We've spent the last decade testing the best 120+ fleece jackets on the market including the best men's fleece jackets and the best women's fleece jackets. Here we've rounded up our all-time favorites. To earn our esteem, they had to fight through the ranks in a series of rigorous side-by-side tests. After buying each jacket, we wear them in a range of temperatures while lounging and charging to understand their warmth and breathability. We layer them over t-shirts and baselayers and under down jackets and hard shells to see how well they insulate us in the colder months. A good fleece can make or break your layering system, keep reading to find the right option for you.
Editor's Note: We updated this fleece jacket review on July 17, 2023 with a number of new recommendations.
The women's version of the Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody is just as good, keeping you dry and comfortable while moving fast in chilly weather. This soft, lightweight fleece is warm enough to compete with many of the mid-weight options but breathable enough for hard work. The fitted hood insulates your head when you're on the go and the cuffs slide up your forearm easily without cutting off circulation if you start to overheat.
It is lightweight enough that we often cool off and get chilly when we slow our pace or take a break, there are no thumb loops, and it doesn't block wind or rain. The fuzzy fabric can hold onto dirt and debris. The hood and slim cut of the women's version can also feel restrictive. If you're curvy, it can be hard to find a size that fits your shoulders and your hips. If you nail the fit though, this fleece is great for runs and works well in a layering system for rougher weather.
When you're on the move in frosty temps, we recommend adding the Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody to your layering system. The jacket's recycled polyester fabric breathes well while holding heat, making it our favorite option for high-octane activities like climbing or hiking demanding trails. The soft fabric makes it an easy layer to reach for when the weather turns chilly, and it's compact enough to earn a place in any pack.
The R1 Air is warm for its weight, but it doesn't hold enough heat to keep us comfortable in the cold while standing still. It also does little to block out wind or water, and we wish it had thumb loops to keep our hands warm. While the close-fitting hood insulates your ears, it can feel too snug at times. That said, if you need a fleece to regulate your temperature without holding onto sweat, this is our top choice.
The Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody's stretchy fabric and generous cut throughout the shoulders lets your upper body move freely. A fluffy fleece lining keeps you cozy. It's a bit warmer than the Patagonia R1 Air and is much better at blocking wind. That makes it our favorite option for lower-output activities. It's also one of the most comfortable jackets we've tested, with smooth fabric that resists dirt and debris.
The Kyanite Hoody doesn't breathe as well and is not our first choice for sweaty, hard-charging pursuits. We also wish it had thumb loops, and the zipper is a weak point in a stiff breeze. While the cut works well in the shoulders, the hips are narrow. If you have curves, you may need to be careful about sizing. Despite these grumbles, when temperatures head south, this is the fleece we reach for.
Our favorite mid-weight fleece, the Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody is warm and blocks wind well. It's also among the most comfortable jackets in the test, feeling more like your favorite sweatshirt than a performance fleece. And it looks as good as it feels, with a smooth, polished face fabric. We appreciate that the streamlined hood fits well under a climbing helmet and wear this fleece as much in the mountains as we do around town.
The tradeoff for the Kyanite Hoody's additional warmth is that it doesn't breathe as well, and we tend to wear it for slower-moving activities. And, while it does block wind well, some sneaks through the zipper. There aren't any thumb loops to help protect your hands from the weather either. Still, it's the jacket we reach for most when we need some extra insulation.
The Outdoor Research Vigor Quarter Zip offers excellent value for a comfortable, lightweight fleece. The fabric is stretchy, with a generous cut in the shoulders, an extended hemline, and comfortable thumbholes. The jacket also breathes well and packs down small.
While it has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, the Vigor offers only average warmth overall and not much wind resistance. The pocket bunches awkwardly and the lighter colorways are see-through. The long hemline also rides annoyingly low, covering the bum of several of our women testers. While it's not perfect, this fleece jacket offers the best performance at this price point.
The Outdoor Research Vigor Full Zip Hoodie is made of light, stretchy fabric that moves with you, making it an easy choice for a range of occasions. We prefer it for fast-paced adventures thanks to its thin, breathable fabric. It's also easy to pack, and we often bring it along as an extra layer to pull on or off or as temperatures fluctuate.
