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Best Windbreaker Jacket For Women of 2021

The right windbreaker can make all the difference between a fantastic ...
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg
Thursday June 24, 2021
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Searching for the best women's windbreaker for any adventure? We've spent 9 years and tested 30 jackets to bring you the 15 top models currently on the market. Our all-female team of adventure-loving ladies put these jackets through months of intensive, side-by-side testing in the field and in the lab. We tested wind and water resistance in alpine maelstroms, ocean breezes, and unexpected flash storms. We biked, climbed, ran, paddled, and backpacked in these jackets to learn how they move and breathe. From technical jackets, niche options, and across a range of prices, we've found the right windbreaker to become your next go-to piece of adventure wear.

Related: Best Running Jackets for Women of 2021

Top 15 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 15
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award  
Price Check Price at REI
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$98.95 at Backcountry
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$89.95 at REI
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Lightweight, very breathable, comfortable fit & feel, flexible, great cuffsHelmet compatible, lightweight, extremely packable, dries quicklyMany pockets, more waterproof, excellent wind protection, snap to allow unzipping during wearVery flexible, flattering fit, long torso, comfortable cuffHuge vents, large hand pockets, very breathable, water resistant
Cons Slim fit difficult to layer, not ideal for really cold windNot the most waterproof, can see through thin fabricElastic cuffs harsh, thin fabric can be seen through, large packed sizeGets wet very easily, thicker fabric is heavierLets in wind, doesn't pack into own pocket
Bottom Line A highly breathable, protective, and packable layer that will keep you moving whatever the weatherA true featherweight model that continues to impress, combining excellent performance with great valueA blend of minimalist design and technical features, this jacket offers solid protection from the elements at a reasonable priceThis comfortable jacket will keep you protected and stylish, from climbing with friends to hanging at the coffee shopA highly vented jacket with solid water protection that's easy to wear
Rating Categories Patagonia Houdini Air Patagonia Houdini -... Rab Vital Hoody - W... Black Diamond Alpin... REI Co-op Active Pu...
Wind Resistance (30%)
8.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
Breathability (30%)
8.0
7.0
6.0
8.0
8.0
Weight And Packability (20%)
9.0
10.0
8.0
6.0
6.0
Versatility (10%)
8.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
7.0
Water Resistance (10%)
8.0
7.0
8.0
5.0
8.0
Specs Patagonia Houdini Air Patagonia Houdini -... Rab Vital Hoody - W... Black Diamond Alpin... REI Co-op Active Pu...
Weight (oz) 3.4 oz 3.1 oz 4.3 oz 6.2 oz 6.1 oz
Material 90% nylon (51% recycled), 10% polyester double weave with DWR treatment 100% nylon ripstop with DWR (durable water repellent) treatment Hyperlite and nylon outer Schoeller® stretch-woven nylon with Eco-Repel Bio® Technology Nylon with polyester mesh
Pockets 1 chest 1 chest 2 hand, 1 inner zip and 2 inner open-top 1 chest 2 hand
Hood Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cuffs Half elastic Half elastic Half elastic Elastic Half elastic
Stuffs Into Pocket Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Safety Reflective Material Reflective front logo Reflective logo on front and back Reflective logo on front and back None Reflective logo, cuff stripes, and back vent stripe
Fit Slim fit Slim fit Regular fit Slim fit Relaxed fit


Best Overall Windbreaker


Patagonia Houdini Air - Women's


82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance 8
  • Breathability 8
  • Weight and Packability 9
  • Versatility 8
  • Water Resistance 8
Material: 90% nylon 10% polyester double weave with DWR | Weight: 3.4 oz
Very breathable
Lightweight
Comfortable
Flexible fabric
Great cuffs
Less ideal for very cold wind
Trim fit a bit harder to layer

Right off the bat, there's so much to love about this super useful, ultra-comfortable windbreaker. The Patagonia Houdini Air continues to be our team's favorite windbreaker jacket. Soft, stretchy fabric and a hood and cuffs that are both protective and pleasant make this a great jacket for anyone who's sick of that crinkly, loud windbreaker feeling. The Houdini Air is impressively breathable without giving an inch when it comes to some of the best wind and water protection we've seen. By using cleverly designed features, this coat is lightweight and minimalistic without sacrificing its adjustability and amenities or looking so technical and sporty you feel weird wearing it to brunch.

