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Looking to layer up and stay protected? We've spent over 8 years testing the best women's windbreakers around to bring you 8 of the best budget-friendly options on the market today. We've tested jackets across environments, from the breezy Caribbean to the blustery Sierra Nevada and the rainy Pacific Northwest to the gusty Midwest. This lineup has been put through the test on runs, hikes, paddles, and long Saturdays of errand-running. We've taken the guesswork out of buying gear on a budget and have found the highest-performing value windbreakers that won't break the bank.
Editor's Note: We updated our review on August 2, 2022, removing the now discontinued Adidas Linear jacket, which was previously crowned Editors' Choice. We've replaced it with our second favorite jacket, the Columbia Flash Forward, which is a great breathable and lightweight option.
If you're here searching for a lightweight option for your next backpacking trip or adventure abroad, the Columbia Flash Forward is a great choice. It's thin and lightweight without sacrificing quality materials or construction. Weighing less than 6 ounces, it can easily be crammed in just about any pocket or crevice to be brought with you. As a thin jacket, it's exceptionally breathable — aided by pockets made of mesh that double as heat-dumping vents when you need a little extra help. Surprisingly protective from wind and rain, if the jacket does become soaked by precipitation (or sweat), it dries very quickly. It's sized so that it's easy to add as a final layer over whatever else you have on, and its hood is a decent size for pulling over your ponytail.
Of course, all this thinness and breathability resigns the Flash Forward as a mild-weather jacket, not well-suited to cold winds or heavy downpours. We can also easily see t-shirt prints through the white section of the coat, and its drawstring hem is more awkward and cumbersome to use than the elastic bungee cord of just about every other competitor. The cuffs are a bit coarse and wrinkly and aren't our favorite to wear pulled up. Though this windbreaker is a bit on the expensive side for this category, it's still a good value for when you need to shave ounces off your pack and save space in your bag.
For the sweatshirt-loving folks, the Starter Windbreaker is the next step up. It combines serious sweatshirt-like comfort with the benefit of additional protection from wind and light showers, all at a price that's hard to beat. With cuffs and a hem that look like they're pulled from your favorite pullover, it's easy to wear this jacket all day long. It's about as warm as a traditional cotton sweatshirt, though it offers better wind protection when you need it making it a versatile piece for your wardrobe. A brim on the hood adds a bit to its ability to keep you dry through a quick storm. And with all the classic sleekness of a '90s style athletic chic coat, your friends are sure to ask where you got it.
The resemblance of this jacket to a favorite sweatshirt also applies to its breathability. If you wouldn't feel comfortable going for a jog in a sweatshirt, you're unlikely to want to do it wearing the Starter Windbreaker. It also only repels water for a short time, becoming saturated more quickly than most other windbreakers we tested — though the snuggly interior helps keep you drier for longer. And — like a sweatshirt — it's fairly bulky to pack with you. But the price is right, and if comfort is your queen, this homey jacket is a win.
The Charles River Apparel Classic Striped Pullover is a comfortable windbreaker for chilly fall days. This unisex pullover is completely fleece-lined, providing warmth and coziness to whoever is lucky enough to be wearing it. It's almost ridiculously wind resistant and impressively water repellent and quickly became a favorite for breezy days paddling our backyard lakes and rivers. Its relaxed fit is like wearing a big sweatshirt and can easily accommodate layers underneath if it's really cold. The large, velcro-sealed kangaroo pocket stays closed well enough for a smartphone on a playground and features a loop for keys or to clip the packed jacket to your bag. It's thick and feels durable, with neat seams that offer peace of mind as you snuggle into its welcoming interior.
It's also one of the largest, thickest, heaviest jackets we tested, making it a beast to try to wrangle into a backpack or suitcase. While the fleece lining is much appreciated on chilly days, it adds so much warmth that on mild days over a tank top, we found ourselves sweating, and wouldn't be something we'd grab for daily wear. Its unisex fit also poses problems for many women, who often find themselves swimming even upon sizing down. Additionally, the hood doesn't accommodate our ponytails and buns the way others we tested do. The front pocket behind the kangaroo pocket is narrow and goes all the way through, allowing no safe haven for your belongings. But if you're searching for a windbreaker that can handle serious chill and offers protection from light rain and stray splashes at the lake, the Classic Striped Pullover is a great choice.
