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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > Patagonia Ascensionist Soft Shell > Test Report by Andrew Henrichs
Patagonia Men's Ascensionist Jacket
Test Series by Andy Henrichs
March 14, 2009
The Patagonia Men's Ascensionist Jacket is a technical soft shell jacket. The jacket is constructed of a polyester 2-way-stretch doubleweave fabric that has a Deluge durable water repellant (DWR) finish. This material is made of 45% recycled polyester and is fully recyclable through Patagonia's Common Threads Recycling Program. According to the Patagonia website, the material is "exceptionally water- and wind-resistant and is spandex-free for fast dry times." The website also states that the jacket features "stitch-free, lap-glued seams [that] speed dry time, improve water resistance and decrease bulk." From what I can tell, this means that during the manufacturing process, the fabric panels were laid next to each other when they were glued, rather than overlapping. This results in a very flat seam that looks quite sturdy. The interior of the Ascensionist is very soft, but not insulated.
The Ascensionist features two handwarmer pockets with 9.5 in (24 cm) zippers. These zippers are coated with DWR and also have zipper garages. The body side of the pockets are mesh fabric. The bottoms of the handwarmer pocket zippers end 5 in (13 cm) above the bottom of the jacket. These pockets are raised slightly to ensure that they are above where a climbing harness would sit. The pockets have a rather unique cut to them. They measure 20 in (51 cm) tall. The width varies from 6 in (15 cm) at the top to 9.5 in (24 cm) at the bottom. The jacket has elastic cord that runs through a path all the way around the bottom hem of the jacket. These cords terminate inside the handwarmer pockets so one can snug up the bottom of the jacket from inside the pockets. The Ascensionist also has an security pocket on the inner left side of the jacket, located of the chest. This pocket has a 5.75 in (14.6 cm) zipper, and the pocket itself measures 7 in by 5 in (18 cm by 13 cm). There is a silver Patagonia logo over the left chest.
In addition to the typical Jacaranda Green color, the Ascensionist has several dark green color swatches on it. These swatches are found on each hip, on each elbow, and on each shoulder, wrapping all the way around the upper back and lower collar. These swatches seem to be made of the same material as the rest of the jacket. The jacket has a 14 in by 2 in (36 cm by 5 cm) chamois patch on the inside collar along the back of the neck. It has another 5 in by 2.75 in (13 cm by 7 cm) chamois patch on each side of the top of zipper, right where the chin and mouth would rub against the jacket. The wrists of the Ascensionist have 3 in (8 cm) sections of elastic to help seal up the cuffs. They also have hook and loop strips to secure the cuffs closed.
The Ascensionist also features a three-way adjustable hood, which is also helmet compatible. Basically, this means that the hood is huge! There is an elastic pull cord on each side of the hood, near the chin area. These elastic cords run along the front of the hood. When pulled, the front of the hood cinches up. As a bonus, there is no hard plastic toggle in this mechanism. Rather, Patagonia uses a soft foam-based piece to hold the tension in place. The back of the hood features a plastic toggle and elastic cords to pull the hood back. This prevents the hood from falling over ones eyes. This toggle is covered by another piece of material. This material has two small slits cut into it. On the inside of the hood, at collar level is a .75 in by 5 in (1.9 cm by 13 cm) strip of fabric with a small patch of hook and loop fastener. When the hood is rolled up, this strip threads through the two small slits and secures the hood out of the way.
I like the fit of this jacket. It does have a slim fit, but allows room for layering, which will be vital this winter. The arms are cut quite long; when standing with my arms at my side, the sleeves almost cover the tip of my thumbs. This should help keep me sealed up when I'm skiing and reaching for long pole plants. The collar of the jacket seems to be cut rather high. When fully zipped up, the collar reaches almost to the bottom of my nose. While it's a little annoying while cruising around town, I think I may appreciate this feature when the temperature drops, the wind kicks up, and I'm exploring the backcountry. The hood of the Ascensionist is cut very generously. It's large enough to accommodate both my climbing helmet and my ski helmet. I'm impressed with the hood adjustment system. The fact that it can easily adjust to accommodate a thin hat or a bulky ski helmet without obstructing my vision or bunching up in strange places speaks volumes of the time spent on the design. I'm less than enamored with the hood stowing method. When rolled up and fastened with the strip of fabric, the hood seems to be in the way. I'll continue to play with this feature and see if I can find a good way to store it, but I'm not sure I'll use this feature too much.
