Updated November 2017
To help you stay cozy through the winter, we've updated our review, bringing you the latest and greatest. The Patagonia R3 remains the cream of the crop for the second year in a row, winning our coveted Editors' Choice award. The Marmot Reactor steals the show as being the friendliest on your wallet, while the Patagonia R1, a tried and true competitor, offers exceptional breathability. We've also added in the Outdoor Research Transition and the Patagonia Crosstrek - two models completely new to our fleet.
Best Overall Model
Patagonia R3 Hoody
Elastic cuffs and hem
a little on the heavy side
The Patagonia R3 Hoody
is unbeatable as an all-rounder, taking home our Editor's Choice award for yet another season. Soft, comfortable, and warm, this fleece features high loft gridded fleece to trap warm air close to your body /and/ still breathes well. While it doesn't do much against wind and rain, the slim fit, soft fabrics, and thumb loops make this jacket a great layering piece, sliding under a puffy jacket or a rain shell with ease. To top things off, this jacket is reversible, which means you can choose between hi-loft muppet fur or a soft microfleece against your skin.
Read review: Patagonia R3 Hoody
Best for Budget-Minded
Not very warm
Lacks a hood
Lightweight, breathable, and quick drying, the Marmot Reactor
is a top performer at a budget-friendly price. We used this jacket out on the ski hill, bouldering, hiking, and even during some impromptu snowball fights. We found that it layered well under a hard shell and at 12.7oz, we hardly noticed it when stuffed in the bottom of our packs. If you're on the lookout for an inexpensive fleece that can do the job in the backcountry, look no further than the Marmot Reactor. For a slimmer layering piece, check out the $75 Reactor Vest
Read review: Marmot Reactor
Top Pick for Breathability
Patagonia R1 Hoody
Perfect fit for most active uses
Ideal weight for many conditions
Perfect for layering
Great hood design
Not as stylish as some other fleeces for around town
Not as warm for its weight as some high-loft models
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 keep you warm while channels in between vent hot air and moisture, earning the R1 our Top Pick for Breathability. Unzip the ⅓ length zipper when you're moving, zip up the balaclava and stay toasty when you're not, it's that easy. All our testers keep an R1 at the ready for their next excursion, and so should you. For other versions of this favorite layer, check out the R1 Pullover - Men's
and R1 Full Zip - Men's
Read review: Patagonia R1 Hoody
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 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 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 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.
With 13 contenders, the competition is fierce! Read on to find out which jacket came out on top.
The following chart shows where each of the 11 fleece contenders (pictured below) ranked in Overall Performance. We rated each fleece on its warmth, comfort, breathability, layering ability, weather resistance, weight, and style, all of which we discuss in detail in the remainder of this article and in each individual review.
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, and the warmth rating that we've given each model counts as 25 percent of their overall score. The warmth is determined by the thickness of the material (thicker is usually warmer), but many other features can add or detract from it. Elastic cuffs, drawstring hems and tighter weaves that help block the wind all add up to additional warmth points. We should add though that sometimes a model can be too warm, particularly if you are using your fleece jacket as an active layer. What we are mostly looking for is something that keeps us warm while hiking, climbing, or ski touring, without being too stifling.
Consider what activity you are most likely to use your fleece jacket for before you purchase it. Lightweight models are for higher energy and aerobic activities, and heavier ones are for times when you are more sedentary but still outside. This way you can ensure your body will be kept at a warm and comfortable temperature regardless of what you are doing.
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.
With the Denali 2 keeping him warm, our tester reflects on another awesome day of skiing in the Sierra backcountry. This contender was the only contender to score a perfect 10 out of 10 for warmth.
Our Editors' Choice winner, the Patagonia R3 Hoody
, is made of a thinner material than the Denali
, but the addition of a hood left us feeling almost as warm and indeed more protected from the elements on windy days. The Patagonia R1 Hoody
also sports a hood, and while it is made of a much thinner fleece, that feature helped bump it up in the warmth ratings over a similarly thin fleece like the Marmot Reactor
When stationary, this quick drying, hi-loft fleece holds in all the warmth our tester generated during his uphill slog so he can stay warm during while hanging out at the summit.
While the Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody
is even thinner than the R1
, the R1's
balance of lofted fleece with hundreds of moisture moving channels secured it our Top Pick for Breathability. Overall, thinner and lightweight fleece jackets may not be very warm when they are used as an outer layer, but when used as a mid-layer, they add just the right amount of warmth to your layering system. The Outdoor Research Transition Hoody
is the lightest jacket we tested, and also scored the lowest in the warmth metric, but its comfort and breathability still make it an excellent choice for layering.
