Best Windbreakers of 2023
When the wind is howling and the air is chilly, a lightweight windbreaker will make a huge difference in your comfort. We often carry a windbreaker with us for mountain summits, breezy lakeside adventures, and to wear as a midlayer on winter trips.
There are a lot of windbreakers on the market to choose from, and they all have very similar specs. But some perform better than others when it’s gusty out. We spent countless hours honing in on the best windbreakers on the market and testing them in real-life situations to find out which stand out.
Check out this quick list of our favorites if you’re in a hurry, or continue scrolling to see our full list with in-depth reviews.
What’s Most Important To You in a Windbreaker?
PRICE – We can attest that high-quality jackets are well worth the cost for the added comfort and durability they provide, but you don’t have to break the bank to get a great windbreaker.
WEIGHT & PACKABILITY – You’ll probably carry your windbreaker in your backpack at times, so it’s a good idea to look for one that’s lightweight. Many lightweight windbreakers pack down into their own pocket and hardly take up any room in a backpack.
- Best ultralight windbreakers: Patagonia Houdini (men’s / women’s), Arc’teryx Squamish (men’s / women’s) & Rab Vital Windshell (men’s / women’s)
BREATHABILITY – It’s ideal to choose a windbreaker that’s breathable so you don’t overheat while you’re active, but you don’t want it to be so breathable that you can feel the wind through it.
FIT – It’s important to consider how your windbreaker will work with your layering system to determine the best fit for you. Some people like to wear slim-fitting windbreakers under bulkier layers, like a down jacket, and some people prefer a loose-fitting windbreaker that can be thrown on over other layers.
- Windbreakers that are easiest to layer over other clothing: Smartwool Active UL (men’s / women’s), Black Diamond Alpine Start(men’s / women’s), Cotopaxi Teca (men’s / women’s) & Columbia Flashback (men’s) / Flash Forward (women’s)
- Best slim fit windbreakers: Patagonia Houdini (men’s / women’s), Arc’teryx Squamish (men’s / women’s) & Ortovox Windbreaker (men’s / women’s)
Best Windbreakers of 2023
BEST WINDBREAKER OVERALL
MEASURED WEIGHT (Men’s Med.): 5.4 oz.
PROS: Highly breathable, zippered hand pockets, moisture wicking, easy to layer, packs into its own pocket, lightweight, reflective details
CONS: Zipper can snag
BOTTOM LINE: We’re big fans of Smartwool’s performance clothing, and the Active Ultralight Merino Hoodie (men’s / women’s) is another winner. This jacket has pretty much everything we’ve ever wanted in a windbreaker – zippered hand pockets, an exceptional balance of breathability and wind protection, and a comfortable fit that’s easy to layer. The unique body-mapped mesh on the Active UL provides ventilation right where you need it for great temperature control during high-output activity. And we love that the fitted hood stays securely in place while we’re in motion. The dialed-in details make the Sport UL Hoody one of our all-time favorite windbreakers for any occasion.
BEST ULTRALIGHT WINDBREAKER
MEASURED WEIGHT (Men’s Med.): 3.7 oz.
PROS: Ultralight, excellent value, lots of color options, packs down very small into its own pocket, good balance of breathability/protection
CONS: Slim fit makes it a little hard to layer over bulky clothing
BOTTOM LINE: We’ve been wearing the Patagonia Houdini (men’s / women’s) for many years, and we love it because of its low weight, excellent packability, and stylish design. This jacket has a great balance of breathability and protection, so it’s comfy to wear whether you’re taking a trail break or charging uphill. The slim fit makes it slightly more difficult to layer over thick insulated jackets, so we use it as a midlayer with bulky outerwear. The Houdini is our top pick for ultralight backpacking, but it’s also perfect for running, day hikes, and everyday wear.
MOST PROTECTIVE & DURABLE WINDBREAKER
MEASURED WEIGHT (Men’s Med.): 7.3 oz.
