This article first appeared in the Uncle Wacko’s Gear Corner column of Wanderlust, our ATC Club magazine, in November 2020.Uncle Wacko

It is repeated here as a potential tramping gear resource for NZ conditions.

Warning: Uncle Wacko has strong views and may challenge tramping assumptions and sensibilities!

What is it about windshirts?!

Any tramper worth their salt knows a windshirt is the single most useful piece of clothing they can have

So why the hell don’t more of youz wear them?! 

Uncle Wacko can only conclude nobody has yet enlightened you as to how brilliantly practical they are. So let’s set about filling that particular gap in your knowledge shall we?

First, what is a windshirt? They’re a freakishly light, super breathable nylon jacket with no liner.

Windshirt 1

No wonder she’s smiling – she’s wearing a windshirt!

And here’s what windshirts aren’t:

  • they’re not waterproof. They’ll handle clag and a bit of drizzle but won’t keep out prolonged drizzle or rain.
  • they’re not an insulating layer to add warmth like a fleece.

So what the hell are they good for then?

Glad you asked. It’s simple really: 

They’re the simplest and most effective piece of kit for adjusting your temperature as your exertion levels and weather conditions change.

In other words, they’ll keep you more comfortable across a much wider range of tramping conditions than other clothing combinations.


That’s because they do two things superbly well:

1. breathe – so let excess heat out

2. block the wind – so stop the cold from coming in

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • it’s too cold for just a base layer but you get too hot with a fleece. So the fleece keeps coming on and off, and you’re often just a bit too cool or a bit too warm. A windshirt will delay that overheating, and may just keep you comfortable the whole time.
  • you sweat uphill then chill on the downhill. A cinched up windshirt will get your temperature back where you want it and your sweat dried out way quicker than a fleece or rain jacket.
  • there’s light rain about but you’ll overheat in your rain jacket. A windshirt is perfect here.

Often you can continue wearing a windshirt, just adjusting for warmth or ventilation, where others will be regularly layering and delayering.

And hey, if it’s too cold, just chuck a fleece or puffy over the top.

Windshirt 2

Windshirts are ideal for changing exertion levels in cooler conditions

Windshirts also have these other advantages:

  • they dry quicker than a fleece or rain jacket
  • they’re super light and packable
  • they’re relatively inexpensive
  • they can replace a backup fleece (so help reduce pack weight)
  • you’ll wear your rain jacket less, helping preserve its water repellent surface

Windshirt 3

Super light and packable!

Now because Uncle Wacko is always fastidiously fair and balanced, he’ll also list all their disadvantages:

  • errr ... none we can think of



You’ve got a truckload of options, ranging from the basic, super light with minimal features, through to fully featured masterpieces. 

Weights go from under 50 to about 140 grams - told you they were light! 

And prices range from under a hundred to a couple of hundred dollars.

Uncle Wacko recommends splashing out on one with a full length zip, adjustable hood, and cuff and hem adjustments. The extra ventilation and cinching options means they’ll work like a dream across a wide range of conditions.

Major brands known for good windshirts include MontBell, Montane, Patagonia, RAB and Arcteryx. See what you can find and pick what suits.

So, we’ll be seeing youz all sporting one soon, then. Spot ya.

Uncle Wacko