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Over the last 10 years, our teams of apparel experts have tested more than 45 of the best fleece jackets. After researching the top models available today, we independently purchased 10 of the most popular fleeces and put them through a series of side-by-side tests. We assessed each model for warmth, comfort, breathability, layering ability, weather resistance, and weight. We put each one through the wringer, taking them along on backpacking trips and dragging them up granite walls. We also chopped wood, hung out around campfires, and took them out on the town. Whether you're looking for a cozy stand-alone piece to wear on cold mornings or for a technical fleece to be used in a more robust layering system, our expert recommendations will help narrow down your selection so that you can choose the right jacket for your needs and budget.
Our outdoor experts have tested all sorts of jackets and layering pieces. We have you covered – literally – with in-depth reviews of the best gear, ranging from down jackets to base layers. If you're on a tighter budget, check out our selection of wallet-friendly fleeces.
Patagonia's R1 series has been a longtime favorite of our testers. Emulated by many, the grid fleece technology has become a staple in most people's active cold-weather layering system. Somehow, Patagonia has created an even better version with the release of the Patagonia R1 Air Full Zip Hoody. Built from a proprietary "hollow core" fabric produced from 100% recycled polyester, this piece brings a new level of comfort to performance fleece wear. The material looks and feels more cozy than technical, but don't let that fool you — this fleece means business. Whether heading to the crag or the coffee shop, it's one our testers always grab first. The low weight, combined with the amount of warmth it provides, makes it ideal for high-intensity activities like climbing and hiking in the cold. The highly breathable "zig-zagged" pattern helps shed moisture and keeps you from ending up a sweaty and shivering mess.
In previous reviews, we tested the R1 Air Crew and loved it. In this review, we tested the hooded version and found it even better, thanks to the pockets and well-fitted hood. While this fleece is more wind-resistant than the original R1, it's still a lightweight fleece, and you'll want to prepare accordingly if you expect poor weather. All in all, this fleece is a highly comfortable and warm layer that is best suited for anyone looking to upgrade their performance fleece wear.
The Outdoor Research Vigor Full-Zip is a lightweight fleece that is easy to layer over, highly breathable, incredibly comfortable, and is offered at a fraction of the cost of many of the other comparable options. This jacket is entirely reminiscent of Patagonia's original R1; both have similar scuba-style hoods, thumb loops, and general aesthetics. Our testers, however, actually found the Vigor to be more comfortable than the R1 Hoody. The cut is athletic and accommodating to wide-set shoulders. This jacket offers a terrific range of motion, including overhead movements, making it an ideal choice for climbers, hikers, or skiers. Additionally, the thin fabric and minimal bulk made this an easy piece to layer over.
The lightweight and breathable nature of this fleece did come at the cost of warmth and wind resistance. This fleece was fine for sustained athletics, but if you are going to be hanging around in the cold, you will want to layer up. In a similar vein, the breathable nature of the material doesn't take to the rain very well, and you'll find yourself needing a rain layer for all but the lightest of drizzles. All in all, this is a high-quality fleece that is perfect for adventuring in the mountains and is of tremendous value.
Extra-long hem fits well under the waist belt strap or a climbing harness
REASONS TO AVOID
Little weather resistance
The Patagonia R1 Hoody is a staple in our outdoor clothing arsenal. It's not just one of our favorites, but the top choice of dedicated outdoor enthusiasts for years now, thanks to its remarkable performance. It incorporates all the most important aspects of a midlayer with its breathable grid fabric, perfectly-fit balaclava hood, chest pockets, and thumb loops. The fleece backing is packed with hundreds of raised squares with breathable venting channels throughout. With the added breathability, it'll keep you warm when it's cold, and cool when it is warm. Simply unzip when you're on the move and or pull the hood under a helmet when you're stuck at a cold belay. This fantastic layer is one of our favorites and has been for a long time, noted for its excellent functionality and performance.
