Like many of the windbreakers that we tested in this review, this jacket has a specifically designed purpose that is accomplished very well, while its inherent design features limit it from being applicable for many other uses. If you are looking for a very packable emergency jacket to clip to your harness while attempting large alpine climbs in Rocky Mountain National Park or the Bugaboos, this is a great fit for you. If you stand a legitimate chance of getting very soaked on your big day, then this jacket will without a doubt keep you warmer and drier than any other that we tested.
That said, this really is more of a rain jacket than a windbreaker, like its Houdini moniker would suggest. The 2.5 layer waterproof/breathable construction has the severe limitation of not breathing anywhere close to as well as any other jacket we tried, and it will set you back a couple big bills — double the cost of the Houdini. Running or even hiking uphill in this jacket left us a sweaty, sloppy mess inside this greenhouse of a jacket. It fits really large, so much so that we had to size down, and could still layer underneath. And while it does have some useful features, like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Jacket, they mostly don't work quite as well as they were intended.
On the summit of Mt. Eolus, a 14er in the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado, with Mt. Sunlight and Mt. Windom behind in the distance. This jacket kept us comfortable on this cool and breezy day when rain was threatening.
We rated this jacket as tied for the second-best wind resistance in our review, equal to the insulated dual-layered Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Pro. This can certainly be attributed to its laminated 2.5 layer construction, which is simply thicker, heavier, and much less air permeable than the lighter weight single layer nylon windbreakers it is competing against. In fact, it was the top performer for a non-insulated jacket. If protection from the wind, especially a cold wind, is an absolute priority than this jacket is a good choice. Nine out of 10 points.
The beefier 2.5 layer construction of the Alpine Houdini meant that it did a better job of keeping out the wind than many of the thinner and lighter wind breakers in the test. It is designed much larger than the Houdini, so layers can be worn underneath. Here we are testing in a freezing cold autumn wind at 12,500 ft. and freezing.
Breathability and Venting
We field tested this jacket by taking it on a week and a half long backpacking and running trip in the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado during the middle of summer. On the way, we encountered some very hot weather, surprisingly cold weather, a lot of wind, and tons of rain. We also brought a Patagonia Houdini and compared them side-by-side daily. What we found was that this layer was not very breathable at all compared to the Houdini, its burly construction trapped heat and moisture. We would go so far as to say that this was the worst performer in terms of breathability in this test, and it also didn't include any features designed to aid in venting, except for the obligatory front zipper. This jacket is simply not capable of mitigating the heat and moisture output of high energy activities. Five out of 10.
While we did some running in the Alpine Houdini, here high up in Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado, we didn't like it much for that purpose. Its 2.5 layer waterproof membrane makes it heavy and significantly less breathable than we like for running.
Fit and Functionality
Make no mistake, the Alpine Houdini does not fit anything at all like the regular Houdini. We found it to be so large that we were forced to size down to a medium, and even then there was plenty of room underneath for layering with a warmth layer. Luckily, we didn't find it to be so bulky as to inhibit movement, but it could be better.
The hood of this jacket is cinched up with a single draw cord in the back and offers good protection. One of our complaints was that the front zipper is very hard to manipulate, as it is very stiff, and didn't like to zip all the way up to the mouth, like in this photo.
Besides breathability, our main complaints about this jacket had to do with the features. While we liked the fact that the hood is big enough to go over a helmet, and that the elastic cuffs actually gripped around our wrists to keep out the elements, we hated the excessiveness of the front zipper. No zipper was more difficult to manipulate, and by that, we mean simply moving it up and down. We realize that it's coated for better waterproof-ness, but it felt like it had honey on it or something. Also, we found that the zipper continually stuck in the fabric folds around the face at the top of the neck. We liked that the hood has a "cord and hook" design to help it stow away, but our experience with this method is that there was no way we could do it without taking the jacket off (impractical) and it still left lots of hoods bulkily exposed due to the placement of the hook on the hood drawcord. We were always left wishing we could tuck it much more away. We also felt that the waistline drawcord needed two hands, usually, to manipulate due to the end of the cord being sewed way up into the inside of the jacket. For such a simple design there were a lot of things that didn't function smoothly as butter. Six out of 10 points.
