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Wind Jackets: Montbell Tachyon, Patagonia Houdini, ZPacks Wind Shell

with 29 comments

Hike and author, John Abela, wearing the Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants and Montbell Tachyon Wind Jacket.

Hiker and author, John Abela, wearing the Montbell Tachyon Wind Jacket, Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants, and ZPacks Arc Blast backpack.

Greetings All,

So there has been a LOT of discussion the last few months on the differences between the the “Montbell Tachyon“, the “Patagonia Houdini“, and the “ZPacks Wind Shell“.

I have gotten dozens of people asking me about which one they should buy, if there are any real-world differences between the fabrics – both for breathability and water resistance – and all those type of questions.

From a usage perspective the only one of these wind jackets that I have personally used is the Montbell Tachyon – something I have extensively used, put to the test, and reviewed.

For help with this article I have contacted a fellow by the name of Richard Nisley who is widely known and very well respected within the BPL community. He has the tools and resources to test fabrics at a level few of us have. I have often cited his research in my whitepapers and publications.

I asked him the following questions:

Which fabric, of these three jackets, will block the most wind, if breathability is not a factor?

The key part of that question was “if breathability is not a factor” – in other words, which of these three fabrics is the ‘most wind resistant‘.

His response was, from best to worst:

ZPacks Wind Shell, Patagonia Houdini, Montbell Tachyon.

It is important to remember that wind jackets are typically, as I have tended to find by reading what others talk about in regards to how they approach using wind jackets, divided into two groups:

The first group are those people who use a wind jacket for nothing more than blocking the wind. These are folks that use a diverse layering system to counter other factors such as (a) thermoregulation of core and peripheral body temperature, and (b) rain/snow.

The second group are those people who use a wind jacket as an active layer of their base layering system. To them, a wind jacket is factored into helping them control thermoregulation and to provide an initial layer of light rain/snow protection.

I think this first question that I asked Richard is a key question to look at, because it addresses both the issue of those who approach their wind jacket as only wind protection, and those who use their wind jacket for something beyond just a wind jacket.

How so?

Because, as most of us know, breathability is a key aspect in all of this. If a garment does not breathe, that forces a person to counter how to deal with the build up of body heat and body condensation.

So based on Richards testing, if you are after a wind jacket that will give the maximum about of wind protection AND cause the maximum about of body heat and body condensation, the ZPacks Wind Shell is going to be your best option.

Ok, so what if you want a wind jacket that is going to breathe and not cause you to build up body heat and perspire as fast as the ZPacks Wind Jacket will?

Well, I went on to ask him:

If you were to pick one that was a “happy medium between wind and breathability” which would it be?

He responded: The Montbell Tachyon.

Richard has often written about how well the Patagonia Houdini fabric performs so from a purely numbers perspective, I was not expecting that response. The difference here, as I am to take it, is much like the issue with the ZPacks Wind Jacket: a fabric can be really good at one thing, yet perform not so good at another thing. In the case of the Patagonia Houdini, it seems that it is really good at being able to breathe, but its ability to block wind leaves it lower side of that scale. Just opposite of the ZPacks Wind Jacket.

He was kind enough to share with me the following information, based on his testing of fabrics over the last few years. I realize it uses some technical jargon, but hopefully it gives some further insights into these different fabrics.

John, I have measured most of the fabrics you asked about:

.53 CFM — ZPacks Pertex GL (my test results)
.53 CFM — ZPacks Ventum (not measured by me but ZPacks claims it is equivalent to the Pertex GL)
3.73 CFM — Patagonia Houdini (my test results)
9.72 CFM — Montbell 7 denier Ballistic Airlight (my test results)

Considering that the most air permeable true rain garment is .5 CFM, all windshirts are equal to or better than the best rain gear for air permeability. Air permeability is generally inversely proportional to the hydrostatic head. In addition, all fabric weaves have a small amount of big pores rather than a large amount of small pores found in air permeable rain gear. No windshirt is adequate for true rain (1,500 mm H2O min required).

