A windbreaker is an essential piece for any mission, whether you're a hiker, runner, climber, or around-town adventurer. Since the racks are bursting with options, we purchased 9 of the best windbreakers on the market, testing them ourselves against a set of predetermined criteria to come up with our favorites. Each model was tested in a variety of conditions, from windy winter days to blustery alpine ridge tops, and our testers kept track of how well they blocked the wind while allowing the body to breathe. We also identified features that might break down over time, and we highlighted which jackets struck the best balance between lightweight minimalism and a useful feature set. In the end, we found the best windbreakers for you, regardless of your pursuit.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated March 2018
We take a fresh look at women's wind jackets for the spring of 2018 while re-testing some of our past favorites. The Patagonia Houdini remains the cream of the crop, while the Eddie Bauer Uplift cinches its new spot as our Best Buy. We've also crowned a new Top Pick winner, the Adidas Shield, which is your best bet if you seek out cold temperatures. Check out the individual review for more details on the updates.
Best Overall Women's Wind Breaker Jacket
Patagonia Houdini - Women's
Our Editors' Choice award winner, the Patagonia Houdini, earned some of the highest marks in wind resistance, durability, weight & packability, and versatility. This piece has been around for years, which has allowed Patagonia to fine-tune the details and add and subtract features until they get the perfect mix of function and weight savings. The Houdini features a DWR 9durable water repellent) finish that proved to be one of the toughest in our review, and it packs into its own chest pocket easily and efficiently, compacting into the smallest packed jacket in the fleet.
Compatible with a helmet
Excellent wind resistance
Stows away into a tiny pocket
Able to repel slight drizzle
Drawcord around bottom hem
Limited cuff adjustability
The Houdini is a "go to" layer for any outdoor adventure because of this compressibility. You can quickly throw this piece in your pack and forget about it until you're in a pinch. It is comforting to have a wind layer that keeps moisture out when the summer rains begin, and if it gets soaked, it dries in no time. The Houdini retails for $99, which is less expensive than most models in our review, and it comes backed with Patagonia's Worn Wear repair program, so you can get it fixed if need be.
Read review: Patagonia Houdini
Best Buy Award Winner
Eddie Bauer Uplift Windshell - Women's
The Eddie Bauer Uplift was a high performer in many of our review metrics, nearly matching the Editors' Choice winner's scores in wind resistance, durability, and versatility.
Highly wind resistant
Lightweight and packable
Elastic wrist cuffs felt tight on some reviewers
Plus, this model weighs the same as the Houdini and packs into a package that is only slightly larger. Because of all of this, it shocked our reviewers when they learned that all of this came for just $99. If you're looking for a minimalist piece that performs well and won't take up much space, this is a good bet.
Read review: Eddie Bauer Uplift
Top Pick for Colder Weather Adventures
Adidas Outdoor Agravic Alpha Shield Hoodie - Women's
For days when the air was exceptionally brisk, the wind was whipping, and our reviewers were planning a high-output activity, the go-to piece was always the Adidas Shield. This jacket was unique in our review, thanks to its targeted insulation that exists in crucial areas like the chest, shoulders, and back of neck to keep the wearer warmer.
Targeted insulation adds warmth
Bulky, durable zippers
Lacks DWR finish
No chest pocket
Heavier than most models
Fabric can get caught in zippers
This model was one of the more breathable in the test, and it performed admirably well in most other categories. One thing to keep in mind with this model is that it lacks a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. However, our testers found that when this piece did get wet, the insulation was surprisingly warm and dried quickly.
Read review: Adidas Shield
Analysis and Test Results
Choosing the right windbreaker jacket for you depends primarily on what type of environment you plan on wearing it in and the activity you plan on doing. Are you adventuring in a hot climate or a cold alpine mountain range? Beyond this, it is important to consider the activities that you plan to participate in while wearing your jacket and the priorities that those activities dictate. Do you need more warmth? A jacket that is extremely lightweight? Will you prioritize breathable over weather resistance? You also want to keep in mind your own body and how it reacts to exertion. Do you tend to sweat a lot? Or do you run cold and need more warmth protection than the average person? This review will help you understand the different types of jackets out there and find the best one to suit your needs.
Windbreakers differ from rain jackets in that they are lighter, more compressible, and breathe slightly better. Some will keep you dry in a brief summer drizzle, but they are not designed to handle a downpour. They are a great way to add some warmth to your core when the wind is blowing, and those with a hood add even more heat. Whether you are adventuring out on an all-day multi-pitch rock climb or cruising around town on your bike, a windbreaker is a crucial element of almost any layering system. Since they are made of such thin fabric, they layer well on top of your base clothing as well as underneath a hardier piece of protection such as an insulated jacket or rain layer. For more information on how to layer, check out the Light Wind Jacket Layer section in our Introduction to Layered Clothing Systems. If you plan on adventuring in wet climates and need more protection from the elements, check out our Women's Rain Jacket Review.
Discovering the best wind breaker jacket for your body type can bring forth a variety of pros and cons. Do you want the lightest model or the most durable? Or maybe, you want the best value, and often think about what kind of jacket you'll get for the cash dollars you're doling out. We've included a Price vs. Performance chart below, which allows you to see how each model scores and how that score is pertinent to the price. Jackets that fall towards the bottom right will give you the highest "value".
