Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $349
Pros: Cheapest jacket with Gore-Tex Pro Shell; good value.
Cons: Fit is not as ergonomic as Arcteryx Alpha SV and Patagonia Shells, Velcro wrist closures can come undone, small chest pockets, small pit zips, hand pockets are obscured by pack waistbelt, hood is not comfortable when worn under a helmet, hood provides poo
Best Uses: Hiking, skiing, climbing, around town.
The L.L. Bean Ascent combines the bombproof protection of Gore-Tex Pro Shell and a versatile feature set to create a high performance jacket thatís nearly half the price of many other top-of-the-line hardshells. The Ascentís features and fit arenít as refined as $600 jackets Ė the hand pockets are obscured by a packís waist belt and the Velcro wrist closures come undone easily Ė but at $350 it's the second best value hardshell we tested.
The best bang for your buck lies with the Rab Stretch Neo, which weighs significantly less and has better features for backcountry life.
The Patagonia Super Pluma (6.3 oz lighter, $500) is our top rated hardshell with hand pockets. For the lightest hardshell, and our favorite shell for hiking, we recommend the [[Arcteryx Alpha FL], which almost half of what the Ascent does.
For the most durable and versatile piece of mountain climbing body armor, choose the Arcteryx Alpha SV (16.9 oz., $625). This shell represents the ultimate in simplicity and function, and boasts a slew of well-refined climbing specific features. The Alpha SV offers the greatest durability to weight ratio of any shell tested. Itís ideal for climbing mountains that cross multiple climates: start low by bushwhacking through dense, wet forests and finish up high on technical ice and snow. The Alpha SV is more durable, and has more room for layering, than the Super Pluma, Alpha FL, and Ascent.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Of the 20 hardshells we tested the L.L. Bean Gore-Tex Ascent offers the best value of all shells made with Gore-Tex Pro Shell. We tested seven other Gore-Tex Pro Shell jackets that cost between $450 and $625. The Ascent goes for a modest $350!
There are four types of Gore-Tex found in technical outerwear: PacLite, Preformance Shell, Pro Shell, and Active Shell. Of these, Pro Shell is the most durable and the second most breathable. The membrane is best for extended trips in severe conditions. Pro Shell is less breathable than the Gore Active Shell, Mountain Hardwearís Dry Q Elite, eVent, and Columbiaís Omni-Dry, but its non-porous membrane makes it warmer than the latter three, which in turn makes it better suited to trips that encounter high winds and longer periods of low exertion. Pro Shell is backed by Goreís unconditional lifetime warranty: if you arenít fully satisfied with its durability, water resistance, or breathability you can return it. The same is true, of course, with L.L. Beanís unconditional guarantee.
The L.L. Bean Ascent has a feature set ideal for someone who will use the jacket as much in an urban environment as in the backcountry. It has two handwarmer pockets, two chest pockets, adjustable Velcro closures at the wrists, and two single-handed waist adjustments. On the whole, the Ascentís features are not as well designed as those found on the more expensive shells tested, but for most people its lower price will more than compensate for the difference. See below for more on this.
The Ascent walks the line between an all-purpose and an expedition fit. The jacket has plenty of space for layering with a fleece or insulated jacket.
While all Gore-Tex Pro Shell jackets have the same membrane and micro grid backer, manufacturers work with Gore to select a face fabric Ė the jacketís outermost layer. Here, the Ascent uses a 4.1 oz 40-denier fabric thatís plenty durable for most applications (itís significantly stronger than the face fabrics found in our Rain Jacket Review), but itís not as impressive as the fabrics found on top-pier alpine climbing and mountaineering shells. For example, the $625 Arcteyx Alpha SV has a 4.3 oz 80-denier fabric that boasts the greatest abrasion to weight ratio of any shell tested. This better fabric is designed for alpine climbing and expedition mountaineering where one bushwhacks through dense forests, climbs up steep ice and rock faces, and relies on a material that will not fail, or is less likely to fail, if the jacket encounters unexpected things like rockfall. Though not as strong as the Alpha SV, the L.L. Bean Ascent should be more than sufficient for normal mortal style skiing, hiking, and climbing. If youíre not satisfied, both L.L. Bean and Gore offer to take the jacket back.
Back to the features. The Ascentís handwarmer pockets are set low to be comfortable for walking, but become obscured by a packís waist belt. Fortunately, the jacket provides two crossover chest pockets that provide storage while wearing a pack. Compared to the other 18 shells tested, the Ascent has small chest pockets Ė they can carry items like an energy bar, phone, or camera, but canít store things like gloves. Climbing specific hardshells (such as the Arcteryx Alpha SV, Rab Latok, and Rab Stretch Neo) have much larger bellowed chest pockets. Inside, however, the Ascent has a zippered pocket with a headphone port and a mesh stash pocket Ė both of these are excellent. Thereís also a second waist drawcord that pulls the jacket in close to keep you warmer when not wearing extra layers (adjust these by reaching into the hand pockets). The jacketís bottom hem pulls tight with a single hand. So, too, do the two front hood closures, but you have to reach inside the hood, which is less desirable than single handed cords on the outside (found on most other shells).
Best Application and Value
The Ascentís Gore-Tex Pro Shell provides a strong, durable, and warm shell that performs very well. The jacketís features, unfortunately, rate on the low side. We believe the Rab Stretch Neo is a better value.
— Max Neale
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Most recent review: June 12, 2012
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