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
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 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
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
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?