A lightweight, relaxed-fit jacket that provides warmth beyond its weight.
roomy, comfortable for any riding position and off the bike
low-volume pockets with placement can make the jacket twist if contents are not evenly distributed
The Pearl Izumi PRO Insulated jacket offers lightweight warmth and even does duty as casual street-wear. The water- and wind-resistant shell and PolarTec Alpha direct fleece perform well in nearly all dry conditions. However, for commuter apparel or casual road riding, this jacket is on the pricey end of the spectrum.
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My first ride in the Pearl Izumi PRO Insulated Jacket was more revelation than surprise — both at price and for performance. The lightweight jacket, with a thin layer of PolarTec Alpha Direct insulation, is plenty warm for short bike commutes. So warm, in fact, that I find myself reaching for the front zippers to let some cool air in so that I don’t break a sweat before arriving at wherever I’m riding. And I am also surprised by how this innocuous and simple-looking shell could help me get where I want to go, without having to bundle up in multiple layers to block the cold air from penetrating. But for a casual and commuter jacket, the price is on the upper end of reasonable.
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Keep cold air out
The wind-blocking outer shell of the Pearl Izumi jacket is excellent at keeping out any wind penetration from light breezes to full-on 50kph/31mph descents in temperatures above freezing. I’ve worn heavier-weight jackets which were less effective at preventing wind chill, so the light feel of this jacket is most welcome. The highly water-resistant shell also does exceptionally well at preventing fog and light mist at permeating, and also keeping road-splash from dampening my day — and whatever I’m wearing under this shell.
Just two layers, thanks
Testing this jacket, I tried several baselayer options when commuting and riding the road. When the air temps were closer to freezing, a single, Merino wool long sleeve base layer was all I needed to break a sweat when wearing this outer layer. And as temperatures climbed, the outer shell offered enough protection that I was able to wear the most minimal base layer. And while wearing clothes that I don’t want to get sweaty, I ride more slowly and allow plenty of air to circulate around.
Minimal bulk, excellent insulation
While the outer shell is impressive at blocking wind, it’s the PolarTec Alpha Direct insulation that really makes this jacket worth a look. The ultra-lightweight and low-density, soft insulation uses one’s own body heat to provide warmth. The seemingly thin layer of PolarTec is so effective at keeping the wearer warm that no long sleeve jersey is needed while wearing this jacket. Working in conjunction with the outer shell, the insulation layer is perfect for keeping warm in cool conditions; when cool turns to warm, the insulation might even be a bit much.
This Alpha Direct insulating layer is designed by PolarTec without the need for an additional layer between it and an outer layer. This lends to the jacket’s low volume. One scenario for which this jacket is ideal is wearing it while commuting in one direction when the temps are near-freezing, and then making the return trip once outside air temps are doubled, with this jacket stowed in a backpack. To be sure, this is a cool-to-cold weather jacket, and the PolarTec insulation does a phenomenal job given how lightweight it is.
Pockets and vents
If anything, I am apt to overdress with this jacket and so the dual front zippers are excellent at managing temperature. The zipped side pockets allow for heat to escape when unzipped, without letting cold air penetrate. While this feature is excellent for ventilation, it is far from ideal when wanting to ensure the contents of pockets stay put, and can be the cause for some anxiety.
A third, zipped pocket on the right rear of the jacket also does dual duty as a vent and a place to stash my iPhone. I find that I’m much more likely to toss items into this rear pocket than on the side pockets as I really do not like the feeling of the side pockets being weighted and tugging the jacket down — especially if I do not evenly distribute the contents of the pockets.
Fit and feel
One of the features I expect of a cycling jacket is an excellent fit, and the Pearl Izumi PRO Insulated jacket delivers, but I reset my expectations. This jacket is not designed to be the most aero anything. But for commuting and for rides on bikes without drop bars, it’s just right. There’s no concern about awkwardness or any uncomfortable fit while sitting up on the bike — or even wearing it for a coffee stop — unlike a jacket with a race-cut design.
While Pearl Izumi indicates that this jacket may be small for its size, I do not find this to be accurate at all for a size medium (I’m 163lbs/73kg and 5’10″/178cm tall). The Pearl Izumi PRO Insulated Jacket fits true to size, and even allows for a little bit of extra room, to be sure. The body of the jacket is quite ample, with a relaxed fit, and the sleeves are long enough to extend past my wrists and not gap at my gloves on a flat-bar bike.
One of the factors that influences my opinion of a cycling jersey or jacket is how the zipper feels when zipped to my neck. Some jackets offer taller collars than others, and of course, the fit and comfort will vary with the rise of the collar. Does the jacket feel snug around my shoulders when zipped and is the zipper noticeable when pulled up? I want a jacket to not feel constricting nor gap and let air penetrate when fully zipped. But I also don’t want to worry about getting “nipped” by the zipper t’s at the top of the track.
When riding in this Pearl Izumi jacket, I frequently have the zipper nearly pulled to the top, with just enough of my neck exposed to regulate temperature. But when I ride with this jacket fully zipped, the zipper garage did a solid job at protecting the skin on my neck from chafe, and the overall fit was designed so that I am not feeling constricted.
Another win: The zipper pull is easy to manipulate with the short pull cord attached to the zip toggle even while wearing gloves.
The Pearl Izumi PRO Insulated Jacket is remarkably lightweight for the amount of warmth it offers. It offers wind and water resistance and is plenty warm for its weight, but I’m not sure the price tag is justified. For its intended use, I could overlook the placement and size of the pockets — which double as vents that can release too much heat — as I was not reliant solely on them for keeping my stuff while riding.
The cut is certainly not intended to be aero; it’s generous and comfortable without feeling oversized, and sleeves are plenty long to provide coverage without gapping at the wrist. For easy commutes and even casual streetwear, I find myself reaching for it instead of more serious-looking and performing cycling wear.