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The 5 Best Fleece Jackets of 2022

We tested fleeces from Patagonia, Arc'teryx, The North Face, and more to uncover which will serve you best
Best Fleece Jackets of 2022
The Fall 2022 Fleece Jacket Lineup.
Credit: James Lucas
Monday November 14, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more

Over the last ten years, our teams of apparel experts have tested more than 45 of the best fleeces. After researching the top models available, we purchased 10 of the most popular models and rigorously tested them side-by-side. We assessed each model for warmth, comfort, breathability, layering ability, weather resistance, and weight. We took the jackets on backpacking trips and up granite walls. We also chopped wood, hung out around campfires, and wore them on the town. Whether you need a cozy stand-alone piece for cold mornings or a technical fleece to layer with, our expert recommendations will help you 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.

Related: Best Fleece Jackets for Women

Editor's Note: In November 2022, we bought and retested the entire fleet of fleece. Some models had revisions and some models we retested to ensure consistent ratings and ranking across the entire selection.

Top 10 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 10
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Awards  Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
Price $179 List
$179.00 at REI
$169 List
$169.00 at REI
$179 List
$179.00 at REI
$119 List
$109.00 at REI
$79.16 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
Overall Score
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86
79
73
80
Star Rating
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Pros Warm, stylish, durable, weather-resistantComfortable, warm, simple, versatile, breathableWarm, great mobility, incredibly comfortable,Stylish, warm, simpleBreathable, lightweight, inexpensive, comfortable for athletics
Cons Heavy, boxy, low performanceFew features, less technical, no thumb loopsLacks thumb loops, poor breathability,More style than function, bulkyAverage weather resistance
Bottom Line This classic fleece features plenty of pockets, warmth, and style with a boxy cutThis lightweight piece has all the warmth of a mid-layer jacket but with a highly breathable design that's ideal for colder, active adventuresComfort, style, and function make this piece work well in the mountains and for casual evenings around townBilled as casual outdoor wear, this warm fleece can move from out on the town to out at the cragsHighly featured and even higher performing, this cost-effective option provides a hard-to-beat value
Rating Categories The North Face Denali Patagonia R1 Air Fu... Arc'teryx Kyanite A... Kuhl Interceptr 1/4... Outdoor Research Vi...
Warmth (20%) Sort Icon
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Comfort (20%)
5.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
8.0
Breathability (20%)
3.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
Layering Ability (15%)
3.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
9.0
Weight (15%)
4.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
8.0
Weather resistance (10%)
9.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
6.0
Specs The North Face Denali Patagonia R1 Air Fu... Arc'teryx Kyanite A... Kuhl Interceptr 1/4... Outdoor Research Vi...
Type Heavyweight Lightweight Midweight Midweight Lightweight
Measured Weight 17.1 oz 12.5 oz 15 oz 15.1 oz 13 oz
Main Material Main: 100% polyester
Overlay: 70D nylon
100% Polyester 53% polyester, 38% nylon, 9% elastane Body: 78% acrylic, 22% polyester
Side panels: 70% acrylic, 30% polyester
94% polyester, 6% spandex
# of Pockets 4 3 2 1 3
Unique Features Hem cinchcord, DWR Slim-fit hood, quick drying Scuba hood, stretchy fabric Thump loops, articulated sleeves, low bulk seam stiching Thumb holes, UPF 30, 3-panel hood with binding
Hood Option No Yes Yes Yes Yes


Best Overall Fleece Jacket


Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody


86
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth 8.0
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Breathability 9.0
  • Layering Ability 9.0
  • Weight 8.0
  • Weather resistance 8.0
Weight: 12.5 ounces | Type: Lightweight
REASONS TO BUY
Soft and comfortable
Slim fit for easy layering
Good warmth-to-weight ratio
Great breathability
REASONS TO AVOID
No thumb loops

Patagonia's R1 series topped the list of fleeces. Emulated by many, the grid fleece technology has become a staple in active cold-weather layering systems. Patagonia improved their line with the Patagonia R1 Air Full Zip Hoody. Built from a proprietary "hollow core" fabric 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 it performs with the best. Whether heading to the crag or the coffee shop, our testers always grab this jacket first. The low weight and warmth make it ideal for high-intensity activities like cold-weather climbing and hiking. The highly breathable "zig-zagged" pattern helps shed moisture and keeps you from becoming sweaty and shivering.

