After researching over thirty windbreaker jackets, we bought six and put them through extensive tests while hiking, biking, and backpacking. We found that no one jacket was best for every activity. We recommend the best wind jackets if you want the ultimate in weight-saving minimalism as well and jackets that offer more warmth and versatility. There is a lot of overlap with wind jackets and running jackets so be sure to also check out this review.
The Best Windbreaker Jackets For Men
Analysis and Award Winners
After testing a few new jackets, the Patagonia Houdini is still on top. It scores well across all metrics and is still one of the least expensive jackets we've tested. The Rab Vital now snags our Top Pick award and has the best pockets. 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 should: protects you from wind and light rain in the most compact form factor 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 chest pocket has stayed the same size. We were not able to fit a bigger smartphone in the pocket unless we removed the case. If biking downhill, the hood flies around a bunch. But those little gripes aside, this is still our favorite windbreaker jacket.
Read review: Patagonia Houdini
Great Value and Pockets
Rab Vital Windshell
The Vital comes packed with pockets and features and still costs less than most jackets in this review. While the Houdini is still more lightweight, 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. We're split on the hood brim — it does provide extra rain deflection, but it also looks goofy and gives fewer options for fitting 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. Ironically, when we then gave the jackets water repellency tests, the Houdini did better. However, if you don't care as much about breathability, and value pockets, the Vital is the better option.
Read review: Rab Vital
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 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 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. While we found it a bit too insulated for mid-summer use, it was our top scorer in our comparison testing, and the jacket we most often reached for as summer faded and cool temperatures started to dominate. Last, but not least, its wind resistance was unmatched in our side-by-side tests.
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 wind jackets but gives 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. But 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 "quicker of one" option that covers many of the functions of both a windbreaker and a rain jacket.
Read review: Outdoor Research Helium II
Analysis and Test Results
First and foremost, the purpose of a windbreaker 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. Windbreakers 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 windbreaker, 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 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.
The Need for a WindBreaker Jacket
In our opinion, windbreaker 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 pleasant. However, even a slight breeze or a drop in temperature can vastly affect 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 mountaintop 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 with sweat, and felt relieved to feel our body cooling down. However, due to the nature of convective heat loss, mere moments later we are cold and can't warm up. A windbreaker jacket provides the perfect barrier to slow this heat loss, by wind and by sweat, and broadens the range of comfort in all types of outdoor weather.
The advantages of a windbreaker 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 incredibly packable (all but one reviewed here easily fits into its 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 windbreaker as our go-to first layering option (unless, of course, it's raining or snowing).Purposes and Activities
We feel that windbreaker 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 windbreaker nearly every day, for almost everything that we did. We used these jackets climbing, 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 Windbreaker article.
Types of Windbreakers
For this review, we tested 10 of the best and most popular windbreaker jackets 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 models 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, Outdoor Research Tantrum, Salomon Fast Wing Hoodie, and the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Jacket.
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. Also, 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 models that fit into this category were the Marmot Ether DriClime and the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Pro.
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 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.
Criteria for Evaluation
We rated these on five 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 in each category. For an overall perspective on how these jackets fared, check out this chart:
Since we are reviewing windbreaker jackets, 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. The tighter a fabric is woven together, the less space between individual fibers, and the less air penetrates. Interestingly, the makers of these jackets also understand that since windbreakers 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 windbreaker that was 100 percent wind resistant and not at all breathable. Therefore, 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.
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.
While some jackets like the Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody or Outdoor Research Tantrum had very breathable fabric, others like 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 meant as an outer layer, then we wanted to see if it could be layered beneath.
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 didn't keep the hood put away, drawcords that were hard to pull or release with one hand, or elastic cuffs and hood liners that 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.
While all of these windbreakers 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 windbreakers 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 windbreakers, you will get wet! Luckily, DWR coatings can be purchased and re-applied to jackets that have lost theirs.
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!
The Patagonia 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 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 windbreaker 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 windbreakers 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.
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 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 afterward.
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 windbreakers — the Marmot Ether DriClime Hoody and the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Pro. 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 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.
Choosing the perfect windbreaker 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 some different jackets as award winners for specific individual purposes to help you figure out which one is best for you. We hope that our windbreaker review and test results have helped you to make a decision on the best windbreaker 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 Windbreaker article.
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.