Revisiting Wind Shirts: Breaking the 3 oz Barrier
When we last reviewed wind shirts in “Windshirt Wars”, the lightest fabrics were 1.4 to 1.1 oz/sq.yd. nylons and the lightest hoodless wind shirts weighed between 3.2 and 4.0 oz. Hooded wind shirts weighed around 8 oz. Since then, more manufacturers have entered the game with even lighter fabrics. Most notable of these fabrics is Pertex Quantum at 0.9 oz/sq.yd., launched at the 2002 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City. Now, a hoodless wind shirt can weigh as little as 2.5 ounces and the lightest hooded wind shirts are in the range of 3.0 to 4.0 ounces. In addition to Quantum, we are now seeing less breathable, ultralight fabrics in wind shirts designed more for rain protection than aerobic activity, thus expanding the market’s current definition of a “wind shirt.” This review offers information about new wind shirts from Montane, Rab, Marmot, GoLite, and Ibex.
The Classic Breathable Wind Shirt
Many feel that a wind shirt is the most versatile piece of clothing you can carry in your pack. Worn over a base layer, a wind shirt provides protection from wind chill and light precipitation, and serves to retain body heat lost through evaporative cooling in colder conditions. On its own (depending on the next-to-skin comfort of the fabric), it can serve as comfortable warm-weather insect and sun protection.
A classic wind shirt is a single-layer woven (nylon or polyester) torso garment cut to the pattern of a shirt, pullover, or jacket. The key characteristics of a wind shirt are its extremely light weight, high breathability of its fabric, and some water resistance (usually provided by a durable water repellent finish, or DWR). Pertex Microlight, Pertex Quantum, and 1.1 oz/sq.yd. uncoated nylon are good examples of fabrics used in classic breathable wind shirts. Herein we review two Quantum wind shirts from Rab and Montane, and a hooded wind shirt from Marmot.
Mostly Waterproof Wind shirts?
An emerging trend in ultralight wind shirts is towards a “mostly waterproof” design. Rather than a DWR finish applied to an uncoated nylon or polyester fabric, a new breed of wind shirts use a very light waterproof breathable coating (e.g., acrylic-based) on the inner surface of the shell fabric. They are more water resistant (and windproof) but far less breathable than a classic wind shirt. Examples of wind shirts using this approach include the GoLite Wisp/Ether and the Ibex Bug Wing, which use a 15 denier x 40 denier 1.3 oz/sq.yd. Tomen fabric that has 350mm of water resistance (hydrostatic head test), achieved with a light acrylic waterproof-breathable coating on the inner surface. The fabric specifications – validated with our experience – indicate that the fabric is at the lower end of the breathability scale relative to other waterproof-breathable fabrics using PTFE laminates or microporous polyurethane coatings. Although they market the garments as wind shirts, the designers of these garments really intend them to be more applicable to situations requiring temporary rain protection. Because they are less breathable, they are best suited for protection in cold wind and brief rain showers rather than sustained aerobic activity. Their ideal use might be as corner-fillers in your day pack or pants pocket for day hikes and climbs in iffy weather. For the ultralight hardcore, they may even be perceived as the summa cum laude of lightweight raingear.
We’ve been using these shirts during aerobic activity in wet conditions to discover their limitations. The most notable features, as verified in our field tests, are lack of breathability, lack of total waterproofness of the fabric, and lack of ventilation options. Sustained aerobic activity in garments made with the Tomen fabric will result in overheating and buildup of condensation in the garment. Lack of ventilation options such as pit zips, a full front zip, or mesh-backed torso pockets, compounds this problem. While the fabric offers a great deal more water resistance than Quantum or 1.1 oz/sq.yd. nylon, it is not totally waterproof, and will begin to wet out in a hard rain. However, the rain protection afforded by the Tomen fabric is significantly greater than uncoated nylons and polyester microfibers of the same weight. Only serious ultralighters that are very experienced managing their clothing system in wet weather will find these garments suitable as backpacking raingear – lack of sealed seams and not-quite-waterproof fabric require that you pay careful attention to your clothing system in cold rain.
