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Hands-on Gear Review
Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody - Women's Review
Cons: Durability issues, hand pockets do not zip, thumb loops aren't well executed
Bottom line: The OR Ascendant Hoody is a comfortable and very lightweight jacket with a plush interior that provides excellent warmth, mobility, and breathability.
The Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody was an incredibly unique model in our review. Its fuzzy interior provided the luscious warmth of a lightweight puffy yet somehow still managed to breathe as a high quality softshell should. It resisted the wind, wicked away water, and allowed us to move and play without restriction. A few aspects of this layer were not as technical as we like to see, namely a lack of zippers on the hand pockets and a less feature-heavy hood, but the main complaint we had was with a lack of durability in the outer fabric. For that reason, we can't recommend the Ascendant for activities like rock climbing where your body will very likely come in contact with sharp or rough objects. While this is a serious issue, we still couldn't help loving this hoody to pieces, and happily awarded it our Top Pick for Warmth award.
RELATED REVIEW: The 11 Best Softshell Jackets for Women
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The OR Ascendant Hoody struggled with some durability issues, but we loved everything else about this fun and functional layer. It was snuggly warm due to its plush interior but still breathed surprisingly well. It only weighed 11.5 ounces but managed to have impressive weather protection - some of the best we experienced in our entire review. Some aspects were not as technical as we like to see in a high performing softshell, but overall we enjoyed this jacket and felt it is an asset to almost anyone's closet.
When we first laid eyes on this jacket, it was easy to underestimate. It's so lightweight and fragile looking that we honestly didn't expect it to measure up to most of our test group. But measure up it did, blowing the competition out of the water in many of our metrics.
We wore the Ascendant Hoody biking on a below-freezing day, hiking through the knock-you-off-your-feet wind in the alpine, belaying on chilly climbing days, and even into the shower to test water resistance. And time after time we found ourselves impressed. One thing we consistently noticed was that when putting on this jacket, we always felt an instant layer of warmth surround us, the same way you do when pulling on a puffy. Most softshells feel a little chilly when they first get put on before the body was a chance to heat up the material. But not the Ascendant - this gem was like getting wrapped up in a cozy blanket.
Despite the wind and cold protection we received from this layer, we still thought that it couldn't possibly handle water very well. Once again we were wrong. The Ascendant kept water out everywhere except at the waist because - since the pockets don't zip - water was able to get in there. The interesting thing was that the water, for the most part, pooled inside the pockets instead of just running through them and we had to physically dump it out, once again showing the fantastic barrier this jacket can provide.
This contender was so close to beating out our reigning Editors' Choice, the Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody, but its lack of durability and more advanced features knocked its scores down in a few places. But we had to honor this incredible shell in some fashion, hence our Top Pick for Warmth award. Other pieces with excellent weather protection were the Rab Upslope and the stiff but protective Patagonia Adze Hoody.
The interior of the Ascendant Hoody has Polartec Alpha Direct Insulation, a fuzzy and cozy layer that felt so nice on our skin and provided impressive warmth and weather protection. We thought this insulative layer would for sure impede breathability but, like everything else we initially assumed about this contender, we were wrong.
Somehow this plush contender was able to wick moisture away and breathe while still providing an impressive barrier against the elements. We found this combo to be pretty magical, though the tradeoff may be a lack of durability, discussed in more detail under the "Features" section below.
Some of the best breathability in this review was found in our other Outdoor Research item, the Ferrosi Crosstown Hoody, our Best Buy on a Tight Budget winner. However, this jacket was also very thin and lacked the serious weather protection we prefer in a technical jacket. For breathability in a warmer, more feature-rich competitor, check out the Gamma MX Hoody, our Editors' Choice. The Rab Upslope, with its multitude of mesh-lined pockets was also a great all-around jacket.
Another rating metric, another stellar performance by the Ascendant. It stretched and moved along with us like a champ.
This layer fits well and didn't ride up or feel uncomfortable in any way. It's like a cozy plush sweatshirt that's a joy to put on and that you never want to take off. We loved it for every adventure we took it on, our only concern being the easily-damaged thin outer material.
Other models we loved for their mobility were the OR Ferrosi Crosstown Hoody, the Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody, and our Top Pick for Rock Climbing, the Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody. But the winner in this category was the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol, a roomy feature-heavy jacket made with four-way stretch material.
It was a clean sweep here by Outdoor Research, providing the two lightest jackets in our entire review.