The Houdini Air has a rather trim fit that makes it less ideal for layering over bulky tops — but not impossible — due to the impressive stretch of the jacket. It's slightly thinner than some and not the warmest in a truly biting wind, though most windbreakers are built for warmer temps. We're seriously impressed with this windbreaker's ability to go with you anywhere — from the summit to the supermarket and everywhere in between.

Read review: Patagonia Houdini Air - Women's

Best Bang for the Buck


Rab Vital Hoody - Women's


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance 9
  • Breathability 6
  • Weight and Packability 8
  • Versatility 7
  • Water Resistance 8
Material: Hyperlite and Nylon | Weight: 4.3 oz
Plenty of pockets
Excellent wind resistance
Decent water protection
Top snap to let you unzip and vent
Less comfortable cuffs
Fabric less breathable

The Rab Vital offers a serious amount of protection from the elements in a relatively inexpensive jacket — a combination we're in love with. Its fabric is both one of the most wind-resistant AND one of the most water-resistant we tested. It boasts a longer torso to keep you covered and a hood with both an elastic rim and a wire-stiffened brim over your eyes. While many windbreakers do away with pockets to cut down on weight, the Vital has two zippered hand pockets, an inner zippered pocket, and two interior slip pockets, all without adding too many extra ounces to this average-weight jacket.

While its protective fabric is less breathable than many others, the Vital includes a snap closure strap just under the neck, stretching under the main zipper. This nifty feature allows you to unzip it as far as you want, even on a run, without the jacket falling off your shoulders. Though we wish its ridged sleeve cuffs were a bit softer and more forgiving when pushed up, we appreciate the added coverage their longer backs provide. If you're looking for superior technical performance without the super-high price tag, this is the windbreaker for you.

Read review: Rab Vital Hoody - Women's

Best on a Tight Budget


SoTeer Waterproof Hooded - Women's


51
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance 5
  • Breathability 4
  • Weight and Packability 6
  • Versatility 7
  • Water Resistance 5
Material: 95% polyester, 5% spandex | Weight: 6.6 oz
Solid wind resistance
Lightweight
Moderately water resistant
Less expensive than most
Sleeves run short
Small pockets that don't close
Less careful construction

If you're aching for a windbreaker, but your wallet is aching for a break, check out the SoTeer. This hooded jacket is a solid choice for lots of casual activities on mild days. It's got all the basics, including drawstrings on the hood and waist hem, wide, fully elastic cuffs, and two hand pockets. It's reasonably wind resistant against moderate breezes and occasional gusts, with a small-toothed, tight zipper that adds some protection. At about an average weight for this category, the SoTeer feels pretty lightweight compared to many traditional coats, with flexible fabric that's fairly comfortable and easy to wear. Made of mostly polyester, this jacket offers decent water protection against a quick rain shower, though it can't quite replace a DWR-treated coat when it comes to serious rain. It's offered in a wide variety of colors and patterns and reminds us a bit of a 90's vibe.

If technical prowess and thoughtful details are what you're after, the SoTeer might not quite live up to expectations. The sleeves run a bit short on many of our testers, leaving wrists exposed while in motion - like on a bike ride or a run. As much as we like that this casual layer has hand pockets, they're rather small and have no closure mechanism, letting a smartphone dangle out precariously. The hood lacks a brim to shield your face and is actually so small that we had a hard time finding it comfortable when worn over a ponytail. There are also lots of extra flaps of unused material left dangling about this jacket's interior, further detracting from the already subpar breathability of the polyester as well as from our love of this windbreaker. While we aren't about to hike the whole PCT in the SoTeer, it's a solid and inexpensive layer that's casual enough for running errands around town and walking the dog.

