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Best Windbreaker Jacket For Women

Photo: Maggie Brandenburg
Wednesday October 7, 2020
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Searching for the best women's windbreaker for any adventure? We've spent 8 years and tested 25 jackets to bring you the 14 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

Top 14 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 14
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award  
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$98.95 at Amazon$159.00 at Amazon$159.00 at Backcountry
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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 cuffVery windproof, decent rain protection, easy to layer, great warmth to weight ratio
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 heavierCrinkly material less comfortable, not very breathable, hood is difficult to keep up in strong winds
Bottom Line A protective, packable, and very breathable jacket that keeps you on the move in just about any weatherA favorite for years, the Houdini is a staple whose modest $99 price tag belies its impressive performanceWith more features than we expected from a technical jacket, this windbreaker offers excellent protection in the outdoorsThis versatile jacket can take you on grand outdoor adventures or just around the townA more traditional windbreaker in a lightweight package that keeps you protected but isn't the most breathable
Rating Categories Houdini Air Patagonia Houdini - Women's Rab Vital Hoody - Women's Alpine Start Squamish Hoody
Wind Resistance (30%)
8
8
9
8
9
Breathability (30%)
8
7
6
8
5
Weight And Packability (20%)
9
10
8
6
7
Versatility (10%)
8
7
7
9
7
Water Resistance (10%)
8
7
8
5
7
Specs Houdini Air Patagonia Houdini... Rab Vital Hoody -... Alpine Start Squamish Hoody
Weight (oz) 3.4 oz 3.1 oz 5.0 oz 6.7 oz 4.2 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 NanoSphere® Technology 100% nylon Tyono™ 30D, ripstop, DWR treatment
Pockets 1 chest 1 chest 2 hand, 1 inner zip and 2 inner open-top 1 chest 1 chest
Hood Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cuffs Half elastic Half elastic Half elastic Elastic Half elastic
Stuffs Into Pocket Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Safety Reflective Material Reflective front logo Reflective logo on front and back Reflective logo on front and back None Reflective logo
Fit Slim fit Slim fit Regular fit Slim fit Slim fit

Best Overall Windbreaker


Patagonia Houdini Air - Women's


82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance - 30% 8
  • Breathability - 30% 8
  • Weight and Packability - 20% 9
  • Versatility - 10% 8
  • Water Resistance - 10% 8
Material: 90% nylon 10% polyester double weave with DWR| Fit: Slim Fit
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 much to love about this super useful, ultra-comfortable windbreaker. The Patagonia Houdini Air has beat out our previous long-standing top scorer. 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 Bang for Your Buck


Rab Vital Hoody - Women's


Rab Vital Hoody - Women's
Best Buy Award

$98.95
on Amazon
See It

76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance - 30% 9
  • Breathability - 30% 6
  • Weight and Packability - 20% 8
  • Versatility - 10% 7
  • Water Resistance - 10% 8
Material: Hyperlite and Nylon | Fit: Regular fit
Plenty of pockets
Excellent wind resistance
Decent water protection
Top snap to let you unzip and vent
Less comfortable cuffs
Fabric slightly see-through

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 on a Tight Budget


SoTeer Waterproof Hooded - Women's


SoTeer Waterproof Hooded - Women's
Best Buy Award

$29.99
on Amazon
See It

57
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance - 30% 6
  • Breathability - 30% 5
  • Weight and Packability - 20% 6
  • Versatility - 10% 7
  • Water Resistance - 10% 5
Material: 95% polyester, 5% spandex | Fit: Relaxed fit
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 can't quite replace a DWR-treated coat when it comes to all-day downpours. 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 subpar breathability of the polyester and detracting from our love of this layer. 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 for Ultralight


Patagonia Houdini - Women's


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance - 30% 8
  • Breathability - 30% 7
  • Weight and Packability - 20% 10
  • Versatility - 10% 7
  • Water Resistance - 10% 7
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

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


Black Diamond Alpine Start - Women's
Top Pick Award

$159.00
(4% off)
on Amazon
See It

74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance - 30% 8
  • Breathability - 30% 8
  • Weight and Packability - 20% 6
  • Versatility - 10% 9
  • Water Resistance - 10% 5
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 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


68
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance - 30% 5
  • Breathability - 30% 9
  • Weight and Packability - 20% 8
  • Versatility - 10% 6
  • Water Resistance - 10% 4
Material: nylon exterior, 54% merino wool 46% polyester lining | Fit: Regular fit
Serious breathability
Excellent 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 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


Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody - Women's

$159.00
on Backcountry
See It

70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance - 30% 9
  • Breathability - 30% 5
  • Weight and Packability - 20% 7
  • Versatility - 10% 7
  • Water Resistance - 10% 7
Material: 30D ripstop nylon with DWR | Fit: Slim fit
Excellent wind protection
Above-average water resistance
Easy to layer
Durable materials and construction
Less breathable
Crinkly material is less comfortable
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 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


Columbia Flash Forward Lined - Women's

$59.99
on Backcountry
See It

50
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Wind Resistance - 30% 8
  • Breathability - 30% 2
  • Weight and Packability - 20% 3
  • Versatility - 10% 7
  • Water Resistance - 10% 7
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 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


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 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, from stiff ocean breezes in the Caribbean to powerful mountaintop gusts in Lesotho. Growing up in Iowa, where the wind follows the seasons and often brings involuntary tears to many residents' eyes, Maggie understands the value of the right windproof layer. 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 a plethora of other gear for GearLab since 2017.

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 and high-powered fans 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.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

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.

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.

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.

Weather the weather better with your handy new windbreaker.
Weather the weather better with your handy new windbreaker.
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 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 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 functions well as a simple, everyday jacket, also has a very reasonable price.

The inexpensive SoTeer still offers simple but reasonable protection...
The inexpensive SoTeer still offers simple but reasonable protection for women on a budget.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

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 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.

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 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.

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. 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.

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, 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.

Related: Best Softshell Jackets for Women


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.

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

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.

The Rab Vital&#039;s top snap strap lets you unzip this jacket farther...
The Rab Vital's top snap strap lets you unzip this jacket farther without letting it slide off your shoulders.
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 Flash 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.

Most windbreakers pack down into a single pocket, like these. From...
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.
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 REI Flash weighs a little more but it also doesn&#039;t skimp on...
The REI Flash weighs a little more but it also doesn't skimp on features and becomes a fanny pack, making it easy to carry around.
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 impressively thin fabric and lack of many technical features...
The impressively thin fabric and lack of many technical features helps the Patagonia Houdini shed weight.
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 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.

We love the flexibility and fit of the Black Diamond Alpine Start...
We love the flexibility and fit of the Black Diamond Alpine Start, which easily transitions from backcountry adventures to frontcountry excursions.
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.

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. 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.

Though the Alpine Start isn&#039;t the most water resistant jacket we...
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.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

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 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.

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

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 decreasing 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 thicker Fjallraven High Coast, but the Houdini's ripstop construction helps to prevent those tears from spreading.

Ripstop fabric, sturdy zippers and zipper pulls, and strong seams...
Ripstop fabric, sturdy zippers and zipper pulls, and strong seams and construction add to the durability of the Arc'teryx Squamish.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

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...
Not all windbreakers are made for wild backcountry adventures, but can still be a great addition to your daily routine.
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.

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

Maggie Brandenburg and Shey Kiester