Nearly every outdoor apparel company sells a 60-gram insulated jacket, and the PhD Propulsion 60 Hoody Sport Jacket (available for both women and men) is SmartWool’s comparable offering. However, the company has veered from the standard of a synthetic fill by using Merino wool for a bulk of the jacket’s insulation and body fabric. The exterior is DWR coated and, like polyester fill, a wool insulator stays warm when wet, to some extent. The result is a toasty outer layer for riding in cold temps, or a great insulating layer for low-exertion activities.
The jacket’s chest and back lining, as well as the stretch panels located on the sides and at the neck, all incorporate a Merino and synthetic fabric blend. These panels offer generous freedom of movement and breathability that wouldn’t be present in a 100-percent poly shell. With a stretch panel extending up into the hood, it’s surprisingly comfortable to wear during activity. I wore the hood up while riding (it fits nicely under both a city and mountain helmet), jogging and skiing without feeling restricted.
Other useful touches are snug cuffs with thumb holes, an adjustable waist and an interior phone pocket. The phone pocket has an opening to route your headphones out of the interior pocket and into the small chest pocket, where they can be safely stored from the elements when not in use.
It took a few tries to determine what combination of temperature and exertion level this jacket was right for. When coupled with the Mid 250 Crew, the jacket was much too warm on a mountain bike night ride in the 20s, but it was just perfect cross country skiing at 15 degrees. Of course, it’s all contingent on exertion level. With a single wool base layer, the jacket would likely be comfortable to wear into the single digits during high-exertion activities and into the low 40s as a casual piece.
The Propulsion Hoody is definitely warmer than the 60-gram insulated Stio jacket we reviewed, which offers a broader range of warmth for varying winter temps and activity level. This difference in warmth may be due to the wool insulation or simply the addition of a hood, zipper closure, cinched hemline and elastic cuffs on the SmartWool jacket.
At $260, the Propulsion Jacket is very expensive, eclipsing even some of the priciest options in this category. However, it’s at a price point I’d expect from Merino wool apparel. As a long-term investment, the yellow color will likely be the downfall of this jacket. While I like it, light colors show dirt that wouldn’t be visible on black.
Available for women in sizes small through extra-large in black, sunglow (tested) and desert purple. Check out the Propulsion Hoody for men.
For ultimate wool warmth, pair this with a SmartWool shirt and bra, featured in our big base layer review.
The Skycrest Insulated Snap Shirt and Stio Dulcet Soft Shell Pant have carried me through the coldest days of fall riding and will serve as an essential warm layer for winter commutes, mountain bike rides and cross country skiing.
There are so many options when it comes to lightweight synthetic-insulated jackets, but I found the Stio Skycrest Insulated Snap Shirt to offer a great balance of a performance and casual aesthetic. I’ve been wearing this jacket everywhere.
The Skycrest has the style of a button-down shirt in jacket form, offering a loose fit, snap front and a relaxed hem. The snap front and unfitted hem makes this jacket a good fit on the bike, providing plenty of air circulation. Between the jacket’s 60 gram insulation and windproof nylon, it had to be quite cold to wear this on a ride. As a performance piece, the Skycrest felt comfortable on an overcast 30-degree day or cooler. In a casual setting, I’ve worn the jacket into the 50s.
Synthetic insulation has several advantages over a fowl-based insulator: it’s water resistant, fast drying and less expensive. While synthetic jackets won’t pack as small as down, they’re quite compressible. I packed the Skycrest in a 4.5- by 8-inch stuff sack, and it could pack even smaller.
Both the Skycrest Shirt and Dulcet Pants have a DWR finish, helping them tolerate wet weather. Other details are loose-fitting elastic cuffs that can be pulled over your gloves to trap heat, and generous fleece-lined hand pockets. I don’t ever put anything in chest pockets, but these flap pockets are large enough to fit an iPhone 6.
I’m drawn to clothing that isn’t overly branded and there’s no text on the front of the Skycrest. You’ll find the Stio pinecone logo embroidered on the back and a small Stio tag stitched in the side seam.
The Skycrest Insulated Snap Shirt is available in Black Iris, Biking Red and Dresden Blue. Available in sizes XS-XL for $155.
Temperature management is one of the biggest challenges of riding through the winter. While a pair of waterproof, breathable rain pants offers excellent weather protection, they’re often too warm outside of all but the worst conditions. A soft shell pant is more versatile because it turns some weather, but offers far more breathability for most riding.
The Dulcet Soft Shell Pants are made of water-repellent nylon with a brushed interior. They have a skinny fit, a long cut and generous stretch. These pants are unlined which makes them suitable in a broad range of temperatures. I like keeping my legs on the warm side, so I comfortably wore the Dulcet pants over cycling shorts up into the low 50s. Doubling up over long underwear takes a little effort due to the slim fit and textured interior but the ankle zippers facilitate that by offering a wide leg opening. It’s like putting on snow pants; tuck your long underwear into your socks.
I often commute in hiking boots throughout the winter and the Dulcet’s long length and zippered ankle worked great for trapping my boot laces.
Unlike pockets on the average women’s skinny pants, these are large enough to use! My entire hand fits inside, so they’ll easily carry the essentials. The YKK pocket zippers have a catch preventing them for coming open; it’s a slight lift and pull motion to release the zipper.
The Dulcet Pant can be worn multiple days without washing. The water resistance allows mud to be wiped clean with a damp cloth. Stio recommends these pants be washed cold and dried on low. Drying is one way to to freshen up the pants DWR coating. Take a look at REI’s suggestions for keeping a DWR performing its best.
The Dulcet Soft Shell Pant comes in two colors: Tap Shoe (black) and Fallen Rock (tan). These pants hit below the natural waistline, but run true to the hip measurement. Available in sizes 2-12 for $150.
More info: stio.com
We recently published other reviews of women’s cycling clothing, including a technical hoody and cycling tights from Pearl Izumi, bibs and a wool jersey from Svelte London, and an insulated vest from Giro. Check them out!