PROS: Durable, excellent wind protection and better-than-average rain protection, breathable, stretchy, hood works well with helmets, packs into its own pocket
CONS: Expensive, slightly heavier/bulkier than others
BOTTOM LINE: We don’t recommend replacing your rain jacket with a windbreaker. But if you’re determined to ditch the rain gear for trips where the weather is more predictable, the Black Diamond Alpine Start(men’s / women’s) is what you should go with. This heavy-duty windbreaker is the most protective jacket on our list for both wind and rain, and it’s the most durable in the long run. All that comes with a small hit to weight and packability, but the Alpine Start is still quite manageable for backpacking. If you’re after a bomber jacket for high-alpine adventures, you can’t go wrong with the Alpine Start.
AFFORDABLE & STYLISH WINDBREAKER
MEASURED WEIGHT (Men’s Med.): 8 oz.
PROS: Affordable, stylish, easy to layer, hand pockets, packs into its own pocket
CONS: Slightly heavier/bulkier than others, not as breathable as others, half zip isn’t as convenient
BOTTOM LINE: We know that good looks don’t stave off chilly breezes, but we can’t help but rave about how fashionable the Cotopaxi Teca (men’s / women’s) is. It doesn’t end there, though, the Teca also delivers on performance. The loose fit makes this jacket incredibly easy to layer over other clothing, and the vent flap in the back provides some breathability. The Teca is also one of the few windbreakers on our list with hand pockets – a feature we wish was included more often. The Teca is a little heavier and bulkier than some others for backpacking, but the affordable price, great performance, and stylish looks make it a great choice for a wide variety of activities.
BEST BUDGET WINDBREAKER
MSRP: $60 (often on sale for much less)
MEASURED WEIGHT (Men’s Med.): 5.9 oz.
PROS: Affordable, easy to layer, breathable, lots of color options
CONS: Less windproof than others
BOTTOM LINE: The budget-friendly Columbia Flashback (men’s) and Flash Forward(women’s) are great choices if you’re looking for a more casual windbreaker. The loose fit makes them easy to layer over other clothing, and the women’s version is also one of the few windbreakers on our list that has drawstrings at the hem and on the hood for a dialed-in fit. During testing, the Flashback and Flash Forward let more wind through than other jackets, so they’re best for more mild conditions when breathability is a priority. These jackets are available in a huge variety of fun colors – and the women’s version has some particularly flattering design details – so they’re excellent choices for those wanting a fashionable performance piece for around town.
HIGH-QUALITY & VERSATILE WINDBREAKER
MEASURED WEIGHT (Men’s Med.): 4.8 oz.
PROS: Ultralight, high-quality construction, packs into its own pocket, good balance of breathability/protection, hood works well with helmets
CONS: Expensive, slim fit makes it a little hard to layer over bulky clothing
BOTTOM LINE: The high-quality Arc’teryx Squamish (men’s / women’s) strikes an excellent balance of breathability and protection. While it’s one of the more expensive jackets on our list, the quality of the stitching and hardware will no doubt hold up well to multiple years of use. This jacket is packed with little design details, like a helmet-friendly hood and hem adjustment cords, that make it an excellent choice for a variety of activities. So if you’re a biker or climber, you’ll likely find the Squamish particularly appealing. The slim fit and lightweight build is really similar to the Patagonia Houdini above, but the Squamish is a little more versatile if you need it to be functional for multiple types of recreation.
GOOD VALUE WINDBREAKER WITH EXCELLENT POCKETS
MEASURED WEIGHT (Men’s Med.): 4.9 oz.
PROS: Good value, zippered hand pockets, packs into its own pocket, ultralight
CONS: Not as breathable as some,no water-resistant coating
BOTTOM LINE: The Rab Vital Windshell (men’s / women’s) immediately stood out to us because it’s one of the few windbreakers with zippered hand pockets and a zippered internal storage pocket that makes it easy to keep track of a credit card or lip balm. The Vital jacket also has one of the best fitting hoods of any windbreaker we tested, and it even has a small visor to keep the sun out of your eyes. If you’re looking for a windbreaker that breaks away from the typical minimal design of many other jackets on our list, the Vital Windshell won’t disappoint.