Air flow in the 35+ CFM is optimal for the balance between dumping moisture from sustained aerobic activity (7 MET which is the average person’s maximum sustained rate), good wind resistance, and medium precipitation protection.

Air flow in the 70+ CFM is optimal for the balance between dumping moisture from sustained aerobic activity (>7 MET which is an adventure racer’s maximum sustained rate), helpful wind resistance, light precipitation protection. Conventional summer shirt weaves are typically also in the 50 – 70 CFM range.

In Closing:

So I guess in closing here, based on the data that Richard has been able to test and compile:

Montbell Tachyon” == the best middle-of-the-options for both wind protection and breathability, yet this means some wind penetration and some body core temp increase.

Patagonia Houdini” == the best option for breathability, yet some airflow getting through, which could result in a body cool down due to super cold wind penetration.

ZPacks Wind Shell” == the best option for blocking the most wind, yet not breathing so expect body core temp increase and thus sweating more.

Interesting, Inov-8, a company well known for award winning running shoes, has introduced their first shell, called the “Inov-8 Race Ultra Shell HZ” and I cannot lie… I want one of these! It is a 4-way stretch, 2.5 layer, waterproof shell that should excel at breathability, rain resistance, and wind resistance – and is only 125 grams (4.4 ounces). So while it is significantly heavier than these three other jackets talked about, it has the potential to be both a full-on rain shell and a wind jacket. Of course, its going to take folks getting real-world use out of it, and somebody like Richard getting his hands on the fabric to put it to the test, before we can really determine its worthiness, but the idea of a sub 5 ounce shell that can be a master of both wind and rain, that peaks my interest.

Thank you,
+John Abela
HikeLighter.Com

In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that I am a sponsored hiker of Black Rock Gear, Montbell US, Suluk46, Sun Precautions, Suntactics.

Written by John B. Abela - HikeLighter.Com

February 18, 2015 at 10:49 am

29 Responses

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  1. Good summary, Richard’s #’s are always helpful putting data to claims and making it understandable. Also, I think you mean breathe, not breath there in a few places…

    ADVSponge

    February 18, 2015 at 11:01 am

    • Yeah, Richard may not always give the numbers I wanna hear, but I have come to trust him. I am very grateful to him for taking the time to help me with this article. (and thanks for the typo correction-fixed)

      John B. Abela

      February 18, 2015 at 11:06 am

  2. Thanks for providing this information. My feeling is that most do not use a wind jacket correctly and if one wants absolute wind protection, then a rain shell is likely the best option. Wind jackets are generally to be used while moving so they have to be breathable enough to remove moisture buildup by the wearer and yet wind resistant enough to not cause too much convective heat loss of one’s core temperature. I find that balance to be somewhere around 5-7 CFM. My 2 cents.

    Dave

    February 18, 2015 at 11:10 am

    • Hey Dave,

      I think both sides of the approach to using wind jackets is ok … that is IF those who use it as a multi-purpose shell are competent to know how to properly use it as a facet of a multi-layering system — which too few hikers seem to really grasp, unfortunately.

      I have tried both methods over the last few years. These days I tend to only use the wind jacket for when I need protection from a cold wind. That said, a couple years ago I pretty much lived 24/7/365 inside of the Montbell Tachyon.

      Thanks for sharing!

      John B. Abela

      February 18, 2015 at 11:15 am

  3. Hey John,

    Great write up. Thank you (and Richard). The innov-8 jacket is interesting. I’m a retired bike racer and I’ve seen a few rain/breathable jackets come out (e.g. Shower’s Pass has made a super thin clear one that was pretty good), but I’ve yet to see one that truly breaths during any exertion whatsoever. Pit zips, loose fitting sleeves, etc. are the only things that seem to really help. It sure would be great to replace 2 items with one, but I’m skeptical.

    -Paul

    Paul S

    February 18, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    • Hey Paul, thanks for taking the time to post.

      Yeah, I too am skeptical. At the 10k mark, which is what inov-8 states that it is, its going to be a rather tricky shell to use, especially for hikers that tend to not move fast enough for the airflow to get into such a garment.

