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REI Co-op Groundbreaker Fleece - Women's Review

A cheap fleece jacket with a simple non-technical design
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Price:  $50 List | $19.83 at REI
Pros:  Inexpensive, warm, cozy, great stand-alone jacket
Cons:  Bulky and lacks breathability, hard to layer under tight layers
Manufacturer:   REI Co-op
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Dec 27, 2019
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64
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 20% 8
  • Comfort - 20% 8
  • Breathability - 20% 5
  • Layering Ability - 20% 5
  • Ease of Movement - 15% 6
  • Weather Resistance - 5% 5

Our Verdict

The REI Groundbreaker is a simple, non-technical fleece that is durable and best for chilled out 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 through most of the year. This jacket has no bells or whistles; it's simple, plain, and doesn't offer the best performance in the area of 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. We tested it while hiking, climbing, sleeping, and lounging.

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.

Performance Comparison


We enjoy the beautiful views of the Rainbow Wall in Red Rocks while testing the REI Groundbreaker  a lower price and less technical fleece jacket.
We enjoy the beautiful views of the Rainbow Wall in Red Rocks while testing the REI Groundbreaker, a lower price and less technical fleece jacket.

Warmth


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.

The pile fleece is warm but thinner than other less technical jackets. A good option for wearing on its own in the Spring or Fall  or as a layer under a shell in super cold weather.
The pile fleece is warm but thinner than other less technical jackets. A good option for wearing on its own in the Spring or Fall, or as a layer under a shell in super cold weather.

Comfort


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.

Here we enjoy the comforts of this fleece while hanging out at the base of a 1000-ft climb we just completed as the sun starts to go down. While we didn't wear it while climbing  it makes for a great layer to simply chillax in.
Here we enjoy the comforts of this fleece while hanging out at the base of a 1000-ft climb we just completed as the sun starts to go down. While we didn't wear it while climbing, it makes for a great layer to simply chillax in.

Breathability


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.

As the temps heat up  we have to take off this jacket. The material is too thick and doesn't breathe particularly well.
As the temps heat up, we have to take off this jacket. The material is too thick and doesn't breathe particularly well.

Layering Ability


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.

Here we see the Groundbreaker layered underneath a jacket on a cold morning. While we were able to pull this off  we found ourselves a little confined under this tighter fitting jacket.
Here we see the Groundbreaker layered underneath a jacket on a cold morning. While we were able to pull this off, we found ourselves a little confined under this tighter fitting jacket.

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.

Even though the Groundbreaker isn't particularly stretchy  it actually moves okay for a thicker fleece. While it's not our top choice for highly mobile activities like climbing  we're happy with it for the odd hike.
Even though the Groundbreaker isn't particularly stretchy, it actually moves okay for a thicker fleece. While it's not our top choice for highly mobile activities like climbing, we're happy with it for the odd hike.

Weather Resistance


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.

Here we apply water....
Here we apply water....

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.

And about 3 seconds later  it's completely absorbed into the fabric. While it does repel snow well  it doesn't do as well with wind or water.
And about 3 seconds later, it's completely absorbed into the fabric. While it does repel snow well, it doesn't do as well with wind or water.

Value


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.

Enjoy the comforts of this non-technical fleece layer. Its lower price will have you asking yourself...why not? However  if you seek something that'll move with you  breathe  and keep you comfortable while you charge hard  this one isn't the best option.
Enjoy the comforts of this non-technical fleece layer. Its lower price will have you asking yourself...why not? However, if you seek something that'll move with you, breathe, and keep you comfortable while you charge hard, this one isn't the best option.

Conclusion


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.

Amber King