Ibex Bug Wing Pullover & Jacket
Weight, Men’s size M: 3.7 oz (Pullover), 4.8 oz (Jacket)
These garments fall into the “mostly waterproof” category. The pullover has a half length (13 in) zipper and a single non-vented napoleon pocket. The jacket has a full length (25 in) zipper and two zippered (but vented with mesh backing) napoleon pockets. Both garments have a full hood with an elastic drawcord, elastic cuff closures and an elastic hem. The mediums fits about as we expect with enough room to throw on over a reasonable midweight base layer. The hem rises a bit when you raise your arms over your head.
Both garments use the Tomen fabric described earlier. The better vented jacket (with its full zips and mesh-backed torso pockets) offered significantly better climate management than the pullover. In fact, because of its ventilation options, the jacket is a reasonable rainwear choice for more aerobic levels found during light hiking and backpacking.
We hesitate to recommend the Bug Wings for sustained (over several hours) aerobic activities. With a low breathability fabric and no pit zips or large core vents, these shells are a bit on the clammy side. Work hard in these garments for an extended period and you’ll get soaked from the inside. In this case, a classic, fully breathable, wind shirt like the Montane Aero or the Marmot Chinook (reviewed later in this article) would be a better choice. Of the two Bug Wings, we give the nod to the full zip jacket due to its better ventilation. The full length front zipper and two vented napoleon pockets add much-needed ventilation options for aerobic activities. If the weather is not too warm and you aren’t sweating too much you may just get by in this jacket.
In our final analysis, both of these garments provide a low-volume, low-weight insurance policy against cold and windy summits and the occasional summer rain shower. In this case they have an advantage in both wind and water resistance over a classic, fully breathable, wind shell. They weight about 25% of conventional waterproof-breathable rain jackets like the Marmot Precip or Cloudveil Drizzle (see review of the Precip and Drizzle).
GoLite Wisp and Ether Wind Shirts
Weight, Men’s size M: 2.53 oz (Wisp), 3.02 oz (Ether)
The Wisp (non-hooded pullover) and Ether (hooded pullover) are manufactured with the same Tomen fabric used in the Ibex Bug Wings. The only difference between the two is the addition of a hood (Ether).
These shells are minimalist, hence their lighter weight than the Ibex garments. No pockets and a 7-inch neck zipper, combined with an elastic hem, elastic cuffs, and elastic drawcord hood (Ether) may result in what is the lightest nylon rain protection available. The fit is suitable for layering over a base layer. Lack of ventilation options (including the shorter neck zip) means that they are less suitable for aerobic activity than the Ibex garments. However, their significantly lower weight means that if you are simply looking for temporary shower or wind protection without a need for ventilation, the GoLite garments offer a weight savings of nearly 20% (hooded pullover style), stuff a little smaller, and don’t suffer from the rising hem during an overhead reach like the Ibex Bug Wings.
Weight, Men’s M: 3.4 oz
From John Cooley, Marmot Rep: “The Chinook wind shirt fabric is Marmot’s proprietary Meta P-120R. (Fabric code: P = polyester, 120 = 1.2 ounces per yard, R = ripstop). Meta is a 20×20 denier fabric…with Marmot’s proprietary Enduro DWR finish (80/100 ASTM spray test rating, which indicates that it is 80% effective at up to 100 commercial washings). Windproofness, as measured by a Fraser Air Permeability Test, is approx. 3 to 5 cfm., about the same as our DriClime windshirt.”
Marmot’s Chinook is a classic breathable wind shirt with a lot of features in a 3.4 oz package. With a full front zip and hood it weighs only 3.4 oz in a men’s medium. The full front zipper offers more ventilation options than pullover wind shirts (yes, you even need to vent a highly breathable wind shirt if you are working hard.). An elastic drawcord hood adds a lot of flexibility in working temperature range for less than an ounce. Combined with a fleece balaclava and a base layer, the Chinook may provide the ultimate in a full-featured wind jacket capable of extending your comfort range across a wide variety of inclement wind and light rain conditions.
