Tested in the Cairngorms

Used extensively by Cairngorm Treks in the Cairngorms and surrounding mountainous areas throughout Autumn and Winter.

When the OR Ascendant Hoody arrived we were very excited as OR have laid down a big claim saying this jacket would be “your new favourite layer for fall, winter and spring.” Active Insulation, Water-Resistant, Wind-Resistant, Breathable, Lightweight, Movement-Mirroring Stretch Fabric, Adjustable Helmet-Compatible Hood, are all qualities that sound like a winner but when it arrived we were a little bit confused. As we opened the jacket from its packaging we all looked at each other and said, “Where’s the rest of it?” The Polartec Alpha Direct Insulation has no liner apart from a small section on the upper arms, and the insulation is mostly in direct contact with the wearer, something which took us a little bit by surprise as we are use to more traditional filling methods. Instantly you start to think of the excessive wear the insulation will surely show after little use, or how it will wash without the insulation coming loose and reducing in volume. When researching into the product, Polartec have obviously seen how this may appear to be a common issue with potential buyers and are quick to alleviate fears. They claim this to be a storable and highly compressible fabric with lofted knitted fibres that prevent fibre migration to keep shape, even after heavy wear and repeated laundering. Obviously this will have to be put to the test and we will explain in more detail later in the review.

The outer of the jacket is made of a Pertex Microlight 100% nylon 20D ripstop stretch woven shell. We are already fans of this fabric as although it’s very light and soft to the touch, it performs with great strength keeping out light rain and snow whilst also letting moisture from within escape.

The jacket packs down small and is notably lightweight at 368g in a large size. This jacket has an athletic fit, and although we would usually opt for a medium size we found the large to be a more comfortable fit, fitting nicely on the shoulders with good arm and torso length. We were given the jacket in the colour of pewter/lemongrass that offers good visibility on the hill, whilst also in-keeping with the look of a jacket with innovative design. OR offer a number of colour options that can suit everyone’s individual choice.

So, initial thoughts are that there is some explaining for this jacket to do, and wow, does it answer any critics. This is a jacket that each time you use it the more and more you will want to wear it again. We used this jacket in almost every condition Britain could throw at it and it excelled every time we put it on. I read in another review it was described as a “jack of all trades” and we would totally agree. We used this jacket for trekking, wild camping, scrambling, running, mountain biking, canoeing, and I believe it can lend itself to many more adventure sports. It’s surprisingly warm for the weight of the insulation and its breathability is excellent. Where it excels is on those spring/autumn days when weather conditions are ever changing and regulating body heat can be difficult. It will stand up to a day of patchy rain but when the heavens do open, and the needed addition of a fully waterproof outer shell is there, it becomes a very breathable, warming mid-layer. It won’t replace a winter jacket but will become a fantastic part of your layering system. Although not designed for summer use, when trekking throughout Scotland this will be part of our kit all year round and for all activities, as it always has a part to play. Even the hood is well designed and adds warmth when needed. The tensioner is correctly positioned and can be comfortably used with a helmet.

As mentioned earlier we were concerned about the wear of the product, as the insulation has no liner. After a lot of use and quite a few washes it still baffles us as to how the insulation has kept shape and loft, but it works. If anything it has actually improved as the jacket feels even softer and shapes to the body. Polartec have produced an outstanding material here, one where breathability, warmth and weight work in harmony.

Our only concern with this jacket is the pockets. This is a near perfect product and I’m really unsure as to why, with such innovation throughout, the pockets have been left out. There are two large front pockets, which have added insulation to warm hands and the addition of a loop to attach a compass is a nice addition. Unfortunately, they have no zips or Velcro to close the pockets so cannot be used to full advantage as items stored inside could easily fall out. Also to add to this, when used in the winter, snow was able to enter the pockets that then melted and reduced the benefit of acting as hand warmers. There is a small chest pocket that has a zip, but in our opinion if saving weight was a consideration when designing this product we would swap the chest pocket for zips on the main pockets.

Our Verdict

This is simply one of the best items of clothing we have ever used. It would be our favourite product of 2017 if not for the issue of the pockets. Overall, this is a minor issue to a very innovative product in which regulating body heat and some weather protection can actually be achieved. Many products claim to be highly breathable when pushing hard on the move but many fail to live up to expectations, this is not one of them. Although this can be worn as an outer jacket, it will never replace a waterproof shell or match the warmth of a full weight winter jacket but will equally never sit in your bag. It will add to these extra layers when needed.

Cairngorm Treks is a small family business based in the picturesque village of Tomintoul in the North East region of the Cairngorms National Park. They provide bespoke Mountain Guiding for Single Day Walks and Lightweight Multiday Trekking experiences, including wild camping, in the stunning Cairngorms wilderness and surrounding areas. Whether in the high mountains or lower valleys, their Multiday Treks are equipped with high quality, lightweight camping and trekking gear. They only work with small groups and, whatever your ability, pride themselves on designing your outdoor experience completely to your needs and with professional guidance and expertise. Adventure is waiting...