Winter running jackets present an eternal challenge for clothing designers. The primary objective is to balance two competing needs: enough insulation to keep you warm in frigid conditions, but enough ventilation to keep you from overheating with exertion. Comfortable material construction and creative design elements are obviously desirable as well. This winter, we’ve tested six jackets that provide varying degrees of cold weather protection and weather resistance to keep you running comfortably through the harsh elements.
In previous years, the Patagonia R1 Full-Zip (380g, $159) has been marketed more as a skiing or climbing jacket than a trail running garment, but some key design updates this year make it ideal for aerobic activity with high exertion. The fabric construction consists of lightweight Polartec Power Grid fleece in a waffle design that is highly breathable and wicks moisture effectively, while remaining durable enough for its original purpose of rock climbing. True to Patagonia’s environmental ethos, the R1’s bluesign-approved Power Grid fleece is comprised of 93% recycled polyester along with 7% spandex to add stretch properties. The torso runs long and has a slim fit for easy layering under a shell if necessary, but the stretch capacity allows full freedom of mobility. Shoulder seams and dual handwarmer pockets are positioned for compatibility with a hydration pack, and there are interior stash pockets on the inside of the front panels. One of the best qualities of this jacket is the use of Polygiene permanent odor control, which means you can log crazy mileage in the R1 before it needs a bath. By increasing breathability and decreasing its weight from last year’s version, Patagonia has turned the R1 into a very comfortable and versatile addition to its trail running apparel lineup.
With a classic softshell appearance but innovative technology under the hood, the Mizuno Breath Thermo Softshell (365g, $150) aims to redefine the parameters of insulation from lightweight materials. Its external shell is 100% polyester Impermalite fabric that provides wind and water resistance, along with a dynamic stretch component and microscopic holes for strong breathability. The interior uses the namesake Breath Thermo fabric, which employs a chemical reaction to generate heat from the absorption of moisture. The effect is that the jacket provides more insulation after you’re warmed up than it does when first heading out the door. Thoughtful detail accents include a hi-vis zipper, extensive reflective overlays at the distal sleeves, and a vertical chest zip pocket in addition to two zippered hand pockets.
The best insulation to weight ratio in our review is found in the Arc’teryx Argus (385g, $199), which is intended for high intensity activities in moderate to cold winter conditions. The exterior fabric uses a 20 denier, breathable 100% nylon ripstop with wind resistance and Durable Water Repellant (DWR) finish to resist light moisture on the shoulders and front panels. Most of the back panel consists of a moisture-wicking, breathable stretch fabric of 84% polyester and 16% elastane that has a soft brushed surface and a Polygiene finish to combat odor. Inside, the Argus uses Polartec Alpha synthetic insulation, which provides outstanding warmth; this insulation has knit construction that maintains loft for improved evaporation and moisture transport to prevent overheating. However, the insulation doesn’t feel bulky, and the jacket keeps a relatively low profile during activity. In addition to impressive warmth and effective thermoregulation, the Argus has several creative design elements that we love from a functional standpoint. Elastic stash pockets on either flank are easy to access with gloved hands, and are big enough to hold a stocking hat, headlamp or energy bars. An interior MP3 holder inside the front zipper pocket allows you to keep tunes or podcasts close at hand. Retractable thumbholes at the cuffs give you the option of extended coverage inside your gloves, and the drop back hem with drawcord closure provides full coverage and seals the cold away from the torso.
The heavyweight jacket in our group is the New Balance Heat Hybrid (650g, $200), which easily provides enough insulation to get you through the most frigid winter workouts. This jacket uses the same Polartec Alpha fill used in the Arc’teryx Argus, but with thicker overall distribution to provide maximal insulation. The main panels are quilted with a ripstop nylon shell that blocks wind and precipitation in the most exposed areas. To prevent excess heat retention, thin and stretchy NB Dry fabric runs down the torso, the entire underside of the arms, all the way around the wrist cuffs and across the shoulder blade region. This material provides moisture-wicking performance as well as ventilation. The same quilted paneling found on the body of the jacket is used in the hood, which is adjustable and keeps your head just as warm as wearing a stocking hat. Two zippered hand pockets are hidden by overlays of insulated material, and the hemline has an elastic cord closure to further trap heat. The Heat Hybrid is built for hardcore winter running and is the most formidable in our test group in its ability to protect you from the cold.
One of our favorite new companies on the outdoor scene is Cotopaxi, who have made gradual inroads into trail running apparel over the past year. Their Tikal Active Shell (283g, $150) was originally designed as a waterproof breathable running shell but is now marketed as a “do anything” piece because of its versatility. We wore this piece comfortably over a t-shirt for warm-weather rainy runs, but the torso cut is generous enough to work over a fleece or synthetic down midlayer when needed. The Tikal utilizes a fully taped 2.5-layer waterproof shell fabric with four-way stretch for unrestricted movement, and perforated underarm panels help with venting. A three-way adjustable hood is generous enough to fit over a trucker hat, but cinches down securely to stay in place; it also has a thin laminated visor to keep rain off your face in case you forgot your trucker hat (for shame!). Two zippered hand pockets help with small item storage, and the center zipper is protected by a Velcro flap to prevent water or air intrusion. The Tikal is certainly the most stylish running shell we’ve tested, and would be perfectly appropriate for everyday casual wear in addition to providing weather protection on the trail.
A much more lightweight and minimalist waterproof shell is the Salomon Bonatti WP (130g, $165), which was specifically created for travelling light and fast through the mountains. This is the lightest waterproof jacket in the Salomon lineup, and it compresses down into its chest pocket so you can easily stow it in a pack for mandatory gear checks at races, or just bring it along for easy insurance on long training days. The technology in the Bonatti is anything but minimalist, utilizing Salomon’s Advanced Skin Dry technologies for breathable weather protection on the exterior surface and enhanced moisture transfer in the interior. The MotionFit torso is relatively short and fairly slim, but articulated sleeves help accommodate full arm swing without feeling restricted. A Skin Fit hood has a thin visor, a form-fitted profile and elastic to hold it in place, but there’s no adjustment mechanism to customize the fit if needed. The cuffs and hemline are similarly non-adjustable, but they each have half-elasticized perimeters to help hold them in place. The Bonatti might be the most breathable waterproof jacket we’ve ever tested, making it ideal for maintaining your intensity when the weather turns hostile.