The Best Fleece Jacket Review

Which fleece jacket is the best? We tested 22 top-tier men's fleeces over three years of hiking, camping, climbing, and skiing in order to find out. We evaluated each jacket – from thin and highly breathable baselayer styles to thick, comfy-as-a-wooly-bear models – on breathability, wind resistance, features, weight, and packed size. Our awards identify the best jackets for all-purpose use and for specific applications like hiking, skiing, and climbing.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and Max Neale

Top Ranked Fleece Jackets - Men's Displaying 1 - 5 of 21 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Patagonia R1 Hoody
Patagonia R1 Hoody
Read the Review
Video video review
Patagonia R3 Jacket
Patagonia R3 Jacket
Read the Review
Video video review
Patagonia R2 Jacket
Patagonia R2 Jacket
Read the Review
Video video review
Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
Read the Review
Arc'teryx Hyllus Hoody
Arc'teryx Hyllus Hoody
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award    Top Pick Award   
Street Price Varies $127 - $159
Compare at 6 sellers
Varies $95 - $189
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $67 - $169
Compare at 10 sellers
Varies $139 - $199
Compare at 9 sellers
Varies $244 - $300
Compare at 4 sellers
Overall Score 
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100% recommend it (7/7)
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100% recommend it (3/3)
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Pros Hood= instant balaclava, very warm for its weight, highly breathable, packs down small, extra length tucks into pants, thumb loops secure cuffs for active sports.Very warm, moderately lightweight, attractive styling, excellent features.Trim fit, highly compressible, versatile features, thinner bottom material reduces bulk under a harness, no hood (if that's your preference).Warmest hood of any fleece tested, stylish, more durable and more wind resistant than most lightweight fleeces, handpockets increase comfort w/o gloves.Very comfortable, warm fleece insulation, excellent pockets hood and fit.
Cons Not as durable, wind resistant, or as stylish as hardface fleeces; no handwarmer pocket can be a drawback for some people.Can be too warm for active use in three-season conditions, bottom area can be bulky when worn under a harness.Can be too warm for cardio activities in three-season temps, ugly dual material contrasting colors, uncomfortable thumb loops, Patagonia's R3 has larger hand pockets.Cut is not as long as Patagonia R1 Hoody and can come untucked easily, especially if you're around or over 5' 10" tall.VERY EXPENSIVE, heavy for multi-day overnight trips, too many logos!
Best Uses Under almost anything for varying temperatures, standalone light layer.Cold winter and casual use around town.Active use in cold weather, alpine climbingAlpine, ice, and rock climbing, all-purpose use.Around town, skiing and snowboarding.
Date Reviewed May 22, 2013Jul 22, 2013Jul 22, 2013May 15, 2013May 21, 2013
Weighted Scores Patagonia R1 Hoody Patagonia R3 Jacket Patagonia R2 Jacket Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody Arc'teryx Hyllus Hoody
Wind Resistance - 5%
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5
Breathability - 15%
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5
Comfort - 20%
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8
Warmth - 25%
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7
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9
Weight - 15%
10
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8
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6
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2
Style - 10%
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Features - 10%
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Product Specs Patagonia R1 Hoody Patagonia R3 Jacket Patagonia R2 Jacket Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody Arc'teryx Hyllus Hoody
Type Lightweight Midweight Midweight Lightweight Heavyweight
Weight (oz.) 12.6 14.9 13.3 13.8 22
Main Material 6.8 oz Polartec Power Dry 7.4-oz Polartec Thermal Pro w/ 5.9-oz Polartec Power Dry sides 6.1 oz Polartec Thermal Pro 7.9 oz Polartec Wind Pro w/ hardface Polartec Power Shield O2 High Loft w/ hardface
Pockets [chest] 1 [handwarmer] 2 [chest] 1 [handwarmer] 2 [chest] 1 [handwarmer] 2 [chest] 1 [handwarmer] 2 [bicep] 1 [interior stash] 2
Hood Yes No No Yes Yes

