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Searching for the best women's windbreaker for any adventure? We've spent 9 years and tested over 40 jackets to bring you the 15 top models currently on the market. Our all-female team of adventure-loving ladies put these jackets through months of intensive, side-by-side testing in the field and in the lab. We tested wind and water resistance in alpine maelstroms, ocean breezes, and unexpected flash storms. We biked, climbed, ran, paddled, and backpacked in these jackets to learn how they move and breathe. From technical jackets, to niche options, and across a range of prices, we've found the right windbreaker to become your next go-to piece of adventure wear.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on October 19, 2022, to include our updated versions of several jackets (the Rab Vital, Arc'teryx Squamish, and Cotopaxi Teca) and adding two new models (the Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell and The North Face Flight Lightriser).
Material: 90% nylon 10% polyester double weave with DWR | Weight: 3.4 oz
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Less ideal for very cold wind
Trim fit is a bit harder to layer
Right off the bat, there's so much we love about this super useful, ultra-comfortable windbreaker. The Patagonia Houdini Air continues to be our team's favorite windbreaker jacket. Soft, stretchy fabric and a hood and cuffs that are both protective and pleasant make this a great jacket for anyone who's sick of that crinkly, loud windbreaker feeling. The Houdini Air is impressively breathable without giving an inch when it comes to some of the best wind and water protection we've seen. By using cleverly designed features, this coat is lightweight and minimalistic without sacrificing its adjustability and amenities or looking so technical and sporty that you feel weird wearing it to brunch.
The Houdini Air has a rather slim fit that makes it less ideal for layering over bulky tops — but not impossible — due to the impressive stretch of the jacket. It's slightly thinner than some and not the warmest in a truly biting wind, though most windbreakers are built for warmer temps. We're seriously impressed with this windbreaker's ability to go with you anywhere — from the summit to the supermarket and anywhere in between.
The Rab Vital Hoody offers a serious amount of protection from the elements in a relatively inexpensive jacket — a combination we're in love with. Its fabric is both one of the most wind-resistant AND one of the most water-resistant we tested. It boasts a longer torso to keep you covered and a hood with both an elastic rim and a wire-stiffened brim over your eyes. A unique snap flap above your sternum lets you unzip this jacket all the way for serious ventilation, without it falling off your shoulders while you run head first into the wind. It's also one of the lighter jackets in this lineup.
Though previous versions of this jacket self-stowed into the chest pocket, this latest version of the Vital leaves behind the extra storage and instead comes with a drawstring bag for storage. While this bag works perfectly, we don't love having to bring an extra piece of gear along — especially one so small and likely to get lost. Rab also removed the reflective logos that used to be on both the front and the back of this jacket, limiting your low-light visibility. These minor complaints aside, if you're looking for superior technical performance without the super-high price tag, this is the windbreaker for you.
Material: 95% polyester, 5% spandex | Weight: 6.6 oz
REASONS TO BUY
Solid wind resistance
Moderately water resistant
Less expensive than most
REASONS TO AVOID
Sleeves run short
Small pockets that don't close
Less careful construction
If you're aching for a windbreaker but your wallet is aching for a break, check out the SoTeer Hooded Jacket. This hooded jacket is a solid choice for lots of casual activities on mild days. It's got all the basics, including drawstrings on the hood and waist hem, wide, fully elastic cuffs, and two hand pockets. It's reasonably wind resistant against moderate breezes and occasional gusts, with a small-toothed, tight zipper that adds some protection. At about an average weight for this category, the SoTeer jacket feels pretty lightweight compared to many traditional "light" jackets, with flexible fabric that's comfortable and easy to wear. Made of mostly polyester, this jacket offers decent water protection against a quick rain shower, though it can't quite replace a DWR-treated coat when it comes to serious precipitation. It's offered in a wide variety of colors and patterns and gives us a bit of a 90's vibe.
