As discussed in previous reviews I operate a five item approach to layering for most of the year: baselayer, 100 weight fleece, waterproof shell, synthetic insulated jacket and windproof. These five layers can be worn independantly or together (so the sizing needs to be considered) to cope with most weather conditions. The garment that I wear most – but I’ve rarely seen on the hills – is the windproof shell. Just a simple single layer of breathable weather-resistant (not waterproof) fabric like Pertex, it’s lightweight, packable and thanks to a renewable DWR treatment can shrug off light showers and wind without the boil-in-the-bag effect of a waterproof hardshell. If the rain continues, simply throw a lightweight waterproof hardshell over the top of everything. There’s no need to stop and remove layers in the rain. There’s an obvious cross-over with softshell jackets here – which I consider a combination of microfleece and windproof – but by separating the two layers it’s far more flexible.
Due to their niche appeal there are only a few brands offering what I consider to be a backpacking windproof, and even fewer offering a women’s specific cut, so Helen and I (a recent windshirt convert) teamed up for this review.
Montane Slipstream GL SmockRRP £110
Designed by an endurance runner for events where weight and performance take priority over aesthetic appeal, the shiny Pertex Quantum GL fabric won’t appeal to all. My black sample (the blue is better) is reminiscent of a bin bag in appearance but certainly not in performance. The incredibly thin 10 denier fabric is tougher than it appears, incorporating a ripstop pattern, but it’s not going to cope with repeated rock contact. Rucksack straps don’t seem to have caused any issues, but only time will tell. The fit is close (which helps prevent flap), and as is usual for Montane I had to size-up to get a decent fit, but the arm articulation is excellent and the drop tail covers any gaps at the back, especially when cycling. The plain elastic cuffs will push up above the elbow for venting without acting like a tourniquet, and further venting can be achieved by unzipping the kangeroo pouch pocket to reveal the mesh lining. As a smock the front zip is half-length, but opens enough to make donning easy and provide ventilation. The snug hood just about accomodates a cap underneath and is a good way of keeping the chill off the neck. Packing down to the size of and apple in the included stuffsack this is undoubtedly a specialist garment – but it performs impeccably if you can cope with the looks.
Fabric: Pertex Quantum GL Weight: 85g
The North Face Verto Pro RRP £155
There’s some excellent cross-over equipment in the TNF Verto range; this windshirt – aimed squarely at climbers – uses the same crazily-thin Pertex Quantum GL fabric as the Montane Slipstream, but reinforced with Gore Windstopper over the arms, shoulders and hood to improve durability and weather protection. This makes sense, and adds to the overall weight but not the packed size as it still folds into the chest pocket which is fitted with a karabiner loop and forms a tiny, packable bundle. It’s a close, climber’s fit, with the bottom elasticated hem particularly snug (but unrestrictive) though the wrist cuffs are a Lycra design which is pleasant. I like a full zip – in this case reversed to offer more weather resistance – and the high, protective collar. The hood is pretty basic with just has an elasticated hem – but it does the job, and the Gore Windstopper panels offers a good amount of water-resistance without really affecting breathability. I would expect this fabric to resist the wear and tear of pack straps better than plain ol’ Pertex, and after a £155 expenditure I would be pretty disappointed if it didn’t!
Fabric: Pertex Quantum GL and Gore Windstopper Weight: 161g
Rab Cirrus Wind TopRRP £60
Reminiscent of Rab’s fully-featured waterproof shells, the Cirrus boasts two big handwarmer pockets – lined with mesh to act as vents – a full-length front zip and shockcord waist adjustment. There’s even a fleece lining behind the zip at the collar. Despite these features and the use of a 15 denier Pertex Quantum the weight is kept low and the price is impressive. The simple Lycra-hemmed hood can be rolled away and secured by a buckle which is nice if you like that kind of thing. I find it a bit superfluous and my scissors are hovering. And that’s it – a well cut design with many of the features you’d expect to find on a ‘proper’ waterproof shell in a lightweight, breathable windproof that’ll pack into a pocket. This is how a windproof should be.