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 lightweight, so prepare accordingly if for poor weather. This highly comfortable and warm layer is ideal for anyone looking to upgrade their performance fleece wear.

Read more: Patagonia R1 Air Full Zip Hoody review

best overall fleece jacket
The R1 Air mixes breathability, warmth, and an athletic fit well. Along with Patagonia's quality assurance, the piece is well worth the money spent.
Credit: James Lucas

Best Bang for the Buck


Outdoor Research Vigor Full Zip Hoodie


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth 7.0
  • Comfort 8.0
  • Breathability 9.0
  • Layering Ability 9.0
  • Weight 8.0
  • Weather resistance 6.0
Weight: 13 ounces | Type: Lightweight
REASONS TO BUY
Breathable
Affordable
REASONS TO AVOID
Low warmth
Poor weather resistance

The lightweight Outdoor Research Vigor Full Zip Hoodie layers easily, breathes well, offers incredible comfort, and comes at a fraction of the cost of comparable options. Reminiscent of Patagonia's original R1, this fleece features a scuba-style hood, thumb loops, and a performance aesthetic. However, our testers found the Vigor 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 backpackers, hikers, or skiers. The thin fabric and minimal bulk made this an easy piece to layer over.

This fleece's lightweight and breathable nature come at the cost of warmth and wind resistance. For sustained athletics, the jacket worked great, but our testers needed to layer up while stationary in the cold. Similarly, the breathable nature of the material wets quickly, and you'll need a rain layer for anything more than light drizzles. All in all, this high-quality, high-value fleece is perfect for adventuring in the mountains.

Read more: Outdoor Research Vigor Full Zip Hoodie review

fleece jacket - best bang for the buck
A high-performance piece at an affordable price, the Vigor comes with all the features needed for serious outdoor athleticism.
Credit: James Lucas

A Classic Hooded Model


Patagonia R1 Hoody


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth 7.0
  • Comfort 7.0
  • Breathability 9.0
  • Layering Ability 9.0
  • Weight 9.0
  • Weather resistance 6.0
Weight: 11.4 ounces | Type: Lightweight
REASONS TO BUY
Slim fit for easy layering
Balaclava-style hood
Thin, stretchy underarm panels increase breathability
Extra-long hem fits well under the waist belt strap
Thumb loops
REASONS TO AVOID
Little weather resistance
Techy style

An outdoor performance staple, the Patagonia R1 Hoody has been the top choice of dedicated outdoor athletes for years. It incorporates the most important aspects of a mid-layer with its breathable grid fabric, perfectly-fit balaclava hood, chest pockets, and thumb loops. Hundreds of raised squares on the fleece backing provide breathable venting channels. This jacket will keep you warm when it's cold, and cool when it is warm. Slide the long zipper down when moving, or pull the hood under a helmet. This long-time favorite receives high scores for its excellent functionality and performance.

The R1 has a few shortcomings. When it comes to fit, function, and performance, it's hard to beat. If worn daily, it shows wear. While it won't pick or pill and layers nicely, it may eventually get holes; the grid pattern creates thin, weak sections of fleece that eventually 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. Aside from that, it's close to perfect and we'd highly recommend the reasonably priced hoody.

Read more: Patagonia R1 Hoody review

fleece jacket - a classic hooded model
A top choice for moving in the outdoors, the Patagonia R1's breathability makes it an outstanding fleece jacket capable of any mission whether at the crag, in the back country, or close to home.
Credit: James Lucas

Best Midweight Fleece


Arc'teryx Kyanite AR Hoody


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth 8.0
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Breathability 7.0
  • Layering Ability 9.0
  • Weight 7.0
  • Weather resistance 7.0
Weight: 15 ounces | Type: Midweight
REASONS TO BUY
Extremely comfortable
Provides an excellent range of motion
Warm
REASONS TO AVOID
Less breathable than models with grid fleece
Expensive

The Arc'teryx Kyanite AR Hoody scored exceptionally high marks in every metric. It has a great weight-to-warmth ratio and most importantly feels incredibly comfortable. The brushed fleece lining makes it one of the most comfortable fleeces on the market. The slim cut still accommodates wide-set shoulders without creating any hotspots in the armpits or shoulders partially because of the stretchy nature of the fleece. Our testers loved climbing, skiing, and hiking in this piece. The scuba-style hood fits underneath climbing helmets and keeps 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 offers less-than-perfect breathability when early morning and evening temps are rising. The fleece also lacks thumb loops built into the cuffs. While inconsequential as a stand-alone piece when layering, thumb loops prevent the jacket from bunching up. Ideal for cold-weather pursuits, this jacket provides added warmth when thinner gridded fleece fail.