The face mask built into the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody can be used as a neck gaiter or tucked away behind your head.
In addition to hoods, a snug hem can make a difference for warmth. The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
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, like those on the The North Face FuseForm Progressor Hoodie
, also help trap in the warmth. Finally, hand warmer pockets are another addition that helps keep you warm when your hands start to freeze over. The lining of these pockets also makes a significant difference in whether or not we stayed warm. Some, like the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man Grid II
, are lined with fleece for extra warmth, while others, like those on the Patagonia R2 Jacket
, are lined with mesh to provide additional breathability. Either way, pockets will help keep your hands warm at a moment's notice, and every model that we tested except the Patagonia R1 Hoody
and the Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody
Hand warmer pockets keep your hands toasty and secure your phone, keys, and energy bars.
Fleece is by nature a soft material, and it typically makes for very comfortable jackets. While all eleven of the different models that we tested were made with materials that were quite comfortable, some stood out from the rest. The high loft of the Patagonia R3 Hoody
felt like soft fur against our skin. The soft textured micro-fleece lining on the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
also had a cozy and soft texture, particularly compared to The North Face
models which are 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.
Finding the right model for your body type is part of the solution, but where the manufacturers choose to place seams, cuffs and zippers also plays a role. Ease of movement is another important factor when considering comfort. When you put on a fleece, how does it feel when you twist, turn, or reach above your head. Do you feel restricted? Does the jacket ride up when you lift your arms above your head and expose your vulnerable flesh to the cold? Ease of movement mostly dictated by the fit or cut of the jacket.
Here our tester stays comfy and warm in the breezy, beautiful, variable spring conditions found in the Eastern Sierra.
Regarding fit, The Arc'teryx Covert Hoody
was too short for the torsos of most of our testers. A shortcut is problematic because shorter jackets tend to ride up over a climbing harness or a waist belt on a backpack. Both of the Patagonia R-Series
models had an ideal cut, with long enough lengths in the arms and torso. The Patagonia R3
, Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man Grid II
, and the Patagonia Performance Better Sweater
scored highest in this metric. Why? The R3
because it is soft and tailored, but not constricting, the Monkey Man
for its soft, faux fur texture, and the Better Sweater
because of its stretchy side panels that allow for increased ease of movement and breathability. 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 Transition Hoody88 has a great fit, stretchy enough for comfort, but still form fitting for layering. We also really like the
Marmot Reactor** — the fleece was soft, and the basic and slim-fit design suited us well.
The soft and comfy, the Arc'teryx Covert Hoody has a short hem and rode up, exposing our backsides to the breeze.
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. As we tested a variety of weights and types of jackets, it was no surprise that some were more breathable than others and better suited to aerobic activities, while others worked better for more sedentary pursuits.
The most breathable models that we tested came from the Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody
, Patagonia's R-Series
line, and the Outdoor Research Transition Hoody
. The Coefficient Hoody
combines an ultra-thin fleece with even thinner grid channels. This makes it extremely breathable, but not very warm. The Patagonia R-Series
use 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. The Transition Hoody
uses a hybrid strategy of placing lighter weight fleece on the sides and lower back where you sweat the most.
The sun is out, but it still isn't warm enough for our tester to shed this breathable jacket (the Black Diamond Coefficient) on a cool sunny day in the Owens River Gorge. The Coefficient was the only jacket to score a perfect 10 out of 10 for breathability.
This technology is used in both their R1
models. The R1
is a light enough layer 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 we kept the R1
on even on mild days, and its breathability was so effective that we never felt uncomfortable or sweaty. While the Coefficient Hoody
is slightly more breathable due to being so thin, the R1
is a warmer, more comfortable fleece, securing it our Top Pick For Breathability for the second year in a row.
When the going gets tough, you're going to sweat. For these times, we suggest the Patagonia R1 Hoody.
was also highly breathable, but a heavier weight than the R1
and not as suited to aerobic activities. We also found the Marmot Reactor
was breathable, mostly due to the thin nature of the material (100 g/m²) as opposed to any fancy construction. The same goes for the "hard-faced" Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
. While that jacket is made of a tighter, more weather resistant weave, it is so thin that it still vented well.
Look closely and you'll see the breathable grid pattern underneath the high lofting fibers of the Patagonia R3 Hoody.
In addition to the weave and thickness of the material, some other features can help a jacket breathe better. The stylish Patagonia Performance Better Sweater Hoody
has thin panels on the sides and under the arms to mitigate to the tight fleece weave on the rest of the jacket. Other jackets have pockets lined with a thin mesh, as opposed to fleece, which can be unzipped for added airflow.
