Waterproofs: Jacket or Smock, which is best?

A decent waterproof running top is an expensive investment so it’s best to make the right choice; but which is best, jacket or smock?

There are plenty of waterproofs on the market specifically designed for runners and all having different features. Obviously you need something that fits and keeps you dry, but should you choose a top with a full length zip i.e. a jacket, or opt for a shorter zip i.e. a smock? Each has its pros and cons.

smock or jacket, which is best?

smock or jacket, which is best?

Jackets vs Smocks

There are a couple of advantages of having a jacket with a full length zip: Firstly it is easy to take on and off unlike the slightly inelegant procedure of taking a smock off over your head! Secondly you can unzip it much further to vent and cool off if it stops raining but you don’t want to take the top off. Last year on the High Peak Marathon it had stopped raining and was fairly warm and I was overheating in my smock. My mate was able to completely unzip his jacket in order to cool down whereas I could only unzip to chest level.

photo of taking off a smock

the inelegant battle to take off a smock!

On the down side a zip is a weak point so is more likely to let in water than the waterproof material of the jacket itself. If you are really unlucky the zip might even fail. Another disadvantage is that you have to fiddle to get the ends of the zipper to marry up before it zips up. This can be tricky even with warm hands, let alone if your hands are cold and wet or if you are wearing thick gloves or mittens. With a smock the zip is already “mated” so there is no faffing about trying to insert the end.

fastening the zip can be tricky with gloves

fastening the zip can be tricky wearing mittens

For anyone seeking marginal weight gains a top with a full length zip may be ever so slightly heavier than a smock, but there will be very little in it.

So there are advantages and disadvantages to each and it’s hard to choose a clear winner. I use both, and to be honest don’t have a preference. The reality of the situation is that most people’s decision will probably be dictated by cost.

winter running

opting for a jacket in winter conditions

waterproof running jackets

Waterproof Running Jackets

It’s the UK, it’s winter, it’s wet – you’re going to need a waterproof jacket.

For anyone heading out for a run on the fells in winter a waterproof jacket is essential. Even in the middle of summer the weather can be wet or unpredictable, where sunny summer mornings can lead to heavy afternoon showers, especially in the mountains. And if you’re planning on entering a fell race you’ll need to carry waterproofs for certain races even if there’s a heatwave. With such a wide range of choice it can be difficult to know the best jacket to buy and I often get asked for advice on what’s best. Here I compare five jackets specifically designed for running and look at the pros and cons of each one.

Note: the weights are for a size small and were measured on my kitchen scales rather than giving the manufacturer’s figures.

waterproof running jackets

choices choices

When looking for a waterproof ask yourself a few questions:

What will I use it for?

If the jacket is going to be used mainly for fell races, often being carried in a bumbag rather than worn, then light weight and a small pack size are probably your priorities. However if the jacket is more likely to be worn on a day to day basis then a slightly heavier, more robust top might be a better choice. A very lightweight, minimalist top might not stand up to being worn under a running rucksack on a regular basis and so again a heavier, more durable one would be better.

Smock or Jacket?

A smock is a top with a three quarter length zip whereas a jacket has a full length zip and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. A full length zip may be a little heavier and give a larger area where water can get in (i.e. through the zip itself and the associated stitching). If you stop to put a jacket on mid run and suffer with cold hands you might struggle to do up the zip (whereas with a smock the zip never separates at the bottom). It is easier to put on and take off a jacket as you don’t have to pull it over your head and a full length zip allows greater venting (e.g. when it stops raining and you want to avoid overheating but don’t want to take the jacket off).

smock vs full length zip

smock vs full length zip

Fixed Hood or Roll Away?

Some jackets allow you to roll the hood away when not in use. If you prefer to run with the hood down this is a good feature, particularly in windy conditions, as the hood doesn’t blow about and whack you in the face.

rolled away hood on waterproof jacket

rolled away hood

Pockets and Adjustment Cords – do you need them?

I find a zipped, chest pocket to be a great feature; ideal for keeping map, compass, food etc close to hand and accessible whilst on the run. However you may be happy to use a bumbag or rucksack for carrying such items. Also think about the placing of the pockets; for example will your rucksack strap prevents access to them?

Montane Minimus smock

handy chest pocket

Some jackets allow you to tension the hem and hood, usually via elasticated cords. The ability to get the hood nice and snug is great in wild and windy weather – but if the adjustment toggle then whacks you in the eye the feature loses its appeal!

Inov-8 Stormshell Jacket

tensioning the hood

Five Waterproof Jackets Tested

Inov-8 Stormshell 150 (weight 205g including stuff sack)

nov-8 Stormshell pack size

Inov-8 Stormshell pack size

Features:

3/4 length zip (adjustable at top & bottom)
Chest pocket.
Wired hood can be tensioned for volume and size around face. Roll back using velcro tab.
Elasticated cuffs with thumb loops.
Draw cord hem.

What I like:

Great hood that can be adjusted to get a good, tight fit for really bad conditions.  Feels a bit more substantial than some other lightweight tops.

