Wind shirts and wind shells are thin lightweight jackets, pullovers, or anoraks weighing 2 to 4 ounces, that hikers wear as a vapor barrier to prevent winds from stripping away body heat. They’re usually made of highly breathable, water-resistant nylon that is insufficient protection for sustained rain but can be worn over a fleece or base layer to block the wind and keep you warmer when hiking or trail running.
While you can wear a wind shirt anywhere, they’re particularly useful in mountainous terrain, when wearing a full rain 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, and adjustable waist hem, and a 1/2 or full-length zipper are also useful for sealing in the heat and venting for thermal regulation.
Here are the best hooded and hoodless wind shirts and shells available today. Note: when shopping for wind shirts and wind shells, retailers may list them under trail running jackets, since there’s so much overlap with hiking and backpacking.
Patagonia Houdini Wind Jacket
The Patagonia Houdini is one of the most legendary wind shirts available today. Weighing just 3.3 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.
The Arc’teryx Incendo Hoodie is a highly breathable, 20d nylon tafetta 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, it’s the heaviest wind shell in this list, but its thoughtful design and excellent breathability make it an excellent choice for high exertion climbs and hikes.
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, 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.
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 integrated stow pocket. Drawstring hood adjustment and brim round out this exceptional wind shell.
The Montbell U.L. Stretch Wind Parka is made with a 12 denier Ballistic Airlight rip-stop nylon that gives just the right balance of breathability and wind resistance. It’s cut on the bias, like many of Montbell’s sleeping bags to give it an element of stretch and freedom of movement. Weighing 4.1 oz, the U.L. Stretch Wind Parka has two zippered hand pockets and elastic cuffs. A drawstring hood adjustment and brim make this jacket a great addition to any outdoor enthusiast’s gear list.
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