Read review: SoTeer Waterproof Hooded - Women's

Best Ultralight Model


Patagonia Houdini - Women's


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance 8
  • Breathability 7
  • Weight and Packability 10
  • Versatility 7
  • Water Resistance 7
Material: 15D ripstop nylon with DWR | Weight: 3.1 oz
Compatible with a helmet
Dries quickly
Stows away into a tiny pocket
Extremely lightweight
Not overly waterproof
Thin fabric is see-through

Remaining one of our favorite options for when keeping weight low matters most is the Patagonia Houdini. This impressively lightweight windbreaker continues to earn some of our highest ratings in wind resistance, weight, and packability. This piece has been around for years, which has allowed Patagonia to fine-tune the details to get a seriously impressive mix of function and weight savings. The Houdini compacts into a ridiculously lightweight 3.1-ounce package, sure to please even the most hardcore ultralight enthusiast. Despite this absurdly low weight, the Houdini is still impressively wind-resistant and withstood every adventure we wore it on, from climbing and mountain biking to hiking and boating.

Of course, this impressively thin layer is a bit see-through, particularly in some of its lighter shades. This makes it not the best-looking model we tested. And though it claims to have a DWR coating, it does still eventually get wet, a little quicker than some others. Compared to the Houdini Air, the Houdini is slightly lighter but slightly less breathable. It retails for less than a lot of less-impressive models in our review and has your back when you need to stay protected and still travel ultralight.

Read review: Patagonia Houdini - Women's

Most Versatile


Black Diamond Alpine Start - Women's


74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance 8
  • Breathability 8
  • Weight and Packability 6
  • Versatility 9
  • Water Resistance 5
Material: Stretch-woven nylon with Eco-Repel Biotechnology | Weight: 6.2 oz
Incredibly flexible
Flattering fit
Longer torso
Breathable
Comfortable cuff
Gets wet more easily
Thicker fabric is heavy

The Black Diamond Alpine Start is a high-performing windbreaker jacket that translates well across a wide array of activities. Its flexibility and wind resistance give it an impressive range of motion, and its softness and flat cuffs make it very comfortable to wear. The longer torso and slim, feminine cut also make this a more stylish windbreaker than most, ready to make the leap with you from technical performance outdoors to chic coverage around town.

What this jacket lacks in water resistance it makes up for in breathability. Though the fabric is thicker than many of its competitors, it doesn't collect sweat as easily during high output activities. Though it resists water at first, it doesn't take much to start getting wet, after which this jacket takes a longer time to dry than most others. But for performance on a dry day, we love being able to wear this windbreaker jacket anywhere and know it would do the job and look great the whole time.

Read review: Black Diamond Alpine Start - Women's

Best for Running


Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoodie - Women's


66
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance 5
  • Breathability 9
  • Weight and Packability 7
  • Versatility 6
  • Water Resistance 4
Material: Nylon exterior, 54% merino wool 46% polyester lining | Weight: 4.9 oz
Serious breathability
Very effective vents
Comfortable fit
Great reflective features
Useful pockets
Picks up body odor quickly and easily
Not very water-resistant

If you're unwilling to give up logging miles when the winds howl, the Smartwool Merino Sport is a great combination of wind protection and breathability that's built with runners in mind. Mesh paneling adorns this wool-blended jacket in all the right spots to keep your temperature regulated during changing conditions. It has the most reflective material of any windbreaker in this review, including a huge swath of reflective striping across the back and strips on each forearm to help keep you seen and safe out there. Zippered hand pockets feature a hole to string your headphones through to the inside of the jacket.

What it gains in breathability, the Merino Sport sacrifices in wind resistance. The many mesh panels and vents that are appreciated while you sweat work against you when you're cool and dry — this is a jacket you'll want to be moving while you wear it. The Merino Sport, unfortunately, picks up odors as fast as any average top and needs frequent laundering if you're regularly sweating in it. Doing so decreases an already low tolerance to rain though, allowing the jacket to soak through during a moderate shower. But for temperature control and comfort during a dry, windy, and/or chilly run, this is hands down our favorite jacket.

