A waterproof mountain biking jacket that ticks all the boxes
As a mountain biker living in the Lake District, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of decent waterproofs. Living round here, or indeed, anywhere in the UK, if there’s one piece of mountain biking kit that it’s worth investing in, it’s a good waterproof jacket.
I’ve definitely learned this the hard way, having had my fair share of cheaper waterproofs, which have barely lasted more than a few rides before I’ve reached the conclusion that I’d rather get soaked by the rain than drown in my own sweat.
When I first tried a Gore Tex jacket for the first time, it was something of a revelation, and since then I’ve been sold on this wonder fabric that not only keeps water out, but also releases perspiration effectively, which is obviously crucial for any active pursuit. However, not all Gore Tex garments are created equal, and one that’s designed for hill walking, for example, probably won’t be great on the bike. Sure, you’ll be dry, but when you’re unsnagging your loose trousers from the drivetrain for the umpteenth time, or pedaling against the drag of your billowing jacket, you’ll be wondering whether it’s worth it.
Not only are garments cut differently for different activities, but the fabric also comes in different thicknesses, which affect its packability or durability.
It was this lack of technical cycle-specific clothing that led to the creation of 7Mesh back in 2013, by a team of riders and technical apparel professionals from Squamish in BC, Canada. In that notoriously moist mountain biking mecca, having the proper kit is essential, and the significance of their roots runs right to the core of the brand, with the name even being derived from the native name for the town, Sk̲wx̲wú7mesh.
If the kit had survived product testing in BC, I knew it’d be good, but would it be good enough to withstand the moistest of all mountain biking locations; the Lake District?!
The good people at 7mesh gave me one of their best selling Guardian jackets to test, and I’ve been using regularly for the past year.
Available in either ‘Beetbox’ (magenta) or ‘Eclipse’ (navy), the Guardian jacket is a versatile, lightweight waterproof that’s thoughtfully designed for female trail riders, and has become my go-to outer layer throughout autumn, winter and even into spring. Constructed from Gore Tex Active 3L, it feels light and supple, without the stiffness or crinkliness that you can get with some heavier weight Gore Tex fabrics. The jacket also has minimal detailing to keep it as light and water tight as possible, with just two neat pockets on the front, simple stitched-in elastic strips to keep the cuffs from gaping, and a thin elastic cord, free from bulky plastic fastenings, for adjusting the fit.
Not that I find the fit needs much adjustment at all. At 5’3 and UK size 8, I find the XS fits me perfectly, and is tailored to fit neatly, without bunching or billowing, whilst also allowing plenty of room to move and accommodate sufficient layers underneath. Something that’s also quite refreshing is that the sleeves aren’t too long or baggy, so don’t interfere with my grip on the bars, or flap around.
Surely the most important test of any waterproof garment has to be its ability to repel water, and in this area, you can rest assured that my poor jacket has received thorough testing.
The Guardian jacket has kept me dry on many a rainy Lake District ride, with the elastic detail on the cuffs, elastic pull cords, dropped rear hem, and adjustable over-the-helmet hood offering as much protection as possible from water, as it attacks from all directions.
I did test it to its limit on a particularly wet day where it rained heavily from start to finish, but I suspect that rain eventually penetrated through a gap in the neck rather than soaking through the fabric.
Almost more impressive than the Guardian jacket’s water repellency, is the extent of its breathability. As soon as autumn hit, I’ve been wearing it on every ride, regardless of whether or not there’s been rain forecast, as it’s breathable enough to function just as a windproof. Yes, I’ll find myself unzipping it on a strenuous climb, but I’m yet to overheat to the point that I’ve wanted to remove it mid-climb, and I’ve worn it to climb Kirkstone Pass on my road bike!
Also, living round here, the fact that there’s no rain forecast, rarely means you won’t get any rain, so it’s good to be able to wear it just in case!
I’m no stranger to a mid-ride lie down, so the fact that this jacket is still intact after almost a year of regular use is testament enough to its durability. For a lightweight jacket, I’ve been amazed at what it’s managed to withstand. In my most recent crash, I tore holes in both my skin and favourite merino base layer, yet the sleeve of my Guardian jacket emerged unscathed. Witchcraft, I tell ya.
The only issue I’ve had with the jacket is some delamination around the pocket. 7Mesh aim to repair faulty garments before replacing them, which is commendable, however, with all European items having to be sent to a repair centre in Switzerland, it can take up to eight weeks.
Contrary to popular belief, it does occasionally stop raining in the Lake District, and we do even get the odd glimpse of the sun. However, it’s probably fair to say, that we generally experience several seasons in one ride, so having a jacket that folds down easily into a small package, is definitely something that’s important to me when selecting a waterproof for mountain biking.
For a jacket that’s super waterproof and tough, the Guardian jacket packs down really small, and I’m even able to stash it in my 2 litre bumbag along with my other short-ride essentials. I’ve also tied it round my waist on the odd occasion, and was barely aware of it being there.
There’s no way around it; if you want a jacket that’s actually going to keep you dry, both by keeping water out, and releasing perspiration effectively, you’re going to have to shell out a bit of cash. At £300, the Guardian jacket may not be cheap, but as a garment that ticks all the boxes, I think it’s definitely worth the investment.
Having tested many different waterproof jackets for cycling, the 7Mesh Guardian jacket is the best I’ve tried. For a jacket of its calibre and price point, I expected it to perform well in terms of waterproofness and breathability, but that combined with a well designed, cycle-specific fit and detailing, and lightweight packability, make it stand out from the rest.