A decent MTB jacket is an essential investment if you want to stay warm on the trails from fall through to spring. The features you’ll want will clearly depend on the conditions where you ride, but warmth, breathability, wind and water resistance are the staples we’re looking for. This ION jacket looks versatile enough to wear for hiking or even casually too, which makes it better value. I’ve tested the women’s Shelter 4W Softshell here but the men’s jacket is the same apart from the fit. There are matching pants too, the ION Shelter Pants 4W Softshell.
Design and Specifications
Like the Shelter Pants, this jacket is made from DWR-coated (durable water repellent) 88 percent polyester with 12 percent elastane to give the fabric its four-way stretch (indicated by the 4W in the name), and is well-finished to a very high standard. The cut is good and long, and slightly tailored in at the waist for a flattering look. The material itself is lightweight (not as thick as most softshells) and its close weave feels durable, so you can brush off dried mud without fear of damaging the fabric, and it won’t rip easily if caught on branches and the like. It has a host of handy features including: two zipped hand pockets (one containing a glasses wipe attached to a length of elastic), deep open pockets on the inside that are useful for non-valuables, a drawcord hem, adjustable peaked hood, zip garage to prevent the zip irritating your chin and Velcro tabs to tighten the cuffs.
The first thing you notice about this jacket is its excellent fit, its cosy feel and how supremely comfortable it is to wear and ride in. It feels totally unrestrictive, thanks to the stretchy fabric and its well-designed panel construction, which means that when you lift your arms up to the handlebar the body doesn’t rise up too, as is often the case with jackets. Combined with the generous length through the body, it keeps your backside covered (I’m nearly 5ft 7in and wore the size 38/M) whatever riding position you’re in. The sleeves are also nice and long, which they rarely are for me as I have long arms, so no exposed wrists, but a small complaint is that the cuffs are too tight to easily pull over the top of thick winter gloves. Likewise, if you like to pull your sleeves up to cool down, you can’t get them much above your wrists.
On cold, dry days this jacket felt fantastic, being super snug and keeping the wind off me, especially with the neck cinched in. It has room to layer up your base and mid layers underneath according to the temperature, and the sleeves and body shrugged off muddy spray from puddles fine. Breathability is decent too, but there was one disappointing aspect – water repellency. On one of its first outings, when the DWR was fresh, patches on the shoulders, hood and lower sleeves got wet through after only a five-minute shower, and the material took a fair while to dry out, so I wouldn’t recommend it for rainy rides.
Another issue is with the hood. It’s great worn alone but isn’t as helmet-compatible as ION says. It’s too small to fit over an enduro-style trail lid without pulling the jacket body up off your shoulders, though might just fit over a low-profile XC helmet. Depending on your particular lid, it will work worn underneath as long as the drawcord toggle at the back of the head doesn’t foul the helmet’s cradle/retention adjuster. Still, it’s one of the comfiest riding jackets I’ve worn, so if you can keep it for dry days and aren’t fussed about using the hood, it’ll serve you well.
If you live in a drier climate this is a fantastic cool- and cold-weather jacket, but I can’t recommend it for rainy days – and the hood isn’t compatible with all helmets.
Tech specs: ION Shelter Jacket 4W Softshell
- Price: $159.99 / £134.99 / €159.99
- Sizes: 34/XS-42/XL
- Colors: Indigo Dawn, Gray, Cloud Blue
- Options: Male and female specific versions