Read review: Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoodie - Women's

Notable for Warmth to Weight Ratio


Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody - Women's


67
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance 9
  • Breathability 4
  • Weight and Packability 7
  • Versatility 7
  • Water Resistance 7
Material: 30D ripstop nylon with DWR | Weight: 4.2 oz
Excellent wind protection
Above-average water resistance
Easy to layer
Durable materials and construction
Less breathable
Crinkly material is less pleasant
Hood could be more secure

What this fairly lightweight windbreaker lacks in breathability it makes up for by providing extra warmth when you need it most. Long sleeves with a bit of stretch can easily cover your hands in lieu of gloves, and its relaxed fit easily layers over even bulkier sweatshirts and fleece jackets. It also provides some decent protection against a quick spring shower and packs down into a small pocket that can easily be taken along just about anywhere.

The Squamish has a slightly heavier hood that, while less comfortable worn down, as it tends to pull the jacket backward, is comfortable and spacious when worn up. It's not our favorite option for warmer days, both because of its lessened breathability as well as more crinkly material that's less pleasant against bare skin. But as an emergency layer for missions where low temperatures and high winds threaten, we appreciate the warmth to weight ratio of this protective, portable windbreaker.

Read review: Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody - Women's

Notable for Insulation


Columbia Flash Forward Lined - Women's


48
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance 8
  • Breathability 2
  • Weight and Packability 2
  • Versatility 7
  • Water Resistance 7
Material: Polyester plain weave and microfleece | Weight: 12.8 oz
Convenient hand pockets
Easy to layer
Comfortable
Inexpensive
Heavier than most others
Doesn't pack into pocket
Relaxed fit not overly flattering

For days when the air is exceptionally brisk, the wind is whipping, and our testers are still planning an outdoor activity, the go-to garment is always the Columbia Flash Forward. This jacket is unique in our review, thanks to the insulation lining the entire interior of the jacket and hood. Not only is this lining warm and wind-resistant, but it's also incredibly comfortable while still letting you layer even more underneath for truly chilly days. Another perk? This jacket is also one of the cheapest we tested.

This model is one of the more wind and water-resistant in our tests, and it performs admirably well in most other categories. Yet its insulation makes it thick and not particularly breathable, and it lacks a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. The added insulation layer comes in handy here, keeping us drier than expected, and when this piece does get wet, the insulation remains surprisingly warm and dries quickly.

Read review: Columbia Women's Flash Forward Lined Windbreaker

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
82
$169
Editors' Choice Award
A protective, packable, and very breathable jacket that keeps you on the move in just about any weather
79
$99
Top Pick Award
A favorite for years, the Houdini is a staple whose modest price tag belies its impressive performance
76
$99
Best Buy Award
With more features than we expected from a technical jacket, this windbreaker offers excellent protection in the outdoors
74
$165
Top Pick Award
This versatile jacket can take you on grand outdoor adventures or just around the town
69
$90
A very breathable model with good water protection that's comfortable to wear
67
$159
A more traditional windbreaker in a lightweight package that keeps you protected but isn't the most breathable
66
$130
Top Pick Award
A super breathable windbreaker with excellent vents that's a solid choice for runners
61
$200
A stylish, athletic option that layers well for cooler weather and moderate output activities
59
$119
A unique option combining a slim sweatshirt on the bottom with a more traditional windbreaker on the top
57
$100
A useful option that hangs in the closet and has a classically sporty look
55
$175
A non-technical but stylish, unique windbreaker for urban adventures
54
$85
This jacket is a combo of your favorite hoody and a techy sun shirt, offering mild protection
51
$28
Best Buy Award
A casual, simple coat that's good for modest budgets and mild days
49
$80
The Teca has such a unique design and color scheme that it is likely to be loved by a unique person
48
$60
More than just a windbreaker, this jacket will help keep you warm even when the temperature turns chilly

