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In the mountains, it’s important to stay dry. The weather can turn in a moment from sunny to driving sleet and cold. Every year, hundreds of unprepared people succumb to hypothermia and some even die, so it isn’t an understatement to say the right gear is a lifesaver in the big hills. Climbing mountains requires a great deal of exertion. While going uphill, typically people’s bodies generate enough heat to offset loss due to cold, wet, and wind. The trouble typically starts when people slow their rate or stop and their body’s ability to produce heat then lags and their core temperature begins to drop. If measures are not taken to stop heat loss, hypothermia can set in, leading to uncontrolled shivering, loss of sound judgment, and eventually death. When this happens, it’s essential to seek shelter from the wind, hydrate, and put on dry insulating layers and a windproof and waterproof shell to minimize heat loss. It’s essential for shell layers to be windproof, waterproof, and breathable so they don’t allow moisture to build up in your insulating layers.

For climbing jackets, it’s also essential that they fit properly and stretch and move with your body as you’ll spend a lot of time with your hands over your head. It’s tough to make a proper hardshell jacket that is windproof, waterproof, breathable, durable, light, and comfortable to wear. With every GoreTex jacket I’ve owned over the past 25 years, the more weather resistant they were, the heavier, stiffer, and less breathable they became. I recently heard about Outdoor Research’s (OR) award-winning AscentShell material that allegedly combined the best of all these qualities in a proprietary non-Gore-Tex fabric. I was curious, so I recently took the Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell jacket to the Northern Cascade mountains to test it.

At a $200 price point, I found the OR Motive AscentShell delivered a top performance at a mid-grade cost. Here’s what you should know about it.

Unboxing

I received the Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell jacket after contacting their representative, and talking to him about their latest range of gear. The jacket arrived in a standard shipping package wrapped in a garment bag and had minimal packaging. 

The Motive had one tag that explained it’s features stating that it is windproof, waterproof, breathable, and air permeable. The tag also described the jacket’s electrospun membrane construction, adjustable hood, movement mirror stretch, and trim fit. The Motive AscentShell is a three-layer fabric made from 100 percent polyester 50D mechanical stretch plain weave with 100 percent polyester 30D knit backer. 

Outdoor Research Men's Motive AscentShell Jacket
Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell jacket (Joe Plenzler)

I grabbed a midweight insulating layer, put it on, and then put on the Motive AscentShell jacket over it. The jacket ran true to size and I immediately appreciated that the waist didn’t ride up when I raised my arms overhead. The fabric was soft-to-the-touch and I noted how much less stiff the fabric was than my current hardshell jacket. I also immediately noticed that the jacket did not have armpit zippers. Outdoor Research states that they are unnecessary due to the exceptional breathability of the jacket. I was excited to test this because zippers add weight to the jacket and also provide another possible entry point for water to get through the jacket.

How we tested the Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell jacket

My partner and I recently spent a week in Washington State hiking in the Northern Cascades near Mt. Baker and mountain climbing on Mt. Rainier. If you know anything about the Cascades, you know they are set within a temperate rain forest that receives more than 42 inches of rain per year and it rains, on average, about 190 days per year. I figured what better place to test the Motive AscentShell than in a temperate rainforest. 

Outdoor Research Men's Motive AscentShell Jacket
Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell jacket (Joe Plenzler)

I spent a week wearing the Motive AscentShell on several mountain hikes in the wind and rain and also wore it for a day of mountaineering skills refresher training on snow. I rated the jacket based on the following criteria: weather protection, weight, breathability, packability, fit, and overall design and special features.

Weather protection: To no one’s surprise, it rained on us during our time in the Cascades. We hiked several trails through the endless alpine forests and ridges far above the tree line. When it rained or got windy, I put on the Motive AscentShell and could immediately feel a positive difference. The shell did a great job of cutting the wind. Through both drizzle and driving rain, it kept me dry and I didn’t notice any water penetrating the seams or zippers. The elastic drawcord on the inside right of the lower hem helped keep the waist snug to my body, and the elastic on the inside of the cuffs kept the sleeves fairly snug at my wrists. With the hood on, the pull tab at the back of the head allowed me to adjust the hood to see properly. The jacket’s main closure is made from a quality YKK AquaGuard zipper and features an internal front storm flap, and both the right and left hand pockets feature full zipper closures. I inspected the inside of the jacket and saw that each fabric seam was fully taped with waterproof material. Bottom line: The Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell kept me out of the wind and dry in some pretty wet conditions. 

