The Best Wind Jacket Review
We identified the top wind breaker jackets and put them in numerous side-by-side tests. These are jackets intended for running, hiking, biking, and general outdoor use. They can hold off a little rain in a pinch but their main purpose is wind protection — a crucial element of a state-of-the-art layered clothing system (for more info, see the "Light Wind Jacket" section of our article on layered clothing systems). Wind Breaker Jackets are different than light rain jackets in that they are even lighter, very compressible, and use more breathable fabrics. While there were some similar jackets, most tested garments dramatically varied in design and construction. Some were good at many activities while others just excelled at a few applications. Read on to see how they stacked up.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
|Displaying 1 - 5 of 6||<< Previous | View All | Next >>|
Analysis and Award Winners
Update Note: March 2015
We have contacted all of the companies and have confirmed that most of the changes in the products that we've reviewed were only in regards to color, unless otherwise noted. The last complete review was March 2012.
Best Overall Wind Jacket
Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody
Top Pick for Lightweight and Compact
Top Pick for Cool Temperatures
Marmot DriClime Windshirt
You may also like:
Analysis and Test Results
The Arc'teryx Squamish had the best wind resistance. It was the only jacket to completely seal out the wind due to the great hood closure and Velcro cuffs. Right behind it was the Patagonia Houdini that did almost as well but had no cuffs. The Rab Cirrus might have been as good as the Houdini but there was no way to seal the hood. All the other jackets either did not have a good hood or did not have a way to seal the wind or rain or both.
The North Face Better Than Naked Jacket was by far the most breatheable. It has mesh panels in the areas you sweat the most (pits, back, head). Even non-mesh areas use material that is highly breathable. All the other jackets were about the same. They breathed a little at a low heart rate, but when you started hiking hard, sweat built up on the inside. The Marmot DriClime did the best job of dealing with sweat once it started to build up.
No jacket was water resistant in a strong rain for more than a few minutes. In a light rain the Arc'teryx Squamish did the best. Right behind it was the Patagonia Houdini and the Rab Cirrus. All three will keep you dry from 30 min. to hour depending on how hard the rain is. The REI Airflyte is very water resistant on parts of the jacket but on the mesh panels water really comes in. The Marmot DryClime outer shell started absorbing water pretty quickly but did stay dry on the inside in a light rain.
All these results are when the DWR treatment is new. Overtime, DWR coatings degrade and must be maintained or even re-applied.
The Patagonia Houdini is the clear winner here. It is a little lighter than the Rab Cirrus, however it packs much much smaller because it goes into its own small chest pocket. The Rab Cirrus packed into either one of two hand pockets. The Squamish and Trail Wind Breaker Jackets are only about an ounce heavier than the Cirrus and Houdini and compact about as small. All are really lightweight so for the most part we are splitting hairs in this category among the top performers other than the Houdini, which really stood out for how small it is.
We define versatility as how many different activities you can use the jacket for. The Squamish wins here because it looks, feels and performs more like a ultralight hardshell than the rest. It became our go to backcountry skiing jacket (except in harsh conditions). Right behind it was that Houdini. We used that the on a bike, hiking, backpacking, and even at the beach. Because it compacts so small we just took it everywhere. The Houdini combined with a lightweight down or insulated jacket will keep you warm in most conditions for under a pound. The Rab Cirrus is just behind Houdini and is a very similar jacket. The DryClime is not as useful alone in wind or rain. However, it is the jacket we where almost every day when I came. We often used the DriClime with the Houdini on mountain bike rides.
All these jackets were expensive. In fact, price per ounce, they are among the most expensive garments out there. The price tags seemed a bit outrageous considering how simple the construction is and how little there is to this jacket. Compare these to the $100 Rain Jacket models and tell us where all the money is going? That said, these are among the layers we use the most often. We use them year-round hiking, backpacking, skiing, and at the beach. The real way to measure value, we think, is price per day used. If you use this jacket 600 days in the next five years, then $125 isn't that expensive.
History of Wind Jackets
The wind is a powerful and often uncomfortable force of nature. A light five mile per hour breeze has the ability to drop temperatures as much as ten degrees or more depending on the ambient air. A strong wind of thirty to thirty-five miles per hour can drop already cold temperatures as much as twenty-five degrees. This is not a force to be reckoned with. There is no doubt that even the earliest man made all efforts to remove themselves from the wind by wrapping their bodies in some sort of protective clothing.
For the first several thousand years of human history, people clothed themselves in the only items available, animal pelts. When properly prepared the right type of hides can be made to be quite wind resistant and impressively water proof. Primitive man used an assortment of different furs for staying warm and on closer inspection it is no surprise that certain pelts and furs were used over others. For example, caribou hair has a hollow construction that allows for a greater amount of air to be trapped in the fur, keeping the animal (or wearer of the animal pelt) warmer than with other pelts.
Well oiled sealskin coats were popular for a long time among Europeans, however, Inuit and other native Arctic peoples relied on the seal skins for their warmth and wind resistance. By the late 19th century and early 20th century the extreme crews of seamen who were casting out to explore the farthest southern reaches of the globe were struggling to develop appropriate clothing systems to keep them warm in the extreme arctic temperatures. One of the key items these explorers lacked were windproof clothing.
Throughout the 19th century the most windproof fabric available was either leather clothing or tightly woven burberry gabardine. The latter was the preferred choice of many of the polar explorers due to complications with fur clothing becoming damp and frozen. It wasn't until the 1940s, during the technology booms that surrounded World War 2 did a more superior textile hit the market: Nylon. First created in 1931 by American chemist Wallace Carothers and then commercially produced by Dupont in 1939. Nylon changed the textile industry forever.
Now there are dozens of fabrics out there in the multi-billion dollar textile industry. New types of materials, all offshoots from the original versions of nylon and polyester are now widely available, these ultra light-weight and windproof fabrics are constantly being improved. By combining technologies, like impregnating nylon or polyester with silicon, fabrics are now made to be fully water proof and wind proof yet maintain a high level of breathability. These high tech fabrics have become a staple for top of the line outdoor clothing.
Pairing a wind breaker jacket with and insulating layer, such as a fleece, can increase the warmth without having to spend money on a much heavier jacket that is both warm and wind resistant. Our favorite fleece we tested was the Patagonia R1 Hoody. Its length and hood really set it apart from all the others we tried. For a more in-depth look at all the fleeces we tested, check out The Best Fleece Jacket for Men Review.
There are women's versions of all these wind breaker jackets. They generally just vary in fit and color. The materials are the same. See Women's wind jackets.
A wind jacket is a light and breathable layer that can be versatile in its protection. All of the jackets that we tested in this category are designed to offer shelter from the wind and even a light rain. Other factors to keep in mind while selecting your jacket are breathability, weight, and how compact the jacket can be. It is our hope that the findings in this review have helped you find the right jacket for your needs. Read on to our Buying Advice article for more information on what to consider before making your purchase.
— Chris McNamara
Table of Contents
Helpful Buying Tips