Searching for the best women's windbreaker for any adventure? We've spent 8 years and tested 24 jackets to bring you the 10 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: The Best Women's Running Jackets of 2020
The Best Windbreaker Jacket For Women
Best Overall Windbreaker
Patagonia Houdini Air - Women's
Right off the bat, there's much to love about this super useful, ultra-comfortable windbreaker. The Patagonia Houdini Air has beat out our previous long-standing top scorer to become our new Editors' Choice. 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 Air is impressively breathable without giving up 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.
The Air's rather trim fit makes it less ideal for layering over bulky tops - but not impossible, due to the impressive stretch of the jacket! It's a bit thinner than some and not the warmest in a truly cold wind, though most windbreakers are built for warmer temps. However, 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 Buy on a Budget
Rab Vital Hoody - Women's
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 water resistant we tested. It boasts a longer torso to keep you covered and a hood with both an elastic rim and a 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 across the top of the jacket. This nifty feature allows you to unzip the main zipper as far as you want without it falling off your shoulders on a run. Though we wish its ridged sleeve cuffs were a bit softer for pushing up the sleeves, 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 for Ultralight
Patagonia Houdini - Women's
Only recently dethroned from the top slot is the Patagonia Houdini, which earned some of the highest marks 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 among the most wind-resistant jackets in the test and withstood every adventure we wore it on, from climbing and mountain biking to hiking and boating.
The Houdini is a go-to layer for any outdoor adventure because of its compressibility. You can quickly throw this piece in your pack and forget about it until you're in a pinch. It is comforting to have a windbreaker jacket that keeps moisture at bay when the summer rains begin, and if it gets soaked, it dries in no time. The Houdini retails for less than most models in our review, and it comes backed with Patagonia's Worn Wear repair program, so you can get it fixed if need be.
Read review: Patagonia Houdini - Women's
Best for Versatility
Black Diamond Alpine Start - Women's
The Black Diamond Alpine Start is a high-performing windbreaker jacket that translates well across a wide array of activities. It's flexibility and wind resistance give it an impressive range of motion and make it very comfortable to wear. The longer torso and flattering cut also make this a more stylish windbreaker than most, able to make the jump 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. Not one to get wet, this jacket takes a longer time to dry than others we tested. But for performance on a dry day, we love being able to take this windbreaker jacket anywhere and know it would do the job.
Read review: Black Diamond Alpine Start - Women's
Best for Running
Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoodie - Women's
If you're unwilling to give up logging miles when the winds pick up, 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.
What it gains in breathability, the 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. It also picks up odors as fast as any average top and needs frequent laundering. However, this decreases an already low tolerance to rain, allowing the jacket to soak through during a shower. But for temperature control and comfort during a dry 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
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 pulling the jacket backward during a run, is comfortable and spacious 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
For days when the air is exceptionally brisk, the wind is whipping, and our reviewers are still planning an outdoor activity, the go-to piece 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. One thing to keep in mind with this model is that it lacks a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. However, our testers found that the added insulation layer keeps 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
Why You Should Trust Us
This review brings together the expertise of seasoned backcountry adventurer and wind protection expert, Maggie Brandenburg, and her team of adventure-loving ladies. Maggie has been a backcountry guide for over 15 years from kayaking to backpacking in some of the windiest places around. She currently adventures from a windy home base in Reno and regularly travels to the gusty Midwest and up into the chilly Sierra Nevada Mountains. Maggie has been testing womenswear and other gear for GearLab for over three years.
Testing windbreakers is an intensive process. After spending dozens of hours researching the top models to test, we crafted a dual-pronged testing plan to put these models through the wringer both in controlled tests and out in the windy outdoors. We tested these jackets summiting peaks in the Sierras, riding boats in the Caribbean, and gardening in the Midwest. We poured water on them and tested them with hair driers to get comparable results. Each year we consider the newest and best models and test top contenders to continue to bring you the most up to date information so you can make the right decision for your lifestyle and local weather patterns.
Analysis and Test Results
Choosing the right windbreaker depends primarily on what type of environment you plan on wearing it in and the activity you plan on doing. Are you adventuring in a hot climate or a cold alpine mountain range? Will you be moving slowly and need more warmth? Are you going far or fast and need a jacket that is extremely lightweight? Will you prioritize breathability over weather resistance? Are you bike commuting to work and need both functionality and fashion?
You also want to keep in mind how your body reacts to exertion. Do you tend to sweat a lot? Or do you run cold and need more warmth than the average person? Are you someone who needs to be able to push up your sleeves or cinch your hood tight? This review will help you understand the different types of jackets out there and find the best one to suit your needs.
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.
Windbreakers differ from rain jackets in that they are lighter, more compressible, and breathe slightly better. Some will keep you dry in a brief summer drizzle, but they are not designed to handle a downpour. They are a great way to add some warmth to your core when the wind is blowing and most can protect you from a brief foray in the rain.
Whether you are adventuring out on an all-day multi-pitch rock climb or cruising around town on your bike, a windbreaker is a crucial element of almost any layering system.
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 dollars 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 our Editors' Choice winner, the Patagonia Houdini Air. And yet others, such as the Rab Vital, our Best Buy award winner, bring impressive performance to a lower price tag, really stretching the value of your dollar.
