If you’re a cyclist, runner, or triathlete searching for rain jackets or all-weather layers, you may be feeling a little wet behind the ears given the current deluge of baffling jargon accompanying modern activewear products.
Today’s weatherproof performance-wear is flooded with sophisticated fabrics and new-fangled features, each with a specific purpose. That means understanding what these features are for and how they'll perform in different situations is increasingly important before you buy.
So, to help you wring the most out of your purchase, we’ll be breaking down the windbreakers and disentangling the drawstrings of modern weatherproofing.
By the end of this guide, you’ll be equipped with all the necessary knowledge to stay warm and dry in horizontal rains and vertical winds, ensuring you can keep training when all others sit it out on the sofa.
What are the advantages of innovative fabrics?
What makes today's breed of innovative fabrics so special is that they overcome the longstanding drawbacks of traditional materials.
In the past, materials like sheep's wool, polyester, or even plastic, offered basic protection against cold, wind, or water. The problem is that the very same properties which make traditional fabrics effective in one area also makes them poor in others. Sheep's wool is warm because its pores trap lots of air, but terrible in the rain because of it. Plastic is waterproof because it is non-porous, which also makes it non-breathable.
Recent innovations have meant these limitations have now been overcome, ushering in a new wave of activewear.
What are the main types of weatherproof fabrics?
There are hundreds of branded fabric types with different weights and materials. However, when it comes to serious all-weather activewear, you should be paying attention to three main names: Polartec®, PrimaLoft®, and GORE-TEX®.
Polartec®: This synthetic fleece was named one of the 20th century’s greatest inventions by Time Magazine. Invented in the mid-90s, today it’s found in military clothing along with quality hiking and cycling wear.
Primaloft®: This is a patented synthetic microfiber, thermal insulation material developed for the United States Army in the 1980s. Its aim was to replicate the benefits of goose down but without the cost.
GORE-TEX®: Invented in 1969 by scientist Bob Gore, the fascinating material GORE-TEX has a very special property – it can repel water while allowing vapour from perspiration to pass through. It is composed of stretched polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), commonly known as Teflon.
Which weatherproof fabric is right for me?
Variations and combinations of these revolutionary fabrics and others provide a dynamic range of protective properties. These properties can be tailored for specific environments, giving you a bespoke solution for the conditions you face.
Each variation is also often given a specific name to help wearers differentiate the specific purpose, so – for example – GORE-TEX Shakedry™ is a variation of the standard GORE-TEX material that provides a water-repelling layer.
Below we’ve broken down some of the leading subcategories of Polartec, Primaloft, and GORE-TEX, and illustrated these with some of the best examples of activewear at Wiggle.
This should help you decipher the jargon and find the right material for your needs.
Polartec Alpha is a new technology with active insulation, regulating core body temperatures whether you’re on the move or relatively static. Its patented low-density fibres fit between air-permeable woven layers to regulate heat and transfer moisture. Adjusting or completely shedding layers to release excess heat and moisture vapour is not always a viable option while pit-zips and vents leave surface areas exposed. Polartec Alpha overcomes these drawbacks.
- Warm without weight
- Fast drying
Best suited to:
- Variable temperatures
- All-weather cyclists or off-season runners.
The bulky, sweat-boxes that were classic thermal gilets are a thing of the past with the inclusion of Polartec Alpha in this dhb Aeron Alpha Direct garment. Small enough to fit in your middle jersey pocket, this is the ideal gilet for carrying that nimble riding feeling into the colder months.
Providing incredible warmth with minimal bulk, the lining of the Sportful R&D uses Polartec Alpha for its warmth-to-weight ratio and breathability. Nylon layers to the front, shoulders, and sleeves ensure wind and water protection.
Pairing lightweight Polartec Alpha insulation with tough and burly rip-stop stretch nylon, the incredibly versatile Fox Racing Attack Pro Fire Jacket is built for tough winter mountain biking. An added water-repellent treatment ensures you stay dry and warm when you're pushing hard and at rest
PrimaLoft insulation is used inside garments for its warmth, compressibility, and soft comfort. Its patented microfiber structure forms a tight collection of air pockets trapping heat and keeping the cold out, providing an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio. There are two main types of PrimaLoft insulation: Gold and Silver.