I've been able to wear the Ascensionist several times already. Most have been during my daily 2 mi (3.2 km) bike ride to work. I encountered light rain during one of the rides, the others were just windy. When riding in the rain, the rain beaded up and never soaked through the fabric. I'm interested to see how the jacket handles heavier rain or snow. I also used the jacket while on a hike last weekend. I wore the jacket at elevations ranging from 11500 ft (3500 m) to 12500 ft (3800 m). It wasn't too cold, so I didn't put the jacket on until I got above treeline and the wind kicked up. Once on, I found that the Ascensionist did a fantastic job of blocking the wind. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that it didn't trap in too much heat. Typically, I begin to overheat when wearing a shell while hiking. I have a lot more testing to do, but I'm heartened by the results so far.
I have tested the Patagonia Ascensionist Jacket throughout Colorado. Elevations on these trips have ranged from 6000 ft (1830 m) to nearly 13800 ft (4200 m). Iíve worn the jacket in subalpine pine and aspen forests as well as above treeline. Temperatures have ranged from 40į F (4į C) down to 0į F (-18į C). Iíve experienced a wide variety of weather on these trips, including sun, clouds, heavy snow, and very strong winds up to 45 mph (72 kph).
This jacket has quickly become my new favorite backcountry garment. Iíve used it on three cold-weather hiking trips, three resort-skiing trips, and six backcountry skiing trips. I feel that it truly shines on backcountry skiing trips for reasons I'll get to shortly. I still like the fit, and have found that it allows plenty of room for layering. Iím able to wear a mid-weight wool baselayer, a mid-weight lined windshirt, and a down jacket without feeling like Iím compressing the down too much. Iím able to tighten the sleeves over the cuffs of my gloves and have not had them slide up, even when aggressively reaching downhill with my ski poles. The waist seems to ride up a very small amount if Iím wearing a pack when skiing, but itís never been a real issue.
This jacket has forced me to rework my layering system. In the past I typically wore a hard shell jacket while backcountry skiing. This jacket would trap in so much heat that, to prevent overheating, I would only wear a baselayer and light midlayer when skiing downhill. I have never been able to wear a hard shell while skinning up a peak without sweating significantly except in the very coldest weather. The Ascensionist does not trap in nearly as much heat. While some may consider this a negative, I love it. When skinning up a peak, Iíll typically wear a wool baselayer and the Ascensionist. For the first time, Iím able to wear a shell while skinning up a peak without feeling like Iím melting after 10 minutes. The Ascensionist breathes incredibly well; I have never lamented the fact there are no pit zips. This allows me to fend off precipitation as well as wind on the ascent. In addition, it shortens the time I spend transitioning from skinning to skiing. If it's mild, I won't add another layer, which saves me from digging in my pack. If it's very cold or I'll be spending a long time working my way down an easier descent, I will add a down jacket.
The wind-resistance of this jacket is exceptional. While on a summit attempt of Mt. Elbert, a 14433 ft (4400 m) peak, we were turned around by strong winds on the final summit ridge. The gusts were strong enough to nearly blow me over as I made my way through the talus. With the Ascensionist on and the hood up, I was able to sit with my back to the wind and be completely comfortable. I never felt a gust sneak through the fabric once. I have had similar experiences while skiing at both the resort and the backcountry. Despite strong wind, I have been very comfortable inside my shell.
The water-resistance of the Ascensionist has also impressed me so far. The little rain Iíve experienced has rolled right off the fabric. Iíve worn the jacket in heavy blowing snow which was easily repelled by the fabric. The only time I noticed that moisture actually soaked into the fabric was while I was attempting to build an igloo. I spent three hours shoveling, crawling, kneeling, scooping, and walking through snow. During this process, some snow fell into creases of the sleeves of the Ascensionist. After the three hours in the snow, I shook myself off and noticed the saturated spots. Five minutes later, they were totally dry. I never felt any moisture on my skin, so Iím not sure if the water made it completely through the jacket.
The pockets are another feature that Iím happy with. The inner chest pocket is the perfect size for an energy bar, map, sunglasses, or keys. I typically use the handwarmer pockets for storing my skins on the descent. When wearing my backcountry ski pack, the hipbelt covers the bottom 1/3 of the zippers. Despite this, there is still enough of a zipper opening to fit my skins into the pockets without removing my pack. As I mentioned in the Initial Report, the hood is generously sized. Itís proved invaluable on those cold ski days when I needed the extra wind protection of a hood over my skiing helmet. This limited my peripheral vision somewhat, but I found I could minimize it by tightening the hood adjustments. One feature Iím not too fond of is the adjustment mechanism for the sides of the hood. This pull is found on the inside of the jacket and requires adjustment from the inside, just below chin level. If Iím trying to quickly cinch up the hood, itís usually because itís quite cold and the wind is howling. The last thing I want to do in this situation is unzip my jacket.
