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 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.

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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.

  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.

      • That’s pretty much it.

  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

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