testing windbreaker jackets at mount rainier national park

Wind Shirt Comparison Table

Windbreaker Weight (oz) Price ($) Denier
Zpacks Ventum 1.8 100 7
Katabatic Crest 1.8 119 7
EE Copperfield 2.1 120 10
Montbell Tachyon 2.5 139 7
BD Distance Wind 3.4 140 15
Patagonia Houdini 3.7 109 15
Patagonia Houdini Air 4.1 179 20*
Arcteryx Squamish 4.9 160 30

*denier estimated when not provided by manufacturer

Best All-Purpose Windbreaker Jacket

Patagonia Houdini Jacket

3.7 oz | $109

Patagonia Houdini is perhaps the most classic ultralight windbreaker of all time, and it’s still the most well-rounded, well-regarded, most trustworthy option today. Features include a single chest pocket/stuff sack, hood cinch, drawcord hem, and half-elastic cuffs. Houdini is now fair trade certified, and made with 100% recycled ripstop nylon. Weighing in at 3.7 oz, it’s right in the sweet spot for ultralight windbreakers.

Top Ultralight Windbreaker Jacket

Katabatic Gear Crest Windshell

Katabatic Gear Crest Windshell

1.8 oz | $119

We really like the new Katabatic Gear Crest Windshell. The 7d Pertex Quantum Air fabric lands on the more breathable side of the wind breaker spectrum, and utilizes textured yarns for a less clammy skin-feel. This windbreaker is literally featureless, aside from elasticized cuffs, which is a smart design choice, and the only way to come in at less than two ounces. While true to size, it runs a bit trim, so size up if you’re in between or prefer a looser fit.

Top Ultralight Windbreaker Jacket

Zpacks Ventum Wind Shell

1.8 oz | $100

At only 1.8 oz for a M’s medium, the Zpacks Ventum Wind Shell stood out to us as one of the very lightest windbreakers on the market. It’s constructed with 7D Ventum ripstop nylon fabric, which is soft, breathable, and water/wind resistant. And in fact, it’s the same performance fabric they use on their high quality ultralight sleeping bags. The hood, hem, and wrists are elasticized to keep drafts out.

Windbreaker Jacket – Best Water Resistance

Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell

3.4 oz | $140

We nod to the Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell for its ultralight weight and water resistance thanks to a fancy DWR. This is the GTT Empel Breathable Water Protection Technology, and water resistance treatment that claims to beat out C-6, C-8, and C-0 DWRs in terms of performance and durability. However, it is definitely not waterproof. The Distance Wind is built with a 15D nylon, and has elasticized hood, cuffs, and an adjustable hem. The whole thing packs down into its one zippered chest pocket. We’d recommend this wind breaker if you’re expecting very, very light rain but don’t want a full on waterproof jacket. Our only complaint is that the hand feel is a bit plastic-y, but so are many of the lightest weight windbreakers. Read more in our full-length Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell Review.

Best Windbreaker Jacket For Hiking

Montbell Tachyon Hooded Jacket

2.5 oz | $139

We love the Montbell Tachyon Hooded Jacket for its ultralight weight and the fact that it’s the only ultralight windbreaker with a set of hip belt-compatible hand pockets and underarm vents. Constructed with 7D ballistic airlight nylon ripstop, it’s durable for its weight but a bit on the plastic-y spectrum. This is a great shell for hiking and backpacking because it works so well with a hip belt.

Best Windbreaker Jacket – Breathability

Patagonia Houdini Air Jacket

4.1 oz | $179

Constructed with Pertex Equilibrium double weave fabric, the Patagonia Houdini Air Jacket derives its benefits from a new high performance nylon/poly textile. The exterior face is a tight weave nylon to block wind and resist rain from coming in, while the interior is texturized polyester for improved hand feel, and to encourage wicking and breathability. It has an adjustable hood cinch, zippered check pocket which doubles as a stuff sack, and elasticized hem and cuffs. We love this windbreaker for running in particular.

Best Windbreaker Jacket – Durability

Arc’teryx Squamish Hoody

4.9 oz | $160

Another longtime heavy hitter in the windbreaker market, the Arc’Teryx Squamish Hoody is a good choice for its durability. This one is designed for climbers, but great for any activity where you may be brushing against abrasive surfaces. This is thanks to the 30D Tyono nylon, the highest denier, most durable fabric on our list. At 4.9 oz it’s also the heaviest, so we wouldn’t recommend Squamish unless you specifically need the durability. It has a zippered chest pocket, and adjustability at the hood and hem. 

Best Custom Wind Shirt

Enlightened Equipment Copperfield Wind Shirt

2.1 oz | $120

Customizable with nearly 20 colorways and three fabric weights (7d, 10d, 20d), you’re sure to find the ultralight windbreaker of your dreams with the Enlightened Equipment Copperfield Wind Shirt. The 7D fabric is as light as it gets. This wind jacket has no pockets, but offers shock cord cinching around hood and hem, plus elasticized wrist. It has a good blend of weight, durability, breathability and wind resistance. 

Buyer Consideration and Pro Tips

Windbreaker Jacket & Weight

Five ounces seems to be a sweet spot for windbreaker jackets. Anything more is overkill, and unnecessarily heavy. Beyond that, the lighter the better, unless you plan to take it bushwhacking or climbing. On the opposite end of the spectrum, just under two ounces seems to be the lower limit. Because a two ounce windbreaker accomplishes nearly all of the same things (in terms of wind protection) as a four ounce windbreaker jacket, you might as well save the weight.

