If you are among the brave or foolhardy souls to venture on a bike ride in inclement weather, then a great rain jacket is an important piece of kit. Even if you ride in weather with the threat of rain, carrying a reliable rain jacket is a must. It will keep you drier and thus warmer, preventing dangerous hypothermia in already treacherous conditions. The best rain jackets breathe well enough to prevent sweat buildup within the jacket that will also soak and chill you. If the jacket vents your sweat vapor well, it will be a great windbreaker as well. Following on the heels of the winter thermal bib shorts comparison, we have three rain jackets to compare.
Anatomy of a Rain Jacket
Rain jackets have come a long way since the plastic rain capes from decades ago. That was essentially a clear plastic bag shaped like a jacket with ventilation mesh under the arms so you wouldn’t make the jacket too wet from your sweat. This type of jacket is still available and modeled here by racer #2. When you need to stay dry and don’t need your jacket to breathe, it’s hard to beat. It holds an advantage with low cost, and it shows your race numbers and sponsors logos through the jacket. However, the jacket is loose fitting to help ventilation, and you still become uncomfortable quickly. Modern cycling rain jackets fit better and ventilation is superior, which allows the athlete to stay drier and regulate body temperature for maximum performance.
Paramount to a rain jacket is a waterproof membrane of some sort. For active sports such as cycling, efficient release of water vapor from the body is just as important, otherwise, sweat vapor will rapidly accumulate inside the jacket making you as wet as if you had no jacket on. The waterproof membrane is either on the inside or the outside of a fabric that is the body of the jacket. An example of the membrane outside the fabric is GoreTex Shakedry™. A while back, we highlighted the Gore-Tex Shakedry™ jacket, one from Castelli and another from Gore. Gore recently announced the Shakedry™ fabric is discontinued.
Mostly the membrane is inside the jacket, underneath the outer fabric. Another thin layer, perhaps a fine microscopic mesh laminated to the waterproof membrane’s inner side, or a coating, or in the case of some casual jackets, a separate fabric liner keeps the membrane off the wearer’s skin.
The membrane itself can be stretched PTFE or polyurethane (PU). PU can be a membrane or coating. How well sweat vapor passes varies with fabric technology, but suffice it to say a stretched PTFE laminated membrane is the gold standard for waterproof breathable fabric. The most durable construction is when that membrane is a laminate sandwich between an outer fabric and an inner lining fabric. Polyurethane-coated fabric is less expensive and lighter. It is most commonly a 2.5-layer design with another light coating over the inner face of the PU to keep the coating clean and offer tactile comfort from the plastic feel of the polyurethane.
For waterproof breathable membrane function, a durable water repellant (DWR) finish on the outer fabric is necessary. This applied coating is hydrophobic, causing water to run off the surface, disallowing the fabric to soak up water and become saturated. Fabric saturation makes the garment heavy and more importantly reduces the membrane’s ability to let sweat vapor out, making the inner environment clammy. This happens because warm sweat vapor condenses inside the jacket as it meets the wet outer fabric which is cooled by the water saturating it. When a DWR wears off, you can renew it with different products available. The spray-on, heat-activated products seem to work well in our experience. The Gore-Tex Shakedry material does not need this DWR since the hydrophobic membrane is on the outside of the jacket.
Waterproof fabrics are subject to an ISO rating indicating the amount of water pressure to penetrate the fabric. The scale is mm of water in a column pushing against the fabric. The minimum to be considered waterproof is 1500mm. Suffice it to say, the higher the rating, the longer the material holds water out.
We spotlight three rain jackets, one low-cost option, and two higher price jackets that compete with each other to see what you get. The jackets we have for this brief comparison are provided by the companies at our request for a lightweight packable cycling rain shell. I had two short rainy periods even in drought-stricken Northern California during the review period of a few months. I also jumped in the shower to see how the jackets held up to a constant heavy deluge.
Decathlon Van Rysel Ultralight Rainproof Cycling Jacket $80
Decathlon again presents the low-cost option in our review with the $80 Van Rysel Ultralight Rainproof Cycling Jacket. Indeed, 131 grams is ultralight and the jacket rolls up into a package small enough to easily fit into your back jersey pocket, or even into a large seat bag. It tucks into its pocket.
The outer fabric is mesh-like and underneath is a stretch coating with a soft smooth inner face. This is a 2.5-layer PU-coated fabric that keeps the jacket light, flexible and low-priced. The inner treatment does not feel rubbery or plasticky at all. Decathlon offers fabric performance specifications on its website for the Van Rysel Ultralight Rainproof Cycling jacket. The waterproof rating is 2000mm which as discussed is minimal.
The sleeve cuffs are simple elastic and there are reflective accents on the front, back and shoulders of the black jacket. The zipper is a reversed single-slider coil with a flap behind it. The collar is mid-height, like a standard jersey. The back of the jacket is not much longer than the front. There are vents across the back of the shoulder and at the armpits for improved ventilation. The design and build quality is very good with good stitching and sealed major seams.
