The REI Groundbreaker is a simple, non-technical fleece that is durable and best for mellow adventuring. The high-pile fleece is warm, with the option to layer it underneath a loose jacket on cold days or to wear on its own throughout most of the year. This jacket has no bells or whistles; it's simple, plain, and doesn't offer the best breathability. However, it is one of the least expensive options out there and is backed by REI's warranty that guarantees your happiness with its products. If you seek a non-technical fleece that is cozy and warm at a great price, this is one to consider.Editor's Note: On August 26, 2022, we added the Groundbreaker 2.0 to our line up.
REI Co-op Groundbreaker 2.0 Review
Cons: Bulky and lacks breathability, hard to layer under tight layers
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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REI Co-op Groundbreaker 2.0
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|Pros||Inexpensive, cozy, great stand-alone jacket||Cozy, athletic fit, breathable, lightweight||High performance, solid fit, breathable, solid features||Breathable, lightweight, inexpensive, comfortable for athletics||Inexpensive, packs away easily, casual look for around-town use|
|Cons||Bulky and lacks breathability, hard to layer under tight layers||No thumb loops||Difficult to add many layers under, not as warm as other models||Average weather resistance||Poor warmth-to-weight ratio, bulky, not the best for layering|
|Bottom Line||An inexpensive fleece jacket with a simple non-technical design and a bit of comfort||Patagonia made the classic R1 warmer and more comfortable with this versatile piece||Built for the athlete, this model provides warmth, as well as a highly functional piece||Highly featured and even higher performing, this cost-effective option provides a hard-to-beat value||It's basic and heavier weight, but still maintains the creature comforts, and is soft and affordable|
|Rating Categories||REI Co-op Groundbre...||Patagonia R1 Air Fu...||Mountain Hardwear S...||Outdoor Research Vi...||Columbia Steens Mou...|
|Layering Ability (15%)|
|Weather resistance (10%)|
|Specs||REI Co-op Groundbre...||Patagonia R1 Air Fu...||Mountain Hardwear S...||Outdoor Research Vi...||Columbia Steens Mou...|
|Measured Weight||11.6 oz||12.5 oz||13.3 oz||13 oz||16.6 oz|
|Main Material||100% polyester||100% Polyester||100% polyester||94% polyester, 6% spandex||100% polyester|
|# of Pockets||2||3||2||3||2|
|Unique Features||Stretch binding at waist and cuffs||Slim-fit hood, quick drying||Raglan sleeves, thumb holes, three-piece fitted hood||Thumb holes, UPF 30, 3-panel hood with binding||None|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The REI GroundBreaker 2.0 is a non-technical fleece offered at an excellent price. It provides comfort and warmth throughout the coldest season. Just don't expect it to go with you easily on ambitious adventures that'll have you sweating.
Built with thicker, fleecy fabrics, the Groundbreaker 2.0 offers warmth through all the cold months and cold mornings. It functions well as a stand-alone option for the shoulder seasons, where you need a little extra plush comfort. It can also be layered underneath a shell when it gets really cold outside. Its 100% polyester make-up keeps it warm, even when wet. Unfortunately, it doesn't offer a huge amount of wind resistance, despite its thicker fabrics, which takes away from warmth on blustery days. Overall, this is a warm fleece jacket option that is less of an option for technical climbing but is great for post-climbing beers.
While this isn't a technical fleece designed for cardio adventures, it is well suited at home or around a chalet after skiing. The fleecy fabric pile is relatively thick and feels nice right against the skin. The jacket features two kangaroo pockets, but there are no zippered pockets for secure storage. We would typically wear this while hanging out around camp, cozy in our sleeping bag, around the fire on a warmer night, or relaxing at home.
While this fleece offers some breathability through its thicker fabrics, it's not one we'd recommend for hiking in warmer weather. While thinner, more technical fleeces provide amazing thermoregulation, this is not one of them. This jacket lacks ventilation besides the full-length zipper, which is another reason this jacket is best for at-home use where you're not going to be too sweaty. For walking the dog or light evening strolls, it is more than adequate.
Given the thicker fabrics integrated into its design, it's really best for layering over a base layer. There is ample room in the area of the jacket for this purpose. While it can fit underneath a looser upper layer, the thicker fabrics make layering more difficult. The flush fleece snags and catches, especially if the upper jacket is also fleecy. However, under bigger, looser shells, it does okay. The tapered knit wrist makes it easier to grab when pulling it on underneath something, while the hoodless collar doesn't add the bulk that a hoody would provide. Overall, it is harder to layer than technical fleeces, but of the thicker non-technical fleeces, it's actually one of the easiest.
The high pile Groundbreaker offers some resistance to snow but readily absorbs water. When testing the fabric's tenacity to water, we saw the water bead for a moment before completely absorbing into the fabric, which was validated during a particularly stormy day. After walking around with it as a jacket, we could feel some wind cut through the loosely knit design, while the fabric absorbed the water falling from the sky. For breezy days with good weather, it's a nice choice, especially when stacked with a warm base layer. The thicker fabrics offer good protection from the basic elements; however, during a storm or even when there's a bit more precipitation, don't be surprised that it's not water or windproof. Be sure to bring a shell with you.
While this isn't the heaviest fleece that we reviewed, our testers felt like the garment weighed on them a bit. The simplicity of the garment and the lack of extra pockets, hood, or other features help with the weight. When we weighed the Groundbreaker, it was 11.6 ounces for a size medium.
Should You Buy the REI Groundbreaker 2.0?
This is one of the least expensive products in this review but is not a technical performer. If a non-technical fleece jacket is what you seek at a reasonable price, consider it, but it's unlikely you'll see the value if you're seeking a technical fleece that you can take skiing, mountain biking, or while building up a sweat. It also doesn't pack down particularly small, so you need to carry a pack large enough to house it once you take it off. It's best for leisurely hikes, hanging out at home, or getting chores done, and is also backed by REI's amazing warranty, which is a bonus.
What Other Fleece Jackets Should You Consider?
The REI Groundbreaker stands out for its inexpensive price and high-pile construction. This fleece jacket is best worn on its own on less adventurous outings where you simply need a little extra warmth. If you're seeking a technical fleece, we would recommend the Mountain Hardwear Stratus Full Zip or Outdoor Research Vigor, as they score well in our review, and can be purchased at exceptional price points.
— James Lucas
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