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Best Fleece Jackets (Review & Buying Guide) in 2022


There are some in the outdoor world who say fleece is dead. Nothing could be further from the truth. While there are newer active insulation materials and hydrophobic down on the market, synthetic fleece jackets still have a place in your outdoor wardrobe for the following reasons.

  • Fleece is hydrophobic and holds less than one percent of its weight in moisture 
  • Fleece continues to insulate when damp and dries quickly (down does not)
  • Fleece is very breathable and lightweight
  • Fleece is versatile: it can be used as a mid-layer or outer layer
  • Fleece is comfy
  • Fleece can be eco-friendly: many jackets today are made from recycled materials

We took a look at the best of what’s available on the market to help you choose the best fleece jacket to meet your needs.

The Vigor Plus Fleece Hoodie is among the very best premium jackets on the market. It’s made by Outdoor Research, which has been making rock-solid mountaineering gear for decades. The Vigor Plus is ORs’ most breathable and stretchy mid-layer jacket. It’s exceptionally versatile as an outer layer in spring and fall, and as a mid-layer under a hard or soft shell during colder months.

The jacket’s grid-backed fleece excels at providing athletic performance and warmth. The high-loft grid interior is super soft on the skin and allows for exceptional breathability — providing an exit for warm, moist, body-generated air. This allows you to keep the jacket on during stop-and-go activities like backcountry skiing or climbing. The Vigor Plus is wind- and water-resistant, and the shell and interior fabric allow for four-way stretching to allow a full range of movement. The jacket features a roomy hood with Low-Pro binding, one zippered chest and two zippered hand pockets, Low-Pro Binding elastic cuffs, and a Low-Pro binding hem. It also features four internal dump pockets.

Outdoor Research knocks it out of the park with this jacket. It has a more durable exterior fabric than most fleeces on the market, and the hand pockets sit a bit higher than normal to enable access while wearing a backpack hip belt or tucked in under a climbing harness. It’s also made from 93 percent recycled material. While there’s a lot to love about this jacket, we do wish it had an elastic drawcord hem.

Product Spect


  • Materials

    93% recycled polyester 7% spandex

  • Water-resistant

    Yes

  • Wind-resistant

    Yes

  • Abrasion-resistant

    Yes

  • Thumb loops

    No

  • Weight

    18.6 ounces (527 grams)

PROS

Great freedom of movement

Water- and wind-resistant

Super breathable

Warm

Abrasion-resistant

CONS

No thumb loops

No hem drawcord

I’ve owned several Mountain Hardwear jackets over the years and have always been pleased with their performance. As a premium brand, I was surprised to find a Mountain Hardwear fleece jacket under $100, so I checked out the Microchill 2.0.

This lightweight jacket offers a pretty standard classic cut with a full-zip front and two zippered hand warmer pockets. It’s a solid choice for backpacking, hiking, and travel, and it’s versatile — worn as a light jacket or as a mid-layer under a shell. Although the cuffs lack thumb holes, they are elasticized as is the adjustable hidden cinch at the hem. The MicroFleece is soft to the skin and has flat-sewn seams for additional comfort.

Mountain Hardwear also put a zipper garage at the top of the front zipper to prevent it from abrading your chin. While I prefer jackets with hoods, if you are looking for a good lightweight fleece jacket at a decent price, the Microchill 2.0 is tough to beat.

Mountain Hardwear has a solid reputation as a premium outdoor clothing brand. Its garments are made from quality materials and are cut to fit athletic frames. I’ve used its gear extensively in the past, and the Microchill 2.0 looks, fits, and performs great.

Product Specs


  • Materials

    100% Velous MicroFleece

  • Water-resistant

    No

  • Wind-resistant

    No

  • Abrasion-resistant

    Yes

  • Thumb loops

    No

  • Weight

    5.9 ounces (167 grams)

PROS

Warm

Lightweight

Great comfortable fit

CONS

No hood

No thumb loops

With the addition of a water-resistant coating, the Patagonia R1 TechFace hoody is a great improvement on the decades-old Regulator R-Series line of fleece jackets. The R1 TechFace is the most water-resistant fleece I’ve ever worn and it’s super versatile. Although it’s not as warm as a standard R1 fleece, it is an overall awesome piece of outdoor active wear for the rain, wind, or cold.