Weight: 5.9 oz | Pockets: 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered lower back
REASONS TO BUY
Comfortable and high visibility
REASONS TO AVOID
Not overly protective
The Axen Windproof Jacket is a dream come true for budget-conscious runners and cyclists. It's lightweight and flexible, offering a comfortable fit with sleeves that are soft and pleasant to pull up. Large vents adorn the armpits and top of the back to add even more breathability and allow your sweat to evaporate more easily. This jacket has two zippered hand pockets and an extra zippered pocket on the lower back for easy access to things you need while cycling. It's one of the lightest jackets we tested and can be packed down into its own back pocket when not needed. And it comes in excellent colors to add to your visibility on the road.
As a super breathable coat, the Axen Windproof Jacket sacrifices a fair amount of protection. Not that you'll need as much while you're outside sweating it out, but it makes this jacket not a great choice for everyday activities, as the breeze easily cuts through. It also lacks a hood, again punting this windbreaker further into the realm of high output activities rather than everyday endeavors. Still, if you're on the hunt for a budget-friendly option to wear on your next bike ride or trail run, it's a solid choice.
The Core 10 Performance Windbreaker is stylish and puts out a solid performance to boot. Its mesh lining adds a little warmth on a cool day while wicking sweat away when you warm up. This double-layer construction provides decent wind and water protection in mild to moderate conditions. The elastic cuffs are wide and comfortable to slide up your forearms, while the dual-direction zipper allows you to zip it your way. Its pockets are impressively large and zip closed to keep your belongings secure.
As a middle ground between wicking sweat and warming you with mesh, this jacket doesn't do quite so well in either extreme. It's too warm for truly warm winds and not quite warm enough for those late fall mornings with frost on the ground. As it's not a rain jacket, the Core 10 Performance Windbreaker also only keeps you dry for a limited period of time, though the mesh does help extend that a bit. However, the mesh lining is a double-edged sword, making the jacket bulky and challenging to compress into a tote or backpack. And if you need a good range of motion for your arms, you'll find the cut and fit of this loose jacket easily lets both sleeves and torso ride up as you move around. But for more relaxed activities, we found this to be a good-looking and decently protective windbreaker.
Weight: 10.4 oz | Pockets: 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered lower back
REASONS TO BUY
Impressive wind and water protection
REASONS TO AVOID
Stiff and crinkly
If your biggest concern is being protected from gale-force winds interspersed with blowing rain showers, the Baleaf Cycling Jacket is right up your alley. This coat is thick and fares well against inclement weather. It has watertight zippers enclosing you and keeping your pocket contents safe — both the two hand pockets and the lower back pocket. The hood is cavernous and offers a protective brim to help shield your eyes. A feminine cut and drop hem helps keep you covered without sacrificing every ounce of style.
On the other hand, if you're searching for a windbreaker to wear on a breezy bike ride, the Cycling Jacket is likely to leave you soaked in sweat. It feels much more like a stiff, crinkly rain jacket — and breathes like one too. The line of vents across the top of the shoulders does almost nothing when your arms are extended on your handlebars, and packing the hood away only serves to bulk up the neck. Velcro-adjusted cuffs also make it nearly impossible to keep them pushed up on your forearms easily, and the waterproof zippers are predictably challenging to operate. If your idea of wind protection looks more like a hurricane, you might appreciate the extra protection this rain jacket-esque coat provides.
Weight: 5.4 oz (5.6 oz with bag) | Pockets: 2 zippered hand
REASONS TO BUY
Comes with storage bag
REASONS TO AVOID
Not a great fit for most people
Not particularly protective
The Spmor Lightweight Windbreaker is an alright layer to keep around for emergencies or when you're really in a bind. It's inexpensive and comes with a small bag that lets you pack it down smaller than a 12-ounce can of soda. It's thin and reasonably breathable and fits over just about anything else you might be wearing.
However, it doesn't do a ton when blocking the wind on a blustery autumn afternoon and is one of the least protective wind shells in our testing fleet. It's also very boxy but with short sleeves, providing a fit that's pretty universally unflattering. Ours also has seams sticking out all over and doesn't seem to be the most durable option available. If you're looking for something you'll wear infrequently but can take everywhere, this jacket is well-suited to lying in wait at the bottom of your backpack or in your car's emergency kit.
