The Patagonia Houdini is not only the least expensive windbreaker in this review — it's also the best. With a list price of $99 and a model that is a standard setter for the genre, it's easy for us to call it our Editor's Choice. We also think that it is the best choice among the jackets that we reviewed for all-day rock climbing missions. It is super lightweight, fits like a glove, and stuffs into its own chest pocket smaller than any other jacket. Clipped on the back of your harness, you will have no idea that this jacket is even there — until you need it when the sun sinks behind the top of the wall and you are in the breezy shade for the rest of the day. We think this jacket is fit for almost any outdoor activity, whether trail running, mountain biking, or hiking, and are thrilled that a product this versatile is available for this cheap.
Patagonia Houdini Review
Cons: No way to stow hood away, a bit too snug for layering beneath.
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Our Analysis and Test Results
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 the confidence to go super light knowing that this jacket will keep you dry in all but the worst of downpours. We liked this jacket better for climbing simply because of the fact that hanging on the back of the harness, it can take a beating against the rock, 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. And indeed, running seems to be the primary target audience for this jacket. 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 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 testing. 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. We awarded this jacket eight out of a possible 10 for wind resistance.
Breathability and Venting
For a jacket that is so tightly woven, the Houdini is surprisingly breathable. We found it to be about average amongst the test group, but certainly better than the fully waterproof/breathable Patagonia Alpine Houdini. One thing that we were a bit disappointed about was the lack of venting capabilities. With no pockets and no 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 for a running specific jacket, as Patagonia purports this one to be, it would be nice if it also included the chest button that the Salomon Fast Wing Hoodie features. We awarded this jacket seven out of 10 points for Breathability and Venting.
Weight and Packability
Our size medium Houdini weighed 3.5 ounces, the third lightest jacket in the review, behind only the Salomon Fast Wing Hoodie and the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Jacket. We awarded it eight out of 10 points for this low, low weight, but bumped it up another point because it packs down smaller than any other jacket. This is a real advantage, especially when climbing.
Fit and Functionality
While we bought size large in almost every jacket that we tested for this review, we purchased size medium for Patagonia jackets, because we find that their sizing is a bit too large for us in almost every case. Our size medium Houdini was the slimmest and tightest jacket in this test. It fits very snuggly around the torso, and in our case was even a little tight in the chest. This is one jacket that we could have stood to size up perhaps. However, despite the constrictions around the torso and chest, we felt that the hem length and sleeve lengths were perfect. Regardless, this is a tight fitting jacket that doesn't leave much room at all for layering beneath, and that we would love to see made with stretchy fabric.
In order to keep it feather light, the Houdini has a minimal feature set. The wrist cuffs are half elastic, but do a good job of keeping the weather 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 what was included on the Alpine Houdini.
There are no hand pockets on this jacket, and only a very small chest pocket, which of course the jacket stuffs into. Overall we felt that 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 running.
Surprisingly, water resistance was one of the Houdini's strongest traits. 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, the Alpine Houdini. While the method they 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. In our shower test, we found that the DWR coating plus the tight nylon weave was very effective at repelling water, with no soak through or absorption whatsoever, even after living through the abrasion and wear of four months of testing. Nine out of 10 points.
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. Really, there is not much in the way of outdoor activities that this jacket isn't good for.
The Houdini retails for $99, tied for the lowest price of any jacket we tested. We think this presents such a great value that we slapped our Best Bang for the Buck Award on it. If money is a concern, but you still want a top quality wind breaker, 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.
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Most recent review: October 20, 2016
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