Lightweight; packable; breathable; long tail; two-way zipper
No pockets; odd seams on arms; only available in one color
For such a minimal piece, the Pearl Izumi Women's PRO Barrier offers surprisingly good protection from both wind and water. It has the flex and movement of a long-sleeved jersey but performs like an actual jacket. Don't expect it to be anything more than a weatherproof layer, though; in order to keep the jacket so packable, light, and nimble, there are no pockets, hood, or other features.
The struggle — of finding a cycling jacket that breathes well and also keeps the elements out — is real. However, Pearl Izumi has taken a very good crack at it with the Women’s PRO Barrier Jacket. It’s so stretchy and soft that, at first glance, it seems hardly more than a long-sleeved jersey. However, after taking it through the paces of chilly early mornings turned sweaty mid-mornings turned drizzly afternoons, I found the jacket a victor in almost all conditions.
Not waterproof, but still dry
The PRO Barrier Jacket does not claim to be waterproof, but the polyester fabric is treated with a technology that Pearl calls PI Dry. While I didn’t have a chance to get stuck in a downpour in this jacket (those come later in the summer here in Colorado), I did get caught in some passing showers. As I watched the sleeves of the jacket become dappled by rain drops, I kept waiting to feel them penetrate to the inside. It didn’t happen. When I turned a sleeve inside out to see if the moisture had permeated, I could see the outlines of the raindrops but not feel them. I doubt that this would be the case in a downpour, but hopefully in a downpour I will have a real rain jacket (or an awning or evergreen to duck under).
PRO Barrier: perfect for shoulder season
While many water-repellent treatments inhibit a fabric’s ability to breathe and transfer moisture effectively, PI Dry allows for amazing breathability. I don’t like being cold when I start riding, but I also find it annoying to start riding in a layer that I have to remove within ten minutes of warming up. The PRO Barrier Jacket does not trap moisture at all, so you can keep it on even once you’ve started sweating a bit. This is where the fact that it’s actually not a rain jacket is clutch; jackets that really effectively keep the rain out also tend to create a sauna effect on the inside, a feeling that is insufferable to cyclists. For my rain shower protection, I think I’d rather have the breathability and the awning to duck under, thank you very much.
In terms of warmth, the PRO Barrier Jacket does what its name implies: It acts as a barrier against the weather, namely wind and a slight chill. Because it scrunches up so tiny, it’s almost a no-brainer to bring it along if you’re going to be climbing in elevation and hanging out up high, or descending as the temperature drops. In other words, it’s not a cold-weather jacket but it’s a jacket for warm weather where you might get cold.
Stretchy and nimble yes, burritos and candy, no
Maybe it’s a carry-over from skiing, but I am a pockets and hood type of person. Since the PRO Barrier Jacket has no such things, I tried to judge it accordingly. Fortunately, it has two-way zippers, so if you’re wearing a jersey underneath, access to those pockets is easy. Without trying to make this jacket something it’s not (ie. a place to store snacks and tools), I do believe that even one small zip pocket would be helpful; at the very least it could serve as a place to compress the jacket into its own stowaway pouch.
The lack of pockets, hood, zippers, etc make the PRO Barrier Jacket entirely free of bulk and thus contribute to a streamlined, flattering fit. It falls nicely on the body, and the long tail in back is much appreciated for both modesty and weather-protection. Size-wise, the jacket runs true to size, although the fit tends to the slim side. There isn’t room for much underneath, so I only wore it over a jersey. Again, this jacket does not want to be stuffed over multiple layers; it just wants to be one of those layers.
PRO Barrier Jacket verdict
There is a long list of characteristics that have this jacket on heavy rotation right now, from its breathability to the ability to block wind and light moisture to the flattering fit. I’ve never tested something that so seamlessly straddled the line between jacket and jersey, but the PRO Barrier Jacket does both duties surprisingly well. My initial complaints about it — no pockets or hood — have faded with time, simply because I have other jackets with pockets and a hood that don’t do what this one does. Unless I’m going high into the mountains or deep into the rainforest, I’ll probably reach for this jacket. After all, on most of my rides, there’s always an awning or an evergreen.