Read more: Arc'teryx Kyanite AR Hoody review

fleece jacket - best midweight fleece
The Kyanite's stretchiness makes it ideal for movement during cooler weather and the brush fleece lining adds significantly to the piece's high comfort level.
Credit: James Lucas

Best for Casual Comfort


Kuhl Interceptr 1/4 Zip


73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth 8.0
  • Comfort 7.0
  • Breathability 7.0
  • Layering Ability 7.0
  • Weight 7.0
  • Weather resistance 8.0
Weight: 15 ounces | Type: Heavyweight
REASONS TO BUY
Less "teched out" aesthetic, large chest pocket
Thumb loops
Large chest pocket
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy
Poor breathability

Testers loved the The Kuhl Interceptr 1/4 Zip for its clean silhouette and warmth. The jacket mixes fashion with function, making it easy to wear while at the campfire, out hiking, while running errands, or for apres ski. The jacket's ALFPACA GOLD™ fleece provides soft and comfortable warmth. The 1/4 zip allows for a bit more breathing room for users, and the thin 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 heavy and slightly bulky Intercepter fails to pack down well, and the poor breathability makes it less than ideal for backpacking or heavy cardio workouts. The single chest pocket adds nice storage and style. For longer trips into the backcountry or backpacking where weight and performance matter, different models perform better but for casual around-town wear, this piece does great.

Read more: Kuhl Interceptr 1/4 Zip review

fleece jacket - best for casual comfort
The Kuhl Intercepter worked best as a warm, casual wear piece. Our testers loved it for its ability to go from hanging out outside to wearing out to dinner.
Credit: James Lucas

Notable for Performance


Mountain Hardwear Stratus Range Full Zip


82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth 7.0
  • Comfort 8.0
  • Breathability 9.0
  • Layering Ability 9.0
  • Weight 8.0
  • Weather resistance 8.0
Weight: 13.3 ounces | Type: Lightweight
REASONS TO BUY
High performance
Solid fit
Highly breathable
Plenty of features
REASONS TO AVOID
Not as warm as some

The athletic jacket, the Mountain Hardwear Stratus Range Full Zip comes with all the features needed to make it stand out and be highly functional. Its heat-trapping grid pattern ensures it breathes well, wicks away moisture, and retains warmth. When our testers climbed hard, they stayed warm without overheating, making the jacket perfect for heavy activity or as a single garment during intense hikes. Additionally, the raglan sleeves, three-piece fitted hood, and thumb holes allow this fleece to move well, adding to its ability to perform in intense situations.

While this fleece's functionality makes it great, its warmth falls behind the other models and we had a few issues with the jacket's durability. Aside from that, the versatile Stratus stands up to the difficult and variable conditions found in the mountains.

Read more: Mountain Hardwear Stratus Range Full Zip review

fleece jacket - a favorite for climbing and heavy activity, the mountain hardwear...
A favorite for climbing and heavy activity, the Mountain Hardwear Stratus Full Zip combines high breathability with solid features.
Credit: James Lucas

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
86
Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody
patagonia r1 air full-zip hoody fleece jacket review
$169
Editors' Choice Award
82
Mountain Hardwear Stratus Range Full Zip
mountain hardwear stratus range full zip fleece jacket review
$110
80
Outdoor Research Vigor Full Zip Hoodie
outdoor research vigor full zip hoodie fleece jacket review
$110
Best Buy Award
79
Patagonia R1 Hoody
patagonia r1 hoody fleece jacket review
$169
Top Pick Award
79
Arc'teryx Kyanite AR Hoody
arc'teryx kyanite ar hoody fleece jacket review
$179
Top Pick Award
73
Kuhl Interceptr 1/4 Zip
kuhl interceptr 1/4 zip fleece jacket review
$119
Top Pick Award
71
Marmot Reactor 2.0
marmot reactor 2.0 fleece jacket review
$105
65
REI Co-op Groundbreaker 2.0
rei co-op groundbreaker 2.0 fleece jacket review
$50
63
Columbia Steens Mountain 2.0 Full Zip
columbia steens mountain 2.0 full zip fleece jacket review
$65
54
The North Face Denali
the north face denali fleece jacket review
$179

fleece jacket - each of the fleece jackets went through rigorous testing to...
Each of the fleece jackets went through rigorous testing to determine its warmth, comfort, versatility, breathability, and ability to layer.
Credit: James Lucas

