Patagonia Ascensionist Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
When you're shopping for outdoor gear you often face a tough choice between lightweight designs and heavier fully-featured models. The Patagonia Ascensionist is a rare exception that offers both minimal weight and an impressive feature set. We are thoroughly impressed with this combination because you aren't forced to make any sacrifices. Instead, you get a hardshell that's equally great for human-powered adventures or laidback chairlift riding.
The Ascensionist is constructed with a 30-denier Gore-Tex Active fabric that's lighter and more breathable than the Gore-Tex Pro fabric found on many other top-rated hardshells. However, we noticed that the Active fabric on the Ascensionist seemed slightly less windproof than standard Gore-Tex Pro. Patagonia's DWR treatment also seemed to wear off more quickly than others which meant water stopped beading and the fabric wetted out sooner.
Both of these criticisms were subtle and more of a testament to the outstanding weather protection of some other jackets rather than a deal-breaking disappointment for the Ascensionist. Despite these minor issues with the materials, our testers appreciated the design of this jacket when it came to keeping the weather out. The hood, wrist cuffs, and waist drawcord all functioned properly and proved to be capable of sealing moisture out. And with regular DWR reapplications, we were satisfied with its waterproofness.
At 13.6 oz for a size large, the Ascensionist weighed in as a fairly lightweight hardshell jacket. Although it's a few ounces heavier than the lightest hardshells, it's also several ounces lighter than the heaviest models. The minimalist design also meant that this jacket can pack down smaller than a few competitors that weigh near the same.
We believe this leaves the Ascensionist in a pleasant sweet spot between ultralight and fully-featured hardshells. It's light enough that we wouldn't question using it for intense cardio activities like backcountry skiing or alpine climbing, yet it's also sturdy enough to withstand the abuse that these activities often involve. Compared to many heavier shells, the Ascensionist also offers a similar feature set with an adequate number of pockets and pit zips for venting excess heat.
Mobility and Fit
Perhaps the most noticeable way the Ascensionist stands out compared to other hardshells in its weight class is its generous dimensions. While other companies sometimes trim the waistline or sleeves to save weight, this jacket is ample in both areas. Our ice climbing testers especially appreciated the low waist hem and extended sleeves because they didn't seem to ride up during the complex movements that climbing often demands. The generous cut also left appropriate room for stouter folks and supplied ample space for adding extra layers on cold days.
Some of this jacket's mobility is supplied by the generous cut and some seems to be provided by the stretchiness of the materials. Its Gore-Tex Active material is mildly stretchy compared to others and this went a modest way toward providing greater freedom of movement. There are stretchier materials or softshell models for really dynamic activities, but the Ascensionist was one of the most mobile hardshells that we tried.
Venting and Breathability
To stay dry in harsh conditions, your hardshell jacket has to perform two contradictory functions: stopping outside moisture from getting in and allowing heat and vapor generated by your body to escape. The Gore-Tex Active fabric used on the Ascensionist is designed to be better at the latter, and in our tests we found it to be some of the most breathable fabric of any hardshell. This was a welcomed characteristic on long uphill efforts but the advantage was somewhat negated because it also felt like it offered less wind resistance.
In most situations, it's better to vent excess heat rather than to depend on the limited breathability of a waterproof fabric. In this respect, the Ascensionist is equipped with a pair of pit zips. These vents are long enough to be effective at venting underarm heat and the zippers are easy to operate and waterproof. The main zipper includes a single one-way slide which reduces the venting options slightly compared to other models with two-way zippers.
Features and Design
The Ascensionist includes an impressive feature set for such a lightweight shell. There are four pockets including one zippered chest, two zippered side, and one internal stash pocket. Together they offer considerably more storage space than comparably lightweight jackets. The side pockets, in particular, are surprisingly large and big enough to accommodate a pair of gloves or a hat. We only wish they were positioned slightly higher to avoid any overlap with a backpack waist belt or climbing harness.
The wrist cuffs utilize a simple hook-and-look mechanism that seems reliable at staying closed. The hood includes a reinforced brim to direct precip to the sides and a trio of drawcords to help dial in a nice fit. We found the internal pinch clamps that operate these drawcords to be easy to adjust with gloves on. In the center of the back Patagonia included a Recco reflector which could help ski patrollers locate you if you're buried by an avalanche while skiing at a resort.
All hardshells seem expensive compared to most outdoor clothing, and the Patagonia Ascensionist is no exception. Compared to other hardshells, though, the Ascensionist is priced just a little above average. For this price, you get a jacket with a thoughtful design and excellent all-around performance. For this reason, we believe the Ascensionist does present a decent value, especially compared to some of its more expensive but lower-scoring competitors.
Winter brings opportunities for a wide variety of activities. Whether it's skiing, climbing, snowshoeing, or just strolling through town you might want a hardshell to keep you dry when the snow starts falling. Although there are some jackets that could be better for specific activities, the Patagonia Asecensionst provides impressive performance for all of them. It's our top choice for those with diversified winter tastes that are looking for one hardshell jacket that can do it all.
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