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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North Face Khumbu Jacket
$80
100
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53
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Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
$199
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73
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Arc'teryx Hyllus Hoody
$375
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70
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Patagonia R2 Jacket
$169
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74
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Patagonia R1 Pullover - Men's
$119
100
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64
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Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man
$150
100
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66
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Patagonia Nano Puff Hybrid
$249.00
100
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58
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Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man Grid
$190
100
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68
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Arc'teryx Caliber Cardigan - Men's
$129
100
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61
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Rab Logan Jacket
$199
100
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66
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Patagonia Better Sweater
$139
100
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65
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North Face TKA 100 Glacier - Men's
$50
100
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64
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North Face Denali Jacket - Men's
$165
100
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52
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Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody - Men's
$179
100
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65
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Patagonia R1 Full Zip - Men's
$149
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60
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Columbia Steens Mountain Full Zip
$36
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Selecting the Right Product
Fleeces have evolved tremendously since Patagonia introduced the first fleece (Synchilla) in the fall of 1985. Modern feeces are very warm for their weight, highly compressible, and supremely comfortable. Fleece is warmer when wet but not as warm for its weight when compared to synthetic insulation. Down is the most thermally efficient type of insulation, but it is not warm when wet and therefore not suitable for use as a midlayer for high out put activities. Fleece jackets are best used as a midlayer underneath a wind or water resistant shell, or beneath a warmer insulated jacket. They are also increasingly becoming better for use as a stand-alone jacket. We believe that fleeces are a critical component of an effective layering kit for all types of outdoor activities.

If you are looking for a relatively inexpensive casual use jacket for around town also consider a lightly insulated softshell jacket like the Patagonia Adze, which serves better as a standalone jacket than any fleece tested here. Down jackets and synthetic insulated jackets offer more warmth per dollar than fleeces are also better for use as an outer layer.

Review Update Coming Soon
In addition to re-testing some of the top scoring products in our current review, we're in the process of reviewing a few new fleeces too - the Patagonia Synchilla Snap-T Pullover, the Marmot Front Range, and the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 200. Check back at the end of October for our full results!

Types of Fleeces
We selected 22 fleeces of all types and styles for inclusion in this review. These can be broken down into four general types:

Lightweight-- the most versatile for technical outdoor pursuits; suitable for use in a wide range of weather conditions and activities. Our testers prefer hoods on this type of fleece.

Midweight-- ideal for use as a midlayer on cold winter days or as a standalone jacket around town; the best blend of performance and style for technical and general use.

Heavyweight-- ideal for casual, around town use. They often weigh more than one pound and are expensive, heavy, and bulky for their warmth. But they are very comfortable.

Hybrid-- combines different types of fleeces and/or fleece with synthetic insulation. Best for very specific applications, such as alpine climbing.

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Types of fleeces, from left to right: lightweight (Arcteryx Fortez Hoody), midweight (Patagonia R2), heavyweight (Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man), and hybrid (Patagonia Nano Puff Hybrid).
Criteria For Evaluation
We evaluated each jacket on its warmth, weight, packed size, comfort, breathability, wind resistance, and features.

Warmth
The thicker the fleece the more air it can trap around your body. Increasing the warmth of a fleece, however is only beneficial to a certain extent; we do not believe that heavyweight fleeces (those that weigh more than a pound) perform well for most applications because they are too warm for active use. The Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man narrowly edged out the Patagonia R3 as the warmest model tested because it was trimmer around the waist and better able to trap air. Hood design also plays an important role in warmth and hood are commonly found on lightweight fleeces.

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Lightweight fleeces such as the Patagonia R1 Hoody (used here by Brad Miller in Alaska) are ideal base or midlayers for both cold weather and general use; they are the most versatile and our testers' most used type of fleece.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab
Comfort/Coziness
Thicker high-loft fleeces are generally more comfortable than thinner models because you feel like you're enveloped in a heavenly fuzzy blanket. The Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man and the Patagonia R3 Hi-Loft - Men's topped our comfort scores by a large margin. The Patagonia R2 also scored well and is almost as comfortable as the R3.

Features
Hood design is a critical component of a lightweight fleece. If a jacket has a comfortable and warm hood it can serve as a substitute for a balaclava and keep you toasty under a helmet or hood, and unlike a hat, it is always with you. Lightweight hooded fleeces are our testers' most used type of fleece. Through a continuous effort to identify the best models in this category, we've found that the best hoods are those that cover most of your face and your mouth when needed. The Patagonia R1 Hoody and Arc'teryx Fortrez score highest in this category because every component, including the hood, is nearly perfect.

