We don’t typically talk a lot about hiking specific clothing, but we are nerds when it comes to new fabric technologies. So with that in mind, when I recently picked up the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoodie, I decided I should review it here. It’s one of the few items with a new type of insulation, Polartec Alpha Direct. Unlike the old Alpha insulation, there’s no inner layer between the insulation and your body — in other words, the inside of this jacket is soft and fuzzy.
This material has one purpose: to keep you warm, while allowing for a lot of breathability so don’t overheat while active. Originally, of course, it was designed for military use but is finding its way to more consumer products. Typically this is called “active” insulation, and there are many different flavors (from your typical fleece jackets to newer products like The North Face’s Ventrix lineup).
I bought this jacket on sale, as I wanted to try the Alpha Direct insulation, and in the couple months I’ve had the jacket, it has become one of my most worn jackets. It has an athletic cut and the hood stays mostly out of the way (they have a model without the hood). The pockets are nice, but don’t secure so they are good mostly for hand warming.
It’s been my favorite layer to grab when I need to head out and know that I might be spending time indoors — which I’ll get to next. In general, I really like the jacket itself, however I find the colors offered by Outdoor Research to be not great. They are all contrast, and thus project a very outdoorsy look — which I get away with in the Pacific Northwest, but might be problematic in other areas. I’d love for them to offer a solid charcoal version of this jacket, I’d switch to that instantly.
Warmth / Alpha Direct Insulation
In one word, the insulation in this jacket is phenomenal. I’ve worn this jacket working out with my heavy backpack on and building quite a sweat up during the work out and yet, I didn’t have to take the jacket off to stay comfortable. It breathes really well, and when you really start building up body heat, you don’t overheat. That’s not to say you aren’t uncomfortable, but in a situation where you’d rather not fuss with taking off the jacket, it excels.
I can see exactly why this is used in military applications.
Further, this insulation does a great job when you need something to grab and wear on your next trip to the store or mall. A constant struggle is what to do with your heavy jacket as you are moving in and out of warm stores — typically you undress and redress, or grin and bear being too warm or cold the entire time. With Alpha Direct, I’ve never overheated during those temperature changes, and you get the best of both worlds, mostly.
In wind, or really cold temps, you get cold if you are not moving. Layers can mitigate this, but this won’t be the one jacket you need, and likely this will change greatly with the surface material being used in conjunction with the insulation.
If you are climbing a mountain or hiking in cold weather, then this is the insulation layer you wear. In the past that was Polartec Fleece. I prefer Alpha Direct over fleece any day of the week, it does everything better (i.e. it breathes better, and insulates better, dries faster, and weighs less).
While I don’t love the looks of this jacket, I’m willing to overlook that and wear it a lot. It’s comfortable, very light weight, and packs away well. While down jackets stow well, but are warm and bulky, and fleece is comfortable but doesn’t stow well — this Ascendant jacket excels in both areas. It’s like a hybrid of fleece breathability and warmth, with the light weight and compression abilities of down.
Again, if the colors were less in your face, I’d say this is a crucial jacket to have in your closet.