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Best Windbreakers of 2024

We tested the top windbreakers from Patagonia, The North Face, Black Diamond, Outdoor Research, and others to find the very best
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Best Windbreaker Review (Looking for the perfect lightweight jacket? We've tested 12 of the best windbreakers to help you easily find the...)
Looking for the perfect lightweight jacket? We've tested 12 of the best windbreakers to help you easily find the perfect one to stash in your pack.
Credit: Aaron Rice
By Aaron Rice ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 8, 2024

The Best Windbreakers for 2024


For over a decade now, our experts have reviewed over 35 of the best windbreakers on the market. For this review, we've purchased 8 of the best jackets available for side-by-side testing. Our in-depth analysis combines objective, laboratory-style testing with real-world experience to break down each of these jackets based on key criteria: wind resistance, breathability, weight and packability, fit and functionality, and waterproofing. From the chill of autumn to springtime gales, a windbreaker is the ideal lightweight option to keep the elements at bay — there's really no excuse not to carry one of these essential, packable layers in your kit. Our comprehensive review helps you find the best windbreaker to fit your needs and budget.

See our in-depth testing by female testers in our best women's windbreaker jacket review. If you're in the market for a different type of men's jacket, we've tested everything from storm-worthy hardshells and the best rain jackets on the market, to the top winter jackets and the puffiest and best down jackets. There are plenty of options, and we have put all of these jackets through real-world adventures to hone in on the very best models.

Related: Best Windbreaker for Women

Editor's Note: We updated this review on May 8, 2024, to ensure our lineup is up to date and to include a section on our testing process.

Top 8 Windbreakers - Test Results

Displaying 1 - 5 of 8
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award    
Price $109.00 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$94.95 at Evo
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$185.00 at REI
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$70.92 at Backcountry
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$96.60 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
Overall Score
81
73
68
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75
Star Rating
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Pros Low price, simple and effective design, tiny packed-size, impressive DWR coatingAffordable, PFC-free DWR, elastic hoodSoftshell fit and feel, oversized storm hood, designed for freedom of motionAbrasion resistant, ample room for layering, underarm ventilationLightest in the category, tiny packed size, larger chest pocket
Cons No feature to stow away the hood, thin material can feel clammy during high-output activityStuff sack instead of zippered stuff pocketExpensive, relatively heavy, odor retentionPoor water resistance, lack of articulationSee-through material, under-performing DWR fabric
Bottom Line The best overall value and performance in a lightweight package that sets the category standardA lightweight, versatile, DWR-coated nylon shell, all at an affordable priceAn ultra-lightweight alternative to your normal softshell, this jacket is warmer and more comfortable than many without sacrificing breathabilityDespite its flashy appearance, this is a technical windbreaker and is further reinforced with abrasion-resistant fabricAn ultralight jacket purposefully built for fast and light mountain missions
Rating Categories Patagonia Houdini -... Rab Vital Hoody - M... Black Diamond Alpin... Outdoor Research He... Black Diamond Dista...
Wind Resistance (30%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
Breathability and Venting (30%)
8.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
Weight and Packability (20%)
8.0
6.0
4.0
7.0
9.0
Fit and Functionality (10%) Sort Icon
9.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
6.0
Water Resistance (10%)
8.0
8.0
4.0
5.0
3.0
Specs Patagonia Houdini -... Rab Vital Hoody - M... Black Diamond Alpin... Outdoor Research He... Black Diamond Dista...
Measured Weight (size M) 3.9 oz (size L) 4.8 oz 7.3 oz 5.0 oz 3.5 oz
Material 100% nylon ripstop, DWR finish 20D Atmos woven nylon with fluorocarbon-free DWR Schoeller stretch-woven: 93% nylon, 7% Elastane, Schoeller Eco-Repel Bio DWR 100% Pertex Diamond Fuse (100% nylon ripstop) 100% nylon ripstop, woven w/ DWR treatment (Green Theme Technology)
Pockets 1 zip chest 2 zip hand 1 zip chest 1 zip chest 1 zip chest
Safety Reflective Material No (company states reflective logo on left chest, too small to really be visible) Yes, reflective logo on chest No Yes, reflective logo No
Stowable Pocket Yes: chest pocket No; included stuff sack Yes: chest pocket Yes: chest pocket Yes: chest pocket
Cuff Style Half Elastic Half Elastic Elastic Half Elastic Elastic
Helmet Compatible Hood Yes No Yes Yes Yes


