The fleece jacket. A staple piece of apparel, which nearly every Backpacker or Outdoors enthusiast seems to own and love. Many of us go with our favorite brands or styles that tend to work best for the environment we spend the most time in.
Although many of us prefer the most cost-effective option for our budget, we also want quality and durability that will last through whatever challenges we put our gear through. Some require a specific fit or features for activities such as rock or alpine climbing, or even trekking through varied or extreme conditions which call for the need to layer up or down.
There are literally countless styles and brands to choose from when it comes to fleece jackets. Nearly any company that manufactures coats or outerwear will most certainly have fleece jackets in their lineup. As our whole purpose here at GWA, is present our readers with the very best that outdoor gear and apparel manufacturers have to offer, we have done the research and put together a list very best and top rated fleece jackets currently available on the market today.
Many things go into finding that perfect fleece which properly suits the outdoor and sports environments. Aside from comfort, warmth and fit, the best choice will usually be one that will stand up to whatever you throw at it. If you’re like me, you probably have that fleece with worn down elbows, which you bought years ago and hate to part with it, as it stood up perfectly to everything you put it through. We have dug deep and come up with the top rated choices among users from all over.
Patagonia R3 Hoody
Patagonia as most of us know does not produce cheap stuff, both in materials and price tag. The R3 hoodie is a popular one how many users who tend to put their gear to the test. The R3 used to come as a jacket now since been replaced by a new design with a hood, which seems to be even more popular than the previous versions among many outdoor and adventure enthusiasts.
Reversible design allows two different pocket configurations
Effectively retains body heat, while in a lightweight design
The R3 is a stylish as it is functional
Clean design cuffs allow easier layering and less bulk to get in the way
A bit on the expensive side
Not as warm as some other options
Although the R3 is a bit heavier it has a slim fit and a fairly snug hood that works perfectly under climbing helmets and other headgear. For those of you who tend to go for that grid pattern fleece Style r3 hoody is reversible, with one side being smooth and the other with fleece grid. This will allow you a bit more adjustability for your own style. When worn smooth side out the jacket features only two zippered chest pockets.When reversed to the grid pile side out, you get one zippered chest pocket and two front hand warmer pockets.
The two different configurations really helps a lot when you find yourself with different needs for certain situations. Perhaps you’ll find that your gear will get in the way of waist pockets therefore two zipper pockets on the chest would much more ideal. Also when you wear the jacket pile side need two zippered chest pockets are hidden, which works out great when you need to stash your ID or something important that you don’t want to lose or have taken.
Gaining more and more popularity in recent years, the grid fleece style features one side of the jacket’s material with the pile in a grid pattern. This style seems to maintain body heat really well, in fact many militaries have adopted this style of fleece material into their cold weather clothing systems. Patagonia always seems to deliver with their outerwear, and their fleece jackets have almost become legendary with the many loyal users.
The R3 is not cheap, but the insulation that you will get from this fairly lightweight fleece is well worth the price, especially if you are serious about outdoor sports like climbing. While there are some models that ended up on our list which were slightly warmer overall, None of them seems to beat the R3 when it come to more effectively regulating body heat.
The thing about a lot of the fleeces from Patagonia is that they really are as comfortable as they look. With models like the R3, R1 and even The Better Sweater, these end up becoming the go-to jacket to throw on when it get cooler, not just something you have set away to strictly use for climbing, hiking or camping. I addition to being built ready for abuse, this fleece is also super great for just hanging around in.
Additionally, the R3 does something well which many of the heavier fleece jackets don’t; It breathes pretty well during active use.
When we talk about fit, we of course think about how it physically fits the body, but also how it works with other articles of clothing and outerwear. Although the R3 isn’t the absolute lightest jacket, it I wouldn’t call it bulky at all. In fact it works really well for layering with hard shells or other rugged outerwear. The cuffs of the sleeve are clean and slim fitting, they won’t get in the way of whatever you are doing. That is another thing that makes it easy to layer with. This jacket will easily go underneath a waterproof or other layers, depending on your environment.
