The Best Fleece Jacket Review

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When not wearing a flannel, Portland local Matt can be found testing out fleeces for OutdoorGearLab.
Credit: Eric Schnepel
Which fleece jacket is the best? In our original review we tested more than a dozen top-tier men's fleeces over three years of hiking, camping, climbing and skiing in order to find out. For our fall 2014 update, we've added new offerings and pitted them against the previous winners in head-to-head tests. 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: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Fleece Jackets - Men's Displaying 1 - 5 of 12 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Patagonia R3 Jacket
Patagonia R3 Jacket
Read the Review
Patagonia R1 Hoody
Patagonia R1 Hoody
Read the Review
Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 200
Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 200
Read the Review
Patagonia R2 Jacket
Patagonia R2 Jacket
Read the Review
Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Top Pick Award  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award     
Street Price Varies $130 - $189
Compare at 5 sellers
Varies $109 - $159
Compare at 5 sellers
Varies $100 - $150
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $101 - $169
Compare at 8 sellers
Varies $149 - $199
Compare at 8 sellers
Overall Score 
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72
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69
Editors' Rating
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Active use on extremely cold days, adding warmth under a puffy for long belays, arctic exploring.Perfect fit for most active uses, ideal weight for many conditions, great hood design.Super soft, snug collar is very cozy, slim and stylish cut, fits nicely under a puffy for super cold days.Extremely versatile, the grid-fleece side panels add breathability, very comfortable, long and slim fit.Great hood design, handwarmer pockets, attractive hardface fleece, fitted cut.
Cons Wrist cuffs don't roll up, fur attracts dirt.Not as stylish as some other fleeces for around town, not as warm for its weight as some high-loft models.Too warm for high exertion activities in all but the most arctic conditions.Thumb loops are too small, a bit too technical looking for casual use, no hooded version.Not long enough to fit nicely under a harness and not ideal for tall people, heavier than other warmer layers.
Best Uses Adding extra warmth for sedentary activities or use as an active layer in VERY cold conditions.Just about any outdoor pursuit.Keeping warm for low-mid exertion activities, adding another dimension of warmth under a puffy for super cold belays, looking stylish all winter long.All around use, especially where breathability is key.Technical midlayer for all around use.
Date Reviewed Oct 02, 2014Oct 02, 2014Oct 02, 2014Oct 02, 2014Oct 02, 2014
Weighted Scores Patagonia R3 Jacket Patagonia R1 Hoody Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 200 Patagonia R2 Jacket Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
Warmth - 25%
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8
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5
10
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9
10
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7
10
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6
Comfort - 20%
10
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9
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9
10
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9
10
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8
10
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7
Weight - 15%
10
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6
10
0
9
10
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6
10
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8
10
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7
Breathability - 15%
10
0
8
10
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9
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7
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8
10
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7
Style - 10%
10
0
7
10
0
5
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5
10
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6
10
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8
Features - 10%
10
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7
10
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10
10
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7
10
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7
10
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9
Wind Resistance - 5%
10
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2
10
0
2
10
0
2
10
0
2
10
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4
Product Specs Patagonia R3 Jacket Patagonia R1 Hoody Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 200 Patagonia R2 Jacket Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
Type Midweight Lightweight Midweight Midweight Lightweight
Weight (oz.) 14.9 12.6 14.8 13.8 13.8
Main Material 7.4 oz Polartec Thermal Pro w/ 5.9 oz Polartec Power Dry sides 6.8 oz Polartec Power Dry Polartec ThermalPro Monkey Phur Lite 6.1 oz Polartec Thermal Pro 7.9 oz Polartec Wind Pro w/ hardface
Pockets [handwarmer] 2 [chest] 1 [chest] 1 [handwarmer] 2 [chest] 1 [handwarmer] 2 [chest] 1 [handwarmer] 2 [chest] 1
Unique Features Warm technical non-hooded fleece Snug fitting balaclava style hood Super cozy high-loft fleece Thumb loops, stretch side panels Integrated neck gator doubles as balaclava
Hood Option? No Yes No No Yes
Other Versions No R1 Pullover (No Hood), R1 Full Zip No No No
Color selection Black, Navy, Khaki, Grey, Green Black, Two Tone Blue, Red Brown, Bright Red, Dark Red, Green, Blue, Black, Grey Black, Grey, Two Tone Blue, Navy, Red, Green, Purple Bright Green, Black (Red Trim), Red, Aqua, Blue