There are several features to consider when buying a windbreaker, but the three main types are lightweight, hooded and fleece-lined. We discuss more about each one in our buying advice.
Wind may be a breath of fresh air in warm weather, but as the temperature drops, cold gusts can make you chilled extremely quickly, ruining a fun day into a suffer-fest. When journeying outside, you'll undoubtedly run into windy conditions at some point, and a trusty lightweight windbreaker jacket might make the difference between a fun outing and a miserable experience. Every model that we tested was wind resistant to a certain degree, but when gusts huffed and puffed and nearly blew little pig's house down, we noticed some key differences in performance.
Our highest rated jackets in this category, the Editors' Choice-winning Patagonia Houdini and Arc'teryx Squamish, offered the best protection thanks to their highly wind resistant material. However, because these models were so good at keeping the wind out, they performed poorly when it came to allowing air to move the other way, making their scores in breathability some of the lowest in the test. Our testers also analyzed other components that aid in blocking the wind, like a cinch cord and a drawstring hem.
If you completely lock down your jacket around you, you minimize the amount of air that enters via the head and hem, keeping the gusts at bay and your body warmer overall. A draft flap behind the zipper and adjustable cuffs are other components that contribute to stopping the wind, but those features add to the overall weight of the jacket. The Patagonia Houdini keeps its weight down by avoiding those features but still manages to almost completely block the wind, thanks to a time-tested fit.
Some models, like the Cotopaxi Teca, did a relatively unimpressive job of blocking the wind. While the other criteria that we tested these models on are also important, we dare say that their performance in this metric is the most important thing to consider since they are windbreakers jackets after all. Ultimately, how your jacket cuts the wind determines whether you are going to be shivering cold or a happy camper.
A windbreaker jacket that breathes with you as your exertion increases is like gold. The drier you stay, the more comfortable you'll be, and that little bit of extra comfort is nice when you are at the crux of a challenging climb or hiking switchback number 99. However, because windbreakers are designed to keep wind out, they are generally not great at letting air from the in get out. Because of this, it is easy to feel like you're wearing a garbage bag when you're exerting yourself in a windbreaker jacket. As a result, none of the windbreakers in our review received perfect scores, and we would recommend exploring softshells if you need a jacket that is exceptionally breathable. Those with higher marks were less likely to allow as much perspiration build-up, but all of the pieces became a bit muggy with long periods of heavy exertion.
Breathability is mostly dictated by the type of fabric, though a few other features aid in this as well. The Black Diamond Alpine Start features Schoeller SoftWeave helped it breathe during long periods of high exertion. In fact, one of our testers forgot her sun hoody on a 20-pitch climb in sunny Mexico, and she made due with the Alpine Start, with only mild discomfort throughout the day. The Eddie Bauer Uplift, on the other hand, features 20D ripstop nylon, and this piece showed beaded perspiration accumulation on the inside of the jacket after just a short run.
Because the fabric of a windbreaker can only be expected to breathe so well, sometimes the best ventilation comes from simply un-zipping your jacket, and a full-length front zipper lets you quickly vent your own moisture before it builds up and makes you clammy. Adjustable cuffs are another way to regulate ventilation, but that's about the extent of the options for these models, unlike a hard shell or rain jacket that might come with pit zippers. Because of this, you'll want to consider a model that has breathability designed into the fabric itself while still being wind resistant. Models like the Rab Windveil and Cotopaxi Teca have unique features like a chest button and mesh back panel to aid in their breathability.
When purchasing an ultra-thin wind layer, you want the material to endure the tests of time and rugged terrain. While it was difficult to completely assess this metric during our three-month testing time, we did our best to use them in rough and potentially damaging conditions. Plus, our testers identified traits of each jacket that might lead to longterm durability issues.
For fabrics, there are key features to look for that increase the durability. One is the weight/thickness of the material or denier; the higher the denier, the thicker and heavier it is. The different models we tested ranged from 15-30 denier (D). The other is whether or not they have a ripstop construction, which uses a unique reinforcing technique that makes the material resistant to tearing and ripping. A 15D ultra-thin jacket like the Patagonia Houdini might be more prone to tearing than the 30D Arc'teryx Squamish, but the Patagonia Houdini's ripstop construction helps to prevent those tears, and if they do happen, they'll remain smaller, hopefully not ruining the whole garment.
Models with more features, like the Arc'teryx Squamish and Rab Windveil, are more prone to breaking down over time. Plus, models with a high number of seams, like the Cotopaxi Teca, have a higher probability of breaking down.
If you do punch a hole in your jacket, a strip or two or Nylon Repair Tape goes a long way towards increasing the longevity and water permeability of your jacket.
Weight and Packability
When traveling over long distances or in fast-and-light mode, the weight of your gear and how well it packs down become a priority. In this case, less is more. While the difference between the lightest and heaviest models that we tested is only 4.6 ounces (that's about a quarter of a pound), when you shed a few ounces off of all of your gear, the differences start to add up. If you are trying to move efficiently in the mountains, weight is a crucial consideration. A lighter weight model might be more likely to end up in your pack or clipped to your harness than a heavier one, so consider your priorities when it comes to added features such as zippered pockets and cuff tabs, and decide if they are worth their weight.
