Patagonia Descensionist Kit – Ski Jacket and Pants – Tested

Post by blogger | December 1, 2017      
The Descensionist kit at work in New Zealand's Southern Alps

The Descensionist kit at work in New Zealand’s Southern Alps.

You all may remember a few years ago when Patagonia came out with their ski touring specific clothing. There were several pieces and jacket/pant combinations; it was challenging to know which design was the stand out “go-to” outerwear for any conditions. Last winter, Patagonia released a completely redesigned line-up of outerwear specific for backcountry touring. Now that Descensionist is available, what is it all about?

Simplicity and quality are two characteristics that come to mind with Patagonia’s revamped ski touring line-up. Instead of 4-5 different combinations of outerwear, there are now two options: the new Descensionist and the refined Pow Slayer. I have been primarily spending time in the Descensionist jacket and pants and have found them to be my go-to for long tours, lift accessed laps, and longer ski mountaineering missions. The Descensionist aims to combine the best design elements of previous models into one clean and multi-functional outerwear kit. I mostly agree with Patagonia’s design, but of course here at WildSnow we aim to look for what works and what can be further improved.

The jacket fits a little larger than a traditional alpine fit, which provides comfort through movement both up and down.

The jacket fits a little larger than a traditional alpine fit, which provides comfort through movement both up and down.

First off, the jacket and pants utilize a non-Gore-Tex membrane fabric, which ultimately allows them to utilize different design features that Gore-Tex doesn’t allow due to their strict clothing design requirements (certain vent/pocket combo, zipper guards, etc).

Throughout the years, I’ve been learning more about waterproofness in fabrics, main concept is that waterproofness is directly correlated with breathability. This is especially the case when we are engaging in high aerobic output activities like touring. The fabric that is utilized in the Descensionist has a relatively average waterproofness rating of 10k mm. The idea around this is that a fabric that breathes well, can get by with an average water repellent rating. Perhaps in most cases, but not always.

As a Northwest native, it’s been ingrained in me that I need rubber fishing gear for skiing. But over the years I’ve been stepping outside of that and have been finding success most of the time. Operative phrase “most of the time.” Meaning that extra attention to weather reports and the scope of the journey are important, as without highly waterproof outerwear it’s possible to get caught out with water dripping into your gloves from the inside of your jacket sleeves. Which in turn can result in a SAR callout.

Descensionist jacket, men’s medium, weighs 22 ounces. The c-knit backing keeps it supple and comfortable. The most notable feature is the high pocket/vent combination, which I like. There aren’t any pit-zips; the combination of the breathable fabric and the pocket/vent allow the layer to be kept on when the conditions are right (ie; cold and windy with precip.) The simple design keeps it packable and relatively lightweight, and functional for use with a harness.

My one qualm, which is largely personal preference, has to do with the baggier fit. I’m not the largest individual on the block and sometimes I find the size medium to fit to be larger than I’d like in terms of length, but the size small doesn’t quite cut it in other ways. Descensionist jacket is definitely not your super sleek alpine climbing fit, but the length can be nice for providing extra protection on your seat.

High hand pocket/vents

High hand pocket/vents.

The inner mesh skin/glove/goggle pocket and the lightweight powder skirt. The skirt attaches to the pants with snap closures.

The inner mesh skin/glove/goggle pocket and the lightweight powder skirt. The skirt attaches to the pants with snap closures.

The lack of inner-cuff on the pants is a great feature for easy access to ski mode mechanisms

The lack of inner-cuff on the pants is a great feature for easy access to ski mode mechanisms

The small upper thigh pocket, medium thigh pocket and the vent positioned slightly rear of the side.

The small upper thigh pocket, medium thigh pocket and the vent positioned slightly rear of the side.

Descensionist pants have been a go-to for me since starting to test this kit. In my opinion, they succeeded in bringing together the best elements of the prior Kniferidge pants and the Reconnaisance pants. The same c-knit backer on Patagonia’s waterproof membrane fabric keeps them lightweight, and comfortable through movement. In the spring, I’ve found these shell pants to be very comfortable without any thermal underlayer.

There are two simple cargo-style pockets on each leg, one with a small cell phone sleeve, and a smaller thigh pocket that is positioned on top of the thigh. This is not technically marketed as a beacon pocket, due to the lack of an internal attachment point for a beacon leash. However, I’ve been finding it to be a good place to store my beacon while attaching the leash to another part of the pants. (disclaimer: reccomends using the manufacturer beacon harness, unless there is an internal attachment point designed specifically for a beacon).

The pants have two vents positioned slightly to the rear of the legs, this is comfortable and causes no chaffing or weird range of motion issues while touring.

The Descensionist pants lack an internal gaiter/cuff. Instead, there is a cinch at the bottom which helps to keep the pants anchored to the boot while booting through snow. Since I’ve been in AT boots on my splitboard, I finally start to pay attention to these features, as I know skiers often have strong opinions about the presence of an internal gaiter and how it interacts with the walk/ski mode mechanism on their boots. The lack of an internal gaiter keeps it simple to access the ski mode mechanism, and I have found the draw-cord cinch to be mostly effective.

Another design piece that I like is the relatively low-profile shape of the pants. I’ve caught my pant legs with my crampons more times than I care to admit, but thus far have fared okay with these. When I am wearing crampons I’ll often capture the pant leg in the crampon strap, which helps keep it further out of the way. I’ve worn these pants from lift riding days through long ski traverses in the Sierras and the Beartooths.

The only time I’ve questioned the waterproofness of this fabric was hopping on wet chair lifts and sitting in a puddle for 20 minutes. Even so, as soon as I began moving and producing heat, the fabric was dry by the bottom of the run. I will say that the fabric relies on the breathability to increase its waterproofness, and the fabric does not hold up well in total down-pouring rain (as I experienced in New Zealand recently). This fabric definitely performs on the skin track.

