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The best fleece jackets: toasty mid layers for wintery adventures and camping expeditions

Included in this guide:

best fleece jackets: hooded fleece
A warm, hooded fleece jacket is ideal for winter adventures (Image credit: Getty)

The best fleece jacket performs a variety of tasks. First and foremost, it keeps you warm when you head out into bitterly cold conditions. Unlike a puffer jacket, it doesn’t take up loads of room in your pack and, because of this, seasoned adventurers take multiple fleeces when they head out in winter. After all, many thin layers are better than one big jacket when it comes to layering and temperature regulation in the mountains.

Performance is vital. The best fleece jacket needs to be breathable, allowing moisture to escape during sweaty exertions, and you also need freedom of movement. In the event of a soaking, the very best fleece jacket is also quick drying, just like a quality base layer. It is a lighter alternative to a wool sweater or a pullover, while it can take more abuse over the years than a down jacket.

best fleece jacket – hikers walking

The best lightweight fleeces are often used as an outer layer during summer hikes (Image credit: Getty)

Sometimes, your fleece will be one of your mid layers, happily sitting beneath a waterproof jacket. The best fleeces are also perfect when acting as an outer layer in warmer, drier conditions, with some boasting water and wind resistant qualities. A word of warning here though, even the best fleece jacket won’t keep you dry in a deluge. Finally, the best fleece jackets are also stylish enough to wear out in town after a day on the slopes, trails or crags.

Fleece isn’t perfect though. Just as when you purchase a down jacket, it is worth considering the ethics. Usually made of lofty polyester pile, fleece is not a natural fabric and, during washing, many release microplastics into the environment. Fortunately, many brands are now designing more sustainable options, creating jackets made from recycled polyester or crafting jackets that shed fewer fibres.

The best fleece jackets for winter in the mountains

best fleece jackets - Alpkit Yakutian Jacket

(Image credit: Alpkit)

With a hardface outer fabric that is more wind-resistant than most fleeces, this jacket works well as both a mid layer and an outer layer on chilly, breezy days

Specifications
RRP: £50 (UK)
Fabric: 225-weight hardface stretch fleece (92% polyester, 8% elastane)
Sizes (Men’s): S–XXL
Sizes (Women’s): UK 8–18
Weight : 380g/13.4oz (Men’s size L)
Colors: Reef blue / Charcoal grey
Reasons to buy
+
Durable
+
Warm
+
Comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-
Not as breathable as some fleece fabrics
-
No hand pockets
-
Cuffs and hem not elasticated

The Yakutian is a versatile fleece that can be worn as a mid layer or as an outer layer, thanks to a dense-knit hardface fabric that is designed to be much more wind resistant than standard fleece. It also adds durability, making this jacket less susceptible to pilling, as well as abrasion. But that tough exterior doesn’t mean sacrificing comfort, since the fabric is double-sided, retaining a brushed inner that offers warmth and good wicking abilities. You also get a deep half zip for venting, a zipped chest pocket and thumb loops at the cuffs.

It’s a warm, soft and comfortable jacket, thanks to elastane in the fabric that gives it plenty of stretch and flatlock seams that don’t rub. It also has good articulation, with generous length and coverage. It may sometimes prove a bit too warm since the dense fabric seems to limit breathability a little. But this is a great fleece jacket for cold and breezy conditions.

The best fleece jackets for lightweight adventures

best fleece jackets: Páramo Enduro Fleece

(Image credit: Páramo)

Páramo Enduro Fleece

Thin but effective fleece offering lots of style and plenty of versatility

Specifications
RRP: $240 (US) / £150 (UK)
Fabric: Polyester (100%) treated with Nikwax TX.Direct for water repellency
Gender availability: Men’s (Women’s version is the Alize)
Sizes: S / M / L / XL / XXL
Weight (men’s size L): 436g / 15.4oz
Colors: Steel marl / Blue
Reasons to buy
+
Wind and rain resistant 
+
Pockets designed to be used with backpacks and harnesses
+
Full-length zip
+
Stylish
Reasons to avoid
-
Not the warmest fleece 

This handsome, highly functional fleece is happily at home everywhere from climbing crags to remote trailheads and urban bars. But don’t be deceived by its good looks – there are lots of non-compromising technical features on this top. The Nikwax material is relatively thin, but it’s wind- and rain resistant (not ‘proof’, mind, just resistant, so don’t go out in a downpour and expect to stay completely dry – for that you need to pair it with a hardshell waterproof jacket) making the garment perfect for those shoulder-season missions when you’re not sure what the weather has in store. 

