Patagonia R1 Hoody
: 10.8 oz | Type
Slim fit for easy layering
Thin, stretchy underarm panels increase breathability
Extra long hem fits well under waist belt strap or a climbing harness
Very little weather resistance
Too techy for around town
The Patagonia R1 Hoody has been a staple for serious outdoor enthusiasts, search and rescue personnel, and guides for many years. It pulls together the most important parts of any midlayer. With a ninja hood, chest pockets, and comfortable thumb loops, this jacket is all about function. It looks good too. Breathability is key. Home to hundreds of fleece squares with breathable venting channels throughout, 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.
The most recent iteration of the R1 has a few changes that will delight the fast and light folks out there and possibly disappoint the more casual user. The hem is now longer, tighter, and stretchier, which keeps it from riding up under a hip belt or climbing harness. Though super functional and easier to layer under a ski bib, it isn't our first choice over a pair of jeans. You may even want to consider sizing up from the old R1. A few testers who liked to wear their old R1 24/7 and 365 feel the newest R1 is too tight and restrictive, preferring the Arc'teryx Konseal for its more relaxed fit. Another, less divisive improvement, are the stretchy underarm panels that increase this fleece's breathability, keeping the R1 on the top of the heap when it comes to active insulation.
Read review: Patagonia R1 Hoody
Best Bang for the Buck
Outdoor Research Vigor Half-Zip Hoody
13.3 ounces | Main Fabric:
93% polyester, 7% spandex
Warmth to weight ratio
Bulky to layer with
The Outdoor Research Vigor Half-Zip is a lightweight fleece that gets the job done without breaking the bank. This thing is 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 is both a warmer standard fleece and a 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 really chilly, pull the hood on and put your thumbs back into the thumb loops to layer on up.
Certain aspects of this fleece fall short. We were disappointed that the fleece started to pill almost 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 such a prominent fixture in the outdoor industry. 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 Patagonia 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 Patagonia 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
: 13.8 oz | Type
More durable than the Original R1
Water-repelling DWR coating
Generous stretch for mobility
Fits over more insulating layers
Not as good an insulator as the original R1
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 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
: 16.7 oz | Type
Cool hood design w/integrated balaclava
Wind and water-resistant
Not as warm as higher-lofted models
Less breathable than models with gridded fleece
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
Best for Comfort
The North Face Campshire Hoodie
: 22 oz | Type
Like wearing a blanket
Warm, thick hood
Long fleece fibers collect dirt and sticks
Too heavy for backcountry trips
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 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 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
Field testing in Vermont's Green Mountains.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is crafted by OutdoorGearLab Review Editor Adam Paashaus and Matt Bento. Adam has been an active member of the outdoor community for years. His passion for helping others find the right gear for their adventures started back in 2001 when he started working in the retail side of the industry. Later Adam worked for a national outdoor school as their lead climbing instructor, where he found a passion for the hands-on instruction. Now Adam travels full time in a retired converted school bus (skoolie) with his wife and two daughters (ages 6 and 9), and most recently finished a 5-week end-to-end thru-hike of the incredibly arduous Vermont Long Trail, and yes with the kids in-tow.
Searching for the best fleece started with ample time researching the market to see which products were worth ordering for field testing. We looked at over 65 different models from various manufacturers, before carefully selecting and purchasing the top 12 that we highlight here in this review. These, we came to understand, are the most exceptional in their categories. Testing consisted of both field use during late fall and winter in the Eastern Sierra and Mountains of New England and controlled lab tests. Seven pre-determined performance areas that we consider essential in a fleece jacket's function guided our tests. The test method chosen was that which best served the performance characteristic of interest. For example, the warmth was primarily tested in real conditions outside, while water resistance was evaluated with a spray bottle used on the fleeces side-by-side.
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 options, with different levels of warmth and breathability, suited best for specific situations. To better understand how we evaluated each jacket, we evaluated each using seven metrics; warmth, comfort, breathability, layering ability, water resistance, weight, and style.
Related: Buying Advice for Fleece Jackets
With so many contenders, the competition is fierce! Read on to find out which jacket came out on top.
Purchasing a fleece jacket often involves a series of tradeoffs: if you want something super warm, it's not going to be the most breathable, and if you want it to have some additional weather resistance to it, it will cost you in weight. While a bigger price tag doesn't always correlate to better performance, the more expensive models typically have newer materials in them that are either lighter and/or more breathable while still providing warmth. Pricier models will often have a slimmer fit with articulated sleeves for a better range of motion and easier layering.
