Every piece of mountain biking kit has to have some unique element, otherwise the brand is just selling their logo on the same product that everyone else has — as is the case with most screen-printed cotton t-shirts. The unique bit of this new Lightweight Trail Jacket from Rapha is that it comes with a nylon strap so riders can stuff the shell in its sole breast-pocket and strap it to the frame for quick access when a drizzle hits. It can be lashed anywhere there’s extra space, which might be ideal for bikepacking.
When Rapha finally came out with a trail riding line they not only matched the prices of existing high-end MTB clothing, they kept their usual level of material quality and tidy aesthetic appeal. The brand’s Women’s and Men’s Lightweight Trail Jackets retail for $180, which isn’t extra change by any means, but it’s also no more than their competition is asking. The women’s cut comes in purple or light grey, in sizes XXS to XL, while the men’s is available in black, light grey, or dark-blue with sizing from XS to XXL.
I am 175cm (5′ 8.5″ ish) from the ground and I push back into the earth with roughly 69kg (150lbs) of mass, so the size medium jacket fits me perfectly. I could certainly fit into a small, but the medium allows me to wear a flannel or other layers beneath if needed, and I can fit a burly back protector without the jacket becoming too tight. The sleeves have enough material left that the shell will comfortably fit someone with longer arms, while they’re not so long that they feel excessive. I don’t wear elbow padding, but it seems there is space in the sleeves for a thin set of pads for folks who do. The sleeve cuffs are held fast by elastic, so there are no straps to fumble with when your fingers are numb or gloved.
I have been fortunate to spend these first summer months high in the mountains, where spring is still blossoming, and the crisp air has rarely been warm enough for shorts. This packable jacket has accompanied me on multiple chairlifts, and has been strapped to my frame on the climb and then slipped on to cut the windchill while descending. It works splendidly as a wind layer, cutting the chill without causing me to boil inside. If it’s chilly enough to warrant a jacket on a gravity ride, you likely won’t overheat on the way down in this one.
In terms of rain protection, the Lightweight Trail Jacket is great to throw on when a storm arrives mid-adventure. It’s not heavy enough that I would suggest it for rides that start and finish in a downpour, but the DWR coating does keep a good amount of water on the outside.
If the unexpected shower becomes really nasty, there’s a hood that can be drawn tightly under your helmet. Coupled with a high front zipper, the hood shields most of your face from the wind, which can make brisk alpine descents far more pleasant. There is also a drawstring at the waist to keep cold air from blowing in, further encasing you in a cozy little gravity home. The shell isn’t super thick, so if you’re planning on consistent temperatures below 5° Celsius (41°F), or your ride will include a lot of stopping, you may want to add a couple layers.
While testing this jacket I learned that the aesthetic Rapha maintains is about more than a stripe on the left sleeve to let everyone know you can afford the fancy stuff. There are no hanging threads or misaligned seams on this garment. It’s precisely designed and manufactured, and it seems the quality-control team sends the mistakes back for the chef to eat. The 100% nylon ripstop fabric has enough stretch to keep it from tearing on impact, and overall the jacket feels like it will last a few seasons in the dirt.
People have asked for many years, “what’s the Rapha of mountain biking,” and now they have the real deal. While $180 isn’t in every rider’s budget, this packable jacket is a great piece of kit for folks who pick one up.