It is inevitable that in winter riding you’ll end up in rain, and we all know that old adage “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad kit”. Pas Normal is a brand I most closely associated with fashion rather than quality cycling kit, though it has made strides in recent years to develop a much improved performance range.
The Essential Shield jacket has stacked up well in our buyer’s guide to the best winter cycling jackets, being chosen by Josh as the best choice for extreme weather, so I decided to trial it on the worst-weather days of my testing, sticking to the roads I knew were most exposed to give it a good going over.
Design and aesthetics
I’ll admit that it took quite a long time for me to warm up to the shape of the Essential Shield jacket. I’d still say that it isn’t my favourite cut of those I’ve tested; the Pearl Izumi WXB Attack women’s jacket for instance is more flattering, but I am now far more sympathetic to the specific design choices Pas Normal have made in crafting it.
In my riding I much prefer a looser fit jacket as it’s easier to accommodate a layering system and I find racier cuts rarely suit my body shape. In the Essential Shield Jacket though, Pas Normal has completely eschewed tailoring and created a very boxy straight cut with a shorter torso tapering into a very long droptail. Off the bike this is a really strange design. I felt a bit odd walking into the cafe with what I felt must look like a diaper – the drop tail being so effective that it covered the entirety of my rear snugly. This quickly became one of my favourite features though, as I’ll get into soon, and I soon forgot my initial distaste for it.
As this is a much looser, less tailored fit, identifying the right size was fairly easy to nail. I went for a small and felt happy with my selection; my slightly curvier frame (bigger chest and hips than the average size small) was pretty well accommodated for.
With a few chunkier layers underneath, I did notice that the jacket became slightly tight across my chest. The front of the jacket is composed of four panels which puts a seam right over the top of my bust and while on the bike this is less noticeable – there is ample fabric across the back for shoulders – a more upright position or any stretching did lead to constricted movement. This is perhaps a bit picky, it didn’t affect my riding, but it’s an issue that doesn’t appear on the men’s Pas Normal Essential Shield jacket. I could imagine women with a bigger chest size being slightly put off by this errant seam.
While I’m on the subject of being picky, I’d have liked the torso to have been very slightly longer than it is. I have quite a long torso anyway, and so find the shorter jacket lengths tend to ride up considerably on me, which the Essential Shield jacket kept threatening. I’d have also liked some reflective details; as many brands have chosen to do, Pas Normal has gone for a muted earthy palette which is very aesthetic but not particularly visible in low light. Aside from the giant white letters of the brand on the back (which is either a pro or a con depending on how clearly you like to display your brand loyalties), there is nothing bright about this jacket.
However, credit where credit is due, Pas Normal has given us pockets in the Essential Shield women’s jacket. I love pockets in jackets, and their absence (or poor placement) can wreck my enjoyment of a garment completely. It has two pockets on the rear, with access on the side, and a smaller key pocket on the breast. All are spacious and well waterproofed, and I could fit all manner of energy bars, phones, emergency bivy bags (why not), and multi-tools galore in them. Perfect execution, I thought, until I noticed that the men’s design seemed to have an extra pocket on the arm, and a bigger pocket on the chest. I’m not sure why the women’s design gets less pocket space than the men’s sizes.
I was genuinely impressed with the cuff design, in which Pas Normal have foregone the traditional Velcro or elasticated cuffs in favour of a plastic toothed comb. The advantages of this are clear; velcro gets soggy (and, in my case, often clogged with mud, hair, etc), and retains water, while elasticated cuffs don’t always fit quite as tightly as they should. These plastic cuffs theoretically remove both of these issues and allow a secure and tight fit to prevent wind or rain from creeping up them. I have unusually small wrists and found these worked well in terms of getting a reasonable seal but still found I needed a good pair of gloves to keep me completely dry. They took some time to get used to doing up, not quite clasping as quickly as Velcro, but once I got the hang of it I liked the fit.
