The Best Wind Jacket for Women Review
What's the best women's wind breaker jacket on the market today? In search of the most breathable and lightweight option for the outdoors-gal, we selected seven of the top selling models and put them to test on the rocks, in the mountains and cycling around town in gusty winds. We handed them off to friends and climbing partners, and took notice of how they fit women of different builds. We evaluated each wind breaker jacket based on six different metrics: Wind Resistance, Breathability, Water Resistance, Weight, Versatility and Durability. Keep reading to see which models were our favorites and which ones didn't measure up.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
Choosing the right wind breaker jacket for you depends primarily on what type of environment you plan on wearing it in. Are you adventuring in a hot humid climate or a cold alpine mountain range? In order to select the right one, first ask yourself a few questions. What are your priorities? Warmth? Lightweight? Breathable? Light water resistance? You also want to keep in mind your own body and how it reacts to exertion. Do you tend to perspire a lot? Or do you run cold and need more warmth protection than the average person? This review will help you understand the different types out there, sift through the pros and cons, and find the best one to suit your needs.
Wind breaker jackets differ from rain jackets in that they are lighter, more compressible, and breathe better. Some keep you dry in a summer drizzle, but they are not designed to handle a downpour. They are a great way to add warmth to your core when the wind is blowing, and those with a hood add a little sanity to your mind when the gusts are ripping. Whether you are adventuring out on an all-day multi-pitch rock climb or cruising around town on your bike, a wind breaker jacket is a crucial element of a layering system. Since they are made of such thin fabric, they layer well on top of your base clothing as well as underneath a hardier piece of protection such as an insulated jacket or rain layer. For more information on how to layer, check out the Light Wind Jacket Layer section in our Introduction to Layered Clothing Systems. If you plan on adventuring in wet climates and need more protection from the elements, check out our Women's Rain Jacket Review.
There are several features to consider when buying a wind breaker jacket, but the three main types are: lightweight, hooded and fleece-lined.
Some wind breakers are super light and ultra-thin, perfect for trail runners and hikers, such as the Patagonia Houdini - Women's and The North Face Flyweight Hoodie - Women's. And some are made of a more durable fabric yet still lightweight, designed with alpinists and rock climbers in mind, such as the Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody - Women's and The North Face Cyclone Hoodie - Women's. Lightweight wind breaker jackets are designed for high-exertion aerobic activities where solid wind protection is needed but water resistance is less important. However, since these jackets are so lightweight, they layer extremely well underneath a waterproof layer when Mother Nature is ready to drop buckets of moisture. Another great feature of lightweight models is that they are highly compressible, and some of them stuff right into their own pockets for easy storage when climbing or backpacking.
When a cold wind starts gusting, a hood adds extra warmth to your entire body. It keeps the drafts out while protecting your neck and head from the cold, and it adds some mental relief as well by preventing your hair from flying all over the place and protecting your ears. While some manufacturers offer hoodless versions of their lightweight models, we prefer to have a hood on our wind breaker jacket whenever possible. Most of the models that we tested in this review came with hoods, and they are all sized to fit over a helmet with some type of cinch mechanism.
If you plan to use your wind breaker jacket with a helmet, such as biking or climbing, it's a good idea to test it out with one before purchasing to see how it affects your peripheral vision. Look for models that cinch from the back, like the Patagonia Houdini and Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody, as these provide a better fit with uninterrupted side views and less flapping when the wind starts howling.
When added warmth and a built in layer is needed, a fleece-lined wind shirt such as the Marmot Stride - Women's may suit your needs. A cozy breathable lining feels soft next to your skin and offers more warmth, but it's not be the best choice for warmer climates or if you are building a comprehensive layering system for multi-climate or multi-day adventures. We liked wearing a fleece-lined jacket in between sport climbs on cragging days and cycling on cold and windy spring days. In the case of the Marmot Stride, the fleece is designed to wick away moisture from the inside and disperse it to the outside of the fabric to keep you from getting sweaty, but the extra warmth is unnecessary in warmer temps.
There are also several other features to consider when purchasing a wind breaker jacket, such as zippered hand pockets, adjustable cuffs, and pocket stow, which we discuss in further detail in our Buying Advice Guide. The different models we reviewed retail between $49 and $149. Within that price range we found a broad range of quality, durability, functionality, and fit. Sometimes less is more, particularly when weight is the highest value. When we're packing in climbing and cooking gear for several days in the alpine, we like our clothing layers to be as lightweight and functional as possible. While we found some great jackets at a reasonable price, some of the less expensive models had inferior weather resistance, breathability, or longevity. Keep reading to see how the different models rated in our tests, and which ones are worth the extra money, or not.
