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Patagonia Houdini Air Review

An ultralight, breathable, versatile layer for those who live by the mantra of fast-and-light
Patagonia Houdini Air
Photo: Backcountry
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $170 List | $169.00 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Ultimate breathability, next-to-skin softness
Cons:  Cold in a strong wind, expensive
Manufacturer:   Patagonia
By Aaron Rice ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 18, 2020
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77
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 11
  • Wind Resistance - 30% 6
  • Breathability and Venting - 30% 10
  • Weight and Packability - 20% 8
  • Fit and Functionality - 10% 7
  • Water Resistance - 10% 6

Our Verdict

Love your Patagonia Houdini, but always wished it was more breathable? Well, here's your magic lamp — the Patagonia Houdini Air. This wind jacket builds upon our Editors' Choice Award winner, bringing to the table unmatched breathability and next-to-skin comfort. But remember, all of Genie's wishes have pitfalls, and with this one wish you're going to have to trade-in some wind resistance to improve upon all of the long-standing criticisms we've had for the Houdini. But if your athletic ambitions aim for fast-and-light, and you're willing to carry an additional lightweight rain jacket, we've found that the Houdini Air is a unique piece to add to your kit — a wind jacket that doubles remarkably well as a midlayer.

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Patagonia Houdini Air
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award   Top Pick Award 
Price $169.00 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Ultimate breathability, next-to-skin softnessLow price, simple and effective design, tiny packed-size, impressive DWR coatingLightest in the category, tiny packed size, larger chest pocketWell-ventilated, body-mapped Merino panelsLots of zippered pockets, ease of packing, elastic brim
Cons Cold in a strong wind, expensiveNo feature to stow-away hood, thin material can feel clammy during high-output activitySee-through material, under-performing DWR fabricLack of drawcords, billowyGoofy looking brimmed hood, swampy, lack of DWR
Bottom Line A breathable shell that works equally well as a midlayer for fast-and-light missionsOur Editor’s Choice for its simplicity, price, and solid performance in a lightweight packageMade for the mountains, this ultralight jacket will help you push your limitsPerfect for adventure runners looking for packable weather protectionIf you love pockets and still want solid wind protection, this jacket is hard to beat
Rating Categories Patagonia Houdini Air Patagonia Houdini Distance Wind Shell Merino Sport Ultra Light Rab Vital Windshell
Wind Resistance (30%)
6
8
8
7
8
Breathability And Venting (30%)
10
8
8
9
7
Weight And Packability (20%)
8
8
9
7
7
Fit And Functionality (10%)
7
7
6
6
9
Water Resistance (10%)
6
8
4
7
6
Specs Patagonia Houdini... Patagonia Houdini Distance Wind Shell Merino Sport Ultra... Rab Vital Windshell
Measured Weight, size M 4.0 oz 3.9 oz (size L) 3.5 oz 4.8 oz 4.7 oz
Material 90% nylon (51% recycled) / 10% polyester double weave, DWR finish 100% nylon ripstop, DWR finish 100% nylon ripstop, woven w/ DWR treatment (Green Theme Technology) 100% nylon outer, 54% Merino wool / 46% polyester liner, DWR coating Hyperlite nylon
Pockets 1 zip (chest) 1 zip (chest) 1 chest zip 1 zip (chest) 3 zip (2 external hand, 1 internal)
Safety Reflective Material? No (company states reflective logo on left chest, too small to really be visible) No (company states reflective logo on left chest, too small to really be visible) No Yes reflective logos on chest, back, right arm; stripes on cuffs and seat hem Yes, reflective logo on chest and back
Stuffs into itself? Yes, stows in chest pocket Yes, stows in chest pocket Yes, stows in chest pocket Yes, stows in chest pocket Yes, stows in internal pocket
Cuff Style Half Elastic Half Elastic Elastic Half Elastic Half Elastic
Hood? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

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.

Performance Comparison



The trees are pretty, but don't forget to watch where you're going!...
The trees are pretty, but don't forget to watch where you're going! This jacket is great on backpacks, but really excels when the pace picks up.
Photo: Jill Rice

Wind Resistance


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.

Trying to summon our inner-super hero with the hopes that we would...
Trying to summon our inner-super hero with the hopes that we would be able to block the wind better than this jacket can.
Photo: Jill Rice

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.

The recycled nylon offers a slight stretch, which helps this hood...
The recycled nylon offers a slight stretch, which helps this hood fit comfortably over a climbing helmet.
Photo: Jill Rice

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.

Built for the uphill, even in the direct sun we never overheated in...
Built for the uphill, even in the direct sun we never overheated in this amazing aerobic layer.
Photo: Jill Rice

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.

You can wear this jacket stand alone over a baselayer, or evenly...
You can wear this jacket stand alone over a baselayer, or evenly layered underneath a shell without the fear of overheating, making it a perfect layer for ski touring.
Photo: Jill Rice

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.


Stacked up next to a standard Nalgene bottle, and the original...
Stacked up next to a standard Nalgene bottle, and the original Houdini (on the right.) You tell us, which do you think packs down smaller?
Photo: Jill Rice

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.

Great as a quickly deployed layer for cyclists, this compact jacket...
Great as a quickly deployed layer for cyclists, this compact jacket will fit in a saddle bag, along with an extra tube and multi-tool.
Photo: Jill Rice

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.


Historically we have always sized up one-size to get the mobility and fit we wanted out of the original Houdini. But based on our experience in testing, and the feedback of other consumers, we feel confident saying you can order according to your normal sizing in Patagonia-wear.

A funny fact about the chest pocket, a cell phone will fit if you...
A funny fact about the chest pocket, a cell phone will fit if you slide it up from the bottom (as shown on the right) but not if you try from the top.
Photo: Jill Rice

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.

Fully taped seams on the chest pocket are a nice touch to help...
Fully taped seams on the chest pocket are a nice touch to help improve water resistance.
Photo: Jill Rice

Water Resistance


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.

The results of our shower test. You can see some droplets beading in...
The results of our shower test. You can see some droplets beading in the lower half of the photo, while some begins to penetrate the chest where it was more exposed to a more consistent stream of water.
Photo: Jill Rice

Value


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.

Not only is this jacket great for climbing, but we also thoroughly...
Not only is this jacket great for climbing, but we also thoroughly enjoyed for mountain biking. Comfortable when worn over a short sleeve jersey, and just enough wind protection to keep us warm on overcast days.
Photo: Jill Rice

Conclusion


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.

Great for ski touring, as long as you try to stick to the trees and...
Great for ski touring, as long as you try to stick to the trees and avoid fully-exposed ridgelines.
Photo: Jill Rice

Aaron Rice