Are you chilly? Fleece may be in your future. The synthetic fabric is synonomous with cozy, and we’re pretty sure cozy is the ultimate goal. Fleece is that surprisingly versatile fabric that can perform for high-energy activities and around-the-house lounging. It can be dressed up, dressed down, made retro or turned urbanite. With key qualities of warmth, breathability, and water resistance, we find fleece a necessity in our gear closet.
We’ve got the best fleece jackets for you, below. And we’re sure that no matter what Backpacker Type you are, there’s a fleece you’ll fall for.
Fleece Jacket Comparison Table
|Best Fleece Jackets||MSRP||Weight||Fleece Weight||See It|
|Patagonia R1 Hoody||$159||12 oz.||Lightweight||Women’s, Men’s|
|The North Face Denali 2||$179||24.7 oz.||Heavyweight||Women’s, Men’s|
|Patagonia Better Sweater Fleece Jacket||$139||16.4 oz.||Midweight||Women’s, Men’s|
|Arc’teryx Fortrez Hoodie||$199||13.2 oz||Midweight||Women’s, Men’s|
|Marmot Reactor||$99||11.4 oz||Lightweight||Men’s, Women’s (Flashpoint)|
|Patagonia Synchilla Lightweight Snap-T||$119||14.3 oz||Midweight/Heavyweight||Women’s, Men’s|
|Patagonia R2||$169||13.4 oz||Midweight||Women’s, Men’s|
|The North Face Campshire||$149||16.9 oz||Heavyweight||Women’s, Men’s|
|The North Face TKA 100 Glacier 1/4 Zip||$55||9.2 oz||Lightweight||Women’s, Men’s|
|Arc’teryx Covert Cardigan||$179||18.7 oz||Midweight/Heavyweight||Women’s, Men’s|
|Columbia Steens Mountain 2||$60||16 oz.||Midweight||Men’s, Women’s (Benton Springs)|
The Best Fleece Jacket for Climbing, Backpacking, and Hiking
Patagonia R1 Hoody
The Patagonia R1 Hoody is perhaps the most iconic active fleece in the world. Used by climbers, hikers, backpackers, and general outdoor enthusiasts for nearly 20 years, this fleece is usually a staple in most gearhead closets. The R1 Hoody features Polartec Power Grid, unique to Patagonia, which is small checkered squares of surprising warmth that feel good against the skin and allow ample breathability. The jacket is quite minimal, with a single 3/4 zipper that allows heat venting, and one zippered chest pocket. The hood fits right around the head and discreet thumbholes round out the warm yet light layer. The R1 Hoody is Fair Trade Certified and the fabric is bluesign approved, and it comes with Patagonia’s lifetime guarantee.
Patagonia R1 Star Rating
The Patagonia R1 Hoody is a high-performing active fleece. This works wonders as a midlayer around camp and as an outer layer while moving through chilly backcountry or while climbing. A baclava style hood, thumb holes, and extra long hem make it highly versatile, while the quarter zip allows for heat venting or solid protection.
This layer goes just about anywhere, and will last a lifetime.
The Best Fleece Jacket for Warmth
The North Face Denali 2
The North Face Denali 2 is the second edition of a world-famous fleece. Known for its equal parts rugged and cozy, the Denali 2 uses 300-gram fleece (the heaviest kind around!) to create an exceptionally comfy and warm jacket. The Denali 2 then uses 70D nylon fabric on the chest and arms to create thorough windblocking, which is a notorious issue with fleece. This is coupled with two zippered hand pockets, two zippered chest pockets, and elastic jersey cuffs. If you want a super warm and wind-blocking fleece outer layer, this is nearly the best you’ll find.
The North Face Denali 2 Star Rating
The North Face Denali 2 is a heavyweight, heavy-duty fleece jacket that comes with four zippered pockets, large wind-blocking elements over the chest and arms, comfortably jersey cuffs, and a seriously cozy fleece. It will last nearly a lifetime, and is warmer (and heavier) than most fleece jackets out there.
The Best Fleece Jacket for General Use
Patagonia Better Sweater
- Weight: $139
- Cost: 16.4 oz.