The Chinook has a single chest pocket, a tab for rolling up and stowing the hood, elastic cuff closures and a straight hem (nice for tucking into pants).
The fabric is reasonably wind proof and quite breathable, although field perceptions indicate that it is not quite as breathable – or water resistant – as Pertex Quantum. The nicest feature of this fabric is that it is made with polyester, instead of nylon fibers. The result: it appears to dry about 25% faster than Quantum, absorbs about 15% less moisture, it feels nicer next to skin, and it has a nice drape, even when wet (where nylons tend to “stick” to your skin more when wet).
The fit is on the trim side but not excessively so, and the jacket layers well over a single base layer. You can raise your arms without the hem lifting too much to expose your midriff.
With its light weight, full front zip, and hood we think that the Chinook is an excellent design and highly recommend it. The only improvement we can think of would be to use an even lighter breathable fabric like Pertex’s Quantum to shave some weight, at the expense of losing a more comfortable next-to-skin feeling inherent with polyester garments.
Note: If you are a fan of the classic breathable wind shirt, you better get this year’s Chinook while you can. Rumor has it that next year, Marmot will replace this fabric with a light waterproof breathable fabric more akin to the Tomen fabric used in the Ibex and GoLite products. That’s too bad. Another great product bites the dust.
Montane Aero Smock
Weight, Men’s L: 2.87 oz (2.48 oz with hem drawcord removed)
Montane gave us the king of wind shirts in our last review with the Pertex Microlight FeatherLite Smock. This year, they bring us the same design in Pertex Quantum and bring the weight down to less than three ounces. Considering that the FeatherLite (in size men’s L) weighed only 3.4 oz, the use of Quantum affords more than half an ounce of weight reduction, considering that Montane added a hook-and-loop-closure mesh chest pocket to the aero (large enough to hold most trail maps), more durable elastic wrist cuffs (which we found to be a weak point on the FeatherLite), and replaced the elastic hem with an elastic drawcord hem. By removing the drawcord (to make the hem more comfortable when tucked into pants), the resulting weight is 2.48 oz, and Montane maintains its status as the king of lightness for highly breathable wind shirts.
Quantum is more breathable and more comfortable next to skin (especially when wet) than Microlight. It also dries faster, is more compressible, and nearly as durable. We found it to be more prone to wear in the shoulders when carrying packs without a hip belt, but for the most part, it serves as a terrific replacement to Microlight in virtually every area of fabric performance. We’ve worn the Aero for more than eight months of winter, spring, and summer hiking, and find it to be one of the best wind shirts on the market. The use of hyper-breathable Quantum nearly negates the need for ventilation options. We recently wore the wind shirt over a thin wool base layer while hiking in 80+ degree temperatures, for added mosquito protection. We certainly sweated a fair bit on the uphills, but our wool-Quantum clothing system took only minutes to “breathe itself dry” when hiking on level or downhill inclines. This was one of the most shocking tests we’ve ever had with a shell garment. We look forward to more great designs using Pertex Quantum, and hope Montane fills the gap being left by the Marmot Chinook by offering the Aero in a full-zip, hooded version.
Montane sizes their garments small – that’s why we are reviewing a size large relative to other manufacturer’s size mediums. So, size up one size from normal.
RAB Quantum Wind Top
Weight, Men’s M: 2.65 oz
There are few difference between the Rab Quantum Wind Top and the Montane Aero Smock. However, we feel that the differences are meaningful. The first and most important, is that Rab sizes their garments more true to U.S. standards, so a size medium really is a size medium (while the Montane smocks are sized one-half to three-quarters of a size smaller than U.S. standards). Another key difference is that the mesh pocket on the Rab Wind Top is a small chest pocket that is not large enough to hold a map. Like the Aero, the Quantum Wind Top has elastic cuffs (that have proved to be less durable than those used on the Aero after six months of field testing), an elastic drawcord hem, and a short neck zipper. Considering that the Rab shirt is £10 more expensive than the Montane Aero, we think the Aero is a better value.