A small inner pocket is on the right rear where you can put a gel or clip your key to the drawstring in the pocket. The drawstring is to cinch the pocket when the jacket is stuffed into it.
The Van Rysel Ultralight Rainproof Cycling jacket fits snugly and true to size for a medium. Wearing the whispy jacket feels unencumbered thanks to the slightly stretchy fabric. The sleeves are long enough so they don’t ride up in the drop position. The jacket is windproof and breathes quite well, aided by the rear shoulder vents. I never felt clammy or too sweaty with normal effort.
For $80, it is hard not to like the attractive Van Rysel Ultralight Rainproof Cycling jacket. That is until it starts raining.
The DWR seems rather minimal since the outer fabric feels saturated in about 10 minutes, then the jacket begins to leak and soak through. It is a great, comfortable, compact wind jacket with some light rain protection, but I think labeling the Van Rysel Ultralight as rainproof is misleading.
Gore Torrent Jacket $230
The Gore Torrent Jacket is almost three times the cost of the Van Rysel Ultralight Rainproof Cycling Jacket. Is it almost three times better? That depends on your criteria for a rain jacket. Gorewear is the clothing division of W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc., the inventor of Gore-Tex. The Torrent Jacket has Gore-Tex’s Guaranteed to Keep You Dry promise, which means Gore will offer repair, replacement or refund to the original owner if not satisfied with the waterproofness, windproofness, or breathability of the garment.
The fabric of the Torrent Jacket is Gore-Tex Active, the most breathable and lightest of the Gore-Tex fabric technologies. It is a three-layer laminate with lighter outer fabric and lighter inner-face fabric than Gore-Tex Pro or Gore-Tex Performance, the other three-layer laminates in the Gore-Tex lineup.
The outer fabric of the Gore Wear Torrent Jacket is soft and smooth with almost a brushed feel. It has a matte finish giving it an almost shirt-like look. The inner face of the laminate is smooth and slippery, easy to slip over a jersey. The fabric has a bit of stretch, though it is certainly less stretchy than the Decathlon Van Rysel Ultralight Rainproof jacket. The waterproof rating of Gore-Tex Active three-layer laminate fabric is 28,000mm. That’s 14 times more water pressure resistance than the Van Rysel Ultralight. The Gore Wear Torrent Jacket is 200 grams.
Sleeves are long with an elastic on the inner side of the wrist and a longer outer side with a stiffener to cover the back of your glove. There are reflective accents on the front, back and sleeves. The zipper is a reversed single-slider coil with a flap behind it. The collar is mid-height and fleece lined. The rear of the jacket is longer than the front. An elastic along the rear bottom hem has a gripper strip to help it stay in place over your lower back.
A single side access pocket is on the right rear of the jacket with a covered zipper that closes in the up position. The pocket is mesh lined, so provides some ventilation when it is unzipped. The pocket is large enough to fit a wallet, phone, or some tools. The Torrent jacket will stuff into this pocket. The design and construction of the Gore Wear Torrent jacket are excellent. All seams are sealed.
The Gore Wear Torrent Jacket is certainly more substantial than the whispy Van Rysel Ultralight. It weighs more, does not roll down quite as small to fit in your jersey pocket, and is less stretchy. That said, the outer fabric is durable should you graze a branch when off pavement, or wear a pack over your shoulders. I think it would even hold up in a minor crash, which I thankfully did not test. The jacket fits quite well and is true to its medium size. It is easy to slip on and off with enough stretch to feel unencumbered. The sleeves are more than amply long to cover the back of your gloves when in the drop position.
You’d think with the heavier fabric of the Gore Wear Torrent Jacket compromises breathability. It is certainly more steamy than the Van Rysel Ultralight, but the Torrent Jacket is unvented except for the zippered rear pocket. I still did not find the jacket uncomfortable with normal cruising effort, just a bit sweatier. The inside of the jacket is not wet or clammy after this effort.
The Gore Wear Torrent Jacket is indeed waterproof. If you are out in the rain long enough, you will get wet, but not because water penetrates through the Gore-Tex Active fabric or its seams. The DWR is substantial, causing water to roll off as if hitting a car hood with a new wax job. Even after being rolled up, worn with shoulder bags, or dirty, the water kept rolling off. Of course, this treatment will wear off eventually, but over the few months of review, it held up. The outer fabric does have quite a wrinkled look after being folded up and worn, but this affects only fashion, not function.
$230 is a lot for a jacket. If you want reliable, durable rain protection, the Gore Wear Torrent Jacket may be worth it.
Endura Pro SL Waterproof Shell Jacket $230
The Endura Pro SL Waterproof Shell Jacket competes directly with the Gore Wear Torrent jacket on the upper end in price. Endura is a UK brand based in Scotland that began as a mountain bike clothing brand in 1993. Cold, wet weather is well known in Scotland, so we’d expect excellent rainjacket performance, especially at this price point.