Gold uses microfibers to mimic the softness and packability of down. It’s compressible, breathable, and offers water repellency so you remain dry, warm and comfortable even in extreme conditions.
PrimaLoft Silver is built with two different sizes of fibres, giving high thermal values and incredible loft. It’s comfortable, durable, and retains 85% of its insulation even when wet. Millions of air pockets trap body heat in extreme conditions while the lack of bulk means freedom of movement for any activity.
- High insulation
- Light weight
- Extremely cold temperatures
Those adventure biking in subzero conditions or hiking in bitter temperatures.
Windproof, water repellent and highly breathable with the addition of low-bulk insulation, Gore Wear's Women's C5 Gore-Tex Infinium Soft Lined Thermo Jacket combines GORE-TEX INFINIUM™ with Persistent Beading technology to give you cold weather warmth and excellent trail mobility.
To keep the body insulated and warm the Endura Pro SL Primaloft Gilet II uses windproof panels with high-quality PrimaLoft Gold insulation. This combination effectively seals in body heat and blocks out chill winds for cosy comfort.
Endura's MTR Primaloft Jacket makes use of lightweight windproof panels with Primaloft Silver insulation to give you excellent insulation against the cold. The fit is athletic when on the bike but generous enough to not look out of place when off.
GORE-TEX Infinium™ garments offer comfort and performance for days when rain is not an issue but you still need protection from the elements. The unique properties of Infinium™ provide a combination of weather protection and breathability, allowing you to maintain your performance even in tough conditions.
GORE-TEX Infinium™ can be found with the following technologies:
- Persistent Beading technology provides water repellency.
- Windstopper® gives you total protection from the wind
- Windy conditions
Endurance road cyclists and MTB riders or hikers
On those chilly rides when light showers are a possibility, this cozy soft-lined jacket will let you play out for longer. Featuring low-profile PrimaLoft® Gold Insulation and Gore Windstopper to keep chilly winds at bay without feeling restrictive or making you overheat.
The Gore Wear C7 GWS Pro Bib Tights+ are surprisingly light for the windchill and rain guarding they provide. The patented technology keeps arctic breezes at bay while resisting rain and spray.
The GORE-TEX Windstopper X-Fast has stretch windproof panels to the sides and shoulders keeping the wind out of the Mortirolo V Jacket, helping you retain more body heat as you ride.
GORE-TEX Shakedry™ is a revolution in terms of wet weather performance clothing. Traditionally, cyclists had to contend with either sodden clothing or non-breathable layers, leaving the rider to choose between rainwater or sweat. This meant serious discomfort on long rides, ruling out wet weather riding for many. Shakedry's unique outer membrane prevents water from penetrating, forcing it to bead on the surface and run off, achieving the elusive combination of waterproofing and breathability.
- Aerodynamic race fitting
- Warmth (see Gore-Tex Shakedry Insulated)
- Rainy conditions
- All-weather endurance cyclists, hikers and fast-packers
Unbelievably light but completely impervious to the rain and wind, Gore Wear's C5 Gore-Tex Shakedry 1985 Insulated Jacket will redefine how you see cold wet weather cycling kit. Never get stuck in the cold and wet again with this modern marvel.
The minimalist Castelli Idro 2 Jacket is the ultimate in lightweight emergency rain protection. Thanks to Gore-Tex Shakedry technology it weighs just 107 grams, fits easily into a pocket, but remains fully waterproof and highly breathable.
dhb embrace technical fabrics
dhb recently created a partnership with Polartec along with other technical fabrics like Schoeller®, and incorporate these technologies into their popular activewear (see the Aeron Alpha Gilet above).
Both Polartec and Schoeller are used in a number of dhb Aeron and Aeron Lab products, adding protection, warmth, and aerodynamic features to this high-performance range.
Using Schoeller's innovative PU foam waterproof and windproof fabric, and its Nanosphere® water repellent treatment, the Aeron Rain Defence Bib Tight typifies the technical approach from dhb latest range, offering flexible weatherproofing and keeping you dry and comfortable.
For riders who don't like wearing bulky winter gloves, the Aeron LAB All Winter Glove is the answer. A lightweight, insulated glove, constructed with advanced Polartec fabrics for balanced protection and breathability in winter conditions.