- Very waterproof and very breathable
- Adjustable hood actually fits over a helmet and cinches down when it isn’t
- 4 way stretch material feels great against the skin
- Collar/hood system has some pitfalls
- Main zip forces jacket to sit proud of the chest when on the bike
Ion’s aesthetically cool and ergonomically hot products are forging quite a name for themselves in the bike world. The 3 layer waterproof Shelter jacket continues this foray with a host of features and performance highlights although minor issues with fit and shape could question the high-end price tag.
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With roots in the surf world, Ion certainly know a thing or two about water and should, therefore, know how to make a waterproof jacket. The Shelter jacket comes in two varieties - a water resistant softshell version and the 3 layer waterproof option, as tested. Ion have titled their 3 layer material, ‘waterbomb_proof’, apt really considering the waterbomb’esque weather the UK has been on the receiving end of this winter! The fabric not only has a high hydrostatic resistance as well as claiming to be highly breathable but is also 4-way stretchable.
In years of testing wet weather kit, I’ve found claims of waterproofing to be generally true with weak points consistently being zips or seams. However, the breathability statements often fall into question, especially when you consider the heat often created underneath said jacket when partaking in an activity such as mountain biking. Also, to have a jacket that is actually stretchy for such an activity is definitely a selling point for me, I find nothing worse than wearing a taught, plastic bag as an outer layer when I’m ripping down a technical trail.
The Shelter has a whole host of features, some expected such as taped seams and waterproof pockets, adjustable cuffs a dropped rear hem and vent zips to the rear of the arms. None have leaked, ever and the rear vents are (almost) adjustable with one hand. There’s a couple of not so predictable inclusions such as a neat microfibre wipe in one of the pockets and a hood, that actually works! The hood is 3-way adjustable meaning you can truly personalise the fit, it’s a size that actually works over a helmet too, something I’ve long been an advocate of. If a waterproof jacket has a non-removable hood, it must fit over a helmet otherwise, it’s just a parachute that you’re dragging around with you that pulls on your throat and/or fills with muck and water. Ion have managed to incorporate a truly versatile head tent that’s usable over a helmet or over your head - you choose.
With all that said, there is a downside to such a large, adjustable hood which results in a fair bit of material up around the collar-top. The outcome is a collar/hood combo which only feels right when zipped to the top as otherwise the stiff zip, high wrap-around collar and large hood can flap from side to side - it’s impossible to keep the collar open, one side always flaps in towards your face, even with the hood down and cinched in. A minor issue maybe, but a frustrating one at that.
Whilst talking about that stiff main zip I should say its no stiffer than any other design but due to the lightweight feel of the 4 way stretch material, it has more of an effect on the fit. Having a jacket that is genuinely malleable is very cool, one that’s waterproof and breathable too is even more impressive, but, it does mean its more susceptible to influences from that aforementioned zip. As a result, the jacket sits with a natural snake to the front panel and forces the chest area to stick out when in a cycling position. Again, not a deal breaker but a point that I found increasingly frustrating on a waterproof which otherwise demonstrates a quality that warranties its hefty price tag of £225.
That said, the lightweight and flexible material is superbly unobtrusive on the bike, feels great against the skin (unlike nearly all other waterproof materials) and is outstandingly breathable, one of the best I’ve ever tested. I’ve covered it in muck time and time again and been out in some truly biblical downpours and its never missed a beat, never leaked and always kept me comfortable, despite my grumbles.
It’d be fair to say the Ion 3 Layer Shelter jacker presents a slight impasse - on one hand it's decidedly impressive where on the other it has a couple of significant fit issues for a jacket of this expense. Personally, I’m yet to find a jacket that’s perfect, and I’d overlook these faux pas to reap the fruits of Ion’s labour - it looks uber-cool, oozes quality and performs with some of the very best, you’ll have to save some pennies mind!
It's worth noting, there is, unfortunately, no ladies waterproof option from the brand in 2018, ladies have to settle for the soft shell version.