A handful of biking clothes that you really know and like is better than a wardrobe full of also-rans, and the right mid layer will be a year-round friend. In deep winter, you can sandwich it between a base layer and a shell, knowing that even when you pause mid-ride, you’ll stay warm for a bit. In the shoulder seasons, with just a base underneath, it’s warmer than a shell, but way less sweaty. It’ll be densely woven enough that it’ll keep a bit of wind off, it’ll be fine when it’s damp, and you’ll just look forward to wearing it.
For 20 years, my own just-right mid layer was a black, boxy brushed-Lycra, non-cycling Sprayway top with a high collar and a generous half-length zip, which I won as a prize. I used it for messing about on a bike in the woods, for freezing commutes, as a warmup top for cyclocross races because I knew no one would steal it from the start line, and on summer bikepacking trips for when the evening air got damp and chilly. It went through the wash a million times, got ripped on barbed wire, and knowing how much I liked it, my best cycling buddy even insisted we turn round and retrace our steps when it fell off my seatpack somewhere at night on a bivvy trip.
So I was mighty interested to try the Gorewear TrailKPR Hybrid as a modern equivalent, with its windproof sections, different insulation zones… and even pockets. Some tops like this look and feel purely like outerwear, but Gorewear was deliberately aiming for something that was more versatile. My own hope was that it might be as comfortable and low maintenance as my ol’ black top, but even better in grim weather, so I could hold out for longer without pulling on a waterproof.
Design and specifications
The TrailKPR uses Gore’s ‘regular’ fit, which is its loosest type of cut, but it’s still meant to fit easily under a jacket. It’s got a high collar, a zip that’s long enough to get over a helmet, and big zipped pockets at the front.
It's made with two types of fabric panels. The chest, upper back, lower back and outward facing sections of the arms use a softshell outer bonded to a lightweight fleece inner. And the rest of the panels – stomach, inner arms and mid back – are more like my old Sprayway: a regular midweight woven polyester, with a brushed inner face for softness and a bit of warmth, and in this case, some thinner patterning, maybe for a bit of extra breathability.
The positioning of the softshell sections is partly about protection from the elements – they’re windproof and water resistant – and partly for their abrasion resistance. Both of those things made sense to me on the chest, shoulders and outer arms; I was maybe less convinced about the need for an abrasion-resistant lower back to protect against hip-pack-rub, but maybe I just don’t play hard enough.
There’s a bit of stretch to it all, and it’s nice and quiet. The whole thing weighs in at 309g for a medium (about the same as a midweight waterproof jacket), and it packs down a bit bigger than a large water bottle, making it just about hip-pack friendly.
For this review, I mostly used the TrailKPR in a mild to cold British December and January, when I’d often have worn some kind of shell to keep the cold breeze from cutting through a normal mid-layer.
The first thing I appreciated was its comfortable, easy fit, and – something I’d not thought much about before – its generously long sleeves that fit easily under or over the cuffs of gloves. At 173cm with a 36in chest, I’m probably halfway between a small and a medium in Gorewear sizing, so my size medium may have been a bit looser than Gorewear intended.
The second thing was that the balance of panels worked nicely. The microclimate inside some multi-panel tops can feel amazingly well balanced while you’re putting effort in, but once you stop – or if an icy blast comes from the side – you get cold quickly through the thin parts. The Castelli Unlimited Puffy Jacket, one of my lightweight favorites of last year, was a bit like that. The TrailKPR felt warmer, though you’d still want to pull on an insulated top, or at least a windproof shell, if you were having a long snack break on a properly nippy day.
It worked nicely in a range of conditions, as I hoped it would. Above 9 or 10C (48 or 50F) with a thin zip-neck base underneath; with a warmer base, maybe a roll-neck, as it got cooler; and probably with a jacket over the top below 5 or 6C (41 or 43F), at least at the chilly start of a ride. The windproofing and the breathability balanced nicely. Yes it did get a bit warm on longer climbs when the temperature was in double figures, but the long zip helped, the sleeves pull up easily, and like other good tops, the temperature worked itself out soon enough once you were back to a normal effort.
In other words, it wasn’t a top you have to keep pulling on and off, which is spot-on, in my book. It stayed warm quite happily in the drizzle too, which added to that keep-on quality.
Other good qualities? The side zip pockets were nice, handy for a phone, though big enough for a malt loaf, or gloves. I liked the green color option (duller hues are available). And it all felt good to use and abuse, cover in mud and put through the wash again and again. In other words, it was technical and capable, but not too precious.
I’ll carry on dumping my old faithful Sprayway half-zip at race starts, but I can see the TrailKPR Hybrid taking its place for a lot of my messing about on bikes in winter and the shoulder seasons. Gorewear has done a nice job of making a robust, comfortable mid- to outer-layer that’s easy to leave on and easy to live with.
It’s not cheap at full price but it’s got a healthy discount at the time of writing.
Tech specs: Gorewear TrailKPR Hybrid Half-zip
- Price: £129.99 / €129.95 / $150
- Colors: Black, Utility green (tested), Uniform sand, Lab grey, Process purple
- Weight: 309g (medium)
- Sizes: Men’s S-XXL; Women’s 0-2, 4-6, 8-10, 12-14, 16-18
- Materials: Main: 61% polyamide (recycled), 29% polyester, 10% elastane. Panels: 91% Polyester (recycled), 9% elastane. Lining: 100% polyester