Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Best looking "fleece."
Cons: Fabric pills up easily = reduced aesthetics, heavy and expensive for its warmth and comfort, not versatile.
Best Uses: Not recommended.
The Patagonia Better Sweater is a midweight fleece jacket with a sweater-looking exterior. It attempts to provide stylish, professional sweater-like aesthetics with the performance of a fleece. Like all hybrid jackets, however, it does not perform well at either objective. Therefore, we do not believe it is a "better sweater." It's also not better than a fleece because it's not suitable for serious outdoor activities, especially not overnight trips where weight is a concern. The jacket's primary advantage over other fleeces is aesthetics; it's the best looking "fleece" we've tested. That is until the fabric wears out and gets covered with pills… We urge you to purchase a performance oriented fleece and/or a stylish sweater instead of this compromise piece.
See how the Better Sweater compares to the 20-plus other jackets tested in our Fleece Jacket Review.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Patagonia has a long history of making excellent fleeces and sweaters, but the Better Sweater cannot be considered one of the company's better products.
This is value oriented jacket (like the company's Adze and Simple Guide softshells) that performs moderately well as a fleece and moderately well as a sweater. We believe it is an OK compromise between the two types of apparel. But it is a compromise. If you want sweater aesthetics we suggest purchasing a sweater and if you want the performance of a fleece, we suggest purchasing a fleece, like Patagonia's R2 Jacket.
The author owns many Patagonia sweaters that have been made (and most have been discontinued) over the last decade. These sweaters are much more attractive than the Better Sweater. The company still offers the Cashmere Crew sweater, which is much more attractive, more comfortable, and more expensive than the Better Sweater. Because the Better Sweater jacket does not provide professional looking aesthetics (it's not well suited to business casual environments) and does provide the performance attributes of fleece (high warmth to weight ratio, small packed size, good breathability, etc.) we don't recommend it.
One of the jacket's greatest drawbacks is that the sweater-knit face fabric pills up after a relatively short amount of time. We have experienced the same problem with various other Patagonia hoodies in the past and other pseudo fleece jackets like the Rab Logan Jacket. This a major drawback because the jacket looks considerably less attractive when it has hundreds of pill balls all over it. If Patagonia used longer fiber lengths to weave their yarn the jacket would hold up better. But that would cost more…
Part of Patagonia's mission statement is to "build the best product" but the Better Sweater is a clear performance compromise that aims to enhance the company's bottom line more than provide serious outdoor users with high quality apparel. If you are looking for a moderately priced casual jacket the Better Sweater could be an OK option, but we feel that many people would be better off purchasing a higher performance fleece jacket, like Patagonia's R2, and/or a nice sweater. Also, the jacket is cut on the large side; people with trim, athletic builds may find it to be too wide, i.e. not thermally efficient or as comfortable trimmer fleeces like the Patagonia R1 Hoody or Arc'teryx Fortez Hoody.
Pony up the extra $20 for the Men's R2 Jacket or get a real sweater.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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Most recent review: February 4, 2014
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