A wind shirt is simply a single-layer woven (nylon or polyester) torso garment cut to the pattern of a shirt, pullover, or jacket. Key characteristics of a wind shirt are extremely light weight (typically not more than 8 oz in size medium), high breathability, and some water resistance (usually provided by a durable water repellent finish, or DWR).
A wind shirt is probably the most versatile piece of clothing you can carry in your pack. Typically worn over a base layer, they can also be worn on their own in warm weather. Wind shirts of course provide protection from the wind chill effect, as their name implies, but they can also be worn while hiking for light to moderate rain protection, for added warmth in cool weather (e.g., to slow the process of evaporative cooling that occurs rapidly at rest stops), and for sun and insect protection. For a more thorough treatment of the benefits of a wind shirt, refer to Part 2 of Jordan and Nelson’s Clothing and Sleep Systems for Mountain Hiking, also available from BackpackingLight.COM.
This review includes wind shirts from GoLite, Mardale, Montane, and Wild Things.
All wind shirts present in this review have been tested in both laboratory-simulated and real-world field conditions (with the exception of the GoLite Bark, which was not submitted for this review in time for field-testing, and thus, will not be considered for a Trail’s Best Award until field testing is complete). Key feature categories investigated in the review included fabric specifications and performance, fit, and features. Each product review is summarized in the Review Summary Table (below), with subjective designations (excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor) assigned relative to each other (i.e., not on an absolute scale, or on a scale that can be compared with other products outside this review).
- GoLite Bark (jacket)
- Mardale Aerolite (pullover)
- Montane Featherlite Smock (pullover)
- Wild Things Wind Shirt (pullover)
Review Summary Tables
Fabric Specifications and Performance
GoLite. The Bark jacket is made with “Silmond,” a trademarked 1.9 oz/yd2 polyester that is comfortable when worn next-to-skin (we would have rated the Bark’s next to skin comfort as “excellent” if it wasn’t for the noticeable abrasion of the inner seams when worn without a shirt). Silmond is uncoated, so it breathes well and dries quickly, and the combination of its tight microfiber weave and heavier fabric weight (compared to the other wind shirts in this review) provide very good water and excellent wind resistance. We found the Silmond to be the most durable fabric of the lot, and would highly recommend it if your highest priority was bushwhacking through slide alder.
Mardale. The Mardale Aerolite’s 2.0 oz/yd2 Pertex RS5 is a ripstop nylon that did not perform to our expectations, considering the popularity of Pertex nylons. The fabric is heavily calendared (a process by which the fabric is heat-treated on one side to improve strength and decrease porosity) on the inside, which inhibited its breathability and next-to-skin comfort (the fabric tended to feel much “clammier” than the other products), although it made for excellent wind resistance and very good water resistance.
Montane. Montane’s Featherlite collection is made using Pertex Microlight, a 1.2 oz/yd2 ripstop nylon that is lightly calendared on its inner surface. Of the four products tested in this review, the Featherlite’s next-to-skin comfort, breathability, and drying time were tops. The Pertex Microlight feels like satin when worn next-to-skin and breathed well enough during light exercise that clamminess was never an issue. As expected, the thinner fabric of the Featherlite suffers in the area of wind and water resistance, but we were surprised by the quality of the fluorocarbon DWR finish on the Featherlite and its ability to shed light rain with ease. In addition, we wore the Featherlite through some pretty harsh brush conditions and noticed only very slight abrasion marks on the fabric. For a 1.2 oz/yd2 fabric weight, we were very impressed with its durability.
Wild Things. The Wild Things Wind Shirt uses the lightest fabric of the lot, an uncoated 1.1 oz/yd2 ripstop nylon. As expected, the paper-thin fabric did not withstand the rigors of busting brush while traveling cross-country through a dense forest. In addition, the lightweight nylon cannot be counted on for its ability to shed anything but the lightest mist or drizzle, and would not be appropriate as a wind shell while standing around camp in a cold breeze. However, such a light fabric has extreme advantages for the hiker that stays on the move: its breathability was unmatched, keeping us comfortable even while climbing steep hills with a pack in only moderately cool (40s) weather. But if you’re looking for a wind shirt that is appropriate for more stationary activities or harsher conditions, you may want to consider one of the other three products.
DWR Note: All wind shirts used fabric with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish.
Features and Fit
GoLite. The Bark was the only full-zipper jacket in this review, and one of only two with a hood. We found these two features to be well worth their added weight. The zipper provided an ability to ventilate that was not found in the other wind shirts, and allowed us to wear the jacket backwards with a pack on to keep airflow around your back (as recommended in Ray Jardine’s Beyond Backpacking), which was a very nice feature for hiking in high winds or rain. The hood extends the cold weather comfort range of this shell tremendously, because it allows you to wear a hat underneath it, and thus, preserve a great deal of body heat that would normally be lost through the collar. In addition, we thought that a hood might be a nice addition during mosquito season when layered with a noseeum mesh headnet. Our only gripes with the hood were that it did not have 1-handed pull drawstrings, and that it was sized a bit too small for adequate layering and head-turning comfort. The bark had nonadjustable elastic hems and cuffs (comfortably sized), but we would have preferred at least a drawcord-adjustable hem (and/or a 2-way zipper that could be zipped up from the bottom) that could have been used to control chimney venting through the garment. The Bark was the only pocket-rich jacket in our review, providing two convenient zippered “handwarmer” pockets and a single small zippered chest pocket appropriate for minor essentials (and stuffing the jacket). The Bark’s construction quality appears to be excellent, with reinforcement stitching in all the right places.