The R1 TechFace’s exterior is very abrasion-resistant compared to other fleece jackets. It is rather unique among fleece jackets in that it could almost be classified as a light softshell jacket with a fleece interior. Patagonia brands it as a cross-layer designed for extended versatility in variable mountain conditions. The cut is roomy enough to layer over a light warming layer — like the standard R1 — for increased warmth and versatility. It’s also form-fitting and slides easily under a hard shell outer layer.

The R1 TechFace features two zippered hand-warming pockets, one zippered exterior chest pocket, an elastic drawstring hem to keep the wind out, elasticized cuffs, and a fully adjustable helmet-compatible hood with great neck and face coverage and an integrated laminated visor. Made from recycled polyester and spandex and designed with an articulated cut, the R1 allows a great range of movement. Its grid insulation design also provides superb breathability, which also helps keep you dry by allowing warm, moist air generated by body heat places to escape.

Patagonia’s new R1 fleece is an ideal fleece jacket for high-output efforts running, cross country skiing, climbing, and cycling, but you’ll want a warmer layer than this for hanging out around camp.

Product Specs


  • Materials

    92% recycled polyester 8% spandex

  • Water-resistant

    Yes, DWR finish (not waterproof)

  • Wind-resistant

    Yes, but not windproof

  • Abrasion-resistant

    Yes

  • Thumb loops

    No

  • Weight

    13.8 ounces (391 grams)

PROS

Water- and wind-resistant

Super breathable

Abrasion-resistant

Honorable Mention Fleece Jacket

Although a well-known European brand, Jack Wolfskin is new to the U.S. I was sent a sample from the company and was initially skeptical since I had not encountered the brand before, but it far surpassed expectations.

First off, I love grid patterned insulation for its breathability, and Wolfskin’s Nanuk Dynamic Big Grid DWR has a nice structured reverse side that is soft on the skin and has a smooth water- and wind-resistant exterior. I wore it on trail runs in 40-degree weather and it performed great. The jacket also sports a nice hood, two zippered hand pockets, and a zippered chest pocket. I also appreciated the zipper garage, which kept the zipper from irritating my chin when the jacket was fully zipped.

Although the hood isn’t adjustable, it is elasticized (as are the cuffs) and didn’t obscure my vision. The cut is athletic and fits close to the body. This jacket can compete with the Patagonia R1 and is suitable for high-output efforts trail running, cross country skiing, and mountain biking. On colder nights, I also slept in it.

The HydroGrid is also 100 percent PFC-free and does not contain perfluorocarbons — a long lasting greenhouse gas. While I really like this jacket, I hope version 2.0 has thumb holes in the cuffs.

Product Specs


  • Materials

    96% polyester, 4% Spandex

  • Water-resistant

    Yes, DWR finish (not waterproof)

  • Wind-resistant

    Yes, but not windproof

  • Abrasion-resistant

    Yes

  • Thumb loops

    No

  • Weight

    15.1 ounces (430 grams)

PROS

Breathable

Superb fit

Water-resistant

Best Non-Fleece Fleece Jacket

There’s a battle going on in the outdoor sports world over which material is best for base layers and insulation: synthetic or natural fibers. For those looking for a non-synthetic fleece option, Merino wool is the stuff you want.

Merino wool comes from, yup, you guessed it, Merino sheep, and their wool fibers are much thinner than normal — they’re generally smaller than 25 microns wide. Because of its small diameter, Merino wool feels soft rather than itchy against human skin, and the natural lanolin in the wool helps repel water and inhibit the growth of funk-producing bacteria. Merino wool also performs differently than synthetic fibers in that it absorbs up to one third of its own weight in moisture without feeling clammy like synthetic fibers can when wet. It’s breathable, lightweight, and insulates well.

One of the leading companies in the Merino wool outdoor jacket game is Ibex, and their Shak Hoodoo Hoodie is exceptional — sure, pricey, but exceptional. The dense 375-gram 19 micron double knit Merino Ponti can serve as a mid- or outer-layer, is naturally elastic, and will move well with your body.

The jacket features a full zippered front, zippered chest pocket, scuba-style hood, thumbholes, flatlock seams for comfort, and raglan sleeves for layering. It’s pretty versatile, so it can serve as an outer jacket for cooler temperatures and a mid-layer for colder temperatures. The cut is athletic and the jacket has a great aesthetic. You’ll want to wear it in the backcountry and around town.

