Light and warm at the same time? Tick. At 337g, in women's size L, the Ascendant Hoody is impressively light for the warmth on offer. Comfortable and a good shape for active use? Tick. Works both in the mountains and in daily life? Double tick. The Ascendant Hoody combines all of the above. It's been my outer layer of choice this spring, and looks a good bet for the rest of summer too – but at the same time it works as a thermal midlayer in winter as well.
Developed by Seattle-based Outdoor Research, this softshell jacket is ideal for the ever-changing (but usually damp) British climate. In recent years several brands have brought out hybrid softshells combining a light outer with a fleecy lining. Running with this general theme, the Ascendant has a stretchy wind and weather-shedding outer layer and a snug pile inner. It offers plenty of cosiness when things turn chilly, yet it has excellent wicking qualities when you're getting active and sweaty. It's light enough to squish into a backpack and barely notice the weight, too. Aside from the price tag, which does seem quite high for a light softshell, I'm struggling to find anything much to fault here.
This jacket is available for both men and women. I've been using a women's size L, which seems to roughly equate to a 14 and works well with my broad shoulders. The women's Ascendant has a lovely fit, with tailoring at the waist and back which helps improve its insulation performance and ensures that it looks good too. Surprisingly given this tailored shape, I can still easily fit it over a couple of long-sleeve base layers if needed.
Hem length is ideal for hillwalking and climbing, coming down below the hips and at least partly covering the buttocks. This means it does not ride up under rucksack hipbelts or harnesses, and there is no danger of a chilly draft cutting through when you are moving around. An elastic volume adjuster at the waist helps you get the fit nice and snug for windy conditions.
The zipped neck comes right up to the chin, giving maximum cold weather protection, while the sleeve length is also good for me - no cold wrists when reaching up, especially if I use the internal thumb tags. There's no size adjustment at the wrists, just a simple stretchy cuff. I've found this works well, the one possible exception being if you were trying to fit the sleeves over bulky gauntlet style gloves (an unlikely scenario for a winter midlayer).
I am not a big one for fancy fabrics with complicated technical names, but I can honestly say the combination that OR have used here is great.
The lightweight outer layer is made from Pertex Microlight, a 100% nylon 20-Denier ripstop woven shell. What you need to know is that this thin outer feels tough for its low weight, and has a light stretch that helps it move really well with your body (unlike any full waterproof I own, for instance). It also keeps the wind at bay very effectively, but since it remains air permeable it doesn't seem to compromise breathability. It is soft to the touch and quiet when you move too. As you'd expect from a softshell, the fabric is water resistant enough to shrug off light showers, but does soon begin to wet out in proper rain, so the Ascendant definitely isn't a substitute for a waterproof shell.
The fleecy inner is Polartec's Alpha Direct, one of the current market leaders when it comes to 'active insulation' for softshells - see for instance our recent review of OR's Alpenice Jacket. Here OR have gone for a weight of 95g/m2, which is somewhat less than the more winter-oriented Alpenice; for a light all-season softshell I think it's a great thickness, offering just the right amount of insulation without being too much for active use or warmer conditions. This open-weave polyester pile is basically a grid of soft fluffy tufts of insulation interspersed with air spaces which help hold the heat, giving it a really cosy warmth which is instantly comforting; at the same time, being largely air, it's pretty light. With so much open space, breathability on the move is great too - the best of both worlds.
Cleverly, in the upper arm area the Alpha Direct is overlaid with a smooth fabric lining, which I've found makes the jacket glide over your base layer rather than snagging - a big improvement on lined softshells I've used in the past.
Last, and least importantly, the Ascendant comes in a selection of seven colour combinations. Mine is 'pewter/typhoon' (that is grey and turquoise to those not fluent in advertising speak). The designers have put in thoughtful details like the two-tone styling and the main zip being one half 'pewter' and one half 'typhoon'.
Backed with a little storm flap, the chunky YKK main zip feels reassuringly durable.
The Ascendant has two neat stretchy thumb loops tucked into the end of the sleeves. They do not get in the way if you don't want to use them but if you do want to keep your sleeves hooked onto your hands to keep in the warmth then they work very effectively.
It has two hand pockets which are nice and deep, lined with an extra layer of the Alpha Direct for added warmth. These do not zip, which I do think is a bit of a shame as it means there's no possibility of carrying things in them without risk of them falling out, while the fact that the pockets can't be closed does arguably present a (minor) snagging hazard too. OR do provide a key clip in one of these pockets, but that seems an odd place for it bearing in mind the lack of a zip. In addition, you cannot access these pockets when wearing a pack belt or harness. However a third smaller breast pocket (also lined) does zip up and is in fact the best place for securely keeping little important items such as car keys or a ski pass. It's slightly disappointing that the Ascendant does not stash into its own pocket, a feature that all climbing-friendly softshells should arguably offer.
The hood is well cut, fitting snugly around the head and neck without restricting movement. Its elasticated rim gives a draught-excluding fit around the face, though with no structured brim it can flap a bit in the wind. In cold conditions you do tend to notice that the sides of your face are left a little exposed. There's enough room in the hood to accommodate a climbing helmet - but only just, and though you can still move your head it feels a little tight under the chin once you're zipped up. I've found that this soft, unstructured hood actually works pretty well underneath a helmet instead, so that's a viable alternative for cold weather climbing. When you're helmet-free the single rear adjuster works well to pull the hood tight onto the back of your head.
I really like this jacket. It works just as well for a casual family walk or cycle as it does for more labour-intensive outdoor activity. Whether you use it as a lightweight softshell for summer in the mountains or as a warm and breathable midlayer in winter conditions, the Ascendant is really versatile, and would equally suit walkers and climbers. It is well thought-through in terms of fit, fabric and design, and wears its techy credentials lightly. So lightly in fact that it is only as I write this review that I fully realise just how good it is compared to similar jackets I have used in the past. Well done to the team at Outdoor Research.
Outdoor Research say:
The newest in active insulation technology, the Ascendant Hoody drops excess heat and moisture when you're questing uphill—but shelters you from the cold when you downshift. The stretchy, weather-shedding Pertex Microlight 20D ripstop outer layer moves with you, and the wicking, lightly fuzzy Polartec Alpha Direct Insulation is perfect over a base layer, or even your skin. Ski in it, climb in it, ride to work in it - live in it.
- Price £180
- Weight: 337g (size L wms)
- Sizes: XS - XL (women) S-XL (men)
- Outer fabric: Pertex® Microlight 100% nylon 20D ripstop stretch woven shell
- Lining: Polartec® Alpha® Direct Insulation 100% polyester 95g/m2
- Wind and water resistant
- Movement-Mirroring Stretch
- Adjustable Helmet-Compatible Hood
- Internal Thumb Loops
- Zip Chest Pocket
- Dual Hand Warmer- Pockets
- Internal Front Stormflap
- Key Clip
- Single-Separating Center Front Zipper
- Low-Pro Binding™ Hood and Cuffs
- Elastic Drawcord Hem
For more info: outdoorresearch.com