10 Best Windbreakers of 2021

10 Best Windbreakers for Hiking and Backpacking

Windbreakers and wind shirts are ultralight lightweight jackets, running shells, pullovers, or anoraks weighing 2 to 6 ounces, that hikers and backpackers wear as a barrier to prevent winds from stripping away their body heat. They’re usually made of highly breathable and thin (low denier) nylon that can be worn over a fleece or base layer to block the wind and keep you warmer when hiking or trail running. They’re amazingly warm considering how lightweight they are.

Here are the best windbreakers and wind shirts and shells available today. Note: when shopping for windbreakers, and wind shells, retailers may list them under trail running jackets or running jackets, since there’s so much overlap with hiking and backpacking.

Make / ModelFabric DenierWeight
Patagonia Houdini Jacket15d3.7 oz /105g
Arc'teryx Incendo Hoodie20d3.9 oz /125g
Enlightened Equipment Copperfield Wind Shirt10d2.05 oz / 58g
Rab Vital Windshell Hoody20d5.7 oz /160g
Montane Featherlite Trail Jacket20d3.9 oz /110g
Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie30d5.3 oz /150g
Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell15d3.5 oz / 98g
Arcteryx Squamish Hoodie30d4.9 oz / 140g
Sierra Designs Tepona Wind Jacket15d3.5 oz / 99g
Montbell Tachyon Parka7d2.5 oz / 72g

While you can wear a windbreaker anywhere, they’re particularly useful when wearing a rain jacket or technical shell would be too warm. Wind shirts are a great layer to wear on cold mornings over a fleece because they hold your body heat without the bulk of a rain jacket. Elastic wrist cuffs, an adjustable waist hem, and a full-length zipper are also useful for sealing in the heat and venting for thermal regulation.

1. Patagonia Houdini Jacket

Patagonia Houdini
The Patagonia Houdini is one of the most legendary wind shirts available today. Weighing just 3.7 oz, it’s made with a 15 denier 100% nylon ripstop shell with a DWR finish for improved water resistance. Elastic wrist cuffs make it easy to pull up the sleeves if you get too warm, while a drawcord cinches the hem. The hood adjusts with a single drawstring, while the jacket packs snugly into its zippered chest pocket, which has a carabiner clip-in loop. A women’s version is also available.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Patagonia

2. Arc’teryx Incendo Hoodie

Arcteryx Incendo Jacket
The Arc’teryx Incendo Hoodie is a highly breathable, 20 denier nylon taffeta hoodie treated with a DWR coating for improved water resistance. It has a trim fit with gusseted mesh underarms for improved ventilation, with a non-adjustable fitted hood that rolls away and secures with a snap when not needed. Weighing 4.6 oz, its thoughtful design and excellent breathability make it an excellent choice for high exertion hikes. The women’s version is called the Cita hoodie.

Check out the latest price at:
Arc’teryx | Amazon

3. Enlightened Equipment Copperfield Wind Shirt

Enlightened Equipment Copperfield Wind Shirt
The Enlightened Equipment Copperfield Wind Shirt is an incredibly refined, 2 oz wind shirt, made with 10d nylon with an adjustable hood, elastic wrist cuffs, a drawcord hem, and a full-length zipper. While most windbreakers and wind shirts have elasticized hood openings, the Copperfield hood is adjustable with pull cords, so you can completely seal off the face from drafts and prevent the hood from flapping loudly and violently in high winds. The sleeves are cut to be comfortable when wearing a backpack and the fit runs about a half size large for layering. A women’s model is also available. You can have the option to customize the Copperfield in a variety of colors and fabric weights.

Check for the latest price at:
Enlightened Equipment

4. Rab Vital Windshell Hoody

Rab Vital Windshell Hoody
The Rab Vital Windshell Hoody is a lightweight hooded jacket with an elasticated hood with a stiffened peak and rear volume adjustment, so it stays in place in strong winds. Made with 20 denier nylon, it has two zippered hand pockets, a front zip with an internal storm flap, elasticated cuffs, a hem drawcord, and internal stuff pocket. Weighing 5.7 oz, it’s a relatively heavy windbreaker because it is so rich in features and internal storage. A women’s version is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

5. Montane Featherlite Trail Jacket

Montane Featherlite Trail Jacket
Montane has a long history of making iconic wind jackets and wind shirts. Weighing 3.8 oz, the Featherlite Trail Jacket has a full-length front zipper, chest pocket, underarm vents, thumb loops, elasticized wrist cuffs, and an adjustable hem which are all great temperature regulation features. The Featherlite Trail Jacket is made with a 20 denier windproof stretch fabric that is simply outstanding for trail running, hiking, and cycling. Size up at least a full size as Montane uses UK sizing which tends to run small on well-fed Americans. A women’s model is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver

