Ultralight Wind Shells

May 29, 2012

You can save some serious weight by investing in an ultralight windproof and water-resistant shell jacket and ditching your heavy-duty (or even lightweight) fully waterproof jacket. Some of the lightest weight wind shells barely weigh 2 ounces and will easily fit in a pocket, yet offer sufficient protection and warmth for many warm-weather excursions. Here’s a quick review of their pros and cons, plus a round-up of some of the lightest weight wind shells currently available.

Keep in mind that, like so many ultralight gear decisions, you must make a few sacrifices to pare down your gear weight to its bare minimum. In the case of ultralight wind shells, consider these trade-offs:

  • A 2-ounce water-resistant shell will keep you adequately dry in a light rain or short-lived drizzle—but you’ll definitely get wet in a pouring rain. 
  • The ultra-thin fabric on these shells will block all by the most intense winds, but it will also tend to flap noisily—an annoyance if you’re in the wind for prolonged periods. 
  • These shells add warmth to your layering system by reducing convective heat loss and helping to trap warm air next to your body, but seldom seal tightly around the wrists, waist, or neck, which reduces their warming effects. Many ultralight shells also lack hoods, further reducing their protection and warmth.

But the advantages are enormous. Or perhaps enormously tiny as the case may be. These shells pack down to microscopic size and weigh less than the watch on your wrist. Compared to fully waterproof rain jackets, which can weigh well upwards of a pound (even lightweight versions are seldom less than 12 ounces), an ultralight wind shell offers some significant weight savings.

Here are some of the lightest I’ve found:


Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Anorak
Average weight: 1.89 ounces (size for this weight not specified, though size medium is standard). Ultralight 7-denier by 10-denier ripstop nylon fabric. No frills and half-zip shaves this down to the bare minimum. $135.

MontBell Tachyon Anorak
Weight: 2.3 ounces (size medium). 7-denier rip-stop Ballistic Airlight nylon. Features a hood and drawcord for both the hood and waist hem. $99.

The North Face Verto
Average weight: 3.2 ounces. Full-zip jacket of 7-denier nylon features a hood and small chest pocket. $120.

Marmot Trail Wind Jacket
Average weight: 4.3 ounces. One of the better deals on a wind shell. Features drawcord hem and a small chest pocket. $70. Also available in a hooded version (4.8 ounces, $75). 

MontBell Dynamo Wind Parka
Weight: 5.1 ounces (size medium). You get a lot for a few extra ounces, including two large zip pockets, Velcro-closures on the cuffs, a longer drop-seat in the back, and reinforced 40-denier fabric in high-wear spots. Also available in a women’s version. $119

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.