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



Selecting the Right Product
Fleece jackets have evolved tremendously since Patagonia introduced the first version of the Patagonia Synchilla Snap-T Pullover in the fall of 1985. Modern fleeces are very warm for their weight, highly breathable, compressible and supremely comfortable. This type of jacket does, however, have its own set of limitations. It is not as warm per ounce as either Down or synthetic insulation. Of all materials, down provides the greatest degree of thermal efficiency. However, it is not particularly breathable and loses almost all of its loft and insulative properties when wet. These limitations cause down to be a less-than-ideal material for use as a midlayer for any high-output activity. This is exactly the situation where fleece truly shines.

When used as a midlayer or worn alone, the models in this review can add a degree of versatility to a layering system that no other material can provide. Many of the jackets in this review can be used under any sort of outerwear to provide a marked increase in warmth without adding significant bulk or hindering the moisture transportation of technical shells. Some of them also make a good choice for use as an exterior layer in high output winter activities where a combination of warmth and breathability are paramount. As outdoor fabric evolves and jacket designs improve, fleeces are becoming more and more useful as mid/outer layers in an ever increasing number of situations. We believe that they 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, it is worth considering a lightly insulated softshell jacket like the Patagonia Adze, which serves better as a stand alone piece than any of the models tested here. However, fleece jackets offer the comfort and coziness that softshells just can't touch. As technology and design is constantly changing and improving, we have updated this review for 2014 with some of the most exciting offerings from top manufacturers. We re-tested the top scorers from our previous review and compared them side-by-side with some of the most exciting new products available. The updated review included the following models:

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From left to right - Fortrez, R2, Radium.
Credit: Eric Schnepel
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From left to right - Front Range, Monkey Man, R1
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R3 (left) and Synchilla (right)

Types of Fleece Jackets
Our review contains more than two dozen of the best men's fleece jackets on the market. These can be broken down into four general types:

Lightweight-- the most versatile for technical outdoor pursuits; suitable as part of a layering system for use in a wide range of weather conditions and activities. Ideally, products in this category are slim fitting, layer easily, and breathe well. Our testers prefer hoods on this type of jacket or pullover.

Midweight-- ideal for use as a midlayer on cold winter days or as a standalone jacket around town. Products in this category provide a great 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. Products in this category tend to be too bulky to layer effectively, which limits their usefulness. However, they are quite comfortable and can sometimes be stylish.

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

Refer to our buying advice guide for further guidance in your selection process.

Criteria for Evaluation
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Testers found our Top Pick winner to be the most stylish of the high loft fleeces
Credit: Toby Butterfield

Warmth
At the most basic level, people buy jackets because they want to be warm. All other functions of a jacket are secondary to its ability to add warmth to any layering system. Therefore, weight was the single metric that we felt deserved the largest influence on each review. With this in a mind, we assigned the warmth metric 25% of each jacket's total score. However, somewhat counterintuitively, at a certain point fleece jackets become too warm for active use, which limits their versatility. Also, if warmth is increased to the point where breathability begins to decrease, the piece looses even more of its usefulness as a midlayer. Heavier models can also become too bulky to be useful as an active layer. In short, the warmest product is not necessarily the best choice. It is important to consider many of the other factors that influence a fleece's usability (features, breathability, etc.) and not simply choose one based solely on its absolute warmth.

One wildcard in overall warmth is the hood. Hoods vastly improve overall warmth without decreasing breathability and can add another degree of versatility to the layer. Testers definitely appreciated hooded models and tended to give them better overall marks. There are few things worse than forgetting a hat on a cold winter day and having your ears turn into ice cubes. Investing in a hooded model will effectively erase this concern from your life. Worth it? We tend to think so. However, we do recognize that there are certain situations that are more suited to non-hooded models. For instance, if a fleece jacket is purchased with the intention of frequently being worn under a hooded shell, it is nice not to have the extra fabric bunching up at the back of your head when the shell's hood is deployed.

The Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 200, which was a new addition for the 2014 update, stood out as the warmest high-loft model tested that still remained breathable and useful as a midlayer. If feeling like a polar bear is what you're after, the Monkey Man 200 makes a great choice.
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The Fortrez (left) and R1 each have innovative and useful hood/balaclavas.
Credit: Eric Schnepel

Comfort and Coziness
Fleece jackets have long had the reputation as the coziest of all layers. After extensive testing, we tend to agree with this notion. Numerous testers commented on a marked increase in daily hugs when wearing some of the particularly cozy models we tested. In fact, coziness around town is one of the primary reasons to choose a fleece over other types of insulation. It simply feels better to be wrapped in a thick layer of fuzziness than the shiny interior of a down or synthetic jacket. In addition to absolute coziness, comfort during active use and the ability of the layer to move well with a body in motion were also considered in this metric. In fact, most products in this review were very comfortable and only a few struggled in this metric.

Thicker high-loft models are generally more comfortable than their thinner counterparts. The furry fabric of the high-loft pieces simply feels cozier than the sheer fabric of the thinner products. The Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 200 and Patagonia R3 topped our comfort scores. Either of these fantastic layers will have you feeling comfy, cozy, and ready to take on the elements. However, the high-loft models tend to lose points on appearance and collect extra dirt. There are certainly trade-offs that must be made.

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Getting a little extra warmth between climbs on a cold fall day. The Radium is super soft and cozy.
Credit: Eric Schnepel

Breathability
Breathability is one of the primary reasons for purchasing a fleece jacket over any other type of insulation. The sweltering feeling of humid air being trapped near your body with nowhere to escape is a misery we have all felt. Breathability simply refers to a jacket's ability to combat this feeling by effectively allowing moisture and excess heat to escape. New fabric technologies have evolved to be extremely breathable, making this type of jacket a good choice for a midlayer. In the rare case that a product did not breathe effectively, many of its potential uses were negated and its value as a layering piece was drastically reduced.

As a general rule, we found that the more windproof a given product was, the less it breathed. Wind resistance and and breathability are simply competing goals that cannot, by definition, be simultaneously maximized. A few of the very lightweight models (under 10 oz.) are extremely breathable and make great base layers. In fact, the majority of products in this review proved to be highly breathable, and only a few struggled in this metric. In general, the tightly woven, more jacket-like layers such as the Windstopper outfitted Marmot Front Range or the heavyweight North Face Denali Jacket - Men's score low in this category. Meanwhile, the high scoring Patagonia R1 is a highly breathable midlayer that rarely feels stifling, even during highly aerobic activities like backcountry skiing or cold weather trail running.

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Max Neale with the Patagonia R1 Hoody and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack approaching Mt. Katahdin, Maine.
Credit: Zeb Engberg

Weight and Packed Size
Typically lighter gear is less burdensome to carry and more comfortable to wear. A quality lightweight fleece jacket is likely to be the most versatile and commonly worn layer in any outdoor gear arsenal. This was confirmed by testers, who reached for thinner, more baselayer-style models significantly more often than their thicker counterparts. Lightweight fleeces generally do not restrict upper body mobility and make ideal layers to wear when you're active on cold days. There are simply more situations where you'll find a light jacket more useful than a heavy jacket-style one, which is why we've awarded the Patagonia R1 Hoody our Editors' Choice award. The combination of a light, hooded fleece and a waterproof shell is one of the most versatile and efficient layering systems out there.

We also value models that pack smaller and take up less space in a backpack. These serve as the perfect layer to grab when heading out for a day hike and they are a great choice to throw in a bullet pack for a bit of extra warmth on multi-pitch climbs. Models compared in this review range in weight from 7.7 ounces to 30 ounces. Again, in the weight metric, there is a point of diminishing return. At a certain point, the layer becomes too thin and light, and it will no longer provide much extra warmth as a midlayer. At this point, you'll need to bring another layer with you if it is going to be even moderately cold during whatever outdoor pursuit you are embarking on.