The Vigor is a lightweight fleece and is not wind resistant. It also sports an oddly shaped hood that is shallow with a low collar. The combination leaves more of your face exposed to the elements. It's best for milder weather, as a layering piece, or to be worn on the go. If that's what you're looking for, you'll find that the Vigor offers a good value.
If your idea of fleece is thick, super-soft, cozy, and affordable, we highly recommend the Columbia Benton Springs 1 / 2 Snap Women's Pullover. This jacket's reasonable price point makes it a great option for day-to-day wear. Its simple snap-pullover style and abundance of colors work in a range of social settings, from the backcountry to a casual office. Since it's so easy to wear, you're likely to get a lot of use out of it, further increasing its value.
We wish this fleece had pockets. And it doesn't breathe or pack particularly well, which is why we prefer to wear it on rest days or when running errands around town. Its bulk is partially why we find it so comfortable, but that does make it harder to wear as a mid-layer under your hardshell or down jacket. We If you're looking for an outer layer for shoulder seasons or a cuddly topper for post-surfing or couch-surfing seasons, this is your jam.
Among the warmest fleece jackets we tested, the simple and soft Men's Cotopaxi Teca Full-Zip is a well-priced option for lower output pursuits. Though it is thicker than many options in the test, we still find it comfortable when layered under hardier outerwear for deep winter. We also pull it over a t-shirt or base layer to fight off a chill. Simple and fun with a bright color-blocked style, the jacket earns Earth points with its repurposed polyester and recycled fleece fabric. We like its cheerful style and wear it both in the great outdoors and while socializing around town.
While we appreciate its heft when we're in the mood for cool-weather comfort, the bulky nature of this jacket does make it harder to pack and more cumbersome to layer than thinner options. And, while we love having handwarmer pockets, we wish they had zippers to secure valuables like keys, phones, and wallets. We find these few drawbacks are worth it for a comforting layer at a comfortable price.
Made of merino wool and polyester, the Women's Voormi High-E Hoodie features a hard, abrasion-resistant face fabric that protects you from water and wind better than any other option in the test. This is also one of the warmest fleece jackets in the test, making it a wonderful shelter from nasty weather all the way around. The connecting "kangaroo" front pockets offer refuge for your hands and a generously sized balaclava hood does the same for your head, neck, and face. We also like its style and find ourselves reaching for it often.
The High-E Hoodie's fabric sacrifices some comfort in favor of hard-core performance. It doesn't stretch well, and we find it a little itchy against our skin. The cut is also slim, particularly in the arms and chest. That makes finding the right size imperative. We recommend sizing up to get an unrestrictive fit. This fleece is not cheap, in price or construction. If you want a heavier fleece that is warm, weather protective, and likely to last, check out the Voormi.
A classic mid-weight fleece, the REI Co-op Hyperaxis 2.0 is soft, stretchy, and supremely comfortable to wear. With fabric that incorporates spandex, it offers the best combination of warmth, flexibility, and movement in the test. The generous collar is wide and tall, offering refuge for your face and neck from cold and windy weather. The hood is large but fitted enough to stay put in a stiff breeze. The best part though, is pulling this jacket on over a t-shirt and enjoying the plush feel of the fleece lining.
This toasty warm jacket does not breathe well, nor does it pack down compactly. It's also heavy and not best suited to backcountry adventures. We appreciate the integrated thumbholes, but they aren't especially well designed and remained open on your wrist when not in use. This fleece excels in low-output, front country use, from touring town to casual hikes and crags.
The North Face Summit FutureFleece LT Pullover is one of the lightest options in the test. It fits more like a base layer than a jacket and is exceptionally warm for its weight. Thin fleece squares line the inside spaced in a grid pattern that holds in heat while letting moisture escape between patches of insulation. The snug hood stays in place while you play and tucks away to keep your neck warm when not in use. A comfortable thumbhole design extends warmth down to your hands.
The FutureFleece is so thin, light, and breathable that it holds in less heat than most of the options in the test. In the lighter color options, it's quite see-through, which we don't love. Its form-fitting cut can also make it difficult to pull on over an actual base layer. Still, this jacket shines in its place and at its time. That happens to be high-output activities like running hard in cool to cold weather. It keeps us comfortably on pace in temperatures as low as the teens.
