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Hands-on Gear Review
Marmot Reactor Review
Cons: Not very warm, no hood.
With the price of technical fleece jackets soaring (some models in this review cost $200!), some people might be left out in the cold, so to speak, if they can't or won't shell out that much money. This is why we always include some lower priced models in our testing to see how they compare to the heavy hitters. Hopefully we find something that performs almost as well for a fraction of the price. In the case of our fleece jacket review, the Marmot Reactor decidedly earned our Best Buy award. This lightweight jacket surprised our testers with how warm and comfortable it was. The thin fleece material also allowed the jacket to breathe well and dry quickly when wet. It's doesn't have a hood or many bells and whistles, like our Editors' Choice winner, the Patagonia R3 Hoody, but for half the price it's a great deal for a high-performing fleece.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Men's Fleece Jackets for Hiking and Layering
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Marmot Reactor is made of Polartec Classic 100, which is 100 percent polyester microfleece. The flat lock stitching adds comfort and dexterity. It features a regular fit that works for different body types, and has two zippered hand warmer pockets along with a zippered left arm pocket. The elastic drawcord hem is a great feature that allows the wearer to adjust the amount of airflow and temperature quite easily. The flap behind the zipper blocks out the wind and also attaches to a chin guard for added comfort. Current color options: Black, Cinder, Denim, Surf (shown in main photo above), Alpine Green, and Dark Crimson.
The Reactor came in fourth place in Overall Performance and was our Best Buy award winning fleece. Check out the chart below to see where all the fleece jackets in our review ranked compared to this one.
Even though it was the lightest jacket we tested this year, the Marmot Reactor kept us quite warm. We used it as an outer layer on crisp fall days, and it even kept us warm during a short hike through the snow in the mountains, although a longer hike would have required another layer. This jacket works even better when used as a mid-layer during cold winter months or high up in an alpine environment.
While the Reactor isn't the warmest fleece we tested, we don't think you'll find anything much warmer with the same weight and thickness. It's an excellent option for stashing in your pack on days when you're not sure you'll need an extra layer, but would appreciate having one if the weather turned on you.
Weather in the mountains can change in an instant. A warm morning back at camp can turn into a frigid afternoon on the summit of a peak, and when your day hike gets extended into night due to an injury or wrong turn, having an extra layer with you can make a huge difference. A lightweight fleece like this one doesn't take up much room or add much weight to your pack, but is nice to have along for many scenarios.
This fleece jacket has an athletic fit, but was roomy enough for our testers with broad shoulders; they didn't experience any tightness or pulling across the back. The Polartec Classic 100 microfleece material is soft and light, and felt cozy on our skin. This caught our attention and was one reason why we'd reach for this fleece over The North Face Khumbu 2 Jacket most of the time. The collar gently wraps around the neck and creates a warm, comfortable layer that helps keep the elements at bay.
There are, however, a few downsides that we noticed. While wearing it throughout day to day activities, we had to keep adjusting the sleeves so that the seam did not rub over the elbow. Due to the flat lock construction of the seams this was not uncomfortable — more just a little annoying at times. The zipper would also bunch on the lower half of the jacket when sitting, which again was not too uncomfortable but a tad annoying. Other than these few things, we loved the comfort of this jacket.
Due to the thin construction of the Marmot Reactor, it was quite breathable. During the many activities we used this fleece jacket for, we found that it did not restrict the movement of moisture and allowed it to quickly evaporate.
Our testers wore this jacket during many different hikes with temperatures ranging from below freezing to around 50 degrees F. When cooler air enters the jacket it is quickly equalized to a comfortable temperature. This is also helpful when the wearer becomes too warm and the fleece expels some of that extra heat.
When it is just a little too cold, windy or rainy to use this fleece as a stand alone jacket, it did well as a mid-layer. As with most mid-layers that lack thumb holes, there was a little bit of bunching at times in the sleeves. Once layered, its lightweight comfort was quickly noticed and appreciated. Even though the Patagonia R1 Hoody is superior when it comes to its layering ability, the Marmot Reactor still does a great job and is a more economical option.
Ease of Movement
This fleece jacket feels more like a sweatshirt than a tight baselayer or fitted jacket. It casually adjusts with every movement of the body, and while out hiking and climbing the jacket was barely noticeable other than the times the zipper would occasionally bunch. It also did well hiding our testers' lower backs when stretching after a long bouldering session.
Wind Protection & Water Resistance
Since this fleece is such a thin lightweight jacket, it definitely lacks in the wind and water resistance category. In a light mist it does keep the water out for a short period of time. However, once the Reactor does get wet, the drying time is much quicker than with most of the thicker fleeces we tested, such as the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 200.
This fleece can withstand a light breeze, but in heavy winds it is best to layer it with a wind stopper like the Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody or Patagonia Houdini to keep bone chilling wind at bay.
If you need a bit more protection from the elements, the Arc'teryx Fortrez was the best fleece in our lineup in terms of both wind and water protection.
One of the reasons the Marmot Reactor has won our Best Buy award is because it is so warm and comfortable for such a light fleece. While it's not nearly as warm as The North Face Denali Jacket, at 12.7 ounces it is half the weight.
There aren't a lot of extras on this model adding unwanted weight, which makes it perfect for someone looking to buy a bare minimum kind of fleece.
This fleece jacket offers a number of different uses. It works well as a lightweight stand alone jacket for any spring and fall activity. It is also a great layering piece when it becomes cold and/or windy. We found the lightweight nature of the jacket was great on long hikes and for packing into backpacks.
There is a reason why this fleece won our Best Buy Award this year. If you are looking for a great product at a low price look no further. This bare bones jacket works amazingly well as a mid-layer, especially since it is quite inexpensive compared to some other models. The $95 dollar price tag is not much for what you get for such a versatile fleece. It may not be the best product of its kind, but it is the best we tested for the price.
Our Best Buy Award winning Marmot Reactor is the lightest, best bang for your buck fleece jacket we tested this year. The lightweight breathable material may not keep you warm in sub-zero temperatures, but it is a nice layer under a warmer shell. Its streamlined structure is comfortable and great for many different outdoor activities. Grabbing this jacket for around town chores is another great way to utilize its versatility. If you are in the market for an economically priced, all-around jacket, then this fleece is the way to go.
— Kenny Barker
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