We put these windbreakers to the test across all four seasons, over...
We put these windbreakers to the test across all four seasons, over a dozen states, and five countries to bring you our verdict of their performances.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Why You Should Trust Us


This category has been spearheaded for several years now by Senior Review Editor, Maggie Brandenburg, aided by her team of adventuring girlfriends. A seasoned backcountry guide of over 15 years, Maggie has professionally lead backpacking, hiking, kayaking, and canoeing trips in some of the windiest locations around the world, including mountain tops in the Sierra Nevadas, the perpetual breezes blowing across the Caribbean Sea, and remote plateaus in Lesotho. Originating from the Midwest, where "wind chill" is an everyday topic of discussion, Maggie has a lifelong understanding of what works to block the wind and the trade-offs needed to keep you comfortable and protected without melting inside a glorified plastic bag. She currently lives in the gusty foothills of the Sierras and travels around the country and world with these windbreakers in tow. She's been testing women's technical apparel and a ton of other adventure gear for GearLab since 2017.

We've been testing the latest and best windbreakers for years now, and we never take this task lightly. Each season, we scour the market for promising new models to test alongside old favorites. Every jacket gets measured, scrutinized, compared, and tested both in the lab and in the field. We use fans and hair dryers to test wind resistance and garden hoses to assess water resistance — in addition to wearing these jackets up peaks, on runs, in the rain, and around town as much as possible for months. From kayaking and biking to walking the dog and picnicking with friends, we strive to always bring you the most intriguing models and up-to-date information to help you find the perfect windbreaker for your favorite adventures.

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Click to enlarge
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Analysis and Test Results


Windbreakers are made to be lighter, more breathable versions of rain jackets, offering some protection from the elements while keeping you quick and agile while you're out. There are many specialized options out there and in this review, and we dove headfirst into rigorously testing each one to see what kinds of conditions it's best suited for. We divided our testing into five metrics, weighting these metric scores based on their overall importance to choosing the right windbreaker. Combining these weighted scores gives each contender one overarching numerical total. In what follows, we break down every metric and discuss the specifics of which models do best and where.

Be Prepared
It's important to always plan for the worst and expect the unexpected when heading outdoors. This includes packing a warm layer on a hot day and making sure your car has survival tools if you were to get stranded crossing a winter mountain pass or summer desert. A windbreaker is an excellent emergency layer and so absurdly useful you may find yourself wondering why you didn't buy one sooner.

The SoTeer offers reasonable protection and a throwback style for...
The SoTeer offers reasonable protection and a throwback style for modest budgets.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Value


Discovering the best windbreaker jacket for your body type can bring forth a variety of questions. Do you want the lightest model or the most durable? Or maybe, you want the best value and often think about what kind of jacket you'll get for the cash you're doling out.


We tested a wide variety of windbreakers across a range of prices. Some offer incredible performance that we think is worth the extra cost, like the Patagonia Houdini Air. The Rab Vital impresses us with its technical performance yet boasts a more moderate price tag, making it a high-value pick. The SoTeer Hooded, which isn't outstanding but functions well as a simple, everyday jacket, has an exceptionally reasonable price.

We put these windbreakers to the test in all kinds of situations and...
We put these windbreakers to the test in all kinds of situations and environments to see which ones work best where.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Wind Resistance


Wind may be a breath of fresh air in warm weather, but as the temperatures drop, cold gusts can chill you very quickly. This not only ruins a fun day, but it can also potentially leave you hypothermic. When journeying outside, you'll undoubtedly run into windy conditions at some point. A trusty lightweight windbreaker jacket might make the difference between a fun outing and a miserable experience. Every model that we tested is wind resistant to a certain degree, but when gusts huffed and puffed and nearly blew the little pig's house down, we noticed some key differences in performance.


The highest-rated jackets in this category include the impressive Rab Vital and Arc'teryx Squamish. These jackets offer the best protection thanks to their highly wind-resistant material. The Patagonia Houdini and Houdini Air are also impressively wind-resistant, though their thinner fabric offers less insulation in truly cold winds. The Black Diamond Alpine Start uses slightly thicker fabric to help keep the winds at bay while remaining soft and pliable. The Columbia Flash Forward is also highly resistant to wind, due largely to its fully microfleece-lined interior.

