Patagonia Houdini Full-Zip Review
Cons: Poor breathability, fabric is noisy
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Our Analysis and Test Results
If simplicity, functionality, and versatility are at the top of your must-have list for a running jacket, the Patagonia Houdini is a great choice. There are single-layer jackets similar to this one that offer a bit more breathability and ventilation, but if you're on the hunt for a high level of wind protection in a lightweight package with a lightweight price tag, the Houdini won't disappoint.
While the Houdini offers impressive wind protection with such lightweight material, we've found that this jacket doesn't breathe as well as others. The weatherproof fabric and a lack of mesh material or zippered vents allow heat and moisture to build up once you really get moving.
Once you get moving enough to that point where you start sweating, there's really no way to ventilate the Houdini short of unzipping the main zipper, which turns the jacket into a parachute while running, significantly impacting its fit and comfort. On multiple occasions, our testers found that their arms were the first area to start sweating, causing the thin material to immediately stick and hindering any chance of the material breathing and providing relief.
During some other runs in moderate rain, where the rainwater eventually penetrated the Houdini, we again found that the thin material stuck to our body, similarly eliminating any hope for breathability.
The Houdini provides very impressive wind protection, especially for such thin and light material. Most of the single-layer synthetic running jackets we tested, including this one, have a tightly woven material to shield the user from the wind as well as a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating to help provide a barrier from moisture. The Houdini does have a slight advantage over many other single layer jackets, however, where the omission of vents or mesh panels that would aid in breathability helps keep the wind and moisture from howling through.
It's important to know the limits of DWR treatment and how often it needs to be re-applied for maximum functionality. The Houdini is a lightweight layer perfect for shielding you from wind and the occasional light drizzle of rain. Like all DWR treatments, however, the coating seems to wear off quickly through repeated packing, unpacking, and washing. After a few weeks, we noticed areas that would no longer bead water from dewy plants on our morning run.
Once the skies really open up beyond a light drizzle, the water begins to overwhelm the DWR finish and easily soaks through the thin material. Once the jacket is soaked through, it becomes much heavier, and the comfort and breathability are severely reduced. The Houdini does have an ample hood size that accommodates anything from a bald head to a climbing or cycling helmet with an easy to use adjustable cinch cord to keep everything snugly in place.
Comfort and Mobility
This jacket seems to magically dance the fine line between offering ample comfort and mobility without adding so many extra design features that the cost skyrockets. Zeroing in on stitching and seams, the Houdini utilizes a folded seam which both creates a protrusion and keeps thread obscured and away from the skin. This represents a middle ground between unobtrusive taped seams and super cheap chainsaw seams with exposed stitching. This middle ground makes for all-day comfort at a fraction of the price.
The fit of the Houdini is a little boxier and baggier than some other models with more well-fitted, performance-oriented designs. And, while the lightweight material is comfortable against the skin, it can be a bit loud and crinkly at times. Ultimately, the large gusseted side panels, ample arm length, generous fit, and soft seam construction make this a comfortable jacket, but it is outshined by other models with more tailored fits and softer, quieter materials.
The Houdini is easily one of the most portable running jackets that we have ever tested. Weighing in at a crazy 3.7 ounces in a men's size medium, the material is impressively light and thin for such great performance, and the jacket packs down to nearly nothing in its built-in stuff pocket.
The one chest pocket doubles as a stuff sack that is perfectly sized to allow for quick and easy packing and unpacking. Additionally, this stuff sack is conveniently equipped with a small loop to secure the jacket in a running vest pocket or on a climbing harness. Critically, it's also equipped with a double-sided zipper making it easy to pack but equally easy to deploy — something some other manufacturers neglect. While it may not seem like an important detail, you may not understand the frustration of a stuff pocket with only a single-sided zipper pull until you're on the trail struggling with one.
Although it comes in at one of the lightest weights of any jacket we've tested and any jacket on the entire market, the Houdini is equipped with a respectable features list.
The previously mentioned stuff sack built into the chest pocket is one of the most efficient and easy to use stuff pockets that we've tested. Its longer, narrower shape, as opposed to a more generic square or round shape, makes loading and unloading the jacket much easier, and the aforementioned double-sided zipper is a convenient addition. The Houdini also includes an adjustable cinch cord at the waist of the jacket, as well as on the hood.
Equipped with just one moderately reflective logo on the left chest panel, low light and nighttime visibility from the back or sides is lacking. The lack of reflective markings can be offset slightly through some of the vibrant colors offered, which do help a bit with low light visibility.
As our Best Buy Winner for an Ultralight Model, we absolutely think the Houdini is a killer value. With excellent wind and weather protection, a high level of comfort, and an amazingly low weight that is among the lightest on the market, this jacket is also one of the most affordable products in our lineup. Not only is the Houdini an effective running layer, but it lends itself to almost any outdoor activity you can think of, making it an incredible value.
The Patagonia Houdini has mastered the ability to disappear into your running pack or backpack and appear when the moment is just right. While this layer might not be our first choice for a dedicated urban environment jacket or during especially inclement weather, it is a "quiver killer" for lightweight warmth and protection while out on the trails. There are certainly jackets available with greater breathability and jackets with a higher level of weather protection, but the Houdini performs notably well with one of the lowest price tags in our review, earning our Best Value for an Ultralight Model Award.
— Nick Bruckbauer & Brian Martin