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What is a Wind Shirt?

Wearing a Windshirt Above Treeline
Wearing a Wind Shirt Above Treeline

Wind shirts are very thin lightweight jackets, pullovers, or anoraks that hikers wear in windy conditions. Weighing 2 to 4 ounces, they pack up to the size of an apple making them incredibly easy to carry and pack. Wind shirts are usually made out of lightweight water resistant nylon or breathable Pertex that is insufficient protection for sustained rain, but can be worn over a fleece or base layer to cut the wind and keep you warmer.

I often carry a wind shirt as part of my gear list if I know I’ll be hiking above treeline in 3 season weather, where I know the wind will be tearing at my clothes, but where wearing a fully breathable rain shell is simply too warm. Wind shirts also a great layer to wear on cold mornings over a fleece as you leave camp because they help hold the your body heat so well and are  easy to adjust to keep from sweating.

Highly rated wind shirts:

Some wind shirts come with adjustable hoods, which is my preference because they keep you warmer in cooler weather when wearing a fleece hat. I also  recommend you look for wind shirts with a quarter zip and elastic in the wrist cuffs so you can vent them when you start to sweat. For example, when I start to overheat, I pull up the sleeves on my wind shirt to cool off the blood flowing through my wrists and arms or take off my hat. That can be enough to stop me sweating without requiring a layer change.

There was a period of time when I thought that wind shirts were an extraneous article of clothing and could be completely replaced by a hard shell jacket but that changed when I got myself a 2.3 ounce. It’s turned into a mainstay of my three-season layering system and is the primary outer layer I wear in dry weather if I need a little extra warmth or wind protection.

Disclosure: I sincerely hope you’ve benefited from the information in this article. This post contains affiliate links. Philip Werner purchased the Montbell Tachyon Wind Shirt described here with his own funds. 

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  1. I have a Rab Cirrus full zip wind jacket. My favorite, most versatile, and priceless piece of my kit.

    It has huge awesome front pockets, meshed lined, that work great for ventilation besides being full zip.

    I threaded a very thin piece of elastic shock cord thru the hood, added two tiny cord locks and now I can fully cinch it around my head. (The hood fits slightly loose out of the box’).

    I’ve had it in all weather from snow to rain to super windy and its held up thru unplanned bushwhacks and snagging branches without a scratch.

    Awesome red color too to aid in safety visibility.

    While it may weigh 4.5 oz (with added modifications) its got a special place in my heart, er kit.

  2. I have the Patagonia Houdini and I love it. Such a versatile piece of gear. It is just light enough to wear while hiking without overheating and with layers you can take it below freezing. Works great when it is misty or lightly raining as well. Then when you don’t need it, just ball it up and stick it in a pocket.

  3. I reviewed the new pullover from RailRiders last week. I am not quite sure that it is a windshirt, but I am also not quite sure that it isn’t.

  4. I bought a Windproof wool Sweater a few years ago from a major well known out door retailer. I hate it. Unless I wear some good long underwear, a good wool shirt, the dang thing acts like a refrigerator and sucks the heat away from the body, no wind gets through that is true, but it seems to store up the cold. So I gave it to my brother..Lols. So is the Wind Shirt any better? What do you have to wear under it to keep warm?

    • That’s the problem with hybrid layers in my opinion. I like keeping my layers single purpose and then combine them to get the effect I want.

      I usually wear a base layer under my wind shirt if its warm, or a 100 weight fleece if its cool. I can add a thin synthetic jacket under it as well and it almost perfroms as well as a down puffy.

    • On my last AT section hike it got down to around 20 degs F and was very windy. I was fine hiking in just the windshirt and a short sleeved micro wool shirt. I added a 100 wt. fleece long sleeve pullover when I was in camp. I plan to replace the fleece shirt with a down sweater on my next trip.

  5. As a long time fan, I look forward to reading each of your posts. I have been hiking for about two years now and your postings have given me great guidance. Your column about Lyme disease was especially important as I was diagnosed (early on) and was treated successfully.

    Today, after reading your review, I purchased this wind jacket as I have been looking for one. Got a great sale price from CampSaver too!

    Your postings allow me to enjoy hiking even when I am not in the woods! Thanks!

    • That made my day! Thanks brother. Glad to have you healthy.

    • I totally agree with you Chip. I just ordered my pacepoles a few days ago because of his recommendation. They are on backorder. I can’t wait to get them. I hope to someday meet Philip on one of my White Mountain hikes. Highly unlikely but you never know.

  6. +1 For the Montbell! Since I purchased mine I cant seem to leave it at home.

  7. I’m sportin’ the Montbell Dynamo Wind top. It’s slightly heavier at 5.1 oz., but has a few features I really like such as pockets, adjustable cuffs, and stronger fabric over the shoulders for protection from shoulder straps. I love this top.

  8. Good article! If only those jackets came in 3x tall. I’ve been using a light rain jacket to block out wind. Weighs more than what you linked, but seems to do the trick (plus, I guess it’s got multiple uses).

    Until this past season, I never appreciated the importance of cutting out the wind… I don’t go anywhere without it anymore, regardless of the forecast.

  9. I have the Patagonia Houdini jacket and love it. Very light and packs very small.

  10. I picked up the Houdini about a year ago and have found it invaluable for running and biking in cold weather, but still use my rain jacket as an all-around outer layer while backpacking when needed. I will admit that the Houdini is becoming more difficult to leave behind though! The Tachyon looks nice.

  11. Exactly the same experience as you, Phil. I always thought a windshirt was extraneous until the horseflies and deerflies on a hot (for there) day in Wyoming’s Wind Rivers attacked me en masse through my permethrin-sprayed shirt. Not wanting to wear rain gear in the heat or pack medieval armor, I bought a windshirt primarily for that purpose. It has since become the most versatile garment I own! Often just the windshirt over my hiking shirt is enough to keep me warm in camp or during stops to rest or gawk at scenery. Mine is a Montbell full-zip that was on sale as a discontinued model and color in the fall of 2009. The price was reduced enough that I can’t complain about the color, which resembles wine vomit. Weighs 2.4 oz. and well worth it.

    BTW, permethrin doesn’t work on flies, as I discovered by reading the label when I got home!

  12. I wore my wind shirt all day yesterday as I worked outside on a chilly, windy day. I was really glad to have it.

  13. Great explanation, I always take a wind shirt with me, when hiking, no matter what season. I have the Montane Featherlite Smock since spring last year and couldn’t be happier with it. In winter it is a good second layer for when I go jogging.

    I think this is a gear that doesn’t take up a lot of space and weight.

  14. I’d steer your readers towards other options. Montbells DWR is pretty bad, and Quantum GL and the Ghost Whisperer fabric have poor breathability compared to other options which weigh only an ounce more.

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