As we inch closer to spring, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel (or more literally, the light at the end of the workday) approaching. And you don’t need to wait for full-blown summer to get off the trainer: A cold-weather cycling jacket or vest can help you hit the road or trail much sooner. But with all their features to consider, it’s important to recognize which one best suits your needs. Check out quick reviews below of five of our top performers, then scroll deeper for longer reviews of these jackets and other high-ranking options, plus helpful buying advice.
What Kind of Cold-Weather Cyclist Are You?
If most of your cold-weather riding consists of moderately paced commutes or leisurely rides on bike paths, you’ll need a jacket with more insulation because you won’t be sweating or working up as much heat as you would if you were doing, say, longer group rides on the road. But if you know you’ll be working hard and getting your heart rate up, you’ll want to opt for something close-fitting and minimalist, with windproof panels and good ventilation. Of course, there’s more to how well a jacket functions than fit and fabric alone. Features count, too—things like waterproof zippers, multiple pockets, fleecy collars, sleeve length, reflective details and, of course, colors. If you ride on the road, for example, the more visible you are, the better.
Waterproof vs. Water-Resistant
Waterproof and water-resistant are different points on the same continuum, and what you want varies by how you’ll use it. According to Rob Pickels, a physiologist working on Pearl Izumi’s Advanced Concepts team, you don’t actually want a waterproof jacket for most cycling because, along with keeping the rain out, it will likely keep all of your sweat in. Most manufacturers use a scale to show how much water a garment will keep out. Pickels suggests a jacket with a breathability rating of 5,000 grams per square meter for most of the rainy weather that you’re likely to ride in, while 10,000 will handle just about any deluge you’d reasonably encounter.
How much you love a winter jacket will likely depend on several factors: how well it fits, how well it keeps you warm, how well it keeps you dry, and how well it breathes. The last one is maybe the trickiest to get right.
Breathability is a measure of how much moisture a membrane can transport. Moisture here means sweat, and if your cozy winter jacket doesn’t breathe, you’ll be drenched in the stuff during hard efforts, and it could freeze when you cool down, chilling you. The best jackets let a lot of moisture escape without allowing too much cold air or moisture in. But you’ll pay more for them.
How We Tested
Every jacket and vest on this list has been thoroughly evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and designers, and use our own experience wearing these to determine the best options. Our team of experienced testers spent many hours, through freezing, super-windy, and mildly chilly days wearing this gear during a wide variety of rides, from casual trail days to long road rides, intense hammer-fest sessions, and everything in between. We pushed the limits of their insulation, and put water-resistance claims to the test. We evaluated them based on performance, fit, price, and comfort to put together this list of which will serve you best as you ride closer every day the light at the end of the cold, winter tunnel.
—BEST IN THE RAIN—
C5 Gore-Tex Shakedry 1985 Insulated
The insulated Gore Shakedry is so good at keeping you warm and, yes, dry that you might actually start looking forward to winter rides. We did. The jacket has a combination of warmth, water resistance, wind- and waterproofing, breathability, low weight, and comfort that we once thought impossible. It feels like a spring windbreaker but protects like a ski shell. The magic comes from two sources: Gore’s excellent Shakedry membrane, which is lighter and more breathable than standard Gore-Tex, and a thin layer of Polartec Alpha insulation—incredibly warm for how light it is. With just a base layer under it, you can wear the jacket comfortably down to freezing temps, and it’s just loose enough that you can add another layer if needed. It keeps you amazingly dry when it’s 34 degrees and raining, but so breathable that you’ll want to wear it even on dry winter days.
—ALL-WEATHER ADVENTURE JACKET—
Rapha Explore Gore-Tex
A quarter-zip pullover designed to weather the storm through your biggest adventures on and off the bike, the Explore is made from Gore-Tex Active, the company’s lightest three-layer laminate made to be exceptionally breathable, durable, and waterproof. The sizing runs a bit larger than you’d expect from Rapha, so don’t worry about buying up if that’s what you usually do for the brand’s jackets; it’ll just leave you plenty of room to layer underneath. We threw it over a soft shell jacket to stay dry on a ride, and then used it as a windbreaker over a hoodie while standing around at a track meet. The jacket has reflective elements on the chest, rear hem, and shoulders for better visibility in low light and bad weather. The fully-taped seams, waterproof zipper, and hood block even the most persistent downpours. It doesn’t have rear pockets but instead has one large chest pocket, which proved to be really convenient for gloved hands.
