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Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody Review 2018

  • Day Hiker

Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody Overview

The Outdoor Research Ascendant is an insulated jacket that screams, “Nobody puts baby in a corner!” It pulls double duty as a cross between your classic synthetic insulated jacket and a softshell, meaning its outer shell works great to shed wind and light-to-medium precipitation while the inside of the jacket, though it looks like an exploded Sesame Street character, provides a more than decent amount of warmth.

The Ascendant is fairly simple in features, despite falling in between two categories of gear. It has two open hand pockets, your standard durable middle zipper, and an exterior zippered chest pocket. It uses Polartec Alpha Direct Insulation, and unlike most synthetic insulated jackets, leaves the insulation right on the skin, which creates an extremely cozy interior. From peak bagging to trail running to looking super fly around town, the Ascendant is one piece of gear that has become a staple in my closet.

Due to its versatility and warmth on nearly any trail where you need light weather protection, we have awarded the Outdoor Research Ascendant Jacket our Classic Pick for the Day Hiker.

That said, I want to be clear that this jacket is a bit of a hybrid piece and may provide an allure to people looking for something ultra specific. For anybody out there that overheats the second the grade gets steep, this might be just the ticket to “cool your jets”. There is less insulation on this piece than many other synthetic jackets, and I believe this makes it a polarizing (dare I say disruptive?) jacket.

Read our detailed guide to synthetic insulated jackets, and scroll below for the full Outdoor Research Ascendant Jacket review.

Ascendant Hoody Specifications

Feature Type Feature Specs What This Means
Average Weight 13 oz. (369 g) Slightly higher weight than your average synthetic puffy, but very acceptable. Extra weight is due to the unique insulation.
Insulation Polartec Alpha Direct This insulation is unique, and sits directly on the skin for a very cozy feel. It breathes exceptionally and has decent warmth. See more about synthetic insulation in our Guide.
Shell Fabric Pertex Microlight 20D ripstop stretch This 100% nylon shell is much burlier than most synthetic insulated jackets, nearly making the Ascendant a softshell. It resists scrapes and light rain. See more about synthetic insulated jacket shell fabric in our Guide.
DWR Treatment No The shell fabric is burly enough that it does not need DWR to shed light rain.
Number of Pockets 3 Two open hand pockets (no zippers, which is weird) and one zippered chest pocket with lots of room.
Stuffs Into Itself No While you can stuff this jacket into a hand-warmer pocket, it doesn’t zip up. It does compress quite small though.
Hood/Jacket Option Hood and Jacket Outdoor Research makes this in hooded and non-hooded versions. It also makes a vest and pants for those interested.
Adjustable Hood Yes The hood has a single toggle for tightening.
Adjustable Waist No No adjustable elastic on the waist of the Ascendant. This would help keep in warmth, but most people use it for breathability so it’s less of an issue.
Gender Men’s, Women’s Made for both genders.
Sizes Available Men’s S-XL, Women’s XS-XL Plenty of sizes, though the men’s could use an XS and an XXL.
Manufacturer Warranty Infinite Guarantee Outdoor Research has a lifetime guarantee for all its products. It rocks. Use it if something in this product breaks.
Retail Price $215 An average price for a higher-end synthetic insulated jacket. Look for it on sale.

Gear Review of the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody

Origins: Easing You In

Living in the high rockies can be a tricky environment to dress for. For instance, it snowed a foot the night before I wrote this review, and the next morning it was sixty degrees. Strange, to say the least.

Due to this climate I’ve been on the search for a highly versatile and lightweight jacket that has just the right amount of insulation. I tend to overheat during any aerobic activity, so for me a good hiking jacket is all about breathability. The Outdoor Research Ascendant delivers in spades.

Outdoor-Research-Ascendant-Hoody-review-review-profile
The Outdoor Research Ascendent looks good in soft light while looking off towards some incredible view.

I took this jacket up some 13ers in winter while shouldering a heavy pack with temperatures in the low teens, and I took it down into the foothills for trail running in more mild temps, around 30 to 40 degrees (F). It performed admirably in these scenarios, specifically in the breathability department. If you’re a set it and forget kind of person, you can literally put on the Ascendant and with the adjustment of the main zipper be perfectly insulated in a huge range of environments.

For you readers out there, I also tested and reviewed the Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody, our Premium Pick synthetic insulated jacket for the Day Hiker. The Nano-Air Hoody is a more traditional synthetic insulated jacket, and is all about breathability, too. They are both fantastic at what they do, but I think the Nano-Air will work better for those looking for a really warm synthetic jacket that happens to breathe well. The Outdoor Research Ascendant is best for those looking for something to keep them warm during extremely aerobic activities where weather tends to be variable.

