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 and 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.
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 so that we could 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.
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.
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 in 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.
Breathability and Venting
After comparing our notes on how easily air passed through the material, and noting the features designed for venting, we heated up 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.
Fit and Functionality
This metric was largely tested during our time in the field. However, we did take stock on how each jacket layered, both over with rain jackets, and under with various base layers and types of sweatshirts.
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.
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.