Having run through sun, rain, and wind to test our original line-up of women's running shirts, we realized we were missing something: winter. Our testers wanted to add some award-winning winter layers to the mix, and the first one that came to mind was the Brooks Notch Thermal. An extremely popular layer, we couldn't wait to try it out. What we found was an incredibly comfortable layer chock full of excellent running features. It's both warm and breathable, and truthfully, we never wanted to take it off! While its score was very close to its long-sleeve competitor, the Under Armour Reactor, this top was significantly cheaper. For this reason, we're happy to award it our Best Buy Award for best winter running shirt.
Brooks Notch Thermal - Women's Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Comfortable, warm, versatile
Cons: Not as breathable, heavy
Our Analysis and Test Results
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we take our comfort seriously. Not just because we're picky, but because we know that the more comfortable you are in your garments, the more likely you are to get out there an use them! For this category, we evaluated each shirt's fabric, stretch, seams, and fit. While we directly compared the two long-sleeve shirts, we also kept in mind some of their other contenders.
Out of every shirt in this review, the Notch is hands-down the coziest. With 10% spandex fleece striping on the interior, Brooks somehow struck the perfect balance between warm and breathability. This shirt feels like a cozy sweater more than a technical layer, but we're not complaining! The polyester that makes up the bulk of the shirt is incredibly soft; the Reactor is surprisingly velvety on the inside as well, but this was the one category where the Notch edged out its long-sleeve competitor (but not by much!).
The two long-sleeve shirts in this review are leagues stretchier than their short-sleeve competitors. We found this essential in a long-sleeve layer and were happy to find this stand-out feature in both the Notch and the Reactor. This shirt does have overlock seams, but the soft material seems to cancel out any of our concerns. We were pleased to see the seams removed off the top of the shoulder in order to better accommodate a pack.
Both the Notch and the Reactor feature "funnel-necks"; similar to a turtleneck, but much looser. We cannot say enough good things about the collar of the Notch Thermal. We found it to be warm and sturdy but not the least bit constricting. The fleece material continues here and was so very pleasant on a cold winter day.
Last but not least, the Notch had one of the best fits of any shirt in this review. It is a bit looser than the Reactor, but the length really sealed the deal. We loved that the Notch features a stretchy waistline to keep the shirt down and that it is long enough to keep our torsos covered even when we lift our arms.
We're not going to lie: we didn't expect either of our winter layers to compete with their lightweight summer competitors in this category. Their scores, therefore, are a bit relative. That being said, we were very impressed with the Notch's ability to keep us feeling fresh as the temperature started to rise. This was one category where the Reactor took home the higher score.
To test breathability, we hiked, ran, and skied up the biggest hills we could find. We climbed, played at the ski resort, and wore these shirts around town to see how they would perform in a wide range of activities. One of the best features of the Notch is its well-placed paneling. Despite featuring fleece lining on the torso, thinner, more breathable material stretches from the waist, up to the underarm, and out to the wrist. This worked pretty well at keeping us dry when we started to work up a sweat. The Reactor, in comparison, has smaller panels, but its fleece-less material is a bit more breathable.
As we found out quickly while testing running shirts in the summer, breathability is what keeps us from getting too sweaty in the first place; drying speed, on the other hand, measures how quickly a garment can dry once it become wet. While many of our lightweight summer shirts excelled in this category, we directly compared our two long-sleeve models to come up with the numerical score in this metric.
Overall, we were impressed with the Notch's ability to try out, but the fleece definitely took longer to dry than the polyester/elastane blend of the Reactor.
Features & Versatility
During our months-long testing period, our reviewers were able to identify a few key characteristics that make a running shirt more than just a base layer. The Notch, we're happy to report, has many features that make it a great choice for running, as well as a myriad of other cold-weather activities.
We truly loved the high collar of the shirt. It was the perfect addition to keep the wind out on a cold day. We found the fit to be warm but not constricting, and the fleece material was super cozy. Compared to the collar of the Reactor, we found this one to be more pleasant to wear, though the Reactor's may be a bit more effective.
The Notch does not have any reflective logos, unlike the small ones featured on the Reactor, but we do have to talk about the thumb loops. Similar to those on one of our favorite winter running jackets, the Arc'teryx Gaea, the material is soft, the fit is perfect, and they're hidden when we don't need them. What more could we ask for?
As mentioned in the "Comfort" paragraph above, the longer length and stretchy waistband make this an awesome winter layer because it keeps the shirt from riding up and letting cold air sneak in. We happily wore this shirt nearly everywhere we went as the temperatures started to drop, and we're definitely as likely to bring this on our upcoming ice climbing shirt as we are to hit the trails or ski lifts with it.
The Notch Thermal from Brooks is a running shirt, no doubt. But that won't stop us from wearing it everywhere we go! Its super-high comfort score will keep us finding every reason to wear it, whether we're running errands in town, hitting the slopes, or sneaking in an early-morning run in the cold.
At $75, the Notch is more expensive than most of its short-sleeve competitors but less costly than its long-sleeve rival, the Reactor. If you're looking for a warm, cozy winter base layer that will keep you happy in nearly every activity, we think this shirt is an incredible bargain.
At the end of the day, the Notch could easily have won our Top Pick for Winter, depending on your priorities. If your winter running is more focused on warmth and comfort than working up a sweat, you may very well enjoy this shirt more than the Reactor. If winter breathability is your thing, you may want to look to our Top Pick for Winter, but we still highly recommend this top as one of our favorite winter pieces that we're definitely be coming back to time and time again.
— Lauren DeLaunay