The Best Wind Jacket Review

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What is the best windbreaker for protecting you from a cool morning breeze or a mountain top gale? We identified 10 of the leading jackets available on the market today and put them through months of testing to determine which was the best. We affirmed our conviction that these super thin and lightweight jackets might just be the most important component of any high tech layering system, and are perhaps the most useful outdoor garment that you can own. We wore and tested these 10 jackets daily while running, biking, hiking, climbing, camping, fishing, and while simply chilling outside on summer and fall days. Keep reading to find out which ones are the best overall and for a variety of different activities.

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Test Results and Ratings

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Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:

Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Thursday
October 20, 2016

Best Overall Wind Jacket


Rab Windveil Jacket


Editors' Choice Award

Price:   $125 List


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Want a windbreaker that fits perfectly, has all of the most handy and useful features, retains its high level of water resistance forever, and is perfectly suited to virtually any outdoor activity? Look no further than the Rab Windveil Jacket, winner of our Editors' Choice Award for the Best Overall Wind Jacket, and also the highest scoring jacket in our extensive testing. Whether we were trail running, backpacking, rock climbing, mountain biking, or peak bagging, we found ourselves comfortable and impressed with this jacket, and compared to the competition, it simply did everything better. Particularly impressive were its superior water resistance and full selection of usable and convenient features. If you want the best wind breaker money can buy, then spend your money on the Rab Windveil.

Best Bang for the Buck and Top Pick for Climbing


Patagonia Houdini


Best Buy Award

Price:   Varies from $86 - $99 online
Compare at 4 sellers


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Retailing at a low, low $99, the Patagonia Houdini without doubt presents the best bang for your buck if you want a performance jacket at a low cost. In reality, $99 is not very cheap for a piece of fitted nylon, but in the case of this review, it can be had for a few green bills less than the other options. We also think the Houdini is the best wind breaker jacket choice for rock climbers who need a little security blanket while attempting long climbs on the shady Middle Cathedral Rock in Yosemite Valley or the South Chasm View Wall in the Black Canyon. The entire jacket stuffs into its chest pocket, resulting in a tiny package that is significantly smaller than any other that we tested, about the size of a small banana. It easily clips to the back of your harness. This jacket will inspire you to cheat on the hardman mantra of "a rope, a rack, and the shirt on your back," (and a Houdini!) and ensure that you aren't left shivering at the belay when the inevitable afternoon winds pick up.

Best Wind Jacket for Cooler Weather


Marmot Ether DriClime


Top Pick Award

Price:   Varies from $92 - $125 online
Compare at 4 sellers


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Imagine that winter is waning and spring is in the air; you can't wait to put away your down jacket and hit the trails. Or imagine the autumn leaves are falling to the ground and summer's heat is long gone, but you aren't even close to embracing the onset of winter. While spring and fall are the most pleasant times of the year for playing outside, there is no doubt that the air is cool enough to warrant more than a t-shirt or a light nylon shell. For those times, we recommend the Marmot Ether DriClime. Lined on the inside with soft felt-feeling DriClime wicking liner, this jacket works to perfectly maintain a balanced temperature even when the air is not so warm. While we found it a bit too insulated for mid-summer use, it was still one of the top scorers in our comparison testing, and the jacket we most often reached for as summer faded and cool temperatures started to dominate.

Top Pick for Running and Biking


Outdoor Research Tantrum


Top Pick Award

Price:   Varies from $66 - $88 online
Compare at 2 sellers


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How many times have you prepared for a short or medium length bike ride or run and stared at your hydration pack, wishing you didn't need to wear it? How many times did you end up wearing it anyway, simply because you needed to bring a jacket? Enter the Outdoor Research Tantrum, the perfect light wind breaker jacket for either running or biking, that packs into a tiny pocket with elastic waist belt, allowing it to be carried anywhere without the need to bring a pack. We wish every jacket in this review had this feature, because time and time again we reached for this jacket when we simply didn't want to bring a pack. Not only is it simple and easy to carry along, but it is made of super lightweight, stretchy, highly breathable material that moves perfectly with your body. While it really won't protect you from much rain, this was still our favorite wind shell to bring along on peak climbs, short to medium length runs, and mountain bike rides.

