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Windshirts 101

What is a Windshirt

Wind shirts and wind shells are thin lightweight jackets, running shells, pullovers, or anoraks weighing 2 to 6 ounces, that hikers wear as a barrier to prevent winds from stripping away body heat. They’re usually made of highly breathable, uncoated nylon that is can be worn over a fleece or base layer to block the wind and keep you warmer when hiking, backpacking, or trail running.

While you can wear a wind shirt anywhere, they’re particularly useful in mountainous terrain, when wearing a full rain jacket or technical winter shell would be too warm. Wind shirts are a also 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 1/2 or full-length zipper are also useful for sealing in the heat and venting for thermal regulation.

Wind shirts may also come with hoods or be hoodless. If you get a wind shirt with a hood, look for one that lets you reduce the volume of the hood, or better yet, has pull cords so you can seal the hood around your face. Otherwise, the wind will make the hood flap noisily. Many trail runners prefer hoodless wind shirts because there’s no hood to flap around when they’re in motion.

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 or running jackets, since there’s so much overlap with hiking and backpacking.

1. Arc’teryx 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.

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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.

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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 windshirts 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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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9. Montbell Tachyon Parka

Montbell Tachyon Parka
Montbell’s Tachyon Hooded Jacket 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.

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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 provides 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 an added range of motion. The jacket stuffs into its 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. 

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  1. I would also include the Mountain Hardware Ghost Lite jacket to this list. I’ve not yet used mine while hiking but it has become an essential piece of gear for me when running in cold or light rain conditions. When conditions or body temperatures change such that I do not need the layer to retain heat, then I can wade the whole jacket up into one fist and carry it.

  2. Zachary G Robbins

    I have the Montbell UL Stretch and love it, great shell that always goes in my pack.

  3. Alpine Pedestrian

    It’s amazing how much warmth and protection from wind these windshirts can provide. I wore my Zpacks windshirt that weighs slightly under 2 oz. over just a merino base layer this morning while cross-country skiing in 38 degree, blustery weather. I was very comfortable. It took me years to give a windshirt a try (huh? another jacket? I already have a fleece pullover and a rain jacket.) But it gets a lot of use, and I’m glad I have it.

  4. If rain jackets wet out and/or cause you to get wet eventually anyways, and if rain jackets are too warm for versatile use, isn’t there an argument for simply skipping the rain jacket altogether and just bring a wind jacket? The wind jacket would get wet quicker, but dry more quickly as well. This seems especially true if the temperature are warmer. It would still provides some level of warmth and protection against the wind, even if wet? Also, wind jacket is quite a bit lighter. Just curious what your thoughts are.

    • You’re missing a piece, which is the insulation layer that should be worn under a wet jacket to prevent conductive heat loss. I have an article coming out about this on Friday, as a matter of fact. You need to start thinking about clothing as a system….

      The problem with just wearing a wind shirt is that it doesn’t provide a vapor barrier to retain your body heat the way that a rain jacket does, even when it wets out. So when it gets wet and windy, you’ll get very cold. I’ve seen people get hypothermic in the dead of summer in steaming hot weather. I’ve also gotten very chilled when a thunderstorm lets go overhead and the air gets very cold all around me and hail rains down on me. Don’t think that summer is safe.

      My current choice is to carry a rain jacket that is light enough and well ventilated enough to use as wind shirt, a Montbell Versalite Jacket. of course, you really don’t need a wind shirt unless you’re hiking in mountains and even then you can suck it up and just use a rain jacket.

      • So what you’re saying is that a wetted out rain jacket will still keep you warmer than a wetted out wind jacket? Near home, on short hikes (2-3 hours) in warm weather (above 70 degrees), I’ve found that a wind jacket will keep me relatively warm, but not as warm as a rain jacket. I was wondering whether I should expand this experience to longer backpacking trips. I think your advice not to is good advice. As always, thanks.

  5. I just ordered a Patagonia Houdini and it is really not made of a breathable fabric. I hear it’s now marketed as a lightweight rain jacket more than anything else I also did some research and believe the CFM rating (around 3 or so) is one of the lowest around. Nothing compared to my old Squamish hoodie (cam around17-20). Will be interested to hear your thoughts

  6. Any experience with the Black Diamond Alpine Start?

  7. I’m surprised they don’t make more windshirts without hoods. Hoods tend to flap around in the wind. I have a 15D windshirt from Mountain Hardwear called a Phantom Anorak that I love. It’s about 3 to 3.5oz. I use it for everything – hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities. MH doesn’t make this model anymore and I don’t think they offer windshirts at all. Bummer.

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