Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Budget Fleece Jackets for Men of 2021

We tested fleeces from Amazon, The North Face, Eddie Bauer, and more to find the very best affordable fleece jacket
Fleece Jackets are a great choice for adding warmth while on the move.
Photo: Buck Yedor
By Buck Yedor ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday September 15, 2021
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Are you looking to upgrade your layering system without shelling out an entire paycheck? A simple budget fleece jacket is an incredibly versatile option that can add a ton of warmth and comfort to your wardrobe. After researching the most popular and best-performing budget fleece jackets on the market in 2021, we purchased the top 10 to use and compare for ourselves. We took each model out into the field, where we could discern where each excelled and where each one was lacking. We accounted for warmth, comfort, fit, how well they layered, breathability, and ease of movement. Whether you need a warm layer to wear to your cold office or something for your next backpacking trip, our review can help you decide which fleece makes the most sense for you.


1

Best Overall Budget Fleece Jacket


The North Face TKA Glacier 1/4 Zip


Primary Material: 100% Recycled Polyester | Weight: 8 ounces
Slim fit ideal for layering
Breathable
Lightweight warmth for a standalone piece
No pockets

The North Face makes gear that ranges from fashion-forward streetwear to technical pieces made for the world's most extreme environments. The TKA Glacier ¼ Zip lands somewhere in the middle, threading the line between streetwear and performance piece. A lightweight and slim-fitting fleece, this jacket is the ideal mid-layer in a classic three-piece layering system. Worn over a t-shirt, it's great for cool mornings or cold-weather athletics and when things start to get seriously cold or wet has no problem fitting under an insulating or rain layer. The fabric is soft on the skin and stretchy enough to move with your body, whether you're hiking, biking, or even rock climbing. The thinness of the material makes it one of the more breathable fleeces we tested and a great performer for higher-intensity activities.

One of the few downsides was the lack of pockets. It is also a fairly lightweight budget fleece jacket. If you're looking for a standalone jacket to wear on the coldest days, you might want to go with a heavier-weight option. This jacket performed quite well across all of our metrics and is an ideal piece for people looking for a breathable and lightweight fleece that they can use on their morning pre-dawn jog or take into the backcountry as part of their mountain-ready layering system.

The North Face TKA was the highest performing fleece we tested.
The North Face TKA was the highest performing fleece we tested.
Photo: Buck Yedor

2

Best for Athletics


Under Armour Double Threat Hoodie


Material: 100% Polyester | Weight: 15.2 ounces
Stretchy
Highly breathable
Looks like sportswear
Baggy fit

The days of hitting the gym in oversized cotton hoodies are gone. The Under Armour Double Threat is a modern upgrade to the classic workout hoodie. Whether warming up in a cold gym or going outside for a brisk run, this fleece is ready to move with you. This pullover jacket is incredibly stretchy and didn't hinder our tester's range of motion at all. The fit is relaxed but not so baggy as to be annoying while exercising. The fabric is the most breathable of all the fleeces we tested, making it a standout for athletics.

This is a casual-looking and fitting fleece. If you are looking for a work-appropriate option, it might be best to leave this fleece in your gym bag. While great for exercising, if you're not planning on being fairly active while wearing this fleece, it isn't the warmest and isn't suitable for truly cold weather. This fleece is ideal for people looking for cold-weather workout wear or a relaxed fitting and casual hoodie for temperate weather.

Ideal for cool weather athletics, the Under Armour Double Threat is...
Ideal for cool weather athletics, the Under Armour Double Threat is stretchy and breathable.
Photo: Buck Yedor

3

Warm, Lightweight, and Easy to Layer


Columbia Steens Mountain Full Zip 2.0


Material: 100% Polyester | Weight: 16.5 ounces
Stretchy
Soft
Poor breathability
Long arms

Warm, lightweight, and with the ability to be worn on many different occasions, the Columbia Steens Mountain is incredibly versatile. It's warm enough to be worn on its own in cool weather and thin enough to be easily layered; this classic-fitting jacket can fill many roles. Incredibly soft on the inside and out, it's stretchy and didn't limit our tester's range of motion.

