PAS Normal Essential Thermal jacket
Price: $420 / €380 / £340
Weight: 403g (As measured size small)
Size availability: XXS-XXL
Colour Options: Burned orange, Olive, Black, Dark Blue, Deep Red
Materials: 100% polyester – Polartec Powershield Pro
The reality is that there is a huge range of incredible jackets available and there is a lot of overlap. Often the better a jacket is, the more it will do. That means the more I refine the best winter cycling jackets buyers guide, the more difficult it becomes. I go back and replace pieces as I find something better and it’s increasingly difficult to parse out small differences in usage cases. Even with all that competition though, PAS Normal has managed to snag more than one spot.
As a cycling brand, PAS Normal is relatively new and doesn’t have much heritage to lean back against. Still, despite only existing since 2014, the brand has built a reputation for straddling the line between performance and style. Every piece of PAS Normal clothing I’ve ever tried has offered stylish colours and thoughtful style details while also absolutely nailing fit and performance. Fabric choices are always technically driven and high quality and when I spoke to cofounder Karl-Oskar Olsen he talked about his background in fashion as much as he talked about cycling.
With that in mind, PAS Normal is one of the brands I check regularly for new products. This year I noticed that the brand had another piece in the same Essential line as the Essential Shield jacket that I absolutely adore. That jacket and the PAS Normal Essential Thermal jacket have a lot in common but are also complementary opposites. Instead of a hardshell designed for layering, the Thermal jacket is a single-layer softshell. Depending on where you live, and what riding you do, it’s likely that you need one or the other. Now that I’ve had a few months to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the PAS Normal Essential Thermal jacket I’m ready to break down the details. If you are looking for an incredibly capable jacket, keep reading to see if this is the right option for you.
Design and aesthetics
As I worked on this article I looked back at my coverage from when PAS Normal opened the first US store. I wanted to make sure I got the names and details correct but I also found a line comparing the brand to MAAP. It came from a conversation with the cofounder where he mentioned that compared to MAAP the PAS Normal style “is less graphic, more Danish, and the story is about colour.” It seems worth mentioning here again though, as colour is one of the first things I want to bring your attention to.
Like other PAS Normal pieces, the PAS Normal Essential Thermal jacket is available in a range of colours. The options—including Burned orange, Olive, Black, Dark Blue, and Deep Red—aren’t what you would call bright. Instead, I’d call them bold. They verge on earthy but not quite and not only are they lovely on their own, they all mix and match. If you have other PAS Normal gear, even from other seasons and years, all the colours combine. I’ve got blue bib tights from years past and the Burnt Orange jacket I have works just as well with that colour as it does with black bib tights from other companies.
The other part of that sentence from cofounder Karl-Oskar Olsen is less prescient. At the time we were talking about fashion only and it made sense to discuss MAAP but MAAP is an Australian brand. While there are fashion similarities, PAS Normal hails from Denmark where cold weather gear is much more important. A better comparison would be Assos.
Both Assos and PAS Normal are highly technical, hail from cold climates, and make some of the best jackets available. Assos offers fewer jacket choices though. The brand edits its offerings more and presents a very focused vision while PAS Normal has wildly different approaches to cold weather. Mostly what that means is that Assos has moved away from hardshells and it also means the PAS Normal Essential Thermal jacket is a direct competitor.
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Unlike Assos though, PAS Normal uses a wide variety of fabrics available to other companies. A big part of what defines the Essential Thermal jacket is the Polartec material it’s made of. Although Polartec has started to offer a new Power Shield, PAS Normal continues to use the older Power Shield Pro. I’m mentioning it because the naming conventions are confusing but it’s not an unusual choice.
Power Shield Pro is a softshell fabric that’s technically considered waterproof. Like other softshell options, the biggest advantage is breathability as well as next-to-skin feel. Also like other Polartec options, this fabric is widely available but that doesn’t mean it’s widely used. There are different density options available and PAS Normal chose the heaviest option I’ve ever encountered.
Not only did PAS Normal choose an unusual weight for the Polartec fabric but the brand also further leaned into the properties of the fabric through clever tailoring and features. Like other PAS Normal jackets, the front is incredibly short. So short that when standing it’s probably going to show more of the front of your bibs than you’d like. That short front is then paired with an exceptionally long drop tail and long arm length. At the end of the arms is an internal fleece cuff to help seal with gloves and keep wind out and you’ll also find that fleece backing at the front panels and in the neck. In areas like the arms and back that don’t have a fleece backing there’s a waffled texture that helps hold an air barrier while also being more breathable. Taped seams also help seal out the elements as does a heavy storm flap behind the large tooth single direction zipper. Zippered vents on either side help to keep the Essential Thermal jacket usable across a wide range of temperatures.
