Patagonia Houdini Full-Zip
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $60 (on sale)
The Patagonia Houdini is a very light wind shell that has served me well in cold windy conditions and light drizzle. It well deserves the 5-star rating I gave it. Conditions like those in the photo are perfect for windshirts. Windshirts can be worn over fleece, softshells, sweaters, and other clothing to block wind while still providing lots of breathability. They often provide some water repellency adequate for a light drizzle and dry rapidly. They are usually very light and can be stuffed readily in a pocket (including their own pocket).
The photo below was taken during our annual New Years Day hike. In this case, we hiked up Black Mountain with a temperature of 27°F and a gentle wind of 18-23 knots, measured with the Kestrel 4500 I am holding in the photo. There were some small patches of snow under the trees remaining from the snowfall of the night before.
- Very light, even compared to other windshirts
- Windproof up to 30 knot winds during testing
- Very breathable without windchill
- Full zip front allows good ventilation control
- Stuffs into its own pocket, very compactly
- Pocket zipper has tabs inside and out for easy opening and closing when stuffed
- Patagonia’s proprietary DWR provides some water repellency
- Hood fits over helmet
- Lacks handwarmer pockets
- Thin fabric can be snagged in dense brush
- Sleeves have sewn-in elastic, which is likely to lose elasticity with time, especially in very cold weather.
Over the years, I had fallen into the habit of using my Goretex and eVent expedition parkas as the do-all outer shells. I found, as many others have, that even the best “waterproof/breathable” fabrics are not very breathable when carrying a full expedition pack, even with the pit zips fully open.
When I was in Antarctica in 2006, my friend Damien Gildea (the 6ft7in tall fellow to my right in the photo below) pointed out to me that in places like Antarctica where the temperature is so low that you do not have liquid precipitation, you don’t need the waterproof qualities. A light windshell is all that is needed. Damien is wearing the half-zip pullover version. Mt. Vinson is the peak in the background. I was wearing a GTX outer shell in the photo.
Patagonia is a company which has been around for many years. They are based in Ventura, California, although much of their clothing is manufactured in Asia. The company, founded and still run by the famous climber, Yvon Chouinard, is very environmentally conscious. They are also one of the leaders in vetting their off-shore suppliers.
I have owned and heavily used a number of their items on Denali in Alaska, Kilimanjaro in Africa, several Andean peaks in South America, and Mt. Vinson in Antarctica, as well as winter snowshoe and backcountry ski trips. I have found their gear to be well made and durable, plus their sizes fit me pretty well. Their gear has become so popular, due to its wide-spread use among climbers, that many non-climbers who want to look “outdoorsy” buy it, leading to the name being twisted into “Patagucci”.
When I returned from Antarctica, I went to my local Patagonia store, but found that they were out of stock of the Houdini, one of their more popular items. A few months later, while in Salt Lake at the Outdoor Retailer Show, I stopped into the SLC Patagonia Outlet store, and discovered they had a Houdini in my size, plus were having one of their annual 40% off sales. Just what I wanted.
The Houdini is not waterproof, but that is not what I was looking for. They use a proprietary DWR that has worked very well in practice in drizzles and in snowy conditions (including fairly wet Sierra snowstorms). The regular Patagonia prices are quite high. But the frequent sales in their outlet stores are large enough markdowns, combined with the quality of most of their gear plus environmental consciousness that I have acquired a number of their items (last month I found a Micro Puff jacket in their Reno Outlet with combined markdowns of 40% +30% - be forewarned, though, the Outlets usually have only XS, XL, and XXL sizes unless you luck out as I did).
Details of testing
I wore the Houdini during many outings, including month-long expeditions like my return to the Andes this year, winter camping during cold but dry spells in the Sierra, Cascades, and Wasatch, as well as bicycling during the winter months. I did encounter some spells of drizzle, despite trying to stay with dry spells, and encountered lots of cold winds with measured windchill factors well into the subzero range. I did several ice climbs in which I needed my helmet, with the hood up in the wind when belaying.
The sewn-on hood fits over the helmet, though not as completely as my wpb shells. There is an elastic drawcord to tighten the fit around the helmet or your head when not wearing a helmet. As is common for windshirts, there is no storage pocket for the hood. Only one of my windshirts, an ancient REI one, has a place to stash the hood. But it is easy enough to just tuck the hood into the back of the neck area.
The jacket can be stuffed into the chest pocket. The zipper on the pocket has pulls on both sides, making it easy to close and open the pocket when the jacket is stuffed into it. Next to the zipper when the Houdini is stuffed into its pocket is a loop which can be used to clip the Houdini with a small carabiner/clip to your belt or pack strap.
