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Patagonia Ascensionist review: an ultralight, minimalist backpack for day hikes, alpine ascents, and weekend trips in the wilds

The Patagonia Ascensionist is a frill-free but intelligently designed pack that’s low on weight, high on comfort, and ideal for fast-and-light adventures

Man wearing the Patagonia Ascensionist 25L in the mountains
(Image: © Kieran Cunningham)

Our Verdict

Despite a few fiddly features and a shortage of storage pockets, the Patagonia Ascensionist is a winner for adventurers looking for a tough, ultralight pack for hiking, mountaineering, or short backpacking trips

For

  • Ultralight
  • Streamline design
  • Wide opening for easy access

Against

  • Lacks storage pockets
  • Hook-and-loop closure can come undone if the pack isn’t full

Patagonia Ascensionist: first impressions

Patagonia Ascensionist 25L and 35L

The Patagonia Ascensionist 35L (left) and 25L (right) (Image credit: Kieran Cunningham)

Patagonia Ascensionist: first impressions

The Patagonia Ascensionist is a minimalist backpack geared towards mountaineers, hikers, and weekend backpackers who like to travel fast and light. Its bare-bones design offers little in the way of bells and whistles, but it redeems itself with almost peerlessly fuss-free functionality and a tiny trail weight.

The Ascensionist is made with a blend of 210-denier Cordura nylon and ripstop polyester with a polyurethane coating. While this fabric feels gossamer-thin and looks vaguely porous on close inspection, it’s both rugged as nails and impressively waterproof. 

The pack uses an integrated suspension system, meaning it lacks adjustability compared to many out-and-out backpacking packs (see our best hiking backpacks) but doubles down on tear resistance in this oft-cited area of weakness. The back panel itself, however, represents possibly the biggest departure from the norm – in place of the molded, contoured foam most hikers will be familiar with, Patagonia present us with a bare, foam-free sheet with no padding to speak of. While this shouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker, it does mean you’ll have no airflow between the pack and your back and that any hard or pointy items inside the pack will be poking into your spine and without careful packing. 

The back of the Patagonia Ascensionist

(Image credit: Kieran Cunningham)

With regard to features, the Ascensionist takes a very “less is more” approach. What you will find is a tiny stash pocket in the hood, a long spindrift collar under the hood that allows the pack to expand or collapse depending on the load, an ice-tool carrying system, an adjustable sternum strap, and a removable frame sheet and removable hipbelt pads that let you lighten the load even further when need be.

The most notable absences are external zippered pockets (barring the one in the hood), water bottle pockets, and lumbar support (more on these in parts of a backpack).

The front of the Patagonia Ascensionist

The Ascensionist has a pared-down, minimalist feature set (Image credit: Kieran Cunningham)
Specifications

RRP: $179 (US)/£160 (UK)
Weight (35L): 890 g (1 lb 15 oz)
Volume: 25L – 55L
Colours: Joya Blue/Fire/Grey/Lime
Compatibility: Hiking, mountaineering, and weekend treks

Patagonia Ascensionist: on the trail

For this review, we put two models of the Patagonia Ascensionist to the test – the 35-liter pack (blue/yellow in pictures) and the 40-liter pack (lime green/yellow). I’ve had both packs for just over 18 months, and in that time they’ve become my go-to packs for any outing where keeping weight to a minimum has been a priority. These outings have included overnight ski-touring trips, day hikes in the Scottish Highlands, the Swiss Alps, and New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and even the odd multi-pitch climb in Italy’s Val di Mello and Valmalenco.

Let’s get the not-so-lovable aspects out of the way first…

For some people, the Ascensionist’s simple design may prove a sticking point. Compared to other packs in our list of the best hiking backpacks, best women’s hiking backpacks and best daypacks, this one lacks convenience and comfort-enhancing features like external storage pockets, a cushioned back panel, and plushly padded shoulder straps, and the hipbelt takes minimalism to a whole new level. 

However, when choosing a backpack, it’s well worth bearing in mind that old English adage “horses for courses”, which reminds us that different Equidae are better suited to different types of racetrack – or, in the case of backpacks, that different packs excel in different arenas, contexts, and activities. While I wouldn’t be too keen on lugging the Ascensionist on a multi-day thru-hike or choose it over a more feature-rich pack for a regular day hike, its tiny weight, streamlined design and surprising robustness and abrasion-resistance make it a shoo-in for any trip where I need to travel fast and light and anticipate exposing my pack to a little bit of rough treatment along the way.

Inside the Patagonia Ascensionist 35L

The view inside the Patagonia Ascensionist 35L (Image credit: Kieran Cunningham)

What I love most about the Ascensionist is the pack’s “barely there” feel. Even when loaded to the max and with ice axes and ropes lashed to the exterior, this pack never feels cumbersome or pinchy around the shoulders. While I would’ve greatly appreciated a little more contoured padding in the back panel to enhance airflow on warmer days, I’m also aware that, had its makers added this, the pack’s poundage would have increased to the point where I’d start considering other options in my gear cupboard.

The bottom line? A great pack for alpine adventures, summit days, or gram-counting, minimalist hikers who are happy to sacrifice a few features in return for weight savings and unfussy functionality.

Man wearing the Patagonia Ascensionist 25L in the mountains

The Ascensionist on a hike in Italy's Val Masino (Image credit: Kieran Cunningham)