Why You Should Trust Us


We started the search for the best fleece jackets by scouring the internet, talking to industry experts, and researching the market to see which performed best. 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.

Testing primarily comprised of field use during late fall, winter, and spring in the Eastern Sierra, the mountains of New England, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and the deserts of the Southwest. Due to the importance of a jacket's warmth and comfort, we made these metrics account for 20% of the fleece's score. Each fleece undergoes five specific warmth tests: we hike, run, climb, kayak, and bike in cool and cold weather to assess how these jackets retain heat 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 find you the best option based on value and performance.

Our in-depth testing of men's fleece jackets breaks down into six rating metrics:
  • Warmth (20% of overall score weighting)
  • Comfort (20% weighting)
  • Breathability (20% weighting)
  • Layering Ability (15% weighting)
  • Weight (15% weighting)
  • Weather Resistance (10% weighting)

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.

The lack of thumbholes makes layering this piece less than ideal...
The lack of thumbholes makes layering this piece less than ideal, but the fit still allows it to be a good choice for putting under a hardshell.
The Denali does well in terms of warmth but it lacks in terms of...
The Denali does well in terms of warmth but it lacks in terms of breathability. It's a better jacket for getting cozy in then for running or athletic use.

Analysis and Test Results


A fleece jacket is a versatile part of any outdoor layering system. Worn as a stand-alone piece in moderately cold and dry weather or layered under a puffy, rain shell, or both, depending on conditions, a good fleece jacket brings all-purpose warmth. While jackets differ in their levels of warmth, breathability, and weight, they're typically stretchy and built to move, making them ideal for climbing, hiking, skiing, or any activity that involves an unrestricted range of motion.


Value


Purchasing a fleece jacket involves tradeoffs. The warmer jackets tend to be less breathable and packable. Additional weather resistance costs weight or coziness. While price doesn't always correlate to better performance, the more expensive models use lighter and more breathable materials that still provide 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 excels in active outdoor use. The reasonably priced Outdoor Research Vigor Full Zip also offers comfort and back-country performance.

fleece jacket - fitting close to the body with lots of features and good...
Fitting close to the body with lots of features and good breathability, the Vigor makes for a great climbing or active wear piece at a reasonable price.
Credit: James Lucas

Warmth


When buying a fleece jacket, warmth becomes critical; fleeces need to trap and retain body heat in chilly conditions. To emphasize the importance of warmth for our test, the warmth rating accounts for 25 percent of the overall score.


The thickness of the material often determines the warmth of the jacket. Thicker jackets retain heat better than thinner ones but other features affect warmth. Fitted hoods, thumb loops, elastic cuffs, drawstring hems, and tighter weaves all

work to block wind and retain heat, warranting a higher score. While layering, a jacket can be too warm. In that case, warmth may not be your top priority.

The 300-weight The North Face Denali ranked as one of the review's warmest jackets, trapping and retaining body heat well. If you need a warm and toasty outer jacket and prefer fleece to a synthetic or down jacket, then this model provides plenty of warmth. However, the weight and bulk make it perform poorly for active use.

fleece jacket - the 50d 300-weight polartec 100% recycled polyester knit fleece of...
The 50D 300-weight Polartec 100% recycled polyester knit fleece of the North Face Denali helped it score well in terms of warmth.
Credit: James Lucas

The Kuhl Interceptr, which uses Kuhl's Alfpaca Gold fleece, kept our testers comfy and almost as warm as The North Face Denali. It's not quite as warm as the Denali but it feels softer, it's less boxy, and it has a stylish look. While it's a superb fleece for casual around-town wear, it's heavy and layers too poorly to earn a spot in our packs on backpacking trips or ski tours. The lightweight and breathable Patagonia R1 Air does well for active backcountry use, where heavy activity demands good ventilation, but the jackets lacks the warmth of the Interceptr and Denali.

fleece jacket - the mix of style and warmth make the kuhl interceptr a great piece...
The mix of style and warmth make the Kuhl Interceptr a great piece for cold nights out on the town or apres ski days.
Credit: James Lucas

Most of the lightweight fleeces in the review include hand-warmer pockets which kept them heavy but also added warmth and some function like being able to stash snacks or a small pair of our favorite binoculars. They also had hoods and varying degrees of adjustability, which all helped trap heat.

