The Hors Categorie is the top-of-the-range jacket from British brand Le Col, designed to keep the wearer protected from wind, rain and other road users. It uses high-performance Windtex fabric to give excellent weather protection, with some generously proportioned reflective panels to ensure you're seen at night. It's not a heavyweight jacket, so for really cold rides you'll need to layer up. The price is likely to be an issue for a lot of people, though.
The Hors Categorie Jacket from Le Col
Features of the High-Performance Jacket
Le Col was created by Yanto Barker, an ex pro cyclist that used to ride for One Pro Cycling. The company is based in the UK but the manufacturing is done in Italy, with Barker apparently involved throughout the design and development process. Lots of brands work with pro teams as the feedback from people who spend many hours a day in the saddle is valuable; increasingly we've seen this go beyond simply testing and further into the R&D process.
When I first received the Hors Categorie Jacket, it was lighter-weight than I'd expected. Many top-of-the-range jackets are designed for the very coldest of days – the more you spend, the more insulation you get. According to Yanto Barker, he decided to go against this, figuring that if you spend £300 on a jacket, you'll be wanting to use it across a wider range of temperatures. Hence the Hors Categorie is designed as a high-performance outer layer, but with plenty of stretch in the fabric so you can have multiple layers underneath if needed.
Le Col does have a couple of winter jackets in its range – the Sport at £170 and the Pro at £250 – which have more insulation than here, so there are options if you want something heavier-weight
The Windtex used here is a similar weight to the Gore fabric used in the Castelli Gabba, and the overall weight is not dissimilar to that of a long-sleeved Gabba. If Windtex sounds familiar, it's the same family of laminated membrane fabric as used in the Parentini Mossa. Just as Dave found with the Mossa, the protection from wind and rain is very impressive – significantly better than you get with something like the Castelli Alpha Jacket.
I've been commuting in this for a few weeks, through some pretty wet and windy conditions, and my upper half has stayed pretty much completely dry. On a two-hour chaingang in really foul conditions, some moisture did penetrate – primarily through the unsealed seams across the front of the shoulders – but short of a fully-sealed shell, it's the most water-resistant jacket I've yet tried. Wind protection is also excellent.
In addition to Windtex, there are several other fabric used here. Down the rear of the arms is a strip of waffle-textured Roubaix fabric. It has zero water resistance but is positioned so that it's out of the wind and rain, and I never had issues with water getting through. I particularly hate getting clammy arms in a waterproof jacket, and this highly breathable fabric helps avoid that.
So, whereas something like the Stolen Goat Climb and ConquerJacket kept me warm at zero degrees over just a baselayer, here you'd want a couple of good layers underneath when it gets cold. Of course, the flipside is that I've been able to wear this regularly in the unseasonably warm November and early December temperatures we've been having.
Breathability on the jacket as a whole is very decent, and the Windtex membrane is effective at letting moisture out. As I've noted before, a good indicator of this can be the contrast with the areas which aren't breathable. Here, there are sizeable reflective panels on the shoulders and the wrists, and after a hard ride I sometimes noticed damp patches on my shoulders underneath the reflectives. Not to the extent that it ever bothered me during a ride, but it is a good indicator of how effectively the Windtex fabric is shifting moisture elsewhere.
Those reflective panels are very visible from the front and the side. Being picky, I would have positioned the cuff panels a little more to the outside to make them more visible from behind when indicating a turn. At the rear is a further stripe of reflective material laminated to the centre pocket, so drivers should be able to see you from all directions at night.
One unusual feature is the use of Kevlar fabric elbow patches. Le Col says that these are designed to protect you in the event of a fall, and also to help prevent damage to the jacket. I've managed to stay upright while testing this, so they've not been tested, but it's a neat idea.
On the inside of the jacket there's no fleecy surface, but the smooth inner laminate feels comfortable against the skin – I had no issues wearing it over a short-sleeved jersey. Le Col recommends it for use over a baselayer, although when it's really cold I would sometimes use a baselayer and a jersey.
As you'd hope from a jacket designed by a racer, the fit is really dialled: close-fitting but not at all constrictive. Using a stretchy fabric helps here, obviously, but you need to get the panels shaped right too for it to hit the spot. There's a dropped tail, although as the silicone gripper is located above it, it doesn't always stay in place, as you can see in the photo.
There are three large pockets at the back, giving loads of space for just about anything you'll need to carry on a ride. These have mesh sections at the bottom to prevent any water pooling in there – necessary given how impermeable the fabric is. You've also got a zipped pocket for your phone, which is of a size to actually accommodate a modern phone (bonus point) and is made of a waterproof fabric. If that is still not enough storage then there's yet another pocket inside – this time a large mesh pocket with a zip on the left breast.
The Hors Categorie jacket certainly ticks a lot of boxes, offering a very impressive combination of wind and rain protection with high breathability and a great fit. I'd just like to see some work to improve the zips.
Excellent protection from the wind and the rain