- Best For: Urban Hiker
The Patagonia Better Sweater is our go-to heathered fleece jacket. It is made of 100% polyester knitted fleece, has two zippered hand pockets, and the men’s version has a zippered chest while the women’s has a zippered bicep pocket. The range of colors, fit, and warmth for 200-weight fleece is excellent, and it’s Fair Trade Certified with bluesign approved fabric. Not overly styled, not overly heavy, not overly light, and with a small amount of wind blocking — this fleece is nice enough to wear out, durable enough to wear outdoors, and cozy enough to wear in the house.
Patagonia Better Sweater Star Rating
The Patagonia Better Sweater is a cozy, fine-looking fleece that fits in well in any urban environment. It’s heathered design appeals to the eye as much as the skin, and wearing it is truly like wearing your favorite sweater. The jacket has high quality zippers, cozy hand pockets, and a chest or arm zip for small items. The perfect mid-layer for chilly days around town, or an excellent outer layer for moderate weather when you a want a durable and warm jacket on-hand.
The Best of the Rest
Arc’teryx Fortrez Hoodie
The Arc’teryx Fortrez Hoodie is perhaps the most advanced fleece around. It uses Arc’teryx’s precise attention to fit, form, and function, and comes with a very high cost as well. The hoodie has a front zip with micro corded zipper pulls, a zippered chest pocket, and two zippered hand pockets. The back hem is dropped quite low, and the torso is low in general, to provide more warmth and work well under a pack or harness. The ScubaHood works under a helmet and there’s an integrated neck gaiter that doubles as a balaclava, greatly increasing the cold-weather performance of the Fortrez. The material is four-way Polartec Power Stretch, which is great for a range of motion, and it uses Hardface technology that blocks the wind, a common issue with fleece. Overall this is a fantastic fleece if you want to be warm, active, and well protected. However, we find it’s overkill for most activities and the cost puts people off. Best for mountaineers and alpine climbers, but if you want “the absolute best” start with the Fortrez.
Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoodie Star Rating
The Arc’teryx Fortrez Hoodie is a classic rock and alpine climbing lightweight fleece that excels as a multi-purpose layer on the trail. A built-in neck gaiter/balaclava in the hood, three zip pockets, and a climber’s cut make the Fortrez a go-to for alpinists and hikers alike.
The Marmot Reactor is a fleece jacket that’s all about function. It has an active fit and is made for high-output activities, which means it’s a 100-weight fleece that is meant to fit close to the body. The newest version uses Polartec Power Grid Fleece, a departure from the original Classic, which gives it more breathability and stretch, but a less cozy feel. It has a zippered chest pocket and two zippered hand-warmer pockets, and reinforced shoulders for use with a backpack. This fleece is a good balance between cost, weight, and function for those who want something that can layer well on long hikes or backpacking trips. The women’s version of this jacket is called the Flashpoint, and as of publishing this guide it still uses the Polartec Classic 100 fleece.
Marmot Reactor Star Rating
The Marmot Reactor fleece jacket is a standout lightweight fleece for high out put activities like hiking and backpacking. Cozy zippered hand-pockets, a reinforced collar, and easy movement throughout allows the jacket to layer well, or be your primary defense against cold.
Patagonia Synchilla Lightweight Snap-T
The Patagonia Synchilla Lightweight Snap-T harkens back to the original fleece, called the Synchilla, which was debuted by Patagonia decades ago. This is the lightweight version, but it’s fashion and function remain the same: one giant sweater of cozy. The Lightweight Synchilla is made of 100% recycled fleece, and is Fair Trade Certified sewn. It has four snaps at the top for when it gets real chilly, and one breast pocket with a snap for storing very small items. And that’s it! The fleece material is quite fuzzy, and it tends to shed, so watch out. The style is also distinctive, and very retro. Overall the warmth of this Lightweight Synchilla is between 200- and 300-weight, but we find it’s an excellent sweater for around the house on really cold days, or around town on cool days. Note the baggy fit, so it doesn’t layer very well.
Patagonia Synchilla Lightweight Snap-T Star Rating
The Patagonia Synchilla Lightweight Snap-T is a classic fleece designed for maximum coziness. It has a single breast pocket with a snap-t button, and three buttons up the color. That’s pretty much it.
The sweater is slightly baggy and uses midweight fleece for a good balance of warmth and actual weight when worn, and it is Fair Trade Certified sewn, in addition to 100% recycled polyester fleece. Warm, cozy, and perfect for lounging around the fire.
