Trailrunning or hiking asskicking trails in the winter, in areas of the country that aren’t typically snowed over and freezing, can present a bit of a problem when it comes to an outer layer.
Do you go with a light soft shell? Or a rain jacket? Maybe a wool or synthetic baselayer? Bring a couple of options to the trailhead and flip a coin?
You want something to keep the biting chill of the wind off, but that’s as breathable as science allows to vent the heat and moisture your hardworking body will generate. Synthetic soft shells are often too warm and not as breathable as you’d like, but a simple baselayer maybe not be enough to block wind and wear comfortably while running.
That’s where the lightweight wind jacket comes in, and our favorite is the Patagonia Airshed ($119). Feather light, absurdly breathable, no hood to get in the way, and incredible comfort.
The jacket weighs a barely-there 3.7 ounces. The body is made from a very, very thin 20d nylons ripstop. There is a quarter-length zipper running down the front and a small chestpocket which also stows the jacket as a stuff sack with a carabiner clip. Elastic wrist cuffs keep the sleeves where they should be, regardless of how hard your arms are pumping.
Fit is athletic but not at all constrictive, with a welcom stretch in the fabric allowing for plenty of easy mobility. It’s also just plain comfortable and very soft to the touch. There’s room for a light baselayer underneath too.
Wind resistance, clearly a key feature for a wind jacket, is great. It’s not as much of a wind blocker as a waterproof shell would be of course, but it gets the job done. Again, the idea is you’re wearing this while heavily exerting yourself—if it blocked wind any better it likely wouldn’t be as breathable.
And the breathability is a big asset here. Not only have I worn this jacket while trail running in the high 30s, I’ve worn it while playing competitive tennis in the mid-50s. That’s a huge range of body and air temps, and the Airshed performed beautifully in each.
Of course, if you’re hiking or running in this jacket and the sun starts beating down on you, you’ll feel it. The wind resistance trumps breathability in a piece of apparel like this, but that’s fine. Just unzip the front and vent all that heat.
Fending off a drizzle or really heavy fog isn’t much of a problem is this pullover, but in honest-to-goodness rain you’ll get plenty wet if you’re exposed for more than a few minutes. On the plus side, it dries in the blink of an eye. But again, this isn’t a rain jacket, so if you’re going for a trail excursion where rain is likely, just wear a waterproof layer.
I wish it had the Outdoor Research Tantrum’s ($71) ingenious lumbar pocket that holds its own waist belt to carry the jacket around your waist when not wearing it, but that’s a small complaint and unfair. The simple design of the Airshed is actually part of what makes it great.
On an overcast, dry day, in windy conditions, or hiking above tree line, the Air Shed is ideal.