Most of the jackets we tested for this review are lightweight windbreakers, with or without some running-specific features. The Arc'teryx Gaea, however, breaks away from the pack by offering some insulation in addition to its special features (of which there are many). Despite our early skepticism, the Gaea is incredibly comfortable and breathable while maintaining warmth and excellent features designed specifically for running. We loved the 2017 version of this jacket but were pleasantly surprised to find many significant updates to the 2018 version. We're pleased to recommit this jacket as our Top Pick for Winter.
Arc'teryx Gaea Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Insulated, very comfortable, breathable
Cons: Expensive, less rain resistance
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Our Analysis and Test Results
This super cozy jacket was among our favorites, but beware: it offers a significant amount of warmth, and as a running layer, is only appropriate in truly freezing temperatures.
Even if the coldest of weather, running is a high-intensity sport and one that practically always results in sweating, regardless of how cold it is. Because of this, we need our running jackets to be breathable, and our testing team found a few ways to measure this. We ran uphill and downhill, in varying temperatures, to evaluate each jacket's ability to allow air to flow. We analyzed venting, materials, and designs to come up with a direct comparison of all twelve running layers.
The Gaea is heavy, which is why we were surprised by the amount of breathability it offered. This jacket has a lot going on, and one of the first things we noticed was that the insulation is located only on the front, arms, upper back, and sides. The mid- and low-back of this piece is constructed with a polyester/elastane blend. Having the low back constructed with a lighter, more breathable material really did the trick to ensure air flow, and we think Arc'teryx nailed it.
No, the Gaea is not as breathable as the Patagonia Airshed, but they weren't meant for the same activity. For its weight and purpose, the Gaea does an excellent job of maintaining airflow without sacrificing warmth.
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we know there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad attitudes, which is why we need a jacket that can handle whatever Mother Nature throws our way. There are a few different types of weather that can make layering for running a bit more challenging, and we wanted to know how each jacket performed in all of them.
The first weather dilemma we tested for was cold. The vast majority of models in this review are lightweight wind shells, so it was nice to find winter running layers to add to the mix. The Gaea, alongside the Icebreaker Rush, is one of two insulated jackets that we tested, and it is definitely the warmer one. So warm, in fact, that we can really only recommend it for freezing conditions. This jacket would be overkill for chilly spring or fall mornings, and for that, we'd recommend the lighter Brooks Canopy.
As a wind layer, the Gaea also provides ample protection. We wore this jacket constantly during our winter in southern Argentina, one of the windiest places on earth, and we were beyond impressed. Though more air can circulate through the back and underarms, the front and top insulation sections offer solid wind resistance.
While the Gaea sheds water well and can easily keep out light rain, it is not a rain jacket and would not be our first choice for running in a rainstorm. If you live in a very wet climate where you frequently find yourself bracing the rain, check out the Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket V2. While not very breathable, it does a great job of keeping the elements out, via its burly material and form-fitting hood.
Comfort can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, and you may be wondering how we evaluated this for our review. We know that fit and feel seriously affect running performance, so we asked our friends and colleagues to try out every product and give their feedback. We judged each jacket's materials, fit, and mobility and our testing team came up with a consensus with relative ease.
The Gaea is an extremely comfortable jacket and one of the highest scorers in this category of any jacket we tested. There are a variety of materials used in this product, and all of them are soft and cozy. The insulated sections of this layer are smooth and soft on the inside, and the non-insulated parts are even cozier. While the previous version of this jacket had a fleece-like material on the inside, the new version features a lighter material that's reminiscent of a track suit. We realize that might not sound like a plus, but we were dazzled by how comfy it felt on our skin.
The back panel material does feature a bit of fleece, once again adding to this jacket's overall high score in this metric. Out of all the fabrics we tested, only two come close to the luxuriousness of this jacket; the Airshed's lightweight nylon and the Rush's excellent merino wool.
One of our favorite things about the Gaea is the stretch. Elasticity was hard to come by in this review, and we loved the way it enhanced our running experience. The insulated sections (the front and tops of arms) don't have much stretch, but the sides, backs, and cuffs do, which is where it really matters.
