Gear review: Patagonia Houdini Jacket

Grant Guise is bit of a gear expert – as an elite trail runner, he has professionally banged gear along trails and up mountains for years – he knows his stuff. And he was intrigued enough by murmurs of Patagonia beefing up its trail running presence Down Under. Here he gives the lowdown on the Patagonia Houdini jacket along with a brief four-one-one on just what the hell is the point of a wind shell anyway… (RUN IMAGES: Brook van Reenen)

5The “wind shell” (wind breaker) must be the most undervalued and under-utilised piece of kit in trail running. Certainly, it is the most misunderstood piece of kit, at least in this neck of the woods.

While our North American brethren, whom we seem to most closely follow with trends and gear, have long been rocking this super lightweight, packable layer for mountain missions of all kinds, we here in New Zealand (and Australia) are a little slow on the uptake….

I have witnessed many an excited consumer grasp a sleeve of a feathery light windshell, rubbing the tissue paper like fabric between their figures in amazement. The first thing to spew from their mouth in excitement “is it waterproof” and before that can even be answered, “is it seamsealed?!”.

The only thing dropping faster than the jacket sleeve from their hand, is the excited look on their face, as you answer “no” to the two quick-fire questions. It is like you just pulled a cruel joke on them and they walk away, unimpressed and uninterested before the merits of this amazing little jacket can be explained……

screenshot-2016-11-21-09-26-31But it is to be expected – many races in New Zealand require “waterproof, seam sealed jackets”, so what use is a jacket that is neither of these things?!

Well, very useful! OK, not for your required “race jacket”, or if it is totally bucketing down, but those days are few and far between in the bigger picture.

Much more common are cold frosty mornings, windy summits and light showers, and this is where the windshell shines. And from my experience of trying many different windshells over the years, the Patagonia Houdini shines the brightest.

screenshot-2016-11-21-09-26-03I am a big fan of carrying as little as possible – it is one of the reasons I go trail running and not over-night hiking – and on those days when the weather and conditions are a little iffy, the Houdini is a great piece of insurance to carry.

Packing down to the size of a kiwi fruit, in its own stuff pocket, I tuck the Houdini into my running shorts and set off for the summit of Roy’s Peak, above Lake Wanaka. It is warm and calm down at lake level and quickly I work up a sweet on the 1200m climb to Roy’s 1578m summit. I reach the ridge a few hundred meters below the summit and the only thing that hits me more than the stunning views into Mt Aspiring National Park, is the cool westerly wind, that whips over the ridge. This cool breeze, and my burning legs, are enough to make me second guess pushing on to the top of Roy’s today……. Then I remember the forgotten piece of kit, stashed away and unnoticed and unneeded till now. Without missing a beat, I don the Houdini and keep pushing on. The wind is cut from my core and because of the jacket holding in my own body heat I quickly warm up.

4The fitted hood protects me further as I take a few moments to appreciate the hard-earned view over Wanaka township, the Pisa Range and Mt Aspiring. As I bomb back down the way I came up, the Houdini is removed a few hundred meters below the summit, stashed away and forgotten about again…….

This scenario has played out dozens and dozens of times for me – running over Flagstaff and Swampy in Dunedin, around the Port Hills above Christchurch and even ski touring in the Craigieburn mountains – a windshell is almost always there.

The super lightweight Houdini is made of 1.2-oz 15-denier 100% nylon ripstop with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish, which makes it feel very light and unrestrictive on, meaning you can still move fast, and not be weighted down like you might with a traditional “hardshell” jacket.

You need to pack accordingly, but if you are a fan of going light, and the conditions allow, the Houdini is a great piece of kit. I will often carry this jacket, a “buff” and my phone, all stuffed in the Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts (a review for another time) and head out for a few hours in the hills.

It’s not all rainbows and lollipops, no. For me, the biggest drawback for the Houdini is its weight. At a tad over 100grms in a size Med, it is not heavy, but there are lighter options out there. But, they lack a hood and/or a full-length zip like the Houdini – two things that are a must for me in a jacket, so I can deal with the little extra weight.

screenshot-2016-11-21-09-26-38Patagonia Houdini

  • 102gr/ men’s med
  • Full zip
  • Zipper chest pocket/ stuff pocket
  • One pull adjustable hood
  • Reflective logo’s front and back
  • $129 AUD/ $160NZD
  • Details at 


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