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The Best Windbreaker Jacket For Women Review

Wednesday November 21, 2018
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Looking for a versatile windbreaker jacket for just about any spring, summer or fall activity? To help you choose the best jacket for your lifestyle, we researched 60 of the best and ordered the 8 best to put through months of rigorous, side-by-side testing. No matter if you're a runner, climber, hiker, biker, sailor, or just someone who lives in a windy place, we've found the right jacket for you. We tested special features, niche jackets, technical options, and great values available on the market. We also looked at men's options. If you're on the hunt for a running specific jacket, be sure to check out our check out our women's running jacket review. But if you're here looking for a jacket that holds up across a whole bunch of different activities and adventures, keep reading.


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Awards Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Top Pick Award 
Price $78.99 at MooseJaw
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$98.95 at Backcountry
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$103.73 at REI
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$159.00 at MooseJaw
Compare at 2 sellers
$59.99 at Backcountry
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Pros Helmet compatible, lightweight, extremely packable, dries quicklyMany pockets, more waterproof, excellent wind protection, snap to allow unzipping during wearVery flexible, flattering fit, long torso, comfortable cuffWind resistant, lightweight, packs into chest pocket, stretchy, layers well, fully featuredHand pockets, easy to layer, comfortable, inexpensive
Cons Not 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 heavierSlightly bulky/heavy, expensiveHeavy, doesn’t stow into pocket, relaxed style may be unflattering
Bottom Line A truly featherweight model that continues to impress, combining excellent performance with great value.A blend of minimalist design and technical features, this jacket offers solid protection from the elements.This comfortable jacket will keep you protected and stylish, from climbing with friends to hanging at the coffee shop.This fully featured piece provides more than lighter models, but the extra features can feel bulky.A good everyday jacket to keep you warm in those chilly breezes.
Rating Categories Houdini Vital Hoody Alpine Start Squamish Hoody Flash Forward Lined
Wind Resistance (30%)
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Specs Houdini Vital Hoody Alpine Start Squamish Hoody Flash Forward Lined
Weight (oz) 1.2 5 6.7 5.1
Material 100% nylon ripstop with DWR (durable water repellent) finish Hyperlite and nylon outer Schoeller® stretch-woven nylon with NanoSphere® Technology 100% nylon Tyono 30D shell with DWR treatment 100% polyester plain weave and 100% polyester microfleece
Pockets 1 chest 2 hand, 1 inner zip and 2 inner open-top 1 chest 1 chest 2 hand

Updated November 2018
As part of our ongoing mission to bring you the best of the best in a changing market, we've taken a fresh look at some new versions of old favorites and added a few new jackets to the mix. The Patagonia Houdini remains top-notch for the third year in a row, while the Cotopaxi Teca becomes our new Best Budget Buy. The Columbia Flash Forward stole our Top Pick for a Cold Day, and we have a new Top Pick for Versatility, the Black Diamond Alpine Start. Check out individual reviews for more details on the updates and new additions.

Best Overall Women's Windbreaker Jacket


Patagonia Houdini - Women's


Editors' Choice Award

$78.99
(20% off)
at MooseJaw
See It

Material: 15D ripstop nylon with DWR | Fit: Slim fit
Compatible with a helmet
Dries quickly
Stows away into a tiny pocket
Extremely lightweight
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 wind layer that keeps moisture out when the summer rains begin, and if it gets soaked, it dries in no time. The Houdini retails for $99, which is less expensive 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


Best Buy Award

$55.93
(30% off)
at REI
See It

Material: Repurposed polyester taffeta with DWR | Fit: Relaxed fit
Unique pocket system
Fairly priced
Bright and interesting colors
Lightweight
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 incredible style. It's a quirky jacket with a unique kangaroo pocket system and a relaxed fit, allowing you to layer it easily. 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


Top Pick Award

$59.99
at Backcountry
See It

Material: Polyester plain weave and microfleece | Fit: Relaxed fit
Convenient hand pockets
Easy to layer
Comfortable
Inexpensive
Heavier than most models
Doesn't pack into pocket
Relaxed fit not overly flattering

For days when the air was exceptionally brisk, the wind was whipping, and our reviewers were still planning an outdoor activity, the go-to piece was always the Columbia Flash Forward. This jacket was unique in our review, thanks to the insulation lining the entire interior of the jacket and hood.

This model was one of the more wind and water resistant in our tests, and it performed 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 kept us drier than expected, and when this piece did get wet, the insulation remained surprisingly warm and dried quickly.

Read review: Columbia Women's Flash Forward Lined Windbreaker

Top Pick for Versatility


Black Diamond Alpine Start - Women's


Top Pick Award

$103.73
(35% off)
at REI
See It

Material: Stretch-woven nylon with NanoSphere | Fit: Slim fit
Incredibly flexible
Flattering fit
Longer torso
Breathable
Comfortable cuff
Gets wet easily
Thicker fabric is heavy

The Black Diamond Alpine Start is a high-performing windbreaker that translates well across a wide array of activities. It's flexibility, and wind resistance 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 loved being able to take this windbreaker 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.
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.

Analysis and Test Results


Choosing the right windbreaker jacket 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 fast and need a jacket that is extremely lightweight? Will you prioritize breathable over weather resistance?

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? This review will help you understand the different types of jackets out there and find the best one to suit your needs.

Be Prepared
It's important to 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 darn 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 those with a hood add even more heat.

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. For more information check out our Buying Advice article.


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 dollars you're doling out. You're in luck. The best windbreaker in the test, 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.

Weather the weather better with your handy new windbreaker.
Weather the weather better with your handy new windbreaker.

Wind Resistance


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 could 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 was 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 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.
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.
Stay warm in the 100% microfleece-lined Columbia Flash Forward.

Breathability


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 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, and we recommend exploring our softshell review 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 become a bit muggy after long periods of heavy exertion.


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 helped 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.
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 has unique features like a chest button and mesh back panel to aid breathability. The Rab Vital also 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.
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 was 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 did 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.
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.
The impressively thin fabric and lack of many technical features helps the Patagonia Houdini shed weight.

Versatility


Certain features of a windbreaker jacket may increase versatility for one person but decrease it for another. For example, only one jacket didn't stuff into its own pocket. For everyday use, that may be no big deal, as you can simply hang the Columbia Flash Forward 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 manages to feature hand pockets, an inner zipped pocket, and two unzipped internal pockets, all without adding too 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.
We love the flexibility and fit of the Black Diamond Alpine Start, which easily transitions from backcountry adventures to frontcountry excursions.

Water Resistance


We did a variety of tests to determine the water resistance of each of these models. We attempted to employ the Shower Test that we use for our rain jacket reviews 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.
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.
The Columbia Flash Forward is a surprisingly water resistant jacket, and the microfleece lining helped us stay warm on chilly mornings in New Orleans.

Durability


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.
The thicker fabric and quality zippers of the Alpine Start adds to its durability.

Other Considerations


There are several other things to consider when purchasing a windbreaker, such as zippered hand pockets, adjustable cuffs, and a pocket stow, which we discuss in further detail in our Buying Advice article. The different windbreaker jackets we reviewed retail between $70 and $160. 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.
The Rab Vital manages to contain a whopping five pockets! That's more than any other jacket we reviewed.

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. Check out our Buying Advice guide for more information on other features to consider when making your selection.


Maggie Brandenburg and Shey Kiester