“You get what you pay for” is a phrase that sings true consistently with regards to most products from Patagonia. There is certainly no exception here. This was designed to be more than fleece to throw on for a trip to the store. The R3 hoody is intended for the outdoors, No matter what the activity is, this jacket seems to stand up to the riggers, and often time torture, that outdoor apparel tend to experience. I think it’s safe to say that you are getting a quality product here.
Patagonia’s R3 hoody is a solid, quality made jacket that is perfect for physical activities such as climbing, hiking and long range treks. It provides excellent heat retention, a fit perfect for layering, as well as a durable and functional design. Although slightly expensive, we think the pros, by far, outweigh the cons, making this a top pick for our list.
Our second place spot goes to the Fortrez fleece hoody from Arc’teryx. As a brand who mostly sticks to putting out performance geared outerwear, their Fortrez falls right in line. It really does have a sleek design that goes along with what you would expect to see from this brand. To me, one of the appealing factors is it’s simplistic yet functional design. Although not a cheap option, Arc’teryx tends to be worth it.
Hardface material provides some resistance against light rain
Thinner construction makes it ideal for layering
Snug fitting hood does not create an obstruction
Neck gaiter/face mask adds extra defense from the elements
The thin design means less warmth than some others
Not a cheap option
The Fortrez is an ideal choice to layer with for alpine climbing. It features some great technologies such as their Hardface material, which will repel light rain. This material won’t do much under heavy rain, but it really helps quite a bit with blocking wind and minor elements. Like many newer models, this jacket is constructed with seams with flatlock stitching, which does make a big difference in comfort, especially when you have a bunch of gear hanging off of you. There are two zippered hand warmer pockets, and one zippered chest pocket. The jacket also has a neck gaiter/face covering, which can be tucked into the back of the hood and out of the way. And as a bonus, this jacket also looks good, making it ideal for everyday use, trips to the store, sports events, etc.
This one works really well as a mid layer, being that it just isn’t quite as warm as the R3 from Patagonia. However, if you tend to stay active, the body heat retention is still really quite good. the neck gaiter that we mentioned above, which can be used as a face cover, does make a huge difference with blocking wind as well as retaining some of that heat.
Even though there are options out there which offer thicker material and a bit more warmth, we feel like the Fortrez performs just as it was intended to. Perhaps this is best used as a level in your layering system.
This fleece is actually really comfortable, with a very soft fleece lining. The seams are flatlock stitched for reduced rubbing and discomfort, which is especially helpful when wearing a backpack or carrying extra gear. There were some who slightly annoyed with the sleeve seam that runs right down the center of the elbow however.
If you are looking for a softer, higher pile fleece, this is not the one for you. The Fortrez is constructed of the Hardface material which Arc’teryx uses to help block wind and protect against light showers. Although this is a comfortable jacket, it is designed more for function and performance, so not quite as soft as the R3 above.
Although this appears to be a tight fitting or slim jacket, it actually fit pretty comfortably. The non-bulky design does make it more useful when it comes to layering up. If you size it correctly most should be able to fit a thinner base or mid layer underneath. The cuffs aren’t tapered too much, but they are fitted enough to stay out of the way and not become bulky with layered with a heavier jacket or shell.
The hood looks almost like a wetsuit for scuba diving, but that is a good feature, especially if you plan to pair with heavier hooded outerwear. The hood also seems to fit just right, not to obstruct peripheral vision too much, an issue found with many hooded jackets.
One of the great things about this jacket is that it seems work really well for layering, without the problem of bunching up underneath, which is extremely annoying. Also, because it is so thin, the Fortrez doesn’t take away from you ability to move easily when wearing layers. This makes it a perfect lining layer for a rain jacket.
This brand is known for quality products, as their outerwear is designed to stand up to a beating and keep taking more. The Fortrez is no exception. This fleece was made for rugged activities such a rock climbing, ice/alpine climbing and treks through rough terrain. I think this one will last a while before the elbows start to give out.
The Fortrez Hoody from Arc’teryx is a great piece of outerwear, which may even work better as an outstanding mid layer. Although it is thinner and slightly less warm than the Patagonia R3, the Fortrez provides things like protection from light rain showers and built in, stowable neck gaiter which also works to cover the face. And, if you do intend to use this jacket for layering, the fit and material is such that it moves very well underneath heavier layer without challenging your movement. Although this is a rather expensive article of clothing, we think it is well worth the price.