While we found the arms to be on the long side, the elastic wrist cuffs kept them from sliding down and covering our hands. While this kept the sleeves from impeding function, it did leave the arms looking bunchy and a little sloppy. The only other issue we had was with this jacket's breathability. It wasn't the best at wicking moisture during sustained athletics. This highly versatile jacket is perfect for cold weather hiking or paired with some chinos, ready to head into the office.

Comfortable and offering great range of movement, the Columbia...
Comfortable and offering great range of movement, the Columbia Steens Mountain is a highly versatile jacket.
Photo: Buck Yedor

4

Best Midweight Fleece


The North Face Gordon Lyons 1/4-Zip


Material: 100% Polyester | Weight: 15.7 ounces
Warm
Stylish
Pronounced elbow seams
Semi-restrictive

The Gordon Lyons ¼ zip is another relatively affordable fleece offered by The North Face. This model is both a thicker and warmer option than the TKA Glacier ¼ Zip. The inside of the jacket is brushed, meaning it has a fuzzy texture, making the interior much softer to the touch than the outer layer, despite being made from the same material. The thick material made this fleece one of the warmest of any of the jackets in our testing group. With an athletic fit bordering on the slim side, it offers a good blend of outdoorsy and street style, making it appropriate for everything from weekend camping trips to wearing out for drinks.

The thickness of the material does compromise some range of motion, and our testers noted that they felt some tightness in the shoulders. The biggest drawback to this fleece is the pronounced seams running down both sides of the arms. The seams are thick, a little scratchy, and fairly noticeable when bending your arms. Given the fit, weight, and lack of give in the material, it can feel awkward to layer over or underneath this jacket. This budget fleece jacket is stylish, warm, and ideal for someone looking for a midweight option that is warm enough to use as a standalone piece.

The North Face Gordon Lyons 1/4 zip is a comfortable and warm...
The North Face Gordon Lyons 1/4 zip is a comfortable and warm mid-weight fleece.
Photo: Buck Yedor

5

Best Bang for the Buck


Amazon Essentials Men's Full Zip Polar Fleece Jacket


Material: 100% Polyester | Weight: 15.7 ounces
Stretchy
Four pockets
Low breathability
Not very stylish

The Amazon Essentials Full Zip Polar Fleece was designed with one thing in mind, function. While it's not the coolest looking fleece out there, this piece is warm and comfortable. It's constructed of a stretchy material that offers wearers a mostly uninhibited range of motion. Sporting a classic fit, the jacket isn't too tight in any one place but isn't baggy at all. The fit ensures you could fit a heavier base layer underneath but can still layer over it without feeling like a marshmallow. This piece is ideal to bring hiking, camping, or just about any outdoor activity you need some extra warmth for.

The breathability of this piece fell squarely in the middle of our test group; not horrible, but not exceptional. While not overwhelmingly great at any one thing, this jacket is a good choice for someone looking for a decent all-arounder offered at a great price point.

The Amazon Essentials Full Zip fleece is a quality all rounder.
The Amazon Essentials Full Zip fleece is a quality all rounder.
Photo: Buck Yedor

6

A Great Cozy Option


Amazon Essentials Sherpa Fleece Full-Zip


Material : 100% polyester| Weight: 26.7 ounces
Warm
Fun and funky style
Poor breathability
Bulky

The Amazon Essentials Sherpa Fleece is the epitome of comfort. This fleece wears more like a fuzzy blanket than a jacket. With a brushed exterior and an incredibly soft and smooth interior, this fleece was far and away, the coziest piece we tested. With a satisfying weight to it, not only was this fleece comfortable, but it was also quite warm. The material was also surprisingly stretchy despite its bulkiness.

While it is supremely comfy, this fleece is heavy, bulky, and has poor breathability, which means it isn't the best choice for layering or bringing it into the backcountry. This fleece is best suited for people looking to prioritize warmth and comfort over athletic capabilities.