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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

Features
Our features metric includes any functional component that is not the jacket itself. Examples of elements considered in this category include, but are not limited to the following: hood inclusion/design, quality and placement of pockets, quality of buttons/zippers, and the inclusion of thumb loops. Of all these factors, the pocket placement and quality of buttons/zippers are the most important features that are shared by all the products tested.

For any of the products in the "lightweight" category, hood design becomes a critical component. A well designed hood can add much to the warmth and usefulness of any lightweight jacket. The Patagonia R1 Hoody and Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody score high in this category for their wealth of useful features and well-designed hoods/balaclavas. However, the Fortrez was just slightly edged out by the sturdy thumb loops and nearly flawless design of the R1 Hoody. There simply do not seem to be any design flaws to the R1. Some consider the lack of handwarmer pockets a detraction to the R1. Anyone who rock climbs will appreciate the lack of pockets, however, as it allows the R1 to easily slide under a harness with no extra fabric to bunch or snag. Its well thought out design and perfect fit make it a nearly unbeatable layer that was universally loved by testers.

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The integrated balaclava is a great addition and one of the most clever features we've seen.
Credit: Eric Schnepel

Style and Fit
Many people wear fleeces as casual, around-town jackets, so we asked our friends to weigh in on the style of each piece. We found that jackets with a smooth exterior are more attractive than shaggy, high-loft models. In other words, as a general rule, those that add the most warmth to 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 Marmot Front Range. Both of these layers have a sleek, smooth exterior; however, this sort of style is really only important if you plan on spending a lot of time walking around town in non-outdoor oriented locations. In any sort of outdoor town or climber bar, you'll look right at home in a technical or furry fleece jacket. Plus, you'll be warm…and warm people are always more attractive!

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Matt shows off the style of this slim-fitting fleece in between climbs.
Credit: Eric Schnepel

Wind and Water Resistance
Increasing a fleece jacket's wind resistance can be done by adding a windproof membrane like GORE Windstopper into the middle of the fabric, by increasing the density of the woven exterior fabric, or by using a combination of materials to create a hybrid model like the Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody. Although increased wind resistance makes a fleece better for use as a stand alone layer for around town, it also increases weight and packed size and can reduce comfort and breathability. It's often much more efficient to wear a wind jacket (some weigh as little as 2 oz.) over a fleece jacket, if you need wind protection. For this reason, wind resistance assumes only five percent of each jacket's total score. Of all the jackets tested, the Windstopper equipped Marmot Front Range is the most wind resistant. Although it does not layer particularly well and restricts movement more than its competitors, it is an attractive and warm jacket that serves well for casual around-town use on cold days.

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In a very slight rain, water will bead up on the Windstopper equipped Front Range. Under any substantial rain, however, moisture will soak right through.
Credit: Eric Schnepel

Fleece jackets are not intended to be water resistant and one should not purchase one with the intention of gaining that attribute. As a result, we did not rate them based on their water resistance. However, it's worth mentioning that some hard face models - like the Arc'teryx Fortrez - have a DWR chemical coating that resists water until it wears off. In general, though, it's better to wear a rain jacket or a hardshell jacket over a fleece for complete water and wind protection. In technical environments, fleeces are best used as part of a layering system, rather than a single stand-alone jacket.

Editors' Choice Award: Patagonia R1 Hoody
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Eric tests out the form fitting hood of our Editors' Choice fleece on a cold morning in the Aggro Gully of Smith Rock. We LOVE this hood.
Credit: Eric Schnepel

No fleece is lived-in and loved by our testers as much as the Patagonia R1 Hoody. This lightweight midlayer has been the reigning champion of this review for years. In the 2014 update, testers were curious to see if some of the new and updated models would finally be able to topple the almighty R1. Even though the competition was stiffer, the R1 once again came out on top. What this jacket lacks in style it makes up for in performance. There is very little we could think of that would improve the design of the R1. It really is about as close to perfect as any layer we've encountered.

