Best Overall Women's Windbreaker Jacket
Patagonia Houdini - Women's
: 15D ripstop nylon with DWR | Fit
: Slim fit
Compatible with a helmet
Stows away into a tiny pocket
Not overly waterproof
Thin fabric is see through
Our Editors' Choice award winner for the third year in a row 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 the perfect mix of function and weight savings. The Houdini compacts into a ridiculously lightweight 1.2 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 out 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
See men's: Patagonia Houdini
Best Buy on a Budget
Cotopaxi Teca Half-Zip Unisex
: Repurposed polyester taffeta with DWR | Fit
: Relaxed fit
Unique pocket system
Bright and interesting colors
Not the best wind resistance
Less versatile than some
The Cotopaxi Teca isn't our favorite performance piece, but it does a decent job with wacky style. It's a quirky jacket with a unique kangaroo pocket system and a relaxed fit, allowing you to layer it easily. It's one of only a couple jackets we tested with a back vent, which aids in breathability as long as you're not wearing a backpack. At just 5 ounces, this jacket is one of the lighter options we tested and packs into its own pocket. It comes in a myriad of wild color combinations that are sure to make the wearer stand out from the crowd.
Though it may not be as wind and water resistant as many of the more technical models we tested, the Teca does a reasonable job. It also comes with a lower price tag and more character than just about any other jacket we reviewed. If you like mixing up your everyday style but don't want to pay big bucks for a performance piece, the Teca has got you covered.
Read review: Cotopaxi Teca Half-Zip
Top Pick for a Cold Day
Columbia Flash Forward Lined - Women's
: Polyester plain weave and microfleece | Fit
: Relaxed fit
Convenient hand pockets
Easy to layer
Heavier than most models
Doesn't pack into pocket
Relaxed fit not overly flattering
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, 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
Top Pick for Versatility
Black Diamond Alpine Start - Women's
: Stretch-woven nylon with NanoSphere | Fit
: Slim fit
Gets wet 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. 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
See men's: Black Diamond Alpine Start
We put these windbreakers to the test across multiple seasons, over a dozen states, and five countries to bring you our verdict of their performance.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review brings together the expertise of two seasoned backcountry adventurers and wind protection experts, Shey Kiester and Maggie Brandenburg. Shey spends tons of time outside on the water and off, battling windy mountains and blustery lakes. She has been testing gear for OutdoorGearLab for many seasons, including SUPs and adventure sandals. 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 travels regularly to the gusty Midwest and up into the chilly Sierra Nevada Mountains.
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. For more information on how to layer, check out the Light Wind Jacket Layer section in our article on layered clothing systems.
Weather the weather better with your handy new windbreaker.
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.
Well, you're in luck. The best windbreaker in our tests, the Patagonia Houdini is also among the less expensive. It offers an incredible value. If you don't need technical performance and just need a light, casual layer, the slightly less expensive Best Buy-award winning Cotopaxi Teca may be your best bet. If where you live tends to get windy as the seasons change, you'll probably appreciate the extra warmth and lower price of the Columbia Flash Forward.
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, the Editors' Choice-winning Patagonia Houdini and Arc'teryx Squamish. These jackets offer the best protection thanks to their highly wind resistant material. 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, they 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.
A thin layer for a warm day or an outer layer for crisper airs, the Patagonia Houdini does a great job blocking those breezes.
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.
While the other metrics are also important, we dare say that their performance in this single metric is the most important thing 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.
Stay warm in the 100% microfleece-lined Columbia Flash Forward.
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. Consider softshell if you need a jacket that is exceptionally breathable. 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.
Related: The Best Softshell Jackets for Women
Breathability is mostly dictated 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.
The Black Diamond Alpine Start offers excellent breathability for high output activities.
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. 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. 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.
The Rab Vital's top snap strap lets you unzip this jacket farther without letting it slide off your shoulders.
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 Editors' Choice winner, the newly updated Patagonia Houdini. It weighs a shocking 1.2 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 Adidas Shield or Rab Vital.
Most windbreakers pack down into a single pocket, like these. From left to right: a standard 1L Nalgene, Patagonia Houdini, Black Diamond Alpine Start, Rab Vital.
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. A slightly insulated model, like the Adidas Shield, weighs a bit more but will keep you warmer and might allow you to forgo bringing an extra base layer, which will cut weight. If weight really isn't a consideration but warmth is, you may consider a fully insulated model like the Columbia Flash Forward.
The impressively thin fabric and lack of many technical features helps the Patagonia Houdini shed weight.
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.
A hood adds some versatility (and warmth), and most 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, 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.
We love the flexibility and fit of the Black Diamond Alpine Start, which easily transitions from backcountry adventures to frontcountry excursions.
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.
Some windbreakers have better urban style than their more technical counterparts.
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 the jackets in a variety of wet conditions.
Though the Alpine Start isn't the most water resistant jacket we reviewed, we didn't mind too much in the the warm afternoon Central American showers.
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.
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 its ability to bead water droplets. Once the coating is no longer working effectively, you can renew it with a product like Nikwax Tech Wash
Of the different models we reviewed, those with thicker material and a DWR finish, like the Patagonia Houdini 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.
The Columbia Flash Forward is a surprisingly water resistant jacket, and the microfleece lining helped us stay warm on chilly mornings in New Orleans.
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.
If you do punch a hole in your jacket, a strip or two or Nylon Repair Tape goes a long way towards increasing the longevity and water permeability of your jacket.
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 30D Arc'teryx Squamish, but the Houdini's ripstop construction helps to prevent those tears from spreading.
The thicker fabric and quality zippers of the Alpine Start adds to its durability.
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.
Not all windbreakers are made for wild backcountry adventures, but make great companions to your daily routine.
There are several other things to consider when purchasing a windbreaker, such as zippered hand pockets, adjustable cuffs, and a pocket stow. The different windbreaker jackets we reviewed retail between $70 and $170. Within that price range, we found a range of quality, durability, functionality, and fit, with a few outliers on either end.
Sometimes less is more, particularly when weight is of high importance. When we're packing in climbing and cooking gear for several days in the alpine, we like our clothing layers to be as lightweight and functional as possible. While we found some great jackets at a reasonable price, the cheapest jacket had inferior weather resistance, breathability, and longevity. However, the most expensive jackets were not necessarily our favorites! Keep reading to see how the different models rated in our tests, and which ones are worth the extra money, or not.
The Rab Vital manages to contain a whopping five pockets! That's more than any other jacket we reviewed.
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.
Whatever wind blows through your life, we identify the right layer for your needs.