Windshirts 101

What is a Windshirt

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

Patagonia Houdini
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.

Check out the latest price on:
Backcountry | Patagonia

Arc’teryx Incendo Hoodie

Arcteryx Incendo Jacket
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.

Check out the latest price on:
Arc’teryx | REI

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, and an adjustable hem which are all great temperature regulation features. The Featherlite Trail Jacket is made with a 20 denier windproof stretch fabric making it ideal for trail running, hiking, and cycling.

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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 integrated stow pocket. Drawstring hood adjustment and brim round out this exceptional wind shell.

Check out the latest price on:
Montbell America

Montbell U.L. Stretch Wind Parka

Montbell UL Stretch Wind Parka
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.

Check out the latest price on:
Montbell America

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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.

    • I like the Ghost Lite, too. About 3 oz and balls up really tiny. It’s a perfect running shell for chilly to cold and lightly breezy conditions, which constitutes a lot of Arizona winter mornings. When it’s below 45 or 50 degrees but above 35 or so, it’s my go to because it keeps me warm for those first 10 or 15 minutes, then I can take it off for the rest of my run and hold it in my hand or stuff it in a pocket and it doesn’t get in the way.

      If it’s below 35 it’s just enough to keep in some body heat without overheating/sweating out.

      But it’s not as wind resistant as some other jackets. I also have a Cotopaxi Paray, which weighs a little more than the Ghost lite and is a little more substantial. For running, they’re both fine but I prefer the Ghost lite, and for up in the mountains, again they’re both fine but I prefer the Paray.

  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. I have a 2oz one that really does what it is advertised to do, break the wind. I also have a thin, very light short sleeve quilted down shirt that is a great thing for a little extra warmth without a lot of weight. It fits tightly but doesn’t impede motion. Both are great for a little extra warmth above the tree line.

  5. I have a Rab Windveil. Great hood and an anti funk treatment. I found out that other wind jackets got funky quit quick. I wouldn’t say I use it as a vapor barrier though. A vapor barrier keeps your moist away from your insulation layer. But I wear it over my insulation layer.

  6. There are times when I like a wind shirt for winter hiking. I like one on a cold day when it is actively snowing but too warm to wear a regular shell. It keeps the snow off my under layers and if the snow is dry, it either falls off or easily brushes off.

  7. Problem with just about all of these is that they ignore us large people who get out backpacking. Action, or athletic cut means that it is really two sizes smaller then the posted size. Now, I realize that us big folk do not make as large a market share as thin little people but we do buy and we are loyal and we remember who ignores us. I’m 6’4″ and range from 250 to 280 and I like a 3x or 4x realistically labeled shirt. A nice loose fit. Loose fit. Thanks, for the soap box, it is adequately sized. And thanks for the excellent website.

    • Elizabeth Hauser

      I totally agree. The problem is at least as bad or
      worse in women’s outdoor sports clothing! Those of us who are neither tiny nor young really get overlooked.

      • I’m a big guy and I swear by the Arc’teryx Squamish Hoodie. I’ve owned mine for years now and it behaves as if it’s brand new, while showing little wear. It performs as advertised, and comes in XL and XXL.

      • Right there with you. I have seen size 12 labeled as XL. And if we try to wear men’s sizes, there’s never enough room in the hip. The outdoors belong to all of us, not just the 20-something size 6 uber-athletes.

    • My husband is a big guy, he too can find jackets in the Arcteryx brand. Expensive, but at least an option. He wears a 52 inch chest size in clothing. In Arcteryx brand, its a 2XL. He uses one of their wind shirts. Not sure if its the Squamish, but he is now sold on their name and pays the extra money because he knows it will fit. Marmot is generally sized bigger. Lukes Ultra Light did custom sizes. He was pretty ill, Im not sure if he is back to producing gear, but you may be able to send him an email.

  8. Leo (YERMO) Adam

    Marmot Air Lite Jacket NOT AVAIABLE AMAZON or REI.

  9. I’d add the Patagonia Airshed to this list because the airshed is *way* more breathable than the Houdini. I have both and find the airshed better suited to high exertion. Cons: not in a hoody version as far as I know.

    • No hood would be a pretty big con. Matters less if you’re a runner, but hikers don’t produce as much hot air. :-)

  10. Also great for keeping bugs off.

  11. I see jackets and parkas. Where are the wind shirts.

  12. 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.

      • That’s pretty much it.

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