The Best Women's Running Jackets of 2020
Best Overall Women's 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 are 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 4.8 ounces, there are a few jackets in this review that are noticeably lighter, even one that's half the weight of this one! 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 chilly 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 Bang for Your Buck
Brooks LSD Pullover - Women's
The Brooks LSD Pullover is the newest version of an old favorite, and we're happy to report that it still takes home an award despite its completely overhauled design. This jacket is simple and effective. We love its reflective, silky-smooth material, lightweight design, and, most importantly, affordable price tag. Our testers also love how it packs down into its own little backpack, a thoughtful feature that makes taking this layer out a total no brainer.
All that being said, this is neither the most protective jacket in this review nor the most breathable. It also isn't the most luxuriously comfortable compared to other options. It does these things decently well but does not have the standout scores of some of its competitors. But, if you're looking for a basic layer for your nightly runs around town without spending a small fortune, this is a terrific option.
Read review: Brooks LSD Pullover - Women's
Best for Comfort
Patagonia Airshed Pro Pullover - Women's
We were excited to check out this year's Patagonia Airshed Pro, as it's a newly released version of one of our old favorites. We found an awesome mix of old and new in this product, and its comfortable design quickly helped it stand out from the pack. We love how the sleeves and hood are made of a super-soft, stretchy material while the torso keeps you protected from the elements. We also love how the two-way zip allows for extra ventilation. Thoughtful design makes this jacket our favorite for comfort.
This jacket doesn't hold up very well in the rain, and it doesn't have any pockets or reflectivity. It is very simple, but we love how cozy it is and just didn't want to take it off. If you're looking for a comfortable layer for cool days, this might just be it.
Read review: Patagonia Airshed Pro Pullover - Women's
Best 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 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 and ideal for those frigid days when you still want to get out and run.
However, there are some drawbacks to this layer too. While the warmth-to-breathability ratio is stellar, the Gaea requires seriously cold temperatures to stay comfortable. 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, but not always ideal. If you're searching for a winter layer to keep you warm during your coldest workouts, this is the one. Just make sure you have a different option for when the temperatures rise.
Read review: Arc'teryx Gaea
Best 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 2.3 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 find this piece to be super breathable with excellently-placed nylon vents under the arms and along the back. On top of all that, 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. But if you are the type to count every gram on your body before heading out, the value of the Cita cannot be understated.
Read review: Arc'teryx Cita SL - Women's
Best for Racing in the Rain
Patagonia Storm Racer - Women's
The Patagonia Storm Racer is a super unique jacket, and it seemingly solves a problem that we've struggled with for ages. This waterproof layer is meant to fit over your running pack and is complete with two front zippers to help you access your gear. While we don't imagine needing this every day, we do recognize that on race day, if the rain is really coming down, you need something to get you through. This jacket is innovative, despite not being what the average runner might need.
This jacket is not particularly breathable, but the dual front zippers do allow for some ventilation. And while it's good at what it does, it is not very versatile. It's definitely a niche piece — and an expensive one at that. But if you're an ultra junkie awaiting a stormy day, look no further.
Read review: Patagonia Storm Racer - Women's
Why Should You Trust Us?
Lauren DeLaunay leads this review and she's 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's 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.
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 and mobility, 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 we also want to discuss value. Value, as far as we're concerned, describes how much bang you 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. How well each jacket performs in direct relation to how much it costs will help you make the right decision for your wallet.
We were easily blown away by the Brooks LSD Pullover. It is the least expensive jacket in this review but still 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 almost 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. We also love the comfort and performance of the Brooks Canopy, and it's another with a very palatable price tag.
Sometimes, a certain product trait is essential to the running you do. If, for instance, you're gearing up for a huge ultramarathon in a place known for rain, the expensive Patagonia Storm Racer might be worth it. Similarly, if lightweight missions are your jam, the high price tag of the Arc'teryx Cita might be easier to swallow.
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. This metric makes up for 30% of each jacket's overall score.
Breathability describes a garment's ability to allow air to flow freely through it. When you start working up a sweat, your body's main cooling mechanism is evaporation. For that to happen, it needs 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 Merino Sport Ultra Light and the Cita SL, both of which have a different material along the back and under the arms to help air move through the places where you heat up the most.
In this review, we found a range of breathability scores. At the top of the list are lightweight products made of inherently breathable materials, like the Merino Sport Ultra Light, Airshed Pro, and Cita SL. The other way a jacket can enhance its breathability is through venting. Jackets like the Gaea and the Icebreaker Cool-Lite Rush use a mix of different materials to improve airflow to the sweatiest areas, typically the underarms and back.