Best Overall Windbreaker


Patagonia Houdini - Men's


81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance 8.0
  • Breathability and Venting 8.0
  • Weight and Packability 8.0
  • Fit and Functionality 9.0
  • Water Resistance 8.0
Weight: 3.9 oz (size Large) | Pockets: 1 zip (chest)
REASONS TO BUY
Balances wind resistance and breathability
Simple, lightweight, and packable
Good DWR coating
REASONS TO AVOID
No feature to secure hood
Lack of ventilation
Awkward chest pocket

The Patagonia Houdini is an iconic windbreaker jacket. It is a repeat winner at the top of our podium and continues to set the standard for all other jackets in this category. It performs exactly as a windbreaker should: packing down and stowing away until you break it out to protect you from wind or light rain. The entire jacket stuffs into its chest pocket, resulting in a package about the size of a small banana. The packed jacket is so lightweight that it easily clips to a belt or your favorite climbing harness and stashes easily into the smallest corner of your pack. It can even squeeze comfortably into the smallest saddle bags, making it a terrific companion for long bike rides. Even though it will never compare directly to a rain jacket, the ultralight DWR coating is at the top of its class and has helped us through many a passing rainstorm.

We previously tested and awarded another version of this jacket, the Houdini Air. However, Patagonia is in the process of redesigning that jacket, which will be available in Spring 2025. We plan to retest it at that time. For now, it has been removed from our lineup as it's not currently sold.

The Houdini's historically too-small chest pocket has been updated to accommodate the ever-growing size of newer smartphones (though it's still a slightly awkward fit). We should also note that the hood catches air like a sail when running, biking, skiing, or walking in any fierce wind. Fortunately, you can work around this issue by tucking the hood inside the jacket to prevent it from uncomfortably pulling at your collar. Without any features to improve ventilation, you can only push up the sleeves to cool off — without full-elastic wrist cuffs, this can cut off circulation if you have muscular forearms. Despite these small design critiques, the Houdini still earns the top spot as our favorite windbreaker. It is a multifunctional jacket, well suited to all-day alpine adventures, exposed free climbs, long trail runs, and evening mountain bike laps.

Read more: Patagonia Houdini review

wind breaker jacket - with their balance of wind resistance and breathability, these...
With their balance of wind resistance and breathability, these lightweight jackets are the perfect option for mountain biking. And the Patagonia Houdini, with its added water resistance, is a top-option to carry on your next ride.
Credit: Jill Rice

Best Bang for Your Buck


Rab Vital Hoody - Men's


73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance 8.0
  • Breathability and Venting 7.0
  • Weight and Packability 6.0
  • Fit and Functionality 8.0
  • Water Resistance 8.0
Weight: 4.8 oz (size Medium) | Pockets: 2 zip (hand pockets)
REASONS TO BUY
PFC-free DWR coating
Stiffened brim on fully elastic hood
Great fit and adjustability
REASONS TO AVOID
Lacks stowable pocket
Less breathable than others
Though we still have a spot in our hearts for the Vital Hoody, it hasn't been impervious to inflation. Recent price increases are ending it towards the cost of the most premium models we tested. At our next product update, we will be reconsidering our awards to determine if we think the Vital still deserves its spot on the podium for its value.
The Rab Vital Hoody is a versatile, durable, highly technical windbreaker that somehow manages to undercut the price point of every other jacket in our test group. Other jackets may weigh fractions of an ounce less, but the Vital opts for improved functionality thanks to a well-honed feature set. Unique design points like a neck snap allow you to completely unzip the jacket while still keeping it in place, helping you to quickly dump heat or adjust midlayers. A stiffened hood brim might look a tad goofy, but it also offers extra rain deflection, while a fully elastic hood prevents it from billowing in the wind. The Vital Hoody was recently updated and now features a fluorocarbon-free DWR finish, further improving performance and solidifying our recognition of this windbreaker as an incredible value.

Even though the material is lightweight, ripstop nylon – similar to many other jackets in this review – doesn't breathe as well as others we've tested. In side-by-side bike climbs with other top-ranking windbreakers, the Vital Hoody left us feeling much swampier inside. Although this jacket was known for its pocket storage, designers have simplified and streamlined the current version, nixing the stow pocket and including a separate stuff sack instead. Despite being a minor gripe, this is more annoying than it might seem – we would gladly trade a fraction of an ounce to keep the stash pocket. Still, no other jacket in our lineup offers this level of technical, lightweight weather protection at this price point. If the Vital is still too expensive for your tastes, you may like the fun Cotopaxi Teca Half-Zip, although it doesn't breathe as well for athletic pursuits.

