Patagonia Alpine Houdini
- Fabric: H2No® Performance Standard shell: 2.5-layer, 1.9-oz 30-denier 100% nylon ripstop with a waterproof/breathable barrier and a DWR (durable water repellent) finish.
- Fabric is certified bluesign® approved
- Coated, watertight center-front zipper has minimal interior storm flap; taped seams throughout entire garment
- Alpine helmet–compatible hood with laminated visor and single-pull adjustment rolls down and stows with a simplified cord-and-hook design
- Exterior left-chest pocket with coated, watertight zipper doubles as self-stuff pouch with streamlined shape and carabiner clip-in loop
- Elasticized cuffs and a minimal single-pull adjustable drawcord hem
- Regular fit
Size Tested: Large
Stated Weight: 201 g (7.1 oz)
Reviewer: 5’ 8”, 195 lbs
Test Locations: NW Montana Backcountry, Glacier National Park, Stonehill, Avalanche Gulch, & Humbug Spires, MT; Smith Rock, OR; Rocks of Sharon, WA; Banff National Park, CA
Days Tested: 35+
Building on the success of their extremely popular, packable, feather-light Houdini windbreaker, Patagonia took the Houdini, added foul-weather features, changed the fit a bit, and created the Alpine Houdini.
The Alpine Houdini is designed for alpinists, climbers, and skiers looking for something more svelte and packable than a full Gore-tex shell, so the major questions I had about the Alpine Houdini were: (1) How well the Alpine Houdini works as a stand-alone shell for alpine adventures, ski touring, and multipitch climbing, and (2) As part of of a system of layering, how well would the Alpine Houdini function as a packable, waterproof layer to augment a softshell jacket while ski touring?
The original Houdini Jacket is built on Patagonia’s “slim” fit, while the Alpine Houdini is constructed around Patagonia’s “Regular” fitblock. So the Alpine Houdini isn’t simply a more water-resistant version of the original Houdini, and those migrating to the Alpine Houdini should keep this fit difference in mind.
I fit into a size-Large Alpine Houdini with plenty of room to move and plenty of space to layer underneath, and I would say that the Alpine Houdini fits true to the other “Regular” size-Large pieces I’ve used from Patagonia.
The Alpine Houdini is not nearly as trim as the other regular fit size-Large pieces I’ve used from Mountain Equipment, Arc’teryx, or Outdoor Research. Drape-wise, the Alpine Houdini extends down low enough to stay anchored under my harness or below a pack hipbelt, and reaching high while placing gear or climbing creates minimal hem rise, which I really appreciate.
Climbing helmets like the Black Diamond Vector or Petzl Sirocco fit well under the hood of the Alpine Houdini, but I found it to be more of a stretch to fully zip the front of the Alpine Houdini while wearing a ski helmet (e.g., the Pret Cirque X) with the Alpine Houdini’s hood pulled up over it. The hood is adjusted via a single cord lock that tightens both the sides and back, and although it doesn’t provide the same fine-tuning as hoods with more complex adjustment systems, it does a good job given its simplicity and low weight.
One minor quibble does come with the main zipper, which will frequently snag on the storm flap a few inches below my chin when zipping it all the way up. While I appreciate the protection of the storm flap, it can be annoying to fix, especially with gloves on.
Weight and Packability
Checking in at a stated weight of 201 g (7.1 oz), the Alpine Houdini gains some heft and size over the standard Houdini, which has a stated weight of 102 g (3.6 oz). It’s slightly heavier and doesn’t pack quite as well as the Outdoor Research Helium II, a similar piece covered well by Matt Zia in his review.
However, my main comparisons were with the Gore-Tex Active, Gore Pro, and Polartec Powershield shells in my quiver. The Alpine Houdini outclassed them all in weight and storage size, packing into its single chest pocket to make a compact, teardrop-shaped package about the length of a Nalgene and half the volume. It fits well into little spaces in any pack, and lays nicely when clipped onto the back of a harness.
