Best Running Jackets for Women of 2021
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|Pros||Super comfortable, breathable||Weather-proof, comfortable, well-featured||Lightweight, comfortable, flattering, breathable, semi water-resistant||Breathable, comfortable, great features||Incredibly lightweight, breathable|
|Cons||Less weather protection, no pockets||Expensive, less breathable||Not very warm||Not the warmest||Few features, no hood|
|Bottom Line||This is a wildly comfortable and breathable jacket that's simple and effective||If you regularly run in the rain, you won't be disappointed with this ultralight Gore-Tex superstar||An affordable and surprisingly functional running jacket that is loaded with unexpected features||A comfortable, breathable jacket that is well-equipped with great features for any runner||An incredibly light and breathable jacket ideal for fast and light alpine missions|
|Rating Categories||Patagonia Airshed P...||Arc'teryx Norvan SL...||Salomon Agile Full-...||Smartwool Merino Sp...||Arc'teryx Cita SL -...|
|Weather Resistance (20%)|
|Comfort And Mobility (20%)|
|Specs||Patagonia Airshed P...||Arc'teryx Norvan SL...||Salomon Agile Full-...||Smartwool Merino Sp...||Arc'teryx Cita SL -...|
|Measured Weight (ounces, size Small)||4.1 oz||4.1 oz||5.2 oz||5.1 oz||2.3 oz|
|Number of Pockets||0||0||2||2||1|
|Main Material||Capilene Cool polyester in sleeves and hood, nylon stretch taffeta shell||GORE-TEX ShakeDry||88% polyester, 12% elastane, DWR finish||Main body: 100% recycled nylon
Trim/lining: 54% Merino Wool, 46% Polyester
|50% nylon, 50% polyester|
|Unique Features||Two-way zipper||Weather resistant body, not sleeves. Very thick, dual-material||Lightweight||Merino wool panels, reflective material, media port||Two materials, sturdy collar|
|Vent Type||Under arms||None||None||Back and underarms||Back and underarms|
Best Overall Women's Running Jacket
Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoody - Women's
One of our favorite all-time running products is, hands-down, the Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoody. We're amazed by its functional and thoughtful breathability features. The merino wool panels along the underarms and back keep air flowing without compromising weather protection. We love this jacket's soft, smooth feel and found it to have an incredible amount of features. Excellent reflectivity, smart pockets, and the ability to stow it into its pocket make this an easy choice for our top slot.
On the other hand, the Merino Sport isn't the lightest jacket we tested. At 5.1 ounces for a women's size small, a few jackets in this review are noticeably lighter — even one that's half the weight of this one. This might not be the best choice for you if you're looking to carry a feather-light jacket and only whip it out in an emergency. But if you're heading out for a big mission and the weather is chilly, this is our first choice as the best all-around jacket.
Read review: Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoody - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Salomon Agile Full-Zip Hoodie - Women's
The Salomon Agile Full-Zip Hoodie was love at first sight, or at least at first wear. This love affair continued through long trail runs and post-run happy hours alike. This breathable and lightweight jacket is affordable and makes a great addition to daily runs on trails, roads, and tracks. We find ourselves reaching for it for more than just our runs.
The Salomon Agile is a bit less weather-resistant than some of the more aggressive options we tested. It can easily deflect a light sprinkle, but its exterior isn't hearty enough to withstand a torrential downpour. If you want a lightweight, relatively packable running jacket that looks good and doesn't cost you a limb, the Agile is an excellent choice.
Read review: Salomon Agile Full-Zip Hoodie - Women's
Best for Lightweight Comfort
Patagonia Airshed Pro Pullover - Women's
As it's a newly released version of one of our old favorites, we were excited to check out this year's Patagonia Airshed Pro. We found a fantastic 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 one of our favorites for comfort.
This jacket doesn't hold up very well in the rain since it is comprised of soft, stretchy fabrics. The Patagonia Airshed doesn't have any pockets or added features. Despite being somewhat basic in design, it doesn't lack comfort. We truly never want to take it off. This might not be the first choice for runners in the PNW, but if you're looking for a cozy layer for chilly days or a light layer for warmer days, the Airshed Pro will be a great choice.
Read review: Patagonia Airshed Pro Pullover - Women's
Best for Ultralight Adventures
Arc'teryx Cita SL - Women's
The Arc'teryx Cita SL is an exceptional backcountry piece that's perfect for fast-and-light missions. This is one of the lightest jackets we've ever tested, weighing in at a hardly noticeable 2.3 ounces. It packs into its pocket with ease and without the need for a zipper, shaving ounces. We find this piece to be super breathable, with excellently placed nylon vents under the arms and along the back. It's also comfortable and on top of it all, surprisingly affordable.