To test these jackets, we start by researching the entire market before buying the best options every year. Then we test the thread out of them, switching between them constantly during several months of field testing. We wear them while running, skiing, climbing, napping, lounging – you name it. We've tested them in the dry air of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nevada and in humid environments in Hawaii, Canada, and California. We also bring each option into the lab to complete repeatable, objective tests, like dowsing each with water and comparing the softness and pile of each fleece.
We assess these fleece jacket's performance in 5 key metrics:
Our women's and men's fleece jacket testing teams are stacked with people who live outside and like to stay warm while doing it. Maggie Nichols and Amber King head up our women's review. Maggie is a professional backcountry guide with 15 years of experience leading expeditions, river, and backpacking trips in the US and abroad. From her childhood in the Midwest to her travels to Svalbard's glaciers, Lesotho's mountains, and Ecuador's cloud forests, Maggie has learned how to layer. Amber has 20 years under her belt as a climber, ranging from the North Cascades to Rocky Mountain National Park. She's also a science teacher and outdoor educator who climbs rocks, summits mountains, and runs rivers.
James Lucas, Buck Yedor, Adam Paashaus, and Ben Applebaum-Bauch lead the men's review team. A climber, photographer, and writer, James lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he enjoys lapping the First Flatiron and spending evening hours hiking out of Rocky Mountain National Park. Buck has spent his career in the outdoor industry and his life outside. He knows the importance of a fleece mid-layer for El Cap belays and days spent ski touring in the mountains. Adam is passionate about being outside and helping others find the gear they need to do the same. Ben guides canoeing, cycling, and backpacking trips and enjoys thru-hiking.
Why Do You Need A Fleece Jacket?
With so many layers to choose from when you head out on an adventure, how do you know which one to grab? When it comes to a fleece jacket, there are several things to keep in mind — how warm you need to be, how likely you are to work up a sweat, and whether you need your jacket to block wind or resist rain. You'll also want to consider what materials the jacket is made from and how durable they are likely to be. Additional features like hoods, pockets, and thumb loops can drastically increase the functionality of a piece, as can its fit. We'll walk you through each of these considerations below.
What Type Of Fleece
Fleece jackets serve as excellent outwear when temperatures are mild and you're fighting a chill. When the mercury plummets, many can shift to act as a layering piece to add extra warmth, often sandwiched between thin base layers (aka long underwear) and outer layers like rain jackets or parkas. How much warmth they provide often depends on their thickness or weight. Which one you need comes down to how warm you want to be and what you'll be doing.
As the name implies, lightweight fleeces are thinner, lighter, and pack down smaller than their heavier counterparts. These jackets are ideal for high-intensity activities like trail running or climbing when there is a chill in the air, but you expect to work up a sweat. They also work well as a light outer layer when temperatures are hovering just below t-shirt weather. When it's cold enough to need more insulation, these fit easily beneath a windbreaker, rain layer, or winter jacket.
Mid-weight fleeces are thicker and heavier than lightweight options. They almost always hold more heat, though the occasional lightweight fleece gives them a run for their money with high-tech insulation or construction trickery. The downside is that their bulk can make them cumbersome to move in and carry around. These jackets are usually still compact enough to serve as a mid-layer beneath a more weather-resistant outer layer.
Heavyweight fleece jackets are heavier and bulkier still. They don't work well as a mid-layering piece, i.e. beneath other jackets, and are really meant to serve as a standalone outer layer. Since they are less versatile, we don't test many of these.
Balancing Warmth and Breathability
It's also important to consider how well the jacket's fabric breathes. If it doesn't, and you start to overheat during a hike or run, you'll quickly find that your base layers are wet, and you are cold. This is why buying the heaviest, warmest fleece isn't necessarily the recipe for cozy comfort outside.
Lightweight fleeces almost always breathe better than mid and heavy-weight fleece jackets. (We can't think of any exceptions, but we're staying open to the possibility.) Similarly, mid-weight fleeces have a better chance of breathing well than heavyweight options due to the thickness and density of fabric alone. Often, lightweight fleece jackets are made with breathability in mind and have some sort of vapor release system built into the fabric.