6. Outdoor Research Helium Wind Jacket

Outdoor Research Helium Wind Jacket
The Outdoor Research Helium Wind Jacket is a lightweight wind jacket made with a 30d Diamond Fuse nylon shell for improved durability and wind resistance. Developed by Pertex, Diamond Fuse nylon is more abrasion-resistant and windproof than regular nylon because it’s made using diamond-shaped fibers that lock together when woven. In addition, the Helium Wind Jacket has one chest pocket, a hood with a rear volume adjuster, brim, an elasticized face opening, and wrists cuffs, and laser-cut underarm vents that dissipate heat buildup. The fit is generous, making this a good jacket for active layering in colder weather. A purple women’s version is also available. 

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Outdoor Research

7. Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell

Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell
The Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell is a lightweight 15d Jacket with a basic feature set including an adjustable hood with a rear volume adjuster and elasticized face opening, elastic wrist cuffs, a zippered chest pocket, and hem adjustment. The thing that differentiates it from other windbreakers is its DWR coating, which is woven into the jacket rather than coating its exterior. This makes it far less susceptible to wearing off due to abrasion from stuffing and unstuffing, providing longer-lasting protection in mist and drizzle, It doesn’t make the jacket waterproof like a rain jacket but does extend its range in variable weather. The fit is slim.  A women’s version is also available. 

Check for the latest price on:
Black Diamond | Backcountry

8. Arc’teryx Squamish Hoody Windshell

Squamish-Hoody
The Arc’teryx Squamish Hoody is a streamlined windproof jacket with an adjustable hood, a single chest pocket, elasticized wrist cuffs, and dual hem adjusters. The hood has a rear volume adjuster, brim, and an elasticized front opening. Made with 30d nylon, the fit is slim, but on the long side with a center back length of 30.5 inches. A women’s model is also available.

Check for the latest price on:
Arc’teryx | Backcountry

9. Sierra Designs Tepona Wind Jacket

Sierra Designs Tepona Wind jacket
The Sierra Designs Tepona Wind Jacket is a purpose-built wind jacket for hikers with a volume adjustable hood and elastic face opening, elastic wrist cuffs, and hem adjustment. Made with 15d nylon, the jacket’s shoulder seams have been removed for added comfort when wearing backpack shoulder straps and a drop tail has been added for better hip belt compatibility. A women’s version is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
Sierra Designs | Amazon

10. Montbell Tachyon Parka

Montbell Tachyon Parka
Montbell’s Tachyon Parka is made with a super fine 7 denier DWR-coated nylon. Weighing just 2.5 ounces it has underarm vents, elastic cuffs, and packs easily into an integrated stow pocket. A drawstring hood adjustment and brim round out this exceptional wind shell. A women’s version is also available. 

Check for the latest price on:
Montbell America

Windbreaker Buyers Guide

Here are the key features and factors to be on the lookout for when choosing a windbreaker or wind shirt.

Wind Resistance

The wind resistance of a windbreaker depends on how tightly the fabric it’s made with is woven and features that help seal the jacket from drafts like elastic wrist cuffs, a drawcord hem, and a fully adjustable hood. Most windbreakers and wind shirts are made from thin, low denier nylon or polyester that is highly breathable as well as being windproof. Some windbreakers are cut slim which is good for running, while others are more generously sized so you can wear them over a mid-layer, which is often desirable for hiking, backpacking, climbing, and mountaineering.

Breathability and Venting

Unlike rain jackets, nylon windbreakers and wind shells usually have quite good breathability right through the fabric, which you can verify when you feel the fabric becoming damp under your armpits from perspiration. In general, the thinner the fabric weight, measured in terms of denier, the better it will be from a breathability standpoint. Keep in mind that very thin fabrics wear out much more quickly than thicker more durable ones. Some jackets also use more specialized nylon that has a very tight weave for improved wind resistance, even though this can mean they retain more heat. If heat buildup is a concern, it’s better to get a wind jacket with a full-length zipper instead of relying on underarm vents for additional ventilation. Foregoing a hood is also another strategy that can reduce a wind jacket’s level of heat retention.

Weight and Packability

Wind shells typically range in weight from 1.5 oz up to 6 oz and are highly packable, usually compressing down to the size of an apple because they’re made with such lightweight nylon. When hiking and backpacking, it’s often convenient to stuff a wind shirt or wind jacket loosely in your backpack, filling in the voids between stuff sacks and gear, rather than scrunching it up or stuffing it into its chest pocket, unless you want to attach it to a climbing harness.

Water Resistance

Most windbreakers and wind shells have a DWR coating on the exterior to repel mist and drizzle, but you shouldn’t count on a wind jacket to keep you dry in the rain. The DWR coating will also quickly wear off the more times you stuff the jacket into a backpack or into a pocket, rending it useless. If you need a rain jacket, buy yourself a proper rain jacket designed for that task. Similarly, most rain jackets are too warm to use as windbreakers.