      John B. Abela

      February 18, 2015 at 4:32 pm

  4. Good write up John. I have been watching Richard’s reports on these fabrics for a while, so it is what I expected.

    At the moment, there is a big discussion going on over on BPL about the ZPacks wind shirts, and I can’t say that there is much of anything good in it. There are a lot of numbers, and scientific explanations being tossed around, and has pretty much taken hold of the argument… that’s fine by me.

    I own a North Face Verto wind jacket, and just sold off my highly sought after 2012 version of the Patagonia Houdini (which is the one that Richard describes as being the most “optimal for the balance between dumping moisture from sustained aerobic activity”. (And I sold it at a deal… only $40!)

    Anyway, for me, the less breathable Verto won out for me in real world use over the more breathable Houdini. For me, the Houdini was too breathable and for me, it wasn’t what I wanted. I have come to only use/carry my wind jacket in the colder months, so I wanted something that would help me retain a little more heat, but not quite as much as my rain shell. The Verto does this for me.

    True, the material of some other wind jackets may “breathe” better, but I can vent all I want by simply unzipping the full front zip, and for me, a slightly less breathable material with the option to vent as much as I need it too gives me more versatility than a wind jacket that doesn’t actually block the wind…

    Also, I have found that with my Verto, if I get cool at night in my sleeping bag, by putting the Verto on, I can feel a noticeable boost in warmth. This is actually more comfortable to me than sleeping in my down puffy because I can hardly even tell it’s there. Also, it extends the life of the puffy since I am not rolling around with it on…

    Anyway, for me, I think the best option on the market is the ZPacks wind jacket. The material should be about the same when it comes to CFM, has a full zip, a hood (which appears to be much better than the one on my Verto), and weighs almost an oz less than my Verto! Honestly, I would love to have one of these jackets, but then again, I find it hard to drop another $115 for something I don’t need to replace, yet only save 0.9 oz… If I could, I would, but I can’t, so I will wait. But this is one I recommend for these reasons…

    ~Stick~

    Stick

    February 18, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    • Hey Chad, thanks for the nice post!

      I really wish that I would have had some data for TNF Verto, it SHOULD be included in this comparison.

      One of the things I find interesting is that the hiking community has invested so much discussion in the zpacks wind jacket, and comparing it to these other ones. Why? Because these other two (three counting the verto) have LONG standing history within the community, whileas the zpacks one is just a months old. I really do not know what this means, but it intrigues me.

      I wonder how many people have been put-off by the price tag of the zpacks one, especially given that the mb tachyon can often be bought for almost 60% less. I know zpacks does not have a huge mark-up on their gear, but that price tag has got to be a hindrance to some folks looking to buy a wind shell.

      John B. Abela

      February 18, 2015 at 8:49 pm

  5. Just curious your comparing wind shirts that all fall under Air flow in the 35+ CFM which is what Richard says is recommended optimal for the balance between dumping moisture from sustained aerobic activity. So basically don’t al these pretty much fall into the non breathable category just one is a little more breathable than the other but none would really be considered breathable?

    JP

    February 18, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    • Just to add that the specs Richard gives you for the Patagonia Houdini are for the lasted material versions. The pre 2012 versions of the Patagonia Houdini had a CFM rating from Richard of roughly 35 CFM which is why is was highly regarded. So when you say”Richard has often written about how well the Patagonia Houdini fabric performs so from a purely numbers perspective, I was not expecting that response” its because the newer material for the Houdini jacket is not that same material that Richard use to write about how well it performed as the older Patagonia Houdini jackets fell into the 35CFM which is the optimal for the balance between dumping moisture from sustained aerobic activity that Richard recommends.

      JP

      February 18, 2015 at 8:02 pm

      • I am not sure that is what Richard has said. He has said this: “As the windshirt’s CFM goes up, its ability to pass water vapor increases up to about 35 CFM. After that point, the combined moisture resistances of the base layer, the air gap between the base layer – windshirt, the windshirt, and the windshirt boundary layer prevent further moisture transport increases. Also as the windshirt’s CFM goes up, its wind resistance goes down.”