The SweatyRocks Casual Windbreaker offers a blocky, laidback style reminiscent of kids growing up in the '90s. It comes in a ton of color variations and is thin and loose enough to be worn over just about anything to create that visual appeal. It's lightweight and decently breathable and does okay holding off a brief rain shower. It's also pretty inexpensive.
If you're after actual protection from the elements, though, the SweatyRocks Casual Windbreaker isn't the right choice. It's so thin that it offers about the same wind resistance as a t-shirt. Its pockets don't close at all, and the hood is too small to comfortably wear over most ponytails and is cinched by an awkwardly long drawstring. It's easy to see right through lighter colors, and the sleeves and torso manage to be a bit too small while the overall jacket is loose and boxy. The bottom hem is completely elastic, offering no adjustability. If you're really set on this look, you'll save some cash with this coat, but if you want something that's meant to perform in the elements, this one is likely to disappoint.
Fit: Relaxed Cuff Style: Elastic
Made of: 100% polyester
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is led by Senior Review Editor and wind protection extraordinaire, Maggie Nichols. Maggie has spent 15 years as a backcountry guide in some of the windiest places around, leading kayakers on Caribbean adventures and hikers through mountaintops in Lesotho. She grew up in the flat Midwest where seasonal winds cut across the landscape and force unwilling tears from the eyes of anyone caught in it. Now living and adventuring in the mountainous West, Maggie understands what it takes to make a great windbreaker, also heading up our technical windbreakers, sun shirts, and rain jacket reviews. She has been testing and reviewing technical gear and home goods for GearLab since 2017.
After testing windbreakers for the past eight years, we still spent hours choosing the right jackets for this budget-conscious lineup. We then purchased all the jackets for side-by-side comparison and got to work putting them to the test. We put them through laboratory and field tests by measuring them and directly comparing them to scrutinize every detail. We stood in front of fans and on windy hilltops. We sprayed them with water and stood in the rain. We hiked, ran, walked, and relaxed in these coats. We scoured over every detail, noting pockets, testing zippers, checking hoods, and adjusting bungees. Whether you need a windbreaker to run errands on a Saturday afternoon or one to go for an early morning jog, we've identified the best bargain coat for your lifestyle.
Analysis and Test Results
Finding the right windbreaker depends primarily on what type of environment you plan to use it in and what you plan to be doing while wearing it. Some offer mild protection and a stylish look that's ideal for grabbing coffee with the gals. Others provide intense protection for trying environments. Still, others prioritize breathability for intense activities to keep you from drowning in sweat while staying protected from the wind. We tested five different, mutually exclusive metrics that comprise the abilities of each jacket. Keep your intended use of your future windbreaker in mind as you read through the next sections to find the perfect fit for you.
Testing wind resistance combined both laboratory tests and field tests, standing in front of high-powered fans and hair dryers as well as on mountaintops and unprotected peaks. We considered and examined features that add to wind protection, like chin guards, hems and hoods that cinch shut, and sleeve and torso lengths. If you need to stay protected against serious wind and chilly breezes, this metric is the most important one for you.
The Charles River Classic Striped Pullover is one of the most windproof jackets we tested. Made of tightly woven nylon and fully lined with fuzzy fleece, this oversized jacket is comfortable to wear even as the gusts threaten to blow you over. The Baleaf Cycling Jacket is also exceptionally wind resistant and feels very much like wearing a rain jacket rather than a windbreaker. A few other windbreakers we tested are bolstered in this regard by additional linings, including the Core 10 Performance Windbreaker and Starter Windbreaker.
Breathability is critical if you need to be able to run, bike, hike, or generally get sweaty while wearing your windbreaker. None of us want to be panting inside a jacket that feels like a plastic poncho, but some of these jackets felt very much like it during our testing. We went for runs, uphill hikes, bike rides, and brisk walks on warm days to test each one's ability to keep our temperature regulated. We also considered features like vents, dual-direction zippers, and cuffs that can be pushed up your arms. In general, thinner windbreakers offer better breathability, though some mesh-lined models are more breathable than you might expect, as the mesh can add a wicking layer. It's important to note that breathability and wind protection are often traded off with one another — jackets that are more protective tend to be less breathable and vice versa. In some of the more technical (and more expensive) models we tested in our main review, there are many exceptions to this trend. But in this budget-friendly lineup, we found a clear inverse relationship between wind resistance and breathability.
