For some, the falling snow and blistering winds mean it’s time to hang up their running shoes for the season. It’s time to switch gears, literally, to skis, snowboards, snowshoes and whatever else they might enjoy doing on snow and ice. For those who like to stick to their favourite activities all year round we’ve got you covered. Whether it’s swapping your road bike for a fat bike, or running straight through winter, we’ve got the apparel to get you through the cold. Here’s our list of the best winter running jackets.
How To Dress For Winter Running
Winter running is less about style and more about surviving the cold. The best approach is to go for layers so that you can dress up or down depending on the elements. Pair your winter running jacket with a good pair of running tights and a comfortable pair of winter running shoes for performance in the coldest and wettest conditions.
Best Overall Winter Running Jacket
The Atom LT Hoody by Arc'teryx is our best overall pick for a winter running jacket because it's got everything a runner would need. As a midlayer, it's one of the most versatile items in your wardrobe, and this one is insulated, moisture-wicking and breathable thanks to the Polartec Power Grid. Its lightweight fabric and technical fit give you everything you want in a running jacket.
Best Waterproof Winter Running Jacket
When the snow starts to fall and freezing rain is in the forecast, you'll want a jacket that can keep you dry. Enter the Flight FUTURELIGHT Jacket by The North Face. FUTURELIGHT is the latest technology from the outdoor apparel giants, and along with GORE-TEX, is the most durable, waterproof material available. Layer with a warm breathable fleece and you'll be ready to run through the coldest winter months.
Best Breathable Winter Running Shell
Breathability is essential for all winter runners. You want to stay protected against the elements, but when you start to sweat you need a fabric that can expel the warm air so you don't overheat. Having a jacket like the Norvan SL Hoody by Arc'teryx will make all the difference. It's breathable GORE-TEX with SHAKEDRY blocks wind and rain while remaining breathable, so you stay comfortable during the duration of your run.
Best Winter Running Fleece
If you want something lightweight and warm, look no further than the R1 Full-Zip Hoody by Patagonia. Fleece is one of the best insulators available because it will stay warm even when wet. It's also good at repelling water so you'll stay dry even when light snow starts to fall. That combined with the active fit and you've got the perfect midweight fleece hoodie to get you through those cold winter runs.
Best Cool Weather Running Jacket
When the temperature really drops but you're still itching to get out and run, you need something insulated like the Kor Cirrus Hybrid Hoody by Mountain Hardwear. The 20D stretch ripstop Pertex Quantum Air shell is windproof, and the Primaloft Gold Active insulation is able to maintain warmth even when it's wet.
Best Lightweight Winter Running Jacket
You've certainly heard of the expression light as a feather, and if you were looking for an example, the Weather Jacket by On is a perfect one. It sports a dual fabric design for weather resistance and proper ventilation where it is needed most. This means the right balance between protection, breathability and freedom of movement, all in an ultra-light package that feels like you are barely wearing anything at all.
Best GORE-TEX Winter Running Jacket
GORE-TEX has set the standard for durable weatherproof fabrics. The Pacer Jacket by Rab maintains the weatherproof standard by incorporating 13D GORE-TEX Active waterproof technology into the design. Paired with a YKK VISLON AquaGuard front zip and plenty of runner's features, you've got yourself a winter running jacket that can take on any conditions.
What to look for when buying a winter running jacket
There are six factors to consider when choosing a winter running jacket. Among them are breathability, weather protection, weight, warmth/insulation, features, and safety. A jacket that ranks high in all these categories is essential for optimal cold weather running. Of course, the devil is in the details. Take a look below to discover precisely what to look for.
Breathability is an essential part of activewear—even in winter. The heat your body produces when active needs to circulate or you risk overheating. In cold weather, this problem is compounded since restricted breathability traps not only heat—but moisture.
In summer, overheating can be remedied by simply stopping; however, stopping in winter causes the trapped heat to become cold condensation. This moisture can lower your core temperature, putting you at risk for hypothermia.
So get something that breathes. Consider a running jacket that incorporates mesh. For instance, mesh side panels allow for excellent ventilation without sacrificing weather protection along the front, back, and arms of the garment.
You might also consider a two-way zipper. This lets you independently adjust air flow around either the waist or neck. Pit-zips are also a great way to expel heat without letting in excess cold.
When we speak of weather protection, we’re really talking about two things: wind resistance and waterproofing. Most winter running jackets are hardshells, meaning they’re constructed from a lightweight synthetic fiber that cuts wind and repels water. But hard shells do not provide any additional warmth.
If you’re looking for an insulated winter running jacket, opt for a soft shell instead. Soft shells don’t offer as much weather protection as their hardshell counterparts, but they’re substantially warmer.
If you’re indecisive, just ask yourself: What kind of days do I want to run on? Are you someone who avoids rain and snowstorms at all costs, but doesn’t mind the cold? If so, a soft shell is for you. Or perhaps you’re someone who runs no matter what the conditions? In this case, go for a hardshell—just make sure to layer appropriately!
