Rapha's Explore Down Jacket is is extremely light and packable and has the neat trick of combining with a dedicated sleeping bag for bikepacking and overnight trips. Yes, it's expensive, but no more than other ultralight down jackets from other premium brand and it is a lovely jacket.
Pros: Good insulation for the lack of weight, good fit, comfortable, nice details, DWR coating
Cons: Not the warmest
Rapha has been expanding into the bikepacking and adventure market with its Explore range and the Rapha Explore Down Jacket is its newest creation. It's designed to be used in conjunction with the Sleeping Bag (we'll review that separately) and is an 850-fill ethically sourced down jacket with 90% down to 10% feather ratio that is very packable and extremely lightweight.
The external face is treated with a DWR coating to fend off rain showers and there are small reflective details around and about. You can choose from black, navy and the dark green we have here. The Explore has some pleasing little details like the removable hood that can be worn under a helmet if needed, two front pockets and an adjustable elastic waistband.
Fit is relaxed with the size small I tested having enough space for plenty of layers underneath without being too flappy. There's a slightly dropped rear tail and the sleeves are a good length with the elastic cuffs sitting flush against my wrists. The neck is generously tall as well for snuggling down into when you're putting a brew on. The front zipper is a two-way design so you can either boost ventilation or get at jersey pockets more easily for snacks.
Obviously, bikepacking is the remit of this jacket, where a down jacket is an essential for keeping you warm off the bike when making camp or cooking dinner in the wild, but we could also imagine this catching the eye of many urban riders - especially those looking for a good on and off the bike jacket, something Rapha themselves allude to in the Explore Down product description. As a riding jacket It is certainly up for more than just epic bike adventures. It's great for urban riding, dashing across the city to the office or doing errands, with good fit and comfort, and able to handle a light shower or two.
Out in the wilds though when it's time to tuck down for the night, you can cosy into your sleeping bag with it on for added warmth, or attach its own dedicated sleeping bag. And for the first chilly hour of pre-dawn starting ride, the extra warmth is appreciated. It's breathable too so the risk of overheating is pretty low. Once you've warmed up enough to dispense with it, it folds up very small into its own stuff sack, and can be hidden away inside your pack or bag.
The low weight and packability of the jacket is impressive, and it's generally a warm jacket but I find this level of down insulation requires careful layering if you're to avoid getting really cold when the temperature plummets. I should caveat this by saying I do seem to feel the cold pretty badly and my circulation isn't all that great. You may find it a lot warmer than I did.
Balancing weight, packability and insulation will come down to personal preferences and requirements, and will also be dictated by the part of the world you're bikepacking through. For a trip through the France or Spain the down jacket would be ideal for the cooler evenings, but for braving the UK winter weather I'd personally be looking for a chunkier down jacket at the expense of weight and packability.
There's plenty of choice when it comes to ultralight down jackets so the Rapha Explore Down Jacket faces some tough competition. If you want a comparable jacket, the £250 Patagonia Ultralight Down Jacket boasts a similar 800-fill-power down with a DWR coated Pertex Quantum outer, and similarly light and packable.
Durability has been good so far, but I'll update this review in a couple of months time to see how it's holding up.
Lightweight, packable ultralight down jacket that works well for bikepacking, or urban riding, adventures
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Explore Down Jacket
Size tested: small
Tell us what the jacket is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
The Explore Down Jacket is our most versatile jacket ever, with a fit that's designed to work equally well on and off the bike.
The jacket is made with a lightweight woven nylon outer fabric and filled with high loft 850-fill-power down to create an insulating layer for exceptional warmth in the coldest of conditions, weighing just 238 grams in size medium. The down insulation is treated with a durable water repellent coating in order to retain loft and lock in warmth even when wet. Working closely with industry-leading partner Allied Feather, we use a fully traceable, responsibly sourced down and each jacket comes with a lot number, allowing you to track the exact origin of the fill. Heat is locked in with elasticated openings at the hood and cuffs as well as an elasticated waistband which is adjusted via hidden cinches inside the front pockets.
Distinctive contrast stitching features on the chest, adding visibility without compromise on weight or packability. The hood features a lightweight elastic binding and can be removed completely for those packing lighter still. Reflective logos are positioned on the back and chest for added visibility.
When night falls, the jacket combines with the Explore Sleeping Bag to form an integrated sleep system for warmth and comfort on overnighters in mild conditions. The full sleep system packs down small, taking up only a third of the Explore Bar Pack.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the jacket?
Elasticated hood and cuff openings
100% fluorocarbon-free insulation
Two-way Vislon zipper
Two front pockets to keep your hands warm or stow essentials
Reflective details on the chest and back
Lightweight zip garage to prevent irritation
Distinctive contrast stitching on the chest
All weights given for size medium:
Weight with hood and stuff sack- 238 grams
Weight without hood and stuff sack - 206 grams
It's very nicely made as you'd expect for this sort of cash
It provides good warmth considering how light and packable it is
Early days but it's good so far, will update in a couple of months
It's got a DWR coating that looks after you in a short and light shower but it's not 100% waterproof
It's pretty good actually
The relaxed fit is generous and comfortable
Found the size small to be spot on
It weighs bugger all
I never want to take it off
You're getting a very light and packable jacket with good insulation and it's comparable to other premium outdoor jacket brands
How easy is the jacket to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Been easy to look after so far
Tell us how the jacket performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Does what it sets out to do
Tell us what you particularly liked about the jacket
Warmth without the bulk, comfortable and packs down small
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the jacket
Could be warmer when it's really nudging zero degrees
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It compares well with non-cycling brands offering ultra lightweight down jackets
Did you enjoy using the jacket? yes
Would you consider buying the jacket? Maybe
Would you recommend the jacket to a friend? Maybe
Use this box to explain your overall score
You are getting a very well made jacket that does what you want from an ultralight down jacket but there's lots of choice from outdoor rivals at this price
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, mtb,
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.