The Columbia Ascender is a softshell jacket that is best suited for trips around town, light hikes outdoors, and other low output activities. It is an affordable layer, has a fleece backing that makes it cozy and warm, and looks great paired with jeans, hiking pants, or even slacks on the way to the office on a cold fall morning. Of any of the softshells with casual settings in mind, this is the most budget-friendly, though we did prefer the added features of the Patagonia Adze Hoody and the extended range of the Arcteryx Gamma MX.
Columbia Ascender Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Warm, stylish, inexpensive, durable
Cons: Heavy, doesn’t stretch, few pockets, boxy fit, wrist closures are bulky
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Columbia Ascender jacket is an inexpensive, good-looking coat that is simple and durable. It has relatively few features and is not very mobile, so its usefulness is limited to casual outings that do not demand high performance.
This jacket scored a 7/10 for weather protection. The hooded version of this jacket would have scored higher, but for the weight, we were disappointed. We found that the DWR coating adequately shed water and snow, but the wind whipped right through when walking around the neighborhood on chilly days. In less extreme conditions, we found the wind resistance to be adequate. The light fleece backing made this one of the warmer jackets we reviewed. It was warm enough when walking with just a light sweatshirt underneath, but we were chilled when standing around in 30-degree weather. The adjustable cord on the hem easily lost its stretch, making it difficult to get a tight fit around the waist to keep out cold drafts from coming up the back.
The Ascender scored pretty low in breathability tests. It tied the bulky The North Face Apex Bionic 2 with a score of 5. In contrast to the Outdoor Research Ferrosi or Arcteryx Psiphon FL, the Ascender was too thick to effectively move moisture through its membrane. The trade-off for high breathability, however, is weather resistance.
For casual softshells, we like jackets that fit somewhere in the middle, like the Ascender. They are weather resistant enough to block a lot of wind and light precipitation, but breathable enough that you won't sweat your way down Broadway. For a casual jacket that offers more breathability, consider the Patagonia Adze Hoody.
Mobility & Fit
This model is the second least mobile softshell jackets that we tested due to the poor cut and lack of stretch. It ranked much lower in our tests than the featured Arcteryx Gamma MX but does cost almost two-thirds less. The lack of stretch means that the user's movement feels restricted, so we were more inclined to wear this on walks and other activities where we did not have to move around as much. For activities such as rock or ice climbing, we prefer jackets that stretch or have gussets under the arm, like the Adze Hoody. The Ascender has neither.
At 1.3 pounds on our scale, this jacket was lighter than the two other casual jackets we looked at, The North Face and Patagonia models. Lacking a hood, and any useful features aside from three pockets, the lower weight is not necessarily an endorsement. Those wishing for added features and protection would happily accept a small weight increase to get the wind and water resistance offered by a heavier coat like the Mountain Hardwear Dragon.
Compared with top-tier softshell jackets, the Ascender falls behind. Lack of mobility aside, poor quality seams and wrist closures are our biggest complaint about this jacket. That said, we loved the zippered handwarmer pockets while strolling through town in style. Lined with a light fleece material, our hands were cozy inside even without gloves on during chilly walks. The zippered chest pocket is also large enough for a phone or power bar.
This jacket comes in some neutral colors and has a decent cut. That said, we preferred the look of the Patagonia Adze Hoody and the Arcteryx Gamma MX.
This softshell is best for cruising around town in shoulder seasons, day hiking, and situations where you want more weather protection than a heavy-weight fleece.
This jacket offers decent value for the price. But overall, we prefer the Patagonia Adze, which is more expensive, but a much better jacket.
The Columbia Ascender is an inexpensive softshell that provides more protection than a heavyweight fleece. It works well around town but lacks the breathability and mobility that we require for serious outdoor ventures.
— Ryan Huetter