Winter Running Jacket Decisions

Winter running season is finally upon us, judging from today’s temperatures and the impending nor’easter (the first flakes are starting to fall as I type this).

For this morning’s run, I managed in a short-sleeved shirt and my new arm warmers. They’re brilliant–like socks for my arms. They’re long enough so that there’s no gap between them and my gloves. I can roll them down as my arms get warm. I’m more comfortable in these and a shirt than in a heavy jacket.

But I’ll have a lot of running to do this winter, especially since I’m training for the Boston Marathon in April. And I don’t tolerate cold as well as I used to.

My current running jacket is from REI. It’s lightweight and really well designed, with one breast pocket, light fleece at the collar (for a cozy chin when it is all zipped up), a two-way zipper, and not much else. I bought it in 2004 or 2005. It tore once, on a branch, but I duct-taped it carefully and the duct tape and jacket have held up remarkably well over the years.

However, this jacket is not so good for rain. It is useless, in fact. I’m not slightly protected from the rain in this jacket; instead, I am immediately soaking wet, running in a soaking-wet jacket. I need better rain protection when I run.

Thus began my quest for the perfect running jacket.


  • Fit: Should be snug but not restrictive. 
  • Weatherproofing: Should be water-resistant but breathable. 
  • Pockets: Chest is best. Hands are optional. 
  • Sleeves: Should be long enough to cover part of hands. 
  • Visibility/Reflective Stuff: I don’t care. I mostly run trails and if I run on the road, it’s not at night. 

Here’s what I tried:

Brooks Nightlife Essential Hi-Viz Run Jacket (City Sports): I tried this in a size small first. Too narrow in the shoulders. I exchanged it for a medium. Still too narrow in the shoulders, and now too boxy on the rest of my body! I wanted to like this jacket. It’s bright and seems well-made and like the right weight. But besides the fit problems, it also lacks a chest pocket. It does have hand pockets, but I like a chest pocket. If you’re the right build, this would be a great jacket for night runs, but it was not the jacket for me.

Bottom Line: Good jacket, poor fit for me.

Brooks Essential Run Jacket II (Running Warehouse): Windproof, water-repellent. Not as glaringly bright as the Hi-Viz jacket, which can probably be seen from 3 miles away. It came in a lovely shade of teal, in fact. But it had the same fit problem as the other Brooks jacket–just too narrow in the shoulders. I like Brooks trail shoes, but their jackets just do not fit me quite right.

Bottom Line: Good jacket, poor fit for me.

The North Face Stormy Trail Jacket (Running Warehouse, $165): This is the most expensive jacket of the bunch. It’s also a really nice jacket. And like my beloved old REI jacket, it has just one pocket, at the chest. The sleeves are a little long, which I love, and the fit is great. It is 100% waterproof and 100% windproof. It boasts something called FlashDry, a fabric additive that aids moisture removal so that I wouldn’t be a big ball of sweat inside the jacket. However, the lining of this jacket feels really cold and clammy against bare skin. Since I’m often in a short-sleeved shirt under my jacket, this is something for me to consider.

Bottom Line: Fantastic jacket.

The North Face Apex Lite Jacket (Running Warehouse, $130): Did I mention I love The North Face products? I do. Smart design, great fit. This jacket features a reflective pattern on the front. Like the other North Face jacket, it has one chest pocket, no others. This jacket looks less water repellent and more breathable than the Stormy Trail jacket, and it is a closer fit. It still looks more water repellent than the Brooks jackets.

Bottom Line: Great jacket, though I prefer the fit of the Stormy Trail jacket better.

Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier Convertible Jacket (Road Runner Sports, $98): I like this. Comfortable fit, and it has chest and handwarmer pockets.*  It also has a pocket in the back, which could be good for stashing a hat once my head warms up (though I’m on the fence about pockets on my back; I usually find them uncomfortable with stuff in them). The sleeves zip off so this converts to a vest. One running friend swears by this jacket.

Bottom Line: Very appealing. Perhaps the best all-around running jacket, though I doubt it is as water-repellent as the Stormy Trail.

They’re all good jackets and would all be good on the trail in bad weather, but I think the North Face (either one) wins.

What’s your favorite winter/wet-weather running jacket? 

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