HIGHLY PROTECTIVE WINDBREAKER THAT’S GREAT FOR COLD WEATHER
MEASURED WEIGHT (Men’s Med.): 5.4 oz.
PROS:Moisture wicking, warm, odor resistant, easy to layer, protective, packs into its own pocket, durable, stylish
CONS: Very expensive, fits a little short in the torso
BOTTOM LINE: The Ortovox Windbreaker (men’s / women’s) is made with a unique blend of nylon and merino wool, which gives it excellent moisture wicking and odor control properties. This blend makes it feel a little warmer and less breathable than others, but it blocks wind better than many of the other windbreakers we’ve used. The Ortovox Windbreaker is the most expensive jacket on our list, but it’s worth the splurge if you need a durable, lightweight jacket that’s fit for high-alpine adventures and cold-weather use.
The following windbreakers didn’t make our final list, but they’ve still got a lot of good things going for them. You never know, one of these jackets might be perfect for you:
Need More Gear Advice?
If you liked this list, you’ll love the CleverHiker Gear Guide where we test and recommend tons of outdoor adventure gear from a variety of categories. here are some links to popular articles:
Critical Windbreaker Considerations
WATER-RESISTANCE – Many windbreakers have a water-resistant coating that will protect you from light precipitation, but you should still carry a rain jacket in the backcountry. To maintain or add water resistance to your windbreaker we recommend using Nikwax TXDirect. This treatment will maintain breathability while effectively causing water to bead and roll off the fabric. Keep in mind that this won’t make your jacket completely waterproof, since most windbreakers don’t have sealed seams and may be constructed with fabrics that will absorb a small amount of water.
TIPS FOR LAYERING– Finding the perfect outdoor clothing layering system ultimately comes down to personal preference and the conditions you’re in. Check out our Hiking Clothing 101 post for some great tips to help find what works for you.
WASHING & STORAGE– Technical fabrics require some special care to keep them performing their best for years. You should always follow the washing directions on the tags carefully, but here are some general tips to follow:
- Only wash when you really need to – A lot of technical fabrics are designed to be antimicrobial and shouldn’t hold odors. Hiking clothing doesn’t necessarily need to be washed after every trip. Airing your jacket out in the sun for a bit after trips will help keep it fresh.
- Use a front loading washer – The agitator in a top loading washer can be hard on seams and can snag zippers or drawstrings. Make sure you zip all the zippers and tie the drawstrings before washing to prevent wear and tear.
- Use a technical fabric wash – We recommend Nikwax Tech Wash or Woolite for washing any technical fabrics because these solutions won’t leave fragrances or residue on your clothing.
- Don’t use fabric softener or dryer sheets – Fabric softener and dryer sheets can deposit residue on the fabric and affect the overall performance.
- Hang dry when possible – Heat and agitation in the dryer can damage technical fabrics.
Why Trust Us?
We fully understand how tough it is to find trustworthy gear advice, and that’s one of the main reasons we built CleverHiker. We live for outdoor adventure, and we take these guides very seriously. Here are some of the reasons you can trust us:
- Our choices are completely independent and based on personal experience.
- We’ve logged over 10,000 trail miles and test outdoor gear for a living.
- We own and field test every product we recommend, which is sadly not the norm.
- We travel to industry trade shows to learn about upcoming product innovations.
- We constantly update our guides when new products launch.
- We treat our recommendations as if they were for our family and friends.
- We’re lifelong learners and we’re always open to constructive criticism. If you think we’ve missed a product or got something wrong, we’d love to hear your feedback.
We hope this guide helps you find the perfect gear for your needs. If you have more questions or a suggestion, we’d love to hear from you! Sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on our latest posts then visit our Facebook page and Instagram to join the community conversation.
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Thanks for reading and happy trails!
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