Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: Varies from $139 - $199 | Compare prices at 9 resellers
Pros: Warmest hood of any fleece tested, stylish, more durable and more wind resistant than most lightweight fleeces, handpockets increase comfort w/o gloves.
Cons: Cut is not as long as Patagonia R1 Hoody and can come untucked easily, especially if you're around or over 5' 10" tall.
Best Uses: Alpine, ice, and rock climbing, all-purpose use.
The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody blends top-tier ice, alpine, and rock climbing performance with handsome styling. No other technical fleece looks this good. The hardface Polartec WindPro fabric contributes to the jacket's aesthetics because it looks less like a shaggy rug and more like a sleek softshell jacket. The hardface also boosts wind, water, and abrasion resistance when compared to the typical high-loft fleece. The Fortrez competes fiercely with the Patagonia R1 Hoody: it scores extra points because it has the best balaclava style hood of any fleece we've tested and becuase of its handwarmer pocket, which are very useful around town. However, it loses points compared to the R1 Hoody because the cut is average length, rather than extra long like the R1 Hoody- it comes untucked from pants, harnesses, and pack waist belts easier than we would like. The Fortrez could be the best all-purpose fleece for many people, especially those less than 5' 10" tall or those that value aesthetics and function around town more than absolute backcountry performance.
See how the Fortrez compares to the 20-plus other jackets tested in our Fleece Jacket Review-Men's.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Fortrez is a lightweight fleece jacket intended for use as a midlayer underneath a wind or water resistant shell, or a warmer insulated jacket. The material is not as warm as high-loft fleeces like the Patagonia R2, which weighs slightly less. The jacket has one excellent warmth-enhancing feature, a balaclava style hood that covers your head and entire face when needed. This seals in warm air, combats frostbite, and makes you feel like a ninja warrior.
Thicker high-loft fleeces are slightly more comfortable, but this jacket scores high in this category, too. The hood is very comfortable with or without the balaclava. The critical feature that separates the Fortez from other top-tier fleeces like the Patagonia R1 Hoody is handwarmer pockets. The Fortrez has two and the R1 Hoody has none, and handwarmer pockets greatly enhance comfort around town, i.e. when you don't have gloves. Handwarmer pockets are also useful for storing things-- we can load the jacket's three pockets up with a phone, wallet, and keys, something that's not possible with jackets that only have a single chest pocket.
Weight and Packed Size
12.1 ounces is as light as it gets for this type of jacket, particularly considering the protection of its marvelous hood. Other fleeces (Patagonia R2) are warmer for their weight and perform better as a midlayer on cold winter days. The Fortrez packs small like a large juicy orange, about average for this type of fleece.
The Fortrez's hardface fleee increases wind resistance when compared to budget fleeces (Polartec Classic) and high quality fleeces (Polartec Power Dry). This increases warmth when used as a standalone jacket in low winds. The hardface also has other benefits: it sheds dirt much better than other fleeces and it's more durable than many other fleeces. The added durability is particularly useful when hiking off trail through dense vegetation because it's less likely to rip when it gets snagged on branches. Other fleeces, like the R1, catch on things and rip relatively easily.
The hardface reduces breathability slightly but for most people this will not be a serious drawback.
After the Patagonia Better Sweater, the Fortrez is the most attractive fleece we've tested. The hardface exterior gives it a smooth, stylish look that blends in better in urban environments than the shaggy dog hair look of high warmth to weight ratio high-loft fleeces. You'll stand out slightly less when walking through Yosemite's Ahwahnee Hotel or the streets of New York. Of course, this is still a fleece does look rather technical. The chest pocket is made of a different material and catches the eye easily.
We wish the Fortrez was cut three inches longer so it would stay tucked into pants, harnesses, and backpack waistbelts better. The average length looks good around town but performs less than optimally for climbing, especially if you're around or taller than 5' 10". We believe that this is a serious drawback for taller people and a moderate drawback for most climbers because the jacket does not perform as well as it could for its intended use. If you don't climb or aren't taller than average then the length issue may be irrelevant.
Another potential drawback: Arc'teryx cuts their apparel line for trim athletic builds. If you're on the larger side you might be better off with another brand.
The Fortrez is best suited to ice and alpine climbing and low to moderate altitude mountaineering. It also works supremely well for general, all-purpose use.
At $199, the Fortrez is a very expensive fleece. If you have the cash to push the performance envelope this jacket is among the best available.
TheArc'teryx Fortrez Hoody - Women's, $200, is the women's version of this jacket.
The Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody and Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody - Women's, $150, are our Editor's Choice windbreaker because it's just so versatile. We felt we could use it in pretty much any activity, from skiing to biking to hanging at the beach. While it's not the absolute lightest, it seemed to have the best balance of weight and features. It also uses a fabric that feels really cool. That may sound shallow, but when you're spending well north of $100 for a windbreaker, it's important that you feel like the money is going somewhere.
The Arc'teryx Venta MX Hoody, $450, wins our Top Pick Award, as it is the ultimate softshell for ice climbing. It's more breathable and more comfortable than a hardshell, and its windproof and highly water resistant Windstopper membrane keeps you warm when the wind hammers and icicles drip.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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Most recent review: June 17, 2014
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