Best Wind Jacket for Backcountry Skiing


Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody


Top Pick Award

Price:   Varies from $126 - $159 online
Compare at 7 sellers


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The Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody looks and feels much like their award-winning hardshell jacket, the Arc'teryx Alpha FL, except that it is much thinner, lighter, and costs a whole bucket of money less. Designed with an adjustable storm hood, drop hem, and Velcro adjustable wrist enclosures, this jacket comes with all the features of a hardshell minus the Gore-Tex. While we certainly wouldn't wear it out into a heavy rainstorm, or on a nuking powder day, we would stuff it into its own tiny chest pocket and save a ton of weight and space on those long spring days in the backcountry where the shell is only going to be used briefly on the descents. We also debated calling this award, "The Best Wind Breaker to Layer Under," as no other "jacket" in this review serves as a better lightweight outer shell. While we wouldn't use it for running or biking, and it does clock in as one of the most expensive that we tested, we can think of many situations where we would happily save weight and bulk with this versatile layer.




Analysis and Test Results


First and foremost, the purpose of a wind breaker jacket is to protect you from the wind. They are typically made of lightweight nylon that is tightly woven to limit the amount of air that can make its way through. Wind breakers are typically worn directly over a t-shirt or other thin under-layer, although depending on the fit and design, they can also at times be used as an outer shell over the top of warmth layers. Breathability is another important quality for a successful wind breaker, as these layers are common for high intensity activities where there is a need to release excess heat and sweat. While they might protect you from a light rain or drizzle, they are not really designed to be waterproof, like a dedicated rain jacket or waterproof/breathable hardshell. Check out our Best Rain Jacket for Men or Best Hardshell Jacket for Men reviews if you are interested in a more weatherproof layer.

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The challenge is real! Putting on a windbreaker in a stout wind is not an easy thing to do, and the most important thing of course is not letting go.

The Need for a Wind Breaker Jacket
In our opinion, wind breaker jackets might just be the most versatile and useful outer garment you can buy. Why is this? Well, if you are like most people you will typically recreate outdoors when the weather is fairly pleasant. However, even a slight breeze or a drop in temperature can vastly effect how warm or cold your body feels, especially when working hard.

Due to the laws of physics, convective heat loss is greatly magnified when there is air movement, whether that's a gentle breeze or a howling mountain top wind. If you are running, biking, hiking, or otherwise working out in a way that heats you up enough to produce sweat, then this effect will be further magnified. We have all experienced a time when we stopped running in a cool breeze, dripping in sweat, and felt relieved to feel our body cooling down. However, due to the nature of convective heat loss that is taking place, mere moments later we are freezing cold and have a very hard time warming back up again. A wind breaker jacket provides the perfect barrier to slow this heat loss, by wind and by sweat, and simply broadens the range of comfort in all types of outdoor weather.

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Standing on the summit of San Luis Peak, a 14er in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, the winds were ripping so hard you could lean into them without falling over. The Fast Wing Hoodie was one of the most windproof that we tested, and also breathed well enough for highly aerobic running.

The advantages of a wind breaker over other forms of outer or thermal layers is that they are super lightweight (the lightest in this review weighs a mere three ounces!), they are extremely packable (all but one reviewed here easily fits into its own pocket), and relatively cheap compared to rain jackets, hardshell jackets, or fleece jackets. For almost any outdoor adventure from spring through summer and into fall, we find that we tend to reach for the wind breaker as our go-to first layering option (unless, of course, it's raining or snowing).

Purposes and Activities
We feel that wind breaker jackets are perhaps the most versatile piece of outdoor clothing you can own. While testing the 10 products we have reviewed here, we found ourselves reaching for a wind breaker nearly every day, for almost everything that we did. We used these jackets and found them beneficial for sport climbing and especially long trad climbing, for mountain biking, hiking, trail running, peak bagging, backpacking, fly fishing, dog walking, and even just hanging out around the campfire in the evening and morning. They could also be a great clothing option for sailing, canoeing, paragliding, SUPing, backcountry skiing, road biking, or any other outdoor activity where it is not blazing hot or there might be a slight breeze or more. For more information about which jackets we feel best suit specific outdoor activities, check out our How to Choose the Best Wind Breaker article.

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The Rab Windveil was our Editors' Choice Award winner for best overall wind breaker. We loved playing, I mean testing, in it. Here we are checking out the fall colors of the turning aspens, while also investigating the terrain features of an old gold mine on Red Mountain Pass, San Juan Mountains.

Types of Wind Breakers


For this review we tested 10 of the best and most popular wind breakers on the market today, and found that they generally fit into three different categories. These categories are not defined by the manufacturers or the industry, but are merely our way of differentiating the types of jackets and the situations that we most often found ourselves using them in. They are defined below.

