The Patagonia Houdini is the highest rated wind jacket in this review; amazingly, it is also one of the most affordable. This piece sets the standard for this category, so it should be no surprise that we have awarded it our Editors' Choice. It is super lightweight, has an impressive DWR coating, and packs down into its own chest pocket to about the size of an apple. Clipped on the back of your harness, you will have no idea that this jacket is even there — until you break it out when the sun sinks behind the top of the wall. Not just a great option for all-day rock-climbing missions, this jacket holds its own during any outdoor activity.
Patagonia Houdini Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Low price, simple and effective design, tiny packed-size, impressive DWR coating
Cons: No feature to stow-away hood, thin material can feel clammy during high-output activity
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Houdini is best known as an incredibly lightweight and packable wind jacket. It also features one of the best DWR coatings that we tested, giving you the confidence to go with it as your only layer, knowing that this versatile jacket will keep you dry enough to keep going in all but the worst of downpours. We liked this jacket for climbing because of its durability — it can take a beating hanging off the back of your harness.
In terms of the most important attributes of a wind jacket — wind resistance and breathability --, the Houdini sets a category standard. It is stout enough to hold up against a chilly wind on a ski tour but is also breathable enough that it makes a fantastic running shell. This jacket truly impresses with its ability to balance these two characteristics that might seem mutually exclusive. Regardless of your activity, there is hardly a better option than the Houdini.
The Houdini is made of a super-thin, lightweight nylon-ripstop that is impressively wind resistant. 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. In a side-by-side test riding a bike down a long hill, we found that this jacket is on-par with other nylon-ripstop layers, and only slightly more air permeable than insulated options.
While this jacket is not at the top of our wind resistance ratings, it balances certain qualities that make it superior to other jackets in this review. For instance, the Houdini might not be as wind resistant as other nylon builds, but it is much more breathable. Having worn this jacket in the mountains 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.
Breathability and Venting
For a jacket that is so tightly woven, the Houdini is surprisingly breathable. During extended, high-output activities like ski touring, the jacket never felt heavy with heat. This jacket also has a magical quality, where it seems to dry off on your body — both in a constant wind, or when you are in motion, like on a ski descent. Even on trail runs through the desert, the Houdini does a great job of managing body temperature.
One thing that we were a bit disappointed with is the Houdini's lack of venting capability. With no pockets or underarm venting, there is really no way for trapped air to escape except through the fabric itself, which sometimes results in the arms feeling clammy with perspiration. The front zipper is the primary venting tool, or pushing up the sleeves — but we found this to be uncomfortable on trail runs due to the tightness of the half-elastic wrist cuff around our forearms. However, this slight criticism is not enough to knock any points off the Houdini's breathability and venting rating.
Weight and Packability
Our size large Houdini weighed 3.9 ounces, one of the lightest jacket in the review, despite its larger size — the majority of jackets we have included are mediums.
The Houdini receives high marks for its remarkably low weight and superb packability. It is actually tough to say which of the other lightest jackets packs up the smallest, but all are great options for hanging off the back of a climbing harness.
Fit and Functionality
Our head tester is often on the edge of sizing in Patagonia clothing. After testing a size medium Houdini in the past, we decided to try out the large instead for this round. We are happy we did, as the large afforded a nearly perfect fit. This jacket is well-mapped and fits like an athletic layer, but still affords ample room for movement in the arms and shoulders, which is particularly important when it comes to rock climbing other alpine sports. This jacket is not quite as slim as previous versions and does allow for some layering underneath. But is better suited to be worn over a fleece like a Patagonia R1, rather than a bulkier synthetic midlayer.
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. We found this half-elastic design to be uncomfortably tight around our forearms when pushed up to help with ventilation on trail runs. The hood is adequately tightened from behind with a single drawcord and cinch buckle, but one complaint is that there is no mechanism for stowing away the hood when not in use. We found that the hood readily flaps around in the wind, and can act like a sail with the speed of a ski descent. We would love a way to fasten it tight so that it isn't as prone to billowing.
There are no hand pockets on this jacket. While the historically small chest pocket — which doubles as a stuff sack — has been updated to fit the increasing size of modern smartphones, don't plan on much carrying-capacity. Overall the features are simple and work well for a light, emergency shell that can be easily deployed on a moment's notice.
Water resistance is one of the Houdini's strongest traits, surprisingly so because of its lightweight construction. A few years ago, we used this jacket on a week-long backpacking trip in the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado, comparing it side by side to a burlier jacket sporting a 2.5-layer waterproof/breathable membrane. While the methods the two jackets use to ward off the rain is completely different, we were amazed to find that the DWR coating employed on the Houdini was just as effective.
To back this up, we tested it side-by-side with similarly weighted wind jackets, by using a garden hose to simulate a rain shower. Despite the fact that the thin material tends to stick to the body under the weight of falling water, we found that the Houdini's water resistance was far superior to any other ultralight jacket in our review.
During a day of gardening, we found ourselves caught out in a light rainstorm while wearing the Houdini. With only a t-shirt underneath, this jacket kept us relatively warm, and certainly dry enough to continue work. When the rain began to pick up after about a half-hour, we layered up with an additional rain jacket, and were happy to notice that the Houdini did not feel clammy to wear as a midlayer — even after it had been subjected to a significant amount of precipitation.
Patagonia claims that the Houdini is the ultimate layer whether you are running, riding, or climbing, and we would have to agree. We think this jacket is one of the best value purchases you could make because of its outstanding weather resistance and lightweight packability — perfect as an emergency piece to stash in your pack for almost any adventure. If money is something of a concern, but you still want a top-quality wind jacket, then look no further than the Houdini.
Harry Houdini was once the world's most famous magician — the Patagonia Houdini might make you feel like you are wearing his magic cape. With this jacket stashed away in the corner of your pack, or on your harness, you can be certain that you will be carrying the weather protection you need for almost any adventure. With a wind and water resistance that ranks right up there with the hardiest jackets in our review, but in a package that is both lighter and less costly than much of the competition, we can't help but sing this amazing jacket's praises.
— Aaron Rice