If technical prowess and thoughtful details are what you're after, the SoTeer Hooded Jacket likely won't live up to expectations. The sleeves run a bit short on many of our testers, leaving wrists exposed while in motion — like on a bike ride or a run. As much as we like that this casual layer has hand pockets, they're rather small and have no closure mechanism, letting a smartphone dangle out precariously. The hood lacks a brim to shield your face and is actually so small that we had a hard time finding it comfortable when worn over a ponytail. There are also lots of extra flaps of unused material left dangling about this jacket's interior, further detracting from the already subpar breathability of the polyester as well as from our love of this windbreaker. While we aren't about to hike the whole PCT in the SoTeer jacket, it's a solid and inexpensive layer that's casual enough for running errands around town and walking the dog.
Material: 15D ripstop nylon with DWR | Weight: 3.1 oz
REASONS TO BUY
Compatible with a helmet
Stows away into a tiny pocket
REASONS TO AVOID
Not overly waterproof
Thin fabric is see-through
Remaining one of our favorite options for when keeping weight low matters most is the Patagonia Houdini. This impressively lightweight windbreaker continues to earn some of our highest ratings in wind resistance, weight, and packability. This piece has been around for years, which has allowed Patagonia to fine-tune the details to get a seriously impressive mix of function and weight savings. The Houdini compacts into a ridiculously lightweight 3.1 ounce package, sure to please even the most hardcore ultralight enthusiast. Despite this absurdly low weight, the Houdini is still impressively wind-resistant and withstood every adventure we wore it on, from climbing and mountain biking to hiking and boating.
Of course, this impressively thin layer is a bit see-through, particularly in some of its lighter colors. This makes it not the best-looking model we tested. And though it claims to have a DWR coating, it does still eventually get wet — and a little quicker than some others. Compared to the Patagonia Houdini Air, the Houdini is slightly lighter but slightly less breathable. It retails for less than a lot of less-impressive models in our lineup and has your back when you need to stay protected and still travel ultralight.
Material: Pertex® Quantum Air 20D stretch ripstop nylon | Weight: 4.2 oz
REASONS TO BUY
Soft, easy to wear cuffs
Good water resistance
REASONS TO AVOID
No adjustable features
Lack of technical features lowers wind resistance
The Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell is the light, comfortable jacket from your childhood memories, with some upgrades. Made of soft, modestly stretchy fabric, this windbreaker feels more like a shirt, leaving the swishy crinkliness of most models in the dust. An elastic hem, half-elastic cuffs, and an elastic-rimmed hood add security without restriction in the face of moderate breezes and gusts. The Pertex body is breathable while still offering good protection against light rain. Zippered hand pockets are functional, while their zippers are hidden along seams, adding to the sleeker style of this garment.
If you're after technical versatility, the lack of adjustability of the Kor may not be up to your needs (check out the Black Diamond Alpine Start instead). This lightweight jacket can't be cinched tighter against dropping temperatures. It also takes some practice to stuff it into its oblong pocket — with a very small opening. But if you're seeking the versatility to go from a light hike in the morning to beer garden happy hour, the style and comfort of the Kor AirShell have got you covered.
If you're unwilling to give up logging miles when the winds howl, the Smartwool Merino Sport is a great combination of wind protection and breathability that's built with runners in mind. Mesh paneling adorns this wool-blended jacket in all the right spots to keep your temperature regulated during changing conditions. It has the most reflective material of any windbreaker in this review, including a huge swath of reflective striping across the back and strips on each forearm to help keep you seen and safe out there. Zippered hand pockets even feature a hole to string your headphones through to run up the inside of the jacket.
The tradeoff with this model is breathability over wind resistance. The numerous mesh panels and vents you need when you're sweating are an opposing force when you're cool and dry — so you never want to be motionless while wearing this jacket. We also noticed the Merino Sport readily picks up odors, which means you'll be laundering it regularly if you're sweating in it frequently. The trouble with this, aside from more laundry, is it compromises the already low water tolerance. Encounter even a moderate rain shower while you're out, and you'll be soaked. That said, this is our prime pick for temperature control and comfort during a dry, windy, and/or chilly run.
