Looking for one of the lightest, most versatile, and least expensive pieces of outerwear that you can own? Check out these windbreakers, which are nearly perfect for almost any warm weather activity. To help you choose the best one, we researched over thirty of the best and most popular models available today, choosing the best to put through months of intensive testing. Whether you are hiking, running, bike riding, or backpacking, these garments offer an ideal blend of protection, minimal bulk, and low cost. Our testing revealed our top recommendations for nearly any activity, as well as warmer options for colder days, the one with the best features and pockets, and the best value. Since there is a lot of overlap between windbreakers and more breathable running jackets, be sure to check out that review as well for the largest possible selection.
The Best Windbreaker Jackets For Men
In May we retested the Patagonia Houdini, which remains our favorite overall windbreaker jacket and our favorite choice for long climbs. We also added in the Rab Vital Windshell, which is our top pick for functionality and pockets. In June we finished up the review process by adding in our new Best Buy award winner, The North Face Flyweight Hoodie, as well as the OR Tantrum II. We also added in comparisons to light rain jackets to help you decide which option is best for you.
The Houdini is the most iconic wind jacket and still the best. It does what a windbreaker jacket should — protects you from wind and light rain in the most compact form possible. The entire jacket stuffs into its chest pocket, resulting in a tiny package that is significantly smaller than any other jacket that we tested. It's about the size of a small banana. It easily clips to a belt or takes up almost no room in your pack. It even fits in a tiny under-the-bike-seat bag. The DWR coating is top notch, and it breathes just enough to keep you from getting too clammy on the uphills.
As phones get bigger, the Houdini's chest pocket stays the same size. We were not able to fit a newer smartphone in the pocket unless we removed the case. If biking or running downhill, or in an aggressive wind, the hood flies around with no way to effectively stow it. Those little gripes aside, this is still our favorite windbreaker jacket. We think it is optimal for long mountain runs and bike rides through town or on the local trails. It's also the best option for long free climbs.
Read review: Patagonia Houdini
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Flyweight Hoodie
The Flyweight Hoodie is the most affordable option in this review and also offers the best rain protection and an optimal amount of wind resistance. On cold mountaintops and in chilling ocean winds, we found that virtually no air makes it through this nylon windbreaker. We also discovered that it features a top quality DWR coating combined with an inner, water-repellent liner. It doesn't quite rival the protection of a rain jacket, but will certainly keep you dryer than the competition.
On the flip side, the Flyweight Hoodie is heavier than most windbreaker jackets we tested. While it does stuff into its own hand pocket, the package isn't small or compact enough to inspire us to clip it to our bike bag or climbing harness. It doesn't breathe well either and can leave you a swampy mess if you leave it on for the uphills. This jacket is optimal for hiking or other mellow outdoor activities and is an excellent choice for the budget conscious.
Great Value and Pockets
Rab Vital Windshell
The Rab Vital Windshell comes packed with pockets and features and still costs less than most jackets in this review. While the Houdini is still lighter, the Vital has some big advantages. There are two big hand pockets and a large internal pocket at waist level. The Houdini barely fits one small phone. The Vital could fit eight. A neck snap lets you completely unzip the jacket but still keep it in place, which helps one ventilate while running or riding without looking like a gaper. We're split on the hood brim — it does provide extra rain deflection, but it also looks goofy and gives fewer options to fit it under a bike helmet.
The material does not breathe well. In side-by-side bike climbs with the Houdini, we were much more swampy inside the Vital. But, when we then gave the jackets a water repellency test, the Houdini did better. However, if you don't care as much about breathability or top-of-the-line water repelling skills, but value pockets, the Vital is the better option.
Read review: Rab Vital Windshell
Best for Cool Climates
Marmot Ether DriClime
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 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, the air is often cold 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 maintains a balanced temperature even when the air is not so warm. Due to this thin liner, its wind resistance also remains unmatched in our side-by-side tests.
On the downside, this jacket is a bit too warm for summer wear, limiting its use to the shoulder seasons that are too cold for a regular windbreaker, but not cold enough to warrant a warmth layer. It is also heavier and bulkier than the competition and didn't stuff down very compactly into its pocket. This is a great jacket for those who live in colder weather most of the year, or who want to add to their quiver.