Inside the sleeve cuffs are hidden thumb loops, and this material, the same as the back panel, is super cozy and an awesome thing to have around your hands. Our testing team appreciated that the jacket had a somewhat fitted, feminine cut, but with the stretch maintained great mobility. Five stars.
With two different elements to this metric, we were trying to get an answer to one question: how easy is it to bring this jacket along? No matter the adventure, weight, and ease of transport matter, so we looked at weight and packability to come up with one comparative score.
The Gaea was, without a doubt, one of the least portable jackets that we tested. Weighing in at 9.7 ounces, the 2018 version of this jacket shed an ounce off of last year's version. That being said, while this product had its strengths, weight was just not one of them. Our testers would be hard pressed to drag this product along for long runs or races where speed makes the difference.
Adding to the Gaea's low score in this area was its inability to pack down small. Compared to many of its competitors whose lightweight frames fit easily into their own pockets, the Gaea is a bit too big; this means less room in our packs for the many other essential items we like to bring along. At the end of the day, while the Gaea may be very comfortable, this factor limits its usefulness for running. You would either need to have a running pack with you or resort to the time-honored tie-around-the-waist to take this jacket off mid-run. Thankfully, as long as the temps are low, the Gaea's breathability should help you keep it on during your entire run or workout.
Many of the jackets in this review can honestly be used for a variety of activities, from hiking and backpacking to climbing or cycling. What we wanted to know in this scoring metric was how well each piece was suited for running specifically. We evaluated each jacket's small details to find out how they appealed directly to runners and awarded high points for visibility and unique storage solutions.
The Gaea has a ton of awesome features, which is one of the positives that helped spring it forward as a prestigious award winner. Up first is the visibility. It features a reflective logo on the front and two stripes on the lower back. While we might have liked to see more reflectivity, like the long stripes on the Brooks LSD and Canopy, we're glad that the striping that was included was thoughtfully placed. Something that could have easily boosted the score would be reflective markings on the back, especially with a black color scheme.
As we touched on above in the Comfort section of this review, our testing team loved this jacket's thumb loops. They keep us warm and comfortable when running in cold weather, and the soft material makes them a breeze to use. They also retract easily, which means they do not get in our way when not needed. When we transition this jacket to town settings, which we often do thanks to its sleek design, the thumb loops tuck away effortlessly.
One of our favorite details of this jacket is the rear stow pockets. In addition to the two front zippered pockets, the rear pockets angled slightly and without closure. The 2018 version of this jacket sports much larger rear pockets than the previous version. These pockets are now capable of carrying a wide variety of things, from gloves and a hat to snacks or other small accessories.
Last but not least is the media pocket. Similar to the one found on the Canopy, the Gaea's right front pocket has an inner pocket and secret hole. This tiny hole allows headphone cables to pass through to the inside of the jacket. We can't express enough how much we appreciate not having our headphones bouncing around in front of us getting caught on things when we're running. This might seem like a small achievement, but we are beyond delighted. It's obvious that Arc'teryx thought about running-specific details with this jacket, and its score is reflective of that. The right front pocket also has a smaller pocket inside of it, great for storing a small music player, but not big enough for a smartphone.
The features and comfort of this jacket made it one of our favorites to wear around, even when we weren't running! If you are going to run in this jacket, we suggest saving it for frigid days when insulation is necessary. It also serves well for other high-output winter activities like cross-country skiing or ski touring.
With little surprise, this Arc'teryx product is at the top of the price charts. Retailing for $199, the Gaea is spretty expensive, but we do think it offers a lot of value. If you live in a place with freezing winters and are committed to your cardio activities, this could be a solid investment piece, as we have every reason to believe it'll last.
The Arc'teryx Gaea stands out in this review amongst a whole host of lightweight shells. Weight and portability are major concerns here, but the combination of breathability and warmth are unparalleled. If winter running is your jam, you may have finally met your match.
— Lauren DeLaunay