No matter how much money you sink into cycling gear, there always seems to be at least one or two pieces that are hard to add to the collection. For me, one of the biggest offenders was always a quality rain jacket. Decent jackets are quite expensive, and mountain biking typically isn’t too friendly towards pricey pieces of clothing. For many years I suffered with mediocre jackets that were soaked through after an hour. Since then I’ve used a number of waterproof jackets with prices that range from $40 to 400 which are usually separated by one key factor – breathability.
In order to make a jacket truly breathable it usually requires some advanced technical fabrics that equate to a very expensive garment. Ultimately though, that breathability is what allows excellent rain shells to be used for more than just a rain jacket, as I found with the Showers Pass Refuge. After practically living in the Refuge all winter, it turns out to be an amazing jacket that competes with some of the most expensive on the market…
Calling it a do-it-all jacket, the Refuge is probably best suited to mountain biking or commuting on the cycling side. The jacket isn’t exactly bulky, but it’s not fitted like most rain jackets for the road. It turns out that the Refuge makes a great winter shell which could be used for fat biking, skiing, mountaineering, trail running, etc. Anywhere a waterproof, windproof shell that has a high degree of breathability and venting would be ideal.
On the front of the jacket there are two core vents which are located on either size of the main zipper. The location of the vents allows them to get plenty of airflow even when hunched over on a bike with a hydration pack. At no point during testing did I wish the jacket had additional vents – if anything, the vents are too big. That’s not really true though since you can easily control the effective size of the vent with the zipper. When fully open you can feel the air circulating around your core, and opening the velcro cuffs fully works to ventilate the sleeves quite well. The reinforced shoulder patches are further proof that Showers Pass thought of mountain bikers when creating the Refuge since the material is designed to resist wear from the shoulder straps of any bag.
Showers Pass gets high marks for the zippers on the vents as they are easy to use with one hand even while riding. I’ve used a few jackets where the zippers tended to get stuck or jammed on the inner material, but the Refuge works like a champ.
Using a fully seam-taped construction with Elite’s 3 layer waterproof/breathable hardshell fabric, the jacket keeps out additional water with YKK Aquaguard Vislon zippers. Next to each core vent are zippered and covered pockets with water resistant zippers. There is also a waterproof chest pocket with an internal audio port and a rear pocket for storing the removable hood.
To keep your posterior dry, the jacket has a drop down tail that snaps up into place when not in use. Clad in 360 degrees of 3M ScotchLite reflective trim, the back of the jacket also includes two light loops (low and high) for attaching additional illumination to keep you visible.
As this is a riding jacket, the hood is helmet compatible but it is also easily removable (even with the jacket on). When not in use the hood stows in the back pocket. Most of the time that I was riding the hood stayed in the pocket, but it was nice to be able to attach it when needed. At 5’8″, the Men’s Small fit quite well with the sleeves long enough for coverage when in the riding position. That makes them a little long when you’re just hanging out in the jacket, but the velcro cuffs make it easy to keep them above your hands.
One of my main concerns with expensive jackets has always been one of durability. Some of our trails leave you picking thorns out of your flesh at the end of the ride, but it appears the Refuge is tougher than my own skin. After catching the jacket on a thorn hard enough to rip off the branch, the ripstop material did its job and only left a small pinhole in the arm. Otherwise the bright cayenne red tends to show the dirt but the jacket itself is in great shape after a lot of abuse.
Also sent for review the Refuge was the new Showers Pass Body-Mapped Baselayer which proved to be a perfect complement to the Refuge. Easily one of the best moisture wicking baselayers I’ve used, you can actually feel the open knit zones when you put it on. I dig the thumb loops which help keep the sleeves in place when putting on additional layers, and the mix of fibers make for a very comfortable feel.
Personally, winter riding has always proven to be one of the best indicators of a jacket’s breathability. I tend to sweat quite a bit, regardless of the temperature and using a jacket that doesn’t have a high rate of breathability will leave me with ice on the inside of my jacket at the end of a ride when it’s cold enough. With rides down to -10ºF this year that never occurred, and the Refuge seemed to allow me to wear fewer layers while staying warm. Add to that a jacket that has proved to keep me comfortable and dry even in full on downpours this spring, and you have a jacket that comes very highly recommended. At $279.00 the Refuge is still an investment, but to me it’s worth every penny.