Top image credit: Katie Botwin
A svelte profile belies comfort and convenience features that put the Patagonia Ascensionist ahead of lighter-weight shells.
Patagonia’s new Ascensionist Jacket will make a splash at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Denver this week. And I’ve been putting it to the test in the deep snow of Japan.
Over the past week, I’ve pow-surfed, snowboarded, and splitboarded relentlessly in this Gore-Tex-equipped hardshell. The jacket will no doubt receive accolades at the Colorado Convention Center for its sustainability story — it uses 100 percent recycled materials and earned Fair Trade certification for its sewing.
And I’ve tested it to the point that I intend to wear it into the ground.
Read on for my first look impressions of this lightweight, waterproof-breathable winter shell.
In short: The Ascensionist tells a great sustainability story — and it also performs. For its weight (13 ounces), it provides key features for active pursuits. Its pit zips, helmet-compatible hood, and generous pockets give it a competitive edge over slightly lighter shells.
Patagonia Ascensionist Jacket: Wizardly Weight
I was struck by the weight of the Ascensionist before I even removed the shell from the package. Indeed, when I tore into the slim, lightweight parcel at my house, I was expecting a pair of boxers. But to my shock and satisfaction, inside was a compact, bright-green shell that crinkled to the floor.
The size medium I tested carried an advertised weight of 13 ounces. So it’s by no means the lightest option on the market, though it is Patagonia’s lightest Gore-Tex shell. The Ascensionist is also extremely light for a feature-rich hardshell with three pockets and pit zips.
And because every shell will end up in a backpack at one point or another, the Ascensionist’s low volume and weight make it easy to stuff and stash when you no longer need the extra protection.
Patagonia Ascensionist Jacket: 3-Layer Shell
After years of R&D, the entirety of Patagonia’s 62-shell lineup for 2019-2020 will be crafted from recycled materials and stitched in Fair Trade Certified Factories. While that ethical, eco-conscious approach deserves praise in and of itself, the Ascensionist’s 100 percent recycled, 30-denier nylon face fabric should receive kudos for its technical prowess, too.
Patagonia built the environmentally friendly shell to stand up to less-than-friendly environments. And after testing the jacket extensively in both archetypal Japanese blower and uncharacteristically heavy, wet snow, I’d say the fabric achieves this with aplomb.
Durability, perhaps, is the only concern of this new material. The fabric is ultrathin, and the technology is still new and untested long-term. While I noticed zero durability issues in the first week of testing, I also have no idea how the Ascensionist will stand up to a season of riding.
As for the feel, the shell’s exterior is softer than you’d expect for a three-layer shell, and the same can be said for the lining. The interior sports a gram-shaving weave called a C-knit Backer. This proved comfortable against the skin and can be worn with a lightweight long-sleeve or even a T-shirt base layer without any irritation.
In between face fabric and liner, Patagonia employs Gore-Tex Active, a permeable membrane trusted by mountaineers, trail runners, cyclists, and other high-output athletes due to its breathability. While I haven’t put the Gore-Tex Active shell through any lab tests or worn it in rain, I did splitboard during heavy, wet whiteouts without the jacket soaking through.
I also boot-packed waist deep powder while sessioning pillow lines in Hokkaido until my base layers were soaked with sweat, and I was pleased by the lightweight shell’s ability to regulate temperature.
Ascensionist Jacket: Loaded With Features
Of course, when sweating through your base layers, the best way to regulate moisture is to either take off your shell or ventilate. While REI shelves certainly carry shells lighter than the Ascensionist, many of those forgo pit zips. Until permeable membranes are truly as breathable as they are waterproof, jettisoning those crucial zippers to slash a few grams is, in my opinion, a silly sacrifice.
And while I was stoked that Patagonia’s Ascensionist had pit zips, they are on the short side. The zips reach up to the pit but not further along the sleeves — this can make them tricky to access when wearing a backpack and mittens. Still, while I wish they were a bit longer, I realize that Patagonia’s designers made a compromise here for weight. And I’d rather have shorter pit zips than none at all.
Speaking of sleeves, I found the Velcro cuffs reliable and easy to tighten. And the handwarmer pockets, designed to be used with a backpack, were high but not overly awkward to shove your hands into. With a bit of strategy and elbow grease, I was able to cram one 159cm splitboard skin into each pocket (these are wider than your average ski skins).
The chest pocket is low-profile but surprisingly spacious laterally. I mainly used it to carry a lift pass while riding the resort. But in the backcountry, I stashed sunblock, fogged-up sunglasses, a goggle wipe, and an energy bar without issue. There’s also an interior stretch pocket that proved helpful for quickly warming up goggles or keeping my skins from freezing up between laps (it was a tight squeeze for a pair of splitboard skins).
The Ascensionist’s hood has an adjustable cinch system. This allows you to tighten the oversized, helmet-compatible covering around your noggin. However, I found the hood a bit constricting when worn with a full-size ski or snowboard helmet. I imagine you’ll be fine with a lower-profile climbing helmet. But I don’t recommend riding with the hood up and helmet on if you’re skiing at the resort or riding in the backcountry.
Rounding out the build, Patagonia went with a cinching waist instead of a powder skirt. Seeing as how this piece is more of a technical piece of all trades and by no means strictly a skiing shell, this decision makes total sense. Plus, for those who ski with bibs, powder skirts are bulky and unnecessary.
Fit: Great for Layers
Patagonia clearly designed the Ascensionist to be worn over insulated midlayers. And I found the fit apt for layering in the backcountry without being overly baggy.
Those looking for a tighter fit may want to look elsewhere or consider sizing down. For a splitboarder/snowboarder like myself (or a pow-hungry backcountry skier, for that matter) who often rocks a few layers underneath a shell, this Patagonia kit is well worth considering. For reference, I’m 5’9”, 150 pounds, and I was perfectly comfortable in a medium.
Admittedly nitpicky critiques aside, the Ascensionist is my new go-to shell. For both splitboarding missions and nuking resort days, I’m confident the shell will keep me dry.
The weight and volume make the jacket tuned to the requirements of the skintrack, as do the pit zips, breathable membrane, and comfortable interior liner. I’m curious to see how the jacket stands up to wetter spring storms back in the States, and how the exterior fabric holds up over time. I plan to find out because the Ascensionist is damn near perfect so far. I intend to wear it until I can’t anymore.
For those of you wanting to get your hands on the Ascensionist, the shell drops August 1, 2019, for $499.