Mardale. The Aerolite pullover had a fairly deep neck zipper (deeper than the Montane Featherlite but not as deep as the Wild Things Wind Shirt), but was limited in length by the presence of a zippered map pocket (approximately 6″ tall and 11″ wide) that was made with nylon mesh and protected with a storm flap. The hood, like that of the GoLite Bark, could have a roomier cut (a minor issue) but its degree of articulation (i.e., head-turning comfort) was miserable, particularly for those of reviewers that wear glasses. In addition, the hood drawcords are poorly designed, and not only require two hands, but quite a lot of patience if you have cold hands. The Aerolite has a drawcord hem and a terrific hem cut that allows the jacket to cover your butt, a nice feature while hiking in the rain. Another saving grace on the Aerolite is the presence of a side zipper that travels from the hem to the armpit, providing a wonderful option for ventilation. Our only complaint is that the zipper is not available on both sides, so that a hip belt can be used without binding the entire hem of the jacket. Overall, we found the design and construction quality of the Mardale jacket to be fair–there were unbound seam edges in our product sample that frayed significantly, in addition to the need for reinforcement stitching in key wear areas (e.g., near the 1-handed pull loop on the hem drawcord).
Montane. Montane’s Featherlite wind shirt provided the trimmest cut of the four products tested, so the buyer may want to consider sizing up one size if they desire some added room. On the other hand, the trim cut provides a very efficient garment for both heat and moisture transfer, allowing the product to perform to its potential in more demanding (colder) conditions. Other than the Lycra elastic cuffs and hem, the only distinguishing feature of the Featherlite is a short neck zipper and mock-T collar. Lack of features on this wind shirt means that there is no place to stow your keys, lighter, or push-button micro-light, but it also means an astonishing lack of weight–the Featherlite took the honors for light weight and weighed a scant 3.2 oz in size M, less than half as much as both the GoLite and Mardale shells, and full 25% lighter than its closest competitor, the Wild Things Wind shirt. The simplistic style, negligible weight, and incredible packability were deciding factors in our review team’s decision to include the Featherlite as part of their regular pack list. Construction quality of the Featherlite is excellent, on par with a small, high-quality custom shop.
Wild Things. The design of the Wild Things Wind Shirt is very similar to the pullover-style of the Montane Featherlite. The key features that distinguish the two include the cuff closure (Montane uses a Lycra cuff while Wild Things uses a less-functional hook-and-loop closure*), the hem (Montane uses a Lycra hem while Wild Things uses a non-elastic felled hem–in addition, the Wild Things’ hem was long enough to remain tucked in while reaching overhead–a very nice touch that made for slim layering), the neck zipper (deeper on the Wild Things, thus providing more ventilation), and the collar height (higher on the Wild Things, making it nicer to layer with a balaclava). Construction quality of the Wild Things Wind Shirt gets high marks overall, but we dinged them in this category because of the use of hook-and-loop with such a fragile fabric, and a questionable fabric specification (1.1 oz/yd2 nylon is not particularly durable for anything but trail walking–something our testers learned the hard way) for a garment that is likely to be worn more than any other piece in one’s clothing ensemble.
* We felt that the use of hook-and-loop closures on such a light fabric was inappropriate. Closing and opening the cuffs repeatedly on the Wild Things Wind Shirt eventually stressed the seams on the nylon until stitching began to tear away from the fabric.
For a full-featured jacket (hood, pockets, zippers), the GoLite Bark’s 8.0-oz weight provides a performance-to-weight bargain. Constructed with an attention to detail and quality, good fit, and a very comfortable fabric, the Bark won the hearts of our testers and is one of their favorite jackets. Only time will tell, however, whether or not the 8.0-oz weight will displace an ultralight wind shirt (like the Montane and Wild Things products reviewed herein) when it’s time to pack up and pay the piper. [Editor’s Note: We did not receive the GoLite Bark in time to include a comprehensive, long-term field review. Therefore, interpretations of the Bark’s performance in comparison to other products in this review should be taken conditionally. Backpacking Light will be testing and reviewing the Bark extensively in the coming months, after which time, a comprehensive field performance review will be released.]
Contact: GoLite http://www.golite.com/
The Mardale Aerolite’s novel (single side-zippered) anorak design was not enough to earn an overall vote of confidence among our testers. Our recommendations to the manufacturer include: add a second side zipper; increase quality of construction; change the hood design or lose it entirely; and change the fabric specification to something that is more comfortable when worn with a short-sleeve t-shirt.
Contact: Mardale Clothing, Ltd. http://www.mardale.com/
Wild Things 1.1 oz Nylon Wind shirt
Wild Things almost hit the target with this well-designed wind shirt, predominatly due to the long hem, high collar, and deep neck zipper. But the inappropriate fabric specification (not particularly noticeable when reviewed independently, but a stark contrast to the luxurious Pertex Microlight of the Montane Featherlite) for situations requiring at least a reasonable degree of water resistance and durability make this garment suitable for only specialized situtations, thus limiting the versatility that should be the hallmark feature of a wind shirt. Needless to say, Wild Things makes a solid product that is well worth its bargain-basement price tag and ultralight weight.
Contact: Wild Things Gear http://www.wildthingsgear.com/