The Houdini's best attributes are its incredibly lightweight and super small packed size. It also features one of the best DWR coatings that we tested, giving you the confidence to go super light knowing that this jacket will keep you fairly dry in all but the worst of downpours. We liked this jacket best for climbing because it can take a beating when hanging on the back of the harness, unlike some other models.
In terms of the most important attributes of a wind jacket — wind resistance and breathability — the super thin Houdini has you covered. It features what we found to be a perfect balance between the two, meaning it is stout enough to hold up against a chilly wind but is also breathable enough that it makes a fantastic running shell. Regardless of your activity, there is hardly a better option than the Houdini, and there certainly isn't one for less money.
The Houdini is our favorite windbreaker. Despite its simplicity, is the standard setter for all forms of outdoor sports, whether climbing, biking, hiking, or trail running as we are here above the Devil's Cauldron on the coast of Oregon.
The Houdini is made of a very thin and lightweight nylon woven ripstop that is far less air permeable than the Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody or the Outdoor Research Tantrum II. It is downright difficult to force air through this material with one's mouth, and this simple test is definitely backed up by our field tests.
Having run in the mountains in this jacket for countless days over the course of many years, our head tester knows without a doubt that this jacket is a bombproof shelter from the wind.
With tightly woven 20D nylon, the Houdini is a solid shell to protect against the wind, as we tested on top of this pass in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
Breathability and Venting
For a jacket that is so tightly woven, the Houdini is surprisingly breathable. We found it to be about average among the test group, but certainly better than the similarly wind resistant Rab Vital Windshell.
One thing that we were a bit disappointed about is the lack of venting capabilities. With no pockets or underarm venting, there is really no way for trapped air to escape except through the fabric itself. The front zipper is the primary venting tool, but it would be nice if it also included the chest button that the Vital Windhsell features. Still, it does well in the breathability and venting rating.
At 3.7 ounces, this jacket was the second lightest in this review. Perhaps, more importantly, it was by far the smallest when stuffed into its chest pocket, a solid plus if you want to carry it with you on the back of a harness or pack.
Weight and Packability
Our size large Houdini weighed 3.7 ounces, the second lightest jacket in the review, behind only the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Jacket.
We awarded it a high score for its low, low weight, and because it packs down smaller than any other jacket. This is a real advantage, especially when climbing.
With only one small chest pocket that barely holds a small iPhone, and isn't large enough for a larger smartphone, this jackets feature set could certainly be termed minimalist.
Fit and Functionality
Our head tester is often on the edge of sizing in Patagonia clothing, and after testing a size medium Houdini last year, we decided to try out the large instead for this round. We are happy we did, as the large afforded a nearly perfect fit. It fits sleek to the body, as an athletic running layer should, and doesn't leave much room for layering beneath. That said, unlike when we tested smaller sizes in the past, we experienced no constrictions anywhere, and feel like both the chest and the sleeves are the perfect size and shape.
To keep it feather light, the Houdini has a minimal feature set. The wrist cuffs are half elastic, but do an excellent job of keeping the wind out. The hood is adequately tightened from behind with a single drawcord and cinch buckle. One complaint is that there is no mechanism for stowing away the hood. Having worn this jacket for years now, we find that the hood flaps incessantly in the wind when we are not wearing it, and we would love a way to fasten it tight, like the features found on the Marmot DriClime Ether or the Rab Vital Windshell.
The Houdini's hood is tightened by this single drawcord with a buckle on the back of the head that works pretty well to keep it secure in a stout wind.
There are no hand pockets on this jacket, and only a very small chest pocket, which the jacket stuffs into. Overall the features that were included worked well, but it was missing a few very easy additions that wouldn't cost anything in weight but would make the jacket much better for any activity.
Surprisingly, water resistance was one of the Houdini's strongest traits. Last year, we used this jacket on a week-long backpacking trip in the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado, comparing it side by side to its burlier counterpart (which has since been discontinued), the Alpine Houdini. While the methods the two jackets use to protect from the rain is completely different, we were shocked to find that the DWR coating employed on the Houdini was just as effective as the 2.5-layer waterproof/breathable membrane of the Alpine Houdini.
To back this up, we tested it side-by-side with the Rab Vital Windshell by dousing both with a garden hose and found the Houdini's DWR coating and water resistance was far superior.
The DWR coating applied to the single layer Houdini was the best one we encountered in testing. Water beaded up and mostly fell off. Some of the DWR did wear off over the course of three months of testing, which is to be expected.
Patagonia claims that the Houdini is the ultimate layer whether you are running, riding, or climbing, and we would have to agree. We have used it primarily for trail and mountain running for years, and also love it as a great emergency piece while hiking and peak bagging. There is not much in the way of outdoor activities that this jacket isn't good for.
Here running on yet another amazing coastal trail in Northern Oregon.
The Houdini retails for $99, roughly $20 more than our Best Bang for the Buck award-winning North Face Flyweight Hoodie. Despite costing a bit more, we think this jacket is one of the best value purchases you could make. If money is a concern, but you still want a top quality windbreaker, then look no further than the Houdini.
Harry Houdini was once the world's most famous magician. Patagonia's Houdini might make you feel like you are wearing his magic cape. Granting you the protection that is right up there with the best jackets in our review for less than the competition, we can't help but sing this amazing jacket's praises.
With a low cost and the best overall performance, we recommend the Houdini to anyone who wants to be happy!