Whether you live up in the Mountains, or by the ocean, one thing we all have in common is a hate for wind. Convective heat loss is due to air movement and especially wind sweeping heat away from your body. When combining sweating and evaporation this can lead to hypothermia body conditions without the freezing temperatures outside to match. Windbreakers are able to cut convective heat loss and other effects of wind by blocking out the wind. This can be done with a very tightly woven fabric, a non-porous material, or a coating over a fabric.
Windbreakers can be so variable in features and uses, they can be tricky to shop for. These are the top five brands and models on the market, which are available in both Men’s and Women’s sizes. These jackets represent a range of activities but are also very versatile, all while having great ratings and reviews.
Rab Windveil Jacket
- Weight: 145g
- Rating: 4.9
- Colors Women’s: Ebony with blue zippers, or Koi
- Colors Men’s: Ebony with grey zippers, Koi, and Maya
This Lightweight Wind shell is made with Pertex Microlight super DWR fabric. Because the Pertex fabric is DWR and it is not a coating, the Water-Repellency lasts for the life of the Garment, and can’t be worn off. This jacket will keep you completely dry, even standing in a shower if you so choose. While it blocks moisture from coming in, it still allows moisture vapor and heat to pass through freely for ventilation so it doesn’t get clammy.
A venting control snap in the front allows the coat to be fully unzipped without falling off your chest for ventilation during high energy sports, or sweaty activities. It features a YKK full front zipper, and two YKK zipped A-line pockets which can be left open for venting. The inside pocket doubles as a stuff sack and can be secured to your pack or harness for quick access. The hood rolls down for storage and is buckled in for ease, no more stuffing a hood into a tiny pocket and not being able to close the zipper. The hood can be secured down without having to take the jacket off! Great for on the go in variable weather.
The hood is fitted with elastic around the face, so if your head doesn’t fit the hood just perfectly this can be very uncomfortable. With so many other features, added adjustability to the hood would be the topping on the cake.
- Weight: 9.6oz
- 27in center back length
- Rating: 4.6
- Colors Men’s: Alpine Green, Artic Navy, Black, Blue Granite, Denim, Light Khaki, Slate Grey, Team Red, Team Red/ Brick, True Blue, True Blue/ Artic Navy, Cinder/ Slate Grey, Citronelle, Grey Storm, Mars Orange, Terra, Dark Crimson, Greenland, Sunset Orange, Rocket Red/ Moon River, and Cinder.
- Colors Women’s: Black, Celtic/Deep Teal, Deep Teal, Dew Drop, Golden Sun, Magenta, Magenta/ Dark Purple, Persian Red, Poppy, Royal Night/ Artic Navy, Cherry Tomato, Dark Raspberry, Gemstone, Platinum, Dark Purple, Artic Navy, Royal Night, Celtic, Blue Sea, Citrus Ice, Green Forest/ Green Garnet, Pop Green, and Artic Navy/ Sea Breeze.
The newest PreCip has been updated with NanoPro Waterproof/ Breathable Fabric and Nylon Ripstop. Micropores in the fabric allow for air permeability and to be able to exchange more air. The awesome breathability makes it great for more aerobic or sweat-inducing activities like running or biking. All of the seams are taped for weather repellency. An attached Velcro-Adjustable Hood rolls into the collar for storage and is helmet-compatible. This one features a DriClime Lined Chin Guard, which is microfleece on the collar to protect the face from abrasion. PitZips and mesh pockets offer ventilation during high aerobic activities.
The zipper is very thick and is sleek and protected with Velcro covering. It also has pack pockets, can be folded and stored in its own pocket without getting too wrinkly and has a carabiner clip loop to attach to a harness or pack. Marmot is very proud of their coined Angel-Wing Movement, which allows for a full range of motion during activities and sports. Lastly, the cuffs are adjustable with Velcro, and the hem has an elastic drawcord. The PreCip is heralded as the best value on the market. This jacket has the most versatility, weather protection, and is the most reliable all for a very reasonable price.
The new NanoPro fabric is a higher maintenance fabric, the pores are susceptible to clogging with sweat and/or dirt, and provided care instructions should be followed carefully to ensure longevity. Hood storage options are always a plus, the storage of this hood is on the collar of the jacket which can be hard to access while wearing the jacket. This hood is not simply easy on and off with the added difficulty of the storage area, a simple buckle is much easier to manage while cycling, climbing, etc.
Arc’teryx Squamish Hoody
- Weight: 140g /4.9oz
- Rating: 4.5
- Colors Women’s: Black, Rad, Golden Poppy, Mystic, and Castaway.
- Colors Men’s: Black, Hemlock, Magma, Rigel, and Stingrey.
Key Features: Good for rock climbing hiking and trekking
The Squamish hoody is considered a wind shell setup for any activity from rock climbing to trekking. The hoody is lightweight compressible and packable making it perfect for a backpack essential or to hang on your harness or pack as a precaution. It has 30-denier wind resistant fabric with a DWR finish to repel water. This jacket was made for moving, the athletic fit also has articulated elbows, gusseted underarms, and great breathability so it won’t be clammy or turn into a personal sauna on your run. The sleek StormHood has adjustable drawcords for a customized fit, a soft hood brim, and is helmet-compatible.
