Review: five packable shell jackets

Words and photos: Adam Newman and Jon Pratt

Keeping one of these lightweight, packable layers handy can make the difference between a miserable experience and getting home comfortably.

Patagonia jacket

Patagonia Houdini

  • Price: $99
  • Weight: 108 grams
  • Fit and shape: Designed for all-purpose use, it has a horizontal hem and baggier fit.
  • Material: Nylon with DWR treatment
  • Packability: Packs into its chest pocket with zipper closure
  • Hits: Non-cycling style makes it more versatile
  • Misses: Non-cycling fit catches more wind as you ride
  • Best for: Bike to casual crossover
  • Also available for women

Sugoi jacket

Sugoi RS Jacket

  • Price: $80
  • Weight: 112 grams
  • Fit and shape: Slimmest fit. Designed for road cycling it is the least flappy in the breeze. No hood.
  • Material: 100 percent polyester
  • Packability: Packs into its own rear pocket, with zipper closure.
  • Hits: Extra straps allow the packed jacket to stow under your bike’s seat.
  • Misses: Slimmest fit might not be as practical for bike commuting or non-bike use.
  • Best for: Sporty road riding
  • Also available for women

Nau jacket

Nau Slight Pullover

  • Price: $135
  • Weight: 158 grams
  • Fit and shape: Pullover design saves weight and has no zipper to break. More generous fit, with hood.
  • Material: Recycled polyester with a crunchy feel and DWR treatment.
  • Packability: Packs into its chest pocket, with zipper closure.
  • Hits: Thickest fabric of the group seems more durable.
  • Misses: Lack of zipper means you have to remove your headgear to put it on or take it off.
  • Best for: Harder use
  • Available for women as a full-zip jacket

Novarra jacket

Novara Stowable Bike Jacket

  • Price: $70
  • Weight: 111 grams
  • Fit and shape: Slim cycling fit, but still big enough to wear over a sweater. Back vents allow access to jersey pockets. No hood.
  • Material: Nylon shell with glossy sheen.
  • Packability: Packs into its chest pocket, with zipper closure.
  • Hits: Sold through REI with its generous return and exchange policy.
  • Misses: Sold only through REI.
  • Best for: Road riding to commuting
  • Also available for women

Kitsbow jacket

Kitsbow King Ridge Windbreaker

  • Price: $179
  • Weight: 112 grams
  • Fit and shape: Mid-range fit keeps it from being baggy. Size down if you want a slim, road riding fit. No hood.
  • Material: Nylon with DWR treatment, sewn in America.
  • Packability: Will fit into its own chest pocket, but no zipper closure.
  • Hits: Off-center zipper is more comfortable than having a zipper in your throat.
  • Misses: Price is significantly higher than the competition.
  • Best for: Road riding to commuting with some luxury
  • Not available for women



Review: SealSkinz Ultra Grip Gloves

NTM Gloves-1

It has been raining in Colorado much too much for my liking. I moved here for the promised 300 days of sunshine, otherwise I’d probably live in the Pacific Northwest, but springtime makes me wonder if that number is a bit of a marketing stretch. Instead of being grumpy about it, I am slowly growing my collection of waterproof riding gear and just added a pair of SealSkinz Ultra Grip Gloves to the pile.


Most waterproof gloves are stiff and bulky with square-edged fingertips that seriously reduce lever feel. I wanted something less intense and best suited for warmer days. The Ultra Grips feature a nylon exterior mixed with a stretchy hydrophillic membrane and a Merino wool lining, resulting in a (mostly) waterproof, windproof and breathable product.

All of the Ultra Grip’s features, including their soft pliability and close-to-skin stretch fit, make them useful for activities such as commuting or sticking in your back pocket in preparation for an upcoming cold road descent where short-finger gloves might not cut it.

They’re great for “just-in-case” moments, but not full days or heavy rain, which I will get to. I do want to reiterate that these are not winter gloves, which is why I wanted them and is why I’m reviewing them in May.

SealSkinz jersey-1

My first ride in the Ultra Grips featured two hours on a mountain bike in a steady drizzle with temperatures in the upper 40s. It always takes me a few minutes to get my fingers warm but, once I did, my hands stayed cozy. No rain got in and no clamminess developed. The feel on the damp bars was excellent thanks to gripping dots all over the fingers and palm.

My second go-around was an attempt to use these as work gloves during a wet mountain bike festival which, I should note, is not their intended use (but sometimes life happens). The downside of placing the waterproof material underneath an external layer means the outer fabric will get soaked and weighted down in heavy rain. After a few hours, the gloves were not very useful. My hands did not get soaked, but they were damp inside the heavy gloves. I kept having to wring them out and eventually gave up. After that, in the humid Pennsylvania woods, the gloves took a full 24 hours to dry out on the dash of my rental car.


Also, even those these are fitted gloves, I experienced bunching on the backs of my palms even as the fingers were nice and snug. The Ultra Grips do have a bit of bulk, meaning they won’t follow the contours of your hands perfectly and probably won’t be usable as liners.

Overall, I do like the Ultra Grips for short, damp rides and how easy they are to shove into back pockets or the bottom of a pack for those just-in-case moments. I will be riding with them this summer in preparation for Colorado’s penchant for unleashing regular afternoon storms that are sudden but brief.

For an extra five bucks you can (and should) get a pair of these gloves with touch-screen compatible fingertips. I also like the longer cuffs, which prevented gaping at the wrists between the gloves and my rain jacket. For an extra ten bucks, you can get a version of the Ultra Grips with extra-long gauntlets.


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