Whenever I hear rumors of some revolutionary new fabric making its way into a brand’s latest outerwear collection, I can’t help but proceed with a bit of caution. Dissecting the marketing puffery that chaperones much of today’s apparel takes a keen eye and, more importantly, a series of sustained, out-in-the-wild beatings. Well, it just so happened that Castelli released its buzzed-about Elemento 7x(Air) Jacket right when the weather here in Utah began making its annual turn toward the frigid side of things, making it perfect for me to get in some real testing miles. Relying on a blend of proprietary new fabrics and features, the Elemento was designed to be a highly elastic outer layer that would block the wind, keep the core warm, and also breathe better than anything else available. No problem, right?
At the heart of the Elemento is Castelli’s new WindShear fabric. The backstory on WindShear is that while many brands, Castelli included, have successfully designed jackets that block the wind, there has often been much left to be desired in the breathability department. Not satisfied with the industry-wide belief that this tradeoff was inevitable in the attempt to shield the core from wind, Castelli worked to engineer a fabric that could actually breathe. This is where the 7x(Air) name is derived, as Castelli claims its WindShear fabric is seven times more air permeable than the WindStopper fabrics it uses in other jackets.
Basically, this material has been compared to the look of a car’s radiator, in that its corrugated ridges create a large surface area that’ s substantial in thickness, yet has been composed with a high stitch count that serves to let air pass through without interference. The makeup, in theory, allows air to be trapped in its ridges for added insulation, while simultaneously permitting it to move through the material. Because of this high level of breathability, Castelli selectively applied “inserts” of this fabric to roughly 50% of the overall jacket, namely the chest, back, and several locations on the sleeves. Doing so is said to provide air permeability where needed, while still maintaining the warmth necessary for a true cold-weather riding jacket.
The heft of the Elemento felt similar to many stretchy, softshell jackets that I’ve used in the past for cold-weather riding. The brushed interior surface seemed like other lightly insulated pieces, but the WindShear panels were noticeably thicker than the highly elastic remaining panels. At this point, I wasn’t exactly swept off my feet by the “in hand” feel of these materials, but then I tried the jacket on and rolled out for a ride. The fit was slim and cut just how I prefer, with long arms and a subtle drop-tail hem, and the small finishing details really began making sense once I was in the saddle. Starting up top, Castelli added its tall, ultra-soft Thermflex collar, which incorporates a flip-up panel for a little added coverage. The zippered chest pocket is also a clever addition, as its mesh lining means that it doubles as a front-and-center ventilation portal. Similarly, the zippered cuffs serve the dual purpose of ensuring a tight seal around gloves and acting as points of ventilation when needed.
As for the WindShear material, it worked quite well. My several-week testing period took me from temperatures in the low 30s up to the high 50s (Fahrenheit), in relatively dry conditions. With just a base layer and short sleeve jersey underneath for the majority of my rides, I stayed very comfortable and was surprised at how insulating the WindShear actually was. The warmth that it provided was much better than similarly-weighted softshells, and the breathability was so good that I rarely needed to unzip — even while climbing. In short, to achieve this same warmth with other softshells, I would have needed several additional layers underneath, which would have meant more bulk and more unzipping and adjusting when things started to heat up.
The only major gripes that I’ve had with the jacket have been aesthetic- and water repellency-related. My test sample came in the Stone/white color, which wore a fluorescent green brushed lining throughout. Because this fabric is super bright, it showed through the white outer layer, creating somewhat of a funky off-white appearance.
Not a deal-breaker, but something to consider when opting for this color variant. Another area worth noting is that the Elemento is intended for dry riding conditions, even though it is DWR-treated. During my testing period I had mostly cold conditions, absent of rain, with occasional wheel-spray being the only test for the quilted stitching. And despite its fragile-looking makeup, the WindShear inserts held up just fine in terms of durability.
For the dry, mountainous climate we have here in the West, or for other cold riding conditions free of precipitation, the Elemento 7x(Air) Jacket could be the perfect winter jacket — so long as you tuck a waterproof shell in one of the four rear-panel pockets. The WindShear material truly lives up to its hype, in that its stretchy composition strikes a nice balance between keeping the core insulated while also breathing exceptionally well.
Photos: Ian Matteson