Wind may be a breath of fresh air in warm weather, but as the temperature drops, cold gusts can chill you extremely 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 Columbia Flash Forward is also highly resistant to wind, due largely to its fully microfleece-lined interior. However, because these models are so good at keeping the wind out, many of them perform poorly when it comes to allowing air to move the other way, making their scores in breathability some of the lowest in our tests. We also analyzed other components that aid in blocking the wind, like a hood cinch cord, drawstring hems, and zipper storm flaps.
If you completely lock your jacket down around you, you minimize the amount of air that enters via the head and hem, keeping the gusts at bay and your body warmer overall. A draft flap behind 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 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.
Not all hoods are created equally. Some offer adjustable points on the back to really cinch down around your face, like the Houdini Air and Black Diamond Alpine Start. Others have cleverly integrated elastic along the rim (like the scuba-style REI Flash or on the back of the hood, like the Ortovox Merino and Smartwool Merino Sport.
While the other metrics are also important, we dare say that their performance in this single metric is one of the most important things to consider. They are windbreakers after all. Ultimately, how your jacket cuts the wind determines whether you are going to be shivering and cold or a happy camper.
A windbreaker that breathes with you as your exertion increases is like gold. The drier you stay, the more comfortable you'll be, and that little bit of extra comfort is nice when you are at the crux of a challenging climb or hiking switchback number 99. However, 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.
Because of this, it is easy to feel a bit like you're wearing a garbage bag when you're exerting yourself in a windbreaker. As a result, none of the windbreakers in our review received perfect scores in this metric. You might consider softshell if you need a jacket that is exceptionally breathable while still being warm. Those with higher marks are less likely to allow as much perspiration build-up, but all of the pieces we tested become a bit muggy after long periods of heavy exertion.
Breathability is largely dictated by fabric type, though a few other features aid in this as well. 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.
Because a windbreaker can only be expected to breathe so well, sometimes the best ventilation comes from simply un-zipping your jacket, and a full-length front zipper lets you quickly vent the jacket before your sweat builds up and makes you clammy. The Rab Vital features a chest button that snaps under your neck to allow you to unzip the jacket nearly all the way without losing it off your shoulders as you move. Adjustable cuffs are another way to regulate ventilation, but that's the extent of the options for these models, unlike a hard shell or rain jacket that might come with pit zippers. The Cotopaxi Teca and The North Face Fanorak 2.0 have a large mesh back panel to aid in breathability.
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 backs 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.
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 our Top Pick for Ultralight, 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 Flash or Rab Vital.
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 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.
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.
Certain features of a windbreaker jacket may increase versatility for one person but decrease it for another. For example, three jackets don't stuff into their own pockets - the Columbia Flash Forward, the Fjallraven High Coast, and the Nike Windrunner. For everyday use, that may be no big deal, as you can simply hang these jackets in your closet, but for backpacking, that may be a dealbreaker. Many of the lighter weight models lack hand pockets and instead feature only a chest pocket large enough for most smartphones. 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 many 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, 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.
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 and Nike Windrunner we think are much more stylish and at home in situations where fashion is just as important as function. 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, which is our Top Pick for Versatility.
We did a variety of tests to determine the water-resistance of each of these models. We employed the Shower Test but quickly realized that stepping into the shower with any of these windbreakers ends up in bone soaking discomfort. None of them are designed to withstand a thorough soaking, and none of them do.
We soaked them all and hung them in the shade and watched how fast each one dried. We put a paper towel under each jacket, poured about half a cup of water on top and waited five minutes to see how much soaked through. We also sprayed each model with a misting water bottle to simulate a light rain, taking note of how the water beaded up on the jackets. The beading shows how well the DWR (durable water repellent) finish is working. We then took note of how quickly the inside of the contender showed signs of water soaking through. We also wore these jackets in a variety of wet conditions.
To a large degree, a jacket's water resistance depends on its coating or 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.
Of the different models we reviewed, those with thicker material and a DWR finish, like the Patagonia Houdini Air, REI Flash and Rab Vital, are the most water repellent. The DWR coating and breathable fabric keep the jackets drier. A fast-drying, water-repellent windbreaker jacket is crucial in the alpine environment when summer storms roll in quickly. 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.
When purchasing an ultra-thin wind layer, you want the material to endure the tests of time and rugged terrain. Because you want your gear to last through years of use and abuse, it is difficult to completely assess this metric during our testing time. But we did our best to use them in rough and potentially damaging conditions and to identify traits of each jacket that might lead to longterm durability issues. Because our tests are months rather than years long, we did not rate this metric, but rather noted what we found where relevant.
For fabrics, there are key features to look for that increase the durability. One is the weight/thickness of the material or denier. The higher the denier, the thicker and heavier it is. The different models we tested ranged from 15-30 denier (D). The other is whether or not they have a ripstop construction, which uses a unique reinforcing technique that makes the material resistant to tearing and ripping. A 15D ultra-thin jacket like the Patagonia Houdini might be more prone to tearing than the thicker Fjallraven High Coast, but the Houdini's ripstop construction helps to prevent those tears from spreading.
A few of the more "front country" jackets are made of slightly thicker materials, aiding in their durability. The Columbia Flash Forward adds durability with two layers - the outer polyester and inner microfleece. The Nike Windrunner combines a polyester shell and mesh. The Fjallraven High Coast, interestingly, is made of a polyamide-cotton blend and treated with Greenland wax for wind and water resistance. The construction of these jackets adds both durability and weight, making these better choices for hanging in a closet and wearing around town.
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 and Shey Kiester