A thin layer for a warm day or an outer layer for crisper airs, the...
A thin layer for a warm day or an outer layer for crisper airs, the Patagonia Houdini does a great job blocking those breezes.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

If you completely lock your jacket down by tightening an adjustable hem, you minimize the amount of air that enters, keeping those gusts at bay and your body warmer overall. A draft flap behind or in front of the zipper and adjustable cuffs are other components that contribute to stopping the wind. Those features also add to the overall weight of the jacket. The Patagonia Houdini Air keeps its weight down by avoiding those features but still manages to almost completely block the wind, thanks to many iterations of time-tested features.

The Ortovox Merino has one of our favorite hoods. It has great...
The Ortovox Merino has one of our favorite hoods. It has great coverage, a brim, and elastic in all the right places to maintain a tight fit even in the strongest winds.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Not all hoods are created equally. Many offer adjustable points on the back to really cinch down around your face, like the Houdini Air, Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie, Ortovox Merino, Smartwool Merino Sport, and Black Diamond Alpine Start. Others have cleverly integrated elastic along the rim like the scuba-style REI Active Pursuits and the Mountain Hardwear Echo Lake Hoodie. The Rab Vital combines a fully elastic-lined hood with a wire-stiffened brim to provide another layer of wind protection.

Stay warm in the 100% microfleece-lined Columbia Flash Forward.
Stay warm in the 100% microfleece-lined Columbia Flash Forward.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Breathability


A windbreaker that breathes with you as your exertion increases is like gold. The drier you stay, the more comfortable you'll be. Because windbreakers are designed to keep wind out, they are generally not great at letting air from the inside get out to keep you dry. Breathability is largely dictated by fabric type, though a few other features aid in this as well. We tested every model's breathability by wearing them during all kinds of activities, including long hikes, morning runs, gardening, bike rides, multi-pitch climbs, and dog walks.


For a windbreaker to be exceptionally breathable, it must sacrifice something in the way of protection from the elements. However, depending on how you use it, this trade-off may be exactly what you need. This is the case with the Smartwool Merino Sport, which is the most breathable windbreaker we tested. It combines already breathable wool-blend fabric with large venting mesh panels across the upper back and armpits. Additional vents on both the front and back of the shoulders make this jacket breathable enough to comfortably wear on a run. It, of course, loses some points for just standing around in a cold gale or on a rainy day, but if breathable wind protection is a must, this one is pretty ideal.

When it comes to breathability, it&#039;s hard to beat the mesh paneling...
When it comes to breathability, it's hard to beat the mesh paneling and numerous vents of the Smartwool Merino Sport!
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

The Black Diamond Alpine Start features Schoeller stretch-woven nylon, which helps it breathe during long periods of high exertion. One of our testers forgot her sun hoody on a 20-pitch climb in sunny Mexico, and she made do with the Alpine Start, with only mild discomfort throughout the day. Though its fabric isn't particularly breathable, the Rab Vital combats this by featuring a chest button that snaps under your neck, allowing you to unzip the jacket nearly all the way without it falling off your shoulders, even during a run or climb.

The REI Active Pursuits has huge mesh vents on the front and back...
The REI Active Pursuits has huge mesh vents on the front and back, hidden in the middle under protective, wind and water resistant fabric.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Because this gear category typically aims to cut weight, adjustable cuffs and pit vents are rarely included. Instead, cuffs are often lined with softer fabric to make them more comfortable to push up your sleeves. The Black Diamond Alpine Start and Mountain Hardwear Echo Lake Hoodie both feature this type of comfortable cuff. Other models incorporate hidden vents under flaps of fabric to help keep you cooler without sacrificing too much in element protection. The Cotopaxi Teca has a large mesh back panel, while the REI Active Pursuits and Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie each have hidden mesh vent strips circumventing your whole torso, making it easier to stay cooler.