The R1 has very few shortcomings. When it comes to fit, function, and performance, it's hard to beat. If worn every day, it will show its wear eventually. Though its smooth face won't pick or pill and layers nicely, it may eventually get holes; the nature of the grid pattern creates thin, weak sections of fleece that eventually can fail. It's a bit more fitted, with a longer hem than in previous years. Some will like this, but some may find their favorite fleece doesn't quite have the same fit they are used to. Aside from that, it's next to perfect and one we'd wholeheartedly recommend - the price is reasonable too.
The Arc'teryx Kyanite AR Hoody scored exceptionally high marks in every metric we'd expect in a top-performing midweight fleece. It has a great weight-to-warmth ratio and most importantly, is incredibly comfortable to wear. The brushed fleece lining feels great against the skin. It is one of the most comfortable fleeces we reviewed, and while the cut is slim, it accommodates wide-set shoulders without creating any hotspots in the armpits or shoulders. Our testers loved climbing, skiing, and hiking in this piece. The scuba-style hood fits underneath climbing helmets and does a great job at keeping cold air out while trapping hard-won body heat inside.
This piece really only has a few downsides. For high output activity in the spring and summer, this fleece might not offer the breathability you want when early morning and evening temps are rising. Our only other complaint is the lack of thumb loops built into the cuffs. Using this as a stand-alone piece is inconsequential, but when you're sliding it underneath other layers, thumb loops keep things from getting all bunched up. This fleece hoody is ideal for cold-weather pursuits where thinner gridded fleece just won't cut it.
The Kuhl Interceptr 1/4 Zip is a tester favorite thanks to its clean silhouette and good performance. The jacket mixes fashion with function, making it easy to wear while at the campfire, out hiking, while running errands, or for apres ski or cragging. The jacket had a solid level of warmth that kept our testers warm while wearing it. It feels smooth and comfortable against our skin. The 1/4 zip allows for a bit more breathing room for users, and the thumb loops make layering with the jacket easier. The mountain chic vibes of this fleece helped push it forward.
The downside of this jacket? The Intercepter is heavy and not as packable as many of the more technical pieces in this review. Its breathability is not exceptional and is not our first choice for climbing or heavy cardio workouts. It has a single chest pocket. For heading out on longer trips into the backcountry or climbing where weight and performance matter, we would choose a different model.
The Mountain Hardwear Stratus Full Zip is a great athletic jacket with all the features needed to make it stand out. What sets this hoody apart from other fleece jackets is the high functionality. Its heat-trapping grid pattern ensures it breathes well, wicks away moisture, and retains warmth. When our testers were climbing hard, they could maintain a balance of staying warm without overheating, making it perfect for heavy activity or as a single garment during intense hikes. Additionally, the raglan sleeves, three-piece fitted hood, and thumb holes gave this fleece a strong ability to move well, adding to its ability to perform in intense situations.
While we love the functionality of this fleece, it isn't quite as warm as some of the other models in this review. Aside from that, the Stratus is a versatile piece that stands up to the difficult and variable conditions found in the mountains.
This review is crafted by OutdoorGearLab Review Editors James Lucas, Buck Yedor, and Adam Paashaus. James has been a long-time climber, writer, and photographer who spends every free moment he has in the mountains outside of his house in Boulder, Colorado. From early morning runs up the First Flatiron to late nights hiking out of Rocky Mountain National Park after running, James has put the fleeces to the test. Buck has been playing outside for most of his life and has been working in the outdoor industry for just about half of it. From long cold days spent ski touring in the alpine to frigid belays on El Capitan, Buck knows what to look for in quality fleece wear. Adam loves being a member of the outdoor community and appreciates having the ability to help others find the best gear for their next adventure.
Searching for the best fleece started with scouring the internet, talking to industry experts, and researching the market to see which were worth ordering for field testing. We have tested more than 45 fleece jackets over the past 10 years, and considered over 65 different models from various manufacturers before carefully selecting and purchasing the top products to highlight in this review.