Fabric: Pertex Quantum Weight: 150g
Páramo Fuera AscentRRP £65
Given the weight and bulk of this jacket I was initially quite dismissive – but then I wore it during some particularly foul weather and appreciated the full-on mountain credentials that puts the Fuera in a different category to the rest of the garments in the review. The fabric is thick and durable, coping with rock and brambles easily and proving impenetrable to both wind and substantial rain showers – it’s pretty much the same outer fabric used in the Páramo waterproof range but without the pump liner. The hood is excellent, actually better than many mountain waterproofs that I own, with the full range of adjustments and a wire brim. Long underarm zips are a bit superfluous given the nature of the jacket, but they do provide access into the lower layers if necessary. Cuffs have Velcro tabs for adjustment and there are two slanted pockets at the chest that are well clear of rucksack straps and will accomodate an OS map. But the cut is extremely baggy – to the extent that it’s a bit irritating in the wind, and I can’t help thinking that a closer fit would not only save weight, but aid moisture transmission. It’s a bit too heavy and bulky for most of the year, but there are occasions where I can image a thick, storm-proof jacket like this would be ideal.
Fabric: Nikwax Windproof Weight: 290g
Berghaus Surge Wind ShirtRRP £60
A slim-fitting, functional jacket that doesn’t look like a carrier bag, the Surge has had a lot of use over recent weeks, mainly due to the excellent fit! The matt fabric is attractive and available in any colour as long as it’s black, though the red detailing works well. Despite the natty appearance the AF fabric isn’t as breathable as others, and it is one of the more weatherproof jackets reviewed. It’s clear that this is a hillwalking windproof rather than a reappropriated running top, so this may not be such an issue. Two big handwarmer pockets are secured with reversed zips and will easily swallow an OS map, though they aren’t mesh lined so can’t be used as vents. The hood has a shockcord-cinched hem with cordlocks for adjustment – unusual for a jacket of this type – and it forms an effective weather seal without restricting vision. A simple, yet functional, windproof jacket well suited to UK mountain conditions.
Fabric: Berghaus AF Weight: 183g
Patagonia Houdini RRP £85
The weight is certainly appealing and the fabric is delightfully luxurious (that’s my happy face) – soft to the touch with a real feeling of quality and durability. The cut is slim and fitted, but perhaps by virtue of being part of Patagonia’s trail running range it’s a little short in the body – good for mobility but less-so for weather protection and use with a rucksack or harness where it can ride up a bit. Thankfully the sleeves are an appropriate length to avoid gaps at the wrist. In use the proprietery fabric doesn’t appear to breathe as well as the Pertex variants – whether this is a result of the Deluge DWR coating or the construction of the fabric itself I’m not sure – but there was a noticable clamminess when working hard. The bottom hem cinches at the rear only – the front remains flat to resist flapping – and this technique is reflected in the cuffs too, where just the bottom is elasticated to ensure the cuff sits flat on the back of the hand. The jacket just packs into the single chest pocket but it’s a frustrating process and given the low weight and lack of bulk it’s easier just to stuff it into a rucksack pocket.
Fabric: nylon ripstop Weight: 113g
Páramo Ladies’ Fuera CrestRRP £55
The heaviest of the women’s jackets on test, this is a tough performer that I’d be willing to rely on in poorer weather as the water-repellancy is good, and the thicker fabric is warmer but still very breathable with a lovely soft and comfortable feel. For Paramo (not renowned for figure-hugging style), its a fairly slim and tailored fit with a slightly scooped back, adjustable hem cord and two way front zip which can be opened at the bottom as well for ventilation but also does up high on the chin for good protection in poor weather. The hood is properly adjustable with a wired peak and there are 2 (non-venting) front waist level pockets which are a good size, although the zips would have to be bigger to use them to carry a Cicerone-sized guidebook. Articulated sleeves and generous cut mean there is plenty of arm movement and wide velcro cuffs means these can be adjusted to add ventilation. Reflective strips at the back will be useful for cycling or running, although my preference for running would be a less bulky jacket. Its a good all-rounder, perfect for walking or cycling when you don’t expect much rain and are not counting every gram of extra weight. The water repellancy can be topped up Nikwax TX Direct which can be applied in a machine wash. Given the pedigree of the fabric, which will stand up to much more wear and is nicely breathable, this jackets represents very good value. Available in blue or red and sizes S, M, L and XL.
