Looking for the perfect fleece jacket to keep you warm this fall? We've sifted through over 65 different fleece and selected the top 16 for a detailed and thorough side-by-side comparison. From mountain tops to mountain film festivals, our testers have put each fleece through the wringer, running, climbing, hiking, and hanging out all over the Sierra. We tested fleece that were so warm and comfy that it was hard to get out of our camp chairs, while other models excelled at breathability, keeping us dry and comfortable on the move. If you're looking for a great jacket for your alpine layering system or you just need stay warm while watching the game, read on to find the right fleece.
The Best Fleece Jackets of 2018
Leaves are falling, and winter is on its way! To help you stay cozy, we've added three new fleece to our line up. Lightweight and great for layering, the Arc'teryx Adahy takes the edge off the cold and is super stretchy for climbing and hiking. The Mountain Hardwear Hatcher Hoody offers a unique blend of wool and polyester fleece, making it one of the most weather resistant fleece options out there, while the Marmot Preon is an excellent winner of our Best Buy Award. Finally, The North Face Campshire Hoodie won the hearts of our testers, becoming our favorite fleece for hanging out around camp and staying toasty, earning it our Top Pick for Comfort.
Patagonia R1 Hoody
The classic Patagonia R1 Hoody has been part of the uniform for mountain guides, search and rescue personnel and outdoor enthusiast season after season. Why? Because it has everything we need from a mid layer and nothing we don't. One chest pocket, a balaclava style ninja hood, and thumb loops make this jacket all function and no fluff. The Polartec Power Grid fleece consists of hundreds of tiny gridded squares that keep you warm while the channels in between vent hot air and moisture. Unzip the 2/3rds length zipper when you're moving, zip up the balaclava and stay toasty when you're not, it's that easy.
Sometimes we feel strange including the R1 in our fleece "jacket" review, as it's more of a hybrid between what you'd typically think of a jacket and a base layer. It's not the warmest option and doesn't do much to block the wind or a light drizzle. But it has great layering ability, and all of our testers have at least one R1 at the ready for their next excursion. So should you! For other versions of this favorite layer, check out the R1 Pullover - Men's and R1 Full Zip - Men's. Love the R1 but looking for more weather protection? The R1 Techface Hoody has a hardface to block wind and a very effective DWR treatment to keep the rain off until you can dive back into the tent.
Read review: Patagonia R1 Hoody
Best Bang for the Buck
Marmot Preon Hoody
The Marmot Preon has a similar look and feel to our Editors' Choice Award winner; while it can't match the performance of the venerable R1, it's less expensive and has a few distinguishing features that may cause you to prefer it over the R1. Unlike the R1 hoody, the Preon has a full-length zipper and two zippered hand warmer pockets. The hood offers an exceptional fit, and it's not balaclava-style, so it doesn't cover your mouth when fully zipped.
This jacket doesn't breathe as well as our Editors' Choice or have as good of a warmth-to-weight ratio as lighter contenders like the Outdoor Research Deviator. However, for the money, this is an excellent choice for climbers, skiers, hikers, or anyone on a budget who needs a dedicated mid layer. Made from a whopping 94% recycled polyester, the Preon will have you feeling good inside and out.
Read review: Marmot Preon Hoody
Top Pick For Breathability
Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody
The Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody slides into the fleece category but is essentially an insulated vest with thin Polartec power grid fleece on the back, sides, and arms. The combination works wonderfully, keeping our core warm with Polartec Alpha Insulation while letting our back and armpits blasts all the heat away. This can feel a little on the chilly side if you're not moving, but while skinning or hiking up a steep hill with a backpack on, our testers were pleased with their not-too-hot not-too-cold temperatures. This jacket is comfortable enough to sleep in, and we feel it could be the ultimate backcountry mid layer.
As far as pure warmth goes, you'll need to have a warmer jacket on deck to put over the Deviator. It's sized tight for thermal efficiency and for layering, so you don't want to wear anything thicker than a t-shirt or light base layer underneath. This jacket wasn't a tester favorite for around town due to its sleek techy look.