Product Specs


  • Materials

    100% Merino Wool Ponti

  • Water-resistant

    No

  • Wind-resistant

    No

  • Abrasion-resistant

    Moderately

  • Thumb loops

    Yes

  • Weight

    1.16 pounds (540 grams)

PROS

Super warm

Wicks well

Keeps plastics out of environment

Thumb loops!

CONS

No hand pockets

Expensive

When I first tried on the Patagonia Classic Retro-X jacket, I didn’t want to take it off. The plush soft Sherpa fur kind of reminded me of what the dudes who fought Indiana Jones in Nepal wore, but it’s actually more functional for cold days when you’re hanging around town or if you just want to release your inner Yeti.

The Retro-X’s construction is as hearty and durable as the high-altitude climbers it’s named after. It’s also planet-friendly, as it’s made from recycled materials. The full-length zipper features an internal wind flap, and the Y-Joint sleeves allow for great freedom of mobility through the shoulders and arms. The jacket sports a zippered external chest pocket and two zippered hand warmer pockets. At 27 ounces, it’s a bit weighty and not super packable.

The Retro-X is designed with Sherpa-style fleece, which is thicker, plusher, and softer than 200- or 300-weight PolarTec and gives the appearance of a sheepskin. Functional and stylish, it’s a winner. Just get ready to be petted when you wear it.

Product Specs


  • Materials

    13-ounce 100% polyester

  • Water-resistant

    DWR finish

  • Wind-resistant

    Windproof

  • Abrasion-resistant

    No

  • Thumb loops

    No

  • Weight

    27.3 ounces (774 grams)

PROS

Super warm

Well-made

Windproof

Water-resistant

CONS

Bulky

Heavy

Doesn’t pack down well

Why you should trust us

I have more than 35 years of backcountry experience. I’m an avid long-distance backpacker, rock climber, and mountaineer who understands the value well-designed gear delivers, especially when your life depends on it. I don’t get paid by the manufacturers and have editorial independence. My editor leaves it to me to recommend and prints what I write. All of this enables me to provide you, our valued readers, with our unvarnished, honest opinions on the recommendations we make.

Types of fleece jackets

Synthetic fleece jackets have been around since the early 1980s when Aaron Feuerstein invented Polartec, a polyester yarn woven into a thick fabric. His aim was to improve upon the insulating power of wool fibers by creating a material that was lightweight and warm even when damp. Patagonia was the first major retailer to use Polartec in its classic Synchilla jacket, and there have been more than 40 years of innovation since. Fleece jackets are generally categorized by weight: lightweight (100 g/m2), midweight (200 g/m2), and heavyweight (300 g/m2). 

Lightweight

Lightweight fleece jackets are typically made from 100 weight Polartec and are sometimes referred to as R1 jackets. They are the most breathable and packable and offer moderate warmth. The 100 series jackets are typically designed for high output efforts like trail running, cross country skiing, and mountain biking. 

Midweight

Midweight fleece jackets are typically made from 200 weight Polartec and are also called mid-layers. They can be worn as a jacket during cool temperatures or as an insulating layer over a base layer and under a windproof shell during colder temps. They are the most versatile of the bunch.

Heavyweight

Heavyweight fleece jackets are typically made from 300 (or greater) weight Polartec and are the warmest but also the least breathable. You don’t see as many 300 or 400 weight jackets on the market anymore, as most people opt for lightweight down jackets or soft shells in lieu of these bulky and baggy outer layers.

Key features of fleece jackets 

Fleece jackets have one main distinct advantage over other insulating layers in outdoor clothing: They continue to insulate when damp and dry out faster than other insulating materials. They are also soft and comfortable, pill-resistant and durable, very breathable, and provide great warmth for their weight. Most today are made from recycled fibers as well. I prefer to take one along on trips to the backcountry when the threat of rain presents. Lighter-weight fleece jackets are also great for high output days in cooler weather because they are very breathable and allow excess body heat to escape so you don’t become a sweaty mess. 

