Is the chase for the best women's running jacket wearing you down? Our expert team of runners and product reviewers researched 50 of the top lightweight running shells of 2019, purchasing the best 14 for months of hands-on testing. We ran through rain, wind, and cold temperatures everywhere from California to Argentina to see what these products could really do. We evaluated their breathability, especially in relation to their ability to resist inclement weather. We observed their comfort in a wide range of scenarios and put their portability and features to the test.
The Best Women's Running Jackets
|Price||$94.99 at Backcountry|
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|$82.93 at REI|
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|$67.93 at REI|
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|$102.93 at REI||$134.97 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Breathable, comfortable, great features||Lightweight, affordable, comfortable||Lightweight, easily packable, affordable||Incredibly lightweight, breathable||Comfortable, breathable, lightweight|
|Cons||Not as lightweight||Not as resistant to rain, fewer features||Not as breathable, fewer features||Few features, no hood||Expensive, few extra features|
|Bottom Line||A comfy, breathable jacket well-suited for any runner.||Light, breathable, and comfy; the perfect summer adventure layer.||An impressively affordable, super packable jacket.||An incredibly light and breathable jacket ideal for fast-and-light alpine missions.||A comfortable, lightweight jacket that balances breathability and weather protection.|
|Rating Categories||Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoody||Patagonia Airshed - Women's||Brooks LSD - Women's||Arc'teryx Cita SL - Women's||Houdini Air|
|Weather Resistance (20%)|
|Specs||Merino Sport Ultra...||Patagonia Airshed...||Brooks LSD - Women's||Arc'teryx Cita SL...||Houdini Air|
|OGL Weight||4.48 oz||3.10 oz||2.95 oz||2.33 oz||3.6 oz|
|Material||54% Merino Wool, 46% Polyester||100% nylon ripstop||Nylon||50% nylon, 50% polyester||90% nylon, 10% polyester|
Best Overall Running Jacket
Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoody - Women's
The Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoody is hands-down one of our favorite all-time running products. We were amazed at its functional, thoughtful breathability features; merino wool panels along the underarms and back keep air flowing without compromising weather protection. We love the soft, smooth feel of this jacket and found it to have an incredible amount of features. Excellent reflectivity, smart pockets, and the ability to stow into its own pocket make this an easy choice for our #1 slot.
On the other hand, the Merino Sport isn't the lightest jacket we tested. At 4.48 ounces, there are a few jackets in this review that are significantly lighter, coming in under 3 ounces. If you're looking to carry this jacket and only whip it out in an emergency, this might not be the best choice for you. But if the weather is foul and you're heading out for a big mission, this is the best all-around jacket in this review.
Read review: Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoody - Women's
Best Buy on a Budget
Brooks LSD - Women's
Brooks makes a lot of our favorite shoes, but what about their jackets? As it turns out, they make some of our favorite clothing, too. The LSD is lightweight, uber packable, comfortable, and inexpensive. We try to hide price information from our testers during hands-on testing to promote objectivity, and the LSD was still one of our all-time favorites. The cut was cute, the material soft, and the weight incredible. This jacket also included two of our favorite features: a long reflective stripe on the back and an armband for easy transport.
We would have liked to see some venting for better breathability, and the weather resistance was above-average but not the best. That being said, when compared to other jackets in its weight category, the LSD is pretty impressive. The features are carefully designed for runners, and at such a bargain price, we don't think you'll be disappointed.
Read review: Brooks LSD - Women's
Top Pick for Ultralight Adventures
Arc'teryx Cita SL - Women's
The Arc'teryx Cita SL is an exceptional backcountry piece perfect for fast-and-light missions. At just 2.33 ounces, this is one of the lightest jackets we've ever tested. It packs easily into its own pocket without the need for a zipper, saving on important ounces. We found this piece to be super breathable with excellently-placed nylon vents under the arms and along the back. It's comfortable and affordable to boot.
On the downside, this jacket isn't the most bombproof rain jacket, and it has very few bonus features. No pockets and no hood make this a great choice for an emergency shell to throw in your pack, not necessarily the piece you'd pick for a long day out in bad weather.
