Best Overall Running Jacket
Arc'teryx Incendo Hoody
: 4.2 oz | Number of pockets
Can pack into its pocket
Weather resistance is second to none
If you're venturing far from home and there is the slightest chance that inclement weather could dampen your jog, the Arc'teryx Incendo is a fantastic solution. We fell in love with this jacket in 2017 and renewed our vows with the latest hooded version. This new version retained all of the attributes that attracted us in the beginning and added some new ones such as a brimmed hood and larger mesh vent panels. While offering the same weather protection the "emergency" jackets provided, the Incendo retained its ability to vent and breathe. This is rare in running jackets and boosted the Arc'teryx into the top of our standings. The Incendo also earned high marks for its portability and light weight (though it did gain about .6 of an oz since 2017, but we still love it anyway).
If we had one complaint about this jacket, it would be the expense. You do truly get what you pay for as the new Incendo is versatile, comfortable, weather-resistant, and lightweight. The Incendo was crowned our Editors' Choice winner for three years and it has only improved since then. This thing is like a fine wine. You're going to pay a premium, but its fine aged goodness will make your mouth water.
Read review: Arc'teryx Incendo
Testing running jackets side-by-side in a controlled water resistance test
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is crafted by OutdoorGearLab contributor Brian Martin. Brian is a multi-discipline mountain athlete who can be found doing anything from rock climbing to alpine ski touring to long-distance trail running, to name a few. His most recent obsession is multi-day bikepack racing which requires both fitness and knowledge of outdoor equipment. Brian is also a former member of Yosemite Search and Rescue, where he was tasked with all aspects of maintenance and acquisition of SAR equipment. He brings to this review an eye for detail and a wealth of related experience.
This review began with selecting jackets from the market, which entailed both keeping the best models from former reviews in the race, and searching for promising newcomers that we had not yet tested. What we ended up with is the 5 models that are discussed here. Testing took place over a year, with each item worn at least once per week, with runs lasting a minimum of 5 miles. Due to the duration of the test, we got a year's worth of weather conditions to run in, from winter storms to high winds and rain in the springtime. In addition to field tests, we measured weight and water resistance in controlled environments. What came out of this is a comprehensive review that will set you on the right track in your search for a great running jacket.
Related: How We Tested Running Jackets
Analysis and Test Results
Having a running jacket that is suited to your needs as a runner can mean the difference between successfully logging your early morning training run or being sidelined by Mother Nature. The right piece of gear is akin to having a talisman that wards off evil spirits. The right piece at the right time can give you an edge when the specter of the environment is looming. We tested these jackets in a plethora of environments and conditions to determine which is best suited for running and in what situations.
Related: Buying Advice for Running Jackets
We tried incredibly hard to find a situation that challenged the Tantrum II. This was a difficult task as Outdoor Research seems bent on raising standards in outdoor equipment.
We compared them side by side based on five separate criteria: Breathability and Venting, Weather Resistance, Comfort and Mobility, Portability, and Visibility. Our testing included multiple runs in each jacket through rain, cold, and wind both in urban environments and on trails. We purposefully gathered highly rated jackets that claimed both weather resistance, and breathability to sort through which could deliver on their claims. We designed our tests around the shared attributes of the collection of jackets and graded each model from one to ten in every category.
This year, we returned to put another host of jackets to the test with the hopes of finding the best running layer available. We painstakingly sorted through the discontinued and new top-shelf running jackets available until we had a collection of highly rated models to put through our testing regimen. We were pleasantly surprised by several of the new contenders.
Once again we return with a new crop of aspiring running jackets that need to be run through the gear lab meat grinder to see if a new Top Pick, Best Buy, or even Editors' Choice can be crowned.
Related: The Best Windbreaker Jackets
The Arc'teryx Incendo, for example, was an incredible jacket by any measure and is one of our new favorites set apart only by the expense.
It doesn't matter if you're Joe "Off The Couch" Shmoe or Jared Campbell, you're going to sweat while running. After all, the very nature of running is aerobic and gets your heart rate fired up. Ideally a running jacket can help shield you from the discomfort of the elements while also helping vent out the excess heat and moisture. We found that models with inadequate breathability, venting, or both made all other attributes superfluous.
For example, it doesn't matter if its uncomfortable outside the jacket if you're drenched with sweat on the inside of the jacket. We have all experienced the discomfort of throwing on an old windbreaker one cold morning, going out for a jog, and becoming drenched on the first uphill. Then you take the jacket off and you instantly freeze to death right there on the trail. This metric was designed to help us find a jacket that would take the edge off the morning chill and keep us relatively dry and regulated inside the jacket.
To test each jacket's breathability, we went out on many runs, logging almost 250 miles for the entire testing period. This time was spread out over the eleven jackets over the course of one year. We emphasized long, steep uphill sections that would increase our heart rate and get the sweat rolling.
Our series of steep uphill runs exposed some breathability issues with several jackets. The AirShed (pictured) performed quite well.
