Patagonia Houdini Vest

Jaden Anderson reviews the Patagonia Houdini Vest for Blister.

Patagonia Houdini Vest

Patagonia Houdini Vest

Reviewer: 5’10”, 155 lbs

Size Tested: Medium

Stated Weight: 74 grams

Blister’s Measured Weight: 67 grams

Material: 15-denier 100% nylon ripstop with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish

Stated Features:

  • Chest Pocket converts to stuff sack with reinforced carabiner loop
  • Reflective logo on left chest and in the center of the back at the neck
  • Single-pull drawcord hem at right hip.

Pockets

  • 1 Chest pocket (zippered)

MSRP: $79

Test Locations: Salt Lake City, UT; Portland, OR; Mt. Shasta, CA; Seattle, WA

Days Tested: ~60

Intro

The more time you spend outside, the more likely it is that you’ve used the Patagonia Houdini Jacket at some point. It’s a staple piece for a lot of people, since it’s extremely light, packable, and offers just enough wind and water resistance to come in quite handy whether you’re hiking, running, backpacking, skiing, mountain biking, commuting, etc.

But the long-sleeve Houdini Jacket can sometimes be more than you need for warmer weather, so for those situations, Patagonia also offers the Houdini Vest.

The Houdini Vest offers increased range of motion and the same wind-resistant and breathable fabric of the Houdini Jacket in an even smaller package that is light and packable enough to not only throw in your backpack, but to clip to your hydration belt.

Patagonia says this vest is the ideal layer for “when you don’t quite need a jacket,” and after a number of uses, I definitely agree with Patagonia’s statement. I’d also go one step further and say that the Houdini Vest goes far beyond simply being a layer for “when you don’t quite need a jacket” — I find myself using it much more than I imagined I would.

Fit

According to Patagonia, the Houdini Vest has a “slim” fit. And I’d say that’s pretty accurate with the size Medium I tested (which is my normal size). The Houdini Vest is slim through the torso and fits close to the body, but I’ve still had plenty of room inside the vest to layer heavier base layers and even a flannel or a hoodie underneath when I wear it around town, though this may not be the case for everyone — at 5’10”, 155 lbs, I’m fairly thin and lanky. The slimmer fit of the Houdini Vest also keeps it from brushing against my arms while running. Combined with its lightweight fabric, the Houdini Vest’s non-bulky fit makes me forget I’m even wearing it while running.

The Houdini Vest is a bit longer than some other wind and rain jackets I’ve used. Compared to the Patagonia Torrentshell Jacket, the Houdini Vest is a bit longer, and the Houdini Vest is similar to the Patagonia Light Flyer Jacket in terms of length. The Medium Houdini Vest’s hem falls about 4” below my hips. This felt a bit odd at first when wearing the vest with shorts, but I quickly grew to appreciate this increased coverage upon my first encounter with wind and rain. The hem of the Houdini Vest has a slight tendency to ride up above my hips while running fast, but when I’m moving slower, it doesn’t ride up excessively.

Materials

Given its DWR-treated, 15-denier nylon ripstop fabric and minimalist construction, the Houdini Vest is lightweight, durable (for its weight), and weather resistant. It is actually surprisingly water repellent, and does a great job of keeping out the wind (more on weather resistance further down). The Houdini Vest’s fabric is quite thin and easily slides over / under layers while still being pretty comfortable on bare skin.

Features

The Houdini Vest has very few of them, with only one pocket and a drawstring at the right hip that secures the elastic on the back half of the hem.

Its collar is double-layered and has extra fabric at the top that keeps the zipper from rubbing my neck / chin while running. The collar sits just beneath my chin when zipped up all the way, but it can be pushed over my chin if needed.

The vest’s hem, like its collar, is double layered and can feel a bit constricting at times, but I haven’t noticed it very often. The back half of the hem is lined with an elastic drawcord that lets me cinch down the hem of the vest to keep more heat in or keep the weather out.

The Houdini Vest’s single chest pocket also functions as a stuff sack, which is useful while packing for trips or when bringing the vest on runs as an extra layer. When stuffed into its pocket, the Houdini Vest is about 6” long and 4” wide. It can be a tad big to put in a pocket, but can be clipped to a backpack or hydration belt thanks to the sewn-in loop. Compared to the Houdini Jacket, the vest packs down a bit smaller, though both pieces are very packable.

Jaden Anderson reviews the Patagonia Houdini Vest for Blister.

Patagonia Houdini Vest & Nalgene 1L Bottle for reference.

I usually put my house key and a credit card in the Houdini Vest’s pocket while running, and I’ll occasionally put a pair of earbuds in there as well. I have found that, while the pocket is small, it has just about the right amount of room for the essentials.

The Houdini Vest’s pocket doesn’t bounce around much at all while running with light items in it (e.g., a key and credit card). However, a modern smartphone like the iPhone 8 Plus does bounce around significantly when stowed in the pocket.

