10 Best Windbreakers and Wind Shirts of 2022

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
Patagonia Houdini Jacket15d3.7 oz /105g
Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody20d7.4 oz /210g
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
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 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. 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.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Patagonia

2. 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. 

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Black Diamond

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. Read the SectionHiker Review.

Check for the latest price at:
Enlightened Equipment

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.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | 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.

Check for the latest price 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 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:
REI | 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.  Read the SectionHiker Tachyon Review.

Check for the latest price on:
Montbell America

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, 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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2 comments

  1. I have a Houdini and like it except for the “single rear” hood adjustment, which doesn’t seal the front well. The hood balloons if facing the wind and won’t keep one’s head warm. I’d much prefer a traditional “opening perimeter” closure.

  2. I own a few wind shirts and my favorite is the 5 oz Smartwool Ultra Light Hoodie, especially for hiking.
    Besides a full length zipper, the unique underarm panels are breathable patches which replaces the need for pit zips or ill placed vents.

    The jacket also has 2 useful, zippered hand pockets and packs completely into the right one for easy storage.

    Smartwool also makes one without a hood.

    I purchased mine at REI.

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