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Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoody - Women's Review

A comfy, breathable jacket well-equipped with great features for any runner
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $130 List | $97.50 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Breathable, comfortable, great features
Cons:  Not as lightweight as other options
Manufacturer:   Smartwool
By Lauren DeLaunay ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 18, 2020
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79
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 11
  • Breathability - 30% 8
  • Weather Resistance - 20% 8
  • Comfort and Mobility - 20% 8
  • Portability - 15% 7
  • Features - 15% 8

Our Verdict

Our jacket testers were instantly impressed by the Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light, and the more we wore it, the more we came to love it! One of the most breathable jackets in this review, it also boasts some of the best weather protection and running-specific features. With a reasonable price tag to boot, we quickly told all other products to move aside: the Merino Sport is our clear Editors' Choice Winner for best women's running jacket! We'd happily tote this jacket along on any high-output cardio day since it's so easy to pack it up when the weather shifts. Its reflective back makes it the best choice for urban running as well. It is not the lightest jacket we tested, but if you're going to have it on your back more than in your pack, you can't go wrong with the Merino Sport.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Merino Sport Ultra Light from Smartwool is a comfortable, breathable jacket with excellent features to suit all your running needs. We love the coziness of its merino interior, and, most importantly, how the comfort doesn't compromise weather protection.

Performance Comparison


What better place to show off one of our favorite running jackets than the beautiful Eastern Sierra?
What better place to show off one of our favorite running jackets than the beautiful Eastern Sierra?

Breathability


As opposed to wind layers, which are often used in a variety of activities (some more stationary than others), running jackets need to be able to keep up with high output. No matter how speedy of a runner you are, you're bound to work up a sweat. We tested breathability by running up and down hills in a wide range of climates to see how each layer compared to its competitors.


One thing we know about wind-resistant materials is that they don't usually breathe very well. Smartwool worked around this by including panels of wool and open vents to allow for excellent airflow. The upper back of the Merino Sport has a thin wool panel surrounded by two-inch open vents along the shoulder blades and on top of the shoulders for air to flow. Merino wool panels also extend from under the arms to halfway down the sides. This stretchy wool material is extremely thin with small holes, and we found it to be incredibly effective at helping us manage our body temperature.

The Merino Sport's interior merino panels blend comfort with breathability.
The Merino Sport's interior merino panels blend comfort with breathability.

Many of the jackets in this review manage their weight by employing only one material throughout. The Merino Sport is a bit heavier than some of its competitors, but the return is in superior breathability, which we've deemed the single most crucial factor in running jacket success.

Weather Resistance


Because we generally prefer to run with as few layers as possible, running jackets are only necessary when the weather is less than ideal. Whether you're heading out in a sprinkle, a wind storm, or just on a cold day, your running jacket needs to protect you from the elements.


The Merino Sport is a thin layer not ideal for true winter running, but it does provide some warmth. The wool panels are very thin and do not offer any insulation; we find this jacket is best for crisp spring or fall days or whenever the wind and rain start to pick up. While some runners can't stand running in a hood, we do like that the Merino Sport has this option. The hood also features merino wool paneling, and is snug yet stretchy, making for a great running fit.

How do you test for rain protection in the desert? However you do it  the Merino Sport passes the test.
How do you test for rain protection in the desert? However you do it, the Merino Sport passes the test.

This jacket performs as well as any other in the wind protection metric, and it repels water with ease. Our testing team loves the elastic wrist openings, which help keep the elements out. In our hose-down test that helped us simulate rain in a more controlled fashion, the Merino Sport excelled. While it's not a waterproof jacket, it does keep out a lot of moisture, and we'd happily take it out in light rain.

Comfort and Mobility


Running is hard enough — you don't need to make it any harder by stifling your movements with uncomfortable clothing. Ill-fitting garments can impede your movements and, even worse, cause rubbing and chafing that can surely end an otherwise big day out. In this category, we evaluate the materials, cut, style, and mobility of each jacket to see how they hold up in the most extreme circumstances.


The Merino Sport is one of the most comfortable jackets we tested. While most of the jackets in this review feature one continuous material, the Merino Sport has two. The majority of this model is made of soft, smooth polyester. This fabric does not stretch but feels nice and slick against the skin. Under the arms, along the back, and in the hood, this jacket hosts merino wool panels that are super luxurious; we love this stretchy, breathable feature.

We love the comfy hood of the Merino Sport running jacket.
We love the comfy hood of the Merino Sport running jacket.

The fit is spot-on, and though the polyester parts of the jacket don't stretch, the thoughtfully-placed merino panels do, providing an enhanced range of motion that the simpler models in this test don't have. The hood fits perfectly; its elastic interior makes it delightfully snug without being constricting or too baggy in the wind.

Portability


Two things make up each jacket's portability score: weight and packability. We know that conditions can change in the blink of an eye, so our testing team awarded higher points to jackets that pack up into their own pockets while keeping their weights low.


We were pleased to find that the Merino Sport didn't compromise weight with its wealth of great features and materials. Despite its merino interior and hood, this jacket in a size small weighs 4.8 ounces. While the lightest jackets we tested were nearly half this, some of the jackets we tested weighed upwards of 10 ounces.

Psst! Hidden in the right hand pocket is this jacket's ability to fold itself up!
Psst! Hidden in the right hand pocket is this jacket's ability to fold itself up!

The Merino Sport folds into its own right-hand pocket quickly and easily, a feature that adds significantly to its versatility. We'd happily bring this jacket along on hikes, bike rides, or mountain climbs because of how convenient it is to stow away.

Features


What differentiates a "running jacket" from a "wind jacket", you ask? There are a few key features that are marketed directly to runners, and our review team awarded high marks for jackets that include any or all of these features.


One of the main things that we want in an ideal running jacket is visibility. For running in urban environments, especially at night, reflective logos are essential to safety. The Merino Sport by far has the best reflectivity of any jacket in this review. The back is covered with sparkly reflective markings that are easy to dismiss during the day but light up when placed in direct light, such as those of car headlights.

The Merino Sport was an awesome choice for this brisk spring morning in Bishop  California.
The Merino Sport was an awesome choice for this brisk spring morning in Bishop, California.

This jacket features two hand pockets, and the hood is great for running in inclement weather; we find the fit to be perfectly suited to keeping out rain and wind. We love the stretchy wrist openings that help keep out the elements as well. And finally, one of our favorite details is the headphone hole. The chest pocket has a small hole for slipping headphone cables through; we love keeping the cable tucked away and feel this is a great little detail for those of us that haven't upgraded to Bluetooth yet.

Value


The Merino Sport Ultra Light is reasonably priced and right in the middle of products in this review. With an abundance of features, great comfort, and ideal breathability, our testing team agree unanimously that this jacket is a worthy investment.

The Merino Sport has incredible weather resistance for a jacket with so much breathability.
The Merino Sport has incredible weather resistance for a jacket with so much breathability.

Conclusion


The Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoody is an obvious choice for our Editors' Choice Award. Its merino panels ensure it's uniquely breathable and comfortable, and its light weight, hood, and reflective back make it one of the most balanced jackets in this review. A reasonable price tag makes it an excellent investment that'll get you ready for any adventure.

The Merino Sport Ultra Light is one of our all-time favorite running products.
The Merino Sport Ultra Light is one of our all-time favorite running products.

Lauren DeLaunay