So the weather has turned for the worse and you’ve got no choice but to keep riding. Doesn’t matter if it happens while you’re bike commuting, bikepacking, or bike touring, cycling in the rain has the potential to ruin your ride. There may be some who like riding in the rain, but let’s be honest, they’re probably in the minority.
The truth is you’re going to want to invest in some waterproof cycling jackets and other cycling rain gear. But if you type “waterproof cycling gear” into a search engine, you’re going to get more information than you know what to do with. Simplifying the decision making process on choosing the best waterproof cycling jackets is what Outdoor Ultralight is here for.
The easiest way to start choosing rain gear for cycling is to break it down by category. Folks on a bike tour are going to have different priorities than those who are looking for a rain jacket for bikepacking. And what to look for in gear for bike commuting is different from both of those. So we’re going to simplify things for you.
If want to skip all the words and just want the results, here are our picks for the best waterproof cycling jackets:
Summary of the Best Waterproof Cycling Jackets – Breakdown by Category
Overall best waterproof cycling jacket – Marmot Minimalist
Best value waterproof cycling jacket – Marmot PreCip
Best lightweight waterproof cycling jacket – Outdoor Research Helium II
Best winter cycling jacket – Gore Bike Wear Phantom 2.0
This article will focus on breaking down what’s important for waterproof cycling rain jackets and give our picks for:
- Overall best waterproof cycling jacket
- Best lightweight waterproof cycling jacket
- Best value waterproof cycling jacket
- Best winter cycling jacket
We’ll also look at the different topics that come up when discussing how to choose rain gear for cycling:
- Electric Bikes for Commuting – Hint: THESE ARE AWESOME!
- Waterproof vs. Water Resistance
- What is DWR?
- Bike Fenders
- Layering and other Winter Bike Commuting Tips
That is a seriously cool electric bike. But let’s dive into waterproof cycling jackets.
Waterproof vs. Water Resistant: What’s the Difference?
Before we get to reviewing our picks for best waterproof cycling jackets, let’s get one thing clear right off the bat: “waterproof” doesn’t actually mean anything in the world of clothing. In the world of electronics, there are waterproofing standards (IP67, IP68 for example). However, there is no equivalent “waterproof” standard in the clothing realm.
What does exist, though, is “water resistance.” Pieces of clothing can be tested to see how much water pressure they can withstand and for how long. When you buy more expensive rain gear, you’re usually paying for material that will take longer to let water through. But be certain that after some time, any piece of “water resistant” gear will eventually start to leak. So with that said, let’s take a look at some of the best “waterproof” cycling jackets out there.
Overall Best Waterproof Cycling Jacket: Marmot Minimalist Review
If you don’t want to spend a bunch of time researching rain gear and just want to make a solid, quick decision, choose the Marmot Minimalist as your go-to waterproof cycling jacket. Marmot has done a great job of producing a rain jacket that will keep you dry in most conditions, is affordable, durable, and looks good. In our opinion, there are plenty of more expensive options that claim to be “waterproof”, but you would honestly be wasting your money. If you take care of the Minimalist, it will take care of you as well as any of the $300+ rain jackets.
- Good water resistance
- Great value
- Above average durability
- Good customer service
- Pit zips
- No “true” hi-viz, but bright green is an option.
The Minimalist uses Gore-TEX Paclite, which is a 2.5-layer membrane technology. This means a nylon outer layer, a waterproof inner layer, and a coating on top of that to protect from abrasion. These jackets do a wonderful job of keeping water out. Durable Water Repellant (DWR) is sprayed on top of the nylon outer layer in order to promote water runoff and keep from saturating the nylon material. It’s important to understand that DWR eventually wears off, yet is a critical component of the waterproof system. Without it, the water will soak into the nylon layer, reduce breathability, and eventually lead to leaks. The good thing is that DWR can easily be reapplied and we recommend doing so after every few outings or before any long, serious trips. We’ve chosen the Minimalist as the overall best waterproof cycling jacket, in part, because of how easy it is to maintain the waterproofing.