What’s more, when considering a two ounce wind shell, it’s so light that it can almost be thought of as part of a modular system in conjunction with a fleece, as opposed to a five oz windbreaker, which is heavy enough to be its own layer. Framing it this way makes it really hard to justify a midweight windbreaker. Why would you want a 7 oz wind shell when you could have a 5 oz fleece and a 2 oz wind breaker?

Wind shirt vs wind shell vs windbreaker

All the same thing. If you see us, or others, using these terms interchangeable, that’s because they are.

Reminder – Wind shells are not waterproof

Reminder – wind shirts are not waterproof and you don’t want them to be. The expectation is that a windbreaker jacket with a tight weave and DWR treatment should be able to keep you dry in light rain for a short amount of time. That’s all. It’s okay to wear a windshirt in the rain and get a bit wet if you expect to dry out quickly after. It can also be preferable in warm rain when you would overheat in rain gear.

When Should Hikers Pack A Windbreaker

A lot of micro decisions lead up to what you ultimately pack. We would recommend carrying a windbreaker for the following scenarios:

  • Obviously, when you are expecting lots of cold wind
  • in conjunction with an ultralight fleece jacket to make a modular system
  • In lieu of a rain shell in very dry climates when no precipitation is expected

When Not To Pack A Windbreaker

  • When you are already packing a medium weight fleece, a puffy jacket, and a rain shell
  • In wet environments when you’ll mostly be wearing a rain jacket
  • In non-windy environments

When Can A Rain Jacket Serve As A Wind Shell?

Unfortunately for windbreaker jackets, rain jackets significantly narrow their range of viable use cases. Waterproof jackets are windproof by definition, which means that rain gear beats wind gear at its own game. The fact that most hikers carry rain jackets on most trips makes wind jackets fairly redundant in a lot of cases. And if you’re trying to shave weight, skipping the wind jacket and just committing to wearing a rain jacket in those situations is a great option. You lose out on some breathability, but it still gets the job done.

Reminder – A Wind Shirt Can Act As Mosquito Resistance

The combination of a windbreaker jacket over a knit polyester sun shirt can be as effective as a woven nylon button up. You might consider treating your windbreaker with permethrin to act as a bonus bug shirt. And you’ll be grateful for the hood!

Windbreaker Jacket Features In Order Of Importance

  1. Front zipper
  2. Hood Adjustability
  3. Chest Pocket
  4. Hand Pockets
  5. Armpit or back yoke vents
  6. Hem adjustability
  7. Packs into own pocket

Windbreaker Plus Polartec Alpha Direct

A growing trend with ultralight backpackers is to layer a Polartec Alpha Direct Hoodie underneath a windbreaker to create a modular puffy jacket system. For this purpose, we recommend the lightest possible windbreakers, like the Zpacks Ventum and Enlightened Equipment Copperfield. The Polartec Alpha Direct fabric, usually 90g, is like the guts of a synthetic puffy jacket uncontained by a shell. It’s like a grid of fluffy fur.

However, Alpha Direct is so breathable that you will even feel a breeze just by walking. Without the addition of a wind shell, it is incapable of maintaining heat if there is any wind whatsoever. But with a windbreaker, it becomes as warm as a heavyweight fleece or a lightweight puffy jacket. Thus, the alpha direct hoodies and windbreaker jackets go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Windbreaker Maintenance

Windbreaker maintenance is fairly simple. Double check washing instructions provided by the manufacturer, but for the most part, they can be laundered as normal. To restore its water resistant DWR coating, wash and treat the windbreaker with a 1-2 punch of NikWax Tech Wash followed by TX.Direct. Fix up small rips and tears with Gear Aid Tenacious Tape. Easy peasy!

testing a windbreaker hoody at mt rainier
2 replies
  1. JP
    JP says:

    Is Patagnoia another way of saying paranoia about Patagonia?

    Seriously, thanks for the round-up. I always learn things and hear about new (to me) products!

    I’m not sure how substantial the weight differences are within the 3 groups I perceived:
    – under 3 ounces (Zpacks Ventum, Montbell Tachyon, EE Copperfield – different weight in text and table BTW);
    – 3.5-4.5 ounces (Patagonia Houdini, Patagonia Houdini Air, REI Co-op Flash);
    4.5+ ounces (Arcteryx Squamish).

    I have used my Tachyon for years – it’s the old 1/4 zip one. I think the Houdini looks the best of the ones you reviewed, just haven’t justified replacing the Tachyon yet.

    One other reason for a windshirt is to lengthen the lifespan of your rain jacket. This is easier to justify if you’re bringing one of the lighter wind jackets IMO.

    Thanks again.

    Reply
    • Jaeger Shaw
      Jaeger Shaw says:

      Glad you found it useful and thanks for the corrections! We just fixed EE Copperfield in the table and solved our Patagonia crisis.

      Good thoughts on weight. Suppose it depends on how you frame things. On one hand, the “heavier” windbreakers weigh only 1-2 ounces more. On the other, that’s literally twice as heavy.

      If your Tachyon is still in good working order, there’s probably no need to upgrade/replace until it fails. That’s a really sweet windbreaker.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.