Weight

The size Medium Houdini Vest weighs in at a measly 67 grams, so it feels extremely light when wearing it, and it almost vanishes when it’s packed away. For reference, here are some stated weights for a few similar running vests:

74 g Patagonia Houdini Vest
85 g Arc’teryx Incendo Vest
90 g Dynafit Vertical Wind Vest
99 g Salomon Agile Wind Vest
102 g Patagonia Houdini Jacket

While all of these vests are quite light, the Houdini Vest falls on the lighter end of the spectrum. And for the gram-counters out there, the Houdini Vest comes in around 30 grams lighter than the Houdini Jacket.

Weather Resistance

When I first felt how thin and minimal the fabric of the Houdini Vest was, I didn’t think it’d do much in terms of keeping out the elements. But after spending a winter running in the Houdini Vest in the Portland wind and rain, the vest has performed better than expected.

In the rain, the vest performs pretty well, though it’s by no means totally waterproof. Light rain will bead up on the jacket and run off, but in heavier, sustained rain, I did get wet — which isn’t surprising since the Houdini Vest lacks any sort of waterproof membrane. So I’ll wear the Patagonia Light Flyer Jacket (which is a Gore-Tex hard shell) when it’s raining harder. And if it’s both raining hard and cold out, I’ll layer the Houdini Vest under the Light Flyer for a bit of extra warmth.

The Houdini Vest does a good job of keeping out the wind in most situations. I find that in wind gusts over roughly 15 mph, air is able to permeate the vest a bit. But the Houdini Vest still does a good job of retaining body heat so that I don’t get chilled on windier runs, and it’s definitely more breathable than options that block 100% of the wind (e.g., the Light Flyer Jacket).

Breathability

I found that I could comfortably run in the Houdini Vest and a light base layer in 40-70°F weather. But as temperatures rose above 75°F, I did find myself overheating in the Houdini Vest.

I will often play around with the Houdini Vest’s main zipper to dump heat because there are no separate vents on the vest, and this definitely helps when the weather gets a bit hotter.

Jaden Anderson reviews the Patagonia Houdini Vest for Blister.

Jaden Anderson in the Patagonia Houdini Vest, Mt. Shasta, CA. (photo by Alexis Ramirez)

For comparison, I found that the Houdini Vest was noticeably more breathable than waterproof jackets like the Patagonia Torrentshell and Light Flyer, but the Houdini Vest was definitely less breathable than a base layer like the Patagonia Midweight Capilene.

And this is where I think the Houdini Vest differentiates itself from the Houdini Jacket. For warmer runs where there’s a chance that I’ll run into a bit of wind / rain, I’m able to keep the Houdini Vest on longer than the Houdini Jacket since the vest’s lack of sleeves makes it a bit more breathable.

Durability

After about six months of use, the Houdini Vest has proven to be much more durable than I expected. The thin fabric seems flimsy, but it has come away from a few tumbles and plenty of scratches from bushes / branches with very little damage. Of course, this is a very minimal, lightweight vest, so don’t expect it to hold up to serious abuse as well as pieces with thicker / heavier fabrics.

Other Uses

While I figured I’d use the Houdini Vest strictly as a running layer, I ended up also wearing it while mountain biking, ski touring, resort skiing, hiking, and as a casual piece. Its low weight and decent breathability makes it great for ski touring or pedaling uphill, and its wind resistance has helped keep me warm on the downhill. For resort skiing, I often wear it beneath my hard shell to provide a bit of extra warmth with very little added bulk.

Who’s It For?

If you’re looking for a lightweight vest that offers decent weather resistance, more freedom of movement and breathability than a jacket, and that is highly versatile, the Houdini Vest is definitely worth a look. And since it packs down so small, it won’t add much bulk to your setup.

As someone who appreciates minimal design and lightweight gear, I have found the Houdini Vest to be an excellent layer that I can put on and just forget about. When deciding between the Houdini Vest vs. the Houdini Jacket, I think it comes down to how much you prioritize breathability vs. weather protection. The Houdini Vests breathes a bit better and I can keep it on for longer than the Houdini Jacket on hotter runs. But the Houdini Vest obviously doesn’t provide as much weather protection due to its lack of sleeves, so you just have to decide what you really want out of your lightweight windbreaker.

Bottom Line

The Patagonia Houdini Jacket is an outstanding piece. So is the new Houdini Vest — it’s one of the most versatile running pieces I’ve used.

From long runs on the trails to mountain bike rides and ski tours, this vest has provided just enough weather protection and warmth without being bulky or excessively warm, making me forget I’m even wearing it. The Houdini Vest provides good weather protection in a very packable and lightweight package that I think would make for a great addition to many people’s running, backcountry skiing, mountain biking, and hiking kits.

1 Comment

  1. Blister Member
    Seth July 12, 2018 Reply

    It’s wild that you can comfortably wear a vest up to 70F. Above 50 I’m in a singlet, and I can’t wear a vest (or anything windproof) unless it’s below 30.

    You guys should review the Airshed pullover, which is my favorite ever running layer and would probably be great for ski touring and general mountain use.

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