Almost the best mid-layer come soft-shell I’ve ever used. A super light hoody utilising the amazing Polartec Alpha Direct, the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody has become my mid-layer of choice despite a couple of minor flaws.
OR’s Ascendant Hoody builds on their previous ‘Uberlayer Jacket’ but has been designed to be lighter and more breathable. I saw an earlier version of the Ascendant Hoody at KORS back in July 2017 and was excited to try out the updated version for the winter.
Constructed from Polartec® Alpha Direct® and a Pertex® Microlight stretch woven shell this Ascendant hoody is both extremely breathable, super light, and surprisingly warm. There has clearly been a lot of thought put into the design though there is one design decision that I find somewhat odd. Lets start at the top: the hood is a nice simple low profile affair with a minimalist volume adjuster at the rear which comfortably fits under a helmet.To my surprise it also fits over a helmet very effectively and without any ‘compression’ or interference with head movements thanks to the design and elastic nature of the materials. The cut of the Hoody is just right for me, nice and slim, no bagginess and long enough to stay tucked under a harness without issue.
If you look inside the shoulders you will notice that there are two patches of Pertex® microlight inside, these help the shoulders of the hoody ‘glide’ over base-layers and prevent that binding sensation you sometimes get when layering multiple fleece garments up. At the cuff there are simple binding thumb loops though I found these a little snug and only really usable with bare hands or the lightest of gloves. Moving onto the pockets the Ascendant Hoody has two hand-warmers and a chest pocket. The chest pocket is a decent size but the zippered entry is a bit too narrow for my liking, again even with a light glove on it’s a snug entrance, with my normal light leading gloves it’s a no go. The zipper could do with being a good 5cm longer for my tastes. The hand-warmer pockets are the design element that I found particularly strange and I really can’t fathom what is going on here. Basically you have two hand-warmers without zips (the left hand one having a neat key clip/tether inside) much like a casual hoody would have. My issue is that for such an amazing technical mid/outwear piece this makes no sense to me. If you use it as an outer layer then without zips spindrift and powder can accumulate in the pockets actually wetting out that part of the jacket as they are ‘held’ by the pile. Arguably if you use it as a mid-layer then this is not an issue but then do you need the pockets (OR also have their Uber Layer jacket using Polartec® Alpha® that has zipped pockets but is a fair bit heavier)? Aprés climb it is nice to be able to stuff your hands into the pockets walking from the car to the pub but that’s hardly what the Ascendant Hoody was made for! Other than the bizarre pocket decision this is a supremely well designed hoody. It packs down into a tiny corner of the sac more easily than a ‘denser’ fleece like my normal R1s and the Pertex® outer means that snow brushes off easily whilst weight wise it is about the same.
As far as mid layers go I’ve been a longtime devotee of the Patagonia R1 Hoody – I currently have two on the go and if I’m not reviewing a mid-layer then they are my first choice. That has changed with the Ascendant Hoody. I stated earlier that it was light. My R1 weighs 370g and my Ascendant Hoody 365g! Remembering you get not only the lofted Polartec® Alpha Direct® pile but a stretch woven Pertex® Microlight shell, two hand-warmer pockets, and a full length zip! The Ascendant Hoody would seem to be equally as breathable (subjective comfort wise) but with some wind resistance and it dries in a flash. Added to that it is highly compressible as well and easily stuffed into a corner of the pack. I’ve been wearing it on the walk in to winter routes over just a mesh base-layer (Brynje) and if you’re walking steadily it copes well without overheating bearing out the Polartec® Alpha Direct® design idea of “adaptive breathability helps eliminate the need for dropping or adding layers while on the move, making it versatile” – obviously if you’re with Kev and trying to beat other teams to a route whilst knocking 45min off the guidebook approach time then you’ll have to strip it off – but lets be honest here an Alpha Direct Mankini would probably the best garment for such situations!! OR’s tag line “Move don’t remove.” neatly sums up the versatility of the Ascendant Hoody – it’s not magic and you can still overheat if working hard but I’ve not come across a top that works so well across such a range of activity levels and temperatures. So far I’ve used the Ascendant Hoody as a mid-layer for every route I’ve climbed this winter. Generally this has been over a mesh base layer and with Polartec® Neo Shell® outer hardshell. On a couple of occasions I’ve added an R1 layer under the Ascendant if it’s been particularly chilly. As an outer it works very well on the approach and I’ve used it wandering up easy routes like Ledge Route where you are moving consistently and the breathability and moderate wind-proofing work well so I’d imagine this would be a great hoody for summer Alpine use too. A word of warning from the Skimo brethren (I’ve no experience of this) though – if you like to tuck your skins inside your jacket to keep them warm the glue will pull the Alpha Direct® pile out making a mess of your skin edges and loosing pile from your hoody so stick them in a stuff bag first.
Overall the Ascendant Hoody has become my favourite mid-layer come soft-shell despite the crazy hand-warmer pockets this winter. As it stands I would recommend it unreservedly as a mid-layer and with the noted reservations as an outer soft-shell. If OR put some zips on the hand-warmer pockets and lengthen the chest pocket zipper it will be an absolute killer piece or even loose the hand-warmer pockets altogether and make it a specialist mid-layer? The same basic cut but with just a 3/4 zip, no hand-warmer pockets and an enlarged chest pocket would make it lighter and even more perfect!
- Super breathable
- Light and packable.
- Great cut and mobility
- Good hood
- Crazy open hand-warmer pockets
- Short zip on chest pocket
Richie is the enthusiastic amateur of the team. Enjoying all aspects of climbing but especially alpine, winter and his local grit . Having managed to survive the vagaries of both fluorescent Koflachs and rainbow tights in the 80s he looks forward to an even more stylish future. A shady past in mountain marathons and adventure races, including the Marathon des Sables, means he’s an advocate of fast and light. Though the former is debatable if you’ve seen him on a tricky lead!