Warm, loaded with features, great for layering, all for $100, the REI Co-Op Flowcore takes home our Best Buy Award. Our testers hiked, climbed, and lounged in this luxurious high pile fleece, preferring it over higher ticket jackets like the Arcteryx Kyanite and the Kuhl Interceptr for its comfort and style. This jacket is an excellent mid-layer with all the features of a more expensive model. It reminds us a lot of some of our favorite fleeces like the discontinued Patagonia R3 Hoody (R.I.P. R3!). Zippered handwarmer pockets? Check. Breathable stretch panels? You got em'! Love thumb loops? The Flowcore provides.
Our Analysis and Test Results
The REI Flowcore is similar to the classic Patagonia R3 Hoody, employing high lofted Polartec Thermal Pro fleece to create a lightweight, breathable mid layer. In appearance, the Flowcore is similar to the previous Editors' Choice Award-winning Patagonia R3 Hoody, but it lacks the Regulator grid fleece that makes the R3 super breathable. It's very stretchy, and our testers agree that it runs a little large, so consider trying a size down if you plan on using it primarily as a layering piece. The current Editors' Choice Award Winner is Patagonia R1 Hoody. This fleece outperforms the Flowcore in comfort and breathability but costs $60 more.
The Flowcore's fuzzy, high pile fleece kept our testers toasty, whether they were sitting on the chairlift or belaying in the shade. This jacket gets docked a few points in the warmth metric because it doesn't have a hood like the warmer Patagonia R3 Hoody or the Patagonia Better Sweater Hoody. Hoods are a matter of preference though, and sometimes they can get in the way under multiple layers. The collar comes up right underneath the chin, and the hem comes down well past the waste, providing full torso coverage and then some. If you like the price of the Flowcore and want a hood, check out the REI-Co-op HyperAxis Hoody for around $25 more.
Some jackets (the Patagonia R1 Hoody comes to mind) are so comfy that we find ourselves sleeping in them on chilly nights in the backcountry. The Flowcore is one of them. The soft feel of the Polartec high pile fleece against the skin is why fleece remains a popular mid layer, even as other types of active insulation encroach on the mid layer market. Our testers loved wearing the Flowcore around the house on chilly mornings, out the door with the dog, and a third of the way up the skin track before they got too hot.
Again, this jacket runs large compared to similar offerings from Arc'teryx and Patagonia, and bunching up under other layers is our only comfort complaint. The handwarmer pockets are located high enough on the torso to remain accessible while wearing a backpack hip belt or a climbing harness. If the designers are listening out there, we'd be psyched to see a hooded version of this jacket.
This would be a pretty nice, inexpensive fleece for around town and in the backcountry without the Polartec Power Stretch panels that line the sides and make this jacket a much more breathable and versatile layer. This feature helps the Flowcore stand out as more than just a pricepoint offering and makes it a serious contender among much more expensive jackets. It breathes much better than the Kuhl Interceptr and the heavy The North Face Denali 2. While not as breathable as thinner fleece like the R1 Hoody or the Outdoor Research Transition Hoody, for the weight, the Flowcore does a nice job. Our Top Pick for Breathability goes to the hybrid style Outdoor Research Deviator. The Deviator is a better jacket for high-intensity activities, but it won't keep you as warm as the Flowcore.
While this jacket loses a few points in the layering metric because of its bulkier sizing, but this could possibly be remedied if you size down. Otherwise, it makes for a rad mid layer. Stick your thumbs into the thumb loops and plunge into the sleeves of your favorite hardshell, wind layer, or insulated jacket - and you're ready to go. The zipper pulls are small and low profile, and we hardly noticed them under an insulated shell layer.
This jacket fits the role of insulator quite nicely, but when it comes to water and wind, you'll need to back it up with a hardshell or at least a water-resistant insulated jacket. The FlowCore is a heavier fleece than the Outdoor Research Deviator, so it blocks more wind, but the cold rain soaks through this fleece very fast. Cold winds also seemed to cut right through the Flowcore, but it faired better than lighter fleece-like the Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody. For a more weather resistant fleece-like jacket, check out the Patagonia R1 Techface Hoody. It's not as warm as the Flowcore but has a DWR finish that sheds light rain and offers a little more wind protection. If you love the fleece feel and weight is not a concern, The North Face Denali 2 is also a very weather resistant option.
Weighing in at 13.6oz, the Flowcore nestles right in the same weight class as the Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody, the Arc'teryx Procline, and the Patagonia R1 Techface Hoody, while outperforming all of them in the warmth metric. The Flowcore is simple and stripped down, making it a perfect mid layer when weight savings count, like on a backpacking trip. Again we were blown away by such a good warmth-to-weight ratio in a jacket that so inexpensive.
Reactions from our testers ranged from "cool" to "it looks like the carpeting at my grandma's house". Some of our testers can make anything look good, and could rock the Flowcore around town or in the backcountry. This Jacket is limited to three colors: Armadillo Taupe (just say no!), Black, And Cabin Red.
This jacket easily snags our Best Buy award. It's comfy and loaded with features at just $100. Our testers appreciated the quality and versatility of the Flowcore, even before considering it's competitive pricing. Another good bang for your buck from REI is the REI Co-op Hyperaxis Hoody. For $30 more, the Hyperaxis features a hood, a chest pocket, and a more technical fit, but doesn't quite have the lounge-worthy comfort of the Flowcore.
The Flowcore is a great fleece mid-layer for climbing, skiing, backpacking, jogging, and even napping. If precipitation is in the cards, definitely make sure you're carrying a rain layer. Though the synthetic fleece will dry quickly in the sun, the rain will soak right through. If you're trying to save money without freezing your butt off, this is the fleece to buy. Again, for the price, the quality and features on the Flowcore are awesome.
We're always happy to review great gear, and even more psyched when function coincides with affordability. If you want something better than a cheap box store fleece and don't want to shell out for a jacket with Fitzroy on the logo, the Flowcore will do just fine.
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