There are plenty of pockets on this top (two generous breast pockets, plus a third pocket – all zipped), so if you do wear it as an outerlayer, you have multiple storage options. The design and cut of the garment is excellent, giving it some real style and making movement easy. The hood is intended to go under a helmet, and the pockets are arranged so you can still access them while wearing a harness or backpack. The extra length covers your backside and means the top doesn’t ride up when you’re wearing a backpack, and the full-length zip means you can vent and get ride of excess heat.

This is fleece designed for men – the closest Páramo garment for women is the Alize fleece.

As always, Páramo’s production methods are very environmentally conscious, with no PFC or polyfluorinated compounds used and the whole top can be recycled with Páramo after it has reached the end of its useful life. The Enduro is made in Bogotá, Colombia, by the Miquelina Foundation, which employs vulnerable women.

best fleece jackets: Montane Forza Pull-On

(Image credit: Montane)

Montane Forza Pull-On

Simple, warm, well-priced midlayer fleece that quietly does its job without rocking the boat

Specifications
RRP: $70 (US) / £60 (UK)
Fabric: Polyester (100%)
Gender availability: Men’s
Sizes: S / M / L / XL / XXL
Weight (men’s size L): 371g/ 13oz
Colors: Arbor green / Narwhal blue / Shadow
Reasons to buy
+
Simple but effective mid layer
+
Good price
+
Robust
+
High collar with chin protector
Reasons to avoid
-
No pockets
-
No thumb loops
-
Low venting ability 
-
Only available for men

The Forza pullover fleece is a no-nonsense, nicely-priced midlayer fleece top, which performs exactly how you want it to and doesn’t feature any bells and whistles that would put the price up. The top is made with a striped Stria-knit construction, with a brushed micro-fleece inner. It features a quarter-length zip, which tucks into a little chin-protecting zip garage to complete a high-collar design that works well under a softshell or waterproof jacket. 

A simple but nice-looking top, it can be worn as an outerlayer when conditions are relatively benign. There’s no hood on the Forza, and no pockets, the lack of both of which most people would consider fine on a midlayer, but thumb hoops would have been a more welcome addition, to prevent sleeves riding up your arm when pulling on an outer layer.

best fleece jackets: Mammut Innominata Light ML

(Image credit: Mammut)

Mammut Innominata Light ML

Lightweight fleece top – perfect for fall evening adventures and early morning starts, when you need a long-sleeved top to stay comfortable

Specifications
RRP: $99 (US) / £85 (UK) /
Fabric: Polartec fleece (100% polyester outer with polymide and elastane elements)
Sizes: Men's: S–3XL / Women's: XS-XXL
Weight (men’s size L): 325g/11.5oz
Colors: Men's: Iguana / Ice / Black / Granite; Women's: Highway / Grape / Marine
Reasons to buy
+
Great warmth for weight
+
Very packable 
+
Durable
+
Made from 100% recycled material
Reasons to avoid
-
No hood
-
Inner pouches have a hole at the bottom

An ostensibly simple garment, this mega-light Mammot fleece proves invaluable in multiple outdoor scenarios. Easy to carry, its warmth-to-weight performance ratio is off the charts, especially when worn as a mid layer, when the thermal properties of the Bluesign-certified Polar Fleece fabric really come into their own. However, it’s also excellent as a lightweight long-sleeve outer layer, simply worn over the top of a T-shirt when the temperatures drop slightly. It has a high neck, with a full-length zip that tucks neatly into a little chin-protecting garage at the top to avoid snagging bristle, beard or skin. The cuffs and hem are elasticated, giving an improved fit and preventing drafts from getting in, and there are external thumb hook loops on the wrists, to avoid sleeves being pulled up when an outer layer is put on over the top – they are a bit fiddly to use, but avoid a gap being introduced to the fleece, which would compromise the warmth of the fleece.  

