The Best Jackets for the Worst Weather
Wind- and waterproof shells for runners
Courtesy of Ultimate Direction
Whether it’s the fluffy snowfall of the Colorado Rockies or the pathologically hard rains of a Midwestern monsoon, most trail runners have to contend with wet, chilly weather. But whatever the heavens unleash, there’s probably a jacket for it. (Here's more on waterproof, water-resistant and other fabrics.) From impregnable waterproofs to ultrathin shells, here are some of our favorites.
Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket
$180 / 5.9 oz / Waterproof
Ultimate Direction prefers the term “wearable gear” to “apparel,” and the focus on functionality is evident in the Ultra Jacket. It’s extremely light for a waterproof piece, and the fit is perfectly tailored for running—neither baggy enough to flap around nor tight enough to constrict a natural range of motion. A visored hood and stowable “FlipMitts” keep water off the extremities. A waterproof inner pocket fits an iPhone 6.
With mesh underarm and hood vents and a relatively thin construction, the Ultra Jacket is fairly breathable for such a protective jacket. It was comfortable during a consistently rainy run in the 30s, though (like other waterproof-breathables) led to overheating in warmer temps. It’s also a great emergency layer for long, summer mountain runs.
Salomon S-Lab Hybrid
$230 / 4.8 oz / Partially waterproof
This hybrid jacket uses waterproofing where it counts most—hood, front panel, shoulders, upper back, sleeve tops—balanced with a stretchier, more breathable fabric in high sweat zones like the underarms, sides and back. The effect is a balance between weather protection and breathability, for lighter rains, warmer days or more intense efforts.
A three-quarter-zip, the S-Lab Hybrid opens down to its elastic hem. Even when unzipped, the jacket stays on securely because of the hem and a chest-level button fastener. Similarly, an attached elastic headband keeps the hood perfectly in place—a great design feature, contrasted with other hoods that can fly off or flap about unless zipped up to the chin. In practice, by allowing you to run with the front fully unzipped, these innovative features further enhance the S-Lab Hybrid’s breathability and make it a highly versatile jacket.
Brooks Seattle Shell
$260 / 16.3 oz / Waterproof
Brooks’s DriLayer SuperSeal is surprisingly stretchy for a waterproof fabric; it doesn’t have the typical hard, crinkly feel. That stretch, plus a well-tailored casual fit, allows for uninhibited range of motion when wearing the Seattle Shell. It also makes this one of the most comfortable jackets, on or off the run, that we tried. The hood is kept secure by its elastic hem, and—one of our favorite features—zips into the collar when not in use.
The tradeoff is that the Seattle Shell is heavy for a running jacket, even a waterproof one. Though not cumbersome while worn, it’s not something you can easily stuff in a running pack. In testing, it also felt less breathable than its lighter, thinner counterparts, though unzipping the two mesh back vents helped significantly. This jacket will perform best in cold, constant rain and snow—though with its comfortable feel and casual look, it may find a place in your everyday wardrobe as well.
Nike Hyper Shield Light Running Jacket
$300 / 8.5 oz / Waterproof
The Hyper Shield offers various points of adjustability, allowing for a high degree of customization when it comes to both fit and breathability. The hood can be pulled tight (and fits extra securely, thanks to a key bit of elastic); it also zips off entirely. Velcro on the cuffs allows them to be tightened for weather protection, and loosened to accommodate extra layers or a watch, or to push up your sleeves a bit when the rain abates.
When it comes to breathability, large underarm vents zip open. In the front, a double zipper allows the jacket to open from the bottom as well as the top; there’s also venting in the back.
The Hyper Shield fits well, and true to size. Our only complaint was that the underarm zippers were sometimes too noticeable while running; that detracted a bit from comfort, though not prohibitively so. One tradeoff for the extra functionality is that it adds a bit of weight, making the Hyper Shield a few ounces heavier than competing waterproof running jackets on the ultralight end of the spectrum.
The North Face Ultra Lite WP Short-Sleeve
$150 / 4.9 oz / Waterproof
This jacket is meant for those wet but warmer runs where, five minutes in, you start pushing up your sleeves. The waterproofing will keep your core from getting soaked, but the short sleeves and venting in the back allow for decent breathability.
The drawback of the design is obvious—if you’re wearing long-sleeve baselayers, they will get soaked—but it’s a good option for rainy summer days or as emergency weather protection. Plus, running in short-sleeved jacket feels oddly liberating.
$99 / 3.6 oz / Wind- and water-resistant
As its name implies, the Houdini is designed for graceful escape from adverse conditions. The breathable, paper-thin fabric blocks wind and light rain (though not heavy, prolonged precip), making it a go-to for drizzly spring days, gusty 12,000-foot ridgelines and everything in between.
The Houdini fits extremely well: no constriction or excessive bagginess, but roomy enough to be worn over a few layers. Both the hem and the hood can be cinched down for added security. To make packing simpler, it stuffs into its own change-purse-sized pocket.
Altra Stash Jack
$130 / 3.4 oz / Wind- and water-resistant
Part of shoe company Altra’s expansion into apparel, the Stash Jack is, uniquely, designed to be worn over a pack or vest. Picture a standard half-zip windbreaker with a large oval hole in the back.
As a specialized piece, the Stash Jack shouldn’t be the first running shell you buy. But for those who often venture out with a pack in finicky conditions—say, unsupported five-hour mountain runs—it makes a lot of sense. The open back, fastened by Velcro at the bottom, makes it as easy to get on and off as a hospital gown. The jacket packs into a small pouch that can be worn fanny-pack-style—a nice touch, as taking off your pack to root around for another layer would defeat the Stash Jack’s whole raison d’être. The fit in the chest is roomy enough for small flasks stuffed into a vest’s front straps.
Because the gap in back is large enough to fit any pack you could conceivably run with, it leaves a lot of space open in the lower back. Often, the added breathability in a high-sweat area will be welcome, but the extra weather vulnerability could be an issue in certain conditions.
Salomon Fast Wing Hoodie
$110 / 2.9 oz / Wind- and water-resistant
At a shade under three ounces, this translucent wind shell is light even for its already ultralight category. As with Salomon’s Hybrid Jacket (see above), our favorite feature of the Fast Wing Hoodie is how securely it stays on, even when mostly unzipped, due to a chest-level snap and an elastic band on the hood. However, with the Fast Wing Hoodie, this comes with a drawback: The snap takes some effort to undo, and, because the jacket’s fabric is so thin for breathability, pulling at it too hard can cause tearing and even rip the fastener out.
The fit is comfortable—not too loose, not too tight—but runs somewhat small overall; consider sizing up.
Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier Convertible Jacket
$110 (women’s); $125 (men’s) / 8.8 oz / Wind- and water-resistant
This light wind shell is unique in that its sleeves zip off (and can be comfortably stashed in the back pocket), converting the jacket to a vest. That process, which uses small underarm zippers and velcro at the neck, is simple and can be done mid-run. The reverse is a bit trickier, though; the sleeves are not easy to zip back on without first taking the whole garment off, making it best suited for an early-morning run that starts to warm up.
The uber-thin fabric blocks wind and light rain (though won’t hold up in a downpour), while the jacket’s back and underarm venting add decent breathability. At almost nine ounces, it's on the heavy side for a wind-blocking running shell, partly due to the extra zippers and fabric layers required by the zip-off system.
The Elite Barrier Convertible runs small, so consider sizing up; otherwise, the fit may feel overly tight in the chest and under the arms.
- Kat McNeill
A version of this review appears in our March 2016 issue.