Read more: Rab Vital Hoody review

wind breaker jacket - lightweight and packable, durable and weather resistant, and best of...
Lightweight and packable, durable and weather resistant, and best of all, affordable. The Rab Vital Hoody is a perfect companion for any mountain adventure.
Credit: Jill Rice

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
81
Patagonia Houdini - Men's
Best Overall Windbreaker
$109
Editors' Choice Award
75
Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell
$140
74
Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie
$129
73
Rab Vital Hoody - Men's
Best Bang for Your Buck
$95
Best Buy Award
72
Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody
$180
71
Ortovox Merino Windbreaker
$185
68
Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody
$185
62
Cotopaxi Teca Half-Zip Windbreaker - Men's
$80

wind breaker jacket - we test each jacket side by side to determine price vs. performance...
We test each jacket side by side to determine price vs. performance. Surprisingly, it isn't always true that the most expensive is the highest performing.
Credit: Jill Rice

How We Test Windbreaker Jackets


To effectively test these products, we identified key metrics that help define a great windbreaker jacket. Through research and personal experience, we developed a series of comprehensive and mutually exclusive tests. To test key criteria like wind resistance, we sought windy mountaintops and coastlines to evaluate these jackets in the field. But for other metrics, like water resistance, we conducted laboratory-style tests that we could easily recreate. We did bodyweight workouts in a temperature controlled room to test breathability, simulated windy conditions with a hair dryer to determine wind resistance, and even accounted for how well each option layers.

Our overall score breaks down into five rating metrics:
  • Wind Resistance (30% of total score weighting)
  • Breathability and Venting (30% weighting)
  • Weight and Packability (20% weighting)
  • Fit and Functionality (10% weighting)
  • Water Resistance (10% weighting)

Why Trust GearLab


Our windbreaker jacket expert is Aaron Rice. Growing up on the Atlantic coastline, learning to ski in Vermont and Maine, and living up and down the Rocky Mountains for over a decade, he knows about all types of wind and weather. Just ask him, and he will happily tell you that “weather is his jam” — he even holds a bachelor's degree in atmospheric and climate science. Now living in Santa Fe, NM, Aaron wears many professional hats, dividing his work seasonally between farming and writing in the summers and ski patrol and avalanche education in the winters. He spends much of his time outside and draws on his experience as a retail buyer to dissect and discuss the nuances of technical gear. Aaron often finds himself in some questionably windy situations, whether in the high mountains or out in the desert. If you don't know what we're talking about, visit New Mexico in the spring, and you'll understand.

If properly layered underneath, windbreakers make for fantastic...
If properly layered underneath, windbreakers make for fantastic alpine ski touring jackets. They are lightweight, packable, and often more breathable than similar lightweight ski or rain shells.
Windbreakers also make for amazing running jackets, but make sure to...
Windbreakers also make for amazing running jackets, but make sure to opt for ones that offer a better level of breathability. While we love the the Rab Vital Hoody many for other reasons, ventilation is not at the top of that list. Better running downhill than up, the Vital Windshell kept us warm on this chilly run but turned into a sweat-suit on extended uphills.
Windbreakers are particularly suited for human-powered activities...
Windbreakers are particularly suited for human-powered activities, like mountain biking. Packable enough to store for the way up, perfectly balanced to cut the wind on the way down.

Analysis and Test Results


The high desert of the American Southwest provides a perfect testing ground for our field research — in one day, we can easily travel from chilly alpine ridges down to sun-soaked desert landscapes. We tested these jackets through various activities, including mountain biking, trail running, uphill and downhill skiing, backpacking, camping, and climbing, as well as simple, everyday activities like walks in the park or trips to the store. All along the way, we continually made notes on special features and nuanced differences in fit, evaluating and re-assessing each jacket's relative strengths and weaknesses.

We acknowledge that some criteria are more important than others when considering windbreaker jackets. For example, we give greater weight to critical metrics like wind resistance and packability. It is also important to recognize that all the jackets we chose to include in this review are among some of the best products available today. Since our scoring is based on direct, side-by-side comparisons, a low score doesn't mean that a jacket isn't worth your while. It simply means that it didn't perform as well relative to the competition. We also recognize that your specific needs may differ from how heavily we scored each metric. We offer various windbreakers in this review to accommodate all situations — but be sure to carefully consider your own preferences before settling on a particular jacket.


Value


It is essential to consider the value of any potential purchase. While it is often true that items that cost more often correspond with higher performance, this is not always the case. We have found time and again that some more affordable items perform nearly as well as the most expensive options and therefore present a much better value overall.