Even during the summer months many runners prefer to run light. Naturally, gearing up for winter is going to add a few pounds. To keep weight at a minimum without jeopardizing safety, stick to a hardshell. Hardshells are notoriously lightweight due to the absence of insulation and their thin-walled construction.
Warmth & Insulation
Looking for a well-insulated running jacket? Then you’re looking for a soft shell. Keep your eyes out for two varieties: down and synthetic insulation. The former refers to goose feathers, renowned for their incredible warmth-to-weight ratio, while the latter is a catch-all term for any man-made fiber that mimics the properties of down.
Down insulated jackets are typically more expensive than their synthetic counterparts. If you opt for a down jacket, make sure the insulation has been ethically sourced. Companies like Patagonia use European, traceable down in their products. You can learn all about insulation in our Ultimate Insulation Guide.
To keep warm with a hardshell, make sure you wear thermally insulating mid- and baselayers. The hardshell won’t warm you directly but it’ll keep out wind and rain, allowing your other layers to perform at their best.
To make the most of cold weather running, you’ll want a high-performance jacket with minimal weight. If you’re an experienced runner, you already know exactly what features suit your needs. For novices, take the time to consider what matters most to you.
Here are some common features to consider:
- Hood: This is a must. A hood allows your head to retain more heat while keeping the wind, rain, and snow out. If possible, choose a jacket with a cinchable hood; you’ll be able to make micro-adjustments depending on the weather. A cinch also ensures your hood stays in place on especially windy days!
- Pockets: This comes down to preference. If you’re planning to use your jacket strictly for running, something with a single, zippered chest pocket is perfect: you’ll be able to store a few items without weighing yourself down.
For longer distances on remote trails, extra pockets are a nice way to bring along other gear you may need. Two zippered hand pockets can be used for storage or to warm your hands.
- Cinchable waist: A cinchable waist permits you to adjust airflow around your hips. If you’re wearing many layers, the waist can be loosened to accommodate the thickness of your mid- and baselayers.
- VELCRO cuffs: Similar in function to a cinchable hood or waist, VELCRO cuffs permit you to make micro-adjustments to airflow. Elastic cuffs are another variation but lack the precision of VELCRO.
- Pit-zips: We mentioned pit-zips earlier in our discussion on breathability, but this seriously ingenious piece of engineering is worth spending another sentence on: Pit-zips are the absolute best way to dump heat quickly without removing your jacket.
Reflective bands are critical for nighttime runs in any season. But winter running requires reflective bands even during the day. Reduced visibility due to foggy or snowy conditions can impair someone’s ability to spot you. This is especially dangerous if that someone happens to be behind the wheel of a speeding car.
At minimum, your jacket should have a horizontal reflective band along the back. Since you don’t have eyes in the back of your head, this will signal your presence to people coming from behind. Of course, a jacket with additional reflective bands on the chest and arms is even better.
On a more somber note, reflective bands can help first-responders spot you should you take a spill—especially in remote areas.
FAQs for winter running jackets
How tight should a running jacket fit?
A running jacket should be loose enough to accommodate all your layers while still being able to comfortably zip up. On the other hand, it should be tight enough that it won’t decrease aerodynamic efficiency or get in your way.
If you’re trying a jacket on in person, do a little test: Lift your arms above your head. If that feels constricting, consider sizing up. When buying online, read reviews where people mention their own physical dimensions and compare these to your own. You can also see how the product’s Fits to Size metric has been rated.
Finally, consider the percentage of stretch fabric used in the garment. More elastane means your jacket will loosen over time and will be more forgiving. Less elastane means you’ll want to get the right size from the jump.
How warm should a running jacket be?
Probably not as warm as you’d think. In fact, the trick to staying warm during cold weather running has less to do with the jacket itself and more to do with layering. A winter running jacket’s primary role is to keep the elements at bay.
A jacket that’s too warm—one with little breathability or lots of insulation—will cause you to overheat very quickly. A good rule of thumb is to dress for temperatures 10°C warmer than it really is outside. You may start your run a bit chilly but you’ll soon work up a sweat!
What should I wear under my winter jacket?
For cold weather running, follow the Rule of Three L’s: layer, layer, layer. That means a baselayer, a midlayer, and a shell. Extra layers allow you to (1) remove a layer as needed without sacrificing your only source of insulation, and (2) trap air between each garment to create thermal pockets.
This is an important topic that deserves a treatment all its own. For a comprehensive discussion, check out How to Dress for Winter Running.
With these guidelines in mind, shopping for a winter running jacket is a cinch. Taking the time to find the right one will have an enormous impact on both the comfort and success of your cold weather runs. Remember to choose a jacket that’s breathable, weather-resistant, lightweight, and safe.
Now that you’ve found the perfect running jacket, it’s time to pair it with the perfect shoes. Check out our in-depth guide to choosing the best winter running shoes!