Single Layer Nylon
Most of the wind breakers we tested fit into the designation of "single layer nylon." What we mean when we say single layer is that they are by and large designed to be used as the only layer in the system, and tend to fit sleeker and tighter to the body. They fit in such a way that they would be difficult to layer underneath. These jackets tend to be best for warmer seasons and high output activities, such as running, biking, climbing, or hiking. The jackets that fit this mold are the Patagonia Houdini, Rab Windveil Jacket, Outdoor Research Tantrum, Salomon Fast Wing Hoodie, and the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Jacket.

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The Ghost Lite jacket was one of two wind breakers that came in around 3.0 oz. It is obviously very thin, as evidenced by this photo of the jacket in a very strong wind.

Insulated
Two of the jackets we tested were designed with a wicking liner inside that ensured that they were a fair bit warmer than the other jackets listed above. The liner is designed to increase the wind resistance, which it does, and also to help wick moisture away from the body to help it breathe better, which it also does. In addition, we found that the liners simply added a fair bit of insulation, which caused us to heat up much quicker, and also inspired us to only reach for these jackets on cold mornings or once fall hit and the temperatures cooled down drastically. The two jackets that fit into this category were the Marmot Ether DriClime and the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Pro.

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A closeup of the heavy mesh liner inside the Ghost Lite Pro.

Outer Shell
Three of the jackets we have reviewed here were designed with fit and features such that they work best as very lightweight outer shells, and were not our first choices for stand alone wind protection due to their larger fit. These jackets look and act more like lightweight rain jackets, although it is worth mentioning that only the Patagonia Alpine Houdini actually contains a waterproof membrane. The Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody and the Sierra Designs Exhale Windshell are lightly water resistant jackets that emphasize wind protection and breathability, and fit large enough for layering beneath.

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Layering up on a chilly night in the mountains around the fire. The Squamish Hoody is like a lightweight version of a hardshell jacket, with plenty of room for warmth layers underneath.

Criteria for Evaluation


In order to be able to tell you which are the very best wind breaker jackets, we rated them based on five separate metrics: wind resistance, breathability and venting, fit and functionality, water resistance, and weight and packability. We gave each jacket a score from 1 to 10 for each metric, determining the scores based on how they compared to the competition. While we rated for each metric, some of them we determined to be more important than others, so weighted those scores more. Read on below to find out more about each metric, how much we weighted them, and what were the best and worst performers for each category.

Wind Resistance


Since we are reviewing wind breakers, wind resistance is understandably one of the most important features these jackets can have. Made of lightweight nylon, most of these jackets acquire their resistance to wind from the incredibly tight weave of the fabrics they employ. It stands to reason that the tighter a fabric is woven together, the less space there will be between individual fibers, and the less air will be able to penetrate through them. Interestingly, the makers of these jackets also understand that since wind breakers are most often used as a lightweight layer for high intensity activities, then breathability is also a top concern. Very few people would enjoy owning a wind breaker that was 100 percent wind resistant and not at all breathable. Therefore, in order to also offer some breathability, there must be some ability for air to pass through. While balancing these necessary attributes, we found that most jackets that were very wind resistant were not very breathable, and vice versa.

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Testing the Ghost Lite Jacket in a wind storm on a ridge at the top of Red Mountain Pass in the San Juan Mountains. The greatest advantage of this jacket was its extremely light weight, but we found the fit to be a bit troublesome.

Besides wearing these jackets nearly every day for months on end and noticing how we felt, we tested for wind resistance by forcing air through the fabric at close range, by both a hair dryer, and by our mouth. By combining these two methods, we were able to get a pretty good idea of how easily air passed through each fabric. Then, to back up our findings, we took all of the jackets to the top of a 12,500 ft. pass in the San Juan Mountains in the evening when the winds were sustained at about 20 mph and gusting to 30. We compared our previous findings with side-by-side testing of how each jacket felt in the strong, cold winds, and are confident that we can tell which jackets are the most and least wind resistant.

The Marmot Ether DriClime Hoody was the most wind resistant jacket, aided without doubt by its interior liner. Also scoring well was the other lined jacket, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Pro. Our third top scorer was the Patagonia Alpine Houdini, whose 2.5 layer waterproof/breathable membrane was thicker and heavier than any other in this review. The lowest scorers were all among the most breathable in the review, represented by the Outdoor Research Tantrum, the Sierra Designs Exhale Windshell, and the Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody. It is of course worth noting that despite being comparatively poor in terms of wind resistance, we felt that they still did a good job at this task. We weighted wind resistance as 30 percent of a product's final score.

