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 team of apparel experts has tested over 45 of the best fleece jackets on the market. After diligently researching the best fleece jackets available today, we chose 10 to independently purchase and submit to a rigorous testing process. Our testers analyzed each jacket's warmth, comfort, breathability, layering ability, weather resistance, and weight. Whether you're looking for a cozy standalone piece to wear on cold mornings or for a technical fleece to be used in a more robust layering system, our expert recommendations can help you narrow down the field to find the right jacket for your unique needs and budget.
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 R1 Air. 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, this fleece was the one our testers would always grab first. The low weight combined with the amount of warmth it provides make 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.
The crew neck version of this fleece is equipped with only one chest pocket, so if you're using it as a standalone piece, your storage options are limited. This lack of bulk made it great for layering but less versatile. While this fleece is more wind-resistant than the original R1, it is still a lightweight fleece that will cut right through a strong gust. 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 being 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 and a full ounce lighter than the R1 Full Zip 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 need 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 offered at a tremendous value.
The Patagonia R1 Techface Hoody is a weather-resistant jacket with a DWR finish and a brimmed hood. What really sets this hoody apart from other fleece jackets is that we could actually stand in the rain and stay relatively dry. This piece bridges the gap between fleece and softshell. The face fabric does a decent job keeping out the wind. The combination of wind and rain resistance makes this fleece an excellent option for those that want a standalone piece that will keep them comfortable in rapidly changing conditions. We also love the remarkable amount of stretch in the arms and body, making it an excellent option for full-body activities like mountaineering, climbing, hiking, or even running. The hood is sized to fit over a helmet, and the wider cut of the jacket easily accommodates warmer mid-layers underneath.
While we love the functionality of this fleece, it isn't quite as warm as the original Patagonia R1. Aside from that, the Patagonia Techface is a versatile piece that stands up to the difficult and variable conditions found in the mountains.
The Arc'teryx Kyanite 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, 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 standalone 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 North Face Campshire Hoodie became an instant tester favorite this season thanks to its supreme blanket-like comfort and high pile fleece. For hanging out in camp or cooking around the campfire, this hoody can't be beaten. A large kangaroo pouch with a Velcro closure secures all sorts of camp amenities; gloves, headlamps, lighters, and snacks all disappear into the gigantic front pocket. For your cold hands, there's a big handwarmer pocket behind the kangaroo pouch. Top it all off with a 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 one of our test group's mid or lightweight options. For long expeditions into the backcountry where every ounce matters, the Campshire needs to stay at home, but it will be there for you when you come in from the cold and need to get cozy.
This review is crafted by OutdoorGearLab Review Editors Buck Yedor and Adam Paashaus. 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 looked at over 65 different models from various manufacturers before carefully selecting and purchasing the top models that we highlight here in this review. Testing consisted of field use during late fall, winter, and spring in the Eastern Sierra, Mountains of New England, and the desert of the southwest.
Analysis and Test Results
A fleece jacket is a versatile part of any outdoor layering system. It can be worn as a standalone piece in moderately cold and dry weather or easily layered under a puffy, rain shell, or both, depending on how extreme the conditions are. 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.
There are many different types and weights, with varying levels of warmth and breathability, all of which excel or struggle under different but specific situations. To better understand how we scored each one, we evaluated them for performance on six separate metrics: warmth, comfort, breathability, layering ability, water resistance, and weight.
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, the Outdoor Research Vigor Full Zip offers a reasonable price and good performance. It's built with comfort in mind and can easily perform in the backcountry. It doesn't score as high as some but has a great bang for the buck.
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 was 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 North Face Campshire Hoodie uses a dreamy high lofted 300 weight fleece, keeping our testers comfy and almost as warm as the Denali. While not quite as warm as the Denali, 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 Crew is lightweight and breathable but not the best insulator. This style works best for active backcountry use, where ventilation is crucial.
The Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T was the only thick fleece in the group that didn't have handwarmer pockets. Most of the lightweight fleeces we tested also forego hand pockets, presumably to reduce weight and bulk.
Fleece is, by nature, is 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 The North Face Campshire Hoodie was our favorite fleece in terms of comfort with its high pile, 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, was incredibly comfortable on the skin and had a wonderfully athletic fit that didn't compromise range of motion at all.
The Patagonia R1 Air Crew 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.
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. 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.
The most breathable model that we tested was the Patagonia R1 Air Crew. 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. Both the R1 and R1 Techface models from Patagonia use Polartec Power Grid fleece. This fabric is a tried and true option used in performance fleece wear. 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.
The grid-style pullover fleece jackets are great even on mild days, and their breathability was 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 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 its sibling, the standard ole trusty R1.
The Techface R1 is breathable but is a heavier weight than the R1 and is 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 fairly 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 that are pullovers may sport 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 instead of 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 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 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 pulling on another layer.
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, The North Face Denali 2, and the Smartwool Merino Hybrid. 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. The Patagonia R1 Techface Hoody is cut larger than the normal R1 Hoody and 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, 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 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.
For good weather resistance, we like 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 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 this jacket.
While no more water-resistant than any of the other fleeces, the Smartwool Merino Hyrbid is made from a blend of Merino Wool and standard synthetic fleece. The high percentage of wool used in this garment means that it will retain even more of its insulating abilities than the fully synthetic options when it gets wet.
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 Air Crew is the lightest fleece we tested, weighing in at a featherweight 9.7 ounces.
On the heavier side, TNF Denali 2 weighs 27.1 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 TNF 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, Campshire, or the Lightweight Synchilla Snap T when hanging around the campfire at night. The Kuhl Interceptr 1/4 Zip 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...
Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.
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.