Best Overall Fleece Jacket
Patagonia R3 Hoody
Features a hood
Elastic hem and cuffs
Easy to layer
Our testers loved the Patagonia R3 Hoody
and it was a high scorer in almost every category that we tested. This was by far the most comfortable jacket that we tested and almost the warmest. As an added bonus, it's also reversible! It's made of a high-loft fleece material in a gridded design, making it warm and
breathable at the same time. While it doesn't provide much wind or rain protection, it does dry quickly after a light drizzle. It also has a cozy hood with an elastic rim, which is a welcome addition to helping us stay warm on cold days. We used this fleece for everything from outdoor activities like climbing and hiking, to strolling around town or heading to a local pub. If you're looking for a cozy, warm, breathable and comfortable jacket to wear as an outer layer or as part of your layering system, the R3 is a great way to go.
Best for Budget-Minded
Easy to layer
The $95 Marmot Reactor
was the best bang for the buck out of the eight fleeces that we tested. While this is a basic model without too many extras, like gridded fleece or a hood, it still did a great job keeping us warm when we needed it. This was also the lightest fleece that we tested and it was hardly noticeable while wearing it or when stuffed into our packs. We used it for many different activities, such as bouldering, hiking, climbing and some fun in the snow. During these excursions, this jacket was breathable and also dried fast even after getting pummeled with snowballs. If you are looking for a basic and inexpensive fleece, then look no further than the Marmot Reactor.
Top Pick for Breathability
Patagonia R1 Hoody
Perfect fit for most active uses
Ideal weight for many conditions
Great hood design
Not very stylish
Not warm for its weight
The Patagonia R1 Hoody
is a classic layering piece, and if you don't yet own one you should. This technical masterpiece was by far the best model we tested for use as a mid-layer or while climbing, hiking, or running in cold weather. Sometimes we even forgot we were wearing a jacket, as it feels more like a warm long sleeve t-shirt. What this model does best is vent your perspiration. The Polartec Power Grid fleece has hundreds of venting channels to help keep you at the right temperature no matter how hard you're working, and for this we've given it our Top Pick for Breathability award. It also comes with some great features, like thumb holes to keep our hands warm and your sleeves in place while layering, and a balaclava-style hood that fits perfectly under a bike or climbing helmet. If it's good enough for Tommy Caldwell to wear on the Dawn Wall of El Capitan, it's good enough for us!
Analysis and Test Results
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 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 environments you'll be using it in. If this seems like a lot of thought to take for a simple layer, you should know that many of today's options are technical masterpieces and cost up to $200 — not the kind of money we want to shell out lightly or without significant thought.
There are many different outdoor activities where a fleece jacket comes in handy: hiking, climbing, skiing, snowshoeing and running, not to mention simply 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.
Which one will it be? Which one is the best of the best? Read on and find out!
Types of Fleece Jackets
The different options when it comes to fleece jackets are as follows:
— this type is the most versatile for technical outdoor pursuits. While they might not offer much in terms of warmth, they should be breathable and work as part of a layering system for use in a wide range of weather conditions and activities. Ideally, products in this category are slim fitting, layer easily and breathe well. Our testers prefer hoods on this type of jacket or pullover.
— this type is ideal for use as a mid-layer on cold winter days or as a stand alone jacket in milder temps or around town. Products in this category provide a great blend of performance and style for technical and general use. Some might have a hood and others might not, but if you plan to use it under a ski jacket then it's preferable to not have a hood, particularly if you use a helmet.
— this type is ideal for casual, around-town or camp use. They often weigh more than one pound and are expensive, heavy and bulky for their warmth. Products in this category tend to be too bulky to layer effectively, which limits their usefulness. However, they are quite comfortable and can be the perfect option for cold nights around the campfire or as a fall/spring jacket in the city.
— this type combines different types of fleeces together. Many of the models that we tested are hybrids, as they pair a midweight material through the body for warmth with a lightweight material at the cuffs, hem and/or sides for reduced bulk and more breathability. Hybrids are great options for layering, where too many layers one on top of the other can leave you feeling constricted.
You can check out our Buying Advice Guide
for more information on the different types available, as well as tips on what features to look for in your next purchase.
Criteria for Evaluation
The following table shows where each of the 8 fleece contenders (pictured below) ranked in Overall Performance. We ranked each fleece on its warmth, comfort, breathability, layering ability, ease of movement, wind protection, water resistance, and weight, all of which we discuss in detail in the remainder of this article and in each individual review.