Breathability and Venting


Equally as important in our minds as wind resistance is breathability. After all, a jacket with no breathability at all would trap all of the heat and subsequent moisture from sweating inside its shell, soaking and overheating the wearer in a very uncomfortable way. However, since wind resistance and breathability are often polar opposites in terms of fabric weave and performance, many manufacturers choose to compensate for poor fabric breathability by including features designed to help with venting. Since we think these two concepts accomplish the same thing removal of heat and moisture we included them together in this metric.

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A nice feature of the Ether DriClime Hoody is the underarm vents, shown here. This lightweight mesh is large enough and thin enough to aid in moisture and heat transfer out of the jacket, and is a feature seen in very few of the wind breakers we tested.

While some jackets like the Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody or Outdoor Research Tantrum had very breathable fabric, others like the Rab Windveil Jacket and the Salomon Fast Wing Hoodie included armpit vents, mesh hand pockets, and venting buttons across the front to hold the jacket together while allowing you to move with the front zipper completely open. The Marmot Ether DriClime Hoody and the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Pro did a great job of helping wick away moisture to allow it to breath through their outer layers and mesh pockets and underarm vents. Unfortunately one jacket, the Patagonia Alpine Houdini, proved to be very wind resistant, but also not very breathable, and really didn't include any handy venting features. It was our lowest scorer for this metric. Like wind resistance, we chose to weight breathability as 30 percent of a product's final score.

Fit and Functionality


Important for any outdoor garment is whether it fits well for its intended purpose, as well as considering whether all of the features work as they were intended. When it comes to fit, we checked to see if the sleeves were long enough, if the hood fit over our head well, and whether the jacket was too baggy or too tight. We took into consideration whether it was designed to be used as a single layer, in which case we expected it to fit sleeker and closer to the body for optimal performance. On the other hand, if it was obviously meant as an outer layer, then we wanted to see if it could be layered beneath.

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The Velcro wrist enclosures were the nicest of any in this review, and allowed fine tuning of the wrist tightness and fit better than any of the simple elastic bands used by most wind breakers we tried.

When looking at functionality we assessed based on whether all of the included features worked well. Often deductions came for things that simply annoyed us, like hard to manipulate zippers, hood stowing systems that simply didn't keep the hood put away, draw cords that were hard to pull or release with one hand, or elastic cuffs and hood liners that simply weren't tight enough to keep the weather out.

Only one jacket, the Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody, scored a perfect 10 for this metric. Its gusseted athletic fit was perfect for active use or layering underneath, and all of its features, including the storm hood, draw cords, and Velcro wrist cuffs worked optimally. On the other hand, we experience many problems with the Sierra Designs Exhale Windshell (poor fit and super short sleeves), the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Jacket (baggy fit that always rode up, loose elastic cuffs and hood), and the Patagonia Alpine Houdini (terrible zipper, bad hood stowage, barely fit in stuff pocket). We weighed this metric as 20 percent of a product's final score.

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A nice feature of the Ghost Lite Pro is how it stows the hood inside the collar using a couple of Velcro tabs. It is relatively easy to fold up or take out while wearing the jacket compared to the other jackets with a stowaway feature, and keeps the hood from flapping away in the wind if it's not being worn.

Water Resistance


While all of these wind breakers purport to be water resistant, none of them, except the Patagonia Alpine Houdini, are meant to be waterproof. It is a tall order to ask for a jacket that is wind resistant, super breathable, super light and packable, cheap, and waterproof, and indeed, we have yet to find such a jacket. As they are not rain jackets, these wind breakers focus on other attributes before water resistance, and so that is not a top priority in their construction. However, a little bit of water protection is necessary from time to time, and so most of these jackets come with a durable water resistant (DWR) coating applied to the outside of the shell when you purchase them. DWR coatings are a chemical application that repels water while still allowing the fabric underneath to breathe properly, but they come with the limitation that they wear off, especially if you wear a pack over the jacket or it is subject to lots of abrasion or scuffing. Once the DWR coating has worn off, the jacket will no longer be water resistant, and in the case of these wind breakers, you will get wet! Luckily, DWR coatings can be purchased and re-applied to jackets that have lost theirs.

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The Alpine Houdini treads the line between wind breaker and simple rain jacket. On this backpacking trip to Sunlight Lakes, we brought two wind breakers, but always ended up wearing this one when it was raining.