Pit zips! The minimalist features big zippers underneath the arms (stretching from the tricep area to the rib cage) that open wide in order to help you dump heat and moisture. In our opinion, this is absolutely key in being able to consider this the best waterproof cycling jacket. In any high-output activity, you’re going to be generating a lot of heat by sweating. With any sort of waterproof cycling jacket (or any activity for that matter), breathability is an issue. Even though Gore-TEX’s claim to fame is its breathability, the truth is that it is limited. The moisture you generate is going to get trapped in the jacket. Pit zips are absolutely ideal to solve this problem, especially for cyclists. This is because your arms are naturally outstretched on your handlebars, meaning the open pit zips will get the full effect of air passing through your jacket and removing any moisture that is building up. Heat loss happens too, but because you generate so much heat while cycling anyway, you won’t get cold. As soon as you stop, close the zippers and trap in the heat as you cool down. Pit zips are seriously the perfect feature for waterproof cycling jackets.
Durability on the Minimalist is very good. Many users have reported putting this jacket through a beating in different activities. Other than being the best waterproof cycling jacket, you can also use it for nearly any other activity. The Minimalist is in its element for ultralight backpacking, bike touring, mountaineering, kayaking, or just simply as your everyday rain jacket. Seams are sealed to prevent water from entering, the construction is solid, and the Gore-TEX layers are well manufactured to prevent delamination.
As the name implies, the Minimalist is very lightweight. Coming in at 15 oz., we wouldn’t consider this an ultralight jacket, but it is still on the lighter end. If weight is your main concern, we recommend the Outdoor Research Helium II, reviewed later in this post. However, as an overall contender for best waterproof cycling jacket, 15 oz. is very palatable. We certainly haven’t heard any complaints about its weight or packability.
Perhaps the one criticism we have is the lack of a hi-viz yellow version of this jacket. But with two bright green choices (Mascaw Green and Green Lichen as Marmot calls them), we think the options are good visible gear options for bike commuters. For those of us that want more color choices, the range of colors is superb. You’ll be dry and look good doing it.
Best Value Waterproof Cycling Jacket: Marmot PreCip Review
There’s a good chance you’ve come across the Marmot PreCip either in your everyday life or in your search for the best waterproof cycling jackets. Whether you’re hiking, fishing, taking a rainy stroll downtown, or working in the garden, the PreCip has been the choice for folks of all walks of life for the last several years. There’s a good reason for this. The PreCip is easily the best value waterproof cycling jacket out there. We’ll go out on a limb and say that it is the best value waterproof jacket for any activity in fact. Somehow Marmot has found a way to produce a very affordable waterproof jacket that does a great job of keeping you dry and is wearable during any activity you engage in. And it won’t break the bank.
- Good water resistance
- Excellent value
- Packs into its own pocket
- Hood can be rolled up out of the way
- Collar does a great job of keeping water from trickling down your back
- Pit zips
- No hi-viz yellow, but green is bright.
Like its more refined cousin (the Minimalist), the PreCip uses a 2.5-layer construction to provide the waterproofing. Because this is a budget waterproof cycling jacket, Marmot has opted to use its in-house membrane technology, called NanoPro. This is the main difference between the PreCip and the Minimalist, as the latter uses Gore-TEX materials. Ultimately, we find very little difference in water resistance, with the Minimalist just getting the edge over the PreCip. One feature we particularly like is that the hood can be rolled into the collar when you don’t need it. This is ideal for cycling, where a hood can cause resistance if it is left unrolled. The collar itself is a great feature as well, since it prevents water from trickling off your helmet and down your back.
With the same pit zips as the Minimalist above, the PreCip blows the competition out of the water (is there a pun in there?). Breathable material is great, but open air flow is the most ideal. Unless you’re in a full on downpour or there is a lot of standing water on the road, the pit zips actually don’t let very much water in at all even when they’re completely open. Don’t believe us? Try it. You will be much wetter due to your own sweat if you keep the pit zips closed.
The NanoPro technology is slightly cheaper than the Gore-TEX of the Minimalist. This is where the cost difference comes in. Honestly, we find the durability to still be very good between the two jackets. We’ve encountered some folks on the trail that have been using the PreCip for years. If you are mindful of what you’re wearing on top of the jacket and keep abrasion to a minimum, there is no reason this jacket can’t also last for years. With cycling, you are usually not wearing a pack, which means you’ll have little abrasion anyway. This is another reason we think this jacket is particularly well suited to cycling and ultimately makes it the best value waterproof cycling jacket in our opinion.
