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Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoody - Women's Review

A comfy, breathable jacket well-suited for any runner.
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $130 List | $97.49 at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Breathable, comfortable, great features
Cons:  Not as lightweight
Manufacturer:   Smartwool
By Lauren DeLaunay ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Aug 27, 2019
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84
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 13
  • Breathability - 25% 9
  • Weather Resistance - 20% 8
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Portability - 20% 7
  • Features - 15% 9

Our Verdict

A new addition for our women's running jacket lineup is the Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light. We were instantly impressed, 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 protective 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 new Editors' Choice Award 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.

New Version Available

Since we crowned this Smartwool jacket Editors' Choice, it's been granted some updates. See the details below.

March 2020


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoody Updates


Smartwool updated this jacket since our test cycle. The chest pocket has been nixed in favor of zippered hand pockets, and the jacket now stows into the right hand pocket. Much of the jacket looks similar to the model we tested, but it's offered in some updated colors. Compare the new version (first photo) to the model we tested (second photo).


We've purchased the updated model for testing and will report back with our findings. Until then, all text below is in reference to the previous version.

Hands-On Review of the Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoody


The Merino Sport from Smartwool is a comfortable, breathable jacket with excellent features to suit all your running needs.

Running through Yosemite with the Editors' Choice Award-winning Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light
Running through Yosemite with the Editors' Choice Award-winning Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light

Judging by the Merino Sport's high overall score, it's no surprise that it took home our #1 spot.

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 our 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 material is that it doesn't 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.

Breathable merino panels on the Merino Sport Ultra Light
Breathable merino panels on the Merino Sport Ultra Light

Many of the jackets, like the Arc'teryx Cita SL and Patagonia Houdini Air, 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. It's not adjustable, but compared to the giant hood of the Patagonia Houdini Air, it's better for running.

Rear merino panel with a sturdy surrounding shell
Rear merino panel with a sturdy surrounding shell

This jacket performs as well as any other in the wind protection metric, and it repels water with ease. Our testing team loved the elastic wrist openings, which help keep the elements out.

Comfort


Running is hard enough-- we don't need to make it any harder by stifling our movements with uncomfortable clothing. Ill-fitting garments can impede our movements and, even worse, cause rubbing and chafing that can surely end a big day out. In this category, we evaluated the materials, cut, style, and mobility of each jacket to see how they held 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 bulk 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. Reminiscent of a lighter version of the Icebreaker Cool-Lite Rush, these two jackets score high points for their ultra-comfortable merino interiors.

Air vents throughout the jacket keep us cool and fresh.
Air vents throughout the jacket keep us cool and fresh.

The fit is spot-on, and though the polyester parts of the jacket don't stretch, the thoughtfully-placed merino panels do, giving us an enhanced range of motion that we didn't find in the simpler models in this test (like the Brooks LSD or Patagonia Airshed). 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 weighs in at 4.5 ounces. While the lightest jackets we tested were nearly half this (like the 2.3-ounce Arc'teryx Cita SL), some of the jackets we tested weighed upwards of 10 ounces.

Weighing this nicely packable jacket
Weighing this nicely packable jacket

The Merino Sport folds into its own pocket quickly and easily, a feature that adds significantly to this jacket's versatility. We'd happily bring this jacket along on hikes, bike rides, or mountain climbs because of how easily it can be brought along on any adventure.

Features


When we first started this review, we weren't sure what made a "running jacket" more than a "wind jacket." Through weeks of testing, we identified a few key features that are marketed directly to runners; our review team awarded high marks for jackets that included any or all of these features.


One of the main things that we wanted in our ideal running jacket was visibility. For running in urban environments, especially at night, reflective logos are essential to safety. The Merino Sport has by far the best reflective logos 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.

Camera flash shows off this jacket's insane visibility.
Camera flash shows off this jacket's insane visibility.

This jacket features one front chest pocket large enough to hold even the burliest smartphones. The hood is great for running in inclement weather; we found the fit to be perfectly suited to keeping out rain and wind. We love this garment's 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 thought this was a great little detail.

Value


The Merino Sport Ultra Light is right in the middle of this review's price range. With jackets ranging from $85 to $200, this award winner is reasonably priced. With an abundance of features, great comfort, and ideal breathability, our testing team agreed unanimously that this jacket is a worthy investment.

Even this jacket's hood is ultra breathable!
Even this jacket's hood is ultra breathable!

Conclusion


The Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoodie 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.

Nothin' but smiles in the Merino Sport Ultra Light
Nothin' but smiles in the Merino Sport Ultra Light


Lauren DeLaunay