Read review: Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody
Top Pick Weather Resistance
Patagonia R1 TechFace Hoody
The Patagonia R1 Techface Hoody is a very different jacket than our editor's choice award winner. While not as warm as the original R1, the Techface is more breathable and more weather resistant. 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, do not apply, but a for a lightly insulated wind layer for climbing on breezy 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 black 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 still wearing your fleece as an outer layer. Made with Polartec Power Stretch with Hardface Technology, it does a great job of shedding light drizzle while also cutting down on the wind. This is particularly noticeable compared to the gridded fleeces like the R1 that let the wind rip right through you. The coolest feature is its balaclava though; it's attached to the hood and can be worn across your face, as a neckwarmer, or tucked behind your head if you don't care for it at certain times.
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? The Fortrez Hoody will keep you warm and dry!
Read review: Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
Top pick 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 huge 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 hand warmer 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 lightweight options like the R1 ore the Outdoor Research Deviator 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 cold.
Read review: The North Face Campshire Hoodie
Analysis and Test Results
Staying warm and comfortable is the name of the game when it comes to shopping for a fleece jacket. But, you'll also want to consider how breathable the layer is and if it offers any wind or water protection, depending on the environment you plan to use it in. And if you're planning a "fast and light" mission or a long thru-hike, then the weight is also an important factor. So, before you make a random purchase based on whatever color or design catches your eye, you should first carefully consider why you are buying a fleece jacket, what activities you'll most likely use it for, and what type of weather conditions you'll be using it in. If this seems like a lot of thought to put into a simple layer, you should know that many of today's options are technical masterpieces and cost up to $200 — not the kind of money we want to shell out lightly or without significant thought.
There are many different outdoor activities where a fleece jacket comes in handy: hiking, climbing, skiing, snowshoeing and running, not to mention just lounging around the house or camp, or running errands around town. But the fleece jacket you wear on a winter run is not the same layer that's going to keep you warm around the campfire. We've broken the different categories down below to help you better understand what different types are out there and what their best uses are. We rated each fleece on its warmth, comfort, breathability, layering ability, weather resistance, weight, and style, all of which we discuss in detail in the remainder of this article and in each individual review.
Purchasing a fleece jacket often involves a series of tradeoffs: if you want something super warm, it probably won't be that breathable, and if you want some additional weather resistance to it, like a hard facing material on the shoulders, that'll make it heavier. While a bigger price tag doesn't always correlate to better performance, the more expensive models typically have newer materials in them that are lighter and more breathable while still providing warmth. Often (but not always) pricier models have a slimmer fit, articulated for better range of motion and easier layering.
Our Editors' Choice winner, Patagonia R1, is actually one of the less expensive options at $159, while also managing to be the best performing. Little has changed about the R1 over the last couple of years, but it continues to be a tester favorite, not because of new technologies, but because of solid, thoughtful design. The length of the hem, the snugness of the hood, even the position of the thumb loops, are all little details that seem to work for the most people. If you look down the graph but still towards the right, you'll find the Marmot Preon, our Best Buy winner. It had a good overall score and is nearly half the price of the jackets from Arc'teryx and Patagonia.
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 on cold days, and the warmth rating that we've given each model counts as 25 percent of their overall score. The warmth is mainly determined by the thickness of the material (thicker is usually warmer), but many other features can add or detract from it. Elastic cuffs, drawstring hems and tighter weaves that help block the wind all add up to additional warmth points. 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 may not be your top priority.
The warmest model that we tested was The North Face Denali 2. This is a heavyweight layer, and its 333 g/m² material did a great job of trapping and retaining our body heat. The model that we tested did not have a hood, but in the Denali's case did not make much of a difference. 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 during periods of active use.
The North Face Campshire Hoodie uses a high lofted fleece, keeping out testers comfy and almost as warm as theDenali, but feels softer and less boxy. While it is an excellent fleece for hanging out in, it's too heavy and doesn't layer well enough to earn a spot on our packs during backing packing trips or ski tours. The Mountain Hardwear Hatcher Hoody is another heavyweight option, employing a polyester and wool blend to build a warmer, more weather resistant fleece. At 22 oz, it's more jacket than we want to carry around the backcountry, but a nice option for shorter day hikes or staying warm in town.
The Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody, the Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody, and the Arc'teryx Adahy are all very lightweight and breathable, but not our favorite insulators. The super light Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody refuses to be categorized, combining a Polartec Alpha Insulated chest and shoulder with a fleece back and arms. The result is a super light "fleece" that can keep your core warm while still being very breathable.
In addition to hoods, a snug hem can make a difference for warmth. The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody had 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, like those on the The North Face FuseForm Progressor Hoodie, also help trap in the warmth. Finally, hand warmer 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, and every model that we tested except the Patagonia R1 Hoody and the Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody had them. The Marmot Preon is similar to the R1 and features two zippered handwarmer pockets. The Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody has cozy hand warmer pockets without zippers. The lack of zippers keeps the jacket light and comfy, but make sure you store anything significant in the zippered chest pocket.
Fleece is by nature a soft 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 North Face Campshire Hoodie was our favorite fleece in terms of comfort. The soft textured micro-fleece lining on the Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody also had a cozy and soft texture, particularly compared to The North Face Denali which is made with a scratchier and harsher fabric that was quite noticeable and much less cozy. However, comfort is not only differentiated by texture, but also by the fit.
Figuring out the right fleece for your body type is the key to comfort, and we've described the fit of each fleece in the comfort section of each individual reviews. A well fitting jacket will still provide full coverage when you lift your arms above your head. The sleeves should stay in place, but we appreciated some stretch that allowed us to pull the sleeves up.
Regarding fit, The Arc'teryx Covert Hoody was a little short for the torsos of most of our testers. A shortcut is problematic because shorter jackets tend to ride up over a climbing harness or a waist belt on a backpack. ThePatagonia R1 Hoody has an ideal cut, with long enough lengths in the arms and torso. The Marmot Preon and the Patagonia Performance Better Sweater scored high in this metric. Why? The Preon because it is soft and tailored, but not constricting fit, and the Better Sweater because of its stretchy side panels that allow for increased ease of movement and breathability. 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 Transition Hoody has a great fit, stretchy enough for comfort, but still form fitting for layering. We also really like the Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody — the fleece was soft, and the basic and slim-fit design suited us well. The Arc'teryx Adahy, one of the lightest fleece we reviewed, is also the stretchiest, making it an excellent fit for many shapes.
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.
The most breathable models that we tested were the Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody and the Outdoor Research Transition Hoody. The Coefficient Hoody combines an ultra-thin fleece with a Polartec insulated torso, This makes the extremely breathable, while still locking in a little warmth around the core. The Patagonia R-Series use Polartec's Power Grid fabric, which is made of hundreds of cubes of fleece separated by thin 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. The R1 is a light enough layer to wear for just about any aerobic activity in cold weather, from running and hiking to climbing and ski touring. Climbers are notorious for climbing without a shirt even in the most frigid conditions, as many can't stand to feel the slightest bit hot or sweaty when trying to "send." Hikers may also experience similar situations when on the trail for longer days. But we kept the R1 on even on mild days, and its breathability was so effective that we never felt uncomfortable or sweaty. While the Coefficient Hoody and Arc'teryx Adahy are slightly more breathable due to being so thin, the R1 is a warmer, more comfortable fleece. 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 our old favorite.
The Marmot Preon is also breathable, but a heavier weight than the R1 and not as suited to aerobic activities. We also found the Marmot Reactor was breathable, mostly due to the thin nature of the material (100 g/m²) as opposed to any fancy construction. The same goes for the "hard-faced" Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody. While that jacket is made of a tighter, more weather resistant weave, it is so thin that it still vented well.
In addition to the weave and thickness of the material, some other features can help a jacket breathe better. The stylish Patagonia Performance Better Sweater Hoody has thin panels on the sides and under the arms to mitigate to the tight fleece weave on the rest of the jacket. Other 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. You can learn more about layering systems with our Introduction to Layered Clothing Systems article.