At 11 oz., the PreCip is 4 oz lighter than the Minimalist, making it more suited to bikepacking. The ability to pack into its own pocket is handy (yea… another pun?). Climbers can hang it off their harness, cyclists can pack it down and keep it out of the way on a bikepacking trip, and bike commuters can stow it in their bag at work. At the price for the weight, this is undoubtedly the best value waterproof cycling jacket. Out of sight and out of mind.
There is no shortage of color choices with the PreCip. The “Bright Lime” is a great option for bike commuters, whereas the Team Red is a good choice for those traveling in the backcountry and bikepackers. Either way, the color choices make this another reason we think this is the best value waterproof cycling jacket.
Best Lightweight Cycling Jacket: Outdoor Research Helium II Review
This one is aimed at those of us who want to cut out the fat and go ultralight. In the ultralight backpacking, bikepacking, or alpine-style climbing worlds, grams add up quickly. Typically, folks in these realms have accepted the fact that being wet is part of the compromise for cutting down on weight. That doesn’t mean that they go without rain gear though. These ultralight backpacking and bikepacking adventures often happen far in the backcountry. The ability to stay dry in those remote areas can mean retaining comfort and, ultimately, staying safe.
It is with these ultralight backpacking and cycling trips in mind that Outdoor Research designed the Helium II. This is the kind of waterproof cycling jacket that you whip out to protect yourself from a passing squall or summer downpour. We would not recommend this jacket for a full on winter ride. In the other three seasons, though, this is the best lightweight waterproof cycling jacket you can buy.
- Ultralight at 6.4 oz.
- Packable down to the size of your fist
- Fits over your helmet
- Hood works surprisingly well for shedding water
- Very durable for the weight
- Lots of colors to choose from
- Outdoor Research has excellent customer service
- No hand pockets (1 chest pocket big enough for iPhone)
- No pit zips
The Helium II uses Pertex Shield 2.5-layer technology. The Pertex is a breathable laminate that allows air to move through without letting water through. In terms of not getting wet, the jacket does what it claims. So, for the weight and price, this is definitely the best lightweight waterproof jacket out there. We do want to mention that this is probably not a jacket you’d want to wear through several hours of constant rain. Although the DWR will do a good job of letting water bead, eventually that DWR will wear off, increasing the chances of the Pertex layer becoming saturated with water. This jacket is best used in short bursts. This is also why we recommend this jacket as a good 3 season cycling jacket, as opposed to a winter cycling jacket. The material is very thin (though very durable too), so there won’t be much heat retention. That said, it does a very good job of cutting down on heat loss due to wind.
Breathability of the Helium II material is on par with most 2.5-layer membrane jackets. However, where this jacket falls short is the lack of pit zips. We have found that pit zips are truly what differentiates the best waterproof cycling jackets from the mediocre ones. Cycling provides the perfect body position to take advantage of pit zips, so it’s too bad this jacket doesn’t have them. Still, because of the minimal weight, the Helium II remains our choice for best lightweight waterproof cycling jacket. It should be noted that Outdoor Research did make a version with pit zips in the past, called the Helium HD. Sadly, these were discontinued. If you’re still able to find one of these, snag it!
Outdoor Research products are generally of very good build quality and the Helium II is no different. At first touch, the material feels flimsy and thin. You would be forgiven for thinking the jacket would rip easily. Fortunately, that is not the case at all. One of our criteria for best lightweight waterproof cycling jacket is durability, since what good is the jacket if it turns to shreds within months? Outdoor Ultralight has had experience over several seasons with this jacket and it has held up admirably. Care must be taken on sharp rocks (climbers, alpinists), but this is no different from many other jackets. DWR should also be reapplied regularly in order to maintain the water resistance, but this is also no different than any other jacket with DWR.
Weight and packability is where the Helium II shines. It is a bikepacker, alpinist, and ultralight backpacker’s dream. Space is at a premium on a bicycle and, at the size of granola bar, this jacket just about disappears when packed up. Clip it to a harness if climbing, stuff it into your stem bag for easy access, or even stuff it into your cycling jersey’s back pocket. This is truly why this is the best lightweight waterproof cycling jacket.
No qualms here even if there are no hi-viz options. The bright green “Lemon Grass” and orange “Ember” colors are enough to stand out and remain visible during a rainstorm. Otherwise, a variety of subtle colors are available for both men and women.