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 an excellent choice for an emergency shell to throw in your pack, not necessarily what you'd pick for a long day out in bad weather. Nonetheless, the Cita's value cannot be understated if you're the type to count every gram of gear before heading out.
Read review: Arc'teryx Cita SL - Women's
Arc'teryx Norvan SL Hoody - Women's
The Arc'teryx Norvan SL Hoody is other-worldly when it comes to the protection it provides. Its Gore-Tex ShakeDry exterior and thoughtful, weather-proofing details make this our favorite jacket for running in inclement weather. The elastic bits around the wrist cuffs and waist cuff add further weather protection while the adjustable, gently brimmed hood keeps water away from your face. These elements come together to create a burly, rugged adventure cloak that will protect you on the trails. If you don't want to make up excuses for not getting out, even in the rain, this jacket will keep you accountable.
The main drawback of the Arc'teryx Norvan SL Hoody is its hefty price tag. We are total gearheads and don't mind coughing up cash on products that deliver when it really counts. However, if you are looking for a budget buy, this protective jacket won't be the match for you. Additionally, the extreme wind and waterproofing come at the cost of breathability. Though lightweight, this jacket won't cross over into sunny day runs very well.
Read review: Arc'teryx Norvan SL Hoody - Women's
Best for Long-Distance Racing in the Rain
Patagonia Storm Racer - Women's
The super unique Patagonia Storm Racer jacket 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 recognize that if the rain is really coming down on race day, you need something to get you through. Despite not being what the average runner might need, this jacket is innovative and we appreciated the design for those who need it the most.
Though not exceptionally breathable, this jacket's dual front zippers do allow for some ventilation. And while it's good at what it was designed for, it is not very versatile beyond that. It's definitely a niche piece — and an expensive one at that. That being said, if you're an ultra junkie awaiting a stormy day, this was made for you.
Read review: Patagonia Storm Racer - Women's
Why Should You Trust Us?
This review is brought to you by lead testers Ally Arcuri and Lauren DeLaunay. Ally is an expert in running jackets and is no stranger to running in the cold, having grown up in South Lake Tahoe, CA. In fact, she says that some of her best mountainous runs have been on days that offer a bit of a refreshing drizzle. Ally lives in a renovated RV full time and is currently stationed in Seattle, using the predominately wet Pacific Northwest weather to her advantage in spearheading this review. In addition to her excessive trail and road running habits, Ally earned her Bachelor's degree in Kinesiology from Cal State Fullerton. Combined with her 200-hour Yoga Teaching certificate, this degree comes in handy when surveying the biomechanical prowess of different running gear. When she isn't bounding down trails or along coastlines, Ally can be found snuggling up with her dog, Brady, and reading Harry Potter.
Lauren is also an expert when it comes to running jackets. Primarily living out of a tent cabin in Yosemite Valley's Camp 4, she spends a lot of time on the trails. Bouncing between the high Rockies, the canyons of Utah, and California's granite walls, she gets to test gear in a wide range of conditions.
Testing running jackets might be our dream job. It requires strict attention to detail and the bravery to lace up our kicks regardless of the unappealing wind, rain, or snow. We've taken the time to truly analyze the architecture of each product and look at each metric with fresh, unforgiving eyes. When the weather turns from bluebird days to stormy and seductive, we get outside and run through it all. Out testing plan always includes multiple runs in a range of climates, from steep, uphill runs in the sweltering heat of San Luis Obispo, CA, to winter track days in West Seattle, WA. After months of hands-on testing, we've identified our favorite jackets and are excited to help you find the perfect shell for your journeys.
Analysis and Test Results
It only takes one big rainstorm or an accidental run in the stifling heat to realize the importance of the correct layers for every occasion. If you're like us, having the right piece of gear for various climates is crucial. We take our workouts very seriously and refuse to let some inclement weather derail our predetermined plans. We know that comfort is essential to running performance and overall well-being, 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. We painstakingly tested each metric to determine which jackets deserve a place in our closets and hearts for the long term.
In the early stages of our product testing, we do our best to ignore the price tag and focus on each product's performance. We want to know which jackets are genuinely the best, regardless of how much they might break the bank. We know that price is important to nearly every buyer, so we also want to discuss value. We analyze how well this gear holds up after a bout of abuse (the simulation of general wear and tear) and how often they will be useful. We don't mind spending more on gear that can be used in a variety of different scenarios.