The lightest and most compact model that we tested was our Editors' Choice winner, the Patagonia Houdini, which tied in weight with the Best Buy winning Eddie Bauer Uplift. Both weigh only 3.4 ounces, but the Houdini packs into a slightly smaller package. The trim, athletic fit, and lack of certain features, like a zipper draft flap, hand pockets and cuff tabs on both jackets help shed ounces. Plus, our reviewers did not feel like either jacket sacrificed performance to make these weight savings. If you love having hand pockets, you'll have to live with an extra ounce or two and go with the Adidas Shield or Rab Windveil.
While you don't want to carry or wear a heavy layer that feels like you're trapped inside a hot vehicle, lightweight jackets may not be as warm. Here's where you need to consider your internal body temperature and if you typically run hot or cold. A slightly insulated model, like the Adidas Shield, weighs a bit more but will keep you warmer and might allow you to forgo bringing an extra base layer, which will cut weight.
Certain features of a wind breaker jacket may increase versatility for one person, yet decrease it for another. For example, all of the jackets stuffed into their own pocket, and only one didn't feature a harness clip loop. For climbers, that is a dealbreaker, but for a runner, the Outdoor Research Tantrum is an ideal option, as it instead features a waistbelt for easy carrying. The Patagonia Houdini and Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody have only one external chest pocket, which holds a smartphone or keys and which the jacket stuffs into when not in use, but they lack hand pockets.
A hood adds some versatility (and warmth), and most of the models we tested came with a helmet-compatible one. However, if the hood's drawstrings cinch down around the sides of the face, it tends to bring the material forward and obstruct your peripheral views. We again preferred the Patagonia Houdini and Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody models because their hoods cinched at the back. This lets you pull the hood far enough back to keep your side vision angles wide and clear.
Another robust and versatile feature in a wind breaker jacket is how small it compresses and whether it stows inside one of its pockets. Some models, like the Marmot Ether and Cotopaxi Teca, stuffed down to a package that was the size of a pair of shoes. Others, like the Patagonia Houdini, were much smaller.
We did a variety of tests to determine the water resistance of each of these models. We attempted to employ the "Shower Test" that we use for our rain jacket reviews but quickly realized that stepping into the shower with any of these windbreakers ends up in bone soaking discomfort. None of them are designed to withstand a thorough soaking, and none of them do.
We hung them in the shade and watched how fast each one dried. We sprayed each model with a misting water bottle to simulate a light rain, taking note of how the water beaded up on the jackets. The beading shows how well the DWR (durable water repellent) finish is working; we then took note of how quickly the inside of the contender showed signs of water soaking through. We also wore the jackets in a variety of wet conditions.
To a large degree, the water resistance of a jacket depends on the coating or durable water repellent (DWR) finish; this is a water-repelling chemical coating applied by the manufacturer to the outer material of the garment. This method of water resistance works efficiently by beading up the raindrops, causing the water to roll right off instead of saturating through the material.
Of the nine different models we reviewed, models with thicker material and a DWR finish, like the Patagonia Houdini, were the most water repellent. The DWR coating in conjunction with the breathable fabric structure keeps the outer material from becoming soaked so that the inner membrane can work efficiently and keep you dry. A fast drying, water-repellent wind breaker jacket is crucial in the alpine environment when summer storms roll in quickly. Some of the less expensive models that we tested, like the Cotopaxi Teca, had poor water resistance and aren't the best choice for taking on a mission where you might run into some inclement weather.
DWR coatings don't last forever and need to be reapplied over time. You can increase the longevity of the coating by keeping your jacket clean, as dirt particles interfere with its ability to bead water droplets. Once the coating is no longer working effectively, you can renew it with a product like Nikwax Tech Wash.
There are several other things to consider when purchasing a windbreaker, such as zippered hand pockets, adjustable cuffs, and a pocket stow, which we discuss in further detail in our Buying Advice Guide. The different wind breaker jackets we reviewed retail between $80 and $159. Within that price range, we found a range of quality, durability, functionality, and fit, with a few outliers on either end.
Sometimes less is more, particularly when weight is of high importance. When we're packing in climbing and cooking gear for several days in the alpine, we like our clothing layers to be as lightweight and functional as possible. While we found some great jackets at a reasonable price, the cheapest jacket had inferior weather resistance, breathability, and longevity. However, the most expensive jackets were not necessarily our favorites! Keep reading to see how the different models rated in our tests, and which ones are worth the extra money, or not.
A wind breaker jacket is an integral part of any outdoor adventurer's apparel, but it can be difficult to know which jacket is truly best for you. With features ranging across breathability, water resistance, and weight, the jacket you choose will ultimately depend on the climate that you plan to wear it in. We hope that this review has steered you towards the jacket most suited to your needs. Check out our Buying Advice guide for more information on other features to consider when making your selection.
— Shey Kiester
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.