The top has reinforced shoulder panels, which increase its durability when regularly worn in conjunction with a backpack. It has two hand pockets on the outside, both of which zip shut, and there are a couple of large pouches on the inside, big enough to stash a sheet map or even a bottle of water (although, avoid putting small items in these pouches, as they have a small opening at the bottom, for some reason we’re yet to work out). The polar fleece fabric is made from entirely recycled material, so the enviro creds of this top are superb.

best fleece jackets - Montane Isotope Hoodie

(Image credit: Montane)

Ultralight and ticks all the boxes for technical and fast-paced pursuits

Specifications
RRP: $90 (US) / £70 (UK)
Sizes (men's): S - XXL
Sizes (women's): UK8/US XS - UK16/US XL
Weight: 383g / 13.5oz (men's)/323g / 11.4oz (women's)
Colors: Arbor Green, Narwhal Blue, Charcoal, Saskatoon Berry
Best use: hiking, climbing, ski touring, trail running, summer mountaineering
Reasons to buy
+
Lightweight
+
Highly breathable
+
Stretchy fabric
+
Enough warmth for cool summer evenings
Reasons to avoid
-
Hood and hem aren't adjustable
-
Not warm enough for standalone use in the shoulder season (unless you're moving fast)

The Montane Isotope Hoodie is a technical, ultralight hoodie designed for fast-and-light outdoor adventures. It tips the scales at a tiny 383g (men’s size medium) and has an athletic fit that makes it ideal for more fast-paced and dynamic activities like trail running, ski-touring, rock climbing or scrambling. The Isotope doesn’t have a DWR coating (What is DWR?) and is unlikely to keep anything stronger than a moderate breeze out, but its STRIA Lite polyester fabric is highly breathable and uses a brushed backer that offers outstanding next-to-skin comfort, and offers more than enough warmth for summer evenings after sundown. 

Other endearing features include plentiful stretch in the fabric, a duo of zippered, mesh-lined pockets, a hood that’s streamlined and snug enough to fit under a helmet, and articulated arms that provide ample freedom of movement. It's simply one of the best lightweight fleeces out there.

best fleece jackets - Arc'teryx Kyanite

(Image credit: Arc'teryx)

A lightweight, versatile mid layer that oozes quality and coziness

Specifications
RRP: $179 (US) / £155 (UK)
Sizes (men's): XS - XXXL
Sizes (women's): XS XL
Weight : 425g / 15oz (men's)/365g / 12.9oz (women's)
Colors: Black, Labyrinth (teal-grey), Cobalt Moon, Paradox (grey), Rhapsody (maroon)
Reasons to buy
+
Excellent warmth-to-weight ratio
+
Rugged nylon face fabric
+
Great next-to-skin comfort
Reasons to avoid
-
Pricey
-
Hem isn't adjustable

The Arc’teryx Kyanite Hoody strikes the perfect balance between warmth, weight, mobility, and moisture management. It’s made with plush Polartec Power Stretch Pro fabric that combines rugged nylon face fabric with a plush, brushed interior to prove oodles of next-to-skin comfort with above-average ruggedness and durability. The Kyanite also has four-way stretch fabric, gusseted underarms, and uses articulated patterning to provide for a fuller and freer range of movement, all of which makes it one of the best mid layers out there for climbing and scrambling. 

Other endearing features include a handy interior pocket that can accommodate most phones or compact cameras, an ergonomically shaped “ScubaHood” that doesn’t flap in your eyes despite the lack of a cinch, and a “No Slip Zip” that prevents inadvertent opening. While the fit on the Kyanite is fairly trim and figure-hugging, there’s more than enough stretch in the fabric to accommodate a fuller midriff. All in all, it promises reign for a long time as one of the best lightweight fleeces on the market.

best fleece jackets - Outdoor Research Vigor Full-Zip Hoodie

(Image credit: Outdoor Research)

Lightweight, stretchy and super-breathable, this is a great all-action mid layer for high-tempo hill and mountain days – whether you’re beasting a climb or freewheeling downhill.

Specifications
RRP: $99 (US) / £90 (UK)
Fabric: Grid-back fleece made from polyester (94%) and elastane/ spandex (6%)
Sizes (Men's): S–XXL
Sizes (Women's): XS-XL
Weight: 340g/12oz (men’s size L)
Colors (Men’s): Black, Lichen Green, Madder red, Twilight Blue / Black, Cascade blue
Reasons to buy
+
Super breathable 
+
Elastic-bound hood
+
Three useful pockets
+
Thumb loops
Reasons to avoid
-
Lightweight fabric designed to give only modest warmth 
-
Some concerns over long-term durability

The Vigor is a lightweight microgrid stretch fleece that is designed to maximise breathability and regulate body temperature effectively – basically, to keep you warm when it’s a bit chilly but stop you overheating and getting too sweaty when you’re working hard. The fabric incorporates a thermo-regulating polymer that the brand refers to as ActiveTemp technology. This treatment has been applied to the inside of the fleece fabric, and when you get hot, it activates to soak up more of your sweat, then releases it through the fabric as you cool down. As such, it ticks all the boxes as a technical mid layer. It is close-fitting, with plenty of stretch for dynamic movement. 