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In the time since I wrote about the imminent demise of Shakedry, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what comes next. Generally, the question comes from people who are looking for a very simple solution to managing weather. Shakedry allowed for leaving the house with a long-sleeved jersey and a jacket that was both wind and waterproof while also breathable and would fit in your jersey pocket. That’s a lot of capability and so far there’s not a direct alternative.
Instead of a one-size fits all weather solution you have to think a little harder about how to handle what you are likely to encounter. For some people, the solution will be a layered approach with a capable shell and appropriate layers underneath. For others, a single-layer solution is going to make more sense.
If you prefer a single-layer solution, that’s where the PAS Normal Essential Thermal jacket fits in. The dense and breathable fabric with sealed arms and collar is incredibly warm when paired with the right base layer. In December I headed out with the PAS Normal Studios Thermal Long Sleeve Windproof Base Layer into temperatures just above freezing. It was dry but I was meeting a friend early on a cold day that never really warmed up. Descents were cautious affairs knowing that black ice was likely and bikes should stay upright on corners. At one point, as we climbed out of a valley, I remarked that the water vapour I could see escaping was freezing as it hit the air. Despite the low temperatures though, I was comfy.
I also spent time using this jacket in relatively warm temperatures. Early season days that required light tights but could have been an opportunity for the much lighter Castelli Perfetto Ros, weren’t out of reach. On overcast days near 13 C / 55 F (or even a bit warmer), I could grab a summer base layer, leave the collar a bit unzipped, and open the side vents on the Essential Thermal jacket. There’s only a single-direction main zipper, so no unzipping from the bottom, but the breathability of the Polartec Power Shield makes the dense fabric work in warm temperatures too.
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Further supporting the single-layer use case, are excellent pockets. Assos does a better job with the height (be prepared to start stretching your shoulders) but the three main pockets are tall, stretchy, and have a drain hole. There is also a valuables pocket that won’t quite fit my Google Pixel Pro 8 but is fully supported on the inside so it won’t bounce if you stuff it with a phone that’s a bit smaller. The space is quite big but the opening doesn’t run the full length. The chest pocket on the other hand has a full-length zipper matching the main zipper and I can fit my phone in there without trouble.
As good as this jacket is, it does have one weakness. Given the exceptionally dry winter the Pacific Northwest is having, I had to specifically go hunting for rain to test this but I don’t recommend you do the same. Polartec Power Shield Pro is technically waterproof but if you plan to be in heavy rain for any period of time, you don’t want to be in this jacket. The face fabric will saturate and while the water won’t come through, the wet exterior will kill the breathability. You need a moisture differential for breathability to work and when the exterior is wet that will disappear and you’ll drench yourself from the inside in not much time. It’s okay for short periods as it will dry out but the Essential Shield jacket is better in the rain and so are Assos jackets.
The PAS Normal Essential Thermal jacket is an expensive choice. There’s no getting around that but it also represents the most expensive way of approaching a winter jacket arrangement. If you are looking for something that costs less, choose a good shell like the Pearl Izumi Attack Wxb and add mid-layers and base layers that match the warmth you need. What PAS Normal offers instead is a single-layer option you can use for temperatures that cover a full winter.
A single-layer approach requires a more technical garment and that raises the price. PAS Normal uses a highly capable Polartec branded fabric that is incredibly efficient at letting hot humid air escape and feel good against your skin. The brand then pairs that fabric with impeccable tailoring, stylish colours, and quality pockets. You can use this jacket both early and late in the season when it’s warmer but you can also change your base layer and use the Essential thermal jacket when it’s cold enough to worry about ice on the road.
The only caveat to this recommendation is this is not the jacket you want in the rain. Polartec might quote numbers that are well beyond what most people would consider technically waterproof but that’s irrelevant in use. The face fabric gets overwhelmed in sustained rain and breathability plummets leaving you to soak yourself from the inside. This is less pronounced in colder weather but there are better choices if you regularly deal with rain during the winter.
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|Design and aesthetics
|I love the colours and the way pockets help add to the technical aesthetics. Every detail seems considered.
|Highly breathable softshell fabric and zippered vents do an excellent job at temperature regulation. It only loses a point for a single direction zipper.
|It can fit one of the larger phones available into the chest pocket and the main pockets are stretchy and cavernous. If the pockets were a bit lower this would be a perfect score.
|Comfort and fit
|PAS Normal is fantastic at tailoring a jacket for aggressive riding and the dense fabric feels amazing next to skin.
|Lots of useability and a high-quality product. It also matches competition from other premium brands. Not terrible in context but no bargain either.
|Row 5 – Cell 1