Arc'teryx Gaea Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
This super cozy jacket is among our favorites, but beware: it offers a significant amount of warmth, and as a running layer, is only appropriate in truly cold temperatures.
Even in 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, you need your jacket to breathe, 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 the products in this review.
The Gaea is heavy (the heaviest in our review), which is why we were surprised by the amount of breathability it offers. This jacket has a lot going on, and one of the first things we noticed is 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 does the trick to ensure airflow — Arc'teryx nailed it.
No, this is not the most breathable jacket in this review, but it wasn't really designed for that. For its weight and purpose, the Gaea does an excellent job of maintaining airflow without sacrificing warmth.
Here at GearLab, we know there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad attitudes, which is why we love 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 worked 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 is one of just a few insulated jackets that we tested, and it is definitely the warmest of the bunch. So warm, in fact, that we can really only recommend it for freezing conditions. This jacket would likely be overkill for chilly spring or fall mornings.
As a wind layer, the Gaea also provides ample protection. We wore this jacket constantly during a 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. And, while not as breathable as other lighter options, it does a great job of keeping the elements out, via its burly material and form-fitting hood.
Comfort and Mobility
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.
The Gaea is an extremely comfortable jacket and one of the highest scorers in this category of any we tested. There are a variety of materials used in this product, and all of them are soft and cozy. The insulated sections are smooth and soft on the inside, and the non-insulated parts are even cozier. While the previous version of the Gaea had a fleece-like material on the inside, the new version features a lighter material that's reminiscent of a tracksuit. We realize that might not sound like a plus, but we were dazzled by how comfy it felt on the skin.
The back panel material features 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 a few come close to the luxuriousness of the Gaea.
One of our favorite things about the Gaea is the stretch. Elasticity was hard to come by in this review, and we love the way this layer enhanced our running experience. The insulated sections don't have much stretch, but the sides, back, 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 Gaea had a somewhat fitted, feminine cut, but with stretch that maintained great mobility. Five stars.
With two different elements to this metric (packability and weight), we were trying to get an answer to one question: how easy is it to bring this jacket along? No matter the adventure, these aspects are crucial to having a good time, so we considered both of them when determining a score for this metric.
The Gaea is, without a doubt, one of the least portable jackets that we tested. Weighing in at 9.7 ounces for a size small, it's the heaviest of the bunch. While this product has its strengths, weight just isn't one of them. Our testers would be hard-pressed to drag this product along for long runs or races where speed makes the difference, but on a chilly winter morning pre-work run? You betcha.
Adding to the low score in this area is the inability of the Gaea 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 your pack for the many other essential items you might want 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 visibility. It features a reflective logo on the front and two stripes on the lower back. While we might have liked to see even more reflectivity, we're glad that the striping that is included is thoughtfully placed. Something that could have easily boosted the score, however, 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 kept 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 the 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 are the rear stow pockets. In addition to the two front zippered pockets, the rear pockets are angled slightly and without closure. The newest version of this jacket sports much larger rear pockets than the previous version, making them 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. The right front pocket of the Gaea has an inner pocket and secret hole. This tiny hole allows headphone cables to pass through to the inside. We can't express enough how much we appreciate not having our headphones bouncing around in front of us, getting caught on things when running. This might seem like a small achievement, but we are 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.
With little surprise, this Arc'teryx product is at the top of the price charts. The Gaea is pretty 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 among a whole host of lightweight shells and it is our Top Pick for Winter Running. 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.
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