The warm and cozy Amazon Essentials Sherpa 1/4 zip.
The warm and cozy Amazon Essentials Sherpa 1/4 zip.
Photo: Buck Yedor

7

A Stylish Model


Eddie Bauer Radiator 1/2-Zip


Material: 100% Polyester | Weight: 14.4 ounces
Flattering cut
Decent breathability
No pockets
Semi-restrictive

While fleeces often look a little frumpy, the Eddie Bauer Radiator ½ Zip is anything but. Sporting a flattering and slim fit, this fleece has an upscale look to it. The fit leaves enough room for a t-shirt or a light base layer underneath but not much else. The slim fit does make it very easy to layer another jacket over top. This jacket has decent breathability, making it a good choice for hiking or outdoor wear, especially as part of a layering system.

While not uncomfortable by any means, the inner fleece isn't as soft as many of the other options, and the more tailored fit made the shoulders a little restrictive for serious overhead activity. This jacket is a perfect choice for those who need a fleece that looks good enough to wear to work but performs well enough to hit the trails.

The well tailored Eddie Bauer Radiator.
The well tailored Eddie Bauer Radiator.
Photo: Buck Yedor

8

A Comfy Lightweight Option


Wrangler Authentics Sweater Fleece 1/4 Zip


Material: 100% Polyester | Weight: 12.5 ounces
Breathable
Good range of motion
Thin
No pockets

Lightweight and breathable, the Wrangler Authentic is casual looking but not too sporty. Being lightweight, it isn't terribly warm but perfect for cool days when you need something a little warmer and more grown-up looking than a cotton hoodie. The fit is slim in the arms through the shoulders but opens up into a boxier torso. The fit and stretchiness of the material, combined with its good breathability, make it a decent choice for hiking or using as part of a layering system.

The material wasn't the softest by fleece standards but wasn't uncomfortable. If you're looking for a standalone fleece that will keep you warm when the temps really start dropping, this model may be too lightweight. Sporting an athletic fit and an excellent range of motion, this fleece is a good pick for someone looking for lightweight warmth that won't slow them down.

The Wrangler Authentic is lightweight and breathable.
The Wrangler Authentic is lightweight and breathable.
Photo: Buck Yedor

9

Offers Retro Flair


Boxercraft Sherpa Quarter-Zip Pullover


Material: 100% Polyester | Weight: 14.5 ounces
Unique look
Inexpensive
Short arms
Poor breathability

The Boxercraft Sherpa ¼ Zip is throwing it back to the early days of fleece with its distinctly retro look. The material is stretchy and provides a cozy and somewhat baggy fit through the torso. The collar is fuzzy on the inside and out, making for a comfy situation when the jacket is fully zipped.

The cut of the arms is quite short, leaving the wrist cuffs floating at the top of our wrists, which we found to be a little awkward feeling and looking. While the fleece outer is fuzzy and soft, the inside of the jacket is the unfinished backing of the outer brushed layer. So despite the appearance of coziness, the inside really isn't that soft. The breathability and warmth are poor, and the general bulkiness of the material made it a mediocre option to layer over. This jacket is best used as casual streetwear for cool to cold days.

The Boxcar Sherpa fleece offers retro styles and unusually short arms.
The Boxcar Sherpa fleece offers retro styles and unusually short arms.
Photo: Buck Yedor

10

A Stiff and Awkwardly Cut Fleece


Tommy Hilfiger Classic Zip Front Polar


Material: 100% Polyester | Weight: 19.9 ounces
Soft
Two zippered front pockets
Stiff
Awkward cut

The Tommy Hilfiger Polar Full Zip is a midweight budget fleece jacket that offers decent warmth and is made from a comfortable fabric. It is also equipped with two front zip pockets and two large internal pouch pockets. Despite checking these basic boxes you would expect in a quality fleece, our testers found this jacket to be lacking.

While the material is warm and soft, the cut of the jacket felt incredibly awkward. The arms felt like they were attached too low, and the way the front zipper was sewn in made the whole jacket feel incredibly stiff, and it did not move as a cohesive piece. The stiffness of the front made it feel even stranger when layered over. Given the higher price tag and the strange fit, we couldn't recommend this jacket over any of the other fleeces we reviewed.

