Chris HuntBASE Editor and Bristol-based adventure writer with a penchant for travel by bike, interesting coastlines and adventures that end in the pub.
Great all round mid-weight waterproof and highly breathable, the Zoa Rain Shell from Albion is a jacket tailored for active use with a vaguely cycle specific fit, making it a fantastic option for a bikepacking or commuting jacket where it’ll be used both on and off bike.
3 Layer Pertex Shield Air
Waterproof, Breathable, helmet compatible hood, two-way zip
From hiking to snow sports, from biking to climbing, the humble waterproof is a staple of the outdoors. Particularly if, like me, you live in the UK. And there’s truly a plethora of different fabric types designed to keep you dry – the challenge really is matching the right jacket type to the appropriate activity and season. If you dabble in various disciplines across locations and seasons, it’s a dilemma that can see your wardrobe filled with a whole range of fabrics and cuts. I for one, have a fair few variations of the waterproof membrane.
What it boils down to is adequate protection balanced with the right moisture management. Something that becomes increasingly difficult when you up the intensity. Something like, let’s say, cycling. What this can mean is that you have very specifically designed items for specific activities, where perhaps the cut and style of the item deems it suitable only for one very particular job. While this is great for creating highly specialised items, it’s less good for personal finances and of course the environment.
The golden ticket therefore is some form of do-it-all. Now, this rarely exists. Instead what we’re usually left with is a master of none. So if aiming for ‘it all’ might be far too ambitious, how then about something to tick off say two or three boxes?
For me journeys by bike are what really give me joy. Packing up light and heading out across long distances over as long a time as I have available. What this provides is a pretty tricky hole in my wardrobe. A waterproof that looks and feels good on the bike and also can be worn more causally. It needs to be packable, highly breathable but remaining properly wind and waterproof (the holy grail of shell jackets), and have a fit that’ll be useful for a variety of scenarios. What I mean by that is, tight enough fitting to be functional on the bike, loose enough to squeeze some insulation underneath. Personally, I am a fan of hoods. I like how they look and in a proper downpour am always glad to have one.
I’ve owned a few shells in the past bought specifically with this task in mind, namely most recently the Arc’teryx Beta SL. But truth be told, I’ve always found the fit to be a bit baggy for riding bikes in. Granted, bikes are not what the Beta is specifically designed for. It was however very packable, just about wind and waterproof enough and acted as a highly versatile layer that got a LOT of use. After about five years and a crumbling inside membrane, time for replacement it is.
The colour scheme of this jacket is really distinctive – a black body with a vibrant orange hood makes it really stand out. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but I’m into it. There are some strong reflective details on the rear and on the sleeves. A small emblem on the left shoulder and a large Pertex logo on the forearm – a nice nod to contemporary streetwear fashion. Something that we’re starting to see permeate cycling too.
Really noticeable straight away with this jacket is the softness of the material. For a waterproof shell, the fabric is soft to the touch and pleasantly quiet to move around in. The inside of the jacket has an interesting slightly ribbed texture and the seams are obviously sealed and taped.
While this is clearly an item designed for cycling, it’s got a more generous shape and fit while retaining a familiar snugness through the arms and into the armpits. That said it certainly looks and feels normal enough to wear hiking or in everyday use – something I can’t say for the majority of other cycling jackets.
As soon as I received the jacket, I headed out on a three-day trip in the Brecon Beacons. Staying in a Youth Hostel within the national park, we’d be mapping out long off road rides each day in a range of different conditions, across rocky mountain passes and through long winding forest double-track.
We faced sun, mist, pouring-rain and everything in between. Classically tricky-to-plan-for spring conditions. With a small backpack, when things got warm, I’d be able to test the packability of the jacket too – a vital component for any active jacket. But I decided to ride as much of the time in the jacket as this test would be as much about the breathability of the jacket as it was its weatherproofing and for me, a good cycling layer is one that can handle a real spectrum of conditions meaning the need to keep stopping to change layers is limited.
We faced sun, mist, pouring-rain and everything in between
Considering the fit, this is definitely a cycling jacket. But in the loosest of terms. What I mean by that is that the Zoa Rain Shell is not restricted only to cycling.
It’s probably not the ideal jacket for someone looking for a super packable emergency rain shell for day rides. There are lighter weight, more packable options available in that department. The Zoa is more your ultra dependable multi-day bikepacking option, your every day commuting jacket or all rounder for someone with a penchant for riding their bike a lot regardless of the weather forecast.
What Stands Out
Achieving the ultimate balance of weatherproofing and breathability is no easy cookie to crack but I am really impressed by Pertex Shield Air in finding that sweet spot. In several days of back-to-back riding in humid conditions, I found barely any moisture build up inside. I run warm, so that’s super rare, particularly for a three layer jacket of this kind of weight.
Having ridden in a lot of different cycle and non-cycle specific kit over the years, I have come to really appreciate the art of a two way zip. Great for reaching into different layers, dumping off excess heat mid-ride and making sure you’ve got the perfect comfortable riding position no matter how many layers you’ve squeezed in underneath – the two zip is invaluable.
The Zoa not only includes a two way main zip but also two way zips on each of the main pockets. As the pocket pouches are mesh, these make great ventilation options as well as providing adequate storage.
While two-way zips both in the main and in the pockets do provide a good level of ventilation, personally I’d be keen to see more vents – say pit zips or on the back of the jacket, but it’s a minor gripe, particularly in a fabric already so breathable.
The Zoa Rain Shell does a great job at providing a fit that’s functional on the bike without looking or feeling strange away from it. It’s tighter on the arms and into the arm pits than you might expect a standard shell to be as well as being shorter in the front and longer at the rear.
That said, it’s not obviously cycle orientated. There’s room for a layer underneath and while there’s generous room in the helmet compatible hood, with the draw cords there’s plenty of adjustment for a snug fit regardless.
As it’s designed for broader use, the body does sit a little generously in more aggressive riding positions, but thats the compromise for a jacket suitable to be worn off-bike too.
There’s not a huge amount of variation in how cuffs are adjusted on jackets, but for a cycle specific garment, I’m a big fan of the simple alternative that the Zoa provides.
By simply rotating the velcro patch to run length ways along the arm rather than across it, it’s possible to achieve a tighter, better fit. It mitigates a baggy sleeve on the bike, but still allows for plenty of ventilation or space for an additional layer should you need it.
Ok, £260 is no small amount to pay for anything, and there are certainly cheaper options for a more straight-forward fast and light shell jacket. The more refined the jacket though, with more tailored fabrics, pockets and fit, and the price does inevitably begin to soar.
Generally speaking, personally I’m always keen to see the inclusion of a tried and tested ‘ingredient’ brand like Gore-Tex, Polartec or in this case Pertex rather than a waterproof membrane manufactured in-house. Pertex’s Shield Air fabric really brings the goods in a well thought out and designed jacket suitable for various scenarios meaning it should earn its keep.
BASE Bottom Line
There are highly tailored specific rain jackets for everything. If you’re after lightweight but super dependable and highly breathable rain and wind protection for use both on and off-bike, the Zoa Rain Shell from Albion should be on your list to check out as a refreshing antidote to the need to own a very specific jacket for every occasion.
While those looking for an out and out performance bike riding jacket might find the cut too generous and possibly the material too weatherproof, this is a very well considered, highly functional shell that would really suit multi-day bikepacking or someone looking to hit two birds with one stone with a jacket for more than simply riding their bike.
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