The Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody has been impressive — and not just from one of us, but two independent reviewers agree that it’s a remarkable mix of everything we look for in a jacket. This review has two takes on the Ascendant (from reviewers Kevin Glover and Eric Miller) and both confirm that this one is a keeper and one of the best we’ve tested.
Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody Features:
- Pertex® Microlight 100% nylon 20D ripstop stretch woven shell
- Polartec® Alpha® Direct Insulation 100% polyester @ 95 g/m2
- Adjustable Helmet
- Compatible Hood
- Internal Thumb Loops
- Zip Chest Pocket
- Dual Hand Warmer Pockets
- Single-Separating Center Front Zipper
- Low-Pro Binding™ Hood and Cuffs
- Claimed weight: 13oz
- MSRP: $219
First Take: Kevin talks (and loves) Alpha
As is usual with Outdoor Research, all of the fabrics and materials in the Ascendant are top-notch, name brand stuff. Obviously this is true of the Polartec Alpha Direct insulation, but let’s look for a moment at the nylon base fabric. It’s Pertex Microlight, a 20D weave with inherent stretch. It’s a great fabric which we’ve seen before on other active insulators. Pertex’s Microlight is a soft, durable nylon fabric that’s hard-wearing and tear resistant, but soft and pliable enough to move well with the use. One of its best features is its stretch, which combines with OR’s paneling to create a very comfortable piece for reaching, twisting and climbing.
The bedrock of the Ascendant is the Polartec Alpha Direct insulation. It’s pretty much the best thing since sliced bread. Polartec Alpha insulation is exposed on the inside of the jacket, giving it a furry look and a fleecy-soft feel. In most jacket, the active insulation is protected on the inside by a layer of nylon or polyester fabric, often mesh. That design protects the insulation while still allowing vapor to transmit easily through the jacket to the outside.
So, does it work well? Well, this will always be a little subjective, but in my testing it worked very well indeed. To start with, the feel of the jacket is incredibly soft and comfortable, and it’s surprisingly warm for its weight. When things heat up and you start sweating into the jacket, the fibers do a remarkable job at transferring moisture and drying out. The jacket really resists getting saturated with sweat. This is partly because this is a fairly ‘light’ weight of the fabric – 95g/m2 just feels lighter and less oppressive than other weights.
In actual use, the Ascendant is truly an alpine workhorse. It’s incredible how efficiently the Alpha Direct fabric transport moisture through the jacket to be evaporated on the surface. My forearms tend to sweat heavily and where other jackets bog down and get heavy with sweat, the Ascendant stays dry longer. The same is true in my pits. It’s not like you can’t overwhelm the fabric eventually, but it definitely puts off that feeling of saturation/heaviness.
The only quibbles I can find with the Ascendant seem mostly matters of judgment. For example, there are no zippers on the hand warmer pockets. I guess the assumption is that you don’t need zippers on your mid layer’s pockets. That’s a matter of personal preference, really. But the objective benefit is that it shaves weight from the relatively svelte 13oz total weight.
The other quibble is with the exposed Alpha insulation. The key shortcoming with the exposed fluff is that it’s less durable. I noticed that specifically while skinning. I like to shove my skins into my jacket to warm the glue up, and there’s a problem with exposed insulation – the glue snags it. The result is that your skins pick up little bits of insulation, and your jacket slowly gets lighter and less warm. Not a great situation. So, you must decide: durability, or utter performance? Up to you.
Second Take: Eric finds breathability
I seem to be on the eternal quest to find the “optimal” jacket for high exertion. I think OR came pretty dang close with the Ascendant. If I were to try to peg it with only one word, I’d say “versatile”. I’ve had it out on everything from snowy, 34 degree bike commutes to chasing elk up and down the Rockies to dirt jumping to lunch time MTB rides and of course, as a daily jacket. It performed well across the board.
Here’s the highlights in my book: One of the keys is breathability. It’s almost like the Ascendant has a pair of lungs. When I start to heat up the Ascendant vents off the excess heat fairly well. When I start to cool down, it seems to “hold its breath” and keep the heat in. Wind will rip through the jacket so plan accordingly. Definitely a plus on a sunny 45 degree mountain bike but a con on a cloudy, freezing day sitting looking for elk. Open hand warmer pockets. At first I was skeptical but I love the ease of cramming my hands in. The exposed insulation in the pockets is like putting your hands inside a couple of furry friends. Seems to take the chill off your hands more quickly. Slightly water resistant. In a light drizzle or in a light snow storm, water would bead up on the sleeves. If the precip is light, I haven’t had it soak in.
The low points are: Exposed insulation. I like it in the body but don’t like in the sleeves. It grabs your base layer sleeves and pulls them up when you put on the jacket. You have to hold on fairly tightly or the sleeves are climbing your arms. Stitching strength. The only noticeable wear I’ve noticed is on the stitching. No pilling anywhere but the stitching is fuzzing in places. Body fit. I’m 6’0″ and 185 lbs. The large fits me fairly well if I’m wearing the Ascendant as the mid-layer. If I’m wearing it as the top layer, the body is a little snug over a heavier base layer.
A note on fit: Kevin is 5’11” 190 lbs and found the athletic cut of the medium to be a little snug — especially in the chest. Eric is 6’0″ and 185 lbs and found the large to be just right as a mid-layer.
- Boy, that Polartec Alpha works really well
- The inherent stretch works really well and moves with you
- Mid-weight insulation weight helps keep the jacket feeling light
- Pertex Microlight is a great fabric to package everything in
- No zippers on the hand pockets! That might bother you.
- Exposed Alpha is less durable
The Bottom Line: Outdoor Research Ascendant
It turns out the Ascendant is the next iteration of OR’s very successful Uberlayer jacket. The Uberlayer was a bit heavier and more substantial in general, and the Alpha insulation wasn’t exposed. The Ascendant represents a move towards a lighter, sleeker high-performance jacket. In terms of its general competitiveness amongst the crowded group of active insulators, OR’s Ascendant stands out as one of the best pure performers.
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