The best winter cycling jackets offer a whole lot more than warmth. The cut, fabric, features, and seams are all made with your cycling goals in mind so adding bulk and extra weight are no cause for concern. In fact, the best cycling jackets cut the fluff and improve your performance on frigid rides. They keep the cold air out, your sweat off, and your core temperature comfortable.
They’ll find the middle ground between too hot and too cold to keep you feeling just right in spite of wintery weather. We’ve curated a list of some of the top winter and waterproof cycling jackets so you can find the right one to add to your winter weather cycling gear.
What to look for in a cycling jacket
The best winter cycling jackets have many great characteristics, but no cycling jacket will be excellent at everything on your cycling jacket wishlist. Some jackets may prioritize certain attributes to suit their intended purpose (e.g., a rain shell may be more waterproof than insulated). But no good cycling jacket will sacrifice the essentials, like ventilation or a moisture-wicking lining. A comfortable cycling jacket will provide warmth, protection, and flexibility with an outer layer that shields against moisture and a soft inner lining. Make sure you prioritize the features you need for your cycling discipline and preferences.
Winter cycling jacket checklist
Insulation in a cycling jacket describes a jacket material’s ability to trap warmth around the core and maintain a moderately cool but comfortable temperature in freezing weather without significantly increasing the weight or size. You should never start your ride warm because you’ll likely overheat as you increase intensity. Adding warmth means adding layers to your cycling kit–a base layer, then a jersey, then a softshell, and then a hardshell. Many thermal cycling jackets have a wind-stopping front and a breathable back to prevent you from feeling smothered. Zippers are a must since they allow you to adjust your core temperature as needed.
Winter cycling jackets should have some level of water resistance because you never know when a pop-up shower may hit and lead to a slow, damp, and chilly ride if you’re without a waterproof jacket. Waterproof cycling jackets must have at least a 5,000mm rating. 10,000 mm is great for cycling in the rain, but 20,000mm is ideal. To determine a jacket’s waterproof rating, the Hydrostatic Head is measured by placing a tube on the material, pouring water in it, and measuring the water that accumulates without leaking through. Water-resistant jackets are usually sprayed with Durable Water Resistant (DWR) that causes water droplets to bead and roll off the jacket, but it becomes less effective with use and eventually needs retreatment. Cycling jackets may also have seams and zippers taped in a waterproof material to stop any water from seeping through small cracks.
Not only should a cycling jacket stop water from getting in, but it should also allow moisture to escape. Your sweat will cool you down and make you feel miserable on a cold ride. Many cycling jackets have membranes with pores that capture water beads on the surface and allow sweat out.
A good winter cycling jacket must be windproof, no questions asked. There’s no point in wearing a cycling jacket that can’t stop the wind from creeping in and chilling your core. Often, the front of a cycling jacket has panels that block wind. Jackets may also have a high collar called a storm collar and tight cuffs to keep the wind out.
Performance winter cycling jackets must insulate and ventilate at the same time, but many thermal jackets usually suffer from a lack of ventilation, while highly breathable jackets are often lacking in insulation. Top cycling jacket manufacturers have found ways to be strategic with ventilation in waistbands, zips, or sleeves.
Layers are important to winter cycling, so some of the best cycling jackets are light, thin, and compressible so a jacket can be removed and stored at any point of a ride as needed.
Reflective features on a jacket, whether seams or logo patterns, are important for safety while riding in the dark, at dusk, or in the early morning light. Reflective details are especially crucial to your choice of jacket if you cycle on busy roads.
Types of cycling jackets
- Hardshell: This is the outermost layer of a cycling kit that offers the most protection against the elements. Hardshells are best when cycling in wind and cold.
- Softshell: This jacket can go under a hardshell or be worn on its own. It’s made of a softer, more flexible, and less durable material than a hardshell. A softshell is protective against light rain or chill, but a hardshell is a more heavy-duty waterproof layer and wind barrier. A softshell is a great choice for season transitions.
- Rain shell: The main purpose of a rain shell is to protect against light showers. It’s not intended to keep you warm, but it should be super light and packable.
Men’s versus women’s cycling jackets
Women’s cycling jackets are made for a shorter torso and wider hips, while men’s cycling jackets are longer, narrower, and broader through the shoulders. Most cycling jackets come in both men’s and women’s versions designed with differences in body shape in mind, but the best cycling jacket characteristics are relevant to both genders.
The best winter cycling jackets
- Cost: $200
- Best feature: Insulation with wind/water barrier
- Also available: Women’s Alsace
The Hincapie Alsace allows you to face the cold fearlessly with Windtex Polar fabric, a 3-layer fabric with a membrane that blocks both wind and rain. Additionally, soft and stretchy BodE Thermal Heat insulated paneling provides warmth while the nylon threads on the interior of the fabric wick away moisture to keep you from overheating. The jacket protects against harsh winds with its paneling and tall storm collar. It has reflective trims and zippered cuffs that fit over gloves easily, and the internal sleeve gussets add an extra layer and block the wind from entering your sleeves.