The hood draw cord on the Alpine Houdini comes with a hook tab that allows you to stow the hood rolled up like shown. This system didn't work very well, because the hood draw cord was too long and loose for this purpose. It was also extremely difficult to attach or detach this hook while wearing the jacket.
The waist line drawcord on this jacket includes the sew-in loop that helps keep the extra cord from dangling down below the hemline.
Without a doubt, this was the most water resistant windbreaker in this review, and we resoundingly granted a perfect 10 score. Besides the waterproof/breathable membrane, we also thought that DWR coating applied to the exterior of the shell did an awesome job at repelling water, even after months of abuse. This jacket gives you the performance of a rain jacket, which it is, but also comes at that price.
The Alpine Houdini treads the line between wind breaker and simple rain jacket. On this backpacking trip to Sunlight Lakes, we brought two wind breakers, but always ended up wearing this one when it was raining.
Weight and Packability
Our size medium Alpine Houdini weighed in at 6.9 ounces fresh, ever so slightly higher than the mark advertised on Patagonia.com. While this makes it one of the heavier jackets in the review, it is still lighter than the insulated windbreakers. It also stacks up very well as among the very lightest rain jackets that we have tested in our Best Rain Jacket for Men Review.
When it came to packability, we were very impressed by how small this jacket compresses down to when stuffed into its chest pocket. This is a very big positive because when you want to clip it to your harness, size matters. That said, we didn't give it any bonus points in this department because we found it very difficult to stuff. It took us both time and effort to get this jacket into its very tiny pocket, and we think that could be detrimental if hanging off the side of the Diamond, if choosing to break it out or stuff it back down repeatedly over the course of a day, or if you are wearing gloves (in which case it may be impossible). Five out of 10 points.
The ten wind breakers in this review stuffed into their pockets', from left to right: Sierra Designs Exhale Windhirt (green) does not fit into a pocket, Marmot Ether DriClime Hoody (orange), Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Pro (light orange), Patagonia Alpine Houdini (navy, discontinued), Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Jacket (glossy black), Salomon Fast Wing Hoodie (neon green, discontinued) Patagonia Houdini (black), Rab Windveil (white mesh), Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody (brown), Outdoor Research Tantrum (neon yellow).
Like we mentioned above, and as Patagonia has advertised, the Alpine Houdini is best suited as a climbing shell that can hang on the harness for all-day alpine missions. In places where rain is certainly possible, and the wind might be cold, then this jacket provides a fantastic security blanket. Due to the fact that it essentially a very lightweight rain jacket, we also liked it as our shell on a backpacking trip. That said, it breathes very poorly, and so we wouldn't use it like we would a typical windbreaker and don't think its super ideal for hiking, running, or biking.
The Alpine Houdini is really nice when you know that you are going to get wet. It protects from the rain better than any other jacket in this review, and here we are happy to have it as the light sprinkles get us wet in the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado.
This jacket retails at $200, although you may still be able to find older models for less money on closeout. Not only does this make it far and away the most expensive jacket in this review — the Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody was second at a mere $159 — but also puts it at the top of the price chart for rain jackets as well. If you really need a jacket with these specific characteristics to accomplish alpine climbing glory, then it may be worth it. But frankly, we think this jacket is overpriced for what it brings to the table, and especially in comparison to all of the windbreakers and rain jackets we have tested over the years.
The Patagonia Alpine Houdini is a much different jacket than the Patagonia Houdini. It is far more waterproof, fits a lot larger for layering underneath, and doesn't breathe nearly as well. It is a rain jacket that also protects well from the wind but isn't a good choice as an only layer for high output activities like running and biking. It is also very expensive. For those who can't live without a very lightweight and highly water resistant shelter for big climbs on big peaks, this is a great jacket. But for everyone else, there are better options at better prices.
The battle of getting on a wind breaker in the wind. The best strategy is to quickly get one arm through a sleeve, so the jacket doesn't blow away. Finding the second sleeve as it flaps around can be the real trick.