Our in-depth testing of men's fleece jackets breaks down into six rating metrics:
Warmth (20% of overall score rating)
Comfort (20% of overall score rating)
Breathability (20% of overall score rating)
Layering ability (15% of overall score rating)
Weather resistance (10% of overall score rating)
Weight (15% of overall score rating)
Testing is mainly comprised of field use during late fall, winter, and spring in the Eastern Sierra, the mountains of New England, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and the deserts of the Southwest. Fleece jackets are a comfortable, casual way to add some warmth to your layering system — much of our focus is on the Warmth metric, which makes up 20% of the overall score, as well as the Comfort and Breathability metrics. Each fleece undergoes five specific tests to judge warmth: we hike, run, climb, kayak, and bike in cool and cold weather to assess how these jackets keep us warm in environments ranging from shady river beds to windy mountain tops. For this comprehensive review, our experts put these fleece jackets through 170 individual tests to help you find the best option for your needs based on value and performance.
Analysis and Test Results
A fleece jacket is a versatile part of any outdoor layering system. It can be worn as a stand-alone piece in moderately cold and dry weather or easily layered under a puffy, rain shell, or both, depending on how extreme the conditions are. There are many different types and weights, with varying levels of warmth and breathability. But fleece jackets are typically stretchy and built to move, making them ideal for climbing, hiking, skiing, or any outdoor activity you need an unrestricted range of motion.
Purchasing a fleece jacket often involves a series of tradeoffs. If you are looking for something super toasty, it may not be the most breathable or packable, and if you want it to have some additional weather resistance, it may cost you in weight and coziness. While a bigger price tag doesn't always correlate to better performance, the more expensive models typically use newer materials that are lighter and/or more breathable while still providing warmth. Some higher-priced models will have a slimmer fit with articulated sleeves for a better range of motion and easier layering.
For those looking for a great price on a quality fleece, Mountain Hardwear Stratus Range Full Zip offers exceptional value and is one of the highest performing in our fleet. The Outdoor Research Vigor Full Zip also offers a reasonable price and good performance. It's built with comfort in mind and can easily perform in the backcountry.
Warmth is one of the critical things to consider when buying a fleece jacket; the purpose of this layer is to help trap and retain our body heat in chilly conditions. For our test, the warmth rating accounts for 20 percent of the overall score.
The warmth is often determined by the thickness of the material (thicker is usually warmer), but many other features can add or detract from it. Cozy hoods, thumb loops, elastic cuffs, drawstring hems, and tighter weaves that help block the wind all add up to additional warmth, warranting a bump in the score. Keep in mind that if you want to use your fleece as part of a layering system, then a jacket can be too warm, so warmth might not be your top priority.
One of the warmest models that we tested is The North Face Denali 2 Hoodie. This is a heavyweight layer, and its 300 weight fleece did a great job of trapping and retaining our body heat. If you need a warm and toasty outer jacket and prefer fleece to a synthetic or down jacket, then this is the one for you. However, it was also the heaviest and bulkiest model we tested and did not perform well for active use.
The Kuhl Interceptr uses Kuhl's Alfpaca Gold fleece, keeping our testers comfy and almost as warm as The North Face Denali. It's not quite as warm as the Denali, but it does feel softer and less boxy. While it's a superb fleece for chilling in, it's too heavy and doesn't layer well enough to earn a spot in our packs on backpacking trips or ski tours. The Patagonia R1 Air is lightweight and breathable but not the best insulator. This style performs best for active backcountry use, where ventilation is crucial.
Most of the lightweight fleeces we tested still had hand warmer pockets which kept them heavy but also added some function and warmth.
Fleece is, by nature, a plushy material, and it typically makes for very comfortable jackets. While all the models that we tested are made with materials that are quite comfortable, some stood out from the rest. The soft and warm Arcteryx Kyanite is our favorite fleece in terms of comfort with its fur-like fleece. While warm, The North Face Denali is made with a "scratchier" and harsher fabric that is noticeably less cozy. Comfort is not only differentiated by the texture but also by the fit.
The Patagonia R1 Hoody has a longer hem and uses a snug lightweight fleece to keep it from riding up while reducing bulk in areas where layers overlap. The Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody, on the other hand, is incredibly comfortable on the skin and has a wonderfully athletic fit that didn't compromise range of motion.