We bestowed our top honor for value on the very deserving Salomon Agile this time around. This wallet-friendly shell is lightweight, super comfortable, well-featured, and flattering. It isn't the most protective out of our collection of running jackets, but it performs incredibly well for the price.
Sometimes, a particular product trait is essential for you. For instance, the more expensive Patagonia Storm Racer might be worth it if you're gearing up for a huge ultramarathon in a place known for rain. Similarly, the Arc'teryx Cita and Arc'teryx Norvan both have high price tags that might be easier to swallow if lightweight or soaking-wet missions are your jam.
Whether you're just getting into the game or are a seasoned ultramarathon runner, running is going to make you work up a sweat, which is why your choice of layers is so incredibly important. In fact, breathability makes up 30% of each jacket's overall score.
Breathability describes a garment's ability to allow air to flow freely through it. When you're in motion, your body sweats to stay cool. For the sweat to begin to evaporate, you 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. We don't want to run in a trash bag nor a plastic-y outer layer that doesn't allow our sweat to flow freely. We want our skin to stay as cool and dry as possible, which requires unique and skillfully engineered materials.
We found jackets with a wide array of breathability scores during our testing. The most breathable jackets were often ones with thoughtfully-placed panels, like the Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra-Light and the Patagonia Airshed Pro, both of which have panels of different material along the back and under the arms to help air move through the places where you heat up the most. We often find that breathability comes at the cost of weather protection, which we considered while assigning scores in this metric.
Throughout our testing, we found a range of breathability scores. Lightweight products made of inherently breathable materials, like the Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light, the Patagonia Airshed Pro, and the Cita SL land at the top of the list. All three of these options do their best to protect from wet weather, but they all seem to prioritize unparalleled breathability.
Another way to allow for ventilation in a running jacket is to punch well-placed holes and place grommets in them. This acts in just the way you'd expect — the air can travel in and out, but if the holes are under the arms, for example, wet weather has a tough time infiltrating. This venting style tends to be our second favorite in terms of breathability but shines when the weather turns downright arctic. We find that breathable materials are the best way to help regulate body temperature while on the move. We love the half-zip option of the Patagonia Airshed. You can always increase airflow by wearing your zipper slightly undone, which we found comfortable while running in the Lululemon Fast and Free jacket.
If we had it our way, we'd only ever have to run under clear skies on the beach in 65-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. But everyone has to put up with less than ideal conditions occasionally (or frequently, depending on your locality). Whether that's wind, rain, snow, or cold temps, jackets are meant to protect us from these elements. We took one for the team here, over and over again, and ran through it all to determine which running jackets offer protection and which are more style-minded.
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 Arc'teryx Norvan SL Hoody and the Patagonia Storm Racer are two of our most weather-resistant jackets, but because of their burliness, their breathability scores suffer. The Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light and Patagonia Airshed Pro are significantly better in terms of breathability, but neither 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 North Face Winter Warm Insulated Pullover, whose heavier material makes for a great addition to cool weather. This jacket offers a semi-plush layer with a weather-resistant panel on the torso and warm and well-fitted sleeves with built-in thumb holes. The Winter Warm doesn't offer much breathability, but it wears well under a waterproof shell, making it a good investment for cooler weather.
The most weather-resistant jacket in our roundup is, hands down, the Arc'teryx Norvan SL Hoody. As anticipated, it is slightly less breathable, but if wind and water repellence are what you're after, we can't recommend the Norvan enough.
Comfort and Mobility
We have chosen to give comfort and mobility a prominent place in our review. 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. Second, we realize how much comfort increases our enthusiasm for running, thereby helping us get out the door and get our runs in. Mobility is also crucial in having a good time while you're out laying down the miles. If your layer doesn't move and stretch with you, you'll pay more attention to your clothes than the rocks underfoot, the beautiful scenery, or the rhythm of your breath.
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 Smartwool Merino Sport and Patagonia Airshed Pro, both of which have super luxurious interiors. Both of these lightweight layers offer a bit of stretch, allowing them to be the perfect partners for adventurous days in moderate climates.
This time around, we did a lot of our testing in the rainy Pacific Northwest. We have developed a fondness for comfort jackets that are truly weather-repellent. We love the lightweight and protective shell that is the Salomon Agile Full-Zip Hoodie. This comfortable sidekick has a well-designed hood to keep you covered if the weather turns, but you aren't ready to quit.