Thin panels under the arms increase the Better Sweater's breathability.
As your fleece jacket typically is worn both over and under other clothing, its ability to pair well with other layers is another crucial consideration. You don't want it so tight that your under layers are bunching up, but you want it slim fitting enough so you can slide a wind, rain, or puffy layer on top of it. You can learn more about layering systems with our Introduction to Layered Clothing Systems
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
and the Outdoor Research Transition Hoody
, 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.
Layering up with the Base 4.0 from Under Armour. The mid-layer pictured here is the Patagonia R1 Hoody, which won the Top Pick in our review of fleece jackets.
However, you can't wear more than a thin baselayer underneath these slim fitting jackets. The Marmot Reactor
and the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
were all easy to layer as well, as was our Editors' Choice winner, the Patagonia R3 Hoody
. Even though it is a midweight fleece, it is still thin and slim fitting enough to go under a puffy or rain jacket without leaving you feeling constricted or too stuffy.
The lightweight, breathable Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody layers well underneath an insulated jacket.
The models that didn't fare so well were the heavier and bulkier ones, like Columbia Steens Mountain 2.0
, and The North Face Denali 2
. They 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.
Fleece jackets have never been known for amazing wind protection or water resistance. When we shop for a fleece, we're more concerned with how warm a fleece feels and how well it breathes. Therefore, weather resistance only accounts for 10 percent of how these jackets were scored. The chart shown here details which jackets came out on top in the Weather Resistance metric.
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.
This jacket was the second most weather resistant model behind the North Face Denali 2. Light precip beaded up and rolled off the "hardface" exterior of this fleece.
Pair a breathable fleece like the Patagonia R1
hoody with a dedicated wind layer, and you have the ultimate alpine setup. You can check out our Wind Breaker Jacket Review
for more information on that type of layer.
The heavyweight North Face Denali 2 and the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
As far as protection from precip goes, The North Face Denali 2
is by far the most water resistant fleece in this year's lineup. Not only is it the thickest fleece, it is the only jacket with 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. The Arc'teryx Fortrez
comes in second regarding weather resistance. Though not as thick as the Denali
, it was the only other fleece that could resist light rain for more than a few minutes. The breathable Patagonia R1
hoodies soaked up rain like a sponge, so you'll want to keep a waterproof layer handy when cruising around in the mountains with these jackets. You can find a great option over in our Rain Jacket Review
Nylon patches over the chest, shoulders, and elbows of The North Face Denali make it even more durable and weather resistant.
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 Outddor Research Transition Hoody
is the lightest fleece we tested, weighing in at a featherweight The Marmot Reactor
, the Patagonia R1 Hoody
, and the Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody
were the three lightest models that we tested, at just under 13 ounces.
The Patagonia R3 Hoody
is a bit heavier (around 18 ounces) but significantly warmer than those lighter weight options, providing an optimal weight-to-warmth ratio. 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. If you just need a layer for car camping though, then weight is not an issue, and you'll appreciate having a warm layer like the Denali 2
when hanging around the campfire at night.
The lightweight contenders. Clockwise: The Marmot Reactor, The Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody, and the Patagonia R1 Hoody
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 look the best for a night on the town. Our top scorers in style are the Patagonia Better Sweater and
The North Face FuseForm Progressor Hoodie. The
Better Sweater combines a sleek fleece knit weave for style with breathable side panels, so you're not totally out of luck on a strenuous hike. The
Patagonia Crosstrek Hoody** by maintaining some urban styling while being more breathable than the Better Sweater.
The FuseForm Progressor Hoodie
has a great fit and all the features you want in a technical fleece like a hood and a chest pocket but has a low-key, casual look. 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 Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man Grid II
and the Columbia Steens
received fewer style points because of their bulky cuts. The Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody
lost points due to its super extended cut, which works great when tucked under a harness, but we thought it looks awkward over a casual 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.
Our selection of midweight fleeces, Clockwise: The North Face FuseForm Progressor Hoodie, The Patagonia R3 Hoody, The Patagonia Performance Better Sweater Hoody, The Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man Grid II, The Columbia Steens Mountain 2.0, The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
Our lead tester takes the CoEfficient out for a spin at the local crag. It kept him quite comfortable in the shade.
The plethora of jackets in the "fleece" category on the market today can make one dizzy for sure. 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. If you need further help in your search, be sure to check out the tips we provide in our Buying Advice