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Hood comfort and warmth are critical for lightweight fleeces. Here Max and Zeb compare the Patagonia R1 Hoody (left) to the Outdoor Research Radiant Hybrid. The R1 Hoody has a warmer and more comfortable hood chin closure.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab
Breathability
Breathability is one of the main reasons to purchase a fleece over other types of insulation. Of the several very lightweight (under 10 oz.) base layer type fleeces included in this review, the Patagonia Capilene 4 Hoody is the most breathable and is our favorite winter base layer. Many other fleeces are also highly breathable; only a few older styles, like the Mountain Hardwear Mountain Tech and North Face Denali, score low in this category.

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A highly breathable fleece like the Mountain Equipment Eclipse Hooded Zip Tee can also serve as a baselayer for high output activities in cold temperatures.
Water Resistance
Fleece is not intended to be water resistant and one should not purchase a fleece with the intention of gaining that attribute. We did not rate fleeces based on their water resistance. Though some hard face fleeces like the Arc'teryx Fortrez have a DWR chemical coating that resists water until it wears off (usually a few weeks to a few months), it's better to wear a rain jacket or a hardshell jacket over a fleece for complete water and wind protection. Again, fleeces are best used as part of a layering system, rather than a single standalone jacket.

Wind Resistance
Increasing a fleece's wind resistance can be done by adding a windproof membrane like Gore Windstopper into the middle of the fleece (this was popular in the 1990's and early 2000's), by increasing the density of a fleece's woven exterior fabric, or by using a combination of materials, a.k.a. creating a hybrid piece. Although increased wind resistance makes a fleece better for use as a stand alone layer for around town, it also increases weight, packed size, and can reduce comfort. It's often much more efficient to wear a wind jacket (some weigh as little as 2 oz.) over a fleece if you need wind protection. For this reason, wind resistance assumes only five percent of each jacket's total score; we rate each jacket on wind resistance primarily for comparison purposes. Of all the jackets tested, the windproof membrane equipped Mountain Hardwear Tech is the most wind resistant; we recommend it primarily for casual, around town use. The Patagonia Nano Puff Hybrid, which uses bits of synthetic insulation around the chest and shoulders and R2 material elsewhere, increases warmth without drastically reducing breathability or increasing weight.

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Patagonia Nano Puff Hybrid. It's not intended to be used as an outer layer but the synthetic insulated areas (red) increase wind and water resistance while the R2 fleece (orange) is highly breathable. Zeb Engberg in the Adirondack's, New York State.
Credit: Natalie Afonina
Style
Many people wear fleeces as casual around-town jackets, so we asked our friends to weigh in on their favorite stylish pieces. We found that jackets with a smooth exterior are more attractive than the shaggy, furry look of high loft fleeces. In other words, the fleeces that perform the best for outdoor activities are the least attractive in urban settings. The most stylish jackets tested were the Patagonia Better Sweater, which has a casual sweater-like exterior, and the Arc'teryx Fortrez and Arc'teryx Hyllus Hoody, both of which have a smooth hardface exterior that looks more like a softshell and stay looking new for a long time, i.e. they don't pill up like some hardfaces do (Rab Logan, Patagonia Better Sweater).

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The hardface exterior on the Arcteryx Hyllus Hoody (left) does not pill up like the Rab Logan (right) and Patagonia Better Sweater (not shown), and stays looking new for longer.
Credit: Molly Ravits
Weight and Packed Size
Lighter fleeces are less burdensome to carry and more comfortable to wear. Those that pack smaller also take up less space in a backpack. Models compared in this review range in weight from 25.5 ounces to 7.7 ounces. The North Face TKA 100 and Patagonia Capilene 4 Hoody were the lightest and most compressible models tested.

Accessories
If you are looking for a fleece hat to go along with your fleece jacket, we recommend looking at the Arcteryx Fortrez Beanie and The North Face Standard Issue Beanie. The Fortrez Beanie is made from the same great fleece technology as the Fortrez jacket. Both hats would fit great under a hood or a helmet and have quick-drying properties.