The Tommy Hilfiger Classic Fleece has an awkward cut and an...
The Tommy Hilfiger Classic Fleece has an awkward cut and an uncomfortably stiff front zipper.
Photo: Buck Yedor

Why You Should Trust Us


Buck Yedor, our lead tester on this project, was born in the mountains of Colorado and has been dressing in fleece since he was an infant. Whether using them as part of a cold-weather layering system during overnight searches while working for Yosemite Search and Rescue or on a backcountry snowboard mission in the Eastern Sierra, he knows how versatile and essential a good fleece jacket can be.

To begin our search for the highest-performing fleeces, we started by researching over twenty of the top-selling models. We then narrowed our selection down to ten of the most compelling. Known for its highly variable weather conditions, Buck used each fleece as his primary layer while hiking and rock climbing in Colorado's Rocky Mountains. We hope our research will help you find a fleece that is right for your unique needs with different styles, weights, and features.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Analysis and Test Results


Using all the different fleeces in a high alpine environment lets us experience them in a wide range of conditions. From chilly pre-dawn hikes to getting caught in serious storms, we got to see how each fleece handled the extremes. We were able to compare each one's warmth, comfort, fit, layering ability, breathability, and ease of movement.

Warmth


Fleeces are so popular in the world of outdoor apparel because of the tremendous amount of warmth they can provide relative to how light and stretchy they are. The fleece fibers act as an insulating barrier and keep your natural body heat from escaping without having to add a ton of bulk. Fleeces come in different weights, which is usually referring to the thickness of the material and the amount of warmth they provide.

Typically the thicker and heavier the fleece, the better insulator it will be. The North Face Gordon's Lyon ¼ Zip is a mid to heavyweight option that is incredibly warm, especially considering its lack of bulk. The Amazon Essentials Sherpa Full Zip with its brushed outer layer and inner liner was another warm option that can be utilized in colder temps as a standalone piece.

The midweight The North Face Gordon Lyons fleece offers a good blend...
The midweight The North Face Gordon Lyons fleece offers a good blend of warmth and unencumbered range of motion.
Photo: Buck Yedor

While not intended for truly cold weather use, the Under Armour Double Threat is a lightweight option that is great for staying warm while active. If you're just going to be hanging out in the cold, it's probably not the right choice. Despite its fuzzy and warm look, the unlined Boxercraft Sherpa ¼ Zip was one of the least warm jackets we tested.

The fuzzy outer layer, combined with the soft inner liner, makes the...
The fuzzy outer layer, combined with the soft inner liner, makes the Amazon Essentials Sherpa Fleece an extremely comfortable piece.
Photo: Buck Yedor

Comfort


Widely considered to be activewear, the comfort of the material is a crucial component of any good fleece jacket. While fleece is generally soft and fuzzy by its nature, not all fleece is created or finished equally. The Columbia Steens Mountain Full Zip was the softest feeling on the skin by far. A close contender was the Amazon Essentials Sherpa Full Zip. Soft and fuzzy on the outside with a smooth and comforting inner liner, this jacket felt like you were wrapped up in a big comfy blanket. With a ton of stretch, a soft, thin material, and minimal seams, The North Face TKA Glacier ¼ Zip was also a pleasure to wear and move around in.

The lightweight material of The North Face TKA Fleece is soft...
The lightweight material of The North Face TKA Fleece is soft, breathable, and stretchy.
Photo: Buck Yedor

The Tommy Hilfiger Classic Polar Front Zip has thick and stiff stitching where the main zipper was sewn into the jacket. It creates a strange and quite uncomfortable scenario where the middle front of the jacket doesn't move with you. While not uncomfortable, we found the inner material on the Eddie Bauer Radiator to be less soft than most other choices.

