Billabong Wind Swell Anorak Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Stylish, affordable, verging on waterproof, surprisingly breathable
Cons: No zippered pockets, difficult to pull on and off
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Look a little closer (like with a microscope) and you may notice there is something special about the thickly woven polyester fabric used to make this jacket. In 2007, Billabong launched their Recycler series boardshorts, and now that same process of intercepting and recycling PET, aka single-use plastics, has spread throughout their clothing line, including the Wind Swell. This jacket is made from 58% recycled polyester — so while production will certainly not solve our floating plastics problem by itself, it's still a pretty great place to start.
There is something to be said for the beautiful simplicity of a non-technical windbreaker. Not only does a design like the Wind Swell stand-out from the crowd of jackets we tested in terms of style, but when designers are not so worried about shaving-off grams of weight, they can make sure to hit critical marks like top-notch wind resistance. We've tested jackets that look like this one in the past that proved themselves in this metric thanks to a thick double-layer polyester construction. So you can imagine our surprise — and impressed looks — when a closer examination revealed that the panels are actually a single layer.
The secret to success is the mini-ripstop fabric design, which uses a much tighter weave than the more permeable, technical jackets that concern themselves more with temperature regulation than pure wind-blocking power. Let's put some numbers to those statements by comparing denier, a unit of measure used to determine the thickness (mass density) of fibers — the higher the rating, the thicker the fabric. The mini-ripstop fabric used in the Wind Swell jacket measures 300-400D, compared to the Tyono fabric used in the Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody that measures only 30D.
Breathability and Venting
As with most things in life, you cannot have it all, and the superior wind resistance of the Wind Swell comes with the sacrifice of breathability. However, this jacket does incorporate some design points that help to counter its relatively poor showing. The black, upper panel is backed with mesh to help pull moisture away from your body, and dump it through three large vents sewn into the back of the jacket. While this doesn't fully solve the issue, it does provide a reasonable amount of ventilation to help prevent you from completely overheating.
Even though this is not a technical piece, we made sure to put the Wind Swell through its paces. From trail runs to loaded training climbs, where we hoof-it uphill with 40 pounds of water in our packs, we wanted to give this jacket every opportunity to impress us. Since the ripstop fabric used in the Wind Swell is 10-times thicker than the fabrics of our most breathable jackets, we had some preconceived expectations of performance. Sure enough, moisture pools and gathers on the inside of this jacket practically everywhere except for in close proximity to the vents, resulting in a sweaty mess.
Weight and Packability
Unfortunately, we have to continue to go deeper into this jacket's flaws, before ultimately rounding things out on a much more positive note. Weight and packability are the Wind Swell's point of undoing when compared directly to the (much lighter) rest of the field.
This jacket tips the scales at 10.4 ounces, nearly double that of the closest competitor. You certainly notice the extra heft while wearing this jacket — and the main reason we would never consider this as a technical piece of outerwear for fast and light movements.
On the subject of Luddites, this jacket also loses major points when it comes to packability. Not only is the Wind Swell almost double the size of most other jackets in this review — more like the size of two Nalgene water bottles — it is only one of two jackets that don't zip into their own stuff-sack. To its credit, it is easy enough to stuff and wrap up this jacket in one of the mesh-kangaroo pockets, but we worry about those pockets eventually ripping from being turned inside-out.
Fit and Functionality
As mentioned above, this is not a technical jacket, and that happens to be a nice break from the norm in this category. As style suggests, the Wind Swell fits with all the swagger of a laid-back surfer bro. Thanks to the mesh-lined interior, this relaxed-fit jacket is a cozy reprieve from the elements, regardless of if you're tossing it on over a tank-top or layering it over a sweatshirt.
We didn't expect much in the ways of functionality out of this simply designed windbreaker. Despite advertising claims, the Wind Swell has no zippered chest pocket, or any zippered pockets for that matter — just two, individually-sewn hand pockets inside a front-facing kangaroo pouch. Our biggest criticism, interestingly enough, relates fit directly to functionality. Once it's pulled on, a medium is a perfect fit for our 5'-10" lead tester. However, actually pulling the jacket on and off can wrap you up like a game of twister.
Now, back to the good stuff. The Wind Swell truly lives up to its name, providing you adequate protection from both wind and water. The heavy-denier ripstop fabric is only treated with a "micro repel coating", but the thick polyester does most of the heavy-lifting when it comes to protecting you from the elements. In our shower test, water beaded up and rolled off this jacket with ease — even after a 30-second dousing, we were completely dry underneath.
While the dual-drawcords lack cord locks, and are somewhat limited in how tightly you can pull them down, the oversized hood does a great job of keeping wind and rain out of your face. But similarly to the chest zipper pocket, there are no toggle adjustments for the hood as advertised — we find these false claims both odd, and unnecessary for such a great anorak-style jacket. Just in case the weather turns really nasty, the hem actually does have a single adjustable toggle, so you can bundle up tightly.
Considering wind and water resistance alone, the Wind Swell offers outstanding weather protection in a relatively lightweight package, offered at a very reasonable price. For beach-side bonfires, chilly surf sessions, desert dirtbag camping, and stylish nights out on the town, this is the perfect relaxed-fit windbreaker. But as soon as things get technical, we suggest turning your attention to one of several other only slightly more expensive options.
While it may not be the ultimate answer for all of your fast and light pursuits, the Wind Swell excels as a windbreaker in the areas that really count — wind and water resistance. Its durable construction, price-point, and eco-friendly attitude will surely put a smile on your face. Couple that with a style to boost your swagger and comfort that will leave you hoping for the first signs of fall, and we'll find ourselves pulling this jacket off the rack time-and-again.
— Aaron Rice