If we had it our way, we'd only ever have to run under clear skies in cool temperatures. But everyone has 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 and rain is typically not as good at letting air out, which means that we're often compromising between weather resistance and breathability. A few of our most weather resistant layers do indeed struggle to find this balance. The Storm Racer and Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket V2 are two of our most weather-resistant jackets, but their breathability scores suffer as a result of their burliness. The Smartwool Merino Sport and Arc'teryx Squamish find this balance a bit better, but neither of these can withstand hours of consistent heavy rain.
Besides just wind and rain resistance, we also assess each jacket in cold temperatures. While the vast majority of the jackets we tested provide little to no insulation, there are a few significant exceptions. The first of these is the Brooks Canopy, whose heavier material makes for a great addition to cool weather. A bit warmer than this is the Cool-Lite Rush, whose merino wool interior is both breathable and insulation. At the top of the charts in this metric 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 have a surprising amount of breathability alongside their warmth, making them excellent investments for cooler weather.
Comfort and Mobility
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. Mobility is also a crucial part of having a good time while you're out. If your layer doesn't move and stretch with you, you'll pay more attention to your clothes than the rocks underfoot or the beautiful scenery.
The first thing we started evaluating for each jacket was the materials. Most of the jackets we tested are either nylon or polyester, even though they have a wide range of textures. Our favorite jackets for comfort are the Merino Sport and Cool-Lite Rush, both of which have super luxurious merino wool interiors. We also liked the silky soft Airshed Pro, the stretchy Gaea, and the cozy Canopy.
At GearLab, 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 eleven running jackets, however, we came to a different conclusion: ounces matter. However, so does packability. You might be willing to carry a few extra ounces, but if your layer is annoying to stow when you need to it off, you're likely to be annoyed. For this metric, we paid attention to both of these aspects.
No matter who you are, running requires a bit of work, especially compared to some of the other activities you might love. Because of this, you'll find yourself noticing the weight of your garments more during a run than you 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 in this review is surprising. Our lightest jackets came in under three ounces, while our heaviest ones weighed nearly ten 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, you want a jacket that can stow away easily when no longer needed. About half of the jackets we tested fold into their own pockets for easy storage, a feature that we appreciate.
The most impressively portable jacket in this review is the Cita SL. This jacket weighs just 2.3 ounces and packs into its own pocket securely without the need for a zipper. The Cita would undoubtedly be our first choice for an emergency layer to bring along just in case. The runner-up in the weight department is the Patagonia Houdini Air at just 3.6 ounces. On top of the impressive weight, the Air packs into its own pocket and provides a clip-able loop, a great addition if you're doing anything involving a harness or backpack.
We were also super impressed with the Brooks models: the LSD Pullover and the Canopy. While neither are the lightest, they both have hidden mesh pockets that let the jacket fold into its own backpack. This is a really unique solution that let us forget about tying our jackets around our waists.
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 are.
One of the most important features in a running jacket is visibility. For night running through town, reflective stripes or logos are crucial to keeping you safe. They allow drivers to see you, something that's especially important when you can't see them first. For that reason, we gave high scores to jackets with ample reflectivity, especially on the back. The most visible jackets we tested are the Merino Sport and LSD Pullover, whose entire material is reflective.
Another detail we look for in these products is unique storage solutions. Running may seem like a carefree sport, but you often need to bring along quite a few things to make your workout enjoyable. We preferred chest pockets to side pockets to minimize bounce, and zippers are crucial in making sure you don't drop or lose anything. Our testers really enjoy 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 from previous versions. Being able to throw your glove, hat, and snacks in easy-to-reach pockets that hold things in place without bouncing around is 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 are a great feature to find in a running jacket, and we loved the stretchy and retractable ones on the Gaea and Cool-Lite Rush. You may be ambivalent about having a hood, but if bad weather comes to play you'll probably be glad to have one. On the other hand, many of our reviewers feel that a hood is impractical, both for comfort and heat management. Because of this, we like how easily the hood on the Canopy folds away when head protection is unnecessary. We also like the stretch and comfort of the hood on the Airshed Pro, though it's not great for rain. Our team generally prefers 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 Storm Racer and Ultra Jacket do a great job at keeping the rain out of your eyes.
Running is difficult enough — why add more stress? The top-notch running layers in this review 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