The most breathable jacket we tested is the Axen Windproof Jacket. This thin, soft coat is made of a more breathable weave laced with venting mesh panels in key areas — like underarms and across the top of your back. Its supple cuffs are pleasant to wear pushed up your arms, and when it came to choosing a jacket for a long run or ride, we chose this one every time. The Columbia Flash Forward is also pleasantly breathable. Its thin fabric lets body heat dissipate out more easily, and it's the only jacket in this review that has venting pockets. Made of mesh, the hand pockets can be opened to provide a pass-through for air.
Weight and Packability
If your windbreaker is destined to spend most of its existence hanging in your closet, this metric probably means very little to you. On the other hand, if you want a jacket that can travel, go camping, backpacking, or be there in the bottom of your purse when you really need it, finding a coat that can pack up small and weighs very little is critical. We weighed every model (reported weights are from size Small, except for the Charles River Classic Striped Pullover, which we tested in XS because of its oversized unisex fit). We packed them into their pockets if we could, their hoods if we couldn't, and an array of daypacks, tote bags, and luggage.
The lightest model we tested is the Spmor Lightweight Windbreaker, coming in at just 5.4 ounces — 5.6 ounces including its stuff sack. It's the only one in this review that comes with a storage bag to cram it into and packs up smaller than a standard 12-ounce soda can. The Axen Windproof Jacket isn't far behind, weighing 5.9 ounces and stuffing into its own lower back pocket — though it also lacks a hood. The Columbia Flash Forward weighs the same as the Axen, does have a hood, but doesn't zip into either of its two hand pockets. Interestingly, the Baleaf Cycling Jacket and Charles River Classic Striped Pullover both pack up into their own pockets, but they're also two of the heaviest, bulkiest jackets we tested.
While some folks adore having a specific jacket for every different activity they do, arguably far more of us prefer a coat that can function well across a wide variety of situations and needs. To test versatility, we wore these windbreakers during various outdoor activities, from morning coffee on the patio to exploring a new city to off-grid trail runs. We scrutinized their fit and style, how they move and keep us covered, the different ways they can be worn, and how well they layer.
The Core 10 Performance Windbreaker offers versatile climate use. Its mesh lining and slightly thicker exterior sit right at the middle ground between warm weather and cold weather use, adapting to differing temperatures with relative ease. The Starter Windbreaker and SweatyRocks Casual both have their own unique style that appeals to some. The Starter is like wearing your favorite sweatshirt-turned-jacket, while the SweatyRocks makes you feel like you've stepped back into the '90s with its big, blocky patterns.
No windbreaker is meant to take the place of a full rain jacket, but most of them can offer at least a little protection from a brief shower. We tested these jackets under a controlled spray, outdoors in inclement weather, and in the lab holding puddles of water. We considered what they're made of and checked to see if any of them are treated with a water-repellent finish (none are in this lineup). While almost all of them claim to be some degree of water-resistant — or even waterproof — we put them to the test and discovered a wide range of actual water repellence.
The Baleaf Cycling Jacket takes first place here, by a mile. This polyester jacket is fully seam-sealed and has watertight zippers on all three pockets and the main zip. It's actually so waterproof and windproof that we're not sure that it qualifies as a windbreaker. It is really much more like a rain jacket — with all the classic stiffness and crinkliness that kind of protection often entails. A distant second place goes to the Charles River Classic Striped Pullover. It's actually impressively water (and wind) proof, and isn't a distant second because of its performance, but just because of how protective the Baleaf Cycling Jacket is. The Classic Striped Pullover does a great job keeping water beaded and rolling off and quickly became a favorite for paddling on cool days — and not just because of the rower decal on the hem. Options with an inner liner, like the Starter Windbreaker and Core 10 Performance Windbreaker, offer an extra layer of protection between you and the eventual soak-through of raindrops. And some of the most breathable jackets, like the Columbia Flash Forward and Axen Windproof Jacket, may get soaked more quickly, but they also dry out much faster.
Just because you're adhering to a budget doesn't mean you have to sacrifice everything when it comes to quality. We've spent years testing the best women's windbreakers out there to curate this selection of promising and affordable options that exceeded our expectations and proved to become mainstays in our wardrobes. From backpacking to book buying, there's a perfect windbreaker for you and your wallet.
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