The best fleece jackets are essential once the cold winds of winter start rolling in. Even clear, sunny autumn days can be bone-juddering cold once you hit those ridge lines and summits. In fact, fleece jackets are highly functional all year round. On a summer expedition, they’re great as a cosy extra layer as the sun sets during a high wild camp, or even as a makeshift pillow when it’s time to rest your head at night.
Warmth, comfort and functionality are the three main aspects you should be looking at when considering a fleece jacket. They are a versatile part of your layering system, happily sitting underneath a waterproof jacket or a soft shell jacket and on top of your moisture-wicking base layer; or acting as your outer layer in warmer conditions.
Usually made of lofty polyester pile, fleece is a synthetic fabric that comes in many different varieties, from lightweight microfleece to the super-fluffy high-loft type. But in almost all cases, fleece is lighter than a wool sweater or pullover (not to mention less itchy), while being cheaper and more hardwearing than a goose or duck down jacket. Like a quality base layer, it is also very quick-drying.
Fleece is far from faultless of course and, as when buying a down jacket, it's worth considering the ethics of your purchase. For starters, and – especially during washing – fleeces release microplastics into the environment. Fotunately, responsible brands in the outdoor industry are actively searching for answers to these problems. The best fleece jackets – such as the Helly Hansen Power Air Grid Jacket – are now designed to shed fewer microscopic fibres, lessening their environmental impact, and many fleeces are also now made from recycled polyester.
The best fleece jackets for lightweight adventures
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
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
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.
Ultralight and ticks all the boxes for technical and fast-paced pursuits
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
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.
A lightweight, versatile mid layer that oozes quality and coziness
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)
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.
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.
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
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
Gym + Coffee Kinetic Hoodie
Limited edition, sustainably made hoodie for outdoor and casual wear from the trails to the climbing gym
RRP: $117 (US) / £95 (UK) / | Fabric: BCI cotton (38%), Recycled Polyamide (35%), Polyamide (23%), Elastane (4%) | Sizes: Men's: S–XXL / Women's: XS-XXL | Weight (men’s size L): 612g/1lb 5.6oz | Colors: Petrol blue
Less of a fleece and more of a hoodie, we have nonetheless been finding the Kinetic Hoodie from Irish brand Gym + Coffee the perfect long-sleeve layer in late summer and early fall, while out exploring trails on chilly mornings and evenings. It’s part of the Dublin-based label’s limited edition Kinetic range, which is made in Portugal and uses sustainably sourced fabrics such as BCI cotton and recycled poly materials to make good-looking garments with a low environmental impact. Breathable, and extremely comfortable next to the skin, the hoodie is good for casual as well as active wear. It has a high neck, for colder windy conditions, and a quarter-length zip so you can vent and improve airflow when things get warm (the women’s version also comes with a half-length zip).
Instead of a couple of zipped hand pockets, often seen on hoodies, the G+C Kinetic has a hidden zipped pocket on one of the side panels, which is accommodating enough to stash things such as car keys or a credit card when you’re out walking or at the crag, but not so large that you will be tempted to stuff large items in it (which is an inefficient way of carting stuff around). One caveat, this hoodie is a third-made from cotton, which performs poorly when wet (it gets heavy and does not provide any warmth) – while this is offset by the poly content (which retains its thermal properties when wet), this is best used on low level trails in temperate climates and decent conditions, rather than in the mountains.
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?
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
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.
This lightweight, full-zip fleece looks and feel great, with stylish details that make it suitable for everyday use as well as outdoor wear
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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 jackets for luxurious comfort
A technical fleece that works well as a low-bulk layer, made from a performance fabric that feels luxuriously soft
RRP: £80 (UK) | Fabric: Polartec Thermal Pro (80% polyester, 12% lyocell, 8% elastane) | Sizes (Men's): S–XXL | Sizes (Women's): UK 8–16 | Weight: 358g/12.62oz (men’s size L) | Colors (Men's): Shadow, Redwood, Inca Gold, Narwhal blue, Blue ridge
Montane’s Viper hoodie is a midweight stretch fleece made from Polartec Thermal Pro fabric. A trim-fitting mid layer, it offers good technical performance yet feels more like a favourite casual fleece. The unusual fabric blend incorporates soft Lyocell yarns that make this hoodie not just soft and comfortable, but positively luxurious. It also offers more warmth than a microgrid fleece, excelling in chilly conditions when worn over a wicking baselayer. Other details similarly aid comfort, like the micro-flatlocked sewn seams throughout, the snug lycra bound hood and cuffs as well as the brushed microfleece lined hand pockets. Montane has even added a couple of good features that many other fleeces lack – namely, a full-length baffle behind the main zip, which aids comfort, and a hanging loop at the collar, which adds practicality (especially if you’ve got a little sweaty and need to let your fleece dry out somewhere warm).
The best fleece jackets for winter in the mountains
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
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
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 jacket for value
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
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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