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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 today, 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.
The North Face makes gear ranging from fashion-forward streetwear to technical pieces designed for the world's most extreme environments. TKA Glacier ¼ Zip lands somewhere in the middle, threading the line between streetwear and a 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. When things start to get seriously cold or wet, it has no problem fitting under an insulating layer or rain jacket. 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. The TKA Glacier performed quite well across all of our metrics and is an ideal piece for folks on the hunt 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.
Best Bang for the Buck
Amazon Essentials Men's Full Zip Polar Fleece Jacket
The Amazon Essentials Men's Full Zip Polar Fleece Jacket was designed with one thing in mind: function. While it's not the flyest 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. This fleece sports a classic fit; not too tight, but not at all baggy. There is room to layer underneath, and you can still layer overtop without feeling like a marshmallow. This piece is ideal for hiking, camping, or any outdoor activity where you want some extra warmth.
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 days of hitting the gym in oversized cotton hoodies are gone. The Under Armour Double Threat Hoodie is a modern upgrade to the classic workout hoodie. Whether warming up in a cold gym or heading outside for a brisk run, this pullover fleece is ready to move with you. It's incredibly stretchy and offers a great range of motion. The fit is relaxed but not so baggy that it's annoying while exercising. The fabric is the most breathable of all the fleeces we tested, making it a standout for athletics.
The Double Threat is a casual-looking and fitting fleece. It's best suited for exercise and may look out of place in the office. While we loved it for working out, it's not the warmest model when you're stationary, and thus 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 suitable for many types of occasions, the Columbia Steens Mountain Full Zip 2.0 is incredibly versatile. This classic-fitting jacket can fill many roles. It's warm enough to be worn on its own in cool weather and thin enough to be easily layered. Incredibly soft on the inside and out, it's stretchy and didn't limit our tester's range of motion.
The arms are long, with elastic wrist cuffs at the end, which is helpful for keeping the cuffs in place. However, this creates a bunched-up look that is somewhat sloppy. If you have longer arms, this may not be an issue. Our only other real gripe with the Columbia Steens is related to breathability. This fleece didn't wick moisture very well during sustained athletic pursuits. However, it's a highly versatile fleece that's great for cold-weather hiking and can double as casual office wear when paired with some chinos.
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 we tested. With an athletic fit bordering on the slim side, it offers a good blend of outdoorsy and street style, and we found it appropriate for everything from weekend camping trips to wearing out for drinks.
The TKA Glacier's thick material affects its range of motion, causing some tightness across the shoulders. The biggest drawback is the pronounced seams running down both sides of the arms. These 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 Amazon Essentials Sherpa Fleece Full-Zip 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 by far the coziest piece we tested. It was comfortable and quite warm, with a satisfying weight to it. The material was also surprisingly stretchy despite its bulkiness.
While it is supremely comfy, the Amazon Essentials Sherpa Fleece is heavy, bulky, and breathes poorly. This isn't the fleece we would bring on a long backpacking trip or use as part of a technical layering system. This fleece is best suited for people looking to prioritize warmth and comfort in casual settings over athletic capabilities.
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. It boasts 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.
Lightweight and breathable, the Wrangler Authentics Sweater Fleece 1/4 Zip is casual looking but not too sporty. 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 it 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. With an athletic fit and an excellent range of motion, this fleece is a good pick for someone seeking lightweight warmth that won't slow them down.
The Boxercraft Sherpa Quarter-Zip Pullover 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 Tommy Hilfiger Classic Zip Front Polar 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.
Why You Should Trust Us
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. We used each fleece as a primary layer while hiking and rock climbing in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, which are known for their highly variable weather conditions. We hope our research will help you find a fleece that is right for your unique needs with different styles, weights, and features.
Our lead tester on this project, Buck Yedor, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 less soft than most other choices.
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 consider how a fleece will fit over or under your other layers. The North Face TKA Glacier ¼ Zip has a trim athletic fit that is comfortable and stretches in all the right places. 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.
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, making overhead reaches feel strange.
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, is another breathable option that is excellent for cold-weather athletics.
The thicker and heavier options, such as the Amazon Essentials Sherpa, don'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 remain unrestricted is a must. While almost all of these fleeces are fine for walking or hiking, some were better suited to athletic endeavors where overhead mobility is crucial, like rock climbing or lifting weights. The Under Armour Double Threat was incredibly stretchy and left you fully unencumbered. 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 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.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.