The North Face Denali
The North Face Denali is a classic. This thing hasn’t changed a bit, and doesn’t need to. The Denali is a heavier fleece that the two featured above, but certainly a bit warmer as well. This isn’t a ultra-lightweight, hyper engineered performance jacket. This is a well constructed, long lasting fleece which performs well for many different uses and environments.
Very warm Polartec 300 fleece
Nylon overlays provide abrasion resistance
Drawcord bottom hem helps to retain body heat
Compatible with shells and other outerwear from TNF
Available in a large amount of colors
A bit to bulky for sports like rock climbing or others which require a lot of movement
A bit expensive
First off, this is a warm jacket, made of Polartec 300 fleece. Though noticeably heavier, and a bit bulkier, than some others on our list, the Denali performs well with just about any adventure you can think of. The jacket has two zippered hand warmer pockets, as well as two zippered chest pockets for the men’s or one zippered chest pocket on the women’s version.
The bottom hem features zip cord adjustment to help block out the cold and keep the heat from escaping. Additionally, there are nylon overlays in different areas to reduce the effects from abrasions. The Denali comes in a lot of different color choices, and is even available in a hooded version.
This is probably the warmest option on this list. The Polartec 300 fleece material is great for most cold environments, especially those where you tend to stay active and move around more. The high collar and zip cord adjustable bottom hem also help out a bit with keeping the warmth trapped inside the jacket. For even harsher elements, the Denali is compatible with some outer shells from The North Face. There are snaps on each cuff which are used to secure the jacket inside of a compatible outer shell. However, these snaps are only meant to work with other products from this company. I have used this version as a stand-alone fleece jacket for a majority of the time, and was able to stay fairly warm in some pretty cold weather.
This is a heavier fleece, so you’re probably not going to wear it while lounging around the house. But, it is one of those kinds of things that you don’t mind, and even may not like to take off. One feature that is a plus, some found as a bit of an irritation at times as well. The drawcord in the bottom hem tends to ride up when climbing, backpacking or other activities which required a lot of movement. Also, this model seems to be a bit on the shorter side. As it works great for people of a shorter stature, the same doesn’t seem to be true for the taller folks. When bending and reaching, the jacket tends to follow quite a bit, exposing the wearer.
The Denali is much bulkier than the Arc’teryx Fortrez and Patagonia R3, so it may not have the same kind of performance with activities such as rock climbing, ice/alpine climbing, or some others which require less bulk and more maneuverability. This fit much looser, and tends to get caught with backpack straps and interfere with movement and accessibility to you gear while loaded down. However, the Denali jacket is an excellent choice for those hikes during the cooler seasons, as well as camping. Really, this one is a great choice for an everyday fleece to wear around during your daily errands.
It is pretty well constructed. This model features overlays made with a durable nylon material, which cover the shoulders, chest and elbows. This provides some added abrasion resistance to keep the jacket lasting longer. Most people who have picked one of these up can tell you that it will last for quite a while. Some people wear them for years before finally giving into purchasing something new.
The Denali jacket from The North Face is a solid no nonsense fleece which is incredibly warm, built with quality and will last for quite a while. It probably isn’t going to be your first choice for high tempo activities, or things that require a lot of continuous movement, but it does have its own great qualities. This jacket is really more suited for camping, day hiking and lower tempo functions. It is also ideal for everyday casual wear.
Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 200
Mountain Hardwear is another mainstream, but great brand that shouldn’t be overlooked. They are alway on my shopping list when it comes time to look for new outerwear. The Monkey Man 200 is really a multi-functional jacket, good for both casual and outdoor use. The high pile style is one that people either love or hate, but definitely helps a bit with heat retention. Let’s take a look at this one, and see what makes it worthy of our list.
This fluffy fleece features a high pile design, not quite as shaggy as Patagonia’s Classic Retro-X, but is as inviting as it is warm, with a more fitted design. It has the typical two zippered hand warmer pockets as well as one zippered chest pocket with the Mountain Hardwear logo on it. The pile stops just above the cuff for a clean fit, free of extra material that could potentially get in the way. The high pile fleece continues throughout the inside of the high collar. The Monkey Man 200 is also available in a hooded grid fleece version.