        Further, he indicates that, “Fabrics that measure as much as 5 CFM are still functionally windproof: that is, you don’t feel the breeze come through. And they afford much greater comfort with the high exertion rates during backpacking.”

        So it seems to me that the sweet spot for anyone is going to be somewhere between these two points but it will depend heavily on what you are wearing under that wind shirt.

        John – what are the odds you could have Richard do a guest post on your blog? ; )

        Dave

        February 18, 2015 at 9:24 pm

        • Hey Dave, I let Richard know about this article, so he is absolutely welcome to stop on by and share his thoughts… and I hope he does!

          John B. Abela

          February 18, 2015 at 9:25 pm

        • Dave

          “Fabrics that measure as much as 5 CFM are still functionally windproof: that is, you don’t feel the breeze come through. And they afford much greater comfort with the high exertion rates during backpacking.”

          I agree with the 5 CFM are still Functionally windproof and don’t feel the breeze but have to disagree with they afford much greater comfort with the high exertion rates during backpacking,

          On BPL Richard has constantly stated “At a 7 MET exertion level (UL backpacking average), in average summer mountain temperatures and wind conditions, most people find the Houdini air permeability the optimal windshirt available. I measured the spring 2012 version of this windshirt at 35.8 CFM. The reason its air permeability is optimal is that this is the level of air permeability that will JUST PASS the AVERAGE EVAPORATED SWEAT moisture while UL backpacking.”

          He also stated “I measured the older Pertex Classic fabric and it was 3 CFM. Assuming this is the Pertex fabric used in your windshirt, it is a very poor choice for use while UL backpacking.”

          I can’t see 5CFM fabric being much better than a 3CFM at a 7 MET exertion level.

          Maybe I am wrong would be nice if Mr.Nisley would respond to this and clear it up .

          JP

          February 18, 2015 at 10:07 pm

          • Here Mr Nisely Stated “Whichever windshirt just barely achieves the necessary moisture transport for your average MET (7 for backpacking) is the optimal solution.”

            Which is basically what he is quoted in the article saying “Air flow in the 35+ CFM is optimal for the balance between dumping moisture from sustained aerobic activity (7 MET which is the average person’s maximum sustained rate), good wind resistance, and medium precipitation protection..”

            Anyway would be good to hear from Mr. Nisley

            JP

            February 18, 2015 at 10:18 pm

          • Interesting. I have used a jacket with a CFM of over 35 which afforded no wind blocking ability based on my ‘seat of the pants.’ Michael Glavin of Sierra Designs has an interesting take on CFM and recommends between 5 and 10 CFM for a wind shirt (and a base layer of 400 or so) to provide both the ability of wind blocking and the ability to move moisture without lowering core temperature too much. This has been similar to my experience. Here is a video from SD for your review.

            http://sierradesigns.com/blog/go-stop-rain-brandlive-apparel-chat

            Dave

            February 19, 2015 at 5:15 am

      • Hey Dave

        Yea I have seen that video. Thanks for the link…

        Funny it was made in Oct 9 2014. This is the same Gavin that was on BPL in February of 2014 discussing wind shirts .

        Not sure he even knew about the Vader test(breath test) till reading up on it on BPL.

        In the end his job is to sale the stuff SD makes so his thoughts on what is best for backpacker is skewed to what his company sales.

        Here the link he get into the discussion about page 7 or so.

        http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=87307&startat=220

        Not saying he is wrong or right and in the end its really up to the individual to do what works best for them.

        JP

        February 19, 2015 at 4:49 pm

        • Hey thanks. That thread is an interesting read.

          Dave

          February 19, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    • >>> So basically don’t al these pretty much fall into the non breathable category just one is a little more breathable than the other but none would really be considered breathable?

      Just my personal opinion here… nothing else…. but I would totally agree with you. whether the numbers speak differently, might be proving me wrong… but, yeah, totally agree with you.

      John B. Abela

      February 18, 2015 at 8:51 pm

  6. John,

    Very interesting article. Always liked your approach and combining it with Richards, another trusty source, makes for an informed article. Great work.