The cozy Amazon Essentials Sherpa Fleece is perfect for cold weather...
The cozy Amazon Essentials Sherpa Fleece is perfect for cold weather lounging.
Photo: Buck Yedor

Fit & Layering Ability


Fleece jackets have long been considered an essential part of the standard layering trifecta. The typical formula starts with a base layer like a t-shirt or long sleeve, then utilizes a fleece, and when the weather takes a turn for the worse, an insulating or rain layer on top. With that in mind, it's important to think about how a fleece will fit over or under your other layers. The North Face TKA Glacier ¼ Zip has an athletic bordering on slim fit that stretches in all the right places; this accommodates a tighter fit and remains comfortable. You can only really fit a thin base layer underneath but will have no trouble layering with just about anything over this piece. The Eddie Bauer and the Wrangler are also two comfortable and athletic fitting options that layer well. If a fleece feels restrictive on its own, you may feel a bit constricted when you start layering over it.

With an athletic fit, The North Face TKA is great for off trail...
With an athletic fit, The North Face TKA is great for off trail exploring.
Photo: Buck Yedor

The Amazon Essentials Sherpa generally fit well; it was a little snug in the shoulders and sports a long torso. It, however, was too bulky to layer over comfortably and worked best as a standalone piece. The Tommy Hilfiger Classic Polar Front Zip (again, because of its weird stiff zipper) was awkward to layer over. The jacket's arms also felt as if they were sewn on too low, and it made overhead reaches feel strange.

Not too bulky to hike in, the slim fitting Wrangler Authentic fleece...
Not too bulky to hike in, the slim fitting Wrangler Authentic fleece was a great hiker.
Photo: Buck Yedor

Breathability


A jacket's breathability is usually correlated to the thickness of its material. The thicker the fleece, the less breathable it will be. Another factor is the actual weave of the fabric; how tight are the threads? The more active you plan on being while wearing the fleece, the thinner and more breathable your choice can be. The North Face TKA Glacier ¼ Zip is a highly breathable option, making it a good choice for hiking, running, or any other high output cold-weather pursuit. The Under Armour Double Threat designed as workout wear was another breathable option that is excellent for cold weather athletics.

Having a breathable fleece is key if you plan on being active while...
Having a breathable fleece is key if you plan on being active while wearing it.
Photo: Buck Yedor

The thicker and heavier options, such as the Amazon Essentials Sherpa, didn't breathe very well and are better suited for cold days where you won't be working up a big sweat. The Columbia Steens Mountain, while warm and comfy, for the same reasons, wasn't as breathable as the thinner options.

The North Face TKA was on the of the most breathable fleeces we...
The North Face TKA was on the of the most breathable fleeces we tested.
Photo: Buck Yedor

Ease of Movement


If you plan on using your fleece for cool or cold weather athletics, having your movement remain unrestricted is a must. While almost all of the fleeces are fine for walking or hiking, some were more suited to more athletic pursuits where overhead mobility is crucial. The Under Armour Double Threat was incredibly stretchy and left you fully unencumbered, whether lifting weights or rock climbing. The North Face TKA Glacier ¼ Zip was also highly agile and had no trouble moving with our testers' bodies. The Columbia Steens Mountain was the stretchiest and had the best range of motion of all the mid to heavyweight fleeces we tested.

The stretchy Under Armour Double Threat was ideal for cool weather...
The stretchy Under Armour Double Threat was ideal for cool weather athletics.
Photo: Buck Yedor

The Wrangler, Eddie Bauer, and The North Face Gordon Lyons all had decent stretch but were slightly restrictive in the shoulders. The Amazon Essentials Sherpa had adequate stretch but generally felt too bulky to really want to use it while being super active.

If you plan on backpacking or hiking, having a fleece that moves...
If you plan on backpacking or hiking, having a fleece that moves with you is essential.
Photo: Buck Yedor

Conclusion


After researching, purchasing, and then testing a highly diverse offering of affordable fleece jackets, we were able to get a clear picture of how they all stacked up against each other. From athleisure wear to office wear, and even options for your next backpacking trip, we submitted them all to the same rigorous testing process. We compared their warmth, comfort, fit, layering ability, breathability, and ease of movement. We hope our in-depth breakdown of these fleeces will help you make a more informed choice during your next purchase.

Both The North Face Gordon and TKA and the Wrangler Authentic...
Both The North Face Gordon and TKA and the Wrangler Authentic fleeces were all great pieces for layering and being active.
Photo: Buck Yedor

Buck Yedor