The Rab Vital&#039;s fabric may not be overly breathable, but using this...
The Rab Vital's fabric may not be overly breathable, but using this top snap, you can unzip the whole thing without it slipping off your shoulders no matter how active you're being.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Weight and Packability


When traveling over long distances or in fast-and-light mode, the weight of your gear and how well it packs down become a priority. While the difference between the lightest and heaviest models that we tested is only a matter of ounces, when you can shed an ounce here or there from all of your gear, the difference adds up. If you are trying to move efficiently in the mountains, weight is crucial. A lighter weight model is more likely to end up in your pack or clipped to your harness than a heavier one, so consider your priorities when it comes to added features such as zippered pockets and cuff tabs, and decide if they are worth their weight.


The lightest and most compact model we tested is the continually impressive Patagonia Houdini. It weighs a shocking 3.1 ounces and packs into an impressively small package. The athletic fit, absurdly thin yet resistant fabric, and lack of certain features, like a zipper storm flap, hand pockets, and cuff tabs, help to shed ounces. This jacket does not sacrifice performance for these weight savings. If you love having hand pockets, you'll have to live with an extra ounce or two and go with something like the REI Active Pursuits or Rab Vital.

The Patagonia Houdini (left) and Patagonia Houdini Air (center) both...
The Patagonia Houdini (left) and Patagonia Houdini Air (center) both pack down to about the same size and weighing about half an ounce differently.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

The Patagonia Houdini Air is another impressively lightweight model and our favorite windbreaker overall. It weighs just slightly more than the Houdini, tipping the scales at 3.4 ounces and packing down to about the same size as the Houdini. It also manages to have that low weight without ditching every single feature. It still has an adjustable bottom hem and hood volume and is comprised of a heavier but very comfortable fabric that adds breathability and flexibility to this jacket's design.

The REI Active Pursuits weighs just a couple of ounces more than the...
The REI Active Pursuits weighs just a couple of ounces more than the lightest models but doesn't skimp on features like zippered hand pockets and huge mesh-covered vents.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

The Smartwool Merino Sport is also worth mentioning for its low weight. This is another reason why it makes a great running jacket, as it won't weigh you down or make you feel overly layered while you're out. It weighs just 4.2 ounces, though packs into a pocket that's quite large and needs to be compressed further to warrant stuffing into a small daypack.

The lightweight Smartwool Merino is a great emergency-ready option...
The lightweight Smartwool Merino is a great emergency-ready option for an extra, breathable layer for a chilly morning start in the mountains.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

While you don't want to carry or wear a heavy layer that feels like you're trapped inside a hot vehicle, lightweight jackets are often not as warm. Here's where you need to consider your internal body temperature and if you typically run hot or cold. If weight really isn't a consideration, but warmth is, you may consider a fully insulated model like the Columbia Flash Forward.

The Patagonia Houdini is so lightweight, we bring it with us...
The Patagonia Houdini is so lightweight, we bring it with us everywhere.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Versatility


Certain features of a windbreaker jacket may increase versatility for one person but decrease it for another. For example, four jackets don't stuff into their own pockets - the Columbia Flash Forward, the Fjallraven High Coast, the SoTeer Hooded, and the Nike Windrunner. For everyday use, that may not be an issue as you can simply hang these jackets in your closet, but for backpacking, it could be a dealbreaker. Many of the lighter-weight models lack hand pockets and instead feature only a chest pocket. The Rab Vital impressively manages to feature hand pockets, an inner zipped pocket, and two unzipped internal pockets, all without adding much weight or bulk.


A hood adds some versatility (and warmth), and a few of the models we tested came with a helmet-compatible one. However, if the hood's drawstrings cinch down around the sides of the face, it tends to bring the material forward and obstruct your peripheral view. We again prefer the Patagonia Houdini Air and Houdini, Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody, Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie, and Black Diamond Alpine Start jackets because their hoods cinch at the back. This lets you pull the hood far enough back to keep your side vision angles wide and clear.

