This post may contain affiliate links.

10 Best Windbreakers and Wind Shirts of 2024

10 Best Windbreakers and Wind Shirts

Windbreakers and wind shirts are ultralight lightweight jackets, running shells, pullovers, or anoraks weighing 2 to 8 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
Arcteryx Squamish Hoodie30d4.9 oz / 140g
Patagonia Houdini Jacket15d3.7 oz /105g
Enlightened Equipment Copperfield Wind Shirt10d2.05 oz / 58g
Rab Vital Windshell Hoody20d4.6 oz /160g
REI Flash JacketNA4.3 oz /122g
Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie30d5.3 oz /150g
Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell15d3.5 oz / 98g
Warbonnet Stash Jacket20d5.0 oz / 142g
Montbell Tachyon Hooded Jacket7d2.5 oz / 72g
Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody20d7.4 oz /210g

While you can wear a windbreaker anywhere, they’re particularly useful when wearing a rain jacket or technical shell will 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. 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. Read the SectionHiker Review.

Shop at REIShop at Amazon

2. 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. Read the SectionHiker Houdini Review.

View at REI

3. Enlightened Equipment Copperfield Wind Shirt

Enlightened Equipment Copperfield Wind Shirt
The Enlightened Equipment Copperfield Wind Shirt is an incredibly refined, 2.4 oz wind shirt, available with 7d, 10d, or 20d 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. Read the SectionHiker Review.

View at Enlightened

4. Rab Vital Hoody

Rab Vital Windshell Hoody
The Rab Vital 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 4.6 oz, it’s a relatively heavy windbreaker because it is so rich in features and internal storage. A women’s version is also available.

View at Amazon

5. REI Flash Jacket

REI Flash Jacket
The REI Flash Jacket is a highly breathable gossamer-thin windbreaker packed with features. Weighing 4.3 ounces, it has five pockets including a large zippered chest pocket, two internal drop pockets, and unzippered handwarmer pockets. The hood is adjustable with a rear cordlock and the jacket has elastic wrist cuffs to seal out the wind. There’s also an elastic hem adjuster along with a full-length front zipper for ventilation. REI doesn’t publish a denier spec, but the recycled nylon is very similar in weight and texture to the Patagonia Houdini and the Rab Vital Hoody. The sizing is generous which is good for layering. We think this jacket is a great value.  A women’s model is also available. Read the SectionHiker Flash Jacket Review.

View at REI

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, 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 women’s version is also available. Read the SectionHiker Review.

View at 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. 

View at Backcountry

8. Warbonnet Stash Jacket

Warbonnet Stash Jacket

The Warbonnet Stash Jacket is a lightweight 5.0 oz windbreaker made with the breathable non-waterproof fabric that Warbonnet uses to make their backpacking quilts (it’s also available in a non-breathable waterproof fabric). It has torso-length pit zips, elastic cuffs, and an adjustable snug-fitting hood with toggled neck controls. I’ve been using one since this autumn and the venting capability is pretty unique. Read the SectionHiker Review.

View at Warbonnet

9. 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.  Read the SectionHiker Tachyon Review.

View at Montbell

10. Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody
The Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody is a highly breathable hoodie Schoeller stretch-woven fabric to provide unrestricted freedom of movement and highly packable wind and weather resistance. It has an adjustable, climbing-helmet-compatible hood, elastic hem adjustment, lightweight stretch cuffs, and underarm gussets for added range of motion. The jacket stuffs into its own chest pocket, which features an internal carabiner clip loop. Weighing 7.4 oz, the Alpine Start’s thoughtful design and excellent breathability make it an excellent choice for winter hiking and backcountry ski touring. Read the SectionHiker Alpine Start Review. 

View at Backcountry

Windbreaker and Wind Shirt 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, rendering 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 zip 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 in 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.

SectionHiker is reader-supported. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.

9 comments

  1. I’ve had the Montbell Tachyon for about 3 years now and love it. Tough little shell for the weight.

  2. Bill in Roswell GA

    My oldish OR hybrid windshirt (hood and shoulders waterproofed) is my most valued piece of kit. The hard part is figuring out breathabilty of the fabric. Denier only gives a hint, as there are several ways to finish a fabric, some less breathable rhan others. In various tests, the Montbell and EE Copperfield usually prove most breathable. Popular Pata Houdini is in the middle. I sweat a lot so I want more airflow. The Warbonnet impresses with the side zips. Wish there was some standardized way of measuring breathability. In the mean time, buy something with a good return policy so you wind up with the amount of breathability you want.

  3. I call my old Houdini my 3.0 because I cut off the things I didn’t need like labels and hem cinch. My new one is even lighter as they simplified the hood cinch. I love this as a mid layer barrier in the winter so I can switch my top heavy layers without losing heat.

  4. Enlightened equip copperfield has made tough spot in my ‘must carry’ kit for both day hiking and backpacking. One of my best gear investments so far – held up in OR blowdown early season without a rip and have carried / worn it since April and 1000+ OR miles. Recommend it. – goat bells (GoatBells.blog)

    • I’ve had one for a couple of years. The fabric is so wispy I’m convinced it’s going to shred at the slightest insult, but like you said mine’s proven more durable than I expected. It goes in my pack on every hike.

  5. I own a Rab Vital, it’s a basic jacket but very good. My son bought it for me as a Christmas present. I think the hood is a bit wacky in design but that’s my only whinge about it. It does the job. I also own a wind jacket from Decathlon, (£14, 2 years ago) it’s just as good and has a better hood as well.

  6. For the money, you can’t beat the NOLS windshirt.

  7. Curious about how sizing runs in normal people sizes. I have both the Squamish and the Helium in XXL. I can fit my Cerium puffy under the Squamish, but not much more than a thin midlayer under the Helium.

Leave a Reply

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