Criteria for Evaluation
Wind may be a breath of fresh air in warm weather, but as the temperature drops, you notice the chill to your bones with every cold gust. When journeying outside, you'll undoubtedly run into windy conditions at some point, and a trusty lightweight wind breaker jacket might make the difference between a fun outing and a miserable experience. Every model that we tested was wind resistant to a certain degree, but when gusts huffed and puffed and nearly blew little pig's house down, we noticed some key differences in performance.
Our highest rated jackets, the Editors' Choice winning Patagonia Houdini and Top Pick for Alpine Climbing Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody, offered the best protection thanks to their highly wind resistant material. Sometimes you sacrifice breathability with a strong windproof fabric, but that was not the case for these models. Other components that aid in blocking the wind are a hood with a cinch cord and a drawstring hem. If you completely lock down your jacket around you, you minimize the amount of air that enters via the head and hem, keeping the gusts at bay and your body warmer overall. A draft flap behind the zipper and adjustable cuffs are other components that contribute to stopping the wind, but those features add to the overall weight of the jacket. The Patagonia Houdini keeps its weight down by avoiding those features, but still manages to almost completely block the wind.
Some models, like the Columbia Flash Forward - Women's did a relatively poor job of blocking the wind. While the other criteria that we tested these models on is also important, we dare say that their performance in this metric is this most important thing to consider, since they are wind breaker jackets after all. Ultimately, how your jacket cuts the wind determines whether you are going to be shivering cold or a happy camper.
A wind breaker jacket that breathes with you as your exertion increases is an important quality. There's not much use to a layer that staves off the wind if it leaves you moist and sweaty on the inside. The drier you stay, the more comfortable you'll be, and that little bit of extra comfort is nice when you are at the crux of a challenging sport climb or hiking switchback number 99 on the Mt. Whitney Trail.
Breathability is mostly dictated by the type of fabric, though a few other features aid in this as well. The DriClime fabric used in the Marmot Stride wicks away sweat to the backside of the mesh where it disperses thanks to evaporation. The Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody also scored high for breathability; the soft Gossamera nylon fabric circulates air well and helps regulate your body temperature. It also has a non-locking "tear away" zipper, which you can undo one-handed while also riding a bike or in the middle of a climb. Sometimes the best ventilation comes from simply un-zipping your jacket, and a full-length front zipper lets you quickly vent your own moisture before it builds up and makes you clammy. Adjustable cuffs are another way to regulate ventilation, but that's about the extent of the options for these models, unlike a hard shell or rain jacket that might come with pit zippers. So, you'll want to consider a model that has breathability designed into the fabric itself while still being wind resistant. Some models, like the Columbia Flash Forward, feel breathable because they don't actually block the wind, which is not what you want from this layer.
Other models we tested, like The North Face Cyclone Hoodie and the Sierra Designs Microlight 2 - Women's, are made with a thicker material that does a great job of blocking the wind but did not ventilate well as exertion increased. We found ourselves a tad clammy in these models. While it's possible to self-ventilate them by unzipping the zipper, if that is the only way to keep them breathing then that sort of defeats the purpose. Enduring hard physical challenges always comes back to the breath, creating a place of spaciousness and calm. So you're better of putting yourself in a breathable model when you are getting after it out there.
We did a variety of tests to determine the water resistance of each of these models. First we used the "Shower Test" that we employ for our rain jacket reviews, but quickly realized that stepping into the shower with any of these wind breakers ends up in bone soaking discomfort. None of them are designed to withstand a thorough soaking, and none of them do. So we hung them in the shade and watched how fast each one dried, and then sprayed them with a misting water bottle to simulate a light rain, taking note of how each jacket felt next to the skin and how long they held moisture and were completely dry.
To a large degree, the water resistance of a jackets depends on the coating, or durable water repellent (DWR) finish. This is a water repelling chemical coating applied by the manufacturer to the outer material of the garment. This method of water resistance works effectively by beading up the rain drops, causing the water to roll right off instead of saturate through the material.
Of the seven different models we reviewed, the Patagonia Houdini was the most water repellent and fastest to dry. The DWR coating in conjunction with the breathable fabric structure keeps the outer material from becoming soaked so that the inner membrane can work effectively and keep you dry. A fast drying, water repellent wind breaker jacket is crucial in the alpine environment when summer storms roll in quickly. Some of the less expensive models that we tested, like the Columbia Flash Forward and Sierra Designs Microlight 2, had poor water resistance and aren't the best choice for taking on a mission where you might run into some inclement weather.