The gridded microfleece fabric is soft and comfortable, as well as being lightweight and breathable. Other details have also clearly been considered carefully – there are integrated thumb loops in the cuffs, an elastic bound hood, a full-zip with a chin guard, a zipped chest pocket, and two zipped hand pockets, both of which are placed a little higher than usual so as not to be obstructed by a climbing harness or a backpack hipbelt.

The best fleece jackets for sustainability

best fleece jackets - Helly Hansen Power Air Heat Grid Jacket

(Image credit: Helly Hansen)

As microplastic pollution moves higher up the environmental agenda, the days of fibre-shedding synthetic fleece ought to be numbered. Is this jacket’s Polartec’s Power Air fabric the future of fleece?

Specifications
RRP: $200 (US) / £150 (UK) / €170 (EU)
Fabric: Polartec Power Air (89% recycled polyester, 11% elastane)
Sizes: (Men's): S–XXL
Sizes: (Women's): XS–XL
Weight: 601g/21.16oz (men’s size L)
Colors: Black, Cream
Reasons to buy
+
Innovative fabric that greatly reduces microfibre shedding 
+
Warm and breathable
+
Useful thumb loops
Reasons to avoid
-
Not class-leading warmth for weight
-
Not the softest feeling fabric
-
Expensive

The Helly Hansen Power Air Heat Grid jacket is a mid layer fleece designed to greatly reduce the problem of microfibre shedding. To achieve this, its polyester fibres are encapsulated within pockets that trap air to generate warmth, a bit like the baffles of a down jacket. Since the loose polyester fibres are trapped in a tightly woven outer, there is up to 80% less microplastic release when wearing or washing the jacket. You’ll appreciate this if you don’t like fleeces that leave fuzz all over your other clothes too. 

The face fabric has been similarly developed with durability in mind, resisting pilling or bobbling. The jacket itself has an ideal semi-tailored fit – not too tight, not too baggy – with zipped hand pockets and thumb loops at the cuffs. A little stretch in the fabric ensures pleasant everyday comfort, and there’s plenty of length in the arms and torso for ample coverage. Lastly, the fabric is made from recycled polyester, strengthening its eco credentials. If you are mindful of the impact of synthetics, but appreciate their performance, this is a top choice. It is a fraction heavier than most other fleece jackets of similar warmth, but that seems a small price to pay for a greener garment.

best fleece jackets - Sherpa Rolpa jacket

(Image credit: Sherpa)

This lightweight, full-zip fleece looks and feel great, with stylish details that make it suitable for everyday use as well as outdoor wear

Specifications
RRP: $60 (US) / £50 (UK)
Fabric: 100-weight polyester microfleece
Sizes (Men’s): S–XXL
Sizes (Women's): XS–XL
Weight : 312g/11oz (Men’s size L)
Colors: Potala red / Raja blue / Neelo blue
Reasons to buy
+
Super soft fabric 
+
Quality construction and finishing
+
Stylish details
+
Ethically made with benefits to Nepalese children
Reasons to avoid
-
Lightweight microfleece provides only modest warmth 
-
Cuffs and hem not elasticated

The Rolpa is a stylish crossover layer that you can take on the hills but also wear as part of an everyday wardrobe. As a lightweight fleece, it doesn’t deliver huge amounts of warmth, but is the ideal jacket to throw on over a base layer for hillwalking or over a T-shirt for daily wear. It is extremely soft and stays comfortable all day long. The full zip has a soft chin guard with a classy leather and brass pull-tab zipper. The zipped hand pockets also have cord pulls and a taped ‘prayer flag’ trim, which is also found inside the base of the collar. 