Comfort


The natural plushy material of fleece typically makes for very comfortable jackets. While all the models in the review use comfortable materials, the soft and warm Arcteryx Kyanite excelled with its fur-like brush-lined fleece. While warm, The North Face Denali uses a "scratchier" and harsher fabric that feels less cozy against the skin. The importance of a jacket's comfort made it account for 25 percent of its overall score.


A jacket's fit affects its comfort as much as the materials used. 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 Polartec Power Stretch Pro of the Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody feels incredibly comfortable on the skin and has a wonderfully athletic fit that still allows for a wide range of motion.

fleece jacket - the kyanite hoody has an unmatched level of comfort and an...
The Kyanite Hoody has an unmatched level of comfort and an incredible fit due to Polartec Power Stretch Pro and the brushed fleece lining.
Credit: James Lucas

The soft and well-fitting, Patagonia R1 Air features an athletic cut and innovative fabric, which allowed our testers to feel comfortable all day. A well-fitting fleece adds significantly to the jacket's level of comfort by providing full coverage with overhead arms. The sleeves should stay in place, but some stretch in the cuffs allows the sleeves to be pulled up. The Outdoor Research Vigor Zip and Mountain Hardwear Stratus Range Full Zip also scored well in this metric because they feel comfortable on the skin but the addition of hoods increases their level of comfort.

fleece jacket - the soft and still athletic fit of the patagonia r1 air made it...
The soft and still athletic fit of the Patagonia R1 Air made it great for wearing out at the crag because if transitioned so well from being active to just hanging out.
Credit: James Lucas

Weather Resistance


Traditionally, fleece does poorly with water and wind resistance but unlike cotton, synthetic materials retain a significant amount of their insulating abilities when wet and tighter-weaved fleeces can block more wind. Wearing a fleece in a storm thus becomes a better proposition than wearing cotton. While none of the fleeces we reviewed are waterproof or windproof, some fight the elements better than others.


When deciding on an outer layer, weather resistance becomes essential as carrying multiple layers around town can quickly turn cumbersome. Often, the more weather-resistant fleeces breathed less and proved to be thicker and heavier. For precipitation protection, The North Face Denali proved to be one of the more water-resistant fleeces in our roundup. The thick fleece has a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment, causing light rain to bead off, like water off a duck's back. However, even the Denali will eventually soak through and become a heavy mess in a massive rainstorm and DWR treatments stop working when the jacket becomes dirty.

fleece jacket - the thickness of the fleece as well as the wind blocking panels in...
The thickness of the fleece as well as the wind blocking panels in the chest helped make this fleece a bit more weather resistant than some of the other models.
Credit: James Lucas

For good weather resistance, the Patagonia R1 Air performed well. This fleece blocks more wind than the regular R1, and has a well-fitted hood that helps battle light rain. Pair a breathable fleece like the Patagonia R1 Hoody with a dedicated wind or rain shell for the best alpine setup. Unfortunately, without a shell, the breathable Patagonia R1 became a sponge, soaking up rain. If you plan to cruise around in the mountains or anywhere with poor weather with the R1, the R1 Air, or any fleece for that matter, then bringing a waterproof and windproof layer becomes vital. Even the best fleeces in this review will do poorly in a true storm.

fleece jacket - the r1 air provides solid warmth and felt a bit more weather...
The R1 Air provides solid warmth and felt a bit more weather resistant than some of the thinner, high-performance fleeces on the market.
Credit: James Lucas

Weight


In addition to weather resistance, weight becomes important for hiking long distances or heading for a "fast and light" alpine mission. A few ounces seems inconsequential at first but having all the lightest gear will save pounds. The lightest fleece in the review, the breathable Marmot Reactor weighed a mere 10.9 ounces, followed by the Patagonia R1 Hoody at 11.4 ounces. These light weights make the jackets great for stuffing into a pack.

