The Albion Zoa Insulated Jacket is a multi-functional garment created to be worn on and off the bike as a mid or outer layer. It's a warm garment, but likely too warm for the vast majority of riding conditions, and it's bulkier than other options in the best winter cycling jacket segment.
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Albion Zoa Rain Shell - Technical details
The Zoa Insulated Jacket is one of three items in the Zoa series, which also includes the Zoa Rain Shell and the Zoa Burner. The Insulated Jacket, like the Rain Shell, is available in six sizes ranging from XS to XXL, with chest sizes ranging from 81cm (32in) to 117cm (46in).
I'm between sizes XS and S, but given my recent experience with the Rain Shell's more relaxed fit, I went with the XS. Even though I am on the larger end of the size range, there is still plenty of room inside and it does not feel like a tight/race-fit garment. While it has a relaxed fit, it does not feel as big as the Rain Shell.
I tested the Zoa by wearing it over a thin base layer for on-bike testing and regular clothing for off-bike testing.
The rear tail is slightly lowered, and the front panel is raised, but as a jacket designed to be worn off the bike, there is a compromise, and I felt the front was still a little too low, causing it to bulge at the front in a typical riding position.
It has plenty of storage space, including two large side pockets big enough for your hands, although they are not insulated on the outside, so are not the warmest when the weather is cold. There is also a smaller chest pocket with a concealed zip and a large rear pocket that doubles as a stuff sack.
The jacket is available in bright orange, as tested, which is great for general winter visibility, as well as in black and also a hybrid option with black main panels and an orange hood.
Albion Zoa Insulated Jacket - Performance
As the temperatures began to fall, I used the Zoa Insulated Jacket in typical autumnal conditions, as well as in temperatures approaching freezing, with several frosty mornings but also days in the double digits.
The Primaloft Gold Eco insulation has proven to be extremely warm, and I find myself overheating in almost all riding situations. I had the front completely unzipped within 10 minutes of the first ride, with a temperature starting at seven degrees and being a very relaxed ride, as I was starting to overheat, indicating that the two-way front zip was very useful.
It became more useful as temperatures dropped closer to zero degrees but I was still overheating, even at lower intensities. Even a little climbing made things sweaty and any rider who frequently rides in colder temperatures knows that sweat is your worst enemy because cooling sweat will make you very cold, very quickly.
It works far better for non-active general use at these temperatures, and it is for these uses that I found myself reaching for the jacket out of preference.
The jacket has enough adjustability for a comfortable fit, with a bottom hem that can be tightened with an elastic cord and a hood that is also adjustable. The Zoa Rain Shell is designed to be worn over a helmet, whereas the Insulated Jacket is designed to be worn under a helmet, with eyelets to pass the helmet straps through. It was simply too warm for me to use while riding due to the level of insulation in addition to a helmet.
The cuffs, with a snug double-cuff design that keeps the wind out while also allowing it to be easily put on and removed without turning inside out, are the best feature for me.
For slower rides or where there may be a lot of stop/start, the jacket could potentially work as a warm layer, and the synthetic Primaloft also means that getting wet will not affect the insulating ability, as it can with down-fill clothing.
When comparing high-quality down insulation to Primaloft or other synthetic insulating fabrics, down has a big advantage in packability - giving more warmth for the space it takes up. The Zoa jacket takes up a lot of space when packed into its built-in stuff sack, more than I would ever consider taking. Even for a winter bikepacking trip, the size and limited packability would be an issue, and I have several smaller sleeping bags. If you want to take it on a day ride, you'll need some sort of bike bag because it won't fit in a jersey pocket.
If you have plenty of space for any bikepacking adventures, Albion suggests using the jacket as a pillow with the size and density that could make it very comfortable for those looking for a little bit more luxury.
The Zoa Insulated Jacket costs £185, which is competitive with some down jackets and other high-end synthetic insulated jackets. Rapha's Explore Down Jacket costs £250, while PEdALED's Odyssey Down Alpha costs £220. Pat recently tested the Endura GV500 Insulated Jacket (£150) and found it almost perfect. It is lighter, cheaper, and useable in a wider range of temperatures.
Albion Zoa Rain Shell - Verdict
Albion has gone a little too far with the size and warmth on offer with the Zoa and, while it feels fine off the bike, it's a bit of an overkill for riding. Perhaps it would be useful on low-intensity rides or if you have plenty of room to carry it and need to add a layer when stopped.
When riding, a little less insulation would make it more usable and easier to transport. The fit is a compromise for a purely on-the-bike jacket, but it is more suitable than the Zoa Rain Shell, which appeared to be designed to accommodate the Insulated Jacket beneath. Even for a winter riding trip in the UK, the combination of both jackets worn together would go above and beyond what almost any rider would require.
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