The fit of the Rolpa jacket is spot on, with a slim silhouette but enough length in the arms and torso for full coverage. The panel construction also thoughtfully places seams away from the tops of the shoulders for added comfort under a shell, or if wearing a pack. Best of all, however, is the fact that the Rolpa is actually made in Nepal, with the brand providing education and resources for children in Nepal for every product sold.

best fleece jackets - Klättermusen Balder Zip

(Image credit: Klättermusen)

With its sustainable, soft and durable wool-polyester fabric blend, this warm mid layer exudes style and class, giving it more appeal than most synthetic technical fleeces

Specifications
RRP: $200 (US) / £133 (UK) / €180 (EU)
Fabric: Recycled Wool (46%), Polyester (36%), Polyamide (16%), Other Fibres 3%
Sizes (Men’s): XS–XXL
Sizes (Women's): XXS–XL
Weight : 380g/13.4oz (Men’s size L)
Colors: Dark Moon, Dusty Green, Charcoal, Sorrel Red
Reasons to buy
+
Durable and well-made
+
Sound eco credentials 
+
Very warm
+
Comfortable, with great fit
Reasons to avoid
-
Relatively heavy
-
Not the most breathable
-
Not as quick drying as pure synthetics
-
Expensive

Rather than being fully synthetic, the Balder is made from an unusual blend of recycled wool, polyester and nylon. This ensures softness yet also durability, as well as improved sustainability. The wool is sourced from an Italian supplier, which spins new yarn from offcuts and old garments. It’s a typically considered and conscientious approach from the Swedish brand, which is known for its strong environmental stance as well as its high-performance technical gear. This jacket is designed for cold weather use, so delivers high levels of warmth. It is cosy, luxurious and not at all itchy. 

It also breathes better than you might expect for such a heavyweight layer. The overall cut is well tailored, with a trim fit, long arms and a scooped rear hem for good all-round coverage. The shaped cuffs cover the wrists and the backs of the hands well. The collar is snug and locks in heat very effectively, without feeling constrictive. The main zip and the hand pockets have chunky pull tabs that are easy to grip while wearing gloves. Overall, it’s a mid layer that offers good technical performance and which is stylish enough to wear as part of your everyday winter wardrobe too.

best fleece jackets - Picture Organic Marco Jacket

(Image credit: Picture)

With its distinctive looks, impeccable eco credentials and versatile, wear-anywhere performance, this is a jacket that will appeal to style-savvy and environment-conscious outdoorsy types

Specifications
RRP: £130 (UK) / €135 (EU)
Fabric: Polartec Thermal Pro (100% recycled polyester)
Sizes: XS–XXL
Weight : 481g/16.96oz (Men’s size L)
Colors: Black / Grey melange / Army green
Reasons to buy
+
Ethically made, using recycled materials 
+
Warm and cosy fabric
+
Elastic-bound hood, hem and cuffs to lock in heat
+
Stylish looks
Reasons to avoid
-
Lacks thumb loops
-
Fabric seems prone to pilling

Picture Organic is a French brand with roots in the snowboard and skate scene, and their clothing is known for its stylish looks as well as its strong focus on sustainability. The Marco Jacket employs Polartec Thermal Pro fabric made from 100% recycled polyester and is ethically manufactured in China. With its knitted outer finish, this jacket has a more casual look that hides its technical qualities. There are elastic bindings at the hem, cuffs and around the hood to help lock in warmth. 

There are also zipped chest and hand pockets for storage, plus a full length YKK main zip with a soft chin guard. This fleece offers a very good level of warmth for its weight to keep you toasty on the slopes, as well as for other adventures in the great outdoors. The length in the arms and torso is generous enough to provide good coverage. We liked the practical pockets for casual wear, and the soft linings make them an inviting place to stick your hands. In fact, we liked the jacket’s overall look and feel so much that it became a common choice for everyday wear. It also has superb eco credentials that put a lot of bigger brands to shame.

