Over the years, we have found unique ways to push our running jacket testing to the limit. Often this means running countless miles in less than ideal conditions. On top of all the running, this year we threw in some frigid fatbike miles as well as a bunch of time on packed snowy trails through the Wasatch. The testing metrics we settled on reflect what we find to be most critical in helping keep your run as comfortable and temperature regulated as possible.
There is really only one way to know how a jacket will perform when your heart rate is maxed: spend time in the pain cave and keep focussed awareness on its performance. Overall, softshell jackets provide the ultimate in breathability, while some single layer shells have discovered the key component of having oversized mesh panels. We ran up hills, did our intervals, and cranked out miles on the fat bike. All of these got the blood pumping and required each jacket to dissipate excess heat.
We are no strangers to discomfort. How do you figure out how much precipitation is too much for any given jacket? You have to get out in the fray until the jacket is soaked through and tattered. We spent upwards of 100 hours in these jackets, often traveling through heavy precipitation. Our go-to test this winter was fatbiking in snow/rain, where we were sure to get some penetration. Spoiler alert, none of the jackets we tested are totally waterproof, but the Arc'teryx Norvan SL comes pretty dang close.
Comfort and Mobility
So much goes into comfort in a running layer. While we agree this is a highly subjective area, some components are critical to attaining greatness in this category. Either taped or flat seams, adequate arm length, and a jacket that will stay in place without riding up are some standout components. The taped seams of the Noravn SL represent the top of the line for what the market is currently offering. Other components can boost comfort as well, such as the stretchy softshell material of the Arc'teryx Trino. Ultimately our testing requires us to examine each garment thoroughly. We also strapped packs on over protruding seams and took part in activities that require hands reaching over the head like rock climbing.
Testing portability is a bit more involved than you might imagine. As many of us are multi-sport animals, we packed up these jackets and took them on a host of adventures besides just running. The most portable jackets are those that can pack up in a snug pocket and are equipped with a loop to clip onto a climbing harness or pack. One of the most portable jackets tested is the classic Patagonia Houdini. As the name implies, this thing can disappear in your running pack or clipped onto a climbing harness.
Day and Night Visibility
For this test, we would run, at random, across busy streets in Salt Lake City, without hitting the crosswalk button and see how many millennials would hit the brakes. Just kidding, we didn't. First, we examined reflectors with a nighttime crosswalk test and a trusted friend driving by in their car. We also examined available color schemes for each jacket regardless of the color we were testing. Overall, jackets with 360-degree reflectors perform the best, and those with reflectors on the arms are ideal.