If there’s one item of outdoor gear that gets little love, but earns its place at the top of your rucksack, it’s the windproof. Buying a windproof however isn’t that easy – finding one that doesn’t try to be a waterproof is hard enough. Here’s why you need one – and how to find a good one.
A windproof is a simple, lightweight layer that you can throw over most base and mid-layers to keep the wind off. Sometimes know as wind cheaters, wind stoppers, wind beaters, wind breakers or sometimes wind shells, they come in a few styles.
You’ll spot them as jackets and or as simple over-the-head smocks, sometimes known as anoraks. There’s also wind shirts, which are kinda the same thing, but designed like a shirt. The example here is a Women’s Vital windproof by Rab, a jacket style, with full zip, pockets and hood.
Well, there are obviously lots of places you can visit when buying a windproof jacket. A really good tip is to check out running gear websites, or brands that specialise in running gear. There’s not that many runners who choose to go out in the driving rain, but they often use a windproof and there’s lots of choice.
A windproof is an ideal way to complement light summer layers. Taking a break while during hiking holidays, sat having a snack on the side of the trail, setting up your tent, stopped to fix a puncture, feeling the cold on a fast downhill or just hanging out at the beach in the evening. Windproofs quickly become your summer go-to jacket and adventure travel top-up layer.
They are also cheap. You don’t need – or want – game changing waterproof technology. You need a simple, practical design that packs up small and can double up as an outer layer when you need it to.
Also, ever find yourself wearing your waterproof when it’s not really needed, mainly because it’s useful and it ‘might rain’? I’m guilty of this, when really I should stash it and wear something more breathable instead. Like a windproof jacket.
Key thing here isn’t which material to choose – it’s which material to avoid. To get the best out of a light windproof they should be breathable and not a cheap attempt at a waterproof. This way you can also exercise in them and not get that horrible clammy build up which quickly appears on cheap waterproof fabrics.
There’s a range of materials – the most common are a mix of polyester or nylon and perhaps elastane. Some may have a light waterproof coating to keep off the slightest of showers and provided you get the right fit, this isn’t going to leave you sweaty.
You may find some are lined with mesh. In my experience it’s not much use – perhaps it’s to separate you from some of the cheaper fabrics?
Thin breathable fabrics such as Paratex are useful. The Paratex micro and light fabrics from Snugpak are good examples of lightweight, windproof fabrics. The example below from eVent shows how modern windproof fabrics are often designed.
Ripstop could be useful in a windproof. Ripstop refers to how the nylon or polyester is weaved in a cross-pattern (this makes rips less likely to spread). It’s also very breathable. Some fabrics will be coated with a water repellent, if you’re after shower proofing, too.
There’s also a Nikwax® Denim and I know absolutely nothing about it…yet.
Cotton is a possible choice – but only provided you’re not going to get sweaty. As a fabric it will hold water and this could be a problem outdoors. But as a light layer to cut off wind for a bit as a multi-purpose jacket then why not?
There are other natural fabrics that can be useful, such as viscose and linen it’s just that they’re not easy to find cheap and in the styles that are best suited for a summer windproof.
I’d choose something more baggy than fitted – this way you can get other layers underneath if you need, and find a variety of uses. If you prefer the over-the-head, smock-style look for those with high zips which are comfortable and close-fitting at the neck. Drawcords, elasticated wrists, and ideally some secure pockets that’s lined in case you get caught out are all useful, too.
Jacket styles are a bit less common, but you can find them with more pockets and sometimes a hood. You may even see a vented back, but will rarely see pit-zips for ventilation as this is often saved for heavier waterproofs that otherwise get hot. You certainly don’t need zip-in linings or hefty zips.
My current windproof is by Under Armour and was part of its golfing range… I don’t play golf. This kinda proves the point: they don’t have to be game-changing specific items of gear. A windproof just needs to do a simple job – keep the wind off and work as a multi-purpose, practical summer layer.
Previous to that I had a jacket from Dare2B for around 10 years and I took it everywhere. Both were over-the-head styles with bellows rather than chest pockets. Key is having pockets that are secure, so you can use your windproof as an outdoor jacket in summer.
If you’re after one, keep an eye out for our best windproof jackets for summer: Top 5 Windbreaker coats which we’ll publish soon.
When is a jacket not a jacket? When it’s a shirt. Yes, you could pack an ‘adventure shirt’, provided it’s thick enough to do the job. I’ve used a Craghoppers NosiLife Adventure II shirt for this when it’s really hot – not just to protect my skin from the sun, but also to work as a top layer – a kinda micro-jacket.
You really wouldn’t need it to be ‘adventure’ ready either. Thinking about it, a decent cotton shirt with big pockets could fit the role as long as you’re not getting sweaty. Adventure ready…(cough).
Searches for a ‘windproof smock’ will often turn up the far more substantial military-type, multi-pocket, combat-style jacket. Despite being fantastic outdoor activity jackets, these deserve a separate blog and aren’t really what you’re looking for, although there might be niche worth exploring if you can find a small, lightweight one…
You should easily find something useful for less than £100 (US$130) – often for less than £50 (US$65). Remember, they can be, but don’t need to be ’technical’ and shouldn’t be a cheap waterproof that will get sweaty.
Buying windproof jackets up to £100 (US$135) will leave you tempted by jackets that offer everything, but are actually just cheap waterproofs. Remember, you are after a windproof that ‘may’ keep a little water off. You really don’t want a budget waterproof if you are exercising outdoors.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to buying a windproof? Do you agree it is the most essential piece of summer outdoor gear? Let us know in the comments below. Looking to buy one, we’ve a great selection of 5 best windproof jackets for Summer you can read or check out our many adventure gear articles here.
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