Q:

Which soft shell breathes enough for high-energy activities, such as trail running?

I'm looking for the perfect trail running jacket: soft shell to eliminate the noise of nylon, breathable so I don't overheat, and resistant to light rain and wind. I chasing a unicorn, or does such a beast exist? Blake Lexington, Kentucky

Oct 26, 2007
Outside
Outside Magazine
Ibex Skyline Full Zip Wool Top

Skyline Full Zip Wool Top

A:

Unicorns exist, don’t they? At least, if you have the right frame of mind. And maybe that’s the key to the “perfect" trail-running jacket. “Perfect?" I don’t know. “Pretty good?" Yeah, we can do that.

Regular readers will remember that last winter I often extolled the virtues of REI’s Mistral Jacket ($140; rei.com), made with a light version of Polartec’s PowerShield material, which is my preferred stuff for soft shells. I wear mine on winter mountain-biking treks; it has a great combination of warmth, breathability, water-repellency, and windproofness. It’s fairly light and has a brush surface that would be much quieter when running than smooth nylon. The one downside is that like most soft shells it might prove a little warm when you’re running. But worn over a light T-shirt, in temps below 40, I think it would work very well. As it gets colder, simply add a bit to your base layer.

One thing that’s true is that natural fabrics are much quieter than synthetics. Wool is an excellent choice for lightweight weather protection. Ibex makes a mid-weight top called the Skyline Full Zip Wool Top ($140; ibexwear.com). Made with soft Merino wool, the Skyline is sort of a very light jacket, with a full front zipper. Wool has excellent temperature-regulating properties, so it reduces the chilly or hot stretches one is apt to hit when running up and down hills. Wind resistance would be good. And wool keeps you warm when wet, so even if some rain overwhelms the Skyline’s water-repellency, you’ll still get home comfortably. In really nasty weather it can also layer under another piece.

A third option is Mountain Hardwear’s G50 Jacket ($160; mountainhardwear.com). It puts a premium on waterproofness and has a laminate made with MH proprietary waterproof/breathable Conduit material. But it also has a soft twill face to reduce the “swish, swish" of other synthetics. It’s best for cold, wet conditions but will perform okay in cool, drier conditions as well.

Check out the new 2007-2008 Winter Outside Buyer’s Guide, packed with reviews of more than 300 new gear must-haves. It’s available on newsstands now.

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