Since Patagonia has been developing their touring specific line-up, I’ve generally been a fan of the materials and the fit. It is clear that they are focused on touring specific features and materials that step outside of what most folks are doing. Overall weights for men’s medium: Jacket – 22oz, Pants – 18oz.

New Zealand, 2017

New Zealand, 2017

Conclusion: In general, I’d highly recommend the Descensionist kit for your go-to outerwear combo for mid-winter all the way through the spring, but maybe not for a Pacific NorthWET day when you should probably be wearing a poncho and dishwashing gloves. Further, as with any brand, be ready to play around with sizing.

Shop for Descensionist jacket and pants here.


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13 Responses to “Patagonia Descensionist Kit – Ski Jacket and Pants – Tested”

  1. bfredlund December 4th, 2017 12:50 pm

    After testing those pieces as well, think that pant cuff could use some refinement, but overall I really dig the cut of the Descensionist jacket and pants (long torso and arms), as well as the stretch and feel of that hardshell fabric. A good hood too!

  2. DJ December 4th, 2017 3:23 pm

    In the year 2017, any pant that markets itself as a ski pant needs an internal beacon pocket. Simply putting in a beacon in any old pocket and finding some zipper to attach the lanyard to is lame. Any company that decides not to include this essential feature is listening to an out of touch lawyer too much and should be avoided.

  3. DJ December 4th, 2017 3:26 pm

    PS – the WildSnow disclaimer about the beacon harness recommendations is funny! Very CYA on ya.

  4. Hutch December 4th, 2017 6:29 pm

    Just a heads up, your review mentions that the Descentionist line is not GoreTex® but goes on to cite the C Knit backer multiple times. C Knit is a TM of GoreTex®. the proper generic term for the mesh on the back of 3 layer waterproof breathables is tricot, unless it is a fleece of some sort. Just wanted to help keep the lawyers off your back!

  5. Lou Dawson 2 December 5th, 2017 8:29 am

    Thanks Hutch, I’ll see about some edits. Most big companies do have lawyers who double as copyright and trademark trolls, but in the case of written opinion such as gear reviews, there is no law against honest mistakes, only egregious intentional misuse. Of course, a troll can threaten legal action any time they want. I’m no stranger to being on the receiving end of the troll army. They smell success and they’re like flies, while in the meantime Google does what Google wants. Crazy old world out there. Lou

  6. Shane December 5th, 2017 12:39 pm

    When did it become so common to keep your beacon in a pocket instead of in its harness around your torso? It didn’t seem that long ago when avy course instructors suggested an avalanche had the ability to strip you nude taking anything in your pockets with it.

    Even with a bomber attachment point, I wouldn’t trust the elastic cord leash on any transceiver I’ve used to stay intact if my beacon came out of my pocket in a slide.

  7. Lou Dawson 2 December 5th, 2017 1:25 pm

    Shane, it also wasn’t that long ago we were being taught that the avalanche immediately encased the victim in ice that would have to be chipped away with big heavy shovels, after you found the victim with a probe pole long enough to do depth soundings in the Marianas Trench. Things in education change, thankfully! (smile)

  8. wtofd December 5th, 2017 1:56 pm

    Shane, in the spring, do you skin with your beacon in a chest harness under multiple zipped layers?

  9. Kristian December 5th, 2017 8:01 pm

    ” in the spring, do you skin with your beacon in a chest harness under multiple zipped layers?”

    Yup for me always – typically one layer. And remember that sometimes a second avalanche can sweep rescuers. That’s why many beacons return to transmit mode and remain strongly attached to a harness.

  10. wtofd December 6th, 2017 6:59 am

    Kristian, two questions:

    1. How many avalanche accident reports note that the skier’s pant’s pocket was ripped open? I’ve not heard of one.
    2. Just to be clear, you are skinning uphill for an hour plus in the spring with your jacket zipped to the neck to protect your beacon’s chest harness?

    I’m not trying to start an argument, but I see lots of people with an exposed harness in all seasons (because uphill travel warms people) and I don’t understand how an unprotected harness is stronger than a zipped pocket on the legs. I’ve had multiple professionals (forest service avalanche forecasters, Avy3 instructors) tell me that the pants pocket is fine for protecting the beacon and faster to employ in a search.

  11. Kristian December 6th, 2017 7:46 am

    Looking on the internet shows that the typical beacon harness nylon flat webbing breaking strength is 3000 pounds.

    Beacon harnesses go around the body and over the shoulder kind of like a climbing chest harness so that they cannot be easily dislodged.

    Over the years, I have ripped a number of pants and jackets in the backcountry for various reasons. And like most now, I am weight conscious and tend to go with light weight not very durable fabrics. I also backcountry in shorts and/or tights.

    The beacon harness is a simple no brainer that is always exactly the same no matter what I am wearing or where I am.

    And the harness locates the beacon in the middle of the body’s torso making a probing strike much more probable.

  12. Lee December 6th, 2017 8:09 am

    Great Review! What would you recommend between the Pow Slayer Jacket to the Descensionist jacket? I have been looking for a good shell for both lift access and backcountry days. I like breathability aspects of the Descensionist but usually don’t use the shell till the way down (unless heavy snow). Besides the goretex, are there any other huge differences between the two? (seems like they are both about the same weight). Thanks!!

  13. wtofd December 6th, 2017 9:59 am

    “And the harness locates the beacon in the middle of the body’s torso making a probing strike much more probable.”
    “Looking on the internet shows that the typical beacon harness nylon flat webbing breaking strength is 3000 pounds.”
    What about the buckles?

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