The Black Diamond Alpine Start has a fit and feel that we love...
The Black Diamond Alpine Start has a fit and feel that we love wearing for hiking as much as we do meeting friends at the beer garden.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Another important aspect of versatility is a jacket's style. Some models that we love, like the Patagonia Houdini and Rab Vital, are great options for functionality, but their technical appearance makes them stand out walking into the office on Monday morning or shopping the trendy new downtown area on a Saturday afternoon. Other models, like the Fjallraven High Coast, the Nike Windrunner, and even the budget-friendly SoTeer Hooded, we think are much more stylish and at home in situations where fashion is just as important as function.

The simple but functional SoTeer hooded offers a bit of a 90&#039;s era...
The simple but functional SoTeer hooded offers a bit of a 90's era throwback style.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

These jackets lose a little in certain areas of their performance, like weight and packability, but make great options for urban use. One jacket stands out from the crowd in this respect, performing well enough for a multi-pitch climb while looking cute enough for Sunday morning brunch - the Black Diamond Alpine Start. It manages to weave together an excellent combination of wind resistance, breathability, comfort, and style to be one of our favorite all-around windbreakers to wear with just about any outfit or activity.

Some windbreakers have better urban style than their more technical...
Some windbreakers have better urban style than their more technical counterparts.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Water Resistance


We did a variety of tests to determine the water-resistance of each of these models. Though none of them will withstand a serious downpour, many offer reasonable protection against light rain and intermittent showers. We tested not only their resistance to becoming soaked but also how quickly they dry once they are thoroughly wet.


One of the most common ways to make a garment water-resistant is by applying a durable water repellent (DWR) finish. This is a water-repelling chemical coating applied by the manufacturer to the outer material of the garment. It works by beading up raindrops, causing the water to roll right off instead of saturating through the material. Other manufacturers have created proprietary materials made of blended fabrics with specific weaves that help water droplets roll off rather than soak in. And still, others rely on the natural properties of man-made materials like polyester (aka plastic) to create fabrics that don't soak up water easily or quickly.

DWR coatings don't last forever and need to be reapplied over time. You can increase the coating's longevity by keeping your jacket clean. Dirt particles interfere with their ability to bead water droplets. Once the coating is no longer working effectively, you can renew it with a product like Nikwax Tech Wash.

The DWR coating of the Arc&#039;teryx Squamish helps it be fairly...
The DWR coating of the Arc'teryx Squamish helps it be fairly resistant to brief rains.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Of the different models we reviewed, those with thicker material and a DWR finish, like the Patagonia Houdini Air, REI Active Pursuits, and Rab Vital, are the most water repellent. The DWR coating and breathable fabric keep the jackets drier. The Columbia Flash Forward also proved to be surprisingly water-resistant and quick-drying, and the inner microfleece lining was a warm addition even when wet.

The Columbia Flash Forward is a surprisingly water resistant jacket...
The Columbia Flash Forward is a surprisingly water resistant jacket, and the microfleece lining helped us stay warm on chilly mornings in New Orleans.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

The Nike Windrunner uses a combination of polyester fabric and an internal liner to help keep you protected from light rains. The Arc'teryx Squamish has a DWR coating that does a pretty good job of resisting soaking — though it needs to be reapplied with successive uses and packing. The Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie has very waterproof fabric on the top half and sleeves of the jacket, easily repelling more water and for longer than many others. However, the bottom portion is like a fitted sweatshirt and lacks any water resistance at all, easily soaking up raindrops, with its thick fabric staying wet for longer.

Whatever wind blows through your life, we identify the right layer...
Whatever wind blows through your life, we identify the right layer for your needs.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Conclusion


Windbreakers are a frequently underrated piece of gear that is truly an integral part of any outdoor adventurer's apparel. But it can be difficult to know which jacket is truly best for you. With considerations ranging from breathability, water resistance, and weight, the jacket you choose will ultimately depend on the climate that you plan to wear it in. We hope that this review has steered you towards the jacket most suited to your needs.

Maggie Brandenburg & Shey Kiester