This straightforward midweight Polartec fleece top from Helly Hansen is an absolute masterpiece of highly functional simplicity. A year-round performer, it’s excellent as a thermal mid layer when worn under a weatherproof shell, and works brilliantly as an outer layer during dry days.
A bluesign product made with 100% recycled material
No thumb hoops
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Helly Hansen Daybreaker Half-Zip Fleece: first impressions
The best fleece tops don’t need to sell themselves with a load of bells and whistles – they should simply perform the job they’re designed to do efficiently, and leave fancy stuff to the more technical layers, like waterproof outer shells. The Helly Hansen Daybreaker Half-Zip Fleece epitomizes this no-nonsense, zero frills, full-focus on functionality approach. And I love it for that.
• List price: $46–$70 (US) / £55–£60 (UK)
• Fabric: 100% recycled polyester with a YKK zip
• Gender availability: Men’s, Women’s
• Sizes: Women’s: XS-4XL; Men’s: S-4XL
• Weight: Women’s: 240g / 8.5oz; Men’s: 300g / 10.5oz
• Colors: Women’s: Poppy Red / Iced Matcha / Bright Blue / Honeycomb / Mint / Heather / Dusty Syrin / White / Navy / Jade / Black; Men’s: Olive Green / Cobalt / Malachite / Deep Canyon / Mead / Navy / Concrete / Red / Jade / Cloudberry / Utility Gray / Azurite / Deep Fjord / Darkest Spring / Black
A proper Polartec garment, the Daybreaker is available for a sensible price in an absolute rainbow of colors for both men and women. Made with 100% recycled poly material, as all good fleeces should be (fleeces were, after all, the original recycled outdoor garments), it acts as an excellent insulating layer under a waterproof and windproof shell jacket when conditions are inclement, and works well as a nice-looking outer layer when the weather is better.
Quick drying and easy to look after, it’s a midweight fleece, and can be used all year round, from chilly summer evenings in camp to frosty winter mornings as part of a layering system. You might want to look at thicker option in seriously cold conditions, but across three and half seasons this top will do very nicely.
We tested the half zip version, which is more than adequate for this style of top, but there is a full-zip option too.
Helly Hansen Daybreaker Half-Zip Fleece: on the trails
I first tested the Helly Hansen Daybreaker Half-Zip Fleece top during a wild, wet and windy winter’s day in the Brecon Beacons in south Wales, while shadowing a crew of outdoor experts from the excellent Western Beacons Mountain Rescue Team with my advnture.com colleague Julia, who wrote this ace account of the experience.
Helly Hansen supply mountain rescue organizations around Britain with kit. The first rule of any rescue is to keep the people performing the rescue operations safe – so as to avoid creating extra casualties – and therefore the clothing and equipment the teams use has to be of the absolute highest quality. Safe in this knowledge, I had pretty high expectations of the clothing I was testing, and it met them.
The Daybreaker is far from Helly’s most sophisticated piece of apparel, but that’s exactly as it should be. It’s a no thrills, zero frills, highly functional mid layer, which performed perfectly beneath the Helly Hansen Odin 9 Worlds 2.0 Outdoor Shell Jacket I was wearing to keep the raucous Welsh wind and Celtic cloud juice out.
Although it was damp, drizzly and breezy, the conditions were surprisingly warm for a winter’s day in the Brecons, but the midweight Daybreaker provided just the right amount of thermal protection. When we worked up a bit more of a sweat, climbing some stiff inclines while carrying stretchers during mock rescues, it allowed my body to breathe and wicked the moisture I was perspiring away from my body.
Since then, I have worn the Daybreaker as mid layer during hill walks on much colder winter days and used it extensively when camping through spring. It’s currently my go-to choice as a top layer during summer mornings and evenings spent outdoors, before the sun has warmed the woodland trails and after it has set and the evening chill has descended on the crag or camp.
The high neck provides an extra little bit of protection, which is very welcome when things get cold and breezy. The Daybreaker does lack thumb loops, though, which is our only real negative criticism – because they’re so handy at keeping sleeves in place when you’re sliding an outer shell over the top. There’s no hood either, but many people prefer mid layers without lids.
Author of Caving, Canyoning, Coasteering…, a recently released book about all kinds of outdoor adventures around Britain, Pat has spent 20 years pursuing stories involving boots, bikes, boats, beers and bruises. En route he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked through the Norwegian Alps, run an ultra across the roof of Mauritius, and set short-lived records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s Great Walks. He’s authored walking guides to Devon and Dorset, and once wrote a whole book about Toilets for Lonely Planet. Follow Pat’s escapades on Strava here and instagram here.