Weight: When you’re carrying everything on your back and moving long distances, weight matters — and after spending 20 years in the Marines using overbuilt and unnecessarily heavy military equipment, it matters a lot. Now that I’m out of the military, I take great pains to make sure I am carrying as little weight as possible, which allows me to move farther and faster with less fatigue. This is where the Motive AscentShell shines. My size XL jacket weighed in at a scant 358 grams (12 ounces) which was 122 grams (4.3 ounces) lighter than my current favorite hardshell jacket. While Outdoor Research’s specs on the Motive AscentShell state the jacket weighs 309 grams or 10.9 ounces, I suspect that stat is based on a size medium jacket. Either way, it’s lighter than my current jacket and delivers the same performance, so it’s going in my pack until I find something lighter. 

Breathability: Not all hardshell jackets are created equally, and I’ve worn some Gore-Tex jackets over the years that felt like I was wearing noisy heavy duty plastic garbage bags. This is not the case with the Motive AscentShell. The jacket is soft and flexible, unlike a lot of hardshells, and the fabric breathes — allowing hot, moist body air to flow through the fabric to the outside. I typically run hot in the outdoors, so it was nice to be able to exert myself while wearing the jacket and not become a sweaty mess inside. The garment’s breathability is the result of OR’s AscentShell technology — a three-layer proprietary fabric that’s waterproof and breathable. AscentShell is created by an electrospinning process where charged polymers are affixed to a grounded surface and gather into a microscopic web that allows gaseous water vapor to exit while preventing liquid water from entering. 

Outdoor Research Men's Motive AscentShell Jacket
Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell jacket

Packability: Another nice thing about the Motive AscentShell jacket is its packability. The entire jacket can be stuffed into the left hand pocket which also contains a carabiner loop to allow the packed jacket to be clipped to a climbing harness. The jacket can be further compressed into a mass the size of a grapefruit for storage in a backpack. 


Fit: I’m 6 feet 3 inches tall with an athletic build, and the Motive AscentShell jacket in XL fit me true to size. The jacket hem doesn’t rise when you raise your arms overhead and the cut allows for warming layers underneath without any excess bagginess. The sleeves came down to just above the knuckles of my hands.

Design and special features: The Motive AscentShell is a pretty straightforward design with the standard two hand pockets, full front zipper, and adjustable hood common to many of its competitors. It has a reflective color-matched logo on the left breast and a reflective stripe on the mid-lower back. Other than that, it’s a pretty minimalist design, which I appreciate. 

What we like about the Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell jacket

There’s a lot to like about the OR Motive AscentShell jacket. It breathes well and keeps you dry, even when exerting yourself. Will you sweat? Yes. Does the jacket allow sweat water vapor to pass through the fabric? Yes, reasonably. (Note: Smart clothing choices and modulation will help prevent you from becoming a sweaty mess.) I also like that it is lightweight, and the fact it is 4.3 ounces lighter than my current hardshell means I just found a new, lighter jacket for my next adventures. I also dug the minimalist design. OR didn’t try to get too fussy, tricky, or specialized with the jacket, and I appreciate that. When I need to put on a hardshell quickly, I’m just looking for a hood, full front zipper, and two hand pockets and a chest pocket. That’s it, nothing more, and the Motive AscentShell delivers.

Review: Up the mountain and back with the Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell jacket
(Joe Plenzler)

What we don’t like about the Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell jacket

The jacket performs very well and is super soft and comfortable, but if I had to make recommendations to improve the 2.0 version, I’d recommend that OR take a look at making the cuff elastic adjustable and coat the exterior fabric with a treatment to allow beaded water to cling less. And I admit, these are pretty nitpicking recommendations. I also wish the jacket had two chest pockets (instead of one) and that the pockets be accessible from the outside of the jacket. The one chest pocket is only accessible from the inside of the jacket, so you have to unzip the front to get to it, which is suboptimal.

Verdict

At a $200 price point, the OR Motive AscentShell delivers excellent performance and value. OR’s designers nailed the quadfecta of making the Motive AscentShell breathable, lightweight, durable, and comfortable. This is an ideal jacket for people looking for a lightweight hardshell rain jacket to take hiking, backpacking, and climbing. 

FAQs about the Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell jacket

More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief. 

Q. What does the Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell jacket cost?

A. MSRP is just under $199 on Amazon.

Q. Does the hood fit over a climbing helmet?

A. Yes, the Motive AscentShell fits comfortably over my Black Diamond Vision climbing helmet. 

Q. Is the material durable?

A. Yes. When conducting self-arrest training on the snow, the left shoulder took an ice ax adze blow and didn’t rip or tear, surprisingly. 

Q. Does Outdoor Research guarantee the product?

A. Yes. Outdoor Research guarantees the jacket throughout the lifetime of the product.

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Joe Plenzler is a Marine Corps veteran who served from 1995 to 2015. He is a backcountry expert, long-distance backpacker, rock climber, kayaker, cyclist, wannabe mountaineer, and the world’s OK-est guitar player. He supports his outdoor addiction by working as a human communication consultant, teaching at the College of Southern Maryland, and helping start-up companies with their public relations and marketing efforts.

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