Our expert teams spent months in the field with all fifteen of these jacket contenders in order to provide you with the most reliable information possible. We first decided on five scoring metrics to use in our evaluations and then gave each product a score from 1-10 by directly comparing it to its competitors. We also gave these five metrics a percentage that would ultimately be used to calculate each jacket's total score out of one hundred. Because we found room for improvement in every product we tested, our favorite products had total scores in the mid-70s, the vast majority fell in the 60's, and the lowest scorers were in the 50's. Below, we describe exactly what we were looking for in each of the five testing metrics and explain what information we used to reach our decisions.
The testing process for breathability was entirely hands-on, direct comparison. We brought each jacket out into the field and ran up and down hills, in hot and humid weather. Our testers could frequently be found hiking and running around with a handful of jackets so they could try out many products in more controlled conditions. We learned that there were two factors that contributed to a jacket's overall breathability.Materials
Nearly all of the jackets in this review were made of either nylon or polyester, and both had pros and cons. The lighter nylon material of the Patagonia Airshed, for example, was incredibly breathable, while the North Face Flight RKT's nylon construction felt a bit like a trash bag. Unfortunately, labels didn't tell us much for this one, and we relied entirely on field testing to get our results. We do want to make a shout-out to the Icebreaker Cool-Lite Rush for its innovative merino wool interior that was the most inherently breathable material we tested.
The other thing a manufacturer can do to design a breathable jacket is to include thoughtfully placed vents. The Arc'teryx Cita SL, for example, has a lighter, more breathable material under the arms and on the back. We were wary of products, like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite that are one cohesive unit without any vents or deviations.
In an ideal world, every time we stepped out the door to run, the sky would part, the sun would shine, and birds would be singing. In California, that's kind of true, but we know it's not the case for everyone. Instead of canceling our workouts, we decided to find the jacket with the best weather protection so that we never have to miss a run. There are a few different types of inclement weather that we wanted to test for, so once again we marched off to the hills with as many jackets we could carry to see how these products held up in the real world.Wind
The majority of jackets in this review probably look to you like windbreakers, which is probably because they are. Most of the jackets we tested did a phenomenal job at blocking wind, but often this came at the detriment of breathability. While we wanted to score each jacket on its ability to block wind, it's also important to note the balance between these two characteristics. Our favorite jackets, like the Brooks Canopy, somehow were able to keep wind out and cool air in.Rain
None of the jackets we tested in this review are full-fledged rain jackets, and all of them will eventually become saturated if out in a downpour for too long. In order to test for rain resistance, then, we opted to spray each jacket with small amounts of water to see how well the materials were able to repel the moisture. Once again, rain resistance often comes with decreased breathability, as seen with the Salomon Lighting Race and Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta. Most of the jackets in this review with high scores in this category are going to be great for surprise showers and sprinkles, but you'll likely be disappointed using them in a storm.
If you're looking for a breathable layer to wear during really cold conditions, this might not be the best review for you, as we dedicated an entire article to finding the best women's insulated jackets. However, we did find a few contenders that are awesome companions for when the temperatures start to drop. The lighter jackets in this review have no insulation but do provide a little bit of protection. The Brooks Canopy is an excellent layer that is a bit warmer than some of the lightest models we tested. One step up from this is the Icebreaker Rush, and the warmest jacket we tried was the Arc'teryx Gaea.
Comfort can be a pretty subjective thing, so we needed to devise a solution to offset our own opinions. We decided the best way to do this was to increase our sample size, so we gave these jackets to friends, colleagues, and fellow runners to get feedback on their fit, mobility, and materials.
Our favorite jackets were soft and smooth to the touch. Whether it was polyester, nylon, or wool, we awarded high marks for products that felt luxurious. We also wanted to reward a great fit, so evaluated each jacket based on its sizing. The highest scorers in this review were either stretchy or built with enough room to move freely. We quickly docked points for jackets that were too tight in the shoulders.
Running is hard enough already, and we don't want to invest in any products that are going to make our jobs harder. To us, this means shedding ounces and finding jackets that pack away easily. This category had two components that often, but not always, went hand in hand.Weight
Weight is an easy property to test for. We placed each product on a scale and record the results. The lightest jackets in this review were less than three ounces, and the heaviest were over ten ounces.
Our testers found it crucial that a running jacket is able to pack away easily. Many of the layers we tested have pockets and are able to pack themselves away easily. We packed and unpacked each of these jackets to see which were the easiest to operate. While the majority of the packable jackets had a loop to clip, we found this to be more useful to climbing or hiking than it is to running. Two jackets we tested, the Brooks LSD and Canopy had ingenious elastic armbands that could be used for easy transport. We couldn't get enough of this feature and rewarded these jackets generously.
There are a variety of features that our team identified can easily transform an everyday windbreaker or jacket into a true running item. We describe more of what these are in our Buying Advice article, but the process was fairly simple. We dedicated ourselves to getting to know every little feature of these jackets. Our testers wore them everywhere they went, learning all their ins and outs and judging them, as always, side-by-side. We looked for visibility, storage, media adaptability, hoods, and thumb loops primarily, also making notes of each jacket's unique characteristics that appeal specifically to runners.