Winter riding can mean a minefield of layers to navigate. The slightest change in forecast five minutes before heading out the door can necessitate a whole new approach to dressing. And buying all those layers can add up quickly. Wouldn’t it be nice to simplify all that a little bit? If you agree, then the Pearl Izumi PRO Insulated Jacket might be for you.
Warmth simplified. That’s the Pearl Izumi PRO Insulated Jacket. Though in the hands it feels like a light shell layer with a minimal layer of insulation, this jacket packs warmth far above its weight. The secret is PolarTec Alpha Direct, the insulation material that seems to be the common thread connecting most of our favorite winter apparel these days. Although it looks like leftover material from a distant cousin of the Phillie Phanatic, it’s a revolutionary fabric with an impressively high heat retention for its weight. Plus it’s super soft, making it comfy on long rides.
This jacket is so warm that you can easily wear it down to freezing temperatures with just a long sleeve thermal base layer beneath. Freezing temperatures not forecasted? Bump it down to a short sleeve thermal base layer, or even a spring weight one. Though we didn’t get a chance to test it in anything colder than about 32 degrees F (and to be honest nor would we want to, really), this jacket is thin enough that it could become a great mid layer for those days when an Arctic chill sets in.
Insulation is only one part of the warmth equation. The outer shell keeps bone chilling winds at bay, while a permanent water resistant coating keeps unexpected rain showers, fog or road spray from ending a ride early.
The issue you’re most likely to run into with this jacket is overheating, and luckily there are plenty of ways to vent heat. Two mesh-backed front pockets—unusual for a cycling jacket, but more on that later—provide an easy way to cool down, or store a few items when closed if you prefer. A two-way zipper lets you unzip from the bottom to cool your core while keeping your neck warm. Most of the time, unzipping just a couple inches provided all the relief we needed. Additionally, a highly breathable membrane beneath the PolarTec Alpha Direct material keeps your core bone dry.
Now this jacket is going to divide some riders out there for a couple of choices, namely the pockets, which some will love, and others will justifiably hate. It all depends on what you’re looking for in a winter jacket. It’s common for winter jackets to have zippered heat vents on the front or sides, but less so for those vents to be functioning pockets as on the PRO Insulated Jacket. We were suspect at first, but came to like the ability to keep our hands warm in them before starting a ride or while stopped. And instead of two to three rear pockets, this jacket has just one zippered pocket covering about half of your back. That’s going to be a deal breaker for some. There’s room to stash a phone, keys, wallet, some food and maybe a little bit more, but it’s certainly less storage than many other jackets, and less accessible while riding, too, because it is zippered and accessed from the side instead of the top. But on the flip side, that zippered pocket provides peace of mind that your equipment will stay dry, fully enclosed beneath the water resistant outer shell.
For us, when the weather is cold enough for a jacket like this, we’re usually not racing, so we’re not as concerned about super quick access to gear that a traditional three-pocket design offers. And when it is that cold, gloves usually inhibit easy access to pockets anyway. We think those non-traditional pocket choices could actually be a selling point to many who might want some extra versatility out of their winter cycling clothes. This jacket is cut for cycling, but it doesn’t lock you into the riding position as aggressively as many other layers, meaning you can comfortably wear it upright just walking around town. We actually took this jacket out snow shoeing as well, where we appreciated the front pockets and zippered rear pocket for storage, as well as the ample warmth and impressive wind blocking technology that handled the worst a howling ridge line could throw at us.
With this one jacket and a couple base layer weight options, you have most of your winter riding handled, including wind and light rain protection. And you can use it for more than just cycling. If you’re going to invest $225 in a winter jacket, you might as well make it one that’s up for all of your winter activities.
$225; 2 colors; pearlizumi.com