The Patagonia Houdini represents an exceptional value in this category. Not only is it our top overall scorer, but it is cheaper than many other options and remarkably durable. This windbreaker jacket should continue to perform well for years across a variety of activities. We recognize that price affects every gear budget and that sometimes even a few dollars can make or break the bank. As an outstanding value for an incredibly versatile jacket, the Rab Vital Hoody is a technical shell with a much more reasonable price tag.

wind breaker jacket - the rab vital hoody quickly became a favorite jacket for fall riding...
The Rab Vital Hoody quickly became a favorite jacket for fall riding in the desert, where you need just a touch of protection to cut the windchill on the descent. The versatility of this jacket is what makes it truly valuable.
Credit: Jill Rice

Wind Resistance


Wind resistance is understandably one of the most important features these jackets can offer — we weighted this metric as 30 percent of a product's final score. Made of lightweight nylon or polyester, most jackets utilize an incredibly tight fabric weave to muster wind resistance. The tighter the fabric is woven, the less space between individual fibers, and the less air-permeable the fabric becomes. The Ortovox Merino Windbreaker is special in this case, utilizing a proprietary weave that incorporates Merino wool and nylon into a single layer, resulting in an exceptionally wind-resistant jacket.


Aside from sporting these windbreaker jackets practically every day for months and assessing how we felt, we conducted a wind resistance test. This process involved forcing air through the fabric at close range via a hairdryer and our mouths. The combination of these methods gives us an idea of how easy it is for air to pass through the fabric of each model. To test this in the field, we braved the elements and wore each jacket on a 12,000-foot summit in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains with gusts up to 35 mph and wind chill temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit. We compared our previous findings with how each jacket felt in the strong, cold winds we experienced. Through this side-by-side testing, we are confident in our ability to determine the most and least wind-resistant options.

wind breaker jacket - windbreakers are a nearly perfect companion for bike commuting...
Windbreakers are a nearly perfect companion for bike commuting, especially during the fall or spring shoulder seasons.
Credit: Jill Rice

In addition to the nylon fabric weave used in construction, a couple of other factors are vital in a jacket's performance to fight the wind properly. Fit is critical, and windbreakers work better when they fit close to the body. Features that help seal out the wind, like elastic sleeve cuffs and drawcords on the hem and hood, make a huge difference if you are battling a strong, sustained wind. These are easy entry points where the wind can circumvent your carefully woven nylon barrier.

The Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie is a shell featuring Pertex Diamond Fuse technology. The interlocking yarns significantly increase wind resistance without adding any weight. An alpine-inspired design is suitably minimalist for fast-and-light objectives. However, the jacket still employs many key features — half-elastic cuffs, a drawcord on the hem, a storm flap behind the front zipper, and an elastic hood that can be locked down — to enhance its wind resistance.

wind breaker jacket - the unique diamond fuse ripstop of the outdoor research helium wind...
The unique Diamond Fuse ripstop of the Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie is particularly good at blocking wind, so designers feature underarm vents and a mesh-backed chest pocket to improve ventilation.
Credit: Jill Rice

Breathability


Since these jackets are often used as an alternative, lightweight outer layer for high-intensity activities, we chose to weigh breathability and venting as 30 percent of a product's final score. After all, a jacket with no breathability would trap all of your heat and sweat inside its shell — leading to a horrible cycle of overheating, soaking, and then overcooling you. Wind resistance and breathability are often contrasting ideas regarding fabric weave and performance. Many manufacturers 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.


Besides the notes we acquired from field testing, we wanted to judge each jacket side-by-side in a situation that would not incorporate the sun's heat — a major factor here in the Southwest. To analyze which jackets built up the most moisture or helped us feel the coolest, we cranked up the heat in our gear room to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and put each jacket through a 15-minute workout.

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All of these jackets give bias towards protecting you from the wind, so none of them breathe that well. However, some jackets performed better than the rest, but often for different reasons. Some include vents.

Weight and Packability


The lightest windbreakers weigh less than a quarter-pound. That's substantially less than your average, lightweight rain jacket. Every windbreaker in our review tips the scales at less than eight ounces. These jackets are not only exceptionally light, but they often pack down to a size smaller than your average Nalgene bottle — so you have little excuse not to throw one of these into your pack for extra weather protection. We weighted this metric as 20 percent of a product's final score.


With all of them weighing seemingly next to nothing, does it make sense to penalize the ones that are just slightly heavier — but in the grand scheme of things — still lightweight? To balance out this question fairly, we rated each product based on its weight but then adjusted the score slightly based on how small and easily the jacket packs up.