The best fleece jacket for value

best fleece jackets - Revolution Race Fusion Fleece

(Image credit: Revolution Race)

Soft yet durable with a great tailored fit, this hybrid fleece jacket from Swedish newcomers Revolution Race is a well-made and thoughtfully designed bit of cold-weather kit

Specifications
RRP: £55 (UK)
Fabric: Knitted fleece (100% polyester) with stretch fleece panels (92% polyester, 8% elastane)
Sizes (Men’s): XS–XXL
Sizes (Women's): XS–XXL
Weight (Men’s size L): 595g/20.98oz
Colors: Black, Anthracite, Rifle green, Deep teal
Reasons to buy
+
Durable
+
Warm yet breathable
+
Comfortable, with great fit
+
Good value
Reasons to avoid
-
Hand pockets lack zips
-
Double-layer cuffs tend to soak up moisture

The Fusion Fleece is a chunky, heavyweight insulator that is designed to be worn as outerwear or as a conventional mid layer. As such, it employs a hybrid construction, using a heavy-gauge fleece with a knit face as the main fabric, interspersed with lighter stretch fleece panels. This gives it a stylish and contemporary look while boosting performance in terms of overall warmth for weight, breathability, moisture management, comfort and fit. It’s also been made with durability in mind, with an anti-pilling fabric treatment and double-layer stretch cuffs, so it ought to offer good long-term value – and has a reasonable price point to match. It doesn’t skimp on features either, with a full-length reverse-coil main zip, which has a soft chin guard and is backed with a baffle. You get a zipped chest pocket and two open hand pockets. The cuffs also incorporate thumb loops – always a handy feature, as far as we’re concerned – while the hem has a drawcord adjustment.

Best fleece jacket comparison table
Fleece jacketPriceWeightStyleBest use
Alpkit Yakutian Jacket£50 (UK)LightHardface fabric fleece jacket4 season use: hiking, mountaineering, camping, skiing
Páramo Enduro Fleece$240 (US) / £150 (UK)MediumHooded, thin fleece jacket3 season use: hiking, climbing, skiing, camping
Montane Forza Pull-On$70 (US) / £60 (UK)LightStandard fleece jacket3 season use: hiking, climbing, skiing camping,
Mammut Innominata Light ML$99 (US) / £85 (UK)UltralightLightweight fleece jacket3 season use: fastpacking, trail running, hiking, skiiing
Montane Isotope Hoodie$90 (US) / £70 (UK)LightHooded, thin fleece jacket3 season use: scrambling, climbing, skiing, hiking
Arc’teryx Kyanite hoody$179 (US) / £155 (UK)MediumStandard fleece jacket4 season use: mountaineering, hiking, climbing, skiing
Outdoor Research Vigor Full-Zip Hoodie$99 (US) / £90 (UK)UltralightHooded, lightweight fleece jacket3 season use: fastpacking, trail running, hiking
Helly Hansen Power Air Heat Grid Jacket$200 (US) / £150 (UK)HeavyHeavyweight, sustainable fleece jacket4 season use: mountaineering, hiking, camping
Sherpa Rolpa Jacket$60 (US) / £50 (UK)UltralightLightweight, zippered fleece jacket3 season use: trail running, fastpacking, hiking, climbing
Klättermusen Balder Zip$200 (US) / £133 (UK)LightWool, polyster and nylon fleece jacket4 season use: mountaineering, climbing, hiking, camping
Picture Organic Micro Jacket£130 (UK) / €135 (EU)MediumHooded fleece jacket made from 100% recycled polyester4 season use: hiking, mountaineering, camping
Revolution Race Fusion Fleece£55 (UK)HeavyHeavyweight fleece jacket4 season use: hiking, mountaineering, camping

Choosing the best fleece jacket for you

As with almost all outdoor kit, the best fleece jacket for you will depend on a number of factors – not least, when and where will you wear it. In addition, though the primary function of a fleece jacket is to provide insulation, this can be balanced with other factors such as weight, bulk, breathability and pack size.

As a rule of thumb, the thicker and heavier the fleece fabric, the warmer it will be. On the flipside, that will also generally make it less breathable. The best lightweight fleeces are ideal for summer adventures, when you're going to be moving faster and it's going to be warmer anyway. It will probably stay in your day pack until you hit cols, ridges and summits, but that's fine.

If you’ll be moving fast or tend to run hot, bear in mind that most heavyweight fleeces will be too warm for active use – though they’re great for standing around in the cold or if you're belaying during a climb. Numerous different types of fleece fabrics have also emerged, generally developed with one of two things in mind: to either increase the warmth for weight of the garment or to enhance its breathability, so it can be worn during high-output, energy-intensive activities.