There is also a drawcord elastic in the skirt of the jacket, which helps keep the cold wind from blowing in. The sleeves, on the other hand, have sewn-in elastic, which I suspect will lose its elasticity with time.
The Patagonia Houdini windshell performed as advertised. It kept the wind at bay, but breathed well enough during spells of heavy exercise carrying a full expedition pack, as well as climbing steep hills on my bicycle or in cool weather.
Many people try to lighten their packs by making a gtx shell serve multiple functions. However, at just over 4 ounces, the Houdini is more comfortable than a gtx shell when getting warm from exertion on steep hills and heavy pack, even with the pit zips of the gtx, for a tiny cost in weight. Plus the wind shell can serve as an emergency backup. My only real quibble (aside from the exorbitant retail price, which is obviated by the frequent Outlet Store sales) is that the thin fabric potentially might not stand up to heavy bushwhacking.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $100 (on sale)
A must carry item, whether it has an intended purpose on your trip or it is just a backup.
- Effective wind stopper
- Tight fit stuffed into chest pocket
I purchased the Houdini with mountain fishing in mind. Almost every time I'm out in my packraft on a mountain lake there is some form of wind or sun that is inescapable due to being out in the open. Even on a sunny day, the wind can send you back to shore because it can bring a real chill factor.
The first time that I used the Houdini it made a significant difference in blocking out the cold wind and also the constant beating sun. The jacket is light enough to wear even on warmer days and stands up to the challenge of heavier winds and light precipitation.
I found that my wife would steal it out of my pack whenever we arrived at a lake, so I had to get her one too. The adjustable hood is another big advantage over other wind shirts with a generic hood.
I highly recommend this jacket.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $47
The end all of windbreakers.
Patagonia may not have invented the windbreaker, but they have perfected it. This is one of the products in my mind that define the standard for their category. It packs up incredibly small, and is very light. I use this as my go-to jacket for windy, chilly (40-55) days when I am pushing a stroller, carrying a pack, or otherwise being active and healthy.
This jacket packs about the size of a can of soda, mine is a size L. It blocks wind very well, the hood is perfect, and it breathes very well. All of this and style is to be expected of Patagonia, and this jacket does not disappoint. Best for drizzly days backpacking, foggy walks, windy ridges in the spring and fall, and brisk walks in the early morning.
I have many jackets, but this is in the "if I only had five jackets" section of my heart.
Price Paid: $125
less truly can be more; this might be the perfect wind shirt. it weighs next to nothing, about four ounces. It stops moderate wind, it breathes as well as any nylon shell i have owned, and it repels light rain and mist via a good dwr coating. the sizing is loose without being baggy - you can wear a base layer and light fleece underneath.
the operative word is "simple." it has a full length zipper. the hood adjusts easily and very well via one toggle behind your head, and the shock-corded hem adjusts via another single toggle. it has one small zippered chest pocket that converts to storage - the entire jacket fits in a pocket the size of a softball.
the super lightweight fabric has a subtle grid pattern that is surprisingly tough. if you care, it has a small nylon loop that you can use to attach the jacket, stuffed into its own pocket, to your pack with a carabiner.
don't expect this jacket to keep you dry in a sustained hard rain, and don't expect it to stop really strong winds - that's why we have gore tex, eVent, or similar waterproof/breathable shells. i wouldn't choose this jacket for bushwhacking, but i think it's surprisingly durable. also, the price is kind of steep for a wind shell.
on the other hand, this jacket may be more versatile than any other shell you can get for three-season use, and you may find yourself using it more than any other shell you own.
Price Paid: $120
Best backpacking jacket I've ever owned. I am trying to go lighter and this one fits the bill. It is super light, compressible. It is everything it says it is in the description. It folds into nothing in its own built-in pocket. It repels rain, but is not completely waterproof; if you wear layers though, which most packers usually do, this is no problem.
It dries REALLY fast. I would say that for 20 minutes of moderate rain you will feel no water. And I mean 20 minutes of moderate rain with a driving wind!! I tried it. A downpour would require the second layer of wicking material to help with water dispersal and warmth.
If you can believe it, the hood is actually spacious! It is extra long at the back so water doesn't follow your pack down to your butt. There are drawstrings in the hood and at your waist, which are built so as to stay out of your way. I am so impressed with this critter, that I'm going to buy another one this year in case they are gone one day.
Which brings me to my one and only criticism of the product: Patagonia items such as this are hard to get in Canada!! I had to special order this one. I encounter a lot of rain and snow where I go packing, and I would still consider this jacket a viable lightweight alternative to the usually sweaty, bulky, stiff and unenjoyable rain jackets out there.