Living in a very dry part of the world, we did not have the opportunity to be doused in real rainstorms in all of these jackets. Honestly, we wouldn't want to, as most of these jackets are resistant up to only a light shower or gentle drizzle. If you have to tackle real rain, bring a rain jacket. While we did get rained on plenty, we also needed to objectively test how these jackets handled the rain in comparison to each other, and so employed our trusty shower for the test. We jumped in the shower in each jacket to see how well they handled a dousing. But recognizing their inherent limitations, we were nice enough to simply jump in for one quick turn about, and subjected each jacket to less than 10 seconds of full shower exposure. We tested these jackets at the end of the months-long test period, to get an idea of how well their DWR coating had held up over time. The results spanned the range from impressively good to very bad!

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The Rab Windveil was one of the most water resistant wind breakers in our shower test. It is made of Pertex, which is woven to include DWR (durable water resistant) properties in the fabric itself, rather than needing a separate DWR coating applied. This means the DWR properties will last forever and can't wear off!

The Patagonai Alpine Houdini, with its 2.5 layer waterproof/breathable membrane, was the clear winner when it came to water resistance. One could argue that we should have designated it as a rain jacket, but we wanted to see how it compared head-to-head with the standard Houdini. Other impressively water resistant jackets were the Rab Windveil and the Salomon Fast Wing Hoodie. Disappointingly low scorers were the Outdoor Research Tantrum and the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Jacket. As water resistance is a nice feature to have in a wind breaker, but is certainly not specifically what these jackets are designed for, we only weighted this metric as 10 percent of a product's final score.

Weight and Packability


The lightest wind breakers that we tested are as light as feathers. Weighing in at only 3.0 ounces, the Salomon Fast Wing Hoodie weighs roughly the same as three slices of bread, a small apple, or a deck of cards. That's not very much! On the other end of the spectrum, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Pro checked in at 9.5 ounces, which is still only slightly over half a pound. These jackets are truly exceptionally light.

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The ten wind breakers in this review stuffed into their pockets', from left to right: Sierra Designs Exhale Windhirt (green) does not fit into a pocket, Marmot Ether DriClime Hoody (orange), Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Pro (light orange), Patagonia Alpine Houdini (navy), Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Jacket (glossy black), Salomon Fast Wing Hoodie (neon green) Patagonia Houdini (black), Rab Windveil (white mesh), Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody (brown), Outdoor Research Tantrum (neon yellow).

With all of them weighing seemingly next to nothing, does it make sense to penalize the ones that are just slightly heavier and still feather weight? In order to be fair, we did rate each product based upon its weight, but then bumped the score up, left it the same, or dropped it down slightly based upon how small and how easy the jackets pack up. Every jacket but the Sierra Designs Exhale Windshell stuff into one of their own pockets for super small and easy portability. However, the size they pack down to is not all the same, nor is the ease of stuffing them or the ease of transporting them afterwards.

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The Tantrum was our Top Pick for Mountain Biking and Running because packed down it comes with a waist strap to wear it without a pack. On this ride of the Monarch Crest Trail, we were happy to be able to bring it along without needing our backpack, and when the wind picked up later were very happy we had it.

The Salomon Fast Wing Hoodie was the lightest jacket in the entire review, but it was nearly matched by the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Jacket and the Patagonia Houdini. The heaviest options were the two insulated wind breakers the Marmot Ether DriClime Hoody and the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Pro. The Outdoor Research Tantrum received the largest bump of two positive points for how easily it stuffed into its lower back pocket, and far more importantly how versatile and awesome the included waist strap was for carrying it without a pack. Most of the stow pockets came with a clip-in loop for attaching to a pack or harness if climbing. The Sierra Designs Exhale Windshell did not stuff in its own pocket, nor did it have a clip in or carrying method like the other jackets, so we deducted two points from its weight score. Overall, we weighted this metric as 10 percent of a product's final score.

Conclusion


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The breathable and protective Houdini is a perfect shell for high altitude in the summer. Nearing the top of Columbine Pass during a week long backpacking trip in the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado.

Choosing the perfect wind breaker jacket can certainly present a challenge. While all of the products we have reviewed here did a good job at protecting us from the wind, the complicating factor in determining which one will be the best for you is most likely your intended purpose. We have highlighted a number of different jackets as award winners for specific individual purposes to help you figure out which one is best for you. We hope that our wind breaker review and test results have helped you to make a decision on the best wind breaker to purchase, but if you would like even more information on choosing the right one, we invite you to read our How to Choose the Best Wind Breaker article.
Andy Wellman
Helpful Buying Tips
Unbiased.