Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Lightest and most compactible jacket in review, breatheable, great in hot and cold weather.
Cons: Expensive, few color options, no side pockets, no Velcro sealable cuffs.
Best Uses: Biking, hiking, backpacking, general outdoor use.
The Patagonia Houdini is one of our favorite windbreakers and wins a Top Pick award. It is the lightest we tested and packs the smallest. It is our most used layer in our quiver because it is just so versatile. What other jacket can protect you from mosquitoes on a hot day, protect you from sun at the beach, block the wind on a bike ride, and keep you dry in a light rain?
That said, the Houdini is expensive. If you use it as much as we do, the price- per-day of use makes it a good value. But if you don't plan to use it every day the Marmot Trail Wind Hoody is very comparable and costs about half as much. Each has their pros and cons. The Trail Wind is a little heavier and does not pack down as small. The fabric does not breathe as well but it does have ventilation under the pits and back of the neck (which also is a con because it doesn't block the wind as well).
Our Editors' Choice was the Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody because we felt we could do anything in it. The Squamish has a burlier feel, articulated elbows, and Velcro cuffs which meant we didn't hesitate to use it in the snow or in more burly rain and wind conditions. But, it is an ounce heavier and does not compress as well as the Houdini. So if your main focus with a windbreaker is to get the lightest possible jacket, then get the Houdini. The Houdini is also $35 less expensive and we see it on sale more often.
A very similar jacket is the Rab Cirrus. The Cirrus is just a little heavier but it does not compact nearly as small and does not have a way to adjust the hood. On the upside, the Cirrus has two generous hand pockets and a way to scrunch up the hood with a buckle so it doesn't flap around (this was especially usful when bike riding).
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
This is one of the lightest jackets on earth and the lightest in our review. Like most ultralight gear, it made us want to take it everywhere…because we never had to make that decision "is it worth the weight and space?" Since it weighs nothing and takes up no space you just bury it in your pack and forget about it. It's the outerwear equivalent of the Petzl E+Lite headlamp: it's so light you always have it with you and therefor it becomes one of your most used pieces of gear.
We especially loved the Houdini for bike commuting in the San Francisco Bay Area where temps in the summer range from 50 and foggy to 90 and scorching, sometimes on a single bike ride. It is light and breatheable enough that we even used it when it was scorching hot just as sun protection. We tucked the hood into the back of our bike helmet to protect the neck. Because one of our testers has already had minor skin cancer at age 32, this became and ideal way to block the sun. (NOTE: Patagonia confirmed to OutdoorGearLab that the jacket does not have a UPF rating so use it for sun protection at your own risk.) It is also an ideal way to block mosquitoes. It is maybe the most breatheable layer that blocks bug bites.
The single zipper pocket is just big enough for an iPhone if you want to listen to tunes. The jacket packs into the pocket and has a small keeper loop, ideal for clipping to the side of a backpack or climbing harness. Once packed into itself it is about the size of your fist. This means you can put it in a fleece jacket pocket and carry it on casual hikes just in case it rains or gets too windy. It also packed the smallest of all the windbreakers in our tests. It was the only jacket that packed small enough that we consider keeping it in a pants pocket.
What really distinguished the Houdini was its breatheability. Most shells, when against even mildly sweaty skin, will stick and feel clammy. The Houdini doesn't stick to bare skin and therefore keeps the air circulating. The cuff lets air in, which kept us well ventilated when biking on warm days.
The DWR coating holds up well in most light rain situations better than we expected. And since so much of staying dry is keeping ventilated inside the jacket, this jacket does great. Many other windbreakers or rain jackets accumulate moisture on the inside and stick to your skin or base layer and create a clammy inside environment (even if the outside of the jacket is repelling water).
When the jacket is packed inside itself, there is a convenient keeper loop so you can clip it to a pack or climbing harness. This keeper loop feels a little flimsy. It never ripped on us, but we always felt nervous about climbing with it, especially considering its price tag.
Keep in mind there are no hand pockets, unlike the Rab Cirrus. So if you are using this as a trail running or hiking jacket, you have to find some other place to put that beanie or energy bar.
There are only a few colors. We call the one we tested "CalTrans Orange," which we love for bike commuting. But we just noticed Patagonia discontinued that color. If you want a super visible safety color you have to with the lemon-lime, which is not our favorite (although every other bike commuters we see seems to love that color).
Because there is no Velcro at the cuffs, it does not keep out the wind as effectively as it could. This was especially an issue when biking in the cold. You can solve this with long biking gloves with a Velcro cuff (and tuck the Houdini inside).
When we tightened the hood, the excess draw string did not stow away as cleanly as we would have liked.
What does this not work for? We would take it to the beach, bike commuting, hiking, camping, fishing.…the list goes on.
Our main tester is 5'10" 155 lb. and wears the Small. It is a little tight but that's the way he likes it. It barely layers over a lightweight insulated jacket. In general, we size Patagonia jackets small and find they fit best on thin frames. We have heard of people with wide frames not being able to fit this jacket easily.
The Patagonia Houdini - Women's is a similar jacket but comes with a different cut, colors and pocket placement. Same price.
— Chris McNamara
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Most recent review: December 11, 2013
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