To find the best fleece jacket for your next adventure, our experts have put in the hard work for over a decade, subjecting 43 of the best fleece jackets to our head to head testing process. For 2020, we purchased and tested 8 of the most sought after jackets on the market today, bringing them on with us on extended backpacking adventures, multi-pitch routes, and date nights. Some were so comfortable we nearly refused to take them off. In our review, we cover a range of styles from light to the heavy weight and the top of the line to budget performers.
The Best Fleece Jackets for Men of 2020
Best Overall Fleece Jacket
Patagonia R1 Hoody
The Patagonia R1 Hoody has been the weapon of choice for dedicated outdoor enthusiasts for years now. It incorporates all of the most important aspects of a mid-layer; with its breathable grid fabric, perfectly-fit balaclava hood, chest pockets, and thumb loops, this jacket is all about function. The fleece backing is packed with hundreds of raised squares with breathable venting channels throughout. With the added breathability, it'll keep you warm when its cold and cool when it is warm. Simply unzip the zipper when you're on the move and nuzzle into the hood when you're stuck at a cold belay. This amazing layer is one of our favorites and has been for a long time.
The R1 has very few shortcomings. When it comes to fit, function, and performance, the R1 is hard to top, but with as often as it will get worn (every day), it will show its wear eventually. Though its smooth face won't pick or pill, it will eventually get holes. Just the nature of the grid pattern creates thin, weak sections of fleece that eventually will fail. The fit is also more fitted, with a longer hem than in previous years. Some will like this, but some may find their favorite fleece doesn't quite have the same fit they are used to.
Read review: Patagonia R1 Hoody
Best Bang for the Buck
Outdoor Research Vigor Half-Zip Hoody
The Outdoor Research Vigor Half-Zip is a mid-weight fleece that gets the job done without breaking the bank. As with many others, this model is apparently modeled after the mega-popular Patagonia R1 Hoody and does a decent job of checking all the same boxes. It's relatively lightweight, has thumb loops, and uses both a warmer, standard type fleece and breathable gridded fleece. It has a scuba style hood, and a long (but not the longest) zipper to help you cool down fast when your pace increases. When it gets chilly, pull the hood on and put your thumbs back into the thumb loops to layer on up.
Certain aspects of this fleece disappointed us. We were surprised that it started to pill immediately after we started wearing it, starting with the wrists and under the sternum strap buckle of our backpack. This is strictly an aesthetic flaw that doesn't affect the performance of the layer; however, we expected more from a garment from Outdoor Research. We were also a little put off by the boxy cut and heavier fleece used on the shoulders and arms, making layering under a trim shell more constricting than with the R1 Hoody. In the end, this fleece has good performance for a killer price. We may not hold this piece up on a pedestal like the R1, but that's not to say this isn't a worthy piece of technical outerwear.
Read review: Outdoor Research Vigor Half Zip
Top Pick Weather Resistance
Patagonia R1 TechFace Hoody
While not as warm and cozy as the regular R1 Hoody, the weather resistance of this jacket is amazing. We could stand in the rain with this fleece jacket and stay dry, thanks to the DWR finish and the brimmed hood. If you're looking for a dedicated cozy mid-layer, take a pass on this one, but for a lightly insulated wind layer for climbing on variable weather days, the Techface nails it.
The hood is sized to fit over a helmet, and the whole jacket accommodates warmer mid-layers easily underneath. We think this fleece looks pretty slick, and the model we tested looked great with everything we paired it with. The Techface is right at home everywhere, from windy summits to the bar.
Read review: Patagonia R1 Techface Hoody
Best for Windy Locales
Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody attempts to be a two-in-one option for windy or drizzly weather where you're wearing your fleece as an outer layer. Made with Polartec Power Stretch with Hardface Technology, it does a good job of shedding light drizzle while also cutting down on the wind. This is particularly noticeable when compared with other grid-style fleece jackets like the R1, that let wind rip right through. Our favorite feature is its hidden balaclava; it's attached to the hood and can be worn across your face, as a neckwarmer, or tucked behind your head when you don't need it.