Wind Jackets vs Pullovers

Windbreakers are available as jackets with full-length front zippers or pullovers with quarter-length or half-length chest zips. Full zips jackets are usually preferable in terms of ventilation because they allow more airflow, but pullovers are usually lighter because they forego the added zipper weight or are hoodless.

Hood Adjustability

An adjustable hood is important to seal out drafts, particularly around the face. Look for jackets with neck toggles and barring that, ones with tightly fitting elasticated face openings. A rear volume adjuster is also beneficial to downsize a hood to a human-friendly size if it’s helmet-compatible.

Fabric Denier

Fabric denier is a unit of measurement used to determine the fiber thickness of individual threads used in the creation of fabrics. Fabrics with a high denier count tend to be thick, sturdy, durable, and heavier. Fabrics with a low denier count tend to be sheer, soft, silky, and lighter weight.

Venting

While venting, as in pit zips is helpful, it’s just not as effective as a full-length zipper. Because weight is at such a premium on wind shirts, if there are pit zips, they’ll be permanently open rather than having zippers.

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21 comments

  1. Throwing this one in there too: Black Diamond Alpine Start

    reviewed by Phillip here:
    https://sectionhiker.com/black-diamond-alpine-start-hoody-2/

    I use my hoodless version in 3-season conditions. I have lighter windshells, sub 3 ounces, but I almost always carry this one because of the comfort of the stretch, and the fabric feel on bare arms over a short sleeve hiking shirt, and most of all because the breathability gives it a larger range of comfortable use. You could even use it as a sleep shirt if you take care to keep it from getting wet. I also like that it just feels solid, like a town jacket.

    • 8.2 oz, but it’s still in my gear closet. I mainly use the Montane Featherlite now for XC. Just put it on for an autumn hike as a matter of fact!

      • 6.6 ounces for mine, hoodless, size M, fwiw

        I dont do winter much. I think hoodless is the way to go for a wind shirt in 3 season temps. Just use your buff/neck gaiter/sleep cap?

      • Funny, I mainly use mine in colder weather, especially winter, when I know I’ll overheat if I wear a rain jacket over a fleece hoody or wool pullover.

  2. I use the Enlightened Equipment Copperfield and love it. I wear orange, for visibility to hunters in Fall. In addition to the advantages pointed out in this article, it is quite effective as a sleeping layer, over a polyester fleece or wool base layer and cap. Cinching it down really traps the warmth retained by the base layer and the Copperfield is so thin that there is no annoying crinkling when you move around. I’ve also used it as added sun protection above treeline, though it is so thin that I would not rely on it alone for that. That said, you really have to be careful not to snag it on brush or rocks — always the price for ultralight material. If you’re going off-trail, you’d be better off with something less expensive and more robust. Which is why I don’t own comparable wind pants.

    • Yeah. That’d be an expensive way to go through wind pants.

    • I went with the 7d coppefflied jacket. Expensive and kind of fragile but I like the mid level CFM of the 7d fabric and with a fleece I hike I to the 20’s with it.
      I think it would be worth discussing cfm ranges and separate the other Judi I jackets are good too.

      • It’d be great if any of the vendors published CFMs.

      • The Arc’teryx Squamish goes all four seasons for me. I wear it shirtless or over other layers. The breathability & stretch perform better than all others that I’ve worn before or since. I’ve owned the Houdini, and a the original Pertex version of the Montane featherlight. I also have the Montbell Dynamo wind pants. I wore both those, & the Squamish skiing at Heavenly & Kirkwood on below freezing days at altitude in the Tahoe region.

  3. I bought the Montbell UL Stretch Wind Parka years ago based on your recommendation. It’s one of my favorite pieces of gear, goes with me on every Fall-Spring hike unless I know there’s 100% rain.

  4. Having spent a lot on my Tarptent Notch Li I figure I’ll save weight and money by using my old REI eVent rain parka. I use it for backpacking and alpine skiing and around town as well.

    I eschew “wind shirts/jackets” as just extra weight. But I may buy an ultralight (8 oz.) WPB parka to save 8 oz. off the eVent parka.

  5. #11. Best one of all, not included on the list: The Marmot DriClime Windshirt, proven time and time again !!! By this 77-year old trail veteran.