    I actually want a wind shirt for a different use. My layering system is a short-sleeve base (2.5 oz), a summer shirt (REI Sahara / 8 oz) and a Dri Ducks rain jacket that’s around 6 oz. What I’d like the wind shirt to do is take the place of the rather heavy Sahara shirt and here’s why. I live in SoCal and hike here or in the Central Sierra’s and early in the season the mosquito’s can be unbearable. I find that the Sahara shirt has a tight enough weave and stands off my body enough to stop the biting. But at 8 oz it is a heavier piece of gear. I really only carry it just for the mosquito protection and I’ve been lucky allot in that I’ve not encountered major swarms for a while. Would be nice to have a 2-3 ounce wind shirt replace it but it looks like they don’t breath much in comparison to summer shirts where you say “conventional summer shirt weaves are typically also in the 50 – 70 CFM range” when the best wind shirt in this review is at less than 10 CFM. You have any ideas for my problem?

    Thanks again for all your reports.

    Warren

    Warren

    February 18, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    • Hey Warren, thanks for stopping by and the kind comments.

      Yeah, totally hear what you are saying. I used my MB tachyon as a bug-shirt a few times… but I ended up suffering for it, from heat build-up.

      It would be interesting to learn about fabric that could be used to make a bug shirt in the 2-4 ounce range… I have never seen anything. A few years ago I invested some time with the folks at the bug shirt attemepting to get one of their shirts down into the ‘acceptable weight for a hiker’ but just could not make it happen.

      John B. Abela

      February 18, 2015 at 8:54 pm

      • Thanks John. Though not what I wanted to hear, it was exactly what I needed to hear. Hopefully somebody somewhere is still giving thought to this idea.

        Warren

        February 18, 2015 at 10:09 pm

      • In canada we have mosquitoes that weigh 2-4 ozs!

        dara ohuiginn

        February 19, 2015 at 1:36 pm

  7. I have used the montbell a lot. I am on my second one since one got lost in the mountains of Ireland. It is super for wind protection but not so good for any rain. I use the Zpacks rain jacket for rain and the pit zips make it my best all around for wind and rain. So I would suggest bringing both a montbell tachyon and a Zpacks rain jacket As worth the weight for max comfort. Thanks for the analysis And safe hiking. I want to look at the new one too.

    dara ohuiginn

    February 18, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    • Hey Dara,

      Yep, I use that same setup… MB Tachyon + ZPacks Challenger rain jacket. Lightest system I have been able to find for a multi-layering approach.

      Thanks for taking the time to share your insight and experience!!

