After months of testing twelve of the most popular women's running jackets on the market, from the pampas of southern Patagonia to the streets of California, we're committed to helping you find the best product for you. One of the biggest things we learned was how different every runner, as well as every jacket, really is. Depending on where you live, what type of running you do, and how often you run, your needs for a jacket will differ. Through our testing process, we identified five scoring metrics that helped us really get to know each product. In this article, we'll explain a bit more about what to look for in those categories and, depending on your type of running, which ones you should be paying extra close attention to.
What's a Running Jacket, And Do I Need One?
You may be wondering what exactly constitutes a running jacket, but don't worry. So are we! Many of the products we browsed through for this review could also serve as climbing windbreakers, lightweight rain shells, or insulated skiing layers. Below, we explain the five tenets of a great running jacket and what you should be looking for when making your purchasing decision.
The single most important quality of a running jacket is its breathability. Unlike other outdoor activities where a slower pace can be used to maintain a pleasant body temperature, running requires working up a sweat. No matter how new or how seasoned of a runner you are, and no matter how hot or cold it is, you're going to need clothing that lets your body breathe.
During our testing process, we found that there were two things a jacket could do to facilitate breathability: careful selection of materials, and venting. Most of the jackets we tested this year were made of nylon or polyester, and we found breathable (and not so breathable) jackets made out of both. The Patagonia Airshed, for example, is made with a lightweight nylon that was one of the most breathable fabrics we tried on. Some jackets also include venting, or paneling, to increase airflow to the body's warmest spots. The Arc'teryx Gaea did a phenomenal job at insulating the cold spots and letting air flow to the warmer spots (the underarms and back).
If you know that you'll be wearing your new jacket in warmer climates, or if you know that your body is always warm when you're running, this category is going to be even more important to you. While our scoring system allotted 25% of a product's overall score to this metric, for some runners, breathability is worth much more than that.
If a jacket doesn't protect you from the elements, then what's the point? We love running in perfect weather, and when we get the right conditions, we like to be out and about in one of our favorite women's running shirts. We don't always get perfect conditions, though, and that's what these jackets are for. Our testing team identified three weather properties that we wanted protection from: wind, rain, and cold temperatures.
The majority of the jackets in this review do a pretty great job at protecting us from the wind. What was harder to find was a jacket that balanced wind resistance with breathability. As you can imagine, if a jacket is blocking the wind from entering, it's likely also preventing air from escaping. The North Face Flight RKT, for example, does an awesome job at blocking wind, but it also leaves us feeling sweaty and clammy when things start heating up. If wind is a serious concern for you, we recommend the Outdoor Research Tantrum II which provides a nice balance of the two metrics.
We want to stop right here to admit that none of the jackets in this review are rain jackets, and if it's a torrential downpour outside, none of these are going to provide you with adequate protection. That being said, there are a handful of jackets that can easily protect you from a surprise sprinkle or shower. The Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket V2 is one of them, but this jacket also struggles to find the balance between weather resistance and airflow.
The last weather condition we tested for was cold. Most of the jackets in this review are not insulated, and while they do make you warmer than you would be without them, the lightweight jackets that we tested are not designed for winter days. A few products stand out here, however, for their superior breathability-to-warmth ratios. The first of these is the Brooks Canopy. This jacket is an awesome companion for chilly spring or fall mornings. Next up is the Icebreaker Cool-Lite Rush which we found to be super comfortable, very breathable, and impressively warm. Last, we have the Arc'teryx Gaea. This is the only truly insulated jacket that we tested, and we were immediately impressed with how warm it kept us without sealing in sweat.
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we take our comfort seriously. We know that being comfortable leads to more excitement, which ultimately leads to more days outside and better performance. Comfort is a fairly personal category, but we used friends, colleagues, and other runners to provide feedback on the fit and feel of each jacket until we reached a consensus.
The Gaea, Rush, and Airshed achieved the highest scores in this category for their luxurious materials and awesome fits. Each of these jackets has a bit of stretch we felt aided in our mobility, and each was sized with the perfect balance between practical and stylish.
Like we anything we test, we still recommend trying on a garment before purchasing to make sure its fit works for you.
Running is well, pretty hard work. And we don't want our clothing to make it any harder. One of the key qualities of a running jacket, as opposed to a jacket you'd wear to run errands and go on a hike, is portability. There are two key factors that constitute a portable jacket: weight and packability. We scored each product based on a combination of these two qualities.
The most portable jacket we tested was without a doubt the Brooks LSD. At under three ounces, it was one of the lightest jackets we reviewed, and its elastic armband made it uniquely suited to runners. While most of the garments we tested fold away into their own pockets, only the LSD and Brooks Canopy have this armband for easy transport. The rest feature a clip loop which is great for many activities but not necessarily running.
Other notable mentions for portability were the North Face Flight RKT, Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite, and Airshed. If time is of the essence, or if you're traveling far and looking to cut down on ounces, this is a great category to pay extra attention to.
The devil is in the details, as they say, and our review team found this to be especially true with running jackets. These are the small characteristics that set each product apart from your everyday windbreaker or rain shell. If you're truly looking for a product to run with, this category is important. We wanted to know how each manufacturer thoughtfully planned for running and what features they included to improve the running experience.
If you run in urban areas, and especially if you run at night, we can't stress how important visibility is. We want our running layers to feature some reflective markings, especially on the back, to help drivers see us. If you run trails, or if you only run during the day, this may not be quite as important to you. Earning high marks for visibility were the Brooks LSD and Canopy for their long reflective stripes down the back, as well as the Altra Performance Half-Zip.
Another important feature we looked for was unique storage solutions. Zippered front pockets are great, but we generally preferred chest pockets for minimizing bounce. We also really liked the Gaea's rear, open stow pockets that provide easy access to snacks and accessories. A few of the jackets we tested, including the Gaea, even included media ports in their pockets that let you slip your headphones through your pocket to the inside of the jacket. It's smart touches like these that let us know the manufacturer really did have runners in mind.
Months of hands-on testing helped us learn a few things, and one of the most important lessons was how personal clothing can be. In spite of all the information we could give you, we still recommend that you think carefully about which metrics described above are most important to you and your running practice. We also urge you to try these jackets on before committing to a purchase, as every fit and every body is different.