    • I had one of those in the day. I distinctly remember it being lined and man, it would get funky if you don’t wash it a lot. A nice light insulated jacket, but not really a windshirt, unless they’ve changed it. A bunch of beavers ate mine. :-)

  6. I appreciate you taking the time to collect a list of high quality wind shell. I believe this could be more useful if you were able to score each of the jackets using your key factors (ideally using some objective measures), and then suggest the shape of the scores that might be best suited for different situations (such as someone who spends a lot of time off trail (durability would be more important). It would also be handy to help people visualize the difference. For example, have picture of the same sized jackets next to each other in pocket / stuff sack for a sense of pack ability. Two other factors I consider (but don’t know how to rank it objectively is feel against the skin and noise when moving.

    Over the years I have used a number of jackets as “windbreakers”.

    The older Patagonia Houdini (had higher CFM than current model). Worked pretty well. Stopped using when I lost a lot of weight 8y ago: it was too baggy.

    Patagonia Essenshell (EPIC). Heavier weight, great durability, low water absorption, high water resistance. Super for use in rain in conditions that a typical WPB jacket wouldn’t survive (constant abration from bushwhacking) and non breathing wouldn’t work because of high activity level. Stopping using when lost weight.

    Montbell tachyon pullover – lightest, smallest packing I have found. Great if I needed to minimize space. Not the most durable. Clammy feeling when against sweating skin. Jacket was lost on a trip :(

    Arcteryx Squarmish (old version… ~30CFM). A bit heavier than some, but a great combination of air permeability, durability, and with the slightest bit of textual so it is comfortable against bare skin, even when sweating. My goto wind shirt these days

    Gorewear H7 Trailrunning Jacket. Fully waterproof. Approaching wind shirt breathability. If I was really trying to minimize would use and not bother with wind shirt. I still use a wind shirt because I want to save wear and tear on the expensive H7 and I found the squeamish “slightly” more comfortable.

    Supplex or the old BPL Thorofare shirt (Pertex equilibrium light). More air permeable that many wind shirts, but enough in warmer weather. Summer trips when need protection from bugs. As it colds layer it over a base much like a do with a traditional wind shirt.

    • So Mark – we’ve known each other a long time, virtually of course.
      Do you really want me to make up a bunch of meaningless rating criteria (or based on manufacturer specs that have no correlation with reality) just so I can create pretty bar graphs for people to compare? I mean, do people fall for that stuff? I know other websites do it to appear credible, but hey, it’s just marketing baby, affiliate marketing.

      • No, don’t want meaningless ratings based on manufacturer specs. What I would like is a set of objective measurements that would allow people to see the different characteristics of garments. For example, it’s really hard to find reliable CFM or vapor transmission numbers, and there is no one place to compare them. I appreciate the work that Stephen Seeber (I think) has been doing trying to find useful measurements. I would love is for someone to collect the best parts of this data in one place so it is easy to see and compare current products.

        In a different space (insulation), the data and visualizations from Richard Nisley have been invaluable to me once I figure out the delta of my experience to his scale works (I run a bit hot so need less insulation when active, but the same amount when at rest). It would be great if all the measure that Richard (and/or others have done) could be assembled, similar to the formula driven ranking found in https://www.ultralightdandy.com/down-jacket-guide/ were there is a simple collection rather than having to find numbers for products scattered across 10s of posts.

      • I reject the notion that CFM is a well-defined and reliable metric upon which to choose a wind shirt. Adapted from HVAC, it usually measures the ability of exhaust fans to move air from one open space to another, not through fabric, and certainly not through a fabric that is layered in front another, like a fleece, without taking into consideration the design of the jacket including mechanical venting features. CFM is also conflated with breathability, which is a distinct metric on its own. What other “objective” measures did you have in mind?

  7. Years ago, I bought a StashJacket from Altra. It was designed to be easy to don & doff without taking off a hydration pack. It’s mostly open in the back, and it connects below the hydration pack with a bit of Velcro. I don’t think Altra makes them anymore, but it’s kind of a genius idea.

    I could see how creating one for hikers could be more difficult – especially for those who carry very large packs. I’ve carried it with me while hiking but I have yet to use it — the wind hasn’t been bad enough to make me don it. *touch wood*

    • Camp USA sent me something like that about 5 years ago. It was a backless wind shirt. I hated it. Very awkward. Looks like they killed the product.

    • I haven’t tried something like that, but I have seen what you’re talking about. It’s sounds like a good idea, but it seems like the loss of functionality is not worth the miniscule weight savings – I most often need a wind shirt when I’m sitting with my pack off for lunch and such. Perhaps a better idea would be to use 7 or 10D on the back panel and 15 or 20D on the front and sleeves – maybe some do that.

  8. Good list. I just generally find windshirts too expensive for a nice-to-have, non-essential piece of gear. I use an EMS windshirt I think I got for about $30 on sale many years ago – it looks similar to the Black Diamond Distance. I use it mostly for day hikes. For backpacking, I generally just prefer to use my XL Frogg Togg jacket for all-purpose rain/wind/pack protection and I can put it on and off without touching my pack.

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