To find out what windbreaker jackets are the best on the market today is an ongoing process. Over the last several years we buy the most popular and best-selling models available and test them head to head in all kinds of situations and activities. We wore them hiking in the High Sierras and Utah, climbing in Yosemite, running all across the US, doing yardwork in Iowa, taking boat rides in the Caribbean and biking Moab. We did our best to choose models that represent the wide array of windbreakers available, from insulated to water resistant to ultra lightweight to breathable. We specifically chose to test models with hoods over those without, as we feel it adds versatility to a very handy piece of clothing.
A lot of our testing came from just using these jackets on our daily adventures and activities. Our testers often carried two or three windbreakers at a time to test them under identical conditions. We took them hiking, climbing, mountain biking, on dog walks and boat rides, doing yard work and hanging around town through three seasons across the entire US. The more we wore them, the more we found them to be an indispensable layer to our everyday activities. In addition to wearing these jackets nearly nonstop for months on end, we also subjected them to our more rigorous tests to see how they performed - or failed - at specific tasks. Here's how we did it:
We blew on each jacket not only with our mouths but also with a hair drier to understand truly how much wind is passing through each one. We also tested them side by side in multiple windy locations, such as in the blustery Bryce National Park in Utah and the chilly winds of the cornfields of northern Iowa. We tried them with nothing but a simple t-shirt underneath, as well as over a light base layer to see how each performed. We considered additional features that added to or detracted from each jacket's wind resistance, such as the configuration and adjustability of cuffs, hoods, hems, and necklines. We checked the zipper to see if it leaked any air as well.
We tested each jacket during high output activities like running and biking to see which ones were comfortable to wear fully zipped and which built up a lot of sweat inside. We tried all the natural solutions that you would typically employ to vent yourself, such as unzip your jacket and push up the sleeves. Additionally, we tested any special features a jacket may have had to aid venting and breathability, such as loosening hems or cuffs, using special snap straps to be able to unzip a jacket farther, etc.
Weight and Packability
We weighed and compared the weight of each jacket in this review. We also packed each windbreaker up the way it was meant to be packed and compared the sizes of each resulting bundle. We also considered the compressibility of each jacket and if that did or might affect its longevity.
Much of this was tested by wearing each jacket through a myriad of activities and seeing where it was actually comfortable and logical to do so. In this metric, we also considered special features that might add to or detract from each jacket's ability to crossover between activities, such as pocket location vs. harness or hip belt location and if hoods fit over helmets. This is where we considered the overall fit of each jacket as well - can you layer it over baselayers easily or is it really only for warmer weather? Will it keep you protected through a wide range of movements? And let's be honest - does it look good? Is it a jacket you can wear in town and feel confident about or is it so technical you'll look out of place among the city-goers?
We did a fair amount of field testing this metric, by wearing jackets in whatever light to medium precipitation conditions we encountered. We even put some up to the harsh task of protecting testers from boat waves leaping over the side on a choppy day at sea. Near the end of the testing period, we also performed some more standardized tests to see how each jacket's DWR finish (or not, as not all models have it) withstood all the adventures and wear and tear we had put them through. We laid all jackets out on the ground with a paper towel underneath the back and poured about a half cup of water on each one. After five minutes, we recorded how much each jacket allowed to drench the paper towel, how wet the actual jacket was, and how long they took to dry afterward.
Each of these tests and our extensive use of all the windbreakers helped us to put together a complete picture of each jacket and how it performs best, to help you choose the right windbreaker for your life adventure.