Patagonia R1 + Ascensionist Group Test

Review by Andy Malton
Monday 10th August 2009

 I've been thinking about what I'm going to write in this review and I've decided to do things a little differently. Since I received both these products at the same time and as they are both part of Patagonia's Regulator Clothing System, I've decided to review them together. I've tried to consider how each item works on its own and in conjunction with other products out there, but also how the two work when worn together.

A decade or so ago when the concept of the modern ‘soft shell' was being born Patagonia launched what they called the Regulator System. Other North American clothing pioneers, namely Arc'teryx and Cloudveil, concentrated on designing breakthrough soft shell outerwear pieces, like the Gamma SV Jacket and the Serendipity Jacket. Patagonia, meanwhile, developed their soft shell ideas into a complete layering program.

The idea was to combine wicking baselayers, high loft fleece midlayers, weather resistant but super breathable outer layers and synthetic overlayers for belays or rest periods. Both the R1 Pullover and the Ascensionist are in keeping with the original idea of the Regulator System.

Patagonia R1

The R1 Pullover could be thought of as a kind of ‘super' microfleece. The fabric is made by Polartec, guaranteeing quality and durability. It's 98% polyester with 2% lycra to give a nice amount of stretch. What's special about R1 fabric is it's all round multi performance characteristics, the result being an almost perfect fabric for hardcore use. Firstly the outer face of the fabric is smooth, this increases wind resistance a touch but more importantly increases durability and doesn't catch or snag on outer layers - essential for active use.

Patagonia R1

On the inside of the fleece the fabric is lofted. This enables the fabric to trap more air and, because each fibre is essentially standing upright, wicking is improved as moisture more easily travels along the vertical fibres away from the body.

The inside of the fabric is also in a grid pattern. Again this means breathability is increased due to greater airflow around the fabric. Crucially the grid pattern also makes the garment's pack size much smaller than other fleece fabrics offering similar warmth.

Patagonia R1

Patagonia designed the R1 to be used as a heavy baselayer or lightweight midlayer. Personally I would usually prefer to use the R1 as a midlayer with a lighter baselayer underneath. It's pretty warm for using as a true base layer in a layering system unless temperatures are really low. I did however really enjoy using it as a stand alone layer next to the skin for cool weather runs and whilst bouldering. As with most Patagonia stuff, it also looks good enough just to wear everyday too.

In terms of fit and features the R1 is pretty straightforward. Patagonia changed the fit from the old R1 Flash Pullover of recent years - the current R1 is a little roomier, a little less close fitting than the old Flash. I imagine it's still plenty technical enough for most however. It doesn't bunch up underneath a harness or hip-belt and feels good under a shell. I like the sleeve length which easily covers my wrists and the hem has a slight drop tail for better coverage. The collar zips pretty high, has a nice chin guard and is double fabric so very warm a cosy. Great for keeping spindrift or powder snow out. You also get a mesh backed chest pocket of reasonable size. Good for car keys or a credit card, or maybe a photographed topo.

Moving onto the Ascensionist....

Patagonia have always stood their ground when it comes to their Alpine soft shells. Whilst many manufacturers out there use a vast array of different windproof membranes, Patagonia have always stuck to stretch woven single layer designs, complemented in winter by insulated high loft versions. They believe (as many others out there, myself included) that a non membrane soft shell almost always offers better all round comfort than one with a windproof membrane, especially for  active users in alpine environments.

Patagonia Ascensionist Jacket

The Ascensionist follows on where the Dimension Jacket took off. This was superseded by the Ready Mix Jacket, which highlighted Patagonia's first moves into welded seam technology on soft shells.

Starting with the fabric - the Ascensionist uses a stretch woven Polyester over the entire garment. It's actually a little more wind resistant than I thought it would be due to a very tight weave. Obviously this will be a positive in some conditions though it does mean breathability is perhaps a little less than I imagined it would be. Overall though it's about achieving a good balance for a garment like this. I think Patagonia have got it pretty spot on - wind and water resistant enough to offer protection but not enough to drastically inhibit breathability. For active use, in mixed weather, in the mountains, it's great.

Patagonia Ascensionist Jacket

With the Ascensionist you also get the bonus of Patagonia's excellent ‘Deluge' DWR. Water beads up well and the DWR lasts longer than any other I experienced. Though as with most soft shells, the payoff of extra breathability means in heavy or wind driven rain the fabric will succumb and water will find its way through.

Patagonia Ascensionist Jacket

One other thing that I should mention is the seams. Pretty much all the seams are glued rather than stitched. This defiantly improves the overall flexibility of the jacket and improves weather resistance too. Durability of the seams appears to be good. Although this is something that needs to be assessed after much more abuse, I'm feeling good about it so far.

The fit is clearly has clearly been thought about and, on me at least, is great for climbing. It's fairly close overall, has long arms for reachy moves and is easily long enough at the back to stay tucked in a harness. The collar comes nice and high around the face and provides good comfort and protection.

Pocket wise you get two big conventional front hand pockets that are just about usable with a hip-belt or harness and are mesh backed for extra breathability or venting when needed. A small inside chest pocket is ok for valuables. Ideally I would have liked at least one outer chest pocket. On a garment that is designed to be worn for long periods with a harness or hip-belt I always feel it's a good feature to have.

So, onto the hood - I'm a big fan of hooded soft shells. There are an increasing number on the market nowadays, raging from very simple designs with little or no adjustment to full on helmet friendly wired jobs. The Asensionists is a little hit and miss. It certainly works well over a helmet - when adjusted correctly the hood moves nicely and provides good visibility and pretty good protection. Without a lid its ok - the brim isn't wired but has some foam stiffening for protection. Maybe not as much protection as some soft shell hoods out there, but better than many. I do find the adjustment a little fiddly though. The front face draw-cords and are located inside the collar. This keeps the outside of the collar clean and means the you won't get face whip. It does, however, mean you have to unzip the jacket a little whenever you need to adjust them. The rear volume adjuster actually adjusts horizontally around the head as well as vertically over the head. This works fairly well once you get used to it though, again, I've defiantly used simpler and more effective designs. There is also a tab that enables the hood to be rolled down to form a comfortable collar.

Patagonia Ascensionist Jacket

Used together the R1 and Ascensionist work really well. Both fit snug and offer fantastic freedom of movement. They also both wick moisture and breathe together brilliantly. If the fit is right and you like the features you've got one of the best midlayer/soft shell combos out there.

Individually I'd sum them up like this; the R1, I love - yes it's expensive but it's probably the best lightweight fleece on the market. Awesome for pretty much any activity in anything other than warm or hot weather. Well worth the money. 5 stars for sure.

The Ascensionist I also think is great, it's without doubt better than most soft shells out there. I respect Patagonia's commitment to designing climbing specific soft shells, I've used several in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Now if they could just stick an outside chest pocket on and improve the hood we'd be looking at another 5 stars....Patagonia

R1 Pullover 5 stars

Patagonia Ascensionist Jacket 4 stars

For winter 2009 planetFear will be going deep with Patagonia Regulator products - coming in September is the awesome new Speed Ascent Jacket along the iconic R1 Hoody.




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Patagonia Ascensionist Jacket
The Ascensionist Jacket is the.. 
RRP £180.00
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