This packability proved important for both of my major questions about the Alpine Houdini. If I’m going to bring an extra bit of protection beyond a softshell coat for touring, then good packability is a major perk.
Similarly, the packability and bartacked carabiner loop made it a worthy insurance policy on multi-pitch climbs that had the threat of rain at Smith Rock and in Banff.
A quick note on packing: as Matt Zia mentioned while comparing the Alpine Houdini to the Outdoor Research Helium II, packing the Alpine Houdini can be a little tricky. However, packing the laminated-hood brim directly under the zipper eliminates snagging while zipping it closed, which made me perfectly happy with how tight the coat fit stowed into it’s own pocket.
There’s something very satisfying about precip and wind insurance that carries a small weight and size penalty. For me, the Alpine Houdini totally satisfied those needs whether it was an end-of-day downpour while cragging at Lake Louise, or looking to switch layers on a summit after skinning up. Unfurling the Alpine Houdini from its cocoon meant warmth, comfort, and serious happiness to me. So if you’re still toting your fully-featured Gore-Tex shell all over the place and want a lighter replacement that can handle some precip, you should consider the Alpine Houdini.
That said, it’s absolutely not a replacement for a full hardshell when the sky and wind truly open up. The 2.5-layer H2No fabric can be clammy without any layers underneath, and, although no water made it all the way through the membrane, the face fabric wet out far faster than my heavier 3-layer shells. So given that, I wouldn’t start a day in the Alpine Houdini if I knew I was in for a lot of precipitation; instead it’s far better-suited for carrying as insurance — for the turn around or the rappels while bailing off something.
Breathability plays into this equation as well. The Alpine Houdini is a thin hardshell with no pit zips and one pocket that doesn’t work as a vent, so I didn’t expect (or get) much in the way of breathability. It’s a wall that shuts out the elements and shuts in your body, which goes both ways, especially compared to highly breathable garments like Patagonia’s softshell Kniferidge Jacket.
I spent a few thousand sweaty feet on the skintrack to see whether the Alpine Houdini could keep up with my exertion, and it didn’t. So those looking for more breathability and less water resistance should consider the regular Houdini (which is one of Blister reviewer, Paul Forward’s, favorite pieces to take with him on ski tours).
Given the Alpine Houdini’s light weight and packability, it is not a shell to thrash constantly. However, it’s held up admirably to my abuse, even after bushwhacking and climbing both granite and sharp limestone in the jacket. Stuffing it into its own pocket also reduces its size, which makes it less likely to catch crampon points or a snowsaw teeth while stuffed in my backpack.
Who’s It For?
Returning to my two questions, the Alpine Houdini is excellent as a standalone shell on days that hold a smaller chance of precip, or as a shell to throw on while heading back down. I wouldn’t carry it as my only shell if I expected to be out in bad conditions for hours and hours on end, especially if I was exerting myself.
As to my stretch question about ski touring shell insurance, it checked off half of my boxes. It’s a perfectly light summit or downhill layer when worn over a softshell or light insulation. Morning exercise skinning inbounds at Whitefish Mountain Resort saw it constantly in my pack as a lightweight downhill wind break — I would rip off my skins, grab my goggles, pop the hood up and ski down.
However, my hopes for it to work well on the uptrack weren’t realized due to the lack of breathability. This isn’t a fault of the jacket since it is clearly designed as emergency rain protection, I’m just including this info to reinforce that the Alpine Houdini isn’t ideal for fully-aerobic pursuits.
Patagonia’s Alpine Houdini isn’t trying to be a fully-featured or highly-breathable, stand-alone hardshell. Instead — and as its name suggests — it’s an escape artist; it’s perfectly suited to serve as small, packable insurance to get you back to the trailhead or through the rappels much happier than if you’d left it at home, and it works great when paired with with active insulation layers to provide a final defense layer when things get wet.