Every jacket tested manages to stuff into one of its pockets for easy portability. However, the size they pack down to is not equal, nor is the ease of stuffing them or transporting them afterward. A smaller stuffed size is valuable for attaching a windbreaker to a harness on a long climb or fitting in a hydration pack for a long mountain bike ride or trail run. Still, it doesn't apply to every situation.


The Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell is the lightest jacket in the entire review and stuffs down to a tiny package. The Patagonia Houdini is slightly heavier than the Distance Wind Shell but packed into its chest pocket to relatively the same size. All of the jackets pack into their own pockets in one way or another, and many have zippered pockets that double as stuff sacks. Additionally, many of these stuff sacks — like the one on the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody — often include clip-in loops for carrying or racking up on a harness easily. The Rab Men's Vital Hoody lacks a dedicated stowable pocket; it instead includes a separate stuff sack.

wind breaker jacket - our head tester firmly believes windbreakers are the ideal layer for...
Our head tester firmly believes windbreakers are the ideal layer for ski touring and mountaineering. Here, he is wearing the highly breathable Patagonia Houdini Air as a mid-layer under the more substantial Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody, which is essentially an ultralight softshell.
Credit: Jill Rice

Fit and Functionality


It is important for any outdoor garment to fit well for its intended purpose and whether all of the features work as they were intended. When it came to fit, we checked to see if the sleeves were long enough, if the hood fits over our head well (even with wearing a helmet), and whether the jacket was too baggy or tight compared to the same sizing in other jackets. We weighed this metric as 10 percent of a product's final score.


We considered whether a jacket 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. If it was meant to be worn more as an outer layer, we wanted to see if you could layer underneath. Unlike any other jacket in our review, we loved the softshell-like fit and feel of the Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody and the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody, though this comfort does come at the cost of additional weight.

The Smartwool Merino Sport Ultralite Hoodie is an ideal jacket for...
The Smartwool Merino Sport Ultralite Hoodie is an ideal jacket for running. The design integrates Merino wool paneling through the armpits, improving fit, mobility, and ventilation.
A highly reflective insert in the arm of the Salomon Agile improves...
A highly reflective insert in the arm of the Salomon Agile improves visibility when running in the evening or early morning, but it is a bit strange to not include this feature on both arms.

Often, point deductions came from features that annoyed us: 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.

wind breaker jacket - many of these lightweight jackets feature carabiner loops and are...
Many of these lightweight jackets feature carabiner loops and are designed to be hung from a climbing harness. Even the “least packable” options are far more convenient to carry than other shells.
Credit: Jill Rice

Water Resistance


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 already wind-resistant, super breathable, super light, packable, cheap, also to be waterproof. We have yet to find such a unicorn of a jacket. We only weighted this metric as 10 percent of a product's final score.


A little 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 chemical applications that repel water while 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 jackets will no longer be water-resistant, and you will get wet. Luckily, you can re-apply DWR coatings.

wind breaker jacket - the ortovox merino windbreaker uses a revolutionary process to...
The Ortovox Merino windbreaker uses a revolutionary process to combine nylon and Merino wool into a single-layer piece of outerwear. Here, you see the all-natural fiber at work beading up water in our shower test.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Living in a dry climate, we did not have the good fortune of frequently being drenched by real rainstorms during our testing. However, we needed to objectively test how these jackets performed in the rain compared to one another, so we employed a garden hose or showerhead to simulate a passing rain shower. We performed this test towards the end of the test period to assess how well their DWR coating had held up over time. The results spanned the range from impressively good to very bad.

wind breaker jacket - our shower tests confirm what we&#039;ve known from using this jacket for...
Our shower tests confirm what we've known from using this jacket for years in the mountains: that the robust DWR coating on the Patagonia Houdini will come in super handy when you need to get through a quick-passing storm.
Credit: Jill Rice

For single-layer jackets, the DWR coating applied to the Patagonia Houdini is effective against passing showers — the interwoven treatment of the Black Diamond Distance is not. Regardless, we wouldn't choose any of these jackets if we knew we were walking out the door on a rainy day. Water resistance is a nice feature in a windbreaker, but it is certainly not what these jackets are designed for.

wind breaker jacket - windbreakers are a great choice for keeping us dry and protected...
Windbreakers are a great choice for keeping us dry and protected from the elements on ski tours, with the ability to breathe on the way up and block the wind on the way down.
Credit: Jill Rice

Conclusion


Choosing the perfect windbreaker jacket can be challenging with the nuances of sport-specific design. The products we reviewed here certainly did a good job of protecting us from the wind. Some were better suited to water resistance, while others were much more lightweight. The trick to figuring out which jacket to buy is to figure out how you'll use it.

Aaron Rice