Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $349
Pros: Cheapest jacket with Gore-Tex Pro Shell; good value.
Cons: boxy fit is restrictive for lifting arms overhead, small chest pockets, small pit zips, hand pockets are obscured by pack waistbelt, hood is not comfortable when worn under a helmet.
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 that's nearly half the price of many other top-of-the-line hardshells. The Ascent's features and fit aren't as refined as $600 jackets – the hand pockets are obscured by a pack's waist belt and the Velcro wrist closures come undone easily – but at $350 it's the second best value hardshell we tested.
This jacket is only available online at llbean.com or at one of their retail stores. Check out our complete Hardshell Jacket Review to compare all of the models tested including similarly priced Rab Stretch Neo which is available from a number of online retailers.
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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 membrane. We tested at least 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 Hardwear's Dry Q Elite, eVent, and Columbia's 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 Gore's unconditional lifetime warranty: if you aren't fully satisfied with its durability, water resistance, or breathability you can return it. The same is true, of course, with L.L. Bean's 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 Ascent's 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 – the jacket's outermost layer. Here, the Ascent uses a 4.1 oz 40-denier fabric that's plenty durable for most applications (it's significantly stronger than the face fabrics found in our Rain Jacket Review), but it's 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 you're not satisfied, both L.L. Bean and Gore offer to take the jacket back.
Back to the features. The Ascent's handwarmer pockets are set low to be comfortable for walking, but become obscured by a pack's 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 – they can carry items like an energy bar, phone, or camera, but can't store things like gloves. Climbing specific hardshells (such as the Arc'teryx 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 – both of these are excellent. There's 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 jacket's 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 Ascent's Gore-Tex Pro Shell provides a strong, durable, and warm shell that performs very well. The jacket's features, unfortunately, rate on the low side. We believe the Rab Stretch Neo is a better value.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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Most recent review: November 1, 2013
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