The Patagonia R2 fleece jacket is hybrid fleece that aims to hit a number of lifestyles, and does so with aplomb. It’s a 200-gram fleece (midweight) with solid warming capability and a very silky-smooth fleece material. Then, on the side panels, it uses a thinner Polartec Power Grid fabric for excellent stretch and increased breathabiltiy. It has a slim fit for active pursuits, but the cut is a little more casual than, say, the R1 Hoody, so it works well for casual outings too. There are two zipped hand pockets and two internal drop pockets, with a chest zip for the men’s version. If you want a warm fleece that doubles duty as your cozy day-to-day, then turns into a breathable, layerable jacket when outdoors, this is a good choice. The fabric is also bluesign approved and roughly 75% recycled on the whole.
Patagonia R2 Star Rating
The Patagonia R2 is a solid and rugged do-it-all midlayer jacket. It’s got enough pockets to be useful and is so soft you’ll never want to take it off.
The North Face Campshire
The North Face Campshire is well-named, in that it’s perfect around camp and might make people think of the Shire, that famed land of Hobbits. (You will look like a Hobbit in winter!) The Campshire uses 330 gram Sherpa fleece, which is crazy cozy, soft to the touch, and quite warm. We like it as a hoodie with its large kangaroo pouch, though it’s offered in many different styles. This thing is baggy and bulky and definitely not technical, but it is literally made for sitting around a campfire or your apartment when a cold snap comes around. The 1/2 zip allow you to vent a bit, and the kangaroo pouch is zippered to keep items in, with a small snap closure on top to reveal a secret pocket.See Women's North Face Campshire See Men's North Face Campshire
The North Face TKA 100 Glacier 1/4 Zip
The North Face TKA 100 Glacier is a simple fleece from a huge brand. It uses lightweight 100-weight fleece with a 1/4 zipper — and that’s it! The North Face backs it with a lifetime warranty, so in case that zipper fails you can send it in, but there’s very little else that can break, which is why we love it. This fleece is excellent for anyone that wants a basic midlayer for warmth and breathability. It doesn’t weigh much, packs down small for a fleece, won’t break the bank, and the fit is a tiny bit baggier than your typical “active” fit. Sometimes you don’t need fancy, you just want warmth, and that’s where the TKA 100 Glacier shines.
The North Face TKA 100 Glacier Star Rating
The North Face TKA 100 Glacier is a 1/4 zip fleece that’s about as basic as they come. There are no extra features, like pockets or cinches or reinforced areas. Just a single well-made zipper to let out air or increase heat retention, and Polartec 100 Classic fleece for fuzzy, breathable warmth. The perfect, relatively cheap mid-layer for hiking and backpacking.
Arc’teryx Covert Cardigan
The Arc’teryx Covert Cardigan is a high-end, stylish fleece meant to replicate the classic cardigan. Think outdoor classy with a cup of white wine and a snowy mountain in the distance. In all seriousness, the Covert Cardigan line (there are a few styles) competes directly with the Patagonia Better Sweater, and uses a heathered, casual style, which is a step away for the typical high-alpine gear that Arc’teryx puts out. It’s meant to look and feel like wool, but is made with 200-weight Alpenex heathered fleece with a brushed back knit for soft-against-the-skin feel. It has two zippered hand pockets and zips up to your neck. The Covert Cardigan is an expensive piece for what it is, and we feel the Better Sweater performs roughly the same (though the Cardigan is better in the wilderness) for less money. But if you love Arc’teryx, find their fit to be perfect, or simply have the money to spend, the Covert Cardigan is an excellent and warm midlayer fleece that will work on hiking trails and the local brewery.See Women's Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan See Men's Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan
Columbia Steens Mountain 2
The Columbia Steens Mountain 2 is a wildly popular fleece, mostly for the price and coziness. It has a full zipper, two zippered hand pockets, and uses 200-weight fleece that’s been brushed soft for a delightful feel. While we think the Columbia Steens Mountain 2 is a solid choice if you want a cheap fleece, we don’t love that it sheds, and we find it pretty bulky overall. That said it comes with a warranty and Columbia often has it on sale for nearly 50% off, so if you want a simple fleece you can’t go wrong.