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 this collection of running jackets, however, we came to a different, runner-oriented 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 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 other activities. Because of this, you'll find yourself noticing the weight of your garments more during a run than you would during an evening stroll or even a cross-country mountain bike ride. We scrutinized each jacket's weight 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 nine ounces. The unsurprising element here, though — the warmer jackets typically weighed in higher than those that offer less insulation.
We often face various temperatures and weather patterns during any given run, especially in mountainous environments. 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 of the possible variations in conditions, you want a jacket that can stow away easily when no longer needed. For years, we have crumpled our jackets up on runs and lumpily stuffed them into our packs. We have left jackets on trail signs and under rocks. We have tied our jackets around our waists only to come home covered in ticks because the fabric dragged across tall grass for hours. Quite a few of the jackets we tested fold into their own pockets for easy storage, a feature that we wildly appreciate. Even the ones that do not specifically state that they can be folded into their own pockets can be stored that way, for the most part.
The most impressively portable jacket in this review is the Cita SL. This jacket weighs just 2.3 ounces and packs into its 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. We were also impressed with the Brooks Canopy While this jacket isn't the lightest or our favorite by any means, it has a hidden mesh pocket that you can stuff the jacket into. It transforms into its own backpack. This is a unique solution that lets us forget about tying our jackets around our waists. This creative feature is excellent for shorter runs but was less practical for trail runs with our hydration vests.
A few other portable favorites are the Arc'teryx Norvan SL Hoody and the Patagonia Airshed Pro. Both options come with their own stuff sacks that take up a fist's amount of space in your pack. Furthermore, they both weigh in on the lower end of the spectrum, making them that much more packable.
Months ago, when we were making our picks for which jackets we'd test hands-on, we found many products that claimed to be made for running. We learned that true running jackets feature a few critical features designed specifically for running. We used this scoring category to rate each jacket on how well designed the small details are.
One of the more important safety 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 higher scores to jackets with ample reflectivity, especially on the back. The most visible jackets we tested are the Smartwool Merino Sport and Lululemon Fast and Free. The Nike Essential Jacket and the Salomon Agile Full-Zip both offer reflective elements that are pretty rad as well.
Another detail we look for in these products is unique storage solutions. Running may seem like a carefree sport, but when you're taking it seriously, the items needed to come along for the ride add up. We prefer zip-closure chest pockets to side pockets to minimize bounce. Because of its sleek cut and svelte fit, the Lululemon Fast and Free jacket's pockets are some of our favorites. Since the gear is held close to your body, it cuts down on bounce and subsequent annoyance. This jacket even has a back panel that is split into three segments for stashing nutrition on the go. We love this thoughtful feature.
Thumb loops are a great feature to find in a running jacket. We love the cozy, snuggly sensation of keeping our wrists and palms warm. We love the stretchy and thumb-housing sleeves on The North Face Winter Warm Insulated Pullover. Before testing this collection of popular jackets, we would have said that thumb holes were non-negotiable — we needed them. Upon testing so many high-quality jackets, though, we learned that it isn't always the thumb holes that set the sleeves apart from their competition. We love the length and fit of the Salomon Agile Full-Zip and the Patagonia Airshed Pro. Both jackets offer a gentle elastic at the cuff, which keeps sleeves in place without thumb holes.
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 hoods on the Brooks Canopy and the Arc'teryx Norvan SL Hoody fold away when head protection is unnecessary. We like the stretch and comfort of the hoods on the Patagonia Airshed Pro, though it's not great for rain. We also love the comfortable hood on the Salomon Agile Full-Zip, as we mentioned above. Our team generally prefers a hood-less layer in combination with a hat for head protection. That being said, if it's actively raining or snowing, a strong brim like the ones on the Arc'teryx Norvan SL does a great job at keeping the rain out of your eyes. Because the Norvan is a Gore-Tex jacket, and we typically reach for it on the wettest of days, we truly do love having a hood on this jacket.
Running can get complicated. That's why we did this deep dive into the world of lightweight running jackets — so you don't have to. The top-notch running layers are here to make the tough days easier, the cold days more bearable, and the windy days more comfortable. We spent months testing these pieces, running in the galeforce wind in Patagonia, the unrelenting sunshine in California, and the pounding rain in Washington. We evaluated each jacket's 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. No matter what sort of piece you're looking for, from insulated winter layers to lightweight alpine shells, we've got you covered. We hope that our research helps you find your perfect running mate.
— Ally Arcuri & Lauren DeLaunay
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