fleece jacket - the soft fleece of the reactor makes it a cozy, choice. the weight...
The soft fleece of the Reactor makes it a cozy, choice. The weight of it adds to the piece's appeal as it ranked as one of the lightest jackets in the review.
Credit: James Lucas

On the heavier side, The North Face Denali weighs 17.1 ounces, making it too heavy and bulky to throw in your pack when heading for a long hike. The warm and comfortable Kuhl Interceptr came in at just over 15 ounces. For car camping, hanging around the campfire, or errands around town where weight matters less, the warmth of the Denali or the Interceptr makes up for the additional ounces. Similarly, the Arcteryx Kyanite comes in too heavy for long missions into the backcountry, but it is a perfect midweight choice for wearing around town and the occasional hike.


Breathability


Whether used as an outer layer or a mid-layer, a fleece's ability to breathe or vent perspiration becomes vital to its performance, and why we gave a fleece's breathability 15 percent of its overall score. Rigorous activity produces significant heat in the body, which then sweats to cool itself. If that sweat stays, it will soak everything. Fleece excels here because, unlike other options like cotton, the hydrophobic material dissipates sweat. However, the fleece's thickness and the tightness of the weave 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 gross against your skin, especially as it starts to cool, creating a damp cold, and clammy feel.


The proprietary hollow-core fabric of the Patagonia R1 Air made it one of the more breathable fleeces we tested. Its zig-zag weave offers more warmth retention and increased breathability. The nearly equally breathable R1 uses the tried and true Polartec Power Grid fleece which offers one of the best warmth-to-breathability ratios. These light layers work well for just about any aerobic activity in cold weather, from running and hiking to climbing and ski touring.

fleece jacket
Credit: James Lucas

While these fleeces are made of a tighter, more weather-resistant weave, the thinness helps them vent well. On mild days, the grid-style pullover fleece jackets provided great airflow, keeping our testers from feeling uncomfortable or sweaty. When it warmed up, the belly length or full zippers, quickly came down and the breathability of the jackets became perfect.

fleece jacket - our testers liked the mobility they had while in the vigor. they...
Our testers liked the mobility they had while in the Vigor. They were easily able to move around in the piece and the grid fleece felt comfortable against the skin.
Credit: James Lucas

The Outdoor Research Vigor and Mountain Hardwear Stratus Range Full Zip rank alongside the R1 as models that regulate temperatures without overheating. In addition to the weave and thickness of the material, other features can enhance a jacket's breathability. As mentioned, some pullover fleeces 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.

fleece jacket - the patagonia r1 uses a long zipper and acts as more of a pullover...
The Patagonia R1 uses a long zipper and acts as more of a pullover. Our testers generally liked more of a jacket style of fleece. The R1's zipper comes down 3/4 of the way allowing for significant breathability.
Credit: James Lucas

Layering Ability


A fleece jacket makes up an essential part of a layering system, usually residing between a light base layer and a less breathable insulated jacket or down puffy. How well a fleece layers is an important decision in the purchasing process and why we gave this metric 15% of the product's score.

Related: How to Layer Clothing to Keep Warm


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 kept the sleeves from riding up when pulling on another layer and the thinness of the jackets allowed for increased mobility.

fleece jacket - the close hood and the thumbholes helped with the layering.
The close hood and the thumbholes helped with the layering.
Credit: James Lucas

The heavier and bulkier models, like the Columbia Mountain Steens, REI Groundbreaker, and The North Face Denali fared poorly in comparison due to their thickness with their 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.

fleece jacket - this jacket is made for more casual wear than athletic use as the...
This jacket is made for more casual wear than athletic use as the breathability is less than ideal.
Credit: James Lucas

The best layers in this review tended to be the thinner, higher-performing models. While made with active, standalone use in mind, they were thin enough to wear over or under other jackets. Be sure to consider what other layers you may need when purchasing a fleece.

fleece jacket - the stratus felt warm without being too heavy allowing for fast...
The Stratus felt warm without being too heavy allowing for fast movement.
Credit: James Lucas

Conclusion


The head-spinning variety and number of jackets on the market can be overwhelming and without the actual jacket in hand, deciding by looking online can be difficult. 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 your intended use.

James Lucas, Buck Yedor & Adam Paashaus


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