Revelation: The Moment I Knew

At 6:00 a.m., at an elevation of 9,000 feet, the wind howled and snow blanketed the little chunk of earth illuminated by my headlamp. I was huffing and puffing up the last 200 vertical feet that led to the summit of Democrat Mountain. I was completely alone save for the bighorn sheep and our local Elk herd.

As I stood alone on the summit I watched the alpenglow illuminate the world around me. I had a realization. I was comfortable! Yes, it was snowing and 30-something degrees and I had just ran several miles and climbed close to two thousand feet, but I was actually comfortable. Why? The Ascendant.

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A different day, but the feeling of ascent (get it?!) stayed with me.

This jacket rocks! It somehow combines the weather protection of a softshell with the warmth of a real synthetic jacket yet keeps you comfortable with tremendous breathability. I tend to run pretty hot during aerobic activities and I overheat quickly. I have yet to overheat in this jacket, while staying plenty warm at the same time.

Digging Deeper

The star of the show here is the Polartec Alpha Direct insulation. This is relatively new insulation on the market, something that I’ve never used before and was real keen to try out. This stuff looks like shag carpeting, but unlike shag carpeting it’s something you actually want. This insulation was originally developed for the military — par the course for most fancy materials in the outdoor industry. Now it’s in retail channels in a handful of brands.

Outdoor-Research-Ascendant-Hoody-review-zipper-layers-fabric
The Polartec Alpha Direct insulation is the fuzzy stuff on the inside of the jacket. Cozy, warm, and crazy breathable.

The general idea is that changing your layers is not always a viable option, and I suppose even less so in active warfare. It’s built for those who can’t stop in the middle of an activity cause they’re too hot, or too cold, which applies to both outdoor life and warfare.

The end result is the most breathable jacket that I’ve ever worn. The Alpha Direct insulation helps to regulate your temperature whether you’re skinning uphill or shaking out the screaming barfies while ice climbing. There are only a few jackets on the market right now that utilize this awesome technology and I imagine we will see the market flooded with product offerings in the coming years. Here’s a fun note: If you love this jacket you can get a pair of Ascendant pants to match!

Outdoor-Research-Ascendant-Hoody-review-size-comparison
Here are two size comparisons: the Ascendant rolled up next to your standard 750 ml of bourbon, and it rolled up next to the 1L Klean Kanteen Classic Insulated water bottle. It’s not tiny, but it’s not huge.

Beyond the insulation, the Ascendant has another ace up its sleeve. The shell fabric is a Pertex Microlight 20D ripstop stretch woven material, which translates to a thicker, stretchier, and more wind- and water-resistant outer than other insulated puffies, like the Rab Xenon X, Outdoor Research Cathode, or Arc’teryx Atom LT. This gives it an almost softshell quality, which is that fine line between a warm jacket and a rain shell.

After these unique fabrics everything is pretty standard. Two open hand pockets for warmth, one zippered chest pocket for storage, elastic cuffs, and a relatively low weight for the warmth.

Outdoor-Research-Ascendant-Hoody-review-chest-zip
A zippered chest pocket is clutch.

Comfort 

The Ascendant feels like Elmo is giving you a hug. I’ve had to remind myself that this jacket is meant for the outdoors and that I probably shouldn’t wear it to the office. Every day. It’s one of those pieces you just don’t want to take off.

Durability 

In the two months that I’ve been using the Ascendant I’ve brushed up against countless pine trees, willows, boulders, snow, and ice. Thus far the exterior is unscathed. Like most Outdoor Research products the build quality is top notch and it’s back by the Infinite Guarantee, so should anything arise you can rest easy and know they will take care of it.

That said, I have two concerns in terms of durability, thus the four stars. The first is its propensity to stain. I wear this thing all the time, have spilled food on it, and it seems to stain extremely easily, even with multiple wash cycles. That’s a bit of a bummer.

Outdoor-Research-Ascendant-Hoody-review-polartec-alpha-direct
The Outdoor Resarch Ascendent Hoody works well in the mountains, and should certainly last. But it keeps stains, and it’s hard to know how long an on-the-skin insulation will stick around.

The second is the nature of the unprotected Alpha Direct insulation. I imagine that over time this is likely to leach into wastewater from washing. I can’t say with certainty that this will happen, but the fine threads of insulation are exposed and therefore more likely to fray and fall apart compared to an insulation that has been bonded to a laminate fabric.

Warmth 

The warmth of this jacket is deceptive. It packs a high insulating value into a very lightweight package. I’ve been happy wearing this for trail runs with just a light synthetic layer underneath in 15 degree temps, and that same setup has kept me comfortable hiking in 40-50 degrees. That being said, while standing still it certainly doesn’t match the warmth of a good synthetic puffy.