Hydrophobic material

Synthetic fleece doesn’t absorb water, and they allow water vapor and sweat to pass from warmer, denser areas (like next to your body) to the cooler, drier environment. Unlike wool, they don’t absorb moisture and continue to insulate when damp. One of the best improvements made over the decades was the microgrid design that allows for greater breathability. Almost every fleece jacket I own today has a microgrid design.

Zippers

I prefer full-length zippers over half or quarter zip designs. While the full zipper does add some nominal weight to the jacket, I find the versatility in body temperature regulation and ease of donning and doffing to be worth it. 

Pockets

Most fleece jackets have one chest and two hand-warming pockets. I look for jackets with zippered pockets as they help me to keep from losing things in the backcountry, especially on rocky or leafy terrain. Better jackets will have interior dump pockets, which are super handy for things like maps, small water bottles, or drying out yesterday’s wet socks while you are on the go.

Hoods

Some people love them, some people hate them. I prefer a hood on all of my jackets. Hoods are super versatile in helping regulate body temperature and keep the cold air off the neck.

Benefits of fleece jackets 

In general, fleece jackets excel over other outdoor garment materials in the areas of warmth, wind and water resistance, and breathability.

Warmth

As mentioned earlier, fleece offers great warmth for minimal weight. While not as warm per ounce as down, when it gets wet, it’s easy to wring out and dries out fast. Fleece works best as a mid-layer or outer layer when treated with a DWR finish. Fleece also helps keep you warm by its breathability — helping keep you dry from the inside out. 

Durability

Fleece jackets can take a beating. Roll them up, throw them in the backseat of your truck, toss a few bags of mulch on top of them, and they’ll be fine. You don’t have to baby fleece jackets like you have to with down jackets. Plus, they are more spark-resistant around the campfire. 

Comfort

Fleece is cozy next to the skin and warm. Look for garments with flat-stitched seams for additional comfort, and also features that help keep the wind out like hoods, drawcord hems, thumb loops or elasticized wrists, and wind guards behind zippers.

Pricing considerations for fleece jackets

Budget

If the jacket you are considering is priced below $50, take a good look and inspect it for quality and a Polartec label. Not all fleece material is the same, nor does it deliver the same performance. I like to wait until spring and take advantage of all the premium brands attempting to offload last year’s inventory. It’s better to get a $149 jacket on sale for $60 than pay full price for a lesser-quality brand.

Mid-range

You can find a lot of great fleece jackets in the $60 to $120 range. Variations in prices are largely due to features and the performance of the materials used. Things like full-length zippers, hoods and drawstrings, and thumb loops, all add to the construction cost and thus the price.

Premium

I consider anything above $120 to be a premium price for a fleece jacket. At this price point, I’m looking for premium performance fabrics, microgrid fabric, and a bunch of details like hoods, thumb loops, drawcord hems, and zippered pockets. Typically, with a premium price comes a bombproof warranty — like Patagonia’s lifetime guarantee — so check the fine print.

How we chose our top picks

All the fleece jackets in this review were selected based on personal ownership, hands-on inspection, interviewing other experts, and thoroughly reviewing manufacturers’ specifications. We take our time to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each item and also check out the reviews of other experts just to make sure we’re not missing anything. 

FAQs on fleece jackets

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q. What is the warmest fleece jacket?

A. The warmest fleece jacket I’ve found on the market is a toss-up between the Patagonia Retro-X and the North Face Denali 2. The former is made from high-loft Sherpa fleece and the latter from Polartec 300. 

Q. What is the thickest fleece jacket?

A. Definitely, jackets made with Sherpa fleece.

Q. What’s the difference between fleece and microfleece?

A. Chemically, they’re the same fabric. Microfleece is just a lighter version — typically below 100 g/m2 in weight.

Q. What is the difference between fleece and polar fleece?

A. Fleece is a general term applied to synthetic polyester material derived from plastic. Polar fleece is heavier and more durable, in common weights of 100, 200, or 300 g/m2.

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Joe Plenzler is a Marine Corps veteran who served from 1995 to 2015.  He is a backcountry expert, long-distance backpacker, rock climber, kayaker, cyclist, wannabe mountaineer, and the world’s OK-est guitar player. He is currently section-hiking the Appalachian Trail with his partner, Kate Germano. He supports his outdoor addiction by working as a human communication consultant, teaching at the College of Southern Maryland, and helping start-up companies with their public relations and marketing efforts.

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