Material: Tyono™ 30D ripstop nylon | Weight: 4.1 oz
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent wind protection
Above-average water resistance
Easy to layer
Durable materials and construction
REASONS TO AVOID
Light colors are semi-transparent
What this fairly lightweight windbreaker lacks in breathability it makes up for by providing extra warmth when you need it most. Long sleeves with a bit of stretch can easily cover your hands in lieu of gloves and an extra tall chin guard lets you burrow into it when the winds pick up. With an updated slim (but relaxed) fit, the Squamish Hoody easily layers over sweatshirts and fleece jackets on cold days while maintaining a more flattering shape when worn alone. It provides decent protection against a quick spring shower and packs down into a small pocket that can easily be taken along just about anywhere.
The trade-off of the protective fabric of the Squamish Hoody is lower breathability. It's not our favorite option for warmer days or high-output activity on "just" cool days. Its tall chin guard also becomes a bit floppy and awkward when worn very unzipped while trying to vent. In lighter colors, this jacket is also rather transparent. But for the tail ends of shoulder season, in trying conditions that can dip lower than expected, we appreciate the impressive warmth to weight ratio of this highly protective windbreaker.
Material: Polyester plain weave and microfleece | Weight: 12.8 oz
REASONS TO BUY
Convenient hand pockets
Easy to layer
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavier than most others
Doesn't pack into pocket
Relaxed fit not overly flattering
For days when the air is exceptionally brisk, the wind is whipping, and our testers are still planning an outdoor activity, we love the extra warmth of the Columbia Flash Forward. This jacket is unique in our review, thanks to the insulation lining the entire interior of the jacket and hood. Not only is this lining warm and wind-resistant, but it's also incredibly comfortable while still letting you layer even more underneath for even colder days. Another perk? This jacket is also one of the cheapest we tested.
This model is one of the more wind and water-resistant in our tests, and it performs admirably well in most other categories. Yet its insulation makes it thick and not particularly breathable, and it lacks a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. The added insulation layer comes in handy here, keeping us drier than expected, and when this piece does get wet, the insulation remains surprisingly warm and dries quickly.
This category has been spearheaded for several years now by Senior Review Editor, Maggie Nichols, aided by her team of adventuring girlfriends. A seasoned backcountry guide of over 15 years, Maggie has professionally lead backpacking, hiking, kayaking, and canoeing trips in some of the windiest locations around the world, including mountain tops in the Sierra Nevadas, the perpetual breezes blowing across the Caribbean Sea, and remote plateaus in Lesotho. Originating from the Midwest, where "wind chill" is an everyday topic of discussion, Maggie has a lifelong understanding of what works to block the wind and the trade-offs needed to keep you comfortable and protected without melting inside a glorified plastic bag. She currently lives in the gusty foothills of the Sierras and travels around the country and world with these windbreakers in tow. She's been testing women's technical apparel and a ton of other adventure gear for GearLab since 2016.
We've been testing the latest and best windbreakers for years now, and we never take this task lightly. Each season, we scour the market for promising new models to test alongside old favorites. Every jacket gets measured, scrutinized, compared, and tested in the lab and in the field. We use fans and hair dryers to test wind resistance and garden hoses to assess water resistance — in addition to wearing these jackets up peaks, on runs, in the rain, and around town as much as possible for months. From kayaking and biking to walking the dog and picnicking with friends, we strive to always bring you the most intriguing models and up-to-date information to help you find the perfect windbreaker for your favorite adventures.
Analysis and Test Results
Windbreakers are made to be lighter, more breathable versions of rain jackets, offering some protection from the elements while keeping you quick and agile while you're out. There are many specialized options out there and in this review, and we dove headfirst into rigorously testing each one to see what kinds of conditions it's best suited for. We divided our testing into five metrics, weighting these metric scores based on their overall importance to choosing the right windbreaker. Combining these weighted scores gives each contender one overarching numerical total. In what follows, we break down every metric and discuss the specifics of which models do best and where.