The drop back hem will cover your butt if you are sitting on a wet surface, or standing for modesty. It also has an adjustable draw cord to be kept out of the way when it is not needed. Finally, the jacket features a full front zip with micro corded zipper pulls, laminated die-cut Velcro cuff adjusters reduce bulk, and won’t catch or tear off during contact. The jacket Stows away in its own chest pocket with attachment point, but won’t wrinkle up, and has a reflective logo for nighttime visibility. Like any windbreaker, it does just that, breaks wind. It is not designed to be a warm winter jacket, but this jacket will keep you warmer than the rest of the list. Outdoor Gear Lab even recommends this jacket for backcountry skiing.
It is not a top pick for high aerobic activities like running or biking, but for backcountry skiing, hiking, climbing, backpacking, or peak bagging it is a great versatile jacket with so many applications. This jacket is not designed as a rain jacket, it will repel a light drizzle but a full rain for a longer period of time will leave you wet and cranky. The last downside is the features, it only has a small chest pocket to fold into, and also does not have underarm vents which is why we do not recommend it for highly aerobic activities.
The North Face Fuseform Eragon
- Weight- 130g or 4.59oz
- Center back length 26”
- Rating: 4.4
- Colors Men’s: Fiery Red Fuse, Black, Grey
- Color Women’s: Budding Green, Medium Budding Green, Clear Lake, Medium Blue
The Eragon has an alpine fit and is great for any type of activity from backpacking to trail running or mountain biking. The jacket is made of 15-denier 35g/m^2 WindWall- 100% nylon engineered from ripstop and weave in areas for mobility. It is ultralight with a very durable FuseForm construction, and DWR finish that will last for years.
Wind Resistance is great with a CFM less than 20. Limiting air penetration will reduce the effects of wind chill factor to keep you warmer. The fitted hood will fit underneath a helmet comfortably without excess fabric or bulky seams, it has an exposed molded-tooth center front zipper, and elastic-bound cuffs and hem. The North Face also includes a reassuring Lifetime warranty for peace of mind.
The sizing on the jacket lean towards the smaller size, so be sure to try on a jacket in the store before deciding to purchase. The downside with a DWR coating rather than fabric is that it can age and wear off, but time will tell if North Face will live up to their lifelong claims. The features are great, however, some extra pockets could go a long way without much or any added weight.
- Weight: 3.3 oz
- Rating: 4.3
- Colors Women’s: Black, Big Sur Blue, Craft Pink, Galah Green, Petoskey Purple, Yoke Yellow, Epic Blue, Sulphur Yellow, and French Red.
- Colors Men’s: Black, Andes Blue, Buffalo Green, Campfire Orange, Fire, Nouveau Green, Navy Blue w/ Navy Blue, True Teal, Forge Grey, and Grecian Blue.
- Also available in the Houdini Alpine
The Houdini is a Featherweight 15-denier 100% nylon ripstop fabric with a DWR finish, it reportedly even withstands the shower test for water repelling. The hood adjusts easily with one pull and won’t block your peripheral vision for safety road biking or during other activities. A zippered chest pocket converts to a stuff sack with a reinforced carabiner clip-in loop.
This is the Perfect jacket to fold up and clip on as a weather precaution. It features durable half-elastic cuffs, a draw cord hem and reflective logos on the left chest and center-back neck for nighttime visibility. This jacket is great for rock climbing because you will not even notice it hanging on the harness at only 3.3oz. Patagonia promotes fair labor practices, safe working conditions and environmental responsibility, which makes you feel good about your purchase.
Like most wind-specific jackets, the Houdini is not insulated, it should be paired with base layers for added warmth in cold winds. While it is not great in very cold situations, it is not great for very aerobic activities either. The jacket does not have underarm venting or mesh pockets to aid in ventilation. The non-breathable fabric can trap in heat and moisture making it too clammy for running or biking. One other complaint with the jacket is that the hood does not have a draw cord or store away, so in the wind, it can act as a parachute holding you back, or smacking you in the back of the head. If you are considering this jacket, try it on in a store first, reviewers have collectively noted that they do run on the small side.
What we looked for in the best Windbreakers
A big road block with sports windbreakers is by blocking air movement like wind, it also blocks important movement out for ventilation. Without a way for air to leave the jacket, moisture will have no way to escape leaving you with condensation trapped in the jacket alongside you. The Wind will only worsen the effects of the moisture and still make you feel chilled and cold. Basically, without proper technology to block the wind but still allow some air movement a windbreaker jacket can be virtually useless at reducing convection heat loss.
Every company utilizes different innovations, features, and fabrics to cater to different activities all with the goal of blocking the wind. Some ventilation features may be well suited towards biking or running, while others specifically for climbing or backpacking. It is important to know what uses you expect out of a jacket before buying one so that you can find the jacket suited to you and all of your activities. Jackets can be labeled as specialized for rock climbers, but still not be perfectly tailored to where you climb, but another running jacket may be. Even such different activities like triathlons and bird watching can be combined into a jackets features to suit your needs.
