Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Wind Jackets

Tuesday July 6, 2021

Model Selection


To find out which windbreakers on the market today are the very best, we bought the most popular and best-selling models from the leading manufacturers. We tested them head-to-head through all four seasons in the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico. We did our best to choose models that represented all of the different genres of windbreakers available to the buyer today, from ultra-lightweight to insulated to water-resistant and durable. In every case, we chose to test a model with a hood over ones that did not include a hood because this feature tends to add to the versatility of a garment.

First sun to last call. This jacket is as comfortable on an early...
First sun to last call. This jacket is as comfortable on an early morning ski tour as it is out for a night on the town.
Photo: Jill Rice

Where We Tested


The vast majority of our testing came in the form of simply using the jackets while doing the varied outdoor activities that we love. In many cases, we carried two jackets with us on the same adventure to test them in the same conditions on the same day, side-by-side. We took them hiking, camping, trail running, rock climbing, peak bagging, backpacking, mountain biking, fly fishing, and also wore them around town and in our day-to-day lives. Indeed, the more we wore and tested these windbreaker jackets, the more we found them to be indispensable to our everyday activities.

It's impossible not to get cold and wet while building a quinzee, a...
It's impossible not to get cold and wet while building a quinzee, a perfect proving ground for testing water resistance! While this jacket did not perform highly in our hose test, we found that it does dry out on your body quickly enough to keep moving even in the dampest conditions.
Photo: Anders Fristedt

Metrics


After months of wearing these jackets daily in all kinds of circumstances and lending them out to friends to test and report back on, we had some pretty well-conceived ideas of their relative strengths and weaknesses. We then put each jacket through a variety of tests to back up or dissolve, our thoughts on how they ranked for each of our metrics: wind resistance, breathability and venting, fit and functionality, water resistance, and weight and packability.

As uncomfortable as it was in this particular insulated jacket, we...
As uncomfortable as it was in this particular insulated jacket, we tested each windbreaker for breathability and venting by working out in our well-heated gear lab.
Photo: Jill Rice

Wind Resistance


After blowing through them with our mouths to understand the air-permeability of each jacket, we also used a hairdryer to force air through the fabric. Then we took all the jackets to the top of an exposed, 12,000-foot peak in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. If you have ever been to New Mexico in the springtime, you know how windy it can get. On a day with 35 mph gusts and wind chills reaching zero degrees Fahrenheit, the results were easy to ascertain.

Sometimes, it takes standing in the middle of a snowstorm on the top...
Sometimes, it takes standing in the middle of a snowstorm on the top of a mountain to really test out the wind resistance of these jackets.
Photo: Aaron Rice

Breathability and Venting


After comparing our notes on how easily air passed through the material and noting the features designed for venting, we heated our gear room to nearly 85-degrees Fahrenheit and put each jacket through a 15-minute, body-weight workout. We analyzed which ones felt the hottest, built up the most sweat inside, and which overall felt the coolest at the end.

Long runs over wide-open spaces is the best way to test the...
Long runs over wide-open spaces is the best way to test the breathability of these jackets.
Photo: Jill Rice

Fit and Functionality


This metric was largely tested during our time in the field. However, we took stock on how each jacket layered, both over with rain jackets and under various base layers and types of sweatshirts.

This jacket does have reflective highlights on its pull tabs and on...
This jacket does have reflective highlights on its pull tabs and on the Patagonia logo. But these hits are small and can be easily missed; bike commuters in high-traffic areas might still consider wearing a more-reflective vest.
Photo: Jill Rice

Water Resistance


We had plenty of opinions after field testing but verified them by testing each jacket under the spray of a garden hose. We put each hood on and zipped up fully, then rotated under a misting hose for 30 seconds to evenly douse the whole jacket. We also hopped in and out of the shower for a quick rinse with heavier droplets. It was very obvious after these simple tests which jackets were water-resistant and which were not at all. It is worth noting that we did this at the end of the testing period to see how the DWR coatings on each jacket held up to abuse.

To adequately test water resistance of these jackets, we designed...
To adequately test water resistance of these jackets, we designed and an objective, replicable test. Simply enough, we took them into the shower.
Photo: Jill Rice

Weight and Packability


We weighed each jacket as soon as it arrived on our doorstep and assigned a score for the metric based on weight. We then packed each jacket up as it is meant to be, and granted either bonus points, kept the score the same, or subtracted points based on a product's ease of packing, and comparative size to a standard Nalgene bottle.

Lighter than most other pieces hanging off your harness, why not...
Lighter than most other pieces hanging off your harness, why not carry a wind jacket on your next climb? The two smallest and lightest in our review, the Black Diamond Distance (grey) and Patagonia Houdini (red) racked up side-by-side.
Photo: Jill Rice