Out on the hunt for a new fleece jacket for this summer? After researching over 65 different models, we selected 14 of the top fleece for a rigorous side-by-side comparison. We wore these fleece on backcountry ski missions, multi-pitch climbing adventures, on dates and out to concerts and film fests. Some fleece where so comfortable we even wore them to sleep. We tested a variety of weights and styles to find out which ones are right for layering and which make a weather resistant outer layer. If you need something to throw in your pack for your hike up Mt. Whitney or are just looking to stay warm at night this spring and summer, keep reading below to see which were our overall favorites for a variety of uses.
The Best Fleece Jackets of 2018
Springtime calls for varying conditions from scorching heat to dumping snow, so it's time to layer-up with a fleece jacket. We've brought 8 new contenders to the table: the Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody, the Patagonia R1 Techface Hoody, the Kuhl Interceptr, the Patagonia Synchilla Snap T, Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody, and the Arc'teryx Procline. Some new Top Picks and a great new Best Buy Award winner emerged from the newcomers, but once again, the classic Patagonia R1 Hoody remains our favorite fleece of all time.
Patagonia R1 Hoody
The classic Patagonia R1 Hoody has been part of the uniform for mountain guides, search and rescue personnel and outdoor enthusiasts 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 excellent 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.
Read review: Patagonia R1 Hoody
Best Bang for your buck
REI Co-op Flowcore
REI continues to step up the game with its own brand, and the REI Co-op Flowcore is no exception. We were blown away by the warmth-to-weight ratio, the features, and the comfort of this jacket, especially considering it's only $100. This jacket's furry, lofty texture reminds us of the classic (but discontinued) Patagonia R3 Hoody but at a much lower cost. This no-frills piece fits perfectly for layering under a shell or an insulated jacket, making it a favorite layer at the ski resort.
This fleece isn't as breathable as many other contenders, and it offers almost no resistance to wind an light precip, but if you're looking for a cozy mid-layer at a great price, look no further.
Read review: REI Co-op Flowcore
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 blast 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 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 Editors' Choice award winner. While not as warm as the original R1, the Techface is more breathable and more weather resistant; in fact, 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 a light mist 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 "hard face" 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
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 each 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. If you can dish out a ton of cash on your next purchase but want something better than the simple fleece pile models of old, check out our Value chart below. We've placed the overall scores of each one against their price to help you visualize which are a good deal, and which are a little overpriced.
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. We include this chart in all of our reviews to help you make the best choice for your budget.
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 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. We should add though that sometimes a model can be too warm, particularly if you are using your fleece jacket as an active layer. What we are mostly looking for is something that keeps us warm while hiking, climbing, or ski touring, without being too stifling.
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 Patagonia R1 Hoody is made of a thinner material than the Denali, but the addition of a hood left us feeling almost as warm and indeed more protected from the elements on windy days. The Patagonia R1 Hoody also sports a hood, and while it is made of a much thinner fleece, that feature helped bump it up in the warmth ratings.
The Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody and Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody are all very lightweight and breathable but are not our favorite insulators. The super light Deviator Hoody refuses to be categorized, combining a Polartec Alpha Insulated chest and shoulder with a fleece back and arms. The result is a superlight "fleece" that can keep your core warmer 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 Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody, 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. Either way, 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, and the Synchilla Snap-T had them. 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 textured micro-fleece lining on the Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody also had a cozy and soft texture, particularly compared to The North Face models which are 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.
Finding the right model for your body type is part of the solution, but where the manufacturers choose to place seams, cuffs and zippers also plays a role. Ease of movement is another important factor when considering comfort. When you put on a fleece, how does it feel when you twist, turn, or reach above your head. Do you feel restricted? Does the jacket ride up when you lift your arms above your head and expose your vulnerable flesh to the cold? Ease of movement mostly dictated by the fit or cut of the jacket. Some folks will want a jacket to fit loose like the Patagonia Synchilla Snap T, while others will prefer a tighter fit like the Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody for layering.
When it came to fit, the Arc'teryx Kyanite 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 Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man Grid II, and the Patagonia Performance Better Sweater scored high in this metric. Why? 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. We like the Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody — the fleece was soft, and the basic and slim-fit design suited us well.
Whether you are using your fleece jacket as an outer layer or a mid-layer, its ability to breathe or vent your sweat 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. As we tested a variety of weights and types of jackets, it was no surprise that some were more breathable than others and better suited to aerobic activities, while others worked better for more sedentary pursuits.
The most breathable model that we tested was the Outdoor Research Deviator 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 is 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 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.
As your fleece jacket typically is worn both over and under other clothing, its ability to pair well with other layers is another crucial consideration. You don't want it so tight that your under layers are bunching up, but you want it slim fitting enough so you can slide a wind, rain, or puffy layer on top of it. 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 and the Outdoor Research Deviator 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 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, 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.
Fleece jackets have never been known for amazing wind protection or water resistance. When we shop for a fleece, we're more concerned with how warm a fleece feels and how well it breathes. Therefore, weather resistance only accounts for 10 percent of how these jackets were scored. The chart shown here details which jackets came out on top in the Weather Resistance metric.
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.
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, it was the only other fleece that could resist light rain for more than a few minutes. 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 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 Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody, the Patagonia R1 Hoody, and the Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody were the three lightest models that we tested, at just 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. If you need a layer for car camping though, then the 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 Patagonia R1 Techface Hoody 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 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 on the market today can make one dizzy for sure. 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 in your search, be sure to check out the tips we provide in our Buying Advice article.
— Matt Bento
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.