      John B. Abela

      February 18, 2015 at 8:56 pm

  8. Thank you for the data, John and Mr. Nisley! I was excited to read this article, since I believe these are the three best dedicated wind jackets on the market. I will contribute my experience with the Patagonia Houdini jacket, and compare it to my Montbell Dynamo wind pants (I haven’t found the budget to buy a Tachyon yet). Last year I found myself making a hard decision between the Patagonia Houdini and the Montbell Tachyon (the Zpacks had not been announced at that point). Helpful resources I referenced included John Abela’s review of the Tachyon (and additional comments in later posts), Will Rietveld’s review on Backpacking Light and the forum threads there, and ProLiteGear’s videos on the jackets including their testing (comparison of their favorite lightweight wind jackets, separate Montbell Tachyon video). I was leaning toward the Houdini, and I went to a Patagonia store, tried it on, and purchased it there at the full price of $100. Even as I purchased the Houdini, I still wanted the Tachyon to use in a different role. What I am looking for in a windshirt is a garment that will block the wind, making insulation or additional insulation unnecessary due to wind (“I laugh in the face of ‘wind chill’!”, etc.) Ideally it would be small enough to take with me everywhere, unlike a bulkier jacket that provides insulation, and lightweight. I use my hooded Houdini by itself in warm weather, where it’s often found in my pocket for the evening, or underneath a light merino wool or fleece jacket in colder weather, except in the coldest months of winter when the jackets I am wearing have wind resistance built into them that makes the Houdini unnecessary for wind resistance and a hindrance to breathability. What I have found in my experience is that I was right about the jacket before I purchased it, and that Richard Nisely’s recommendations and data are correct. I feel strong winds through the jacket. A review I read before I purchased the jacket explained it such as that a strong gale wind would be reduced to a fairly light wind through the jacket. In comparison, it would be much harder to feel winds through the Tachyon fabric. I figured that the Houdini was good enough, considering that I’d get superior breathability with the Houdini compared to the Tachyon. I sweat a lot and would like to minimize the amount of effort I have to put into adjusting my clothing for body temperature regulation, although I am rather sensitive to changes in temperature. I do not have a Tachyon but I do have Montbell’s Dynamo pants—I almost bough the Houdini pants for the breathability reasons I bough the jacket, but the sizing of the Dynamo, John Abela’s ecstatic reviews, and the fact that breathability for legwear is less important for me made me decide in favor of the Dynamo pants. The Dynamo pants block wind better that the Houdini jacket for sure. However, breathability is slightly inferior to the Houdini. I find that the Houdini does not breathe as well as I’d like it to when it’s underneath a jacket. Therefore I’m glad I chose it over the even worse breathability of the Tachyon. If I was carrying the jacket more than I was wearing it, I would have purchased the Tachyon since it is half the size when in it’s pouch compared to the Houdini. I may still purchase a Tachyon someday since it is so compact and light, it would be a better option for when you expect to only carry it and not use it. The Houdini is a little bulky in the pocket, but most of the time I am carrying it I am wearing it. Also it should be noted that the Houdini and Tachyon are less expensive than the Zpacks (although we love Zpacks and supporting small companies like it). Patagonia is a big brand carried by many retailers and the Houdini can often be found on sale, so I tend to think of it as around the same price as the Tachyon even if MSRP is more.

    Jonah F.

    February 25, 2015 at 8:47 pm

  9. […] few weeks ago, on March 18, 2015, I published an article entitled ‘Wind Jackets: Montbell Tachyon, Patagonia Houdini, ZPacks Wind Shell‘ and it appears it caused a bit of ruckus around the […]

  10. I am planning on getting a wind jacket and haven’t decided yet if it will be the Montbell or the ZPacks one. I like both a lot. On the other side I am often thinking if a rain jacket (like the ZPacks Challenger) could do both jobs. My old Columbia rain jacket is a combination of both and I love it. Any recommendations?

    Yvonne

    September 14, 2015 at 1:51 pm

  11. I use the zPacks shell as a backup jacket for trail running and as part of my layering system and as part of my mandatory gear for longer races. I have to say, when hiking around in it, I haven’t noticed the measured lack of breathability, but that may be because I thermo-regulate with the zipper as soon as necessary. Open it up and you’ll get all the air you need. I’ve layered over it (light puffy) and not felt clammed up, but again, as soon as I’m not enough to start sweating, I look to vent. Breathability is never enough for me.

    I consider the hood mandatory.

    When running with it, it’s sort of an “uh-oh” piece of gear. I’m only going to use it when it’s gotten colder than anticipated (and I’m still running) or I’m no longer running because I’m bonked or injured. In those cases, I’m more interested in the absolute wind stopping ability (as well as the hood) than I am breathability, because in both those cases, I’m already going to either be wet with sweat or changing into a dry shirt if things have really gotten iffy. I wore it during a tough race in Switzerland when I topped out, completely drenched with sweat, and the chilly wind over my under armour heat gear made me feel like I was put into a freezer. It did an amazing job of keeping me the right temp, while I ran, and all I had to do was open or shut the zipper slightly. Zipped up, hood up, the wind was stopped, as I wanted. I run with both the windshell and a light rain shell. Together, over a light longsleeve shirt, they form a pretty nice layered system that’s more versatile and more comfortable to me than a heavier base layer + rain shell alone would be.

    At full retail, the jackets are so close in price as to be identical, and if you, like me, don’t fit in standard sizes, zPacks will tweak the thing for you for free or very low cost. Incredible deal to me, even if you compare to sale price on the Houdini or montbell.

    runranger

    November 19, 2015 at 2:36 pm


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