Out on the hunt for a new fleece jacket for the cold winter months ahead? After researching over 65 different models, we purchased 12 of the top fleece jackets available for a rigorous side-by-side comparison. We wore these fleece jackets on backcountry ski missions, multi-pitch climbing adventures, on dates, and out to concerts and film fests. Some were even so comfortable we 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 good weather-resistant outer layer. If you're heading to 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 2019
|Price||$159.00 at REI|
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|$119.00 at Amazon|
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|$169.00 at Backcountry|
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|$158.73 at REI|
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|$109.99 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Perfect fit for most active uses, ideal weight for many conditions, great hood design||Lightweight, long zipper, chest pocket, thumb loops||Breathable, awesome balaclava feature, great fit||Great hood design, handwarmer pockets, water resistant||Stretchy, lightweight, comfortable|
|Cons||Not as stylish as some other fleeces for around town, not as warm for its weight as some high-loft models||Less breathable||Expensive||Not as warm as other jackets, not as breathable as jackets with gridded fleece||Not incredibly warm|
|Bottom Line||A perfect layering piece that regulates body temperature so well you'll leave it on from summit to sleeping bag and everywhere in between.||An incredible layer that strikes a perfect balance between warmth and breathability for active pursuits.||Arc'teryx's take on the half zip has some solid advantages over the R1.||A sleek fleece that layers well and has a unique and useful balaclava feature.||This fleece is as light as some base layers, but still takes the edge off on cool days.|
|Rating Categories||Patagonia R1 Hoody||Type 2 Fun 3/4 Zip Hoody||Arc'teryx Konseal Hoody||Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody||Arc'teryx Adahy Hoody|
|Layering Ability (15%)|
|Weather Resistance (10%)|
|Specs||Patagonia R1 Hoody||Type 2 Fun 3/4 Zip...||Arc'teryx Konseal...||Arc'teryx Fortrez...||Arc'teryx Adahy...|
|Weight||10.8 oz||11.7 oz||13.3 oz||13.2 oz||9.9 oz|
|Main Material||6.9-oz Polartec Power Grid 93% recycled polyester 7% spandex with Polygiene permanent odor control||55% polypropylene, 45% polyester||Polartec Power Dry High Warmth||Polartec Power Stretch with Hardface Technology - 88% polyester, 12% elastane, 230 g/m²||Torrent (84% polyester, 16% elastane)|
|# of Pockets||1||1||1||3||2|
|Unique Features||Balaclava style hood, thumb loops, Polygiene permanent odor control, longer length to stay tucked under a harness||Helmet-compatible hood||Neck Gaiter/Balaclava, Thumb Loops, Media Pocket||Integrated neck gaiter doubles as balaclava, streamlined hood fits udner climbing helmets, gusseted underarms for unrestricted movement||Gusseted underarms|
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.
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 looks pretty silly 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
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
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. 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
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 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
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
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.
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 whose prices can reach well into the triple digits — not the kind of money we want to shell out lightly or without significant thought.
Related: Buying Advice for Fleece Jackets
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.
Our Editors' Choice winner, Patagonia R1 Hoody, is actually one of the less expensive options, while also managing to be the best performing. There is good reason for this holding the top position so many times over the years. Little has changed about the R1, 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 breathability of the fleece, the snugness of the hood, even the position of the thumb loops, are all little details that seem to work for most people.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 putting on another layer.
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 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.
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… its 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. You can also find a great option over in our Rain Jacket Review if this is what you're after.
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 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 or the Light-weight Synchilla Snap T when 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 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.
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. We hope our review of these products will positively assist you in your search for your new fleece.
— Adam Paashaus & Matt Bento