The Patagonia R1 Air was both soft and well-fitting. With its athletic cut and innovative fabric, our testers would happily wear it all day long. Figuring out the right fleece for your body type is the key to comfort. A well-fitting jacket will provide full coverage when you lift your arms above your head. The sleeves should stay in place, but we appreciated some stretch in the cuffs that allowed us to pull the sleeves up. The Outdoor Research Vigor Zip and Mountain Hardwear Stratus Range Full Zip are also high scorers in this metric. Not only do they feel comfortable on the skin, but the hoods are nice additions that increase their level of comfort.
Whether you are using your fleece jacket as an outer layer or a midlayer, 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. 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. However, the fleece's thickness 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 can feel downright gross against your skin, especially as it starts to cool.
One of the breathable models that we tested is the Patagonia R1 Air. The Patagonia R1 Air series is made from a new proprietary hollow-core fabric. Its zig-zag weave offers more warmth retention and increased breathability. The R1 uses Polartec Power Grid fleece. This fabric is a tried and true option used in performance fleece wear, and it offers one of the best warmth-to-breathability ratios. 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.
While these fleeces are made of a tighter, more weather-resistant weave, they are so thin that they still vent fairly well. The grid-style pullover fleece jackets are great even on mild days, and their breathability is so effective that we never felt uncomfortable or sweaty. When it warmed up, we took advantage of the long zippers, some of which came down past our belly buttons!
The Outdoor Research Vigor and Mountain Hardwear Stratus Range Full Zip rank alongside the R1 models and allowed us to regulate our temperatures without overheating.
In addition to the weave and thickness of the material, some other features can help a jacket breathe better. As already mentioned, some fleeces that are pullovers may sport a super long zipper that comes down past the belly button, which can help vent excess heat. Most of the jackets we tested have full zippers that allowed for an increased level of breathability.
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 various 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 Mountain Hardwear Stratus Range, layered easily under everything we tried them with. The thumb holes were also a bonus, as we didn't have to worry about the sleeves riding up when pulling on another layer.
The models that didn't fare so well were the heavier and bulkier ones, like the Columbia Mountain Steens, REI Groundbreaker, and The North Face Denali 2. These models are thicker, with a boxier cut and long arms that bunch around the cuffs. While we had no trouble putting them on over another light fleece layer, they were not very comfortable to wear under another jacket like a shell or winter puffy jacket.
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 us dry. Unlike cotton, synthetic materials retain a significant amount of their insulating abilities when wet, so if you do manage to get caught in the rain without a shell, you'll be in much better shape than if you were wearing a cotton hoody. While none of the fleeces we reviewed are waterproof, some 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.
For good weather resistance, we like the Patagonia R1 Air. This fleece more wind resistant than the regular R1, and has a well fitted hood that stays dry. has an effective water-resistant DWR treatment, and 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. Pair a breathable fleece like the Patagonia R1 Hoody with a dedicated wind or rain shell, and you have the ultimate alpine setup.
As far as protection from precip goes, The North Face Denali 2 is one of the more water-resistant fleeces in our roundup. Not only is this fleece thick, it has a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment, causing light rain to bead off this fleece, like water off a duck's back. However, even the Denali 2 will eventually soak through and become a heavy mess in a massive rainstorm. 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 it — which we recommend doing with any fleece, particularly if you're expecting poor weather.
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 Marmot Reactor is the lightest fleece we tested, weighing in at a 10.9 ounces, followed by the Patagonia R1 Hoody.
On the heavier side, The North Face Denali 2 weighs 17.1 ounces, making it too heavy and bulky to throw in your pack when heading for a long hike; ditto for the supremely comfortable Kuhl Interceptr. If you just need a layer for car camping, hanging around the campfire, or errands around town, where weight is not an issue, you'll appreciate having a warm layer like the Denali 2, or the Interceptr. The Arcteryx Kyanite is another option that is a little too heavy to use for long missions into the backcountry, but it is a perfect midweight choice for wearing around town and the occasional hike.
The variety and number of jackets on the market can make your head spin, and without the actual jacket in hand, deciding on something by looking online can seem overwhelming. In general, we buy these jackets for their primary function — warmth. However, as technology grows and designs improve, the added features modeled into a fleece can be what seal the deal. Like almost all gear, it depends on how and where you're planning to use it.
Whether you need an all-around rain jacket or one suited...
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.