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 Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody and the Outdoor Research Transition Hoody, 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 putting on another layer.
However, you can't wear more than a thin baselayer underneath these slim fitting jackets. The Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody, Arc'teryx Adahy and the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody were all easy to layer as well.
The models that didn't fare so well were the heavier and bulkier ones, like the Patagonia Synchilla Snap T, The North Face Campshire Hoodie, and The North Face Denali 2. They 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 other fleece, they were not so comfortable to wear under another jacket like a shell or winter puffy jacket. The Patagonia R1 Techface Hoody is sized much bigger than the insulating R1 Hoody because it works best as a weather resistant terminal layer.
Weather resistance only counts for 10% of our scoring. Fleece isn't traditionally known for its water-resistant properties, and we don't expect a fleece jacket to keep you dry, but some fleece are 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 layer, and you have the ultimate alpine setup. You can check out our Wind Breaker Jacket Review for more information on that type of layer.
As far as protection from precip goes, The North Face Denali 2 is by far the most water resistant fleece in the lineup. Not only 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. The Arc'teryx Procline takes light Polartec fleece and binds to a thin Toyano shell fabric on the chest, arms, and shoulders, making it more weather resistant at the cost of breathability. The Arc'teryx Fortrez also offers a little defense regarding weather resistance. Though not as thick as the Denali, this fleece could resist light rain for more than a few minutes. The Mountain Hardwear Hatcher Hoody uses a quick-drying wool/fleece blend to boost weather resistance. The breathable Patagonia R1 and the Marmot Preonsoaked up rain like a sponge, so you'll want to keep a waterproof layer handy when cruising around in the mountains with these jackets. You can find a great option over in our Rain Jacket Review.
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 Outdoor Research Transition Hoody is one of the lightest fleece we tested, weighing in at a featherweight 9.5oz. The Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody, the Patagonia R1 Hoody, the Arc'teryx Adahy and the Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody are lightest models that we tested, all weighing under 13 ounces.
On the heavier side, TNF Denali 2 weighs almost 25 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 Campshire Hoodie. If you just need a layer for car camping though, then weight is not an issue, and you'll appreciate having a warm layer like the Denali 2 or the Patagonia Synchilla Snap Twhen hanging around the campfire at night.
As much as we obsess over the performance details of our gear, we still know it's important to look good! We did our best to balance our general impressions of each fleece with feedback from our brutally honest friends and family to assess each jacket for style points. What works the best in the mountains doesn't always look the best for a night on the town. Our top scorers in style are the Patagonia Better Sweater and The North Face FuseForm Progressor Hoodie. The Better Sweater combines a sleek fleece knit weave for style with breathable side panels, so you're not totally out of luck on a strenuous hike. The Patagonia Crosstrek Hoody by maintaining some urban styling while being more breathable than the Better Sweater. The Patagonia Synchilla Snap T is available in many patterns and colors with new styles coming out seemingly every season. The retro look of the North Face Camphire Hoodie, with its elbow patches and kangaroo pouch, is also a tester favorite in terms of style.
The FuseForm Progressor Hoodie has a great fit and all the features you want in a technical fleece like a hood and a chest pocket but has a low-key, casual look. The North Face Denali also scored well in the style metric. Though not a favorite of our testers, its classic look is loved by many, and these jackets continue to sell like hotcakes year after year. The Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man Grid II and the Columbia Steens received fewer style points because of their bulky cuts. The Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody lost points due to its super extended cut, which works great when tucked under a harness, but we thought it looks awkward over a casual pair of jeans. The Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody was also dubbed a date night no-no due to its techy look and its scuba-like hood. Remember, style is subjective, and if a jacket fits you better than it did our testers, feel free to throw our fashion advice out the window.
The plethora of jackets in the "fleece" category out there can make can make your head spin, and without the actual jacket in hand, making a decision while shopping 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 in most fleeces today can be what seal the deal. Like almost all gear, it depends on how and where you're planning on using it. We hope our review of these products will positively assist you in your search for your new fleece. If you need further help, be sure to check out the tips we provide in our Buying Advice article.
— Matt Bento