Consider When You Will Wear It
If you want a fleece to regulate your temperature when you're working hard enough to sweat in cool-to-cold weather, a lightweight and highly breathable fleece is your best bet. The other benefit to these layers is that they will wick moisture away from your body even if they are covered by another jacket, keeping you warmer and drier than a heavier, less breathable option would.
If you want a warmer, cozier option for slower-paced adventures, a mid- or heavy-weight jacket is likely to treat you right. We reach for these when heading out for meandering hikes, town tours, or relaxing around a campfire. Just keep in mind that if you also want to be able to wear it under an even warmer winter jacket or a rain layer, you probably want a mid-weight fleece.
Fleece fabric is naturally hydrophobic, meaning that it can't absorb water. The fabric can collect water in the air gaps between fibers though, causing it to feel waterlogged. Though you can shake the water off when it stops raining or snowing and the jacket will dry quickly, this can weigh you down.
Some fleece jackets limit their surface area by including a wind or water-resistant face fabric or by using strategic panels on exposed areas like the chest and shoulders. The Arc'teryx Kyanite AR Hoody and Women's Voormi High-E Hoodie are examples in this review. Some fleece jackets are thick and dense enough that they stop wind well on their own.
Fleece was invented in 1981 by Polartec, then known as Malden Mills. Patagonia worked with the company to make an outdoor performance jacket that wouldn't hold as much water as traditional wool. The first, known as the Synchilla Snap-T fleece, was available for sale in 1985.
Today fleece jackets are made of synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, elastane, and, less frequently, spandex. Sometimes these materials are recycled. Sometimes they include some wool. Though a few companies are working to build fleece fabric in ways that reduce shedding, fibers from these jackets become microplastics.
These can act as vectors for toxins, carrying them to animals and people through water. The process is exacerbated by the washing machine. You can reduce your impact by choosing a fleece with some wool, going longer between washes, washing your machine on a gentler cycle, or trying microplastic filters in your washer.
Fleece materials tend to be sturdy and built to last to last. Though they can melt quickly when hot, so be careful around the campfire. To make sure you have yours for years to come, it's important to pay attention to details like the quality of the zipper and the strength of the stitches.
Thinner, lightweight fleeces that are made to breathe well have less fabric by their nature and can be more prone to wear and tear. These options will require more care to maintain than the thick and burly options.
Features To Consider
The feature that affects the functionality of your fleece the most is whether or not it has a hood. If you're going to use your jacket primarily as an outer layer, it's nice to have one for unexpected encounters with chilly or windy weather. If you often layer your fleece with other hooded jackets, managing three hoods around your head and neck can be overkill.
Thumb loops are handy to hold insulation, sun, and wind protection around your hands. While not as crucial as a hood to protect your head, they can do a lot to make an outing more comfortable. That's also true of pockets, especially in the case of mid-weight options that you plan to wear while standing around or moving slowly enough to catch a chill. If you're concerned about keeping your valuables secure, make sure there's at least one zippered pocket.
Also, consider the construction and cut of the hem. Elastic hems can help tailor your fit, while a double zipper gives you more flexibility with both fit and venting possibilities.
The most common fit issues for fleece jackets occur in the shoulders, sleeves, torso, and hips. It's important that the torso is long enough to not expose your belly when you raise your arms, but not so long that it feels like it's restricting your hips. The cut is also important. For curvier people, it can be nice to have a wider hem so your fleece doesn't hug your hips uncomfortably. Some boxier fleeces include a cinch on the hem to hold in heat when you need it.
To test the shoulders, make sure you can reach above your head and run through the full range of arm motions. Often jackets that offset standard seams, from the top of the shoulders to across your upper back, for example, offer more shoulder room.
Then there are the sleeves. Their length is especially important if the fleece has thumb loops so you can use them without pulling the sleeves tight across your shoulders.
A trusty fleece can do wonders to help you compose the perfect layering system for a wide range of weather conditions. We sincerely hope that this review will help you zero in on the perfect option to suit your needs.