The Ferrosi Crosstown was the lightest in our review at 10.9 ounces, but it was also very thin and consequentially not very warm or weather protective. The Ascendant Hoody was 11.5 ounces, a mere 0.6 ounces heavier, but it provided some of the best warmth, protection, breathability, and mobility in our entire review. Unfortunately, it seems some fabric integrity was sacrificed to achieve this, because there were some genuine durability issues that, ironically, the thin OR Ferrosi did not suffer from.
Also notable in this category was the 12.8 ounce Charles River Axis, a simple urban jacket available for only $59. And the impressive 15.3 ounce Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody, our Top Pick for Rock Climbing - an incredibly well-made jacket that, while not as warm as the Ascendant was a bit more feature-rich and much more durable.
The exceptionally lightweight yet warm material on the Ascendant was its main and most impressive feature. Outside of that, it lacked many of the basic features of other models in our review.
The Ascendant Hoody is constructed with a stretchy Pertex Microlight 20D ripstop stretch woven shell with a fuzzy Polartec Alpha Direct Insulation on the interior. This combination provided incredible warmth while still allowing breathability and mobility. Beyond that, it has internal thumb loops, a key clip in one of the two non-zippered hand pockets, a narrow zippered chest pocket, adjustable drawstring hem, and a one-way adjustable helmet-compatible hood.
While we felt we had everything we needed and loved the fit of the hood on the Ascendant, we had to deduct some points because of how it stacked up overall against other jackets in our review. The cuffs were not adjustable, and the internal thumb loops weren't executed as well as we feel they could have been - they chaffed and felt a bit constricting. The chest pocket was narrower than our hand which made it irritating to get in and out of, especially when wearing gloves.
The hand pockets don't have zippers, so forget using them to store anything. But far and away our biggest concern was the durability of the otherwise fabulous fabric on this jacket. We had a feeling this would be an issue, so we tested a small area by rubbing it on a rock. Within seconds we had a hole in the material. We also noticed some discoloration on the front that we weren't able to remove, resulting from, we think, either chalk or chalk combined with water.
Our top scorers in the category were the Rab Upslope with its impressive number of pockets and the Dawn Patrol because of its fantastic mobility and fit.
We appreciated the casual and simple style of this layer, though it wasn't as flattering overall as some of our other contenders.
Both of our Outdoor Research jackets, the Ferrosi Crosstown and the Ascendant, offered an understated hip look reminiscent of a favorite sweatshirt. We found the Ferrosi to be more attractive and easier to layer with all kinds of other items, hence its higher score. We also really enjoyed the athletic and slimming tailoring of our Arc'teryx models, the Gamma MX and the Gamma LT.
If there wasn't a durability with the Ascendant Hoody it would probably have been our Editors' Choice winner, and we would recommend it for anything and everything. It's a Top Pick for a reason. As it stands, we still think it's fantastic for most chilly and aerobic activities from hiking and biking to climbing, skinning, and running; just be aware that on sharp rock or ice, you could tear a hole in the exterior fabric pretty easily. If you're okay with being a bit careful with the Ascendant, we think this do-it-all layer will be a favorite whether you have it under a hardshell, over a base layer, or even right next to your skin.
$215 is a pretty solid investment but, despite the durability issues we had with the Ascendant Hoody, we think it's worth the price. It was our Top Pick for Warmth for a reason - this jacket is light, compact, insulating, and just downright impressive in almost all respects. Should you buy it if all you do is rock climb and you love tight chimney squeezes? No. But if you plan to go out for varied activity and you treat this jacket with the same respect and care you would a down puffy, we think it can last a good long while. You may need to also invest in a role of Tenacious Tape to fix the inevitable tear that life will bestow at some point, but you'll probably be so cozy while doing it that you won't mind too much.
The Ascendant Hoody was superb in almost every respect, so much so that it almost unseated our reigning Editor's Choice champ, the Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody. This cozy puffy-like layer, our clear Top Pick for Warmth, only weighed 11.5 ounces yet provided some of the best weather protection, breathability, and mobility in our entire test suite. The outer material is fragile and overall this shell didn't provide some of the basic features like adjustable cuffs and zippered hand pockets that many of our other contenders did, but we loved the protective feel so much that even these shortcomings didn't much bother us. If you're looking for a comfortable and warm jacket that can easily fit in your pack, layer under a hardshell, breathe while you hike, and keep you cozy while in wind and light snow, look no further - this is a great choice.
— Penney Garrett
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