Staff Picks: The Best Cycling Jackets of 2021

Neither rain nor wind shall stay thee from thy appointed rides

15 reviews with an average rating of 5.0 out of 5 stars
Closeup of a jacket as a cyclist rides by

Editor’s note: Inventory can be unpredictable this year with COVID-19, so some of the items in this list might be temporarily out of stock when you read this guide. We'll do our best to update it accordingly.

 

Whether you’re a casual cyclist or take the sport seriously, nature will eventually present you with riding conditions that are less than ideal. In rainy or windy conditions, a good cycling jacket can make the difference between an enjoyable ride and a miserable slog. With so many options, the process of comparing them can also be a bit of a slog. Here we highlight five of our staff favorites found at REI. We also include customer guidance because so many REI Co-op members are passionate about cycling gear.

Any of the jackets on this list can serve you well. The right jacket for you depends on how you ride and your preferences, so you can also use this list as a way to get your selection process rolling.

 

Staff Picks

For quick recommendations, check out our roundup below, or scroll down for in-depth reviews: 

  • Best Ultralight Cycling Jacket: REI Co-op Link Cycling Wind Jacket (Women's, Men's)
  • Best Convertible Cycling Jacket: Pearl iZUMi Quest Barrier Convertible Cycling Jacket (Women's, Men's)
  • Best Cycling Jacket for Rain:  REI Co-op Junction Cycling Rain Jacket (Women's, Men's)
  • Best Mountain Biking Jacket: Patagonia Dirt Roamer Bike Jacket (Women's, Men's)  

 

REI Co-op Link Cycling Wind Jacket

Best Ultralight Cycling Jacket

When the forecast is fickle or merely cool, there’s no need to go into full Category 5 mode. At less than 6 ounces, the REI Co-op Link Cycling Wind Jacket shell won’t weigh you down, but it will keep you covered if the skies conjure some light rain or wind. It also stows in its own inner pocket/storage pouch, which means the Link can nestle unobtrusively into a nook or a cranny of your bike bag should the sun ultimately rule the day.

The Link’s wind protection impressed one of our staff cycling experts. “The jacket is surprisingly warm for such a thin garment. I used it as an outer layer many times and it’s perfect for layering,” says Morgan Paar, a sales specialist at the REI store in St. Louis. He initially had his doubts: “When I first took this jacket off the rack, I thought to myself, ‘How can a jacket this thin and this lightweight really keep me warm or protect me from the wind? I very nearly did not buy it, but I did and it’s one of my favorite pieces of gear.”

Thankfully, the Link doesn’t achieve weight savings by forgoing important features. The jacket includes an adjustable hood that’s thin enough to slip under your bike helmet, a zip pocket on each side for essentials and reflective trim on the arms and back. Buy here.

 

PEARL iZUMi Quest Barrier Convertible Cycling Jacket

Best Convertible Cycling Jacket

  • Versions: Men’s, Women’s
  • Protection: Wind- and water-resistant polyester
  • Hood: No
  • Reflective accents: Yes
  • Sustainability: Contains recycled materials
  • Price: $130

Convertible jackets like this one offer an alternative strategy for cool and potentially misty conditions. Fully put together, the Quest Barrier Convertible Jacket offers similar water- and wind-resistant coverage to the featherweight REI Co-op Link above. When the weather hits that tweener stage where core wind protection is precisely what you need—and nothing more—you can zip off the Quest Convertible’s sleeves and stash them in the zippered back pocket. Now you have a wind vest rather than a full-blown wind jacket.

One Southern California customer recounts a ride that took full advantage of that adaptability: “The jacket provided protection against strong ocean headwinds and temps in the low 50's. When rolling in 70-degree temps, I simply unzipped the sleeves and enjoyed the cooling breeze against my arms.”

One feature that makes this jacket stand out in both the men’s and women’s styles is PEARL iZUMi’s “BioViz® technology.” The brand has always been at the forefront of visibility research. In 1990 the brand developed its iconic screaming yellow color (available in both the men’s and women’s styles of this jacket), which is up to 300% brighter than the brightest whites. BioViz delivers day and night visibility with a range of tactics, like the way this jacket pairs super fluorescent colors with reflective trims that pop when headlights hit them.

The women’s Quest Barrier Convertible Jacket differs from the men’s in one small but important detail. The sleeves attach with snaps rather than zippers, which are easier to attach with cold fingers, according to Larisa Castille, a sales specialist at the REI Co-op store in Encinitas, Calif., who wore the previous version through years of bike commuting.

For both, customer reviewers offer a consistent fit tip: The sizing runs a bit small, so if you’re between sizes, go bigger. Buy here.

 

REI Co-op Junction Cycling Rain Jacket

Best Cycling Jacket for Rain

Headwinds happen, but then so do rain showers, which is why some rides call for full-blown waterproof/breathable protection. It’s rare to find that level of weather technology at this price, which makes the REI Co-op Junction Cycling Rain Jacket an impressive buy. The fact that the jacket features both recycled and bluesign®-approved materials is also noteworthy because choosing items with sustainable attributes sometimes requires us to be willing to pay a little more to aid the cause.

Coverage on the Junction jacket includes waterproof zippers throughout (with rain flaps), a longer cut in the rear and on the back of the cuffs, and a hood that adjusts to fit over a helmet. The hood, which stows in the collar when not needed, distinguishes this year’s jacket from its predecessor (women’s and men’s), which customers consistently praised for being both lightweight and waterproof.

Reviews of this hooded Junction are also positive. A Chicago rider who uses it with a base layer underneath had this to say: “Overall, it is perfect for my needs. My bike is my main mode of transport, and I will be wearing this every day.” Buy here.