Read review: Marmot Ether DriClime
Waterproof Windbreaker Alternative
Outdoor Research Helium II
While the Helium is technically a rain jacket, we include it here because many people may prefer it over a windbreaker. It's lighter than many windbreakers but also provides water protection. It is relatively compact and can pack down almost as small as many wind jackets. It's more expensive than most of the other jackets in this review, but not by much. If you use this as both your wind jacket and a rain jacket, you save money.
Because this jacket is waterproof, it doesn't breathe well. To make matters worse, there is little venting (no pit zips). This makes it much less ideal for running and hiking. Like the Houdini, it only comes with one chest pocket. All that said, it is perhaps a better emergency layer as it will not get soaked in a rainstorm. If you only want one light jacket for weather protection, this is a quiver of one option that covers many of the functions of both a windbreaker jacket and a rain jacket.
Read review: Outdoor Research Helium II
Criteria for Evaluation
We rated these windbreakers on five scoring metrics: wind resistance, breathability and venting, weight and packability, fit and functionality, and water resistance. We gave each jacket a score from 1 to 10 for each metric, determining the scores based on how they compared to the competition. Some metrics are more important than others, so we weighted those scores more. Read on below to learn more about the ins and outs of performance and testing for each category, how the products compared, and the best performers for each category are.
Two things are especially worth pointing out when discussing scoring metrics. The first is that all of these jackets are among the best available today, and are solid options for purchase, which is why we included them here. Since our scoring is based on comparison, a low score doesn't mean the jacket is not functional, but simply that it didn't perform as well as the others we tested. The second important point is that your specific needs may differ from how heavily we weighted each metric. Be sure to identify your own preferences in a windbreaker jacket carefully, and use the individual product pages to find out how each product performed based on the attributes that you value the most.
An essential aspect of any purchase is the value it offers. While it is often true that items that cost more often come with a correspondingly higher tested performance, this is not always the case. We have found time and again that some budget items perform nearly as well as the most expensive items and present a much better value overall.
To help you understand the value offered by these windbreakers, check out the following price vs. performance chart. Jackets on the right have higher overall scores, while items lower down on the chart have a lower price point. This means that products that fall toward the bottom right of the chart provide the best value. While the Patagonia Houdini is the top overall scorer (furthest right), it is also relatively inexpensive, presenting great value. In contrast, The North Face Flyweight Hoodie is the most affordable (lowest to the bottom), but also scored well enough to be our Best Buy Winner value.
Wind resistance is understandably one of the most important features these jackets can offer. Made of lightweight nylon, most of these jackets acquire their resistance to wind from the incredibly tight weave of their fabrics. The tighter fabric is woven together, the less space there is between individual fibers and the less air penetrates.
Since these jackets are most often used as a lightweight layer for high-intensity activities, breathability is also a top concern. Very few people would enjoy owning a windbreaker that was 100 percent wind resistant and not at all breathable. Therefore, some air must be able to pass through. These attributes are hard to balance. Most jackets that are very wind resistant are not very breathable, and vice versa.
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. We used a hair dryer and our mouths. By combining these methods, we can get a pretty good idea of how easily air passed through each fabric. To back up our findings, we took all of the jackets to the top of a 12,500 foot pass in the San Juan Mountains 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.
In addition to the nylon fabric weave used in construction, a couple other factors are vital in a jackets performance while fighting the wind. Fit (discussed more below) is critical, and windbreakers work better when they fit close to the body. Features that help seal out the wind, like elastic on the sleeve cuffs and drawcords on the hem, make a huge difference if you are battling a strong and sustained wind. These are easy entry points where the wind can simply circumvent your carefully woven nylon.
Lastly, while ventilation gaps and panels can shed extra heat buildup on an uphill, they are also areas where a fierce wind can penetrate your jacket. So there is a tough balance to find with these features. The top scorers where the jackets that had the tightest weaves and the best sealing off features at openings, while lower scorers for this metric often missed both of these important factors.
The Marmot Ether DriClime Hoody is the most wind resistant jacket, aided by its comfortable interior liner, which serves as an extra buffer between you and the cold winds. Two unlined jackets seemed to have tighter weaves than the rest, which led to more wind resistance. These were the Rab Vital Windshell and The North Face Flyweight Hoodie. We like these options because they have hand pockets, in contrast to the majority. But we did notice that the wind can creep in when the pockets are unzipped. We weighted wind resistance as 30 percent of a product's final score.
