Patagonia Houdini Air Review
Cons: Cold in a strong wind, expensive
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Patagonia Houdini Air is a layer that incorporates lightweight protection against the elements into maximum uphill performance. By opting for a texturized, recycled nylon fabric, the Houdini Air improves upon all of the pitfalls of the original — all of the swampy feel during high-exertion activity has been totally resolved in this version — but you will lose out on wind resistance. This jacket is also offered in a size and cut more in-line with standard Patagonia-fit, with a much more flattering figure and amazing next-to-skin softness.
Through all of our testing over the years, we've found that there is one part of material technology — at least when it comes to ultra-lightweight materials — that for now, is mutually exclusive. There simply isn't a material out there that allows for air passage one way, but not the other, and as a trade-off for unprecedented breathability, the Houdini Air sacrifices a level of wind resistance.
In our testing, the Houdini Air was one of the few jackets that was easy to force air through. While this initial finding was improved upon slightly during our field testing, we could easily feel the wind penetrate the thin nylon of this jacket — particularly the strong, cold gusts of fast-approaching storms. The jacket does employ single drawcords on the hem and hood, as well as elastic cuffs that help, in part, to batten down the hatches. However, there's no way getting around the fact that this jacket is much colder than its counter-part in a strong wind.
Breathability and Venting
On the other end of the spectrum from wind resistance, we have breathability, and in this sense, the Houdini Air is game-changing. Even at grueling levels of exertion, such as hill sprints, this jacket never built up any heat nor showed any signs of moisture retention. What may be most incredible is that this jacket achieves greatness in this category without any additional vents or mesh panels.
The texturized, recycled nylon works in synchronous with a lightweight baselayer to effectively wick up and evaporate sweat. Not to mention, this jacket feels great next-to-skin — no more feeling like you're wearing a trash bag while working hard.
What we found especially remarkable is that the Houdini Air works just as well as a midlayer, particularly in conjunction with an active insulation layer like a Polartec Alpha, or Patagonia Nano-Air. Most wind jackets are not breathable enough to be layered over without turning your well-tuned layering system into a sweat-suit — but this jacket could be continuously and comfortably worn throughout the costume changes of an alpine epic.
Weight and Packability
Tipping the scales at an even quarter-pound, the Houdini Air is the third lightest wind jacket in this review. Thanks to the recycled nylon build, it feels substantially lighter than its non-post-industrial counterparts, both in your hand and on your body.
Packed down into its chest pocket, you have a parcel small enough to fit into a running vest or into a small saddle bag, with room to keep your spare tube and multi-tool in there as well. This is thanks to a slightly smaller chest pocket — but one that is still big enough to fit your phone, if you position it correctly.
Fit and Functionality
As simply well-designed as the original, the Houdini Air doesn't attempt to change any part of that artful construction. Less-is-more when it comes to this athletically cut wind jacket — and thanks to the soft and airy next-to-skin feel of texturized recycled nylon, you end up with a lot more when it comes to both comfort and athletic performance.
This jacket sports a slimmer cut and doesn't flare at the waistline as much as its counterpart. We found the Houdini Air to be more flattering on the street, better fitting underneath a waistbelt, and less prone to billowing in a strong wind. The material construction is movement-friendly, affording a nice bit of stretch for long reaches and awkward twisting motions — all of these points, taken together, make it a no-brainer to hang-on your climbing harness with its reinforced clip-in loop.
The Houdini Air is not outright one of the more weather-resistant options in this review, but does a good job in light precipitation — especially considering the thin nylon used in its ultralight construction. The jacket sports a slight DWR finish that is more suited to a heavy fog than a quick-passing thunderstorm.
Water droplets bead and roll over the jacket with ease. But any continuous water pressure, either from a consistent rainfall or just from leaning up against a wet surface, causes the material to quickly soak through.
For the fast-and-light crowd, price often isn't a factor if a new piece of gear equates to shaving seconds off of their ultra-run or ski-mo times. For those folks, this jacket may just be the versatile layer that has been missing from their kit. But for a large portion of the recreational crowd, it will be tough to justify the price tag attached to this jacket — especially if they are looking to buy a wind-resistant jacket and not an adaptable midlayer.
If it were not for the cutbacks in wind resistance, the Patagonia Houdini Air could have easily taken the top spot in our review. But alas, this is a review of wind jackets — and as much as we love this jacket for its uphill performance and versatility in transition, it simply will not keep you as protected from the elements as the original.
— Aaron Rice