If simplicity, functionality, and versatility are at the top of your must-have list for a running jacket, the 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 hungry for a high level of wind protection in a lightweight dinner roll sized package, get the Country Crock out of the fridge and slather the Houdini with some buttery love. Sorry, we don't even know what we're saying when we get this excited about a jacket..
The Houdini is one of our all-time favorite jackets. Year after year it keeps pace with the competition at a reasonable price.
At first glance, the lack of mesh material or vents on the Houdini might give the impression that it won't breathe well, but this isn't the case. The thin material allows for enough heat and moisture transfer that you stay relatively dry and comfortable unless you're really cranking. If you are really cranking, however, you will start to notice it's not perfect.
During all except our most punishing efforts, the Houdini proved to be able to air dry effectively. Biking around southern Utah, running around the Wasatch, or just out on casual hikes in the mountains, this piece does everything you would expect. As a dedicated running jacket, however, there are some options in this review that offer nearly identical protection from the environment with just a hint of extra breathability and venting.
While not the most breathable jacket on the market, the quick-drying and air-permeable material is adequate for most activities.
The bulk of single-layer synthetic running jackets we tested have a DWR coating to help shield the user from moisture as well as tightly woven material to shield the wind. The Houdini proved to have a slight advantage over many single layer jackets as the omission of vents or mesh panels keeps wind and moisture from howling through. The Houdini also has an ample hood size that accommodates anything from a bald head to a climbing or cycling helmet with an easy to use cinch to keep everything in place.
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 blast 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.
Out of the package, the DWR treatment of the Houdini performs quite well. After months of testing, the DWR definitely needs to be reapplied as water has started to soak through quickly.
Comfort and Mobility
The Houdini magically dances the fine line between offering ample comfort and mobility without dipping into the ultra-expensive fringe designs that do enhance comfort but also enhance cost — a lot. Zeroing in on stitching and seams — a common problem area for comfort — the Houdini utilizes a folded seam which both creates a protrusion and keeps thread obscured and away from skin. This represents a middle ground between highly comfortable taped seams and super cheap chainsaw seams with exposed stitching. This middle ground makes for all-day comfort at a fraction of the price.
While we typically find garments from Patagonia to be a bit on the snug side, the Houdini seems to be made with movement and layering in mind. Our 5'11", 175lb tester found the size large worked perfectly with everything from a running shirt underneath to a thicker hooded sun-shirt. Ultimately, the large gusseted side panels, ample arm length, regular fit, and soft seam design make a really comfortable jacket.
Having spent hours upon hours running and climbing in our Houdini, it's safe to say it offers an unencumbered range of motion. It may not be the most comfortable jacket out there, but it is certainly adequate for most activities.
The Houdini is easily one of the most portable running jackets we tested this go-around. The weight might as well be nothing as it feels light and airy when packed up.
The one chest pocket doubles as a stuff pouch that is perfectly sized to allow for quick and easy packing/unpacking. Additionally, this stuff pouch is equipped with a 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. Just like you don't know the power of the dark side until you see it, you don't know the frustration of a stow pouch with a single-sided zipper pull until you're on the trail struggling with one.
The Houdini, like its namesake implies, packs up perfectly into the storage pouch. The carabiner loop is sturdy and the pocket size allows for easy storage and deployment.
With the desired standard of day/night visibility being set with reflective 360-degree markings, the Houdini does fall a bit short. Equipped with just one reflective logo on the left chest panel, low light and nighttime visibility from the back or sides is lacking. The lacking reflective markings can be offset slightly through some of the vibrant colors offered, which do help a bit with low light visibility.
Even if using the brightest color version available, the Houdini is still lacking enough to give us pause recommending it as a dedicated urban environment running layer. As a trail running adventure jacket that occasionally crosses the road, the visibility is ample.
The Houdini could benefit from having extra reflective markings on each arm giving a greater degree of nighttime visibility. That being said, the overall visibility isn't too bad.
As our Best Buy Award Winner, we absolutely think the Houdini is a killer value. With excellent wind and weather protection, a high level of comfort, and some of the best portability we have seen in a running jacket, we would even be willing to pay more. Not only is the Houdini an effective running layer, it also lends itself to almost any outdoor activity you can think of.
The Patagonia Houdini has mastered the ability to disappear into your running pack or backpack and appear when the moment is right. While this layer might not be our first choice for a dedicated urban environment jacket, 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, especially when considering the affordable retail price tag.
The Houdini is basically an affordable swiss army knife of a jacket. We can't think of a situation where you would be bummed that you brought it along.