 

Patagonia Dirt Roamer Cycling Jacket

Best Mountain Biking Jacket

The first thing you notice about the Dirt Roamer is how stretchy it is, which lets you comfortably contort whenever a tricky section of trail requires it. During shoulder seasons when weather can be a mixed bag, this jacket is one that you can put on at the trailhead and leave on for the entire ride.

The jacket’s nylon outer fabric has a durable water repellent (DWR) finish to fend off light showers. That shell also guards against windchill on steep descents. A knit liner adds a touch of warmth on cool days, while also wicking away sweat when you have to grind up a vertical section of trail. The Dirt Roamer’s measured degree of weather protection doesn’t come at the expense of breathability either, which means you won’t overheat.

When you do need to take it off, the Dirt Roamer stows neatly into its own zip pocket to minimize the space in your pack. Other nice touches: an easily adjusted hood that fits over a helmet, and a rear drop pocket that’s V-shaped to center the weight as you ride.

Patagonia, long venerated for its sustainability initiatives, is true to its brand here, too. The Dirt Roamer’s shell fabric is made from 100% recycled nylon and the final jacket was sewn in a Fair Trade Certified™ factory. Buy here.

 

PEARL iZUMi Quest AmFIB Jacket

Best Soft Shell Cycling Jacket

  • Versions: Women’s, Men’s
  • Protection: Warm, wind-blocking and water-resistant polyester
  • Hood: No
  • Reflective accents: Yes
  • Price: $130

Engineering a suite of weather protections into a single tour-de-force garment has been a quest for many outdoor brands over the decades. People have longed to have a single jacket for all outdoor conditions, but inherent tradeoffs make that a tough ask. A cozy material like fleece that breathes freely, for example, is inherently susceptible to windchill. PEARL iZUMi's 3-layer amFIB material is an especially worthy soft shell contender, however, sandwiching an internal wind-resistant membrane between a thermal inner face and a smooth, drizzle-resistant exterior.

One customer reviewer was impressed with how well the Quest amFib meets the soft shell challenge: “It blocks the wind quite well, but still allows for air to flow so it doesn't feel sweaty. Feels good for cool and windy days. I love this jacket!” Another reviewer gushed: “This jacket rocks: Took my first cool weather bike ride and this jacket was wonderful. Even zooming downhill, it completely blocked the wind and kept me warm.”

The Quest amFIB’s other features are modest, but well thought out: A draft flap backs the front zipper, a large zip pocket in back can hold a few essentials and reflective accents help you stay visible in low light. The jacket’s relaxed fit makes it easy to add warm layers underneath in frosty conditions. Buy here.

Shop Cycling Jackets 

 

Buying Advice

When you shop for a cycling jacket, the key considerations are whether it will block wind and whether it will it keep you dry.

Wind-blocking jackets: A wind jacket like the REI Co-op Link works well for cool days when the forecast suggests that a full-fledged storm is unlikely. Most wind jackets are also water-resistant and can handle a bit of light rainfall. This type of jacket is lightweight and easy to stow in a pocket or pack when it isn’t needed. For added versatility in milder weather, look at cycling jackets that can be converted into a vest by zipping off sleeves, like the PEARL iZUMi Quest Barrier.

Waterproof jackets: On long, wet rides you need a jacket like the REI Co-op Junction, which offers fully waterproof coverage. For cycling, what you really want is something akin to that jacket’s waterproof/breathable technology, too, because you need a way for sweat vapor to escape when you’re riding hard.

To find out more about waterproof technology and get basic raingear buying tips, read How to Choose Rainwear. To learn how to keep any jacket performing at its peak for years, read Rainwear Care.

Jackets for cool-weather riding: You generate heat naturally as you ride, so you don’t need a jacket that’s too puffy. Look instead for one that provides a little extra warmth, like the Patagonia Dirt Roamer or the PEARL iZUMi Quest AmFIB. You can also boost your warmth by wearing a base layer underneath any jacket.

Cycling Jacket Fit

A cycling jacket should fall somewhere between not too restrictive and not too loose: If the fit is too tight, you won’t be able to comfortably layer up or lean over your handlebar; if it’s too loose, the jacket will flap around in the wind, slowing you down and making you work harder.

In order to allow you to easily stretch forward to grab your handlebar, most cycling jackets have slightly longer sleeves. In addition, an extended cut on most jacket tails and cuff backs gives you greater coverage when you’re in that riding position.

Cycling Jacket Features

  • Reflectivity: Important for urban riding, headlight-reflecting accents help drivers see and steer clear of you after dark.

  • Hood: Most hoods are designed to fit over a bike helmet, though a few slip underneath instead. Some jackets forgo the hood to save weight and cost, which leaves your helmet as your first line of rain protection. A few hoods zip off or can be tucked into the collar when needed.

  • Detachable sleeves: This feature lets you convert to a vest for core wind protection. Some convertible designs have zip-off sleeves; others might fasten with snaps. (Having the sleeves connected across the back yoke eliminates the issue of losing a single sleeve.)
  • Vents: Even high-performance waterproof/breathable jacket technology can become clammy if conditions are damp enough and you’re pedaling hard enough to work up a serious sweat, so it’s nice to have a few zip vents (often under the arms) to open things up.

 

Methodology

We polled staffers and member-testers across the co-op for their favorite cycling jackets. We then identified some of the available standouts for differing conditions and types of riding.

 

Article by Ken Knapp. Ken Knapp has been an REI Co-op writer for a quarter-century and a member longer than that. He’s a father of daughters (thriving) and monitor of marmots (threatened). Ken is a big fan of sustainability and sharing the ball. 

 

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