The best fleece jackets of 2018 outdoorgearlab p gaskell

Not as warm for its weight as some high-loft modelsThe classic Patagonia R1 Hoody has been part of the uniform for mountain guides, search and rescue personnel and outdoor enthusiasts 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 that keep you warm while the channels in between vent hot air and moisture. Unzip the 2/3rds length zipper when you’re moving, zip up the balaclava and stay toasty when you’re not, it’s that easy.

Sometimes we feel strange including the R1 in our fleece "jacket" review, as it’s more of a hybrid between what you’d typically think of a jacket and a base layer. It’s not the warmest option and doesn’t do much to block the wind or a light drizzle. But it has excellent layering ability, and all of our testers have at least one R1 at the ready for their next excursion. So should you! For other versions of this favorite layer, check out the R1 Pullover – Men’s and R1 Full-Zip – Men’s.

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 conditions you’ll be using it in. If this seems like a lot of thought to put into 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. 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 each review.

Purchasing a fleece jacket often involves a series of tradeoffs: if you want something super warm, it probably won’t be that breathable, and if you want some additional weather resistance to it, like a hard facing material on the shoulders, that’ll make it heavier. While a bigger price tag doesn’t always correlate to better performance, the more expensive models typically have newer materials in them that are lighter and more breathable while still providing warmth. If you can dish out a ton of cash on your next purchase but want something better than the simple fleece pile models of old, check out our Value chart below. We’ve placed the overall scores of each one against their price to help you visualize which are a good deal, and which are a little overpriced.

Our Editors’ Choice winner, Patagonia R1, is actually one of the less expensive options at $159, while also managing to be the best performing. Little has changed about the R1 over the last couple of years, but it continues to be a tester favorite, not because of new technologies, but because of solid, thoughtful design. The length of the hem, the snugness of the hood, even the position of the thumb loops, are all little details that seem to work for the most people. If you look down the graph but still towards the right, you’ll find the REI Co-op Flowcore, our Best Buy winner. It had a good overall score and is nearly half the price of the jackets from Arc’teryx and Patagonia. We include this chart in all of our reviews to help you make the best choice for your budget.

When it came to fit, the Arc’teryx Kyanite Hoody was a little 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. The Patagonia R1 Hoody has an ideal cut, with long enough lengths in the arms and torso. The REI Co-op Flowcore, Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man Grid II, and the Patagonia Performance Better Sweater scored high in this metric. Why? The Flowcore because it is soft and tailored, but not constricting, 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 Hoody has a great fit, stretchy enough for comfort, but still form fitting for layering. We also really like the Arc’teryx Kyanite Hoody — the fleece was soft, and the basic and slim-fit design suited us well. The REI Co-op Hyperaxis Hoody is an excellent fleece at a nice price, but keep in mind that it’s sized large, and you might want to try a smaller size if you’re looking for a layering piece.

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 and R1 Techface 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. The new Patagonia R1 Techface Hoody is thinner and even more breathable than the original R1, but it doesn’t make for a cozy mid-layer like our old favorite.

As far as protection from precip goes, The North Face Denali 2 is by far the most water resistant fleece in the lineup. Not only this fleece thick, it has 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 Procline takes light Polartec fleece and binds to a thin Toyano shell fabric on the chest, arms, and shoulders, making it more weather resistant at the cost of breathability.

The Arc’teryx Fortrez also offers a little defense 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 and the REI Co-op Hyperaxis Hoody 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.