The Smartwoold PhD Ultra Light Sport Hoody and updated Arc'teryx Incendo Hoody also performed remarkably well in the breathability oriented tests we executed. Both jackets have underarm mesh vents. They are a fantastic feature and did their job as intended while limiting the amount of material vulnerable to the elements.
The designers at Arc'teryx graced the new Incendo with larger underarm vents, basically doubling their size and offering top-notch breathability. This addition boosted the Incendo to the top in this category and made it one of our favorite running jackets to date.
The limes (future margaritas) indicate where the mesh panels start and stop on the 2019 (green) Incendo and the 2017 (orange) version. Not only are the mesh panels wider on the new version, but they're about twice as long, running from the forearms to the waist.
Most of the jackets in the review offered an acceptable amount of breathability — decent heat and moisture dissipation on the flats and downhills, yet inadequate breathability on the calf-burning uphills. The Arc'teryx Incendo is an incredibly breathable all-around jacket; the generous underarm vents kept us comfortable and dry except for running the most strenuous sections of our runs.
The Incendo had excellent ventilation while retaining a high level of weather resistance.
All of the jackets we tested come with labels that claim wind and water resistance. The word resistant is a very 'fluid' term, pardon the pun. We designed several tests to let you know what kind of protection you could reasonably expect knowing that none of these jackets, with their ultra thin denier fabrics, would keep you dry in a deluge.
Over the course of three years, we have taken running jackets out into uncomfortable conditions, sometimes inappropriately so, in order to test the limits of these pieces. We meticulously tested each model with a DWR treatment test by measuring how long each jacket would hold two cups of water. This involved using an embroidery hoop to capture a piece of fabric from each jacket, making a container, then pouring in the two cups of water and starting a timer. Using these jackets over a long period of time also gave us insight into the limits of DWR treatments and what you should expect from thin polymer fabrics coated with this magic chemical.
During the water containment DWR test, each model contained the water for over ten minutes in their original condition without leakage (Pretty impressive). Post training, a regular gentle washing revealed which jackets retained their DWR treatment the best when we retested their water retention. Keep an eye on other attributes of a jacket to make sure it matches the style of running you take part in, as well as your environmental needs.
To isolate windy conditions, we wore each jacket on a 30-35mph downhill bike ride in Emigration Canyon; this testing arena allowed us to control the wind speed and pick and choose the temperatures. We especially enjoyed this test as it really felt like we were able to isolate the conditions of a strong headwind and feel where air was blasting through the jackets. The newest version of the Arc'teryx Incendo Hoody was an excellent example of how these jackets should perform. As it isn't strictly a wind layer, it did let significant air through the underarm vents (as it should) and kept us comfortable elsewhere. Despite what this test might suggest, we weren't looking for a purely windproof layer; we simply wanted to test each jacket to its limits.
It is important to note that while several of these jackets kept us temporarily dry during our rainy morning runs, none kept us completely dry after the three-mile mark (in light to moderate rain). After five miles, every contender had let in a significant amount of moisture during heavy rain. The top performers in our fleet performed well in light rain and intermittent showers and dried out quickly when they did manage to take on moisture. If weather resistance is your top priority or you live in a rainy climate, we'd recommend the Arc'teryx Incendo, as it proved to be a workhorse when the weather was closing in. Just know that even these top performers are a far cry from a rain layer and shouldn't be expected to perform as such. These are permeable fabrics which have been coated with a DWR treatment that fades and needs periodic reapplication to perform at its best.
All jackets tested offered decent water resistance. Dig into the review to see which ones gave the best protection.
Comfort and Mobility
Comfort and mobility are paramount in a running jacket, and these garments are designed to be worn during prolonged aerobic activity. A restrictive jacket will not only physically hinder your movement, but it can damage your psychological performance as well, forcing you to focus on the discomfort of the garment. To test comfort and mobility, we evaluated how each piece moved with the runner. We also examined the materials, if stretchy material was utilized, and if the stitching was crafted in a way that reduced chafing.
Able to jump logs in a single bound. Like the tunic of a kung fu master, the Tantrum II allows for full unimpeded range of motion.
Comfort was given a lower percentage of the model's final score, as it leans toward a more subjective side of the metrics we use in our testing. However, there is a significant difference in the materials and styles used; overall, the jackets that had forgiving material, sewing where the stitches weren't visible, and cleverly designed closure systems offered superior comfort.
The Arc'teryx Incendo made the testing easy. This was a comfortable, breathable, and water resistant jacket.
Other notably comfortable jackets included the Arc'teryx Incendo Hoody, and the new Patagonia Airshed. Each of these jackets had unique features. The Airshed had the most stretch of any fabrics used in the jackets represented in this test and the Incendo Hoody had a handy mid-chest snap that would allow tons of ventilation without having the jacket flap uncontrollably. These features are seemingly small details that make a substantial difference.
