By Zack Vestal
After a relatively mild winter, colder temperatures and frequent snowfall have come to Colorado. The wide variation in our springtime weather — from 50s and sun one day to 20s and snow the next — has created a perfect opportunity to put the Castelli Insolito Radiation winter jacket to the test.
With a retail price of $500, this jacket is not for the faint of heart. But it is packed with features that make it suitable for fall, winter, and springtime rides. I found that this single Castelli jacket could potentially replace two or three separate pieces of my winter wardrobe.
Features and fit
The shell material is Windstopper X-lite Stretch, which is windproof and water-resistant. The cut is trim but well proportioned across the shoulders and back, and the arms are plenty long enough to accommodate a reach to the handlebars. Multiple panels of material help keep the fit tailored but not tight. I tested an extra large, which fit my 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame generously. Much taller tester Lennard Zinn was also able to wear this size, so I could probably downsize to a large.
We tried the fluorescent yellow, which is extremely bright. A red color is also available.
The most unusual aspect of this jacket is the Radiation insert, a perforated, aluminized silver liner designed to reflect heat back toward the body. The liner zips in along the front and is held in place at the cuffs and sleeves with little snap straps. I found that in addition to reflecting heat, it created a little extra airspace for insulation.
Thoughtful touches abound. The front zipper has a generous baffle, which wraps over the top to create a nice enclosed dock for the top of the zipper. And a pull tab helps with getting it started below, which is helpful, especially when wearing thick gloves. The cuffs have a snug stretch baffle at the wrist to keep out cold air. Instead of a restrictive gripper or drawstring around the waist, a similar panel extends below the back to keep drafts from sneaking up the rear of the jacket. The trim fit coupled with these touches keep out even a 40-mph winter wind when hunched over in the riding position.
The functionality is impressive. A zip-off, integrated hood of stretchy, brushed fleece Lycra is thin enough to fit under a helmet, or tuck away in the collar. The arms zip off so that the jacket can be used as a vest. Five pockets, two with zippers, ensure that you can carry as much as you care to. Reflective detailing aids visibility in low-light conditions. Two angled front zippers over the chest create ventilation ports. Even with all these zippers, generous baffles keep the wind out. The pockets are large enough to hold the Radiation insert, zip-off arms, and zip-off hood in the event of exceptional temperature variation over the course of a ride.
I will confess to being very particular about my clothing, and I was a little reluctant to try something new, especially in questionable conditions. But this expensive jacket won me over within one ride, and reminded me of the truth in the saying, “You get what you pay for.”
The fit was fantastic, but even better was the total insulation against wind and cold. I wore this jacket on several rides, including 2.5 hours through a 35-degree windstorm that included blowing and drifting snow. I was wearing nothing under it but a light base layer, and felt perfectly comfortable. I almost couldn’t believe how well it kept the wind out, at every potential entry point: the sleeves, back, zippers, and collar. I wore the hood, which helped with insulation, but was not quite warm enough to forgo a standard ear warmer.
In testament to the jacket’s versatility, I also wore it on a sunny 50-degree day, minus the Radiation insert. Without the insert, breathability felt improved, and could be moderated perfectly with the front ventilation panels. I never had occasion to zip the sleeves off, but I could see using this one jacket as both a long-sleeve jacket for winter and a vest for cool mornings.
A few issues cropped up. Lennard does not like having to remove the Radiation liner for washing, and one of the snap straps that holds the liner in place pulled out on his first ride (it was safety-pinned in place when I used it). In fact, they are a minor pain in the neck when re-inserting the liner. No worries, says Castelli marketing manager Steve Smith: “Actually you don’t need to take out the liner for washing. Wash in cold, line dry; just throw the whole thing in the washer and it’s fine. Just don’t put it in the dryer! And we’ve reinforced those little straps.”
My only other comment is in regard to the hood — it does not fit tightly enough around the face to prevent air coming in. Rather, in my experience it acted like a scoop and seemed to make my ears even colder. I would love to see a drawstring or Velcro tabs to snug the hood around my chin and cheeks.
There is no question that $500 is a lot of money for a jacket. However, the Castelli Insolito Radiation is a multi-season windbreaker, wind vest and insulated winter jacket, all in one. If you are serious about riding in all conditions, this is a great solution for your wardrobe.