Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody
Colours:Night/Ultraviolet, Black/Flame, Pewter/Typhoon, Pinot/Raspberry, Sea/Atlantis
Weight: 10.9oz (medium)
Price: $215 USD
The exterior of this jacket is made from Pertex Microlight 20D ripstop nylon that is both water shedding, windblocking, and stretchy. Although not as waterproof as your shell, rain does bead on its surface quite well. The stretchy material moves with you - not against you.
The interior is a soft fuzzy Polartec Alpha Direct insulating polyester fleece. How does this fabric work? The best analogy I can think of is that the fabric is like a network of thousands of tiny windows that open when you are working hard and close when you are sedentary. The net result is the ability to stay warm (but not sweaty) and cozy all the time.
Other features include: adjustable helmet compatible hood, internal thumb loops, zippered chest pocket, two handwarmer pockets, and an elastic drawcord hem.
My first impression of this jacket when I picked it up is how light it is. Compared to Outdoor Research's other active insulation jacket the Uberlayer at 16.8 oz, the Ascendant feels significantly lighter at 10.9oz. As someone who counts grams this is a significant difference. The jacket rivals my lightest poofy for weight.
I wore the Ascendant as my only insulation layer on a coastal backpacking trip this summer. The weather was a mix of sun, rain, wind, and damp conditions. At one point it rained hard for 36 hours straight and everything we brought was absolutely soaked. I was grateful to be tent-bound in a synthetic garment at that point - my down poofy would have absorbed the moisture for sure. The jacket felt awesome - water repellent on the outside while keeping you at the perfect cozy temperature inside especially in the damp bone-chilling weather.
The jacket is packable. No, it doesn't have a special pocket that it crams in to, but it does compress pretty well. I would equate the sizing to a thin fleece. After 5 months of use and abuse, it still looks and wears new. By accident one evening at home I spilt some bacon grease on it and it washed up without leaving a stain. I have washed the jacket a few times since I got it and it still looks brand new!
I find that with all the Polartec Alpha jackets I have owned it's best to wear only one baselayer underneath in order for the fabric to optimally dump or trap heat during aerobic pursuits. What I am finding now is that I can layer the Polartec Alpha jackets (ie. The Outdoor Research Deviator and the Ascendant to create a double layer of efficient thermoregulation in colder conditions. This is revolutionizing how I dress! I can't wait to wear it this winter under a shell and test the entire system. Will update this review thereafter.
Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody vs. Arc'teryx Atom LT? I will admit I have been a fan of the popular Atom LT myself for many years and even put it on my 2016 top ten list. After testing the Ascendant, I can confidently say that I like it 10x better. Why? It's lighter (10.9 vs 11.6 oz for women's medium) and the Polartec Alpha Direct fabric allows me to use it over a larger array of temperatures. I find the Atom LT to be too cold at certain temps and too hot in others. The Ascendant is keeps me warmer in colder weather, and cool in hotter weather. Hands down the Ascendant is a more versatile, practical jacket that keeps me feeling cozy all the time.
Another note: I broke my hand and wore a half cast/splint for 6 weeks of my testing. I couldn't even wear my LT hoody as the wrist gaskets were too tight to fit over my splint. The Ascendant's wrist elastics allow for a larger sized wrist or layers (especially if you are a baselayer thumbhole user like me!).
Bottom Line: Does it combine a fleece and light poofy in one? Yes! In above freezing temps it can act as a stand alone piece, and for below freezing it might be part of a layering system, depending on the degree of output. These active insulation garments are really incredible - highly recommended.
My only con with this entire jacket are the hand pockets. They are cozy as is, but lack zippered closures. As a female, I don't always want to stow bigger but important items like my phone and keys in the chest pocket so zippered hand pockets normally do the trick. For me, this would make this jacket 100% perfect and I may never buy another midlayer again.
Best Uses: Hiking, ski touring, camping, backpacking, canoe tripping, rock climbing, general use, etc
Full disclosure: I was given this jacket from Outdoor Research for the purpose of this review as part of the #ORInsightLab. The opinions expressed here are completely my own.