It's important to always plan for the worst and expect the unexpected when heading outdoors. This includes packing a warm layer on a hot day and making sure your car has survival tools if you were to get stranded crossing a winter mountain pass or summer desert. A windbreaker is an excellent emergency layer and so absurdly useful you may find yourself wondering why you didn't buy one sooner.
We tested a wide variety of specialty and general-use windbreakers across a range of prices. Some offer incredible performance that we think is worth the extra cost, like the Patagonia Houdini Air. The Rab Vital Hoody impresses us with its technical performance yet boasts a more moderate price tag, making it a high-value pick. The SoTeer Hooded Jacket, which isn't outstanding but functions well as a simple, everyday jacket, has a very reasonable price.
Wind may be a breath of fresh air in warm weather, but as the temperatures drop, cold gusts can chill you very quickly. This not only ruins a fun day, but it can also potentially leave you hypothermic. When journeying outside, you'll undoubtedly run into windy conditions at some point. A trusty lightweight windbreaker jacket might make the difference between a fun outing and a miserable experience. Every model that we tested is wind resistant to a certain degree, but when gusts huffed and puffed and nearly blew the little pig's house down, we noticed some key differences in performance.
The highest-rated jackets in this category include the impressive Rab Vital Hoody and Arc'teryx Squamish. These jackets offer the best protection thanks to their highly wind-resistant material and are our top picks for seriously windy days and even days that are colder than we'd recommend most windbreakers for. The North Face Flight Lightriser is nearly as windproof as the Vital and Squamish, but its more plasticky-feeling fabric is cooler against the skin, making it feel not quite as warm when the winds pick up. The Patagonia Houdini and Houdini Air are also impressively wind-resistant, though their thinner fabric offers less insulation in truly cold winds. The Black Diamond Alpine Start and Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell use slightly thicker fabric to help keep the winds at bay while remaining soft and pliable. The Columbia Flash Forward is also highly resistant to wind, due largely to its fully microfleece-lined interior.
If you completely lock your jacket down by tightening an adjustable hem, you minimize the amount of air that enters, keeping those gusts at bay and your body warmer overall. A draft flap behind or in front of the zipper and adjustable cuffs are other components that contribute to stopping the wind. Those features also add to the overall weight of the jacket. The Patagonia Houdini Air keeps its weight down by avoiding those features but still manages to almost completely block the wind, thanks to many iterations of time-tested features.
Not all hoods are created equally. Many offer adjustable points on the back to really cinch down around your face, like the Houdini Air, Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie, Ortovox Merino, Smartwool Merino Sport, and Black Diamond Alpine Start. Others have cleverly integrated elastic along the rim like the scuba-style REI Active Pursuits and Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell. A few jackets take hood protection a step further. The Rab Vital hood combines a scuba fit with soft elastic on top with a wire-stiffened brim to help shield your eyes. The Arc'teryx Squamish has a very wide, lightly stiffened brim and is one of the few jackets we tested with a bungee cord to adjust the hood's fit around your face.
A windbreaker that breathes with you as your exertion increases is like gold. The drier you stay, the more comfortable you'll be. Because windbreakers are designed to keep wind out, they are generally not great at letting air from the inside get out to keep you dry. Breathability is largely dictated by fabric type, though a few other features aid in this as well. We tested every model's breathability by wearing them during all kinds of activities, including long hikes, morning runs, gardening, bike rides, multi-pitch climbs, and dog walks.
For a windbreaker to be exceptionally breathable, it must sacrifice something in the way of protection from the elements. However, depending on how you use it, this trade-off may be exactly what you need. This is the case with the Smartwool Merino Sport, which is the most breathable windbreaker we tested. It combines already breathable wool-blend fabric with large venting mesh panels across the upper back and armpits. Additional vents on both the front and back of the shoulders make this jacket breathable enough to comfortably wear on a run. It, of course, loses some points for just standing around in a cold gale or on a rainy day, but if breathable wind protection is a must, this one is pretty ideal.