DWR coatings don't last forever and need to be reapplied over time. You can increase the longevity of the coating by keeping your jacket clean, as dirt particles interfere with its ability to bead water droplets. Once the coating is no longer working effectively, you can renew it with a product like Nikwax Tech Wash.
When travelling over long distances or in fast-and-light mode, the weight of your gear becomes a priority. In this case, less is definitely more. While the difference between the lightest and heaviest models that we tested is only 5 ounces (that's about a quarter of a pound), when you shed a few ounces off of all of your gear, the differences start to add up. If you are trying to move efficiently in the mountains weight is a key consideration. A lighter weight model might be more likely to end up in your pack or clipped to your harness than a heavier one, so consider your priorities on added features such as zippered pockets and cuff tabs, and decide if they are worth their weight.
The lightest and most compact model that we tested was our Editors' Choice winner, the Patagonia Houdini. It weighs only 3.6 ounces and packs down to the size of an energy bar. The trim athletic fit and lack of certain features, like a zipper draft flap, hand pockets and cuff tabs, help shed ounces but do not compromise performance. If you love having hand pockets, you'll have to live with an extra ounce or two and go with The North Face Cyclone or Flyweight Hoodies instead.
While you don't want to carry or wear a heavy layer that feels like you're trapped inside a hot vehicle, lightweight jackets may not be as warm. Here's where you need to consider your internal body temperature and if you typically run hot or cold. A looser fit model, and therefore heavier overall, like the Columbia Flash Forward, has room for several layers underneath, while the trim fitting Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody does not.
Certain features on a wind breaker jacket may increase versatility for one person, yet decrease it for another. For example, several of the jackets reviewed came with zippered pockets. While these pockets are excellent for holding energy bars, keys, phones, cameras or music devices, they are also uncomfortable when wearing a backpack waist belt or climbing harness. The Patagonia Houdini and Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody have only one external chest pocket for this reason, which holds a smartphone or keys and which the jacket stuffs into when not in use.
A hood adds some versatility (and warmth), and most of the models we tested came with a helmet-compatible one. However, if the hood's drawstrings cinch down around the sides of the face, it tends to bring the material forward and obstruct your peripheral views. We again preferred the Patagonia Houdini and Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody models because their hoods cinched at the back. This lets you pull the hood far enough back to keep your side vision angles wide and clear.
Another strong versatile feature in a wind breaker jacket is how small it compresses and whether it stows inside one of its pockets. Some models, like The North Face Cyclone and Flyweight Hoodies, have a built-in pocket stow. While it's possible to force the ones without this feature into their pockets, they don't have a reversible zipper, making it hard to zip them in and out of it. A clippable loop is another add-on that lets you secure it to your harness when in stow mode.
When purchasing an ultra-thin wind layer, you want the material to endure the tests of time and rugged terrain. While it was difficult to completely assess this metric during our two month testing time, we did our best to use them in rough and potentially damaging conditions. We then made observations based on the quality of fabrics used, stitching and zipper design.
For fabrics, there are key features to look for that increase the durability. One is the weight/thickness of the material, or denier; the higher the denier, the thicker and heavier it is. The different models we tested ranged from 15-50 denier (D). The other is whether or not they have a ripstop construction, which uses a special reinforcing technique that makes the material resistant to tearing and ripping. A 15D ultra-thin jacket like the Patagonia Houdini might be more prone to tearing than the 50D Sierra Designs Microlight 2, but the Houdini's ripstop construction helps to prevent those tears, and if they do happen, they'll remain smaller and not ruin the whole garment.
While all of the models we tested have double stitching in key stress areas like the shoulders, some, like the Columbia Flash Forward, only use single stitching around the hood and hem area which is not as durable in the long-term. Finally, we considered the zippers. We noticed that finer teeth pick up and hold small grains of sand, which leads to zipper malfunction. Also, wider teeth, like on the Columbia Flash Forward, catch the draft flap which is both annoying and damaging to the zipper over time. Somewhere in between there's a happy medium!
If you do punch a hole in your jacket, a strip or two or Nylon Repair Tape goes a long way towards increasing the longevity and water permeability of your jacket.
A wind breaker is an integral part of any outdoor adventurer's apparel, but it can be difficult to know which jacket is truly best for you. With features ranging across breathability, water resistance, and weight, the jacket you choose will ultimately depend on the climate that you plan to wear it in. We hope that this review has steered you towards the jacket most suited for your needs. Check out our Buying Advice guide for more information on other features to consider when making your selection.
— Jean Tucky
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