Sometimes I get a product to review that I personally think is brilliant but I can see definite drawbacks in for other riders. That’s perfectly illustrated by the Giro Cascade Insulated Jacket and matching Giro Cascade Insulated vest. So why is it potentially one of the best riding jackets for some riders, but not for others?
It’s the literally two-faced design approach that makes the jacket (and vest) brilliant for some but potential misery for others. At the front and sides stitch line anchored sheets of Polartec Alpha Active ‘pulled fleece’ sit behind stretchy Renew Series recycled polyester shell fabric. The sleeves use the same full Alpha backed construction, with the addition of a soft stretchy Lycra sub cuff to double seal the glove gap. The whole back panel (not just a centre strip like Endura’s Freezing Point jacket) is completely uninsulated shell fabric though. The only bit of extra thickness comes from soft fabric of the zipped lower back pocket. Oddly, they’ve used the fleece face inside the pocket though when it would make more sense where it’s skin facing. The soft fleece insides of the two zipped hand pockets make sense though so I guess they’re just keeping things constant. The double ended front zip gets a soft guard at the top to stop it eating your beard and the collar lining is low key fleecy too.
Despite the cut being described as casual, Giro have clearly put a lot of effort into tailoring the panels for a natural flow and fit. There are mens and womens cuts in five sizes too. Black, army green or ‘vermillion’ (hi-viz orange) colours give stealth or safety options with appropriately subtle or silver reflective details to match.
While it’s targeted as a casual jacket in terms of styling, the binary insulation makes it much more suited to consistent high output riding. Luckily the easy stretch of the fabric means you can size down for a snug but unrestricted fit which is what I did. That also brings the captured air in closer and makes it more effective thermally and from a sweat transfer (wicking) point of view. The wind resistance of the shell fabric is actually relatively low, so there’s some outer face circulation drying things out and helping the dissipation. In fact the best illustration of how well the Alpha works is that the inner sleeve cuffs which don’t wick very well were regularly wringing wet and got cold quickly after rides where the rest of the jacket stayed dry and warm. Even wearing a size small at 180cm/ 5’ 11” the sleeves were long enough not to leave a glove gap.
Back to performance and the heat dumping, the steam shifting back panel is a key part in creating a remarkably dry jacket in terms of dampness from inside even when you’re working properly hard. It still gives impressive weather ignorance too, considering that the CFC DWR layer is as feeble when it comes to fighting off water as most dolphin-friendly options. The same water shifting properties dry out rain as quickly as they dry out sweat though and even while it’s sodden the jacket stays surprisingly warm.
Actually, there’s a big correction to be made there. The front of the jacket stays surprisingly warm. All the front face cosiness contrasts very dramatically with the completely uninsulated back though. That means you’ll regularly get a real shudder or shiver if you tip over the top of a climb into a fast descent or get caught with an icy blast or significant rain from behind. If you’re an energetic rider who’s prepared to accept that’s a fair trade for staying remarkably dry and ‘warm enough’ overall on extended and/or high exertion rides then that’s fine. If you prefer an all over warmth and are happy to cope with a bit more sweat down your back and crack, the icy back will be a no-go though. Especially as Specialized’s Trail Alpha Jacket is insulated throughout and costs £150.
The thick seams needed to capture the Alpha fabric also increase bulk which may affect otherwise excellent suitability for minimalist bikepacking.
As I said at the start, this is a real love/hate jacket. Personally it works really well for my activity levels and generally restless/relentless riding habits. To the point where I’ve not worn much else since it arrived in drier single digit conditions either side of freezing point. Having less of an insulation gap across the back would make it less of a sudden chiller around shoulders and kidneys without compromising wicking much though. Also while I found the generous rear pocket really useful, it’s not a jacket that works well for standing around/walking the dog in etc, so I’m not sure it needs hand pockets. While it seems a good idea at first, the inner sleeve function is a sweat sponge anomaly compared to the rest of the jacket. The price will literally have the shirt off your back too.
Tech specs: Giro Cascade Insulated Jacket
- Price: $250.00 / £229.99 / €275.00
- Sizes: S-XXL (men’s) XS-XL (women’s)
- Options: Black, Green, Orange
- Weight: 320g (size small, tested)