Columbia Steens Mountain 2 Star Rating
The Columbia Steens Mountain 2 is a go-to inexpensive fleece from a large brand. It has a durable full main zipper, two zippered hand pockets, and a very plush midweight fleece for maximum coziness and decent warmth. Some of the hardware, like the hem cinch, doesn’t use the highest quality materials, and may break with heavy use. The fleece also tends to pile quickly, so you may have to wash and treat it carefully. Typically on sale, and styled as a loose fit.
Fleece Jacket Features
Like any outdoor product, there are a variety of features to consider when making your choice. Below are the fleece jacket features we think matter the most. And, if you want a deeper explanation of what fleeces fit for what Backpacker Types, see our informative guide to fleece!
Performance vs Casual Fleece
In the above list you may be able to spot the performance fleece jackets from the casual ones — typically you can tell just by the fit and style. Fleece is versatile in that it can warm you up, is water resistant, and it breathes. The level of warmth and breathability depends on the thickness of the fleece used (also called fleece weight), and of course other materials used in the construction of the jacket.
Performance fleece typically uses a thinner fabric, has a higher breathability, and is much more form-fitting, which allows it to be used in a layering system. These fleeces, like the Patagonia R1 and Marmot Reactor, are not known for extreme warmth, but when paired with a baselayer and down puffy or rain jacket, they become excellent insulators.
A few other key identifiers in performance fleece are hem cinches, thumb holes, a full-length or 3/4 quarter zipper for venting, offset panels that breathe better or stretch, and any wind-blocking material. See the full list of fleece features in our informative guide.
Casual fleece typically uses a thicker fabric, with less breathability, and it’s often relaxed or baggy in style so you can wear it as an outer layer. These traits increase optimum coziness, and are usually styled to be worn around town or in the house next to a roaring fire (that good life!). The Patagonia Synchilla Lighweight Snap-T and North Face Denali 2 are prime examples of this — large baggy fleeces that are super warm, and look good.
Other identifiers in casual fleece are kangaroo pockets (because for some reason kangaroos are the ultimate in cozy animals), exceptionally fuzzy fleece fabric, and heathered fleece, which is much more stylish.
Pro Tip: Some fleeces tread a good middle ground. These are usually the “midweight” fleeces, like the Patagonia R2, which is quite warm yet has paneling for extra breathability. If you want a do-it-all fleece, look for the midweight ones in a styling you can get on board with.
Fleece weight is a semi-generic term that the outdoor industry uses to help understand the thickness of fabric used in a given fleece product. The three categories are Lightweight (100 g/m2), Midweight (200 g/m2), and Heavyweight (300 g/m2). Polartec, the leading manufacturer of fleece, helped to define these categories with their Polartec Classic 100, 200, and 300 offerings.
These definitions are not hard and fast, because sometimes a product has different fabric patterns (like thinner sides for breathability and a thicker chest for warmth), and sometimes a product uses an in-between weight, like 240 g/m2. That said, it’s a good rule of thumb to use. We’ll break it down below.
Pro Tip: “G/m2” means grams per meter squared, and is an industry-standard way of writing the thickness of fabric. Look for a number preceding this to see how thick your fleece will be!
Lightweight Fleece (100 g/m2)
Lightweight fleece is the thinnest material of the three. (Duh). Common traits for Lightweight fleece are:
- More packable
- Breathes better
- Layers better
- Optimal for high-output activities, like hiking, running, or biking
Midweight (200 g/m2)
Midweight fleece is the middling of the three, and describes jackets that have decent warmth while still retaining breathability. Common traits for Midweight fleece:
- Very versatile
- Average warmth
- Often has specialized fabric, like heathered fleece or unique breathable side panels
- Often used as a layering piece for more casual use
Heavyweight (300 g/m2)
As you can probably guess, Heavyweight fleece is the thickest of the three. The cold stays out, and the sweat stays in! Common traits for Hevyweight fleece:
- Oodles of warmth
- Super soft fleece that’s nice to touch
- Wind-blocking materials
Wind and Water Resistance
Any jacket worth its salt in the outdoors needs to be able to deal with wind and water on some level. Fleece can handle them both, but only so well.