The Black Diamond Alpine Start features Schoeller stretch-woven nylon, which helps it breathe during long periods of high exertion. One of our testers forgot her sun hoody on a 20-pitch climb in sunny Mexico, and she made do with the Alpine Start, with only mild discomfort throughout the day. The similar feeling Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell is nearly as breathable as the Alpine Start, and another favorite of ours for a more shirt-like feel. Because this gear category typically aims to cut weight, adjustable cuffs and pit vents are rarely included. Instead, cuffs are often lined with softer fabric to make them more comfortable to push up your sleeves. The Black Diamond Alpine Start and Cotopaxi Teca both feature a fully elastic cuff made of wider, softer material than the rest of the jacket.
Other models incorporate hidden vents under flaps of fabric to help keep you cooler without sacrificing too much in element protection. The Cotopaxi Teca also has a long mesh strip between the two back panels, while the REI Active Pursuits and Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie each have hidden mesh vent strips circumventing your entire torso, making it easier to stay cooler. The Rab Vital Hoody goes even further, offering impressive breathability during high output activities by including a chest button that snaps under your neck, allowing you to unzip the jacket all the way without it falling off your shoulders — even during a run or climb.
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. While the difference between the lightest and heaviest models that we tested is only a matter of ounces, when you can shed an ounce here or there from all of your gear, the difference adds up. If you are trying to move efficiently in the mountains, weight is crucial. A lighter weight model is 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 we tested is the The North Face Flight Lightriser, which stole the top spot by weighing just 3.0 ounces. This super thin jacket packs into a small pouch concealed at the back of the neck and cuts down on weight by shedding many features and including no zippered pockets at all. Weighing just a tenth of an ounce more, the continually impressive Patagonia Houdini packs down into an equally impressively small package. The athletic fit, absurdly thin yet resistant fabric, and lack of certain features, like a zipper storm flap, hand pockets, and cuff tabs, help to shed ounces. What is even more astounding is this jacket does not sacrifice performance for these weight savings. If you love having hand pockets, you'll have to live with an extra ounce or two and go with something like the REI Active Pursuits, Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell, or Rab Vital Hoody.
The Patagonia Houdini Air is another impressively lightweight model and our favorite windbreaker overall. It weighs just slightly more than the Houdini, tipping the scales at 3.4 ounces and packing down to about the same size as the Houdini. It also manages to have that low weight without ditching every single feature. It still has an adjustable bottom hem and hood volume and is comprised of a heavier but very comfortable fabric that adds breathability and flexibility to this jacket's design.
The Smartwool Merino Sport is also worth mentioning for its low weight. This is another reason why it makes a great running jacket, as it won't weigh you down or make you feel overly layered while you're out. It weighs just 4.2 ounces, though packs into a pocket that's quite large and needs to be compressed further to warrant stuffing into a small daypack. The Cotopaxi Teca stands out for its low weight, but as this jacket can be made of a variety of different types of materials, its difficult to say if the 3.7 ounce model that we got is representative of the typical Teca weight.
If you want a lightweight jacket but you need it to perform in cold weather, try the Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody. This 4.1 ounce coat brings some of the best warmth of any lightweight model we tested, combining protective fabric with features that better at blocking out strong gusts than any other option in our lineup. If weight really isn't a consideration, but warmth is, you might consider a fully insulated model like the Columbia Flash Forward.
Certain features of a windbreaker jacket may increase versatility for one person but decrease it for another. For example, four jackets don't stuff into their own pockets - the Columbia Flash Forward, the Fjallraven High Coast, the SoTeer Hooded Jacket, and the Rab Vital (which instead comes with a separate stow pouch). For everyday use, that may not be an issue as you can simply hang these jackets in your closet, but for backpacking, it could be a dealbreaker. Many of the lighter-weight models lack hand pockets and instead feature only a chest pocket.