Outdoor-Research-Ascendant-Hoody-review-before-a-snowy-hike
As long as you’re moving around, the Ascendant should keep you warm well into the teens.

We chose this for day hikers because you are typically on the move when hiking, rather than standing around a campfire. This is definitely an active piece, so don’t expect any insane feats of warmth.

Breathability 

I think that Outdoor Research is approaching breathable perfection with the Ascendant. This jacket’s ability to truly keep you comfortable during periods of high exertion is unparalleled in my opinion.

My typical training runs involve high altitude, lots of miles, extreme winds, and precipitation. The Ascendant manages to keep you warm but never lets you get too hot. You can almost see the moisture evaporating from the face fabric.

Fit

Outdoor Research describes the fit of the Ascendant as “Athletic”, meaning slim. I’d say they are spot on. I always wear a medium with this brand, and it’s no different with this piece. It fits snug but leaves some room, though not much, for layering underneath. This means it’s a true midlayer, and can fit a rain shell over it easily.

Outdoor-Research-Ascendant-Hoody-review-chest-zip-in-snow-3
The jacket fits in all the right places.

The sleeve length is perfect and the elastic cuffs keep them in place. The mobility of the jacket is fantastic and, even though the fit itself is snug, it allows total freedom of movement. All that said, I believe it’s a touch too snug, which leaves the center zipper puckering a bit.

Grievances

The very insulation that makes this piece so awesome also comes with a big drawback. Depending on what is already in your gear closet, you may have a hard time finding layers that work nicely with the very grabby nature of the insulation.

While the Polartec Alpha Direct is undoubtedly the king of active insulation in terms of breathability, its whole premise is that it’s exposed to your body (rather than behind a thin layer of fabric like other synthetic insulated jackets). This means that some layers have a hard time gliding freely underneath it.

I’ve worn three baselayers with this jacket. A lightweight synthetic like Patagonia Capilene, the Patagonia R1 fleece, and a Smartwool 250-weight midlayer. The synthetic baselayer was able to glide smoothly and provided a comfortable feeling all around when used with the Ascendant. The Smartwool also provided admirable results.

Where things got tricky was with the hexagonal fleece patterning and rough feel of the R1. When you toss the Ascendant over this you will notice a lot of resistance and have to grab the sleeves of the jacket and pull them down your arms. Dealbreaker? Absolutely not. In fact this may encourage me to pack a bit lighter and leave the thicker baselayers at home for summer mornings in the high rockies.

As a final word on layering I would like to add that it layers very well underneath a hardshell rain jacket. Just be aware of your current baselayers to see if this will rub the right or wrong way.

My other grievance: Outdoor Research has curiously omitted zippers for the hand warmer pockets, but there is a generous zippered chest pocket. The hand warmer pockets also don’t work that well with a hip belt or harness. The hand warmer pockets are great for warming the hands up quickly, I just wish they had zippers so you could confidently store things in them.

Outdoor-Research-Ascendant-Hoody-review-profile-3-featured
The Ascendant looks good, fits well, and has two non-zippered hand pockets, which is strange. Why omit the zips?

Finally, the thumb loops stink. They’re too snug to easily put your thumbs through and that means you typically have to use your free hand to adjust it. They also inhibit the use of gloves so I tend to avoid using them.

Final Word

Looking for an active insulation jacket that breathes better than anything? Stop looking and pick up the Outdoor Research Ascendant. Save the trial and error and go with the sure thing.

Where to Buy Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody

We tested the Men’s Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody. There is a women’s version, which is the exact same except for color and fit. Outdoor Research also makes the Ascendant Jacket, which is hood-less. This decision (to hood or not) is mostly about your layering system, and if you want a midlayer with a hood.

We tend to prefer a hood, so we recommend that.

Compare Outdoor Research Ascendant prices below.

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jon rosenberg packrafting

Jon Rosenberg

Jon Rosenberg is an avid adventurer and mountaineer based out of Clear Creek County, Colorado. Living at over 9,000 feet, he’s treated to some of the best hiking, backpacking, paddling, running, and everything else. Jon lives in a small cabin in a ghost town with his wife DeDe and husky-mix, Bivy. You really ought to see their gear room.

Review Policy: We do not accept payments or gifts from brands and vendors, and strive to provide unbiased, independent advice. Brands typically provide review samples which we return, and in some cases we purchase the item so we can keep using it long after the review. Affiliate Policy: We support the hours that go into our reviews and testing through affiliate commissions on purchases made through links in this article. These don't effect the outcome of our reviews or selection of gear, as per our Review Policy.

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