Fabric type

best fleece jacket - a fleece wearing hiker checking his map

A fleece will keep you cosy and warm even when it's a bit nippy (Image credit: Getty)

Originally, ‘fleece’ referred specifically to polar fleece, a synthetic fabric made from polyester. Today, however, a ‘fleece’ has become a catch-all term for pretty much any warm and cosy mid layer jacket that does the job of a traditional wool sweater, jumper or pullover. As such, you might find some ‘fleece jackets’ that aren’t actually made from polyester fleece at all, or which are a hybrid of synthetic and natural fibres (including wool).

Popular forms of Polyester fleece available now include classic polar fleece (in various weights), microfleece (tightly woven pile), gridded microfleece (with good breathability for active use), shearling/pile fleece (heavier weight), high-loft fleece (super-fluffy, offering the best warmth for weight), hardface/techface fleece (designed to prevent to pilling), Thermal Pro (developed by Polartec, typically with a knitted face) and Power Air (also from Polartec, designed to counter the issue of microfibre shedding).

Design

While the fleece fabric type and weight primarily dictate the warmth and breathability of a fleece jacket, factors like construction and overall design also have an impact. Many of the best fleece jackets now utilise a zoned or hybrid construction. This means that panels of different weight fabrics are employed to make the garment more breathable or stretchy, resulting in greater comfort and better articulation for active use. You might find lightweight or stretch inserts used along the sides or under the arms of a jacket accordingly.

Features

Since they are primarily designed as mid layers, technical fleece jackets don’t always feature a hood, and some may not even have pockets. Obviously, these are less important if you’re wearing your fleece underneath a shell, since your outer layer is likely to have its own hood and pockets. Most fleeces that lack a hood still have a stand-up collar to help lock in core warmth though.

Of course, many users do prefer a fleece with a hood and pockets. A hood adds valuable insulation and can’t get lost or blow off your head, unlike a hiking hat. It is also easier to wear beneath a helmet. Hand or hip pockets are useful to keep hands warm as well as for storage for items like hiking gloves. So are zipped chest pockets or even arm pockets. These all add versatility, especially if wearing a fleece as a standalone layer.

Fleece jackets will have a full-length main zip. Fleece pullovers just have a quarter zip or a deeper half zip at the neck. Look for zips that are backed with a baffle, which helps to prevent draughts and also adds to overall comfort. Similarly, a chin guard at the top of the zip is always a welcome detail, preventing irritation.

Cuffs and hems should be close-fitting for optimum thermal efficiency. Some fleeces have elasticated cuffs and hems (or even a hem drawcord) to help lock in heat.

One feature that is commonly neglected are thumb loops. These can be used to help cuffs cover the wrists and stop the sleeves of your fleece from riding up, which is good in cold conditions. If you’re wearing liner gloves, thumb loops can also eliminate any exposed skin, which is great for winter mountaineering and snow sports.

best fleece jacket

Some fleeces come with no pockets, especially if designed to be part of a layering system (Image credit: Getty)

Weight and pack size

A fleece is generally worn on the hill rather than carried, but on warm days you may want to roll it up and stuff it in your backpack, so weight and pack size can be important considerations. On an expedition, you might want to stash your fleece in a dry bag with other spare clothes. They are blessedly warm on cold nights and can double up as a pillow. 

A heavy and bulky fleece that takes up almost all the space in your pack and weighs you down is not particularly practical. That’s why warmth for weight and compressibility (or packability) are still important factors when looking for the best fleece jackets, even though fleece doesn’t offer the same performance in this regard as, say, a down ‘puffer’ jacket. The best lightweight fleeces combine performance with packability.

Fit

The thermal efficiency and comfort of a fleece is greatly influenced by how it fits. Loose fitting cuffs, hems and hoods can all leak heat, limiting warmth. Generally, the best fleece jackets should allow room for a baselayer underneath but should be trim enough to fit underneath your windproof or waterproof shell. Technical fleeces are usually stretchy and close-fitting. If you plan to wear a fleece as casual clothing, you might want something a little more accommodating.

An outdoors writer and editor, Matt Jones has been testing kit in the field for nearly a decade. Having worked for both the Ramblers and the Scouts, he knows one or two things about walking and camping, and loves all things adventure, particularly long-distance backpacking, wild camping and climbing mountains – especially in Wales. He’s based in Snowdonia and last year thru-hiked the Cambrian Way, which runs for 298 miles from Cardiff to Conwy, with a total ascent of 73,700 feet – that’s nearly 2½ times the height of Everest. Follow Matt on Instagram and Twitter.