There are two key attributes that set our Editors' Choice winner 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 its competitors. This alone places the R1 a notch above most other models in the field. It makes the R1 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 hood is exceptionally comfortable and warm and stays with you wherever you are. Never again will you will you have to deal with wishing you had a hat on a cold day. We are confident that this is the best fleece (in the world) for rock, ice and alpine climbing. The long, fitted sleeves stay put when rolled up and do not creep down your arms to get in the way mid-route, while the integrated thumb loops are sturdy and comfortable for the hike out. It folds down to a small size for packing and is consistently the layer that testers reached for to take up multi-pitch rock climbs. It is also our favorite layer for the majority of other outdoor activities like hiking and backpacking.

Top Pick Award for High-Loft Fleece Jacket: Patagonia R3
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Testers found our Top Pick winner to be the most stylish of the high loft fleeces
Credit: Toby Butterfield

Although lightweight fleece jackets tend to be useful in many more situations than their high-loft counterparts, we still believe that a large portion of the outdoor community will find plenty of uses to justify the purchase of a warm and cozy fleece jacket. Testers who have spent chilly mornings belaying or hanging out in a freezing basecamp will attest to the value of a warm layer to slide under a puffy or shell for absolute warmth and comfort. As such, in our 2014 update to this review, we decided to give a top pick in high-loft models to the fantastically designed Patagonia R3. This product was updated in the fall of 2013 and is an exceptionally versatile and ultra-cozy midweight model that combines fantastic cold weather performance with good around town style and an assortment of well thought-out features. The slim cut and sleek fabric make it about as stylish as a technical high-loft fleece can be.

The R3 is considerably warmer than the R1 Hoody while retaining more flexibility and breathability than many of the heavier products we tested. However, as it is a supremely warm high-loft model, it is only suitable for moderate exertion activities in the coldest of conditions. However, it certainly is not the type of layer you would reach for when going for a jog on a chilly morning. The R3 is a step up in warmth and coziness from its little brother, the Patagonia R2. It simply envelopes the wearer in more fleece than the R2 and provides significantly more warmth while weighing only 1 ounce more. Although the R2 is a great layer, and perhaps more versatile than the R3, testers simply could not get over the bear-like coziness of the R3 and felt that it was the most deserving of the Top Pick in high-loft models. Since it doesn't have a hood, we like to pair it with a balaclava for climbing and skiing in super cold weather.

Best Buy Award: Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 200
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The Monkey Man is so comfortable you won't want to take it off!
Credit: Erica Hranicka

In our updated 2014 review, the newly designed Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 200 wins our Best Buy award. It is a supremely warm and cozy high-loft model that feels more bear-like than any other model tested. When wearing this jacket, every inch of your upper body is enveloped in plush fleece. This was the only high-loft model that testers found to be warmer and cozier than the top scoring Patagonia R3. Although the fantastically featured R3 slightly edged out the Monkey Man 200 for our Top Pick in High-Loft Fleeces (mostly because the R3 has more technical attributes), it simply did not feel right to not give the Monkey Man 200 an award. It was at this point that we realized the Monkey Man 200 is a full $40 dollars less than the R3. At $150, our Best Buy award winner represents a fantastic value for a quality high-loft jacket. The Monkey Phur fabric that lines the interior to the top of the high collar is the softest we've ever felt and it screams quality. The thick elastic at the waist and wrist cuffs effectively seals in heat and feels soft and comfortable to the touch. It is likely that you won't want to take the Monkey Man 200 off all winter.

Best Models for Specific Applications
Chilly Sport Climbing Days. When you need a layer that easily fits under your down jacket while belaying and can be worn on route without restricting mobility, go for the Patagonia R1 Hoody
Casual around town: consider a lightly insulated softshell jacket. If you are dead set on a fleece, look into the jacket-like Marmot Front Range or if you are so inclined, the retro styled Patagonia Synchilla Snap-T Pullover.
Kayaking: when you are cold, wet and sitting in a boat, the Patagonia R3 will definitely do the trick.

Eric Schnepel
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