What could be improved:

The chest pocket is a bit small.

What I use it for:

Longer runs or races when I need to carry, rather than wear a waterproof or for wearing when racing in prolonged wet conditions.

Inov-8 Stormshell in the rain

Inov-8 Stormshell in the rain

Montane Minimus Smock (weight 144g including stuff sack)

Montane Minimus pack size

Montane Minimus pack size

Features:

3/4 length zip.
Large horizontal chest pocket.
Elasticated hood which can be rolled back using velcro tab.
Elasticated cuffs.
Elasticated hem.

What I like:

Very lightweight and packs to a tiny size. Huge pocket swallows larger maps and other items.

What could be improved:

The hood can’t be tensioned and so flaps in strong winds. Hood roll back system doesn’t work very well and tends to come undone. Hem can’t be tensioned and so rides up.

What I use it for:

This is my preferred waterproof for most races where a top needs to be carried to comply with race rules. I also use it for shorter training runs in wet conditions.

Montane Minimus in bad weather

Montane Minimus in bad weather

Mammut MTR 201 Rainspeed Jacket (weight 160g)

Mammut MTR 201 pack size

Mammut MTR 201 pack size

Features:

Full length zip.
Chest pocket.
Elasticated hood which can be rolled back using a small hook.
Elasticated cuffs.
Draw cord hem.

What I like:

Very lightweight and packs to a tiny size.

What could be improved:

The hood can’t be tensioned and so flaps in strong winds. Small chest pocket.

What I use it for:

This jacket is very similar in weight and size to the Minimus and tend to use it for short, wet weather training runs or occasionally as my racing waterproof for packing into a small bumbag.

Mammut MTR 201 waterproof

Mammut shedding the rain

Raidlight Raid Shell Jacket (weight 351g)

Raidlight Raid Shell pack size

Raidlight Raid Shell pack size

Features:

Full length zip.
Twin waist pockets.
Roll away hood with toggle tensioning around the face.
Elasticated cuffs with thumb loop.
Elasticated hem.

What I like:

The Raidlight has a soft-shell feel and is slightly stretchy which makes it comfortable to wear.  It feels more like a top that you would wear all day regardless of if it was raining and I like to wear it on colder days even if it is dry. It offers more warmth than the other waterproofs reviewed here. The twin pockets are good for carrying bits of kit but get covered up by a bumbag or rucksack strap.

What could be improved:

The hood is tensioned by toggles which then become lethal whipping implements in strong winds if not adjusted correctly!  Waist pockets can be hard to access when wearing some bumbags or rucksacks. Not sure about the fluorescent yellow!

What I use it for:

This is the jacket I use for work in cold weather as a wear all day item, regardless of if it is raining or not. I also wear it for easy runs in cold weather. I wouldn’t consider the Raidlight as a race waterproof due to its size and weight but this does make it more suited to conditions when I know I will be wearing it all day.

Raidlight jacket

the Raidlight is a good cold weather jacket

OMM Kamleika Smock (weight 266g)

OMM Kamleika Smock pack size

OMM Kamleika Smock pack size

Features:

Deep 3/4 length zip (adjustable at top & bottom)
Chest pocket.
Hood can be tensioned for volume and size around face. Roll back using velcro tab.
Elasticated cuffs with thumb loops.
Draw cord hem.

What I like:

Slightly stretchy material gives a snug, comfortable fit. Feels both light enough to use as a race top yet robust enough to wear day in day out. Good adjustable hood can be fitted tightly for bad weather. Slightly more robust than some of the other lightweight jackets reviewed here.

What could be improved:

Adding a wired visor would make the hood even better.

What I use it for:

I’ve had version 1 of the smock for over five years and it’s still going strong.  It is my preferred top for running work which usually means wearing a running rucksack.  It has stood up well to the abrasion of shoulder straps and general use. On the original version the chest pocket was on the inside (a terrible idea as you had to unzip your main zip to access it and thus let the rain in!), but OMM have now placed this on the outside of the jacket. For me the Kamleika is my work jacket although I would consider it as a race jacket if I didn’t have others.

Kamleika on night navigation

Kamleika on night navigation

Conclusion

As with many things there is an element of personal choice when it comes to features and there is always a balance or compromise to be found. Your super-light, minimalist top might be good for a short fell race but less so for a full day on the hill. A thicker jacket might last longer and keep you warmer but is too big to get into your bumbag. It might be that you can convince yourself (and less understanding significant others) that you need more than one jacket!

I have yet to find “the” best waterproof for trail and fell running, just some that do some things better than others in different conditions. When running in heavy rain I still get damp, either by water getting through the membrane or by sweat failing to escape. Brand new jackets work well, with water “beading” on the surface for a few runs but soon lose their water repellency and tend to “wet out” even despite regular cleaning with the manufacturer’s recommended products.

So there is no perfect solution – unless you stick to running on days like these!

sunny running

no jacket required!

fell running guide

 

 

Berghaus Voltage Jacket

Berghaus Voltage Jacket Review

Depending on what type of running I’m doing I use different waterproof jackets.  For fell races I go for as small and lightweight as possible and use the Montane Minimus smock. However for day to day use on navigation and guided running sessions or for more serious outings in the winter months I’m prepared to compromise: a little more weight and bulk from something that is a bit more robust.