- Cost: $369.99
- Best feature: Excellent wind protection
- Also available: Women’s Alpha Ros 2
The Castelli Alpha Ros 2 is an excellent wind repeller with great breathability, a duo that’s not easy to master. It’s constructed of an exterior jacket with an internal vest so you have the option to open the outer layer and adjust your temperature. The outer layer is made from the Gore-Tex Infinium Windstopper that consists of hundreds of tiny pores large enough to release moisture from the inside but small enough to keep the wind from getting in. The jacket has a double cuff that the wrist of your glove fits between to keep the wind out. The taped seams add an extra wind-protection feature. It has reflective trims and 4 pockets with drainage and is moderately waterproof. The Alpha Ros 2 has been known to be looser around the neck.
- Cost: $150
- Best feature: Thin but thermal
- Also available: Women’s Rapha Core
The Rapha Core is a great choice for freezing temperatures. It’s both thin and thermal, which makes it ideal for winter cycling pros, but recreational cyclists or commuters may want to size up. Its 3-layer laminate front guards against wind chill and the back is stretchy to keep you well-ventilated. It’s lined with a comfortable moisture-wicking fleece–comfortable enough to be worn over just a base layer.
- Cost: $200
- Best feature: Convertible sleeves
- Also available: Women’s Gore Phantom Infinium
The Gore Phantom Infinium is a great softshell for all seasons. You can remove the sleeves in warm weather and attach them whenever the temperature drops. It’s warm, windproof, and water-resistant. Its high, lined collar provides extra insulation and wind protection. This softshell is a relaxed cut, so it’s nice for casual cycling but not when aerodynamics are a concern.
Best waterproof cycling jackets
- Cost: $140
- Best feature: Light and packable
- Also available: Women’s Element Jacket
The Hincapie Element Pocket Shell is easy to pack in the waterproof self-pocket, which is one reason why this jacket is a great choice for spring, summer, or fall as the temperature changes. The 4-way stretch fabric provides a tailored fit, while the internal membrane helps block wind and water. The jacket tail is long and blocks sprays of dirt or splashes of water. The metal zipper pull is easy to grab while riding, even with gloves on. Features like the binding on the sleeve cuffs and high storm collar are barriers to the wind. Reflective hits at the back of the arm ensure visibility even in low light or night time rides.
- Cost: $280
- Best feature: Permanent waterproofing
- Also available: Women’s Gore C7 Gore-Tex Shakedry
The Gore C7 Gore-Tex Shakedry has set a high bar for waterproof jackets. It’s both waterproof and aerodynamic. The tested and proven Shakedry material has a permanent water beading surface, so there’s no need for the typical waterproof middle layer or DWR treatment. This makes the jacket much lighter than others, with a weight of only 98g. It’s the perfect cycling jacket to stuff in a pocket. The same membrane that causes water to bead also allows humidity to escape. The downside of the Shakedry material is its fragility. It does not make a good gravel or MTB jacket. The material is also expensive and only comes in black. The Gore C7 has one pocket at the back, a high collar with velcro adjustment, and a 2-way zipper that can be zipped with one hand from the bottom up in case you need to make adjustments while cycling.
- Cost: $299.99
- Best feature: Expandable fabric
- Also available: Women’s Idro 3
The Castelli Idro 3 uses the Gore-Tex Shakedry fabric, so it’s a good waterproof option. The material makes this jacket lightweight but also fragile. Racers love the Idro 3 because it’s super slim, but if you’re not a racer, going a size up is recommended. It provides fantastic wind and water protection. The jacket expands to make room for whatever you stuff in your jersey pockets. The lower back of the jacket is made of breathable mesh for optimal airflow, but otherwise, there aren’t any other pockets or features.
- Cost: $269
- Best feature: Maximum ventilation
- Also available: Women’s Showers Pass Elite 2.1
The Showers Pass Elite 2.1 is in it for the long haul, designed specifically for long-distance rides. It checks all the critical boxes–breathable, waterproof, and durable. It’s made of 3 layers, the lining, membrane, and outer. Neither wind nor rain can pass through the membrane. The neck and sleeves of the jacket can be cinched shut, and the long tail protects from water and dirt. This jacket has superb ventilation with 6 strategic vents located in the cuffs, underarms, back, and sides. The moisture-wicking neck is designed from a chamois-like fabric that removes perspiration. The jacket’s also full of cool features, like the audio port in the chest pocket, the 3M reflective trim around the jacket, 2 pockets, waterproof zips, and taped seams.
- Cost: $100
- Best feature: Price and packability
This jacket is light and packable, perfect to throw on quickly when showers start. It’s transparent so you can show off all your favorite jerseys while you’re shielded from the downpour. It also has reflective elements and lightweight mesh side panels to improve ventilation. The zipper garage at the top of the collar prevents any chafing, and the binding on the sleeve cuffs and waist ensures a good fit. The price is excellent for a rain shell that does its job well.
Choosing a great cycling jacket can make all the difference on your winter rides. Your jacket can be the reason you either enjoy or dread gearing up and facing frigid temperatures. We’d hate for you to miss out on the thrill of winter rides because of a poor choice of a cycling jacket. Give one of the featured cycling jackets a try to help you keep cycling strong this winter.
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