Top Coat: The 6 Best Running Jackets

Runners dream of a world where the road always rises up to meet them and the wind is always at their back. Sadly, with the current weather conditions varying from unpredictable to downright schizophrenic, the days and nights when your road work is going to be a comfortable delight are numbered. This doesn’t mean you can give up on your training routine and settle deep into your couch with your favorite cheesy snack, but rather that you must equip yourself with an amazing running jacket to keep your body marathon ready.

Selecting a jacket made for running is all about where you hang your hat. A high-altitude, cold weather jogger is going to need a much heavier jacket than someone in the southwest who thinks a layer of frost is the end of the world. Folks in the pacific northwest will want something to fight off the perpetual downpour while a road warrior living in the plains nation along tornado alley is going to need something to break the wind. Wherever you’re from, or wherever you’re going, one of our 6 best running jackets will get you there in comfortable style.

New Balance Hi-Viz Beacon

New Balance Hi-Viz Beacon

Pro: Multiple enhanced visibility methods
Con: Loose fit

Urban Commando: Stop! Do not look directly into the Beacon running jacket! If you haven’t burned out your corneas and can still read this, then you should know that this is meant for anyone who does their jogging in high-traffic areas where being visible is the difference between a relaxing run and ending up a bug splat on the side of the highway. In addition to the blinding neon coloration that makes the Vegas strip look tame, the Beacon also bears 360 degrees of reflective tape and a special glowing dot matrix that shows up like a Pink Floyd poster under a black light. A polyester and spandex body give you plenty of flex along with enough warmth and protection for crisp weather, light rains, and moderate winds. It’s meant to run a little large and be combined with a heavier inner layer for the dead of winter, but for true 3-season running when you’re living in the city, this covers all the bases. [Purchase: $100]

Patagonia Houdini

Patagonia Houdini

Pro: Extremely lightweight
Con: Not warm

Disappearing Act: Serious distance and cross-country runners know that when your idea of a fun run is to see how fast you can get to the opposite coast, you can’t afford to tote around any extra weight. The Houdini has a barely-there vibe that nonetheless will give you decent protection from basic wind and rain, though if you find yourself caught in a cold snap or a cloudburst this isn’t going to be much help unless you combine it with a warmer or waterproof layer either above or below. When not in use, this compacts down to about the size of a deck of cards to fit in the pocket of your travel backpack or shorts. Nylon ripstop fabric cuts through wind and resists water thanks to a special finish applied to the outside. Just one pull is all it takes to adjust the hood in case you get in over your head and need a little more protection. [Purchase: $103]

©Earl Harper

Outdoor Research Helium II

Pro: Excellent waterproofing
Con: Ugly as sin and noisy

Under Cover: Here’s the jacket for guys who are expecting a lot of wet pavement in their future, but won’t be seeing any truly low temperatures. It works for wet winters or for those who get April showers and need a spring or fall jacket. The intent here is to keep you dry rather than really warm. On the outside is a Pertex Shield that shrugs away water whether it comes as a light mist or the heavens open up to float that ark you’ve been fiddling with in the backyard. Every seam is tightly taped so that no fluid can find ingress, but your sweat will still evaporate thanks to the 30D DS ripstop fabric exterior. A drawstring hem and elastic cuffs cover the major holes while a fully adjustable hood complete with stiff bill to keep water out of your eyes handles your head and neck. The only trouble is that it is neither sexy nor very quiet. [Purchase: $105+]

Pearl Izumi Ultra Wind Blocking Jacket

Pearl Izumi Ultra Wind Blocking Jacket

Pro: Very minimal noise while in motion
Con: Tends to be very warm

Breeze Blocker: When a reputable company like Pearl Izumi puts the word “ultra” into their product title, it is worth taking note. This jacket breaks from the pack by using a soft shell exterior fabric to help cut down on wind and water without the use of a laminate or protective barrier. An ingenious solution that stops the swishing noise that many windbreaking jackets, not to mention the shiny exterior. The result is something slim and appealing that allows for speed and mobility that works not only for standard road running, but for those who like to strap on a pair of rock climbing shoes and tackle some ascents that take them high above where trees can protect them from errant gusts. The quadruple fabric layering is good for not only redirecting wind and water, but allows your body to breathe and sweat to slip away. [Purchase: $108+]

The North Face Animagi

The North Face Animagi

Pro: Insulates without overheating
Con: Does not work well in rain

Rocky Mountain High: Give thanks to the fine people at The North Face for finding a way to solve overheating problems in winter running jackets while still keeping your body warm enough that your sweat doesn’t freeze you stiff. Working more like a vest than a ski jacket, the core of the Animagi is insulated with a nylon ripstop fabric combined with sleeves that are a combination of elastane french terry knit and polyester that conforms to your body allowing a better range of motion and less heat retention. FlashDry wicking fibers handle the sweat from your underarms and keep your body dry. The sleeves have thumb holes to better fit into gloves but a lack of a hood or a way to close and tighten the hem make this fine for cold and snow, but not much for keeping out rain. [Purchase: $150]

Nike Element Shield Max

Nike Element Shield Max

Pro: Works in most conditions
Con: Interior lacks long-term durability

Around the World: You’re not going to find a running jacket that works for all conditions, but the Element Shield Max does a damn fine job of trying. The body is pure polyester to help keep the weight down, though this is far from a minimalist piece of kit. Water and wind are cut down to a minimum and coupled with a detachable drawcord hood and extended sleeves complete with thumb holes for fitting into gloves. A windflap covers the zipper and a grip strip on the bottom hem keeps it from riding and bunching as you move. Tested to below freezing temperatures, the brushed thermal lining will keep you warm while still giving you enough breathability that you won’t feel like you’re sweating bullets under a poncho. A relaxed fit with polyester and spandex stretch panels allow it to be coupled with a base layer if you somehow need even more warmth. [Purchase: $200]

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