Gear Review: The Patagonia Houdini Jacket

I'll preface this review by saying I have never been a fan of trail running jackets. Everything I've had in the past has either been too warm, too clammy, or too bulky to be versatile. I typically just stick to long sleeve t-shirts or hit the trail when it's cold enough to need a bulky jacket the entire run.

Also great for skiing.
Due to my previous experience with running jackets, I was hesitant about trusting the ultra-thin Patagonia Houdini jacket as my wind AND insulating layer the first time out. After 15 minutes, though, I was hooked. I've had the jacket for about almost two weeks now and have used it running, cycling, hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, and as my "lifestyle" jacket at the local bar.

Patagonia markets the jacket to trail runners, mostly, so I'll start there. So far I've gone on two or three runs with it in a few different conditions and been mostly happy with it's performance.

The first real running test I put the Houdini through was a trail run up Mt. Sentinel in Missoula. We spent the first half of the run gaining approximately 2000 feet in a protected canyon before descending the windy face back to town. I started out with the jacket on due to the 30 degree weather, but began to overheat a short distance into the climb. With past jackets I have struggled to take them off while running and then have to awkwardly tie them around my waist while trying not to trip over myself. Compared to that the Houdini was as easy as store bought pie (easier than normal pie). I was able to remove the jacket and pack it into its own pocket and keep a decent running pace, all while wearing gloves. Then before the descent I easily removed it from it's pocket and was ready to go. Down the windy face the jacket protected me just enough to keep from freezing despite the sweat I had worked up on the climb. First run: A+

The second run I did with the jacket was a hill repeat session in a light rain/snow storm. I knew going into this that the jacket is NOT completely waterproof and is intended as a lightweight shell for active activities so I wasn't expecting to be completely dry, but I wanted to see just how wet I would get after 90 minutes in sprinkling flurries. I was also curious how much I would overheat if I tried to do repeats in the jacket, since I do heat up quite a bit. Surprisingly I didn't get too hot. I was a little warmer than I would have preferred, but the sleeves also kept the cold water from freezing my bare arms.

Flying snow slides right off
Towards the end of that workout I began to see the waterproof limitations of the jacket. The fabric started sticking to my arms and became translucent. Despite that I still stayed warm enough to go on a long cool down and make it back to the house. My t-shirt underneath was damp, but I think that was more from sweat, rather than rain soaking through, and the same situation may have been going on with my arms. Second run: A-

At the end of the week I went on a short road ride with Sara, and threw on the jacket over a long sleeve bike jersey to see if that would be enough to keep me warm. It was 35 degrees when we set out and got colder during the two hour ride. The shell worked perfect as a wind stopper and my core stayed plenty warm. At higher speeds it flapped around a bit, but I do have a half size too large, and I think any jacket with a hood is going to flap on the bike. Nature of the beast. After first ride: A.

Over the weekend I went on a long adventure in the snow up the Stuart Peak trail in the Rattlesnake Wilderness. The Houdini jacket served as my outer layer over a long sleeve t-shirt for much of the excursion. Once I got up into the snow I put on the jacket to protect from the moisture and when I'd hit snow on tree branches it just slid off. When I snowshoe downhill I tend to flip a lot of snow onto my back and arms, which can melt then refreeze if it's able to cling to my layers. With the Houdini the snow continued to slide off the entire two hours downhill. Snowshoeing A+

The one feature I have missed a couple times is a good pocket. I would have liked a place to stow a pair of gloves a couple times, but instead had to carry them since the only pocket is on the chest. The tradeoff of no pockets is the ability to pack smaller, which is nice, but the pockets would come in handy as well.

After a full week of use I can honestly say that Patagonia has changed my mind about trail running jackets. The Houdini will stay in my go-bag for any adventure for the foreseeable future.

Important features:

-Water Resistant, DWR finish
-Ultralight 4oz shell jacket