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Grid fleeces are highly breathability, have high warmth to weight ratios, and pack down very small. Patagonia Capilene 4 shown at left and Patagonia R1 at right.
Credit: Molly Ravits
Editors' Choice Award: Patagonia R1 Hoody
No fleece is lived in and loved by our testers as much as the Patagonia R1 Hoody. What this jacket lacks in style it makes up for in performance. Patagonia has continually refined the R1 Hoody over the years until… perfection!? There are two key attributes that set it apart from other similar models in Patagonia's line and the lines from other companies: (1) The long cut is designed to be tucked into pants, bibs, and harnesses and does not ride up and come untucked like the vast majority of other fleeces tested. This makes it much warmer than other models when your arms are raised overhead while climbing or tromping around in the backcountry with trekking or ski poles. (2) The balaclava like hood is exceptionally comfortable and warm and stays with you wherever you are. We are confident that this is the best fleece (in the world) for rock, ice, and alpine climbing. It is also our favorite fleece for the majority of other outdoor activities like hiking and backpacking.

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Max Neale with the Patagonia R1 Hoody and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack approaching Mt. Katahdin, Maine.
Credit: Zeb Engberg
Top Pick Award for No Hood: Patagonia R3
Our testers generally prefer hoods on their fleeces. However, we recognize that many people do not share this preference and, therefore, we present a Top Pick Award to the best jacket without a hood, the Patagonia R3. This fleece was just updated for Fall 2013 and is an exceptionally versatile and ultra-cozy midweight model that combines top-tier cold weather performance with around town style. No other technical fleece looks this good. The R3 is considerably warmer than the R1 Hoody. Since it doesn't have a hood we like to pair it with a balaclava for climbing and skiing in super cold weather.

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Max in the Patagonia R3 fleece (left) and Zeb in the Arcteryx Venta MX softshell (right) on a day with a high of -12F. Both of these jackets are best for active use in cold weather.
Credit: Dan Sandberg
Top Pick Award for Style: Arc'teryx Fortrez
For many years Arc'teryx did not make any excellent lightweight fleeces. Our testers waited patiently until 2013 when the company got their act together and released the Arc'teryx Fortrez hoody, which blends style and function like no other. The Fortez uses a hardface Polartec Wind Pro fleece that's slightly more wind resistant than Patagonia's R1, R2, and R3. Its tighter woven exterior fabric looks more like a softshell than a shaggy rug, which helps you blend in more when walking around urban areas, and the material also resists dirt and abrasion better than most other fleeces tested. Many other companies make jackets with the same material as the Fortez but none match the Arc'teryx's attention to detail and design excellence. The jacket's secret weapon is a thin balaclava that hides in the back of the hood and can cover your face when needed- an excellent, unique feature. Unfortunately, this jacket does not have an extra long cut and thus our testers prefer the R1 Hoody for technical pursuits. For most people, however, this could be the best all-purpose lightweight fleece, especially if you care more about aesthetics than absolute performance.

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Chris Simrell in the Arcteryx Fortez Hoody after a 110 miles traverse of the Olympic Peninsula by foot and packraft.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab
Best Buy Award: North Face Khumbu
Our Best Buy award goes to the North Face Khumbu Jacket because it gets the job done for less than half the price of many other fleeces. Though not well suited to serious outdoor use because it's not the most breathable, lightweight, or comfortable, this is the best jacket we've used that has fleecey properties and doesn't cost a small fortune. We recommend this jacket if you're on a budget or just want something warm for around town and occasional outdoor trips.

The North Face, Khumbu, Fleece Jacket, Men&#039;s
The North Face, Khumbu, Fleece Jacket, Men's
Credit: TheNorthFace.com
Best Fleeces for Specific Applications
Winter baselayer: Patagonia Capilene 4 Hoody
Casual around town: consider a lightly insulated softshell jacket like the Patagonia Adze, which is windproof, or cough up the cash for the Arc'teryx Hyllus Hoody if you want the best looking fleece hoody.
Kayaking: when you are cold, wet, and sitting in a boat-- Patagonia R3
Antarctica: for the coldest conditions possible Patagonia R3

Chris McNamara and Max Neale
Buying Advice
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 How to Choose the Best Fleece Jacket

by Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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