Kitsbow Vertigo Jacket
Like many of Kitsbow’s products, the Vertigo Jacket walks a line between functional pieces for high-output cycling, and athleisure wear. There’s no doubt that the Vertigo is a beautiful shacket (shirt jacket)—I got a compliment every time I stepped out on the town wearing it. And it’s insulated with Polartec’s Alpha, which is currently the finest insulation for intense activities because, in part, it stays warm when wet and dries very fast. But as a purely functional cycling piece it comes up short in a few ways. It’s cut more for standing up straight and holding onto a beer than it is for leaning over and reaching for a handlebar. It’s short in the back, stylishly snug (on the product page Kitsbow warns “Runs slightly small. Tailored fit, size up for a looser fit”), and there’s little stretch. There’s also the matter of the snap closure—lets in drafts, tough to close one-handed—and the thick ribbed cuffs at the wrists, which get soaked with sweat. When evaluated only on its performance as an insulating piece for cool to cold weather riding, the Vertigo is just okay—there are better insulated cycling jackets that cost less. But there are few, if any, insulated jackets that you can ride in that look this good.
Endura MTR Primaloft Jacket
Few brands offer as much foul-weather gear—or do it as well—as Endura. A result of their home base being located in Scotland, no doubt. True to its name, the MTR Primaloft Jacket is fully insulated with Primaloft Silver insulation, good stuff that holds up during intense activity. Though it’s a simple looking piece, it hides some ride-friendly features like zippered pockets, a gripper hem, ventilation holes in the (insulated) back panel, a stowaway lightweight under-helmet hood, grippers on the shoulder to prevent a hydration pack from sliding around, pit zips for dumping excess heat on the climbs, and wrist gaiters to seal out drafts. The fit is slightly snug—the neck was overly tight and didn’t leave room for a warmer—but the cut is comfortable in a riding position even though there’s little in the way of stretch. Though it’s not crazy warm—they make a warmer jacket called the MT500 Freezing Point—it kept me comfortable from just above freezing to nearly the 50s thanks to the generous pit zips (I did find zippers are finicky and tough to fully open and close) and Primaloft’s ability to dry quickly and maintain its insulating properties when wet. At $190, it’s one of the better values in insulated riding jackets too.
—BEST SPRING JACKET—
Decathlon Sportive Jacket
France-based brand Decathlon is quickly gaining popularity in the U.S., and for good reason—their affordably priced clothing and gear are high-quality and reasonably priced. This jacket in particular is a delight for long rides in cold temps: The brushed-fabric interior and water-resistant, breathable exterior keeps you insulated and dry through chilly, damp conditions, and the extra-long rear hem offers plenty of extra coverage. And instead of cramming three pockets on the small back panel, the split the panel into two and added another pocket on each side panel so you can load up for those long days in the saddle.
—RACE-CUT CYCLING VEST—
Assos Equipe RS Fall Spring Aero Gilet
The Aero Gilet is a great companion for shoulder season riding or high-intensity outings such as racing or training. It’s made with a waterproof and breathable three-layer membrane. A slightly heavier stretch fabric up front blocks the wind and rain, and a lighter more breathable back panel helps vent sweat and excess warmth at high intensities. Tester and photographer Trever Raab said that the vest did all this while being form-fitting and comfortable. It’s worth nothing that this race vest doesn’t have pockets but does have a double zipper for rear jersey pocket access. The Gilet isn’t as packable as some lighter offerings but works wonders when it’s just c0ld enough to warrant a vest for the entire ride.
—BEST WOMEN’S JACKET—
Velocio Women’s Signature Softshell
This completely revamped jacket has a whole different pattern and fit from the previous version, and it’s definitely the best Softshell yet. It’s cut to be form-fitting when you’re in your riding position, but is roomy enough to hang onto warm air as well as allow extra insulation underneath. Three layers comprise the jacket: PrimaLoft for warmth, a ventilated membrane, and a stretchy, water-resistant face fabric. It’s plenty breathable, allowing for moisture evaporation and a bit of heat dissipation, but still kept test editor Riley Missel totally dry through a misty, drizzly ride. Velocio claims this jacket performs best between freezing and 50 degrees, and we agree, provided you adjust your layering underneath accordingly.
