Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: Patagonia Houdini

patagonia houdini for bike riding

The folks at Patagonia sent me this jacket to review over a year ago. It's called the Houdini (Get it? I think because it "disappears" into such a small package -- see final picture in this post). It MSRPs for $100.

My original plan was to use it for a cold-descender: a tiny jacket I could keep in my pack for cold descents. Often in summer mountain biking you work yourself to a sweaty heap on the way up, only to freeze your ass off on the way down. This is especially cold and miserable when you are in the 4000+  foot range, as much of my Colville Nat'l Forest playground is.  I've always packed the O2 jacket for this kind of scenario -- the O2 is great because it really does somehow breathe, and it's pretty good at keeping the big rain out, but it's so fragile, and that drives me nuts. (A bit more on the O2 in this Verita review.)

So the goal was to get the Houdini as a replacement for the O2. Turns out: I didn't do a lot of cold mountain descents this summer.

patagonia houdini for bike riding

But I did do a lot of cold-weather descents to the bus stop this past year. Slipping this on over a my basic button-down shirt has been a life-saver many a crisp morning.

And having this little gem in my commute pack has saved me a number of times on my commute home-- especially during the kind-of-cold, but not-cold-enough to have a proper coat weather: late fall/early spring.

The other place it's worked well is for my early morning runs. In fact -- it's been an unexpected champ in this scenario. At about 6 AM, it's been low-40's for the last month or so. The Houdini over a light-weight, long-sleeve wool shirt has been a great combo. The Houdini is that perfect wafer-thin poly plastic thing that holds the heat in until I get too steamy. Once I really start sweating, I can zip down a bit to throw some heat off. It's so good, buddy Bill got one and he's swearing by it. And buddy Bill is no trend chaser.

patagonia houdini for bike riding

So it's not waterproof. According to the copy on the Patagonia site, the Houdini is treated with some DWR, so it does bead water adequately. I've been caught once in a downpour and it's no better or worse than the O2, which may do a better job of keeping big water off, but steams you out eventually. I still hold to the belief that if you are working hard in the rain -- regardless of gear -- you're gonna be wet one way or another, so I don't see the Houdini as a rain jacket.

With the hood and its basic heat-trapping ability, coupled with it's ridiculous light-weight, tiny portability, I see the Houdini as an excellent bit of insurance to carry always. As for the hood, it has a little shock cord locker on it that is a great feature: since the hood is big enough to fit over a helmet, the shock cord locker is how you keep the hood snug on your head when running into a wind.

rear view patagonia houdini for bike riding

There's a bit of reflective action on the breast where the logo is printed with reflective tape. I'd prefer some reflection on the back. Technically-speaking, there is a little reflective logo between the shoulder blades, but you must be wearing the hood to expose it. And while I'm adding features, I'd dig a small zipped pocket in the back, but I don't think I'd want to give up more packability for that, so that would be a nice-to-have.

patagonia houdini for bike riding packed size
Hard to beat that packability portability tiny-ability. No reason not to have it with you.

All-in-all: yes. This is an excellent little shell that I plan on having in my pack (commute, mountain bike, day-trip, etc) for as long as it holds up.  I'll follow up with a report when it starts to give up the ghost.