What’s the Difference Between a Rain Jacket and a Windbreaker?

People out in the rainIf you’re a Seinfeld fan like me, you know George’s Gor-Tex jacket all too well. George wears this massive coat despite its cumbersomeness and tendency to get in the way. After all, it may be frustrating, but it’s incredibly warm, so it must be worth it, right?

As with everything in George Costanza’s life, it does not end well, with the jacket being so huge as to make George look ridiculous even before its massive design causes him to accidentally knock over some store bottles.

If you live anywhere that’s cold in autumn and winter (which is, well, most places) you know George’s jacket dilemma all too well. On the one hand, you want to find something that can keep you nice and warm against the icy wind and driving rain which is easily the most unwelcome part of these colder weather seasons, and a massive jacket such as George’s can certainly do that.

On the other hand, the stiff puffy design makes that Gor-Tex incredibly cumbersome, and you’d rather not be left bumbling around and bumping into everything in a jacket that’s immensely cumbersome and limits mobility.

Instead of massive coats, you may, therefore, be eager to look into rain jackets and windbreakers instead, thinking they’ll be more convenient. How do these options rank against one another?

Windbreaker Overview

Man wearing windcheaterThis is typically a much lighter and more close-fitting jacket than a rain jacket. It also features an elastic waistband and wristbands, which can be nice if you’re looking for a lighter, more casual fit. As the name would imply, despite its lighter construction the fabric used in an average windbreaker is often resistant to gusts of wind and water penetration.

However, the light material means it’s only resistant up to a point. Windbreakers enjoy a lot of popularity in the fall or cooler weather. On the other hand, if you’re looking to stay warm in the middle of a heavy storm or winter snow flurry, chances are you’ll want to look to a thicker rain jacket.

The combination of lightweight fabric and its ability to trap warmth without being too cumbersome makes it ideal for outdoor activities such as camping and hiking in cool fall weather.

I love fall weather – who doesn’t? – and windbreakers offer a nice blend of form and function, helping to keep me warm without restricting my range of movement.

Rain Jacket Overview

Even if they’re not as absurdly large as George’s Gor-Tex, rain jackets are generally much thicker than windbreakers. They are also far more resistant to rainwater than the average windbreaker, though that thicker exterior material and added padding makes them bulkier and less breathable.

Comparing Breathability Versus Warmth

Man in the rainAnyone who’s ever worn a jacket or coat of any kind knows how important breathability is for ensuring that you aren’t stuck swearing up a storm inside your garment. In this regard, windbreakers are often the far better option. Even if your rain jacket isn’t as massive as George’s Gor-Tex coat, it is nevertheless likely to have the same issue of having multiple heat-trapping layers.

While this may be good for helping to keep you warm, it nevertheless makes for a less breathable garment. On the flip side, that added warmth may be welcome if you are stuck going out in particularly cold weather.

Comparing Materials

Those issues of breathability and warmth are impacted in part by the materials used in making rain jackets and windbreakers. The latter is typically made from nylon and polyester, while the former is often made from some combination of cotton, polyester, nylon, wool, vinyl, and rayon. If you have any particular preference for one or more of these materials, that can help guide your choice.

Comfort and Ease of Movement

Large rain jackets are sometimes referred to as “hard shell” jackets – and one look at George’s Gore-Tex shows why. Sure, that’s an extreme example used for comic purposes, but it still gives an idea of what it can feel like to wear one of those massively thick rain jackets.

By contrast, windbreakers are typically far easier to move around in, which is due in part to the fact that they are made from far lighter materials and do not have the same kind of double layer construction.

George’s bumbling around in his massive hard shell Gor-Tex jacket may be extreme, but anyone who’s ever worn such a huge cumbersome rain jacket can sympathize.

Ease of Packing

Packing a suitcaseIf you’re looking to pack a windbreaker or rain jacket for a trip, you’ll likely find it easier to pack the former given their more lightweight, less bulky padded design. If you have limited space in your suitcase, you’ll want to keep this in mind and be careful about packing rain jackets. This also holds true if you are packing a bag for a camping and hiking trip.

Long-Term Durability

The fabric used for windbreakers is generally lighter than that used for rain jackets. That, combined with their thinner construction, makes them more delicate. Windbreakers, thus, typically wear out faster and are in greater danger of tearing, though a well-made windbreaker shouldn’t do either for some time.

On the flip side, it is easier to sew up and patch holes in windbreakers than rain jackets. While the latter is less apt to tear, if you do somehow damage it, they are far more difficult to repair.

Price Comparison

Dollar billsWhile the amount you pay for either will naturally vary between brands, windbreakers tend to be less expensive. George’s Gor-Tex is expensive, which is one reason why he’s upset when it is ripped.

Even if your rain jacket isn’t as large and expensive as George’s deluxe Gor-Tex, it is nevertheless bound to have thicker and more durable material and, thus, cost more than the average windbreaker. That said, some luxury windbreaker brands such as Black Diamond can exceed $150.

Even so, most rain jackets and windbreakers are far less expensive than that.

Windbreakers and rain jackets each have their own distinct pros and cons.

It doesn’t take a lot to avoid the kind of Seinfeldian jacket selection frustrations experienced by George. Simply, consider your needs and fashion desires, and choose a jacket or windbreaker that suits you.

1 Comment
  1. Hi Wyatt, at the end of the day it’s down to needs and preference. We keep packable waterproofs in or rucksacks that act as good windbreakers too. Luckily winter here is not that bitter but on those cold winter days, we layer up with thermals wear the rain jackets/windbreakers over the top, if need be.


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