Winter sucks! To enjoy the wet season you have to keep it outside of your jacket. We test seven of the best waterproof MTB jackets to see which ones can handle the chill.
You have all heard the saying, “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. Well anyone who says that has never experienced their face being shot blasted by rain while clinging to the side of a mountain by their fingertips – sometimes the weather is just shit. In these situations a good jacket can be the difference between a sense of humour failure and a dangerous situation, especially in the colder months.
What makes a jacket waterproof
Generally there are two types of jacket. Water Resistant jackets are treated with a Durable Water Repellency (DWR) coating that causes water to bead and run off. Water resistant jackets are more affordable, but they will generally be less breathable and overtime the DWR coating will wear off and need to be recoated. More expensive Waterproof jackets have a membrane sandwiched between the layers which contains tiny pores. These microscopic pores are big enough to let vapor (sweat) out from inside, but too small to let in big water drops. This is why you should never wash expensive waterproof jackets in softener as it can block the pores. Popular membranes like Gore Tex are highly breathable and offer great protection against the rain, but the cost is higher.
How waterproof is waterproof?
When looking at jackets you will see a host of confusing numbers, for example imagine a jacket that’s waterproof to 10,000 mm and breathable to 12,000 g/m², what the hell does that mean? Basically, it means if you could put a square 1×1 inch tube over the fabric and fill it to 10,000 mm (10m) before it would leak through. The higher the number, the more waterproof the jacket. While ratings of 5,000 -10,000 mm are good for general riding, for long mountain days a higher rating would be preferable. When it comes to breathability, the 12,000 g/m² means it can shift 12,000 g of water from the inside to the outside per square meter of fabric over 24 hours. Again the bigger the number the more breathable, and probably expensive, the jacket.
Taped seams, critical or full?
It’s important to buy a jacket with taped seams. This means that all the tiny holes made by the sewing machine are taped over for maximum protection. The best jackets will be ‘fully taped’ where all the seams are protected, which cheaper jackets will be ‘critically taped’ with only the shoulder and back seams protected.
Fit and form, beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Jackets for mountain biking benefit from a different fit from other sports. Most jackets now have an anatomical fit, where the sleeves and back are a little longer to provide coverage in the normal riding position. A well fitting jacket will have an athletic cut, with enough flex or material around the shoulders for dynamic riding, without being so loose that it flaps in the wind. Some jackets now feature high stretch fabric for added comfort.
Up with the hood
No matter how waterproof your jacket, if you ride in heavy rain without a hood your jacket will fill up like a water balloon. Most of the jackets in this group test have hoods, and the best are cut more generously to fit over a helmet for the quickest and most effective protection. The best hoods with have adjusters for height and volume.
Don’t boil in the bag, it’s all about the vents
It’s not always cold when it’s raining, and no matter how breathable your jacket, a decent hill can have you sweating more than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Cycling is hard work, and vents can provide far more ventilation than a membrane. The best jackets have vents that can be unzipped to allow air to flow freely around the jacket, under the arms and on the chest. The faster the air is changed inside the jacket, the less moisture builds up and the dryer you stay. Be suspicious of vents in on the back though, as these are normally ineffective when wearing a rucksack.
What’s in your pockets?
If you plan to carry a phone and map in your jacket, be sure to choose one with big pockets. We especially like jackets with a zipped compartment so you do not end up dropping your phone in the mud every time you fish around for an emergency jelly baby.
Colour, more than just black and white
We all love tech black, living out our ‘special forces’ fantasies. If your jacket is for shredding home trails and smashing down pints after the ride, then any colour goes. But if you plan to head out into the big mountains a bright colour will go a long way to keep you visible!