful for casual cycling.
The genius of this jacket is that its reversible. If you’re cycle touring or bike camping it makes a brilliant, good-looking evening thermal layer and the windproof and showerproof shell provides basic protection from the elements.
+ Two jackets in one when it’s already good value
- Not breathable enough for the hard chargers
Specialized Deflect H2O Expert Mtn AS Jacket » £160 » men
Although not sold as waterproof, Gore’s Windstopper Active Shell fabric is so water resistant you would need a sustained downpour to notice the difference.
Specialized have maximised on this and built a jacket that is extremely water resistant, yet very breathable and comfortably light to wear. Adding a peaked hood, velcro adjustable cuffs and elastic adjustable hem mean this is an extremely protective jacket and a roomy cut means you can layer up underneath too. The hood is snug; too small to fit over a helmet but perfect for squeezing underneath.
An offset front zip adds a bit of pep to the styling.
+ Drop mesh liner means it’s comfy even over a short-sleeved jersey
- Pricey, and we prefer hoods to go over the helmet
Troy Lee Ace II Windbreaker » £60 » men
Although Troy Lee is primarily known as a mountain bike brand, we quickly found this Ace Windbreaker is far better suited to the road. With its windproof front and arms, but open weave back panel it breathes really well when riding, but when standing around or slowing right down the windchill can squirrel its way in via that panel. Those conditions are far more likely when offroad, but on the road the wind is almost invariably coming from the front.
A traditional road layout of three pockets across the base of the back also points away from mountain biking, and prove very handy for stashing the usual waterproof and food for a long day riding.
+ Decent price for a windproof extra layer
- That breathable back can be chilly when stopped mor riding slow with a tail wind
Scott Trail Mtn WB Jacket » £80 » men
We are very impressed by the weight of the Trail Mtn WB, coming in lighter and packing smaller than other windproofs on test by some margin. It is the protection and functionality at that weight that really sold it to us however.
We loved the high collar to really seal out the draughts, while the light but functional elastic hem and cuffs did the same at the other entrances. The hood isn’t quite big enough to pull over our trail helmets, but is otherwise excellent with a small peak and roomy cut. The fabric is soft and quiet in use and, combined with a close fit that discouraged flapping, it is a jacket we could happily forget was on.
+ Extremely light and packable, but with great weatherproofing
- The hood could have been bigger to accommodate a trail helmet
Intrepid Gravity jacket » £90 » men
picking up this jacket you get a feel for where they might have got the name – it’s so heavy we checked the pockets for rocks.
There is no denying it is extremely tough however, with a multitude of great features, fabrics inside and out and looks, and that is where the weight always adds up.
Best suited to enduro mountain biking in the colder months, it sports a microfleece drop lining for warmth, excellent large wire-peaked hood big enough for a trail helmet, loads of elasticated adjustment and a wonderfully soft and stretchy outer fabric.
On the bike we pretty quickly forget the weight and just enjoy the fit, warmth and multitude of pocket options.
+ A capable, warm jacket that should see you through the coldest months
- The weight – this jacket weighs a tonne
Gore Bike Wear Women’s Phantom II Windstopper » £150 » women
Some may baulk at the price of this softshell – it isn’t even waterproof after all – but after a solid few seasons we would happily pay that and more.
The key to this value is in the versatility. In the colder months we wear it with just a base layer, adjusting zips to ventilate where necessary. The Windstopper layer keeps draughts out and the small amount of insulation in the fabric hits a sweet spot for a perfect temperature. Also, although not waterproof, it shrugs off all but persistent showers with ease and dries quickly.
When the days warm up the sleeves come off, stash in the back pocket, and the Phantom becomes a plush gilet.
+ A flattering cut, thin yet warm fabric and removeable sleeves make it a jacket you won’t take off
- It is expensive, but very versatile
Madison Flux Super Light Softshell Jacket » £115 » men
packable waterproofs can make you think of rustly, insubstantial jackets that live at the bottom of your rucksack only for emergencies. At 247g the Flux Superlight is definitely lightweight, but its comfort and features meant we hardly took it off.
The super-stretchy fabric is soft and silent, comfortable and flap free, in fact we often forgot we were wearing it at all – and you really don’t get higher praise. The fabric is extremely breathable, but sensibly you also get laser cut holes under the arms and adjustable cuffs and hem.
The hood is large, but not quite big enough to pull over a helmet, and there are plenty of easy-to-use waterproof pockets.
+ Stretchy, quiet fabrics are comfortable and the price is right
- The hood just needs to be a little bigger for trail helmets
Endura MTR Emergency Shell » £90» men
Even if you rarely ride in the rain, you are still going to need a shell to cover you for those unexpected showers and cold winds. As the name suggests the MTR Emergency Shell has been designed to keep its impact on your jersey’s back pocket or rucksack to a minimum.
The fit is excellent with the aid of stretch panels round the shoulders – close but not too close – and the collar is snug with its microfleece lining for a touch of luxury.
Elastic cuffs and hem seal out draughts but preclude adjustment for a bit of ventilation. Still, this is all to keep the bulk down, and as it says on the tin, this jacket is only designed for emergencies.
+ The lightweight and packable design
- Few ventilation options; but that does keep the weight low
Polaris Mica Women’s Windproof Jersey » £60 » women
The Mica in fact only has a windproof chest, with the arms and back made of a Roubaix-type fabric. Beautifully soft, stretchy and breathable we find this counters the windproof front nicely and prevents moisture build up perfectly. It also helps to manage temperature well, letting us cool effectively without chilling our core.
A soft, brushed interior is very inviting and although our testers wear it over long-sleeve baselayers, it’s comfy over bare arms.
The sleeves are long, with thumb loops, although as they’re a little on the bulky side we tend to leave them off. Three rear pockets are well received, with the centre one closed by a very strong velcro patch.
+ A windproof chest, great looks and excellent value
- Thumbloops a little on the bulky side