Like most waterproof jackets, this isn’t going to keep you especially warm by itself. Having the looser boxier fit came in handy on numerous occasions, allowing me to layer underneath, or throw it on as a decent emergency layer where needed. At only 240g, it’s far from heavy and it’s easily packable, making it a useful emergency layer throughout the seasons and not just in winter.
With a three layer jacket and hydrophobic membrane, Pas Normal rates the Essential Shield as ‘suitable for light to medium showers’, which I felt was largely accurate.
For most day-to-day riding in the wet I didn’t have an issue with any leaks, and even in a few hours of constant rain it kept me nice and dry. It’s the kind of jacket you’d want to throw on when you know you’re going to have intermittent showers.
Pas Normal has also added a soft fleecy collar as an additional touch of warmth. This was great on damp days where you’re cycling in fine drizzle, but with hair in a ponytail, in torrential downpours, the fleece got wet very quickly and would cling to my neck which wasn’t very pleasant, though perhaps wasn’t much different to wearing a buff.
As I hinted earlier, one of my favourite features of the jacket however ended up being the huge droptail which offered so much protection that I didn’t even regret my lack of mudguards.
Transitioning back to the Assos Uma GT Evo cycling jacket which I was testing at a similar time was a noticeably uncomfortable process, leaving my bum and back largely cold and damp. The tail is secured by a fairly large band of plastic over elastic that does a good job of keeping the tail in place. I’m 5ft 5in and found that the tail was long enough to tuck underneath the seat, which ensured that no road spray whatsoever drenched my lower back.
All waterproof jackets forgo some level of breathability in exchange for waterproofing, and while the Essential Shield is no different, for the price, I was expecting a few more clever tricks. It’s got a lovely thick, storm-drained dual zip, but other than that there is no way of dumping heat. The product description states that the Essential Shield has ‘underarm vents’ which I unfortunately failed to locate on my version. The men’s version, however, does seem to have them, so perhaps just like the pockets, Pas Normal is operating under the misguided view that women don’t need them.
On the whole though, this isn’t the sweat box I’d have expected from a 100% Nylon jacket with fully taped seams. It’s likely the polyurethane membrane, with millions of little holes across the surface, contributes to that breathability and keeps the jacket comfortable. I didn’t get overly hot on any of the hills I tackled, but I don’t know how happy I’d have been in tackling particularly hard sessions in it.
After one unusually strenuous ride, I did find that it became a bit clammy and I was beginning to get chillier. Taking it off at home, I noticed that it had become surprisingly whiffy, too. This is most likely the fault of the Nylon, and isn’t the end of the world if it needs a bit of a wash, but it does in this case have a tendency to hold on to odours.
The fit on the bike was decent and comfortable, bar the slightly annoying shorter torso, but I generally forgot I was wearing it for most of my rides, not finding it too hot or annoying and having to switch out the layers, and not having to tug at any material to keep it seated. Movement was good for the most part while riding, without any constriction.
At an eye watering £340.00 / $425.00 / €390,00, it’s difficult to know exactly what kind of rider this jacket was made for. It’s not sleek and aero enough for the committed roadies and though it boasts excellent day-to-day waterproofing capabilities, it’s not quite versatile enough for a day off road that perhaps could command that kind of pricing. For every day riding throughout the year though, it’s comfortable and capable enough that you’ll reach for it on a number of outings and isn’t limited to the winter seasons.
I do wonder whether it can justify its price. I liked the droptail, but the Albion Zoa All Road Pertex Shield Jacket offers better waterproofing and similar breathability for around half the price.
I’m also still not totally sold on the aesthetics – even if I like the performance. The Pas Normal Essential Shield Jacket is definitely an acquired taste.
|Lots of room to fit layers under, though perhaps with a shorter torso than I am used to.
|7 / 10
|Pretty decent wind and waterproofing for every day wearing.
|9 / 10
|No underarm vents or reflective detailing.
|7 / 10
|Surprisingly breathable for a taped seam jacket.
|9 / 10
|Very expensive jacket with few features to speak of.
|7 / 10
|Row 5 – Cell 1