I’ve owned a couple Patagonia Houdini jackets and really liked them as a very light and compact shell that’s easy to carry just in case. Not to mention surprisingly effective at keeping me comfortable when the weather turns and I need to pull it out. I didn’t even know Patagonia made a Houdini Vest until I stumbled upon it by accident and ordered one. Sadly I can no longer find them for sale on Patagonia’s site. I hope that’s just temporary because I would like to buy another one!
If I was keeping score on which shells I own that I wore the most when doing sporty stuff the Houdini Vest would win by a margin of like 10 to 1. That’s because it works so well in a wide variety of conditions and because it fits me really well. Living on Vancouver Island it’s often cool here and quite often a bit moist. On the other hand it’s rarely really cold and doesn’t rain super hard very often. So carrying something that can warm me up and deal with a bit of rain makes sense, but a full rain shell would be overkill most of the time and just live in my pack.
Since I like to start my day early I’ll often put this vest on as I leave home to keep me comfortable until I warm up and [hopefully] the day warms up as well. When that happens it’s easy to take the vest off and stash it away in a bag as it packs so small. If the day doesn’t warm up as much as expected the vest stays on all day and I can just use the front zip to open or close it to adjust to my exertion level. I find even a light shell like the Patagonia Houdini Jacket traps a lot of heat and I’ll end up wanting to take it off and put it on a bunch over the course of the day. Whereas this vest keeps my core comfortable over a much wider range of activities and temperatures. That means it stays on longer and I think about it less.
Fit is very personal so the fact it works great for me doesn’t mean it will be as good for you. That’s something you need to try out and see for yourself. I’m 5’1″ and ~185lbs out of the shower. The large vest is that perfect balance of roomy enough to move, but still form fitting enough not to flap in the wind. The body of the vest is long which keeps me warmer, works great on the bike and I like the look of better than many cycling vests that stop right at the waist. The Houdini fabric is light, but has proven quite durable. Same goes for the main zipper, which is fairly easy to operate one handed when riding. I got the black, but Patagonia offers a bunch of colours in their Houdini line up if you prefer a higher visibility option. This is not a cycling specific product, which I like as I don’t need to scream “I RIDE BIKES!!!” all the time.
The vest’s DWR coating will repel some light rain, but it’s not going to keep you dry in a downpour. The flip-side to that is it breathes fairly well so you won’t get sweaty when riding hard or hiking fast. Some days I wear the vest and pack a Houdini Jacket in my pack if the weather looks dicey. I figure layer both of the gives me a solid option for persistent rain. I may not stay fully dry, but I should be comfortable in our mild temperatures as long as I keep moving.
This vest, like all Patagonia products, is backed by a solid warranty and repair service so I know I’ll be able to get many years of use out of it.
So what’s not to like?
- Patagonia gear is expensive. I often find the items I buy from them on sale at deep discounts and once I look at the use I get out of the products and the warranty support I feel like they are a good value. It can be painful to pay the MSRP though.
- You can’t [easily] buy this vest. I really hope Patagonia brings it back.
- Lightweight materials can’t be abused. If you want to hike-a-bike through thorny bushes frequently this probably isn’t the shell for you.
Just to restate the obvious the fit is what really drives my stoke for this vest. There are lots of vest options out there and I have owned a bunch over the years, but this vest is fits me the best of any similar product I’ve tried.
Update: I wrote this review back in 2021 without posting it and as I reflect on it I think the Houdini Vest may be a dead product. That makes me sad and I hope I am wrong on this, but there are no signs Patagonia is just taking a break from making and plans to bring it back. I’ll publish the review anyway. It’s a worthy product that deserves a bit of an online thank you. It’s facilitated a lot of my adventures and I have not come across another vest I like better.