Patagonia Houdini Air – Super Versatile Layer for Aerobic Mountain Sports

Patagonia Houdini Air Engearment

Patagonia Houdini Air – Super Versatile Layer for Aerobic Mountain Sports

Drew Thayer


Finally, a windbreaker that BREATHES

I have an annoying relationship with windbreakers: I wear one, quickly get sweaty, and want to take it off, but when I finally take it off I’m cold again and I wish I’d left it on. After years of trying a variety of windbreakers, I finally found one that I can just leave on. 

Patagonia Houdini Air Engearment

The Patagonia Houdini Air jacket is a versatile trail running layer. It’s so breathable that I can leave it on for the entirety of a trail run in chilly shoulder-season temps, something I’ve never been able to do with a traditional windbreaker.

I used to wear my Patagonia Houdini windbreaker for just about everything, from high country mountain biking and windy trail runs to ski tours. A longtime staple for many outdoor enthusiasts, Patagonia’s Houdini windbreaker can be seen all over the place because it’s so light and packs so small – a truly functional little windbreaker.

Patagonia Houdini Air - Super Versatile Layer for Aerobic Mountain Sports 1Patagonia Men's Houdini® Air Jacket

The Houdini is so useful that many of us basically wear them to death – by the end of last Spring, one sleeve was only held together with repair tape and there were large swatches of tape across the back and chest. My beloved jacket finally met its end when it snagged on a sharp tree branch somewhere in a hellish bushwack while skiing out of a steep valley in the Sawatch range in May, and ripped pretty much from neck to navel. 


Patagonia has an excellent repair and warranty policy, and the folks at the Denver store took one look at my lump of shredded, UV-bleached nylon and opted to replace it (what great service!).

So then I was psyched to have a new Houdini jacket, but I quickly realized that when it hasn’t been worn thin by 6 years of weekly abuse and sun exposure, a new Houdini jacket really is quite wind-proof, with an intact DWR coating that even repels a light rain. While this is great for lower-output activities like cool weather hiking and rock climbing, it means I basically can’t wear it for any aerobic activity – even nordic skiing at 10 degrees – I steam up!

Patagonia Houdini Air Engearment

Spring skiing in Colorado often involves a few hours of highly aerobic skinning and booting, 30 minutes of freezing your digits on a wind-blasted ridge, and a few minutes of getting the goods, which becomes highly aerobic again. I found the Houdini Air windbreaker to be the most versatile layer yet for this kind of backcountry travel, since I can leave it on the whole time and stay comfortable enough. Ski descent, unnamed south-facing couloir up Gore Creek, Colorado.

Patagonia Houdini Air review

So I was very intrigued to test out Patagonia’s new Houdini Air windbreaker. This jacket holds up to its namesake’s functionality: it’s a bare-bones windbreaker with one small pocket, a slim fit, and a simple adjustable hood, with one key difference – the fabric.

This Pertex Equilibrium fabric is very breathable, and has a woven texture that feels remarkably different from the straight-up nylon feel of the Houdini. In fact, it actually feels soft, more like a softshell than what most of us would think of as a windbreaker. The result is a windbreaker that trades some wind resistance for a whole lot of breathability.


The perfect partner for aerobic mountain sports

What’s this jacket for? Aerobic activity in cold or windy weather. It’s the best I’ve tried, period. The Pertex fabric is so breathable that I’ve left it on for hour-plus trail runs in which I almost always ditch my wind layer after the first 20 minutes. It’s great for trail nordic skiing, strenuous hiking uphill, technical up-and-down mountain biking, trail running, basically any activity where your body is generating plenty of heat but you still want protection from cold wind. 


As an aside: in Patagonia’s line, this jacket occupies a wind-breaking + breathability space in between the classic Houdini and the Airshed Pro wind shirt, which they designed for mountain running and really is best considered as a “wind shirt”.

I’ve worn the Airshed Pro extensively running in the mountains and I’ve tried to push its range into backcountry skiing, but it doesn’t block enough wind, and the sleeves, which are really just soft baselayer material, can get wet while digging / booting in snow, leading me to conclude that the Airshed Pro is really just for mountain running. 

Patagonia Houdini Air Engearment

The Houdini Air jacket is a great layer for ski mountaineering. I tested it on a later-winter ski descent of Snowmass Mountain in Colorado and found this jacket is breathable enough to leave on while skinning in the sun, but cuts enough wind to let me transition into shaded, windy summit terrain above 14000 ft without needing to stop and change clothing — which is hard to do while climbing steep snow.


My favorite backcountry skiing layer

I really came to love this jacket for backcountry skiing. I seem to be constantly shedding and re-donning a wind or light softshell layer in the backcountry, where conditions are always changing and effort often increases with increased exposure to wind.

I tend to skin pretty fast and cover a lot of ground. In recent years I realized I can’t wear a Houdini unless it’s bitter cold – I get too damp from sweat, and that dampness turns to chilly wetness when I stop, so I often wear no windbreaker and deal with the stinging wind.

This Houdini Air jacket made long, high-altitude tours much more comfortable, since I can basically wear it over a light baselayer from the car to the top of the ridge. It’s really incredible. 


Not a classic windbreaker

While this jacket excels in its niche, it really does trade quite a lot of wind resistance for its breathability. Hikers who aren’t pushing a heavy pace and want a windbreaker that blocks all the force of a windy gust might find the Pertex fabric too porous.

It’s also slightly heavier and a bit more bulky stuffed in its pocket – 4.1 oz compared to 3.7 oz for men’s medium. I still carry my classic Houdini as a light wind layer for rock climbing, where I want full wind protection and I’m not generating as much heat. The Air version is also quite a bit more expensive – $169 compared to $99 for the classic windbreaker. 


Bottom line 

This is essentially a highly breathable version of the classic Houdini, that still blocks enough wind to be considered a wind layer. It’s a super versatile layer for aerobic mountain sports, breathable enough to be worn during intense aerobic activity.

It blocks a good amount of wind, but less than a traditional windbreaker, and won’t block rain. It’s also expensive, so this is a niche layer that’s very good at what it does, but not for everybody. 

Drew Thayer

Patagonia Houdini Air - Super Versatile Layer for Aerobic Mountain Sports 2

Drew’s love of gear is born from his life-long obsession with human-powered adventure in the mountains. On foot, on ski, on bike, and on the steep rocks, he loves exploring Colorado’s mountains through each season.
Drew brings a technical eye to gear — he’s a data scientist with a Masters’ degree in Geophysics and loves to understand the design and engineering make great gear what it is. He’s also worked in the field for many years — as a wilderness therapy field guide and a Geophysicist — and knows a thing or two about function and durability of technical equipment.
Drew tests gear in real mountain conditions, on overnight ventures whenever possible. His specialties are rock/alpine climbing and light-and-fast human-powered pursuits on ski or mountain bike. He’s ventured on exploratory climbing expeditions in Argentina, Peru, and Alaska, and completed remote technical river descents in Alaska and Colombia.
When not building statistical models and writing code, he can be found tending his garden or trying to keep up with his awesome wife.
Patagonia Houdini Air - Super Versatile Layer for Aerobic Mountain Sports 3


One comment

  • Great review! Really appreciate the details. I’ve been looking at the houdini air as a layer I can use to add a little wind protection that stays on while mtn biking, climbing and hiking. May I ask what size you got for your height/weight? I’m 6’2″, 195lb and on the fence between the L (athletic fit) and XL, which allows more layering but it’s fairly baggy n loose in the torso.

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