Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $199 | Compare prices at 6 resellers
Pros: Great hood design, handwarmer pockets, attractive hardface fleece, fitted cut.
Cons: Not long enough to fit nicely under a harness and not ideal for tall people, heavier than other warmer layers.
Best Uses: Technical midlayer for all around use.
The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody blends performance with reasonably handsome styling. 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. In our 2013 review, the Fortrez was one of our top picks. However, stiffer competition in our updated 2014 review bumped it from its top spot.
This model is the strongest competitor against the Patagonia R1 Hoody; however, it scores a few extra points because it has the best balaclava style hood of any fleece we've tested and because of its handwarmer pocket, which are very useful around town. However, it loses points compared to the Patagonia R1 Hoody because the cut is average length and it comes untucked from pants, harnesses and pack waist belts easier than we would like. It is also less suited to baselayer use than the R1 and is therefore a less versatile layer. This model could be a great 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.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The attractive styling and hardface fleece of the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody help to make it a worthy competitor for the top spot in this review. With its innovative hood design and cozy handwarmer pockets, this fleece has features that no other lightweight fleece can match. It is certainly a layer worth considering if you are fond of the style and don't mind paying a premium.
This 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 Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody has two and the R1 Hoody has none, and handwarmer pockets greatly enhance comfort around town, i.e. when you don't have gloves.
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. This product packs small like a large juicy orange, about average for this type of fleece.
Wind Resistance and Breathability
The hardface fleece on this jacket increases wind resistance when compared to budget fleeces (Polartec Classic) and high quality fleeces (Polartec Power Dry). This increases warmth when used as a stand alone jacket in low winds. The hardface also has other benefits: it sheds dirt much better than other fleeces and it's more durable. 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. Like the Marmot Front Range and even the Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody - Men's, the hardface reduces breathability slightly but for most people this will not be a serious drawback.
Style and Fit
After the Patagonia Better Sweater, the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody 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, furry look of the warmer, high-loft fleeces we reviewed here. Although you'll stand out slightly less when walking the streets of New York, this model still looks rather technical. The chest pocket is made of a different material and catches the eye easily.
We wish this model 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. Arc'teryx also cuts their apparel line for trim athletic builds. If you're on the larger side you might be better off with another brand.
The single most defining feature of this jacket is its innovative and unique balaclava/hood. When not in use, the balaclava slides into the back of the hood. Although it can sometimes feel a little awkward to have multiple layers bunch up behind the head, as soon as it gets really cold or you want to go into ninja mode, the balaclava can be folded out to create a warm and soft barrier against the elements. Testers agree that the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody is the only jacket in our review that has a warmer and more comfortable hood than the R1. Although the R1's balaclava is warm and soft, the full zip design means you have a zipper pressed against one side of your face when the balaclava is deployed. On the other hand, with the Fortrez, the only thing touching your face is a soft and warm layer of fabric. This model also features handwarmer pockets (which the R1 lacks). 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.
The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody is best suited to ice and alpine climbing and low to moderate altitude mountaineering. It also works well for general, all-purpose use.
At $199, this is a very expensive fleece. It is a bit hard to recommend it as a good value when other fleeces will match or exceed its performance at a lower price point. However, if you have the cash and are in love with the style, hardface technology or innovative hood design, it is certainly a product worth considering.
The Fortrez is an attractive lightweight fleece that has many great qualities. In past reviews, we offered it one of our top pick awards. However, in the 2014 update to the fleece review, stiffer competition bumped this model from its top spot. We found that other fleeces exceeded the Fortrez in many categories and offered better performance at a lower price point. It is certainly still a worthy candidate if you value the innovative hood/balaclava and have the extra cash to spend on a premium fleece.
The Fortrez Hoody - Women's, $200, is the women's version of this jacket.
— Eric Schnepel
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Most recent review: October 2, 2014
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