Read review: Arc'teryx Cita SL - Women's
Top Pick for Winter Workouts
The Arc'teryx Gaea is a bit of a black sheep in this review as the only truly insulated jacket that we tested. We were immediately concerned that it would be just too warm for running, but what we found was a highly breathable winter layer that we couldn't get enough of. With awesome features like large rear stash pockets, a media port, and exceptional comfort, this jacket is one of a kind.
However, there are some drawbacks to this layer too. While the warmth-to-breathability ratio is stellar, this jacket requires seriously cold temperatures. It's heavy and lacking in the ability to easily pack down. To happily use this jacket, you'd need to be fairly committed to keeping it on for the duration of your workout, which is pretty feasible given its above-average breathability. If you're searching for a winter layer to keep you warm during your coldest workouts, this is the one.
Read review: Arc'teryx Gaea
Why Should You Trust Us?
Lauren DeLaunay is an expert when it comes to running jackets. Primarily living out of a tent cabin in the back of Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley, she spends a lot of time on the trails. Bouncing between the high Rockies, the canyons of Utah, and the granite walls of California, she gets to test gear in a wide range of conditions. When she's not picking climbers and hikers off the walls with the Search and Rescue team in Yosemite, she exploring the backcountry. When she's not trail running, you can find her skiing, climbing and expanding her mind with New York Times crosswords and NPR programming. As a dedicated adventurer and athlete, she comes with a wealth of invaluable experience.
Testing running jackets really isn't easy, but we have fun. We've taken the time to truly analyze the architecture of each product, looking at specific metrics. When the weather turns from bluebird days to stormy and seductive, we get outside and run through it all. Out testing plan includes multiple runs in a range of climates, from steep, uphill runs in Yosemite's hot sun to longer jaunts through the windy pampas of Argentine Patagonia. We designed our tests to judge each product in direct comparison to the others and then award a numerical score based on that performance. After months of hands-on testing, we've identified our favorite jackets and are excited to share the results.Related: How We Tested Running Jacket for Women
Analysis and Test Results
It only takes one big rainstorm on your running parade to realize the importance of layers for every occasion. If you're like us, you're not going to let a little weather get in the way of your workout, so having the right piece for a variety of climates is crucial. That being said, we also know that comfort is essential to running performance, so we need our jackets to be not only bombproof but also cozy, breathable, and chock-full of features to make our lives easier. To find the best running jacket out there, we identified five features to use as scoring metrics: breathability, weather resistance, comfort, portability, and features.
In the early stages of our product testing, we do our best to ignore the price tag and focus on the performance. We want to know which jackets are truly the best, regardless of how much they might break the bank. But we know that price is important to nearly every buyer, so in this category, we discuss value. Value, as far as we're concerned, describes how much bang we get for the buck. We often find jackets that are lighter or warmer than others but for similar price points. Other times we're able to find a piece with exceptional performance with a cost to match. In this section, we'll describe how well each jacket performs in direct relation to how much it costs to help you make the right decision for your wallet.
We were easily blown away by the Brooks LSD. It is the least expensive jacket in this review but without a doubt one of our favorites. Its features make it perfectly runner-friendly, and we think this is an excellent choice for runners on a budget (or even those who aren't). Our Editors' Choice Award always goes to our top-scorer, regardless of price, but with this review, we were happy to find that this year's winner is very affordable. The Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light is below the average price in this review, and we believe it is an incredible value for this reason.
Sometimes, a certain product trait is essential to the running you do. If, for example, you're constantly in rainy conditions, the high priced Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket or Salomon Lightning Race might be totally worth it. If you live in a cold climate, you may not be able to resist the Arc'teryx Gaea, even though it's more expensive. We urge you to consider which of the scoring metrics we tested for are the most important to you and the location where you run to determine if a jacket is worth your investment.
Whether you're a seasoned ultramarathon runner or just getting into the game, running is going to make you work up a sweat, which is why this category is so incredibly important.
Breathability describes a garment's ability to allow air to flow freely through it. When we start working up a sweat, our body's main cooling mechanism is evaporation. For that to happen, we need air. If you've ever seen anyone exercise in a trash bag, you know that the less air is allowed to your skin, the more you'll sweat. And we don't want to run in a trash bag. We want our skin to stay cool and dry, which requires unique materials.