Fabric: Nikwax Windproof Weight: 284g
Montane Lite SpeedRRP £70
Incredibly light this has an attention to detail which means it really does the job if you are after a windproof you can stuff in your bag without noticing the weight or added bulk but with enough features to provide day-long comfort and protection from showers. The rip-stop fabric, with slightly tougher fabric in areas of high wear, is durable for its weight although unsurprisingly I did manage to snag it while squeezed through an area of gorse, the durable water repellent finish can be reapplied using Nikwax TX Direct and the manufacturers recommend you also wash the item when required to keep the water repellent finish in good condition. The articulated sleeve design means there’s plenty of movement for the arms, elasticated cuffs provide a good seal but mean the sleeves can’t really be pushed up. There is one (non-venting) zipped chest pocket which takes an OS map. The front zip has a storm baffle behind it and comes up high enough to provide protection in fiercer weather. The hood is a good shape and adjustable with a draw cord and rolls very neatly into the collar providing extra insulation at the neck. Small reflective logos on the arms and shoulders. Came with a stuff sac that was instantly forgotten – for a garment this minimal its no problem to stuff it directly in your rucksack, hydration or bike pack. I’ve got no hesitation recommending it for cycling, walking, back-packing and running (although for night I’d want a bit more reflective fabric). The quality design and features still make it a great buy. Available in seven colourways and sizes 8 to 16.
Fabric: Pertex Microlight Mini Rip-Stop and Pertex Microlight Cross Rip-Stop Weight: 150g (size 10)
Arc’teryx Squamish HoodyRRP £120
Another very lightweight and packable windshirt with a good tailored fit (as with the Montane you may need a size bigger than normal if you plan on wearing it over multiple layers) and sensible features. The stretchy, rip-stop, water-repellent finish fabric feels lovely even next to the skin and provided a good level of water resistance and breathe-ability. The helmet-compatible hood has is adjustable by a drawcord that tucks neatly away, peaked brim with soft lining. Additional comfort features include fleecy chin guard, articulated sleeves, and velcro fastenings on the part-elasticated cuffs to allow ventilation. Drawcord at the hem and a backwards facing waist pocket (large enough for phone but not much else) which provides good access when cycling. Apart from the chest logo, no reflective strips so one of the bright colours would be preferable for running. A superb all round wind jacket for walking, back-packing, cycling and running, the high price is really the only downside. Available in colours (dark blue, burgundy, lime green, orange) and sizes XS to XL.
Fabric: Luminara (stretch nylon ripstop) Weight: 140g (Size S)
Helly Hanson SpeedRRP £120
Aimed primarily at runners, this super-lightweight jacket would also be a good choice if you do a lot of high intensity activities and want a breathable garment with additional venting. The tailored women’s fit is good, not too tight but with no excess material and a reasonable amount of arm movement and some stretch in the fabric itself. Elasticated cuffs are not too tight and there are useful vents at the sides and across the back which don’t billow in the wind. Good water beading and excellent wind resistance, it has reflective strips on the back and front and a useful, mesh-backed chest pocket large enough for a smartphone or GPS. Available in pink, turquoise, and black and in sizes XS to XL. Although the front jacket is minimal jacket with no hood, this is really best for times when you might encounter a brief shower but protection from the wind and keeping pack weight down is the main priority. Definately my favourite for running, but price is an issue.
Fabric: Polyamide Weight: 100g (Size S)