A hood adds some versatility (and warmth), and a few 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 view. We prefer the Patagonia Houdini Air and Houdini, Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody, Rab Vital, Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie, and Black Diamond Alpine Start jackets because their hoods cinch at the back. This lets you pull the hood far enough back to keep your side vision angles wide and clear.
Another important aspect of versatility is a jacket's style. Some models that we love, like the Patagonia Houdini and Rab Vital Hoody, are great options for functionality, but their technical appearance makes them stand out walking into the office on Monday morning or shopping the trendy new downtown area on a Saturday afternoon. Other models, like the Fjallraven High Coast and even the budget-friendly SoTeer Hooded Jacket, are much more stylish and at home in situations where fashion is just as important as function.
These jackets lose a little in certain areas of their performance, like weight and packability, but make great options for urban use. Two jackets stand out from the crowd in this respect, performing well enough for adventuring while looking cute enough for Sunday morning brunch - the Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell and the Black Diamond Alpine Start. These two jackets take slightly different approaches to achieve their higher levels of versatility. The Kor AirShell drops more technical features like an adjustable hem and hood and instead includes generally useful options like two zippered hand pockets and a sleek design that fits right into urban scenes. The Alpine Start maintains more technical features like an adjustable hem and hood, but has a softer, more flattering fit and style that still make it a good choice for around town — even without any hand pockets.
We conducted various tests to determine the water resistance of each windbreaker jacket. While none of these jackets will hold up in a torrential downpour, many offer decent protection against light rain and intermittent showers. To properly assess this metric, we tested their resistance to becoming soaked, in addition to how quickly they dried once completely wet.
One of the most common ways to make a garment water-resistant is by applying a durable water repellent (DWR) finish. This is a water-repelling chemical coating applied by the manufacturer to the outer material of the garment. It works by beading up raindrops, causing the water to roll right off instead of saturating through the material. Other manufacturers have created proprietary materials made of blended fabrics with specific weaves that help water droplets roll off rather than soak in. And still, others rely on the natural properties of man-made materials like polyester (aka plastic) to create fabrics that don't soak up water easily or quickly.
DWR coatings don't last forever and need to be reapplied over time. You can increase the coating's longevity by keeping your jacket clean. Dirt particles interfere with their ability to bead water droplets. Once the coating is no longer working effectively, you can renew it with a product like Nikwax Tech Wash.
Of the different models we reviewed, the most water repellent is the The North Face Flight Lightriser. Across the board, this windbreaker feels more like an ultralight rain jacket. It's the best at keeping out rain, but is about as crinkly and un-breathable as a plastic bag. Other windbreakers with thicker material and a DWR finish, like the Patagonia Houdini Air, REI Active Pursuits, and Rab Vital Hoody, are still exceptionally water repellent. The DWR coating and breathable fabric keep the jackets drier. The Columbia Flash Forward also proved to be surprisingly water-resistant and quick-drying, and the inner microfleece lining was a warm addition even when wet.
The Arc'teryx Squamish has a DWR coating that does a good job of resisting soaking — though it needs to be reapplied with successive uses and packing. The Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie has very waterproof fabric on the top half and sleeves of the jacket, easily repelling more water and for longer than many others. However, the bottom portion is like a fitted sweatshirt and lacks any water resistance at all, easily soaking up raindrops, with its thick fabric staying wet for longer.
Windbreakers are a frequently underrated piece of gear that is truly an integral part of any outdoor adventurer's apparel. But it can be difficult to know which jacket is truly best for you. With considerations ranging from breathability, water resistance, and weight, the jacket you choose will ultimately depend on the climate that you plan to wear it. We hope that this review has steered you towards the jacket most suited to your needs.
There are a vast number of hardshell jackets available...
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