Best Winter Cycling Jacket: Gore Bike Wear Phantom 2.0
Generally, we shy away from recommending a single piece of clothing for winter riding. While we still think this is true, there are plenty of you who would still rather only bring one jacket for your winter rides. In that case, the Gore Bike Wear Phantom 2.0 does a good job of providing water resistance, warmth, versatility, and visibility. This makes it our choice for best winter cycling jacket. Throw on a lightweight waterproof cycling jacket like the Outdoor Research Helium II and you have a good winter riding system.
- Keeps you dry in light rains
- Excellent wind resistance
- Pockets on back
- Zip off sleeves
- Cycling cut (slightly longer back)
- Technically not “waterproof”. Bring a minimalist rain jacket like the Helium II if concerned.
The Phantom 2.0 isn’t technically a cycling rain jacket. We’d call it more of a water resistant soft shell. This means that it does great in light rains, but we wouldn’t wear it in a downpour without a proper rain jacket over the top. Except for constant rain, this still makes for the best winter cycling jacket because it is so versatile. If you’re riding in the winter with constant rain, the Phantom 2.0 does great as part of a layering system with a waterproof cycling jacket on top.
Because this jacket is water resistant and not waterproof, it offers excellent breathability, all the while blocking wind and retaining warmth. A fantastic feature is the ability to zip off the sleeves. This means you can keep your core warm (super important in winter), allowing your blood to go to your extremities and warm them up. You are given a lot of versatility in how you dump heat to prevent building up any sweat (and thus getting cold quickly when you stop!).
Gore is renowned for their quality products. The Phantom 2.0 is well-constructed, built for winter, and will last you many seasons. Honestly, this is the minimum you should expect out of any winter cycling jacket, since conditions will be much more unforgiving than in other seasons. Quality concerns are well taken care of with Gore’s customer service as well.
Perhaps one of the downsides of this jacket is that it is on the heavier side, coming in at 17 oz. But this jacket shouldn’t be compared to the other lighter waterproof cycling jackets reviewed on this page anyway. Since this is meant to be worn in in the winter, it should be obvious that it will weigh more. This is essentially a soft shell jacket, which means the material is intended to give some degree of warmth – exactly what you want in the winter! For the warmth, we’ll take that marginal weight penalty.
This is definitely an aspect of the jacket that shines (literally). The hi-viz color with reflective strips helps make this the best winter cycling jacket. Chances are that daylight is limited if you’re riding in the winter, even if it isn’t raining. You want to be seen by cars and the Phantom 2.0 is as visible as it gets. For those who want more choices, the jacket comes in red, black, and blue as well.
Electric Bikes for Commuting
Ok, so why are we talking about electric bikes in an article comparing the best waterproof cycling jackets? Because for winter bike commuting, we think electric bikes are perfect. The electric-assist motor of these bicycles means that the heat you generate while riding is much less. This means you generate less sweat, and so you can afford to be wearing a much more waterproof cycling jacket even if it doesn’t breathe all that well.
Electric bikes for commuting are obviously more ideal for a number of other reasons:
- No pollution generation while you’re riding
- Saves on gas
- Pays for itself quickly if you consider the gas you’re not using, the wear and tear on your car, and the parking you don’t have to pay
- Extremely efficient
- Tons of electric bikes for beginners are available
- Reduces your carbon footprint
- Some models are great for hills
- Affordable electric bikes are becoming cheaper, making them great options for those on a budget
- They look awesome. Check these out.
Here is one of the most popular models on the market right now:
Waterproof vs. Water Resistance
In the marketing world, you’re going to come across both of these terms: “waterproof” and “water resistant”. So what does waterproof mean? What does water resistant mean?
In terms of clothing, “waterproof” doesn’t mean anything. That’s the truth. Companies use it as a marketing term to increase sales. Any piece of clothing, no matter how good it claims to be, will eventually soak through. And if it didn’t, you wouldn’t want to be wearing it anyway, as it its breathability would be zero. A “waterproof cycling jacket” actually just means that it is resistant enough to water that your body under the jacket material will not get wet for a certain amount of time and under a certain amount of water pressure.
That said, there are fabric waterproof ratings that are worth knowing. These are measured in millimeters (mm), which represents the water pressure (of a column of water of a certain height in millimeters) that the fabric can resist. All you need to know is that the higher the number, the more waterproof the material.
Here is a rough breakdown of waterproof ratings:
- 0-5,000 mm: No resistance to water.
- 6,000-10,000 mm: Waterproof only up to a light pressure, like very light rain.
