Bill Bowerman, the famous head coach of the Oregon Ducks dynasty track and cross country teams, once motivated his runners by saying, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only weak people.” I try to remember this quote when I’m out the door in a pre-dawn cold that takes your breath away and causes you to spend obscene amounts of money on wind briefs. Having spent most of my running career in the far northern climes of the upper midwest, I’ve found that a good running jacket can be the difference between an enjoyable winter run and returning home slightly hypothermic only to cry in the shower when the hot water hits your frozen skin.
I have had the pleasure of reviewing four effective and well made jackets from several manufacturers. The jackets reviewed represent a varying degree of protection from the elements, and I will review them from lightest weight to heaviest.
Sugoi Helium Jacket
The Sugoi Helium jacket is indeed the lightest of the bunch reviewed here, and at a mere 3 ounces it is the lightest jacket I’ve ever worn. Not to say this jacket lacks protection in the slightest, the fabric is water and wind resistant and seemed to keep out the harsh pre-dawn winds. This jacket is very form fitting, especially in the wrists and forearms, and were it not for my girlish wrists I don’t think I could have got this jacket over them. Granted, I wear a size small and this jacket is designed to fit like a wind shirt or a highly packable light jacket that you can use intermittently during nasty weather on trail runs.
Due to the soft nature of the fabric I expected this jacket to rip easily and have durability issues. Despite falling several times onto my elbows and forearms, as well as catching the jacket on barb wire, there is only one small snag throughout. Props to Sugoi for making this jacket light as air and durable. This jacket lacks reflective features, but the day-glo nature of the jacket tested allowed me to be seen easily in the bible black pre-dawn by running mates.
The jacket breathes well with perforated ventilation under the arms and it also has a small pocket on the right side of the back of the jacket for an MP3 player, gels, keys, or a cell phone. I was a bit disappointed that this jacket did not have an internal pouch to pack the jacket into. While you could pack the jacket into the small pocket by turning it inside out, the zipper is then facing internally. With a jacket of this lightness you can roll it up, wrap it up, and stick it in your shorts or a fuel belt. I think that including a simple elastic band on the jacket would enable the wearer to tie it up in a more containable manner. This year’s new version of the Helium jacket also includes three elastic rear pockets for storage.
Brooks LSD Jacket
The Brooks LSD lite jacket is another lightweight shell that weighs in at just 4.2 oz. While offering 22-denier microfiber polyester (think ballistic 1980s windbreaker material) it offers similar protection as the Sugoi Helium but fits less like a windshirt and more like a traditional running jacket. The men’s size small in the Brooks LSD lite offered quite a bit roomier feel which enables the wearer to layer underneath. This jacket is also ventilated well and offers a higher level of reflectivity for early morning and night-time runs. The jacket is treated with durable water repellent (DWR) which should give it a higher level of water repellent. The Brooks jacket also comes with its own stow pocket as well as a “roll and stow” hood made of the same lightweight material as the jacket. Once removed, the hood was very difficult to re-stow effectively as it is only held down by a narrow inch long band of velcro. I found that parts of the hood frequently flopped out afterward, and if it was up to me I would cut the hood out. I have also read customer reviews for this jacket that report the reflective material falling off after washing. I did not get the chance to fully investigate this claim.
The Brooks LSD lite does zip into its own stow pocket found on the back of the jacket, which can also be used to carry gels or a cell phone. This is a feature I find very handy and wish it was included on all running jackets.
The North Face Torpedo Jacket
The Torpedo jacket is a part of the Flight Series from The North Face and geared towards high performance running. It reminded me most of the classic running shell providing excellent wind and water repellent features with adequate room for layering underneath. This is the jacket I would want to be wearing if I was stuck in a cold downpour as it did not stick to my torso when moderately wet. This jacket is also coated with DWR and there are panels in the back of the jacket to enhance breathability. At 7.9 ounces the jacket does not offer incredible thermal protection but does shelter you from the elements quite well. It also features 360 degrees of reflectivity and a elastic cord around the bottom hem of the jacket for a better fit.
A cool feature of the Torpedo jacket is a rear dual pocket that has a zipper on one side for those important things you cannot lose such as your car key, and then a larger elastic rimmed pocket for shoving discarded gels, gloves, or TP (unused of course) while on the go. It also has two standard zipper pockets in the front.
The North Face Swift Jacket
The North Face Swift jacket offers the most thermal protection and is also part of their Flight Series. This jacket weighs in at 8.9 oz and features the warmth of a jacket with the comfort of stretch knit back and arm panels. The sleeves of the jacket feel like a stretchy shirt material and feature thumb loop holes to provide a better weather seal with gloves. It features a moderate amount of reflective highlights throughout the jacket and is rated to UPF 30 for protection from the sun. This jacket was very comfortable, did not chafe, and the stretch knit fabric arms alleviated any of the annoying swishy sound when I was running. It also features two front zip hand pockets for storage.
This jacket feels very well made and, like most North Face gear, will last a lifetime unless you lend it to your mom who nearly loses it while fly-fishing (true story!).
The Sugoi Helium and Brooks LSD Lite jackets are easily packable, brightly colored, very lightweight jackets that offer an adequate amount of protection from the wind, rain, and snow down to around 20 degrees F for the toughest polar bear runner. They are both jackets that could be carried along on a trail run and used intermittently for extra warmth or protection from the elements. The Sugoi is a more form fitted “wind-shirt” style jacket that fits well over one layer, while the Brooks fits more like a traditional jacket. I would recommend sizing up in the Sugoi jacket unless you have very skinny forearms and wrists. I would imagine a jacket of this style to be indispensable for races where you may encounter severe weather at high altitudes.
The North Face Swift and Torpedo jackets are heavier weight and offer more protection. The Torpedo jacket is a top notch running shell that is about as water/wind proof as a running jacket can get, and layering under the jacket allows it to protect you from 15-35 degrees F.
The Swift jacket offers a new development in running jacket construction by using stretchy thermal fabric on the arms and it features thumbholes. This allows the jacket to be very comfortable and silent, and offers excellent protection from the cold, snow, and wind from 0-30 degrees F.
Call for Comments
What’s your favorite wind jacket or wind shirt?