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Hiking Wind Shirts and Patagonia Houdini Review

Aaron Zagrodnick



In recent years the popularity and availability of wind shirts or ultralight wind jackets have both increased, and as many have found, these pieces often fit in very well with active outdoor pursuits including backpacking and hiking. These specialized jackets focus on light weight, simplicity, full or mostly single layer construction, and have a design focus on performance in a layering system and in the outdoors.

Backpacking and Hiking Wind Shirts and Jackets

The Patagonia Houdini offers ultralight wind protection combined with water resistance.

What is a Wind Shirt?

A wind shirt is made from nylon fabric that has a dense weave and thus is highly wind resistant, but more breathable than waterproof breathable rain gear. On the flip side wind shirts aren’t waterproof like rain gear, but are usually treated with a DWR to repel light rain and snow. Unlike a traditional wind breaker jacket, since the garments are made from such lightweight fabric and are so simple most wind shirts weigh literally only a few ounces and take up little space in a pack when not in use.

Patagonia Houdini Packed Size in Pocket

In use, a wind shirt is a specialized piece of equipment and as such, I find them mostly useful for specialized scenarios. Where a wind shirt excels is in cool to cold weather combined with high output activities where little to no external moisture will be encountered – my Patagonia Houdini will get me through a quick shower…but not for long. Under the Houdini I like to wear any type of long sleeve synthetic hiking shirt (preferably a zip-neck type shirt in cool weather as well) with the fabric weight increasing as temperatures drop, with perhaps an additional lightweight next to skin synthetic layer if needed.

Patagonia Houdini Rain and Snow Resistance and DWR

For my personal use, I haven’t found a wind shirt useful for backpacking where I’m already carrying a real rain jacket. The rain jacket already blocks wind, and unlike the wind shirt is actually waterproof and can be worn in extended rains – a wind shirt will just add weight to my pack here. But a rain jacket isn’t as breathable. I don’t backpack at a very high pace, much preferring to hike at a moderate pace with fewer breaks to make my needed daily mileage, so this isn’t an issue for me. I also always select rain jackets that have some direct venting (pit-zips or vents like the Outdoor Research Stratoburst) and of course, there’s always that full length zipper in the front of a rain jacket for venting. And even though a wind shirt is pretty light, one of two ways to end up with a lighter pack is to leave things at home.

Patagonia Houdini Fabric

If you like to hike at a faster pace or sweat a lot, the wind shirt will make more sense with its ability to keep the chill off without adding bulk and weight, but still providing additional breathability. The exception would be for winter backpacking – when you’re hiking or snowshoeing through the snow with a pack no matter your pace it’s all high output, and additionally in such cold temperatures the wind shirt will easily shrug off moisture of the solidly frozen variety in such cold temperatures (teens or colder). In these conditions the wind shirt does the job of blocking the wind while allowing the additional breathability you need.

While wind shirts see very limited backpacking use in my case (see our backpacking clothing guide), I do however, use a wind shirt or jacket extensively for day activities when it’s not likely to rain in all seasons other than summer. Day hiking, running, biking, or really any type of outdoor on-the-move activity are a perfect time to break out the wind shirt as your outer upper body layer. And it’s doesn’t have to be windy (in some of the activities like biking it will be windy no matter what of course), the wind shirt will add substantial warmth in all conditions and remain breathable.

Houdini Wind Shirt Full Zip and Pocket

The Houdini packs up extremely small and weighs just a few ounces, making it convenient to throw in the pack and deploy when needed.

The Patagonia Houdini

As featured throughout this post, my preference for a wind shirt or jacket has always been the full zip Patagonia Houdini. And for a quick review: At just a few ounces, the Houdini packs into its own pocket, features a lapel pocket, adjustable hood and waist, and a full length zipper with elastic cuffs. Everything you need without anything you don’t. The Houdini has a slim fit, if you’re between sizes I’d suggest sizing up. The Houdini is offered in a full zip hooded version as shown here (I always prefer a hood in any type of jacket) and as a pullover shirt. And speaking of hoods, the Houdini’s hood works well when deployed (particularly useful if biking as it easily fits under a helmet to block wind), but if it’s windy and you prefer not to use the hood, you can tuck it inside the jacket to prevent flapping.

Patagonia Houdini Wind Jacket Review

The DWR of the Houdini is good, but do not mistake it for a rain jacket – you’ll likely have just enough time to get to shelter without soaking your inner layers if it begins to rain. But the Houdini is excellent at blocking wind and adding warmth in any condition; again perfect for those high activity pursuits because it doesn’t weigh you down and doesn’t add bulk, a bit like gaining the benefits of a jacket without feeling like you’re wearing one when you’re on the move.

Patagonia Houdini Hood

The Houdini's hood adds a surprising amount of warmth when worn over something like a light fleece hat.


Overall all of our activities in the outdoors vary a bit, but no matter your outdoor pursuit or method of accomplishing said activity, the wind shirt likely has a situation where it would work as well as it has for me for all of us. Many wind shirt options are out there. My choice of course is perhaps the most popular and a classic choice – the Patagonia Houdini, which retails for about $100 but can be found on sale. You can find it here at REI or at Backcountry.com.

Some other wind shirt and jacket options in this category to consider include the REI Co-op Flash wind jacket, the Black Diamond Deploy, and the Outdoor Research Helium. You can also view a full range of wind jackets / wind shirts / windbreakers here at REI.com.



Recommended Comments

I have worn the Houdini for years, enjoyed the loose fit and its durability. The Houdini wore out last year and so I replaced it with an XL. The style had changed. The windshirt is now a more athletic fit. I don't like the slim fit as it seems to hinder what I wear under it and also seems to ride up when I move arms. 

So I ended up with an inferior wind shirt,  the Marmot. But it fits better, even if it is a bit heavier.

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Aaron Zagrodnick


Yeah, one thing about Patagonia is that every year fabrics and sizing seem to change a bit. I've become a fan of their Capilene baselayers as well, and I've learned the hard way that when I find some that fit well and have a fabric I like, I better find a sale and stock up! Almost like good hiking shoes.

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Sometimes, like under mixed variable weather consisting of wind, rain and possibly periods of temp change  and mixed output(some hikers vary their outputs based on trail conditions and terrain:))  or, for example, incorporate other activities like fast summit 14er bids on a Colorado Tr thru-hike  or a high output windswept paddling crossing on a combined thru-hike/paddling adventure or a bike packing/hiking trip a true  UL rain jacket w/ maybe pit zips/other mechanical venting options and high breathability material in the 6-7 oz range combined with a wind shirt/jacket such as the Patagonia  Houdini(3.6 oz) or even  half as light wt  Montbell Tachyon(1.6 oz) can offer greater diversity of usage and performance virtues  than either of the pieces alone without any great wt or bulk penalty.

That's two pieces, a very breathable wind shirt w/ a DWR and true WP rain jacket w/ pit zips w/ decent breathability at a sub 9-11 oz wt and bulk that disappears even in UL/SUL kits.  Use in layering combinations together  or solo. :D

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That might be a better consideration than a 10-12 oz rain jacket.

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