If finding a great price for a quality fleece is a great triumph, you should pay extra attention to our Best Buy award winner. The Outdoor Research Vigor offers the best price of all the fleece jackets. It's built with comfort in mind and can easily perform in the backcountry. It doesn't score as high as the rest but is by far one of the best deals out there. The Mountain Hardwear Type 2 Fun 3/4 Zip Hoody is another mega deal. It is one of the second-highest scorers with a price comparable (but a touch more expensive) 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. However, if you want the best deal out there, the Outdoor Research Vigor is one to seriously consider.
When shopping online, be sure to look at past season colors and models for incredible deals. The best deals typically happen in the shoulder seasons, right before the weather is about to turn.
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. For our test, the warmth rating accounts for 25 percent of their 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 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 Campshire is perfect for hanging around the campsite relaxing or doing a few (but not too many) chores.
The North Face Campshire Hoodie uses a high lofted fleece, keeping our testers comfy and almost as warm as the Denali, 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 in our packs on backpacking trips or ski tours.
With supreme breathability, the Type 2 Fun is a great choice for active backcountry sessions.
The Mountain Hardwear Type II Fun Hoody and the Arc'teryx Adahy are very lightweight and breathable, but not our favorite insulators. The super-light Adahy refuses to be categorized. With fabric so light, it hardly qualifies as fleece, but the result is a super light "fleece" that can keep you warm while you are active in the backcountry.
The face mask built into the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody can be used as a neck gaiter or tucked away behind your head.
In addition to hoods, a snug hem can make a difference for warmth. The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody and the lighter weight Konseal 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 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.
Handwarmer pockets tend to get in the way under harnesses or waist belts.
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 The 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.
The Konseal has a longer hem than the Type 2 Fun. Great for assuring it doesn't ride up over a harness, keeping you from grabbing that cam for a desperate placement.
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. Some of our testers like that, but some found it constricting compared to older models. 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 shell. We also really like the Arc'teryx Konseal; 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.
Figuring out the right fleece for your body type is the key to comfort. 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.
The wind/water resistant Fortrez is great for windy days but lacks great breathability. With fleece, its a game of give and take.
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.
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 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. 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 this style fleece was great even on mild days, and its breathability was so effective that we never felt uncomfortable or sweaty. When it warmed up, we took advantage of the long zipper, which some came down past our belly buttons. While the Adahy 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 "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 well.
The grid fleece on the OR Vigor was the most breathable, but the regular fleece incorporated keeps the warm air in where you need it most.
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.
Nothing layers as well as the R1, period.
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.
Related: Introduction to Layered Clothing Systems
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 putting on another layer.
Layering up with the Base 4.0 from Under Armour. The mid-layer pictured here is the Patagonia R1 Hoody, which won the Top Pick in our review of fleece jackets.
However, you can't wear more than a thin base layer underneath these slim-fitting jackets. The Arc'teryx Adahy and the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody were all easy to layer as well.
The Lightweight Synchill is not a great layering piece and fairs better as a stand-alone garment.
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 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 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.
This jacket was one of the most weather resistant in our fleet. Light precip beaded up and rolled off the "hardface" exterior of this fleece.
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 by far the most water-resistant fleece in the lineup. 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 sloppy 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, 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.
Related: The Best Rain Jackets of 2020
Nylon patches over the chest, shoulders, and elbows of The North Face Denali make it even more durable and weather resistant.
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 10.8 ounces. The Arc'teryx Adahy and the Arcteryx Konseal are also respectably lightweight models.
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 need a layer for car camping, though, and weight is not an issue, you'll appreciate having a warm layer like the Denali 2 or the Lightweight Synchilla Snap T when hanging around the campfire at night.
Style is totally subjective. Would you show up to a tinder date looking like this?
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 have a look that is best for spending time at the coffee shop or on a date. Our top scorers in style are the Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T and The North Face Campshire Hoody. The Patagonia Synchilla Snap-T combines a basic clean style with warm fleece and a slouchier fit, making it great as a stand-alone winter weather "sweater". It is available in many patterns and colors, with new styles coming out every season. The Patagonia Crosstrek Hoody also gets decent style points by maintaining some urban styling while being more breathable than the Denali 2.
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 R1's tight hem (though very functional for layering) lost it some style points because it looks weird over a pair of jeans. 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.
There is a fleece for every occasion. Hopefully, you have a better idea of what it is you need for your next adventure.
The plethora of jackets on the "fleece" market can make your head spin, and without the actual jacket in hand, deciding 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.