The "hardface" on the exterior does keep a little more of your moisture in, making it less breathable than a gridded option. The Fortrez is lightweight, but not that warm overall - it's a layer for moving in and not keeping you warm at camp at night. But if you're ice climbing on a "drippy" day with a cool breeze blowing? It will keep you warm and dry!
Read review: Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
Best for Comfort
The North Face Campshire Hoodie
The North Face Campshire Hoodie became an instant tester favorite this season thanks to its supreme blanket-like comfort and high pile fleece that promotes rest and relaxation. For hanging out in camp or cooking around the campfire, this hoody can't be beaten. A large kangaroo pouch with a Velcro closure secures all sorts of camp amenities; gloves, headlamps, lighters, and snacks all disappear into the huge front pocket. For your cold hands, there's a big handwarmer pocket behind the kangaroo pouch. Top it all off with a huge noggin encompassing hood, and you're ready for late nights at the fire with your friends.
The downside of all this luxury? The Campshire is heavy and nowhere near as packable as one of the mid or lightweight options in our test. For long expeditions into the backcountry, the Campshire needs to stay at home, but it will be there for you when you come in from the backcountry.
Read review: The North Face Campshire Hoodie
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is crafted by OutdoorGearLab Review Editor Adam Paashaus and Matt Bento. Adam has been a member of the outdoor community and appreciates having the ability to help others find the best gear for their next adventure. Having been a lead climbing instructor, he has a knack for hands-on instruction. He lives in a skoolie (which is a converted school bus) with his family, which consists of his wife and two daughters (7 and 9).
Searching for the best fleece started with scouring the internet, researching the market to see which fleeces were worth ordering for field testing. We looked at over 65 different models from various manufacturers, before carefully selecting and purchasing the top models that we highlight here in this review. These, we came to believe, are the most exceptional in their categories. Testing consisted of both field use during late fall, winter and spring in the Eastern Sierra, Mountains of New England desert southwest.
Related: How We Tested Fleece Jackets
Analysis and Test Results
A fleece jacket needs to offer performance that'll come in handy while you're out and about and relaxing throughout the year. There are many different types and weights, with varying levels of warmth and breathability, and each one aimed at a specific use. To better understand how we scored each one, we evaluated them for performance on six separate metrics; warmth, comfort, breathability, layering ability, water resistance, and weight.
Related: Buying Advice for Fleece Jackets
Purchasing a fleece jacket often involves a series of tradeoffs. If you are looking for something super toasty, it's not going to be the most breathable or packable, and if you want it to have some additional weather resistance to it, it will cost you in weight and coziness. While a bigger price tag doesn't always correlate to better performance, the more expensive models typically use newer materials, that are lighter and/or more breathable while still providing warmth. Some higher-priced models will have a slimmer fit with articulated sleeves for a better range of motion and easier layering.
For those looking for a great price on a quality fleece, the Best Buy award winner, the Outdoor Research Vigor offers the best price of all the fleece jackets and good performance. It's built with comfort in mind and can easily perform in the backcountry. It doesn't score as high as some but has a great bang for the buck. The Mountain Hardwear Type 2 Fun 3/4 Zip Hoody is another mega-deal. It is one of the higher scoring jackets with a price comparable to the Outdoor Research Vigor Jacket. Between the two, we'd opt for the Mountain Hardware Type 2 Jacket because it seems to be more durable and built for high aerobic activities with its longer front zip and more trim fit (if this is what you seek).
Warmth is one of the key things to consider when buying a fleece jacket; the purpose of this layer is to help trap and retain our body heat in chilly conditions. For our test, the warmth rating accounts for 20 percent of the overall score. The warmth is often determined by the thickness of the material (thicker is usually warmer), but many other features can add or detract from it. Cozy hoods, thumb loops, elastic cuffs, drawstring hems, and tighter weaves that help block the wind all add up to additional warmth, warranting a bump in the score. Keep in mind that if you want to use your fleece as part of a layering system, then a jacket can be too warm, so warmth might not be your top priority.
The warmest model that we tested was The North Face Denali 2 Hoodie. This is a heavyweight layer, and its 300 weight fleece did a great job of trapping and retaining our body heat. If you need a warm and toasty outer jacket and prefer fleece to a synthetic or down jacket, then this is the one for you. However, it was also the heaviest and bulkiest model we tested and did not perform well for active use.