There are plenty of jackets that fit into that category and one that I would recommend is the Berghaus Voltage

Berghaus Voltage waterproof

Made from Goretex Active fabric the jacket has a full length waterproof zip, two generous sized pockets, volume adjustable roll away hood, elasticated hem and elasticated cuffs with an additional velcro adjuster.  At 365g (Medium jacket) and a small pack size it shouldn’t pose too many problems packing into your running sack.

The 3 layer Goretex feels comfortable on the move yet sturdy enough that it won’t de-laminate when worn under a rucksack (a problem with some super-light jackets).  It also feels a bit more reassuring than more lightweight jackets: you feel like it will keep you dry!

If I could change one thing on the Voltage waterproof I would add an external chest pocket for map & compass etc that is easy to get at when wearing a rucksack or bum bag (the two side pockets are good but you need to be careful not to cover them up with your rucksack if you want access to them).  Other than that it looks a great jacket if you want something a little more durable and protective than a super-light race jacket.   See more of the jacket in my video review:

Montane Minimus Smock

I really rate Montane jackets for fell running & mountain walking.

I have a Superfly jacket for long days on the hill where I’m likely to be walking rather than running and my most used piece of running kit is my trusty Litespeed windproof jacket.  So I was keen to get my hands on the Minimus Smock, reputed to be one of the lightest, truly waterproof jackets on the market.

My first impression was Wow – that’s light!  The kitchen scales showed it to be 144 grammes (for the small) including stuffsack. Take off the weight of the sack and you get 136g.  I then weighed my Litespeed which was 145g without sack so the Minimus is actually lighter.

Montane Minimus Smock

Wow – it’s light!

So it’s minimal in weight but what about features?

The material is Pertex Shield, a highly breatheable, lightweight waterproof fabric with micro taped seams.  The zips are YKK (if you’re precious about your zip manufacturers!) Aqua Guard with storm flaps.

When I’m leading a run or teaching navigation I need constant access to map & compass so a pocket is a must.  The smock has a handy chest pocket that easily swallows a section of map, compass, gels etc.  The interior of the pocket is mesh so you can open the zip to vent if things get too warm.  It has an elasticated hood, cuffs and hem (which I prefer to a drawcord) and gives a snug fit when worn over a simple long sleeved base layer.

Handy zip for map & compass

Handy zip for map & compass

My first chance to try it out was on a group guided run in the Peak District.  The weather was cold and foggy with a threat of rain, conditions when I would have normally worn my Litespeed.  A few runners commented on the good looks – a distinctive electric blue with orange zips.  The day was a stop start affair, frequently pausing to look at the map and so with the chance of getting cold. The Minimus certainly kept out the chill wind and pulling up the hood and running for a few moments made a real difference and I found I quickly warmed up again.

group run

Distinctive colours

I like the idea of a smock; no faffing around trying to do up the zip on a windy day with cold or gloved hands and also less weight and less to go wrong.  The zips do have extenders making gloved use more easy.

A second, more rigorous test came when I was caught out in squally shower with hailstones mixed into the almost horizontal rain.  It was great to have a hood to prevent rain going down my neck and the Minimus did a great job of keeping out the weather.

dealing with bad weather

The Minimus dealing with bad weather

One thing I’ve struggled with in the past is what to use on a windy day with the forecast of rain.  The Litespeed is great in wind but is mine has long since lost its DWR coating and so I need a waterproof as well.  I have a Kamleika smock which is great but quite a bit bulkier than the windproof.  It seems that the Minimus answers the problem – it’s as light and compressible as the Litespeed and waterproof too so could be the “one size fits all” solution.  Whilst supporting a recent Bob Graham round I knew I would be on the go for 8 hours or more and that saving weight in my pack was crucial so the Minimus was the obvious choice.

Races run under Fell Runner Association (FRA) rules stipulate that windproof / waterproof clothing must be carried on certain races.  Again the dilemma of “what to take?” is a common discussion point between runners on the start line.  For me from now on it’s a simple answer “the Minimus” it’s as light as a windproof but it’s also waterproof.

Any downsides?

There’s no such thing as a waterproof, breatheable jacket! – if you’re running hard in wet conditions your sweat will condense on the inside to some extent.  This is true of the Minimus, but no more so than with my OMM Kamleika smock or a Lowe Alpine top I used previously.

The super light fabric seems that it might not be very durable, but only time and repeated use will tell.  As with any waterproof it needs to be looked after; washing with soap and reproofing occasionally with Nikwax TX Direct.

My one gripe is that having used the Litespeed for years I am used to reaching for the pocket zip with my right hand but the Minimus zip closes left to right (as worn) so needs the left hand!  I’m sure I can live with that.

So for me it’s a winner; racing, training, guiding runs – from now on I’m going Minimus!

Putting the Minimus through its paces

Putting the Minimus through its paces

Fell Running Guide