Breathability and Venting
Equally as important as wind resistance is breathability. After all, a jacket with no breathability would trap all of your heat and sweat inside its shell, overheating, soaking and then overcooling you. 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 these two concepts accomplish the same thing — removal of heat and moisture — we included them together in this metric.
All of these jackets bias towards protecting you from the wind, so none of them breathe that well. However, some jackets performed better than the rest, for different reasons. The Marmot DriClime Ether Hoody breathed very well by effectively wicking moisture from sweat away from the body. The Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody and Outdoor Research Tantrum II employed very breathable fabric. Others like the Marmot Ether DriClime, included armpit vents. Like wind resistance, we chose to weight breathability as 30 percent of a product's final score.
Weight and Packability
The lightest windbreakers we feel like feathers. That's not very much! Even the heaviest jacket, the Marmot Ether DriClime Hoody, checked in at 8.5 ounces, which is still only slightly over half a pound. These jackets are exceptionally light.
With all of them weighing seemingly next to nothing, does it make sense to penalize the ones that are just slightly heavier and still featherweight? 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 tested manages to stuff into one of their own pockets for super small and easy portability. However, the size they pack down to is not equal, nor is the ease of stuffing them or the ease of transporting them afterward. A smaller stuffed size is a valuable attribute for attaching a windbreaker to a harness on a long climb or fitting in a hydration pack for a long mountain bike ride.
The Patagonia Houdini is the lightest jacket in the entire review and it stuffs down to a very small package. All of the jackets stuff into their own pockets or stuff sacks and come with keeper or clip in loops for easy carrying. Unfortunately, many of them are bulky or unwieldy packages to carry outside a pack or harness. Check out individual product pages for pictures of some of the jackets' stuffed size. Overall, we weighted this metric as 20 percent of a product's final score.
Fit and Functionality
Important for any outdoor garment is whether it fits well for its intended purpose and 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 fits 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 meant as an outer layer, then we wanted to see if it could be layered beneath.
Often point deductions came from features that simply annoyed us, like hard to manipulate zippers, hood stowing systems that don't hold, drawcords that are hard to pull or release with one hand, or elastic cuffs and hood liners that aren't tight enough to keep the weather out.
Only one jacket, the Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody, scored top marks in this metric. Its gusseted, athletic fit is perfect for active use or layering underneath, and all of its features, including the storm hood, drawcords, and Velcro wrist cuffs worked optimally.
The Outdoor Research Tantrum II received a high score due to its super stretchy material, which leads to a perfect fit regardless of what we were doing. The Houdini earned a high score for its sleek functionality and a hood that is mountain bike compatible. The Rab Vital also scored well for a great, useful set of features, including a stowable hood, a ventilation button at the top of the zipper, and giant hand pockets. We weighed this metric as 10 percent of a product's final score.
While all of these windbreakers purport to be water resistant, none of them 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. We have yet to find such a jacket. For a versatile crossover option that is more waterproof than breathable, check out the Outdoor Research Helium II, which we have recommended above.
A little bit of water protection is necessary from time to time, so most of these jackets come with a durable water resistant (DWR) coating applied to the shell. DWR coatings are a chemical application that repels water while still allowing the fabric underneath to breathe properly. But 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 is gone, these jacket will no longer be water resistant, and you will get wet! Luckily, you can re-apply DWR coatings.
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 during testing. 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!
The North Face Flyweight Hoodie has some unspecified chemical liner applied to the inside of its nylon shell. This feature, in conjunction with its superior DWR coating, means that it provides the best water resistance you could ask for in a windbreaker. A distant second best is the Patagonia Houdini, which has a more effective DWR coating than most, but which will eventually wear away.
The DWR coatings applied to the Marmot DriClime Ether also initially did an effective job, causing water to bead up and fall off. The Rab Vital did not. Regardless, we wouldn't choose any of these jackets if we knew we would get wet from rain. Water resistance is a nice feature to have in a windbreaker but is certainly not what these jackets are designed for. We only weighted this metric as 10 percent of a product's final score.
Choosing the perfect windbreaker jacket can certainly bet a challenge. All of the products we review here protect us from the wind. The trick to figuring out which one is best for you is to figure out how you'll use it. That's why we highlight award winners for specific purposes, to help you figure out which one is best for you. If you would like even more information on how to choose the right one, we invite you to read our How to Choose the Best Windbreaker article.
— Andy Wellman