The North Face Campshire Hoodie uses a dreamy high lofted 300 weight fleece, keeping our testers comfy and almost as warm as the Denali. While maybe not quite as warm as the Denali, it does feel softer and less boxy. While it's a superb fleece for chilling in, it's too heavy and doesn't layer well enough to earn a spot in our packs on backpacking trips or ski tours.
The Mountain Hardwear Type II Fun Hoody and the Patagonia R1 Hoody are very lightweight and breathable, but not the highest insulators. This style works best for active backcountry use, where ventilation is crucial.
The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody and the lighter weight Konseal have a unique hood with a built-in neck gaiter that helped keep us warm up top, but the loose bottom hem with no cinch cord let cold winds rip right up the jacket. Elastic cuffs also help trap in the warmth. Finally, handwarmer pockets are another addition that helps keep you warm when your hands start to freeze over. Pockets will help keep your hands warm at a moment's notice. The Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T was the only thick fleece in the group that didn't have handwarmer pockets, but a few of the lightweight options leave the pockets off for lighter weight and better layering capabilities.
Fleece is, by nature, a plushy material, and it typically makes for very comfortable jackets. While all of the different models that we tested were made with materials that were quite comfortable, some stood out from the rest. The soft and warm The North Face Campshire Hoodie was our favorite fleece in terms of comfort with its high pile, fur-like fleece. The North Face Denali, however warm, is made with a "scratchier" and harsher fabric that is noticeably less cozy. However, comfort is not only differentiated by texture, but also by the fit.
Regarding fit, the Mountain Hardwear Type 2 was a little shorter in the torso than other light-weight half-zip style layers. A shorter hem can be problematic because shorter jackets tend to ride up over a climbing harness or a waist belt on a backpack. The Patagonia R1 Hoody has a longer hem and uses a snug lightweight fleece to keep it from riding up while reducing bulk in areas where layers overlap. The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody scored well in the comfort metric but lost a point for being a little tight across the shoulders. The Outdoor Research Vigor was slightly boxy and, with thicker fleece on the shoulders and arms, was not as comfortable as an R1 Hoody under a trim rain shell. We also really like the Arc'teryx Konseal; the fleece was soft, and the basic and slim-fit design suited us well.
Figuring out the right fleece for your body type is the key to comfort. A well-fitting jacket will provide full coverage when you lift your arms above your head. The sleeves should stay in place, but we appreciated some stretch in the cuffs that allowed us to pull the sleeves up.
Whether you are using your fleece jacket as an outer layer or a mid-layer, its ability to breathe or vent your perspiration to the outside is an important aspect to consider. Rigorous activity produces heat within the body, which then sweats to cool itself, but that sweat has to go somewhere, or else you end up a soaking mess. In general, fleece material is superior to other options, like cotton, in that the material is hydrophobic and won't absorb your sweat. But the thickness of the fleece and the tightness of the weave will affect how much air and moisture can move in and out of it. It's also worth mentioning that sweating in a fleece just feels downright gross against your skin, especially as it starts to cool.
The most breathable model that we tested was the Patagonia R1 Hoody. The Patagonia R-Series uses Polartec's Power Grid fabric, which is made of hundreds of cubes of fleece separated by thin air channels. The cubes keep you warm, while the channels offer a virtually non-existent barrier for your moisture to vent through.
This technology is used in both their R1 and R1 Techface models from Patagonia, as well as the Mountain Hardwear Type II Fun, the Arc'teryx Konseal, and portions of the Outdoor Research Vigor Half Zip. These are light enough layers to wear for just about any aerobic activity in cold weather, from running and hiking to climbing and ski touring.
The grid-style pullover fleece jackets are great even on mild days, and their breathability was so effective that we never felt uncomfortable or sweaty. When it warmed up, we took advantage of the long zippers, some of which came down past our belly buttons! The new Patagonia R1 Techface Hoody is thinner and even more breathable than the original R1, but it doesn't make for a cozy mid-layer like its sibling the standard ol trusty R1.
The "hard-faced" Fortrez Hoody and the Techface R1 are breathable, but a heavier weight than the R1 and not as suited to aerobic activities. While these jackets are made of a tighter, more weather-resistant weave, they are so thin that they still vent fairly well.
