Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Extremely versatile, the grid-fleece side panels add breathability, very comfortable, long and slim fit.
Cons: Thumb loops are too small, a bit too technical looking for casual use, no hooded version.
Best Uses: All around use, especially where breathability is key.
For our updated Fall 2014 Men's Fleece review, we re-tested the Patagonia R2 against the new and revised fleeces from other top outdoor manufacturers. Even with stiffer competition, this model once again proved its usefulness as a great all-around layer that is well suited to countless activities. With a new and improved color palette, Patagonia also improved the around-town wearability of this layer, which was much appreciated. Other than that, the construction remains unchanged from the 2013 version. This is good because it remains a top quality, ultra-comfortable fleece that's warm when wet, lightweight, and has features that perform very well in the backcountry. The Patagonia R2 previously won our Top Pick Award but the Patagonia R3 stole it away this year due to its increased warmth, larger pockets and great aesthetics. However, the R2 is still fantastic and we highly recommend it, particularly for climbers because the bottom of the jacket uses a thinner material that reduces bulk under a harness.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The technically styled Patagonia R2 fleece offers a high level of all-around performance. Well-suited to many activities in many different temperatures, this fleece is truly a versatile layer. Testers also really appreciated its slim fit and the breathable side panels. As an all-around fleece, its tough to beat this model.
With its breathable R1 side panels and plush Polartec body and sleeves, the Patagonia R2 provides a great level of insulation for both active and inactive use. It's warm enough to keep you cozy on an afternoon stroll around the park, yet breathes for higher exertion activities. We feel that this is the ideal level of warmth for most people who want one fleece jacket. However, it can be too warm for many high-output activities in three-season conditions. For example, we found that it was too hot to wear while backpacking in the spring and fall. The R2 still works great as a midlayer underneath a wind- or water-resistant shell. It is superb for downhill skiing and winter climbing. The combination of breathability and warmth make it an extremely versatile layer that is useful for countless applications. It really is a jack of all trades.
This piece is very cozy. Patagonia strategically places soft fleece in all the areas that will have direct contact with the skin (sleeves, neck, etc.). Only a few heavier and more bear-like fleeces (such as the Patagonia R3) are more comfortable and that's only because they wrap your body in more fleece. The jacket's handwarmer pockets are comfortable and there are nice touches such as a fuzzy flap that prevents your chin from rubbing on the top of the zipper. It's the little touches like this that really make Patagonia's fleeces shine. If you're debating between the R2 and R3, perhaps the greatest reason to opt for the R2 is that it is less bulky underneath a harness or backpack waist belt. The R1 fabric that is used around the waist is fairly thin and slides easily under a harness without bunching.
Weight and Packed Size
Our men's medium weighs 13.3 ounces and compresses to slightly less than one liter in volume. Although fleece is not superbly warm for its weight (down and synthetic insulation are warmer per unit weight/volume), its warmth when wet and comfort next to skin make it a material that we love to bring with us on most backcountry trips. This piece has a lower warmth-to-weight ratio than some of our other top rated fleeces. This is caused by its dual-fabric construction. Although breathable and stretchy, the thinner panels of R1 material that stretch down the sides and across the front sacrifice a bit of warmth when compared to other fully high-loft fleeces like the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 200. The Monkey Man 200 provides a significantly higher degree of warmth, while only weighing one ounce more. This is not, however, a deal breaker, as the Monkey Man 200 is too warm for many activities and temperatures that perfectly suit this fleece.
Wind Resistance and Breathability
Like all other non-hardface fleeces tested, this product has very poor wind resistance. However, the thin side panels of grid fleece help it to be a supremely breathable layer. As with the R1 Hoody, the checkered grid fabric of the side panels creates small gaps between your skin and the fabric. This feature effectively provides extra breathability and moisture wicking. If the fabric ever does get wet or sweaty, it dries very quickly. Additionally, the high-loft Regulator fleece that makes up the body of the jacket is extremely breathable as well.
Style and Fit
The dual fabric construction certainly gives it a technical appearance. Although Patagonia did away with the particularly unattractive concept of using differing colors for each of the panels, it is still obvious that the materials transition a third of the way up the jacket, which looks a little funny. Some testers thought the jacket still looked a bit too technical to wear for casual use and they found the R3 to be more attractive, largely due to its continuous front panels and sleek appearance. This is a small drawback, but it's worth noting because this does decrease the versatility of this layer for users who like to wear fleeces to social occasions. The jacket has a long, fitted cut that slides nicely under a shell without bunching. The sleeves are fitted and do not hinder upper body movement.
The two handwarmer pockets allow the jacket to function well around town when you don't have gloves. A single exterior chest pocket comfortably fits a phone and wallet or point and shoot camera for easy access. We prefer the handwarmer pockets on the Patagonia R3 because they are significantly larger and better for storing larger items – even water bottles. The Patagonia R2 also features thumb loops on the the cuff of each sleeve. Unfortunately, testers with large hands complained about the size of the thumb loops and found them to be constricting and uncomfortable. It is unfortunate that Patagonia did not simply use the comfortable and well-sized thumb loop design that the R1 Hoody utilizes. Some testers wished the R2 had a hooded option available. However, we understand that some people appreciate the fit, appearance, and feel of non-hooded layers. Non-hooded fleeces can also be nice if you plan on layering under a hooded hardshell and don't want any extra fabric bunching up at the back of your head.
Another thing to note is the fabric that makes up the front panels certainly trends more to the "fuzzy" side of the spectrum. Unlike with hardface fleeces, when you spill something on the R2 or lay it on the ground, dirty things tend to adhere to it easily. We usually come back from trips with the jacket looking less that ideal. If you want a jacket that works better as an outer layer for around town, consider a hardface fleece like the handsome Marmot Front Range.
All-purpose use, winter skiing and climbing.
At $169, this is certainly not the most affordable fleece in our review. However, it offers a great bang for your buck when you consider its myriad uses. Like most other Patagonia products, it is an extremely durable layer that will hold up for years. We know many people that have worn this piece for a decade or longer.
In our 2014 update to the men's fleece review, we pitted this model against many strong contenders from top manufacturers. As in our original review, the Patagonia R2 was a strong competitor, but did not quite top the lists. However, if you are looking for the most versatile fleece layer possible, this is definitely a great choice. It is not the best fleece in any one category, but it is a great scorer in nearly every category. With Patagonia's new color pallet, perhaps you'll even feel confident enough to wear it out to the bar!
The Patagonia R2 - Women's, $170, is the women's version of this jacket.
— Eric Schnepel
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Most recent review: October 2, 2014
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