Active Insulation – Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoodie
One of the more interesting outerwear innovations in the last couple of seasons has been the advent of active insulation. This year’s OR show was abuzz with the term. What is active insulation, you ask? Well, it refers to insulated jackets that maintain breathability and air permeability, giving you the ability to wear them across a wider spectrum of aerobic/energy output levels.
If you’ve ever toured in your puffy jacket only to realize there was little balance between more insulation and breathability to vent heat and moisture, you will appreciate active insulation. They breathe better than most waterproof-breathable shells, so, depending on the weather conditions, you can actually wear them up and down while touring. They excel in start-stop situations and when the weather is cold enough or windy enough that you need some insulation but don’t necessarily need a shell. Two pieces that turned our heads at this year’s show are the Arc’teryx Proton LT and the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoodie. Both pieces follow the lead of the Patagonia Nano Air that was introduced two years ago. Here’s our take on the Ascendant Hoodie. Once we get a few more days on the Proton LT, we’ll write it up too.
Breathable synthetic insulation itself is not necessarily new. The innovation is that they are getting more breathable and can be bonded to or sandwiched between fabrics with high air permeability ratings. Previous synthetic insulations were less focused on air flow and required less-than-breathable linings to contain them in a jacket – think the nylon puffy we all own – great jackets, but not so breathable. Of course, along with breathability comes less weather and wind protection, so if you choose the active insulation option, you still need to pack your shell.
Outdoor Research Ascendent Hoodie
Outdoor Research has incorporated active insulation into several pieces including the Deviator Hoodie and the Uberlayer with Polartec Alpha insulation – read our Deviator Hoodie review.
The Ascendent Hoodie is new for 2017 and features the newest breathable insulation technology, Alpha Direct, which takes insulation one step further and uses a knit construction that does away with the need for a lining material. And this means one less layer through which air and moisture must vent as you move expend energy and heat up.
The Ascendant is remarkably lightweight and incredibly warm for its weight and volume. It features a lightweight Pertex outer shell material bonded directly to the Alpha Direct. The combination is light, breathable and comfortable. The Pertex outer is supple like a softshell but much lighter and, more importantly, it’s air permeable too, letting heat and moisture vent as you heat up.
The Ascendant is most at home in colder temps and dryer conditions. In fact, it is cold, dry conditions that favor any active insulation piece. The Ascendant makes a nice layer to start in on the uptrack or to put on at the top on milder days. Like any layer, there are times you don’t need it and times that it suits the day well. The innovative thing about is that it really spans a wide range of conditions, wider than a traditional puffy, for sure. And because it does not use a liner, it’s remarkably lightweight and stuffs nicely into your pack. Pull your shell on over it and you’re set for anything.
The Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoodie will be available from REI as an exclusive early release this spring. It will also be available more widely as a jacket (no hood), a vest and pants come fall 2017. Hoodie price is $199.