This review is all about aerobic movement. We want to make sure that the contenders we recommend don't impede movement, but rather aid in performance. For portability, this means that the garment is easy to unpack, throw on, remove, and re-pack. Upon first viewing, one might think that two jackets, both said to pack into their own pockets, would be equal for portability, though this was not the case.
For portability, we considered how easily we could unpack each jacket and put it on while we were moving, weeding out jackets that are difficult to pack and unpack. In other words, we wanted to identify which models required we stop and award them our full attention. The contenders that were equipped with single-sided zippers on their stuff pouches proved to be challenging to use while moving; nobody can rise to the top with that type of egocentric design, right? On the other side of the coin, we wanted to make sure we could remove the garment and pack it away while moving.
At 4.2 oz, the Incendo is on the lighter end of the scale.
These factors, combined with the jacket's weight and system used to actually contain the jacket, produced its overall portability score. The Incendo had a perfectly sized storage pouch with a double-sided zipper, making its packing and deployment painless and quick.
While the past season of seemed to emphasize having a storage pouch that packed jackets into the smallest size space possible, the new host of jackets leaned a bit more toward how easily the garment could be packed into its carrying pouch. This resulted in models that packed easily and quickly but took up slightly more space in a pack. It should be noted that these loosely packed jackets could actually be compressed down further. While we initially thought this would only take up extra space in our running vest, we were pleasantly surprised at how simple it was to zip the new jackets into their pouches and stuff them down into our pack.
No OutdoorGearLab review is complete without busting out the scale and weighing things, and you'll find no exceptions here. We ran all of the jackets through the dryer together, to ensure they were completely dry and put them through a series of tests on our scale. Most manufacturers estimate the weight of their products, and we found their estimations were typically spot on.
To cap off our portability study, we've provided images of each model in the fleet compared next to an iPhone 6 (this is a regular iPhone 6, not the giant 'iPhone 6 Plus').
While the portability rating doesn't have much to do with how each model performed while we were wearing them, it can make a big difference in overall satisfaction. If you utilize your equipment even once or twice per week, having a zipper that catches or a stuff pouch that isn't properly sized will get frustrating. Some of the more frustrating stuff pouches we tested back in 2017 would have gotten even the Dali Llama cursing as he tried to cram the jacket into its cocoon, and he's a patient guy.
Day and Night Visibility
Running in the half-light of the morning or evening can prove to be a hazardous situation, not to mention drivers these days are more distracted than ever. With telephones, GPS units, food, and beverage, it seems as though people have less attention to spare looking for humans running along the roadway. We wanted to figure out which of these jackets offered the most overall visibility on the roads and trails, as both situations demand high visibility for optimal safety. The brighter and more reflective your jacket, the less likely a driver will be to turn you into a human speed bump after hitting the (I'm not driving) button on their iPhone.
The contenders we tested range from near camouflage levels of visual distortion to "caution cone" brightness and reflectivity. Our tests consisted of polling a group of five individuals judging each jacket in the day and night, providing a score of one to ten and then averaging the scores. We also decided it might be a good (albeit not uber scientific) test to dash across the road in front of another tester sitting in a car with the lights on. This allowed us to see if the reflective blazes on the jackets along with their color helped catch the drivers eye. It ended up being an interesting test and did indeed illuminate some standouts among the jackets we tested.
A look at the reflective qualities of the jackets in our test.
The past award winners Outdoor Research Boost and the Arc'teryx Incendo offered 360-degree visibility both day and night. This was a high mark for this year's round of testing. Other jackets such as the Marmot DriClime neglected reflective material, making subjects challenging to see in low light conditions.
All joking aside, features which make you more visible to motorists should be a top priority of a running jacket. When do we typically have time to get out for a run? Dawn and dusk. These are also the most difficult times for our eyes to detect movement and much of the world is obscured in shadows. Drivers are distracted even when they aren't watching someones live broadcast on Instagram. Having a running vest with reflective markings and bright colors isn't a fashion statement; it's for safety.
Although our review was weighted in favor of the jackets that proved to have the best performance around breathability, venting, and weather resistance, one should also make visibility a priority when they are shopping for a running jacket. All of the contenders we tested have several color schemes; if you're able to stand sporting a bright color, we prefer to do so. If you want extra credit in the safety category, get a jacket that has reflective material on the arms and wrists like the Arc'teryx Incendo.
It goes without saying that running is aerobic. Maybe even the aerobic exercise. Sometimes it's going to rain, and sometimes it will be windy, sometimes cars will try to turn you into a speedbump, but it will always be a high output aerobic excursion. Whilst testing, we kept in mind that we always want breathability and venting to be a priority. Many jackets in our review are adequate for what most of us will use them for, and by the same token, there will probably be some that aren't suited to what you need. The model that is a true "all-arounder" is the Arc'teryx Incendo, as it has the full package of attributes we need in a running layer. They can handle the excess moisture and heat produced when we set the bar high, as well as repel the cold and weather encroaching from the temperatures we experience outdoors.