Key features to look for:
- Packable- Can the jacket fold and store in a small area to save space backpacking or to hang it on your harness while rock climbing?
- Waterproof- Rather than having separate rain and wind jackets, a water-resistant wind jacket can kill two birds with one stone. Windproof and water resistance commonly go hand in hand. The tight weave and/or coating for a windproof jacket can easily double as protection from precipitation as well. Windbreakers are already being outfitted with a durable water resistant (DWR) finish or coating.
- Insulation– While a windbreaker can help cut the wind chill, most are not designed to help with particularly cold air temperatures. Wind breaking jackets are a thin layer of material that solely breaks the wind and provide some level of water protection. They can always be paired with base layers and other layers to keep warm.
- Moisture wicking- Especially useful for highly aerobic activities, moisture wicking is a necessity. The wrong jacket can turn into a personal swimming pool without the ability to pull moisture away from the body.
- Ventilation- If you would like a personal sauna instead of a swimming pool, then consider a jacket with no ventilation. Long gone are the days of sweaty abrasive windbreakers. Venting comes in countless shapes and sizes, mesh pockets allow for air to escape through open pockets without having to open the jacket completely or lose function of the jacket. Another option is underarm zip vents where a zipper controls the exposure of an area of mesh fabric which increases air flow.
- Quick drying- For any activity outdoors, a quick dry option could be crucial. Once you already get stuck in a rainstorm, staying in a sopping wet jacket is very uncomfortable and can even be lethal if temperatures drop or heat is lost from the body too quickly. During sweat-inducing activities, it is fundamental that the material will not stay saturated and moist to keep you comfortable throughout the duration of the activity.
- Hood- Our heads contain so many important factors to our health and performance and safety that it just makes sense that a jacket should also protect the head from the wind. Hoods can have full adjustability for customization and comfort, as well as fit comfortably under or over helmets. When not in use there are a variety of ways that they can be stored on/in the jacket which keep them out of the way. Some hoods are stored in the collar while others are buckled down, there are aesthetic and functional pros and cons to each hood storage style. In the collar, a hood is nicely hidden and is totally out of your way but can be hard to access when wearing the jacket, and hard to return to the collar. A Buckled hood may not be as pretty for a casual jacket to work or traveling, but when you need to access your hood quickly in a sudden rain, a buckle will be the fastest and easiest method out there.
- CFM rating– Wind resistance can be measured by the amount of air that can pass through the material per minute. CFM is in cubic feet per minute, a 0 rating or lower is considered to be 100% windproof. Not many companies report a jackets CFM rating, but where it is available, it is an invaluable tool for comparing jackets.
- Pockets- It may seem silly to be factoring in how many pockets a jacket has and where they are located, but for certain activities or uses it is crucial. While cycling, things like energy bars, water, and sunscreen need to be front and center with very easy access. No one would want to stop biking every time to reapply sunscreen or grab a bite of electrolytes. Or for everyday use, it is handy to have pockets that can hold at least your phone and keys if not more. Windbreakers can range from three exterior pockets and two interior pockets, to a single chest pocket that the jacket will fold into. It is better to take the time and really think about what kind of pockets you need rather than be stuck without them down the road.
- Jacket Storage- Almost all of the top wind breaking jackets now have the ability to fold up and store in its own pocket. For some, this may seem useless in a casual use jacket, but for rock climbers or backpackers it couldn’t be more important. A jacket with the ability to store itself in a small pocket will pack easily for travel, camping, etc. and can be taken along as a precaution without added weight or space.
- Fit– A slimmer tailored jacket can keep you looking stylish as well as warm by reducing cold air trapped inside the jacket. On the other hand, a loose fit allows for more layers to be added underneath and is less restricting to movements.
Other factors to consider
Never let inclement weather ruin you recursion by being prepared and purchasing the right gear at the right price. Always take into consideration what features will be most important to you, and what features you can live without. If you are shopping for a jacket to use for a specific activity, it is never a bad idea to branch out and look at many options across other specialties also.
Why not get more bang for your buck with a windbreaker for trail running, by picking a versatile jacket that also can be used for mountain biking or everyday wear. It is much more budget friendly to buy a single more expensive jacket that can do it all, rather than a separate jacket for each activity. Not to mention having the jack of all trades windbreaker will be like your new little black dress, you will know what to pack before you even pick the destination.
- Aerobic- Aerobic activities include much more sweating, and require more breathability, venting options, and moisture wicking abilities. Paying close attention to the fabrics used on a jacket will be imperative in choosing the perfect windbreaker.
- Trail running
- Cross country skiing
- Mountain Biking
- Backcountry skiing
- Peak Bagging
- Moderate Intensity/ Long Term Wear – Activities that do not involve as much sweating, or are longer term trips. These activities should focus on weight, comfort, and water-resistance. For longer term wear, moisture wicking ability does not only affect you, but traveling companions also. A jacket that will wick moisture away from the body, and quickly dry itself will greatly improve everyone’s experience. A quick dry jacket can be washed quickly in a sink, or whatever water you have access to, to restore freshness.
- Fishing trips
- Casual wear
- Peak Bagging