The fabric of the Endura Pro SL Waterproof Shell Jacket is a proprietary 3-layer laminate Endura calls Exoshell 60 SL. The outer fabric of this laminate is thin, finely textured nylon, but not mesh. The inner face is smooth with a texture similar to the Gore-Tex Active inner. The jacket dimension of Endura size S is similar to the Gore Wear Torrent jacket size M, but the lighter fabric of the Endura Pro SL Waterproof Shell yields a 54-gram lighter jacket at 146 grams. The fabric does not quite have the soft hand of Gore Active but has a similar amount of stretch. The waterproof rating is 10,000 mm, 5 times more than the Van Rysel Ultralight, but less than half that of the Gore Wear Torrent.
The long sleeves have elastic on the inner side of the wrist, and a light stiffener on the back side to cover your gloves. Reflective accents are on the sleeves, shoulders and lower back. The two-way toothed zipper is backed by a flap with an extra ridge sewn in to further prevent water penetration. The collar is higher in the back and fleece lined.
The lower back panel of the Endura Pro SL Waterproof Shell is a thicker material with a gripper on the inner side of the elastic hem. This same thicker material is in the armpits – I’m not sure of its purpose in that location. There are no pockets on the Endura Pro SL Waterproof Shell except for a small flat pocket with laser-cut drain holes in it on the left side. The design and construction are excellent for this rain jacket.
I commented on the Endura garment size in the Thermal Bibshorts review. Suffice it to say Endura size S is equal to size M for other companies. Compared to the other jackets in this brief review, the Endura Pro SL Waterproof Shell jacket is tighter across the chest and armpits when upright with arms at your sides. The front of the jacket is also shorter. When in a performance cycling position, this all works. There is less fabric flap across the chest, and the Pro SL Waterproof Shell does not bunch around your waist. The sleeves are snug around the arms, and plenty long enough to reach the drops and cover the back of your gloves.
I am a slim off-the-shelf medium size, so this jacket works well for me, but if you are a broad medium across the chest or wear a very thick jersey beneath the jacket, you should size up or look elsewhere.
The waterproof performance of the Endura Exoshell 60 SL is similar to the Gore Active, at least in the short few months that I rode with the jackets. The DWR holds up well and water did not saturate the Pro SL Waterproof Shell jacket at all during my rain rides. During a constant moderate effort, I was not clammy, but just a bit steamy, subjectively similar to the Gore Wear Torrent jacket. A great advantage of the Endura Pro SL Waterproof Shell is the toothed two-way zipper. I find the teeth to be easier to zip and unzip. Compared to a reverse coil zipper, there is a greater chance for water to leak through, but the flap, especially with the extra sewn-in ridge, worked well enough. During rain rides, I find the shoulders, sleeves and back get more water anyway.
The two-way slider allows easy access to your jersey pockets and helps ventilation a lot in my experience. It is a feature I wish all cycling overgarments had.
Competing at the same higher price range, the features are different, but the rain performance is similar between the Endura Pro SL Waterproof Shell and the Gore Wear Torrent jackets.
Worth the Price?
My favorite rain jacket is made from Gore Shakedry™ fabric. It is light and compactable, exceedingly breathable for a waterproof jacket, and does not require a DWR. However, the fabric is somewhat fragile, jackets made from this are very expensive, and with the fabric discontinued, supply is dwindling.
There are many other options. Waterproof and breathable? You get what you pay for it seems.
For true breathable waterproof protection, the two $230 jackets allow comfortable riding in the rain. I am impressed with the breathability of these modern fabrics with complete waterproof capability.
The Gore Wear Torrent Jacket is my overall pick for versatile, durable rain protection. It has a slightly relaxed fit and sporty-casual appearance so you feel inconspicuous wearing it off the bike. I wish it had a two-way zipper.
The Endura Pro-SL Waterproof Shell is my performance cycling choice. It fits more snugly, is lighter, and compacts better for pocketing. The two-way zipper alone made this my go-to for most rides. It looks racy when wearing it on the bike, but more conspicuous when not cycling. Even if the fabric’s waterproof specifications are less than Gore Active, the Endura Pro SL Waterproof Shell with proprietary Exoshell 60 SL performed similarly during the review.
For a fraction of the cost, the $80 Decathlon Van Rysel Ultralight Rainproof Cycling jacket is not rainproof. It is a compact, comfortable, well-fitting windproof jacket that offers light rain protection for very short rain showers. If you were planning on getting just a windbreaker jacket, get this instead.
Decathlon Van Rysel Ultralight Rainproof jacket $80
2.5 layer PU laminate, 131 grams
Gore Wear Torrent jacket $230
3-layer Gore-Tex Active membrane laminate, 200 grams
Endura Pro SL Waterproof Shell jacket $230
3-layer Endura Exoshell 60 SL membrane laminate, 146 grams