The appearance alone screams warm jacket. Although the Monkey Man might be a bit too warm for higher tempo activities, it is certainly a more than ideal pick for long hikes, camping, or even a thicker layer for mountaineering. Their MicroClimate Zoning seems to really work well, retaining body heat where and when you need it. It also works really well as a part of your layering system, providing the perfect level of warmth, working best paired with an outer shell in windy and more extreme conditions that you might find yourself in. The cuffs wrap the wrist good enough to also help retain that heat.
The material in this jacket is really quite soft, making the Monkey Man a comfortable option for just about any use, even just hanging around the campsite. Depending on the body type, the shoulders and back may tend to fit a bit tight for some, making it not ideally comfortable for everyone. In all, this is as comfortable as it is functional, which is always a good thing.
Although the overall fit isn’t form fitted, it is snug. This works really well for when you want to add it as a layer for those much colder environments. If sized correctly, there is enough room for extra layers underneath. The cuffs tend to fit tightly, but if that isn’t something that you find bothersome, it seems to help with retaining body heat well. As mention above, the shoulder and back of this jacket may fit a bit tight on some body types, so it might be necessary to size up if you intend on layering underneath. Just keep in mind that the bottom of the jacket does not have a drawcord, so it might hang lower than you may want with a larger size.
Mountain Hardwear produces some good gear, stuff that really does tend to live up to their name. The Monkey Man 200 seems to stand up to the challenge, although it would be great if there were some type of reinforced material covering the elbows. Other than that, it is quite a sturdy jacket, one which we would recommend to anyone interested in an option which will definitely cost you a bit less than something from Patagonia or Arc’teryx.
Things To Think About When Shopping For A Good Fleece
We apply a few categories of criteria while searching for the best picks. Style is great, but function is even better. For that reason we looked beyond the seasonal trends, digging just a bit deeper to see what would be an ideal fit for real outdoor use. Some of search revolves around suitable features for particular environments, comfort, fit, durability and most importantly level of warmth provide.
This is really the biggest reason you are buying a fleece. We want to be sure that the best and most suitable choices provide an acceptable, if not exceptional, level of warmth to the wearer. Whether you intend to wear as a layer, or as a stand alone, it needs to do the main job it is designed to do, and do it well.
We looked for features such as a fairly secure waist, well-fitting collar or hood and snug fitting cuffs. The are a few things that help greatly in retaining body heat. We also look at the material. We want to know whether it is hih quality fleece, or poorly made fabric that allows the wind to breeze right through.
This one is pretty obvious, but still good to mention. Who wants to spend a bunch of money on a jacket that is uncomfortable?
But, we don’t just pay attention to whether it is only comfortable as a stand alone piece of outerwear. We aso want to know how comfortable and adaptable they are when paired with other garments, forming a layering system. We want to know if the jacket bunches up when worn underneath a hardshell, whether the cuffs are too tight, whether there are portions of a jacket which seem to fit too snug or too loose, not matching with the fit of the rest of that jacket. We like to know if this is a comfortable around the house and daily errands kind of jacket. If you go out and spend your money on something, you ought to be able to wear it wherever and whenever you want.
This has less to do with overall comfort, and more to do the the functional fit, especially when performing specific activities such as rock climbing, alpine climbing and even intense trekking. You don’t want to have bulky material hanging from the sleeves, an extra loose fit that tends to bunch up under the rest of your gear. We really look at whether or not the best choice really are designed with a fit which is truly suitable for the uses it is intended.
Whatever you choose, it has to stand up to anything that you intend to throw at it. The stitching should be strong, the material should be durable enough for the environment and elements you may find yourself facing. We also look into whether a particular jacket holds up to the quality track record of the company.
Really, the fleece jackets that people choose are completely up to their own particular needs, as well as budget. Though most of the options in this buying guide tend to run a bit higher in price, we believe they are well worth the cost if you intend on really putting your gear to the test.
We researched more angles than simply what would meet our set criteria. We also paid a lot of attention to what previous customers and current users had to say about the options we picked for our list.