During our testing for this review, we found jackets with a wide array of breathability scores. The most breathable jackets were often ones with thoughtfully-placed panels, like the Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light and the Arc'teryx Cita SL, both of which have a different material along the back and under the arms to help air flow to the places where we heat up the most.
In this review, we found a range of breathability scores. At the top of the list were lightweight products made of inherently breathable materials, like the Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light, Patagonia Airshed, and Arc'teryx Cita SL. The other way a jacket could enhance its breathability is through venting. Jackets like the Arc'teryx Gaea used a mix of different materials to improve airflow to our sweatiest areas, typically the underarms and back.
Among the products listed above, other high scorers in this category were the Icebreaker Cool-Lite Rush, whose merino interior is naturally breathable, and the Patagonia Airshed. If you live in a place that's both warm and prone to bad weather, this metric will be of the utmost importance to you.
If we had it our way, we'd only ever have to run under clear skies in cool temperatures. But even though we live in California, we have to put up with less than ideal conditions sometimes. Whether that's wind, rain, snow, or cold temps, jackets are meant to protect us from these elements.
As you might imagine, a fabric that can block wind is typically not as good at letting air out, which means that we're often compromising between wind and rain resistance and breathability. A few of our most wind-resistant layers, like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite and The North Face Flight RKT, did indeed struggle to find this balance. The Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket V2 and Salomon Lightning Race, as well, was two of our most weather resistant jackets, but their breathability scores suffered as a result of their burliness. The Brooks Canopy struck a balance a bit better than these.
In addition to wind, we also have precipitation in all its forms. None of the jackets we tested in this review are real rain jackets, and all eventually let some moisture through. Only two jackets in this review are ones we'd pick to spend a whole rainy day in: the Salomon Lightning Race and the Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket. If you're looking for a jacket to bring "just in case" of rain, most of these jackets will do the trick, though none will keep you totally dry in a downpour.
The final category we test for in this metric is cold temperatures. While the vast majority of the jackets we tested provide little to no insulation, there were a few significant exceptions. The first of these is the Canopy, whose heavier materials make for a great addition to cool weather. A bit warmer than this is the Icebreaker Cool-Lite Rush, whose merino wool interior is both breathable and insulation. At the top of the charts is the unique Arc'teryx Gaea. The only jacket we reviewed with real insulation, this jacket is the go-to choice for winter aerobic activities. All three of these jackets had a surprising amount of breathability alongside their warmth, making them all excellent investments for cooler weather.
We know what you're thinking: why is comfort given such a prominent place in a review targeted to running performance? But hear us out. During countless months of testing jackets, we've come to learn a few things about comfort. First and foremost, ill-fitting or poorly designed clothing can cause chafing and sore spots that are guaranteed to ruin your workout and slow you down on race day. Secondly, we realize how much comfort increases our enthusiasm for running, thereby helping us get out the door and get our runs done.
The first thing we started evaluating for each jacket was the materials. Most of the jackets we tested were either nylon or polyester, even though they had a wide range of textures. Our favorite jackets for comfort were the Smartwool Merino Sport and Icebreaker Cool-Lite Rush, both of which have super luxurious merino wool interiors. We also liked the silky soft Patagonia Airshed and stretchy Arc'teryx Gaea.
Because most of the jackets in this review lacked any stretch, fit made a huge difference in levels of comfort, and our ideal jacket found the middle ground between form-fitting but not constricting. We loved the way the Brooks LSD gave us the room in the shoulders without seeming too big. The Gaea was the stretchiest jacket we tested, and its fit was definitely one of our favorites.
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we're known for getting a little weight crazy. We put everything we test on the scale and debate every single ounce. But let's be real: each ounce doesn't always matter that much. Out for a day hike? Pick the comfort of a pack over its weight. Looking for a warm winter coat? Insulation is typically more important than ounces. After months of testing these fifteen running jackets, however, we came to a different conclusion: ounces matter.
