Best Budget Fleece Jackets for Men of 2020
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. 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, this piece is 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 we found with this fleece was the lack of pockets. It is also a fairly lightweight fleece. If you're looking for a stand-alone 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.
A comfortable and stretchy sweatshirt is essential for anyone's gym or running kit. The Under Armour Double Threat is a modern upgrade to the classic cotton workout hoodie. Whether you are warming up in a cold gym or going for a brisk outside run, this fleece is ready to move with you. Incredibly stretchy and without a zipper, this jacket didn't hinder our tester's range of motion at all. The fit was relaxed but not so baggy as to be annoying while exercising. The fabric was the most breathable of all the fleeces we tested, again making it a standout for athletics.
This body wears and looks like athletic gear, making it suitable for only the most casual of environments. 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.
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 layerable; 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.We found the arms to be slightly on the long side, but the elastic wrist cuffs kept them from sliding down and hiding our hands. 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 worn over a button-down and paired with some chinos, is ready to head into the office.
The Gordon Lyons ¼ zip is another relatively affordable fleece being offered by The North Face. This fleece 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 which makes 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 we tried. 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 they felt some restrictiveness 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. This fleece is stylish, warm, and ideal for someone looking for a midweight option that is warm enough to use as a standalone piece.
The Amazon Essentials Full Zip Polar Fleece is rooted purely in function. Made from a comfortable and stretchy material, this fleece offers a good amount of warmth and is unrestrictive of your movements. 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 still be able to layer over it without feeling like a marshmallow.
The breathability of this piece fell squarely in the middle of the pack; not horrible but not exceptional. While not overwhelmingly exceptional at any one thing, this jacket is a good choice for someone looking for a decent all arounder being offered at a great price point.
If sometimes you wish you could wrap yourself up in a big fuzzy blanket and head out the door, the Amazon Essentials Sherpa Fleece could be your socially acceptable answer. With a brushed furry outer 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 comfy, this fleece was heavy, bulky, and had 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.
While fleeces often look a little frumpy, the Eddie Bauer Radiator ½ Zip is anything but. With a flattering cut and a slim fit, this fleece has an upscale look. The fit leaves enough room for a t-shirt or a light base layer underneath but not much else. By the same token, its fit makes it easy and comfortable to layer over. The jacket has decent breathability, which makes it a good choice for hiking or outdoor wear.
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.
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, makes it a decent choice for hiking or using it 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 stand-alone fleece that will keep you warm when the temps really start dropping, this piece 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.
Offering a unique look, the Boxercraft Sherpa ¼ Zip serves up some retro flair while offering middle of the road amounts of warmth. 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. While the fleece outer is fuzzy and soft, the inside of the jacket is the unfinished backing of the outer brushed layer. The breathability was 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 Tommy Hilfiger Polar Full Zip is a midweight fleece that offers decent warmth and a comfortable fabric. It is also equipped with two front zip pockets and two large internal pouch pockets.
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 feels 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.
Why You Should Trust Us
Fleece jackets have been a staple of Buck Yedor's, our lead tester on this project, wardrobe for years. 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 quest to find the best fleece out there, we started by researching over twenty of the top-selling models we could find. 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. With different styles, weights, and features, we hope our research will help you find a fleece that is right for your unique needs.
Analysis and Test Results
Using all the different fleeces in a high alpine environment let us experience them in a wide range of conditions. From chilly pre-dawn hikes to riding out serious storms, we got to see how each fleece handled in the extremes. We were able to compare each one's warmth, comfort, fit, layering ability, breathability, and ease of movement.
Fleeces are so popular in the world of outdoor apparel because of the tremendous amount of warmth they can provide relative to how light they are. The fleece fibers act as an insulating barrier and keep your natural body heat from escaping. Fleeces come in different weights, which is usually referring to the thickness of the material.
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 our testers found to be incredibly warm, especially for 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.
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 the least warm jackets we tested.
Widely considered to be activewear, the comfort of the material is a crucial component to any good fleece jacket. While, in general, fleece by its nature is soft and fuzzy, not all fleece is created or finished equally. The Columbia Steens Mountain Full Zip was the softest feeling on the skin by far. A next 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 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 did find the inner material on the Eddie Bauer Radiator to be less soft than most of the other choices.
Fit & Layering Ability
A classic layering system starts with a base layer like a t-shirt, then adds a fleece, and if things get even colder or wet, you can add another insinuating layer like a down or a rain-proof jacket. 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 a slim fit that stretches in all the right places to accommodate the tighter fit and still be 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.
We found the Amazon Essentials Sherpa to generally fit well; a little snug in the shoulders, and sporting a long torso. It, however, was too bulky to layer over comfortably and worked best as a stand-alone 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.
Breathability is usually correlated to the thickness of the material it is constructed from. The thicker the fleece, the less breathable it will be. Fortunately, though, 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 an excellent choice for cold weather athletics.
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.
Ease of Movement
If you plan on using your fleece for cool or cold weather athletics having your movement be 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 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.
After purchasing and testing ten worthy fleeces sold in 2020, we were able to break down the best and worst qualities in each. From dedicated athletic wear to some fit for the office, we put them all through the same rigorous testing to determine which ones earned a place in your closet. After looking at the warmth, comfort, fit, layering ability, breathability, and the ease of movement in each, we hope to have taken some of the mystery out of your next purchase.
— Buck Yedor