REI Co-op Groundbreaker Fleece - Women's Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
The REI GroundBreaker is a high-pile 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, this jacket 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 a little away from warmth on, especially blustery days. Overall, this is a warm fleece jacket option. It's far and away from technical, but offers the warmth you'll need if you're sipping a cup of tea or curled up with a good book.
Cozy and comfortable! While this isn't a technical fleece designed for crazy aerobic adventures, its best 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 around the house.
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. We took it hiking and climbing with us, and found ourselves taking it off as soon as we started hiking. There are no points for ventilation aside from 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 the odd fall hike where you take your time to truly sniff the flowers, it works just fine.
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 making 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 additional 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.
Ease of Movement
The ease of movement is good, but not exceptional in this jacket. When worn as the outermost layer, we found that it stretched sufficiently without too much trouble. The fabrics are not as stretchy as other more technical fleeces and do raise up when you put your hands up. However, given the amount of space in the jacket itself, we never felt confined. When wearing it under a tighter fitting jacket, though, we felt more restricted due to the thicker fabric design.
The high pile fleece offers some resistance to snow but readily absorbs water. When testing the fabric 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; wowever, during a storm, don't be surprised that it's not water or windproof. Be sure to bring a shell with you.
This is one of the least expensive products in this review and was heavily considered as a Best Buy option. Unfortunately, it's not a technical performer, though. 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.
The REI Groundbreaker stands out for its inexpensive price and hi-pile construction. This fleece jacket is best worn on its own on less adventurous outings where you simply need a little extra warmth. Unfortunately, it doesn't offer the best breathability or technical performance. However, if a non-technical fleece is what you seek, this high-value option should be considered.
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