—LOW PROFILE, HIGH INSULATION—
Bontrager Velocis Subzero Softshell
Don’t be fooled by how thin this jacket is, it’s much warmer than it looks. Rated for 15 to 40 degrees, it’s not quite good for subzero temps like the name might have you believe, but it is definitely too warm for weather in the 50s. For super windy rides in the mid-40s, tester Jessica Coulon only needed a thin tank top underneath. And in moderate rain, The Velocis kept out water, so it’s great for cold days with scattered showers or a slight chance of rain. Her only issue with the jacket was that it’s pretty snug at the wrists, but the upside is that it definitely keeps the cold air out. Three back pockets with stretchy openings and reflective detailing help you load up for a long ride, and keep you visible in low light.
Giro Men’s Chrono Pro Alpha
Giro’s Chrono Pro Alpha is made for going hard when it’s cold outside. The wind-facing parts of the jacket are lined with Polartec’s Alpha Direct insulation, which is soft and extremely good at trapping heat. It may look thin, but it’s much warmer than you expect. The jacket also keeps its warmth-trapping abilities when wet and dries super-fast. If you’re a heavy sweater like tester Matt Phillips, those are crucial attributes. The exterior of the jacket is made of Polartec Windbloc—with DWR to keep light precipitation and spray from soaking the outside of the jacket—which keeps icy drafts out.
The backside of the arms and back of the torso are not insulated, helping them breathe better than the Polartec-lined areas. The piece offers a snug and aerodynamic fit with excellent stretch so you can maintain your slammed position all day long. There are very large reflective panels on the back and sides for increased visibility, and a double cuff system keeps drafts off your wrists and from creeping up your arms. The only downside was the pockets: The flaps over the top intended to keep rain or debris out made them a pain to work around when we were wearing thick winter gloves.
Pearl Izumi Men’s Escape Softshell
This jacket is windproof with a fuzzy brushed interior for added warmth. The knitted polyester is water-resistant (not waterproof), but moves and stretches with you easily. There’s an extra tab of wind-blocking fabric along the inside of the zipper to keep drafts from getting in. The single chest pocket is easy to access and big enough room for a gel or cycling computer (but not a smartphone). The Softshell has a single zippered back pocket, useful for storing extras like a vest or neck gaiter; just keep things that can bounce around, like keys or a phone, out of it. The bright colors and reflective logos make you more noticeable to drivers
—BEST MEDIUM WEIGHT—
Giordana Men’s FR-C Pro Lyte
Ready to take on your hardest winter rides, this three-layer garment is designed to keep you warm and dry through sweaty intervals in chilly conditions. (You should wear a baselayer to wick sweat, if intervals are indeed what you’re doing.) Despite its ability to trap warmth, the lightweight fabric maintains a slim profile. And the FR-C Pro Lyte is windproof and water-resistant. The interior of the collar is lined with a brushed material that’s soft against your chin, and the side panels and waist are made of a more breathable, flexible fabric. Giordana product designers thought about that annoying sleeve-glove junction and made the cuffs nice and straight to fit inside your favorite lobster claws. Reflective piping around the waist and on the upper arms boosts your visibility, and a smaller zippered pocket keeps valuables snug.
—BEST HI-VIZ VEST—
Specialized Hyperviz Deflect Wind Vest
Stuff this little guy in your back pocket for your first after-work ride of the season, and pull it out once the daylight starts to dim and temps cool a bit. The high-vis yellow and two big reflective strips on the back keeps you visible to drivers, who have most likely grown accustomed to not looking for cyclists on the road over the winter months. The sleek, form-fitting vest is made of wind-resistant and highly breathable material and the front panel is treated with a DWR coating so it’s water-resistant too.
Pearl Izumi Versa Softshell Hoodie
The obvious use for this soft shell hoodie is commuting, but it’s technical enough that it also makes a great cold-weather jacket for mountain biking or even gravel riding. A subtle drop tail provides full coverage in the riding position but doesn’t scream THIS IS A BIKE JACKET! when you’re not on the bike. The softshell material provides some windproofing, and a layer of foam material between the softshell layers repels water while promoting breathability. A roomy zippered pocket extends all the way across the back panel, allowing you to fit in bulky items like a pair of winter gloves or leg warmers. One tester noted that after a few months of wear, small holes developed at the top of each front pocket, where the pockets are sewn to the jacket. That said, if you wear this jacket to ride more than you do for standing around at a bar, you’ll be gripping the handlebar more and weighing down your pockets less.
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