I have had no issues with durability whatsoever. In fact, several times while skiing through some tight trees, sharp branches have poked me in the arms. The first time it happened, my heart sank, expecting a hole or rip in the sleeve. I couldnít find a single stray thread or indentation where the branch hit me. That made me smile. It does seem like the Ascensionist gets stained fairly easily. I dropped a small piece of chocolate on it (apparently Iím a messy eater) and brushed it off. To my dismay, it left a small spot that took quite a bit of scrubbing to remove. Iíve noticed another spot on the chest of the jacket, but I havenít tried to clean it off yet.
I have continued to test the Patagonia Ascensionist throughout Colorado. The remainder of my testing took place in the Sawatch and Front Ranges of central Colorado. Temperatures have ranged from -10° F (-23° C) to 35° F (2° C). I have worn the jacket at elevations ranging from 9000 ft (2700 m) to 13000 ft (4000 m). During my testing, I experienced a wide variety of weather including sun, clouds, snow, and strong wind.
Not much has changed in my assessment of the Patagonia Ascensionist since my Field Report. I love this jacket. I have used it on six additional backcountry ski trips, as well as one additional resort skiing trip. After all of this use, I still like the fit. It is rather trim, but can accommodate additional layers. The length of the jacket body is very good. While it has ridden up on me a couple of times, it's been great more often than not. I also like the longer arms. They help to ensure that my wrists are not exposed to the elements unless I want them to be. Despite their additional length, they never seem to get in the way.
The Ascensionist breathes incredibly well. I still tend to only wear a baselayer when I'm skinning up a peak, but I always feel comfortable throwing the Ascensionist on if it's breezy or just a little too cold for a baselayer by itself. Before trying this jacket, I would have only worn my shell while skinning in the windiest and coldest conditions. When skiing down, I'm able to keep the jacket zipped closed without fear of overheating. This nearly eliminates the likelihood of getting snow in my jacket while skiing (except for those spectacular falls). Despite a significant amount of use, as well as a washing, the DWR coating does not seem to have worn off at all. Water still beads up and rolls right off. If a small section of the jacket does get saturated, it dries in minutes.
As I mentioned in previous reports, they Ascensionist does not trap in much heat. As such, I've had to adjust my layering strategy. While it's taken some time, I feel like I've found a strategy that works for me. When I'm aerobically active, I'm almost always fine with just a baselayer and the Ascensionist. When I'm less active, I will supplement with a down coat. These three upper body layers have covered me in almost every condition. I've found that the upper comfortable temperature limit of the Ascensionist is 20° F (-7° C) when I'm highly active and about 40° F (4° C) when I'm moderately active. Above these temperatures, I start to feel a little too warm.
I'm also quite impressed with the Ascensionist hood. More specifically, with the hood adjustment system. It's incredibly easy to fine tune the fit of the hood to accommodate a helmet, hat, glasses, or goggles. No more of the "hood keeps falling in front of my eyes" complaints from me! The one aspect of the hood that I don't really get is the strip of fabric that stows the hood when it is rolled up. This feature always seemed awkward to me. I liked having the hood deployed and available whenever I wanted it. The durability of the Ascensionist seems very impressive. Despite skiing through tight trees, getting hit by branches, rubbing up against rocks, and falling on hardpack snow, there is no visible damage. As I mentioned in my Field Report, I was disappointed in how easily the Ascensionist fabric seems to pick up stains. I had quite a collection of stains on my jacket so I washed it recently. For the most part, the stains are gone. There are a few small spots that are barely visible, but most washed away.
This is a fantastic jacket and I will definitely continue to use it whenever possible. It has forced me to rethink the role of the shell in my layering system. Suddenly, it has become a much more versatile piece of gear.
Hood design and adjustment
Large and accessible pockets
Breathes incredibly well
Durable fabric and construction
Thank you to Patagonia and BackpackGearTest.org for giving me the opportunity to test this jacket.
Read more gear reviews by Andrew Henrichs
Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > Patagonia Ascensionist Soft Shell > Test Report by Andrew Henrichs