Fleece has decent water resistance, and is typically coated with DWR (Durable Water Repellent) to help moisture automatically bead off. It’s a naturally hydrobophic material, meaning it doesn’t want to get close to water. This helps with breathability, as sweat doesn’t tend to soak the fabric but instead bead off.
All this said, a fleece jacket won’t do well in a full rain storm. It will get soaked, and it will be uncomfortable. More comfortable than a down jacket, but still, not great.
Pro Tip: Hiking in a lightweight fleece with a rain shell on is one of the best ways to stay warm and relatively dry in a cold storm.
Fleece has notoriously poor wind resistance. Often fleece jackets are describes as “super warm right up until that breeze came through!” This is just a symptom of the fabric, which naturally lets air through. While this is great for breathability, it’s not the best for warmth.
To counteract this, you’ll see many fleece jackets with wind-blocking fabric. The North Face Denali 2 has large panels of different material to block wind in key areas, while the Arc’teryx Fortrez has wind-blocking threads built into the whole jacket.
Pro Tip: Due to the wind issue, many outdoor folk have multiple fleeces. Thicker thread doesn’t really correspond to increased wind resistance, so you’ll really want that wind-blocking material if you plan to use it outside often without another layer.
Breathability is the commonly touted benefit of fleece, as it’s an insulator that you can hike in. Other insulators, like synthetic insulated jackets or down jackets, are typically not very good at this (with some major exceptions), so fleece shines.
The fabric itself lets air in and out, which means it can keep you cool even has you heat up. The fabric is also hydrophobic, which means your sweat won’t cling to it (and then soak it), like sweat typically does with cotton or other fabrics.
A fleece in shoulder season is a highly versatile layer, especially for those that want to hike hard.
How to Buy Fleece Jackets
Purchasing a fleece can be as simple as walking into a department store and leaving with some synthetic cozy. While you can do that if you want, we think it’s better to be clear about what your activity intentions are with the jacket, find the fabric weight and style that suits you, and then narrow down by brand or individual product.
Obviously we’ve listed our favorites above, but there are a few other considerations when it comes to buying fleece.
Big Brand vs Small Brand Fleece
There’s an elephant in the room of this article, and its name is Brand. Patagonia, The North Face, Arc’teryx, Marmot, Columbia — these are some of the largest apparel brands in the outdoor industry, and the only brands we list above.
Are there other brands making decent fleece? Yes. Why haven’t they made the list? Mostly because on these lists we strive to find the “best” by performance for each of our Backpacker Types, but part of being the best is about making consistent product lines over many years. The products above have years of reputation behind them, and aren’t one-off lines that may come and go.
The other reason is that for most outdoor lovers looking for fleece, they either want a big brand name jacket, or they really don’t care who made it. Fleece is unique in that a $10 find at a thrift store will perform as well as the two cheapest fleeces on this list — and that’s what a lot of people want.
If you want something higher-end, which we do list here, then get the brand name.
Finally, we do list Patagonia a high number of times. They kind of invented fleece as we currently know it, and we believe they have the most varied and applicable collection to our difference Backpacker Types, thus the many listings.
As mentioned above, fleece does not have to be expensive. With some products, we tell you it really is best to buy from a well-reputed brand and to get it new. With fleece, it’s less important — unless you’re looking for fleece that’s built for extreme activities like climbing and alpine mountaineering — then it matters.
Our team constantly finds basic fleeces (and even some advanced ones) at thrift stores. They are relatively equal to the cheaper fleeces on this list, often use Polartec Classic 100 or 200 fabric, and function very well. Fleece washes well and lasts a long time, so if this sounds like an option that suits you, definitely go for it.
The final bit about buying fleece is for the green-hearted readers. Do you care about the planet? We do. Do you care about buying clothing that is sustainable? We do.
Many of the fleeces listed above are made with recycled material — water bottles usually — and we feel that this is an important part of buying a brand new fleece. Fleece itself is plastic, so every time it gets tossed it becomes another piece of plastic in the landfill.
Many brands have spent the last decade converting their classic fleece lines to recyclable fleece in an effort to reduce overall carbon footprint, and encourage cleaner manufacturing processes for the planet.
It’s not easy to tell if an older fleece is made from recycled material (like the ones in the thrift store), so just make sure that the brand new ones you buy are recycled.
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