Light and highly breathable, the Outdoor Reseach Ascendant Hoody is hailed by some as the "perfect mid-layer." The Ascendant is the first jacket we've tested to use Polartec Alpha Direct, a version of Polartec that doesn't require an inner lining to hold it in place, saving weight and adding an extra element of comfort. It turns out Polartec Alpha Direct feels awesomely soft against our skin. The downside? This jacket offers very little weather resistance. Wind cuts through its stretchy shell fabric, and it soaks up water faster than most of the other models we tested. Though it has poor weather resistance, its designers intended it to feel great under a waterproof layer and breathe well, rather than be a do-it-all layer, so if you want to dial in the perfect mid-layer and aren't happy with the fleece options out there, the Ascendant hoody might just do the trick.
Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Breathable, light, great midlayer
Cons: Poor weather resistance
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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Our Analysis and Test Results
When it comes to breathability, the Ascendant tops the charts, although it isn't as warm or anywhere as near as weather-resistant as some other competitors. It's lightweight, but by no means crazy-light, weighing the same as some warmer and more weather-resistant choices.
This jacket is relatively thin and very breathable, so warmth isn't its strong point. Under a hardshell or even a light wind layer, the Ascendant is a good insulator. However, it is not very warm for use as an outer layer. This isn't necessarily a bad thing since our testers feel like its possible to leave it on during summertime alpine scrambles and spring ski tours, enhancing its versatility.
Weight & Compressibility
Our small sized Ascendant weighs 11.3 ounces, which is one of the lightest choices among our test fleet. Outdoor Research claims that a size medium would only average 13 ounces, which is barely much more. We stuffed this jacket into its hood down to the size of a football, but it would pack down even smaller into a stuff sack. It does not have a built-in stowaway pocket.
The stretchy Pertex Microlight stretch woven shell fabric and the soft, fleece-like feel of the Polartec Alpha Direct insulation against the skin make for an extremely comfy jacket. The Ascendant is a well-tailored mid-layer, and our testers found it to be form-fitting without feeling tight or restricting. The two handwarmer pockets are lined with Polartec Alpha. They are fairly deep, and we never had any items fall out, but they don't have zippers, so keep that in mind when storing important items. There is a small zippered chest pocket for keys, lighters, credit cards, and anything else you don't want to lose. Without pocket zippers, this jacket feels very comfortable under a harness, under a hardshell, and while in a sleeping bag. The hood is stretchy and stays in place well, even before we pulled the cinch cord tight, locking everything in place.
We think this jacket is a great mid-layer, but what makes it soft, supple, and breathable also makes it very vulnerable to rain. The Ascendant is not treated with a durable waterproof repellent (DWR), and it soaked through in our shower test immediately. While this jacket isn't designed to be waterproof, it is one of the least water-resistant of the insulated jackets in our review. If this jacket gets soaked, it takes a long time to dry out, whereas if a jacket with DWR treatment gets wet in a downpour, the DWR prevents the insulation from becoming waterlogged, leading to much faster drying times.
The Ascendant gets top marks for breathability, making it perfect for early morning runs. Our lead tester stayed comfortable running in this jacket with temperatures in the mid-thirties and could leave it on even as the sun came up, and the temps climbed into the upper fifties. For him, most of the stretchy active insulators are even too warm and not breathable enough for running in these temps, but the Ascendant Hoody is perfect.
Available in six colors, the Ascendant Hoody should appeal to everyone's optical pallets. While not as casual looking as a cotton hoody, the non-reflective shell fabric has a soft, comfy feel, and the is fit near perfect, not too baggy, while not looking too tight either.
For its price, you get comfort, a little more warmth than the average fleece, and great breathability. While it is perhaps a bit pricey considering its overall performance in our testing, it's backed by Outdoor Research's Infinite Guarantee, one of the best warranty programs in the industry.
A good breathable insulator is one that hits that sweet spot where it balances warmth and breathability. That spot is a little different for everyone, and changes with the conditions. The Ascendant is a good choice if you want a highly breathable and comfortable mid-layer, and enjoy a fleecy interior lining.
— Andy Wellman & Matt Bento