The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Columbia Ascender Review

This casual jacket from Columbia is great for outings around town, day hikes and light activity, though is not designed for climbing or skiing pursuits.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $70 List | $50.49 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Warm, stylish, inexpensive, durable
Cons:  Heavy, doesn’t stretch, few pockets, boxy fit, wrist closures are bulky
Manufacturer:   Columbia
By Ryan Huetter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 17, 2017
  • Share this article:
57
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 10
  • Weather Protection - 30% 7
  • Breathability - 30% 5
  • Mobility - 20% 5
  • Weight - 10% 6
  • Features - 5% 3
  • Style - 5% 6

The Skinny

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.


Compare to Similar Products

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.

Performance Comparison


The wind kicked up on the approach to go ice climbing. Pictured left to right: Patagonia Knifeblade Pullover  Ascender  OR Ferrosi.
The wind kicked up on the approach to go ice climbing. Pictured left to right: Patagonia Knifeblade Pullover, Ascender, OR Ferrosi.

Weather Protection


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.

Breathability


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.

This jacket has a true-to-size fit but was boxy on some of our slim reviewers. It has the shortest sleeves of any of the jackets we tested - a problem the lack of stretch amplifies when reaching.

Casey shows us the falling cuffs  also notice how much the jacket is pulling up at his waist. This is not a very mobile softshell.
Casey shows us the falling cuffs, also notice how much the jacket is pulling up at his waist. This is not a very mobile softshell.

Weight


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.

Features


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.

When cinched tight  the cuffs are bulky  but they aren't large enough to fit over many ski gloves.
When cinched tight, the cuffs are bulky, but they aren't large enough to fit over many ski gloves.

Style


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.

Notice how the jacket is starting to pull out of the harness. This was not a very mobile softshell.
Notice how the jacket is starting to pull out of the harness. This was not a very mobile softshell.

Best Applications


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.

Value


This jacket offers decent value for the price. But overall, we prefer the Patagonia Adze, which is more expensive, but a much better jacket.

Conclusion


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