No matter who you are, running requires a bit of work, especially compared to some of the other activities we test for here at OutdoorGearLab. Because of this, we find ourselves noticing the weight of our garments more during a run than we would during, say, an evening stroll. We scrutinized the weight of each jacket for this review because we know that you might be using these pieces in races and during events where time really matters. The range of jackets for this review was surprising. Our lightest jackets came in under three ounces, while our heaviest ones weighed nearly eleven ounces.
During any given run, we might face a range of temperatures and weather patterns, especially as we warm up. We might start in a jacket, and then warm up and take it off, only to have the wind pick up and for us to need the jacket once again. With all the possible variations in conditions, we wanted a jacket that could stow away easily when we didn't need it. About half of the jackets we tested for into their own pockets for easy storage, a feature that we appreciate.
The most impressively portable jacket in this review was the Arc'teryx Cita SL. This jacket weighs just 2.33 ounces and packs into its own pocket securely without the need for a zipper, which we're sure saved some previous weight. This jacket would undoubtedly be our first choice for an emergency layer to bring along just in case.
We were also super impressed with the Brooks LSD. At just 2.95 ounces, the LSD also had one awesomely unique feature: the armband. While most of the packable jackets we tested had a clip loop for easy attachment to a pack or harness, the LSD had a uniquely running-specific feature. Its elastic armband means runners can simply strap their layers to them without the need for a backpack or running vest. Genius. (To be fair, the Brooks Canopy includes this feature as well but is quite a bit heavier.)
Months ago, when we were making our picks for which jackets we'd test hands-on, we found a lot of products that claimed to be made for running. What we learned is that true running jackets feature a few critical features that are designed specifically for running. We used this scoring category to rate each jacket on how well designed the small details were.
One of the most important features we identified in a running jacket was visibility. For night running through town, reflective stripes or logos are crucial to keeping us safe. They allow drivers to see us, something that's especially important when we can't see them. For that reason, we gave high scores to jackets with ample reflectivity, especially on the back. The most visible jacket we tested was the Smartwool Merino Sport, whose entire back panels shines when illuminated. Special mention also goes to the Altra Performance, Brooks LSD, and Brooks Canopy. To compare, the Arc'teryx Gaea has reflective logos on the arms and front, but none of the back, which is especially problematic on a black jacket.
Another detail we were looking for in these products was unique storage solutions. Running may seem like a carefree sport, but we often need to bring along quite a few things with us to make our workouts enjoyable. We preferred chest pockets to side pockets to minimize bounce, and zippers were crucial in making sure we don't drop or lose anything. Our testers really enjoyed the Gaea and its combination of zippered front pockets and open rear pockets, especially since Arc'teryx increased the size of these rear stash pockets in the 2018-19 version of this jacket. Being able to throw your glove, hat, and snacks in easy-to-reach pockets that hold things in place without bouncing around was a great asset.
The Gaea, Canopy, and Merino Sport all have front pockets with a media port. This little hole in the pocket lets you slip your headphone cable into the inside of the jacket. This might seem like overkill, but for every time we've accidentally caught our arm on our cord and abruptly pulled the headphones out of our ears, we're incredibly thankful for this small but awesome feature.
Thumb loops were a great feature to find a running jacket, and we loved the stretchy and retractable ones on the Gaea and Canopy. You may be ambivalent about hood including, but we have quite a few thoughts about hoods on running jackets. We did like how easily the Canopy's hood folded away for days when head protection is unnecessary. On the other hand, many of our reviewers felt that a hood was impractical, both for comfort and heat management. Our team generally preferred a hood-less layer in combination with a hat. That being said, if it's actively raining or snowing, a strong brim like the ones on the Canopy and Ultra Jacket did a great job at keeping the rain out of our eyes.
Running is difficult enough-- why add more stress? These fifteen top-notch running layers are here to make the tough days easier. We spent months testing these pieces, running in crazy wind in Patagonia, sunshine in California, and cold winter mornings in the Utah desert. We evaluated their ability to breathe without compromising weather protection and judged their comfort in a wide range of circumstances. We wanted to know how many features they included for runners while maintaining a low weight and easy packability. As our testing came to a close, our team felt confident that we could provide you with the most detailed running jacket review available today. No matter what sort of piece you're looking for, from insulated winter layers to lightweight alpine shells, we've got you covered.
— Lauren DeLaunay