- 11,000-15,000 mm: Waterproof up to medium pressure, like moderate rain or snowfall. Most jackets would fall in this range.
- 16,000-20,000 mm: Waterproof even under high pressure, like a downpour you get in the Pacific Northwest. High end jackets will fall in this range.
So should you opt for the highest pressure rating possible? Probably not. As the waterproof rating increases, breathability generally decreases. This is ok if you’re standing still and generating very little body heat. But as soon as you get going, your body is going to try to get rid of excess heat through sweat. If your jacket is super water resistant, but not breathable, you might as well not be wearing a rain jacket at all, as you’re going to be drenched from the sweat build up underneath it.
This is why we recommend you keep your search for waterproof cycling jackets in the 11,000-15,000 mm waterproof rating range. This keeps the cost down and usually means the jacket will stay relatively lightweight and packable all while keeping you dry from the rain and from sweat build up inside.
There are limitations to this of course, so it’s important to keep your expectations in check. If it is raining constantly, the best way to stay dry is to stop, find shelter, and let the showers pass. If that isn’t an option, then a rain jacket is a good backup option as long as you can tolerate the possibility of eventually getting wet.
What is DWR? Why is it important?
DWR stands for Durable, Water Repellant. This is essentially a spray-on or “wash-in” substance that is applied on top of the jacket fabric. This is applied at the factory on many rain jackets. DWR’s purpose is to repel water. You might think “duh”, but it does this not by creating a physical barrier for the water, but instead creating a surface that water is unable to stick to. This is why you see water forming beads or droplets that roll off on fabrics that have DWR applied to them. The whole idea is for the breathable membrane of your jacket to remain free of any water.
If water gets into that membrane, it will not go through and make you wet, but it will clog the tiny pores that air normally circulates through. This has the effect of making a jacket feel clammy, since your body can no longer get the air circulation needed to take away the moisture that is generated when you sweat.
To keep your waterproof cycling jacket actually waterproof, make sure you reapply DWR from time to time. This is especially important if you ever wash your cycling jacket, since that will destroy the DWR on it. All manufacturers send out care instructions with their jackets. Take the time to read them when you reapply DWR and you will be happy with the performance of your jacket.
Bike Fenders – Tips for Riding in the Rain
One thing we recommend you buy even before looking for the best waterproof cycling jacket possible is a set of bike fenders. Universal bike fenders, like the SKS S-Board for road bikes or the SKS Xtra Dry rear mudguard and All Mountain front mudguard will make a world of difference. Why are bike fenders important? Because they not only protect water from flying off your wheels and onto you while it’s raining, they protect you from road spray even while it’s not raining but the roads are still damp.
The biggest mistake new riders make it to assume they don’t need any waterproof gear as soon as it has stopped raining. Guess what? There is still water on the road and tires are designed to pick that water up and fling it out of the way in order to get the best traction. That water is going to go right back onto your face and your back.
So, even if you’re not going to be riding in the rain, but you live in an area where it rains frequently, get some fenders or mud guards. Especially if you’re winter bike commuting. No one wants to walk into work with the dreaded rear wheel mud streak up their back.
Layering! Tips for Winter Bike Commuting
Another mistake made by newer riders is to use a single piece of clothing to stay warm and dry while winter bike commuting. Although you’ll be comfortable in the first few minutes of your ride, you will overheat quickly and drench yourself from the inside out. The best way to ride in the winter is by using a layering system that consists of the following:
- Base Layer – Merino wool is easily the best base layer we’ve come across. It keeps you warm even when it’s wet, it wicks away moisture and sweat, it doesn’t smell because it is anti-microbial, it is a natural fiber, and it can be worn by itself. Check out our great write up about Merino Wool here.
- Thermal Layer – A light or medium fleece on top of the merino wool will give you significant heat retention and does a great job of wicking moisture as well.
- Weatherproof Layer – Wool and fleece are great for warmth even when wet, but if it’s raining or windy, a waterproof cycling jacket needs to go on top. This will keep the wind from taking away the warm air trapped in the wool and fleece layers and also prevent your skin from getting wet from rain.
Make sure you listen to your body and stop to take off a layer as soon as you start to feel like you’re overheating. If it’s raining, this might just mean you’re riding with a light base layer and your waterproof cycling jacket on top. The important thing is to keep striking that balance between keeping the rain off you from the outside, and keeping your own sweat from soaking you from the inside.
As always, the most important is to get outside and Just Go!