In addition to the weave and thickness of the material, some other features can help a jacket breathe better. As already mentioned, some fleeces like the Mountain Hardwear Type II Fun Hoody, even though it is a pullover, it sports a super long zipper that comes down past the belly button, which can help vent excess heat. Some jackets have pockets lined with a thin mesh, as opposed to fleece, which can be unzipped for added airflow.
A fleece is an essential part of a layering system, usually residing between a light base layer and a less breathable insulated jacket or down puffy.
We tested each model with a variety of other jackets and base layers and rated them on how easily they layered and their level of comfort. Thinner models, like the Patagonia R1 Hoody, the Mountain Hardwear Type II Fun, and the Arc'teryx Konseal, layered easily under everything we tried them with. The thumb holes were also a bonus, as we didn't have to worry about the sleeves riding up when pulling on another layer.
The models that didn't fare so well were the heavier and bulkier ones, like the Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla Snap T, The North Face Campshire Hoodie, and The North Face Denali 2. They all have a boxier cut, long arms that bunch around the cuffs, and are made with a thicker material. While we had no trouble putting them on over another light fleece layer, they were not very comfortable to wear under another jacket like a shell or winter puffy jacket. The Patagonia R1 Techface Hoody is cut larger than the normal R1 Hoody and works best as a weather-resistant outer layer.
Weather resistance only counts for 10% of our scoring. Fleece isn't traditionally known for its water-resistant properties; we don't expect a fleece jacket to keep you dry, but some fleece is certainly more weather resistant than others.
Weather resistance is vital if you're looking for a fleece you can use as an outer layer, or you don't want to carry other layers around town with you. Often, the more weather-resistant a fleece jacket is, the less it breathes. The thicker and heavier models, like The North Face Denali 2, were better at blocking the wind than others, and the "Hardface Technology" on the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody also helped block the wind. Our Top Pick For Weather Resistance is the Patagonia R1 Techface Hoody. This thin fleece is wind resistant, has an effective water-resistant DWR treatment, and even a brimmed hood like you would find on a rain jacket. Keep in mind that DWR treatments don't work as well when your jacket gets dirty, and even the Techface will "wet-out" in heavy rain. Pair a breathable fleece like the Patagonia R1 Hoody with a dedicated wind or rain shell, and you have the ultimate alpine setup.
As far as protection from precip goes, The North Face Denali 2 is one of the more water-resistant fleeces in our roundup. Not only is this fleece thick, it has a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment, causing light rain to bead off this fleece, like water off a duck's back. However, in a massive rainstorm, even the Denali 2 will eventually soak through and become a heavy mess. The Arc'teryx Fortrez was another jacket that could shed light rain. When water hits the jacket, it beads up and runs off, making it easy to shake the water off of it when you get back inside. Though not as thick as the Denali, this fleece could resist light rain for more than a few minutes. Again, like with the Denali 2, a heavy rain will penetrate the exterior knit immediately; it's a fleece after all. The breathable Patagonia R1 soaked up rain like a sponge, so you'll want to keep a waterproof layer handy when cruising around in the mountains with this jacket.
Weight is something to consider if you are hiking long distances, or heading for a "fast and light" mission in the alpine. While a few ounces here or there might not seem like much, when you shave ounces off of all of your gear, those weight savings start to add up. The breathable R1 Hoody is the lightest fleece we tested, weighing in at a featherweight 11.1 ounces.
On the heavier side, TNF Denali 2 weighs 27.1 ounces, twice as much as the lighter models, making it too heavy and bulky to throw in your pack when heading for a long hike; ditto for the supremely comfortable TNF Campshire Hoodie. If you just need a layer for car camping, though, and weight is not an issue, you'll appreciate having a warm layer like the Denali 2, Campshire, or the Lightweight Synchilla Snap T when hanging around the campfire at night.
The variety and number of jackets on the market can make your head spin, and without the actual jacket in hand, deciding on something by looking online can seem overwhelming. In general, we buy these jackets for their primary function - warmth. However, as technology grows, and designs improve, the added features modeled into a fleece can be what seal the deal. Like almost all gear, it depends on how and where you're planning to use it.
— Adam Paashaus & Matt Bento