With a wide variety of insulating jackets on the market, the classic fleece still is the most comfortable and affordable. These polyester jackets have been providing cozy warmth for years from campsites and ski resorts to the streets and restaurants of mountain towns. Fleeces run the gamut from casual to breathable performance pieces for serious adventures. Below are our picks for the best fleece jackets of 2019, with options from leading outdoor brands across a range of price points. For more background, see our fleece jacket comparison table and buying advice below the picks. To read about other types of insulation, we’ve also written about down jackets and synthetic jackets.

Best Overall Fleece Jacket

1. Arc’teryx Covert Cardigan ($179)

Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan (2017-2018)Category: Casual/performance
Weight: 18.9 oz.
Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: A very versatile fleece with a super clean design.
What we don’t: Pricey.

For the top all-around fleece on the market, we give the nod to the sleek Covert Cardigan from Arc’teryx. This full-zip jacket is comfortable, well built, and super versatile. Modern styling and a wool-like appearance make the Covert ideal for casual days around town, but it can easily pull double duty for cool weather hiking or as a midlayer for resort skiing. And with a 2019 upgrade, it now features more durable fabric that’s less prone to piling along with a refined and slightly longer fit. It’s true that the Covert Cardigan isn’t nearly as stretchy as more technical fleeces like the Arc’teryx Fortrez Hoody below, but it still moves reasonably well on the go. 

What are the downsides of the Covert Cardigan? At around $180, it’s one of the most expensive fleece jackets on this list. Second, the fit may be a bit trim for some people. Due to its casual slant, the Covert Cardigan isn’t as slim as some of Arc’teryx’s true performance pieces, but it’s not as baggy as fleeces from brands like Patagonia or The North Face. Minor nitpicks aside, you won’t find a better looking or feeling fleece jacket, and we think it’s a step up in build quality from the popular Patagonia Better Sweater below. 
See the Men's Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan  See the Women's Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan


Best Pullover Fleece Jacket

2. Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T ($119)

Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T fleeceCategory: Casual
Weight: 14.3 oz.
​Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: Very cozy and warm.
What we don’t: No features: this is fleece and nothing more.

It’s hard to move very far down this list without including the Synchilla Snap-T. This pullover is pretty much synonymous with the word “fleece,” and despite its simple appearance, can be a pretty versatile piece of gear. The Synchilla is easy to throw on before heading out for a walk or bike ride, and perfect for wearing out on the town after a day of skiing. It’s definitely not performance oriented in any way, but the masses have had no problem embracing its casual slant.

Don’t expect a whole lot of features on the Patagonia Synchilla. The lack of pockets is one potential issue—aside from the famous snap chest pocket, of course—and you don’t get panels of fancy stretch fabrics or adjustments like some of the technical pieces. But it’s the fleece that matters here: soft, two-sided, extremely cozy fleece. Of the two available Synchilla versions, we like the lightweight best, which is about 4 ounces less than the regular but surprisingly thick and warm. And keep in mind that the Synchilla Snap-T has a fairly roomy fit, much more so than the Patagonia Better Sweater.
See the Men's Patagonia Synchilla  See the Women's Patagonia Synchilla


Best Budget Fleece Jacket

3. Marmot Reactor Fleece Jacket ($99)

Marmot Reactor Fleece 2Category: Casual/performance
Weight: 11.4 oz.
​Fleece weight: Lightweight
What we like: A great value for a full-zip fleece jacket.
What we don’t: Not as warm as other options.

Let’s face it: many people want a fleece as a basic layering piece to stay cozy around the cabin or out by the campfire, and they don’t want to spend $200 to get it. If this sounds like you, the Marmot Reactor is a quality fleece with a proven track record for under $100. Made with legendary Polartec Power Grid fabric, it’s a simple yet versatile lightweight jacket for everything from outdoor use to travel. It’s soft and warm for the shoulder seasons, yet low profile enough to layer well while skiing and snowshoeing too.

What do you sacrifice by going with a fleece like the Marmot Reactor? The jacket is built well but the fleece is relatively thin, meaning that wind will penetrate and it won’t provide true winter warmth. In addition, the fit is a little loose and mobility falls short compared with higher-end fleeces with more bells and whistles. But for most uses, the Reactor will hold up just fine and is a great value, plus the updated-for-2019 model comes with reinforced shoulders for increased durability under a pack. For an even cheaper option from Columbia, see the Steens Mountain 2.0 below.  
See the Men's Marmot Reactor  See the Women's Marmot Flashpoint


Best Heavyweight Fleece Jacket

4. The North Face Denali 2 ($179)

The North Face Denali 2 fleece jacketCategory: Casual
Weight: 24.7 oz.
Fleece weight: Heavyweight
What we like: 330-weight fleece is warm and tough.
What we don’t: Fit is a little baggy for our taste.

The Denali line from The North Face has been on the market for years and is right up there with the Patagonia Synchilla in terms of its iconic status (it’s particularly popular for urban use in cold climates like the East Coast of the United States). The 2019 version, which features a slightly thicker fabric than previous models, provides the most warmth and wind protection of any jacket on this list. The 330-weight fleece is thick and made to last, and the shoulders and chest feature nylon panels that resist light wind and moisture. For moderate fall and early winter days, the Denali 2 can be your only outer layer.

Keep in mind The North Face Denali 2 is the heaviest and bulkiest fleece on this list. At nearly 25 ounces and lacking in any real compression abilities, this is not a jacket that is easily stowed away in a pack. But most people don’t buy the Denali 2 for the backcountry, and it makes a really nice fleece for walking around the city, blocking wind, and providing warmth where others on this list will not. If you’re looking for a substantial and tough fleece jacket from a respected brand, this is it. 
See the Men's North Face Denali 2  See the Women's North Face Denali 2


Best of the Rest

5. Arc’teryx Fortrez Hoody ($199)

Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody FleeceCategory: Performance
Weight: 13.2 oz.
Fleece weight: Lightweight
What we like: Cozy and very agile. 
What we don’t: Design is on the technical side for daily wear.

We often prefer a synthetic-insulated jacket for aerobic activities in cool weather, but there’s still a loyal following out there for performance fleeces. In this category, the Arc’teryx Fortrez is a phenomenal piece of gear for activities like climbing, hiking, and as a midlayer for backcountry skiing. The jacket breathes exceptionally well, has a tough face fabric, and offers great mobility. If you plan on really getting after it this fall and winter, the Fortrez Hoody can be your Swiss Army Knife fleece jacket.

Keep in mind that virtually everything about the Fortrez Hoody is built for active use, from the stretchy fabrics and athletic fit to the serious hood that fits snugly around the neck and chin. There’s even a built-in balaclava, although it tucks away and is unobtrusive when you don’t need it. If you only plan on wearing your fleece around town, the Fortrez probably is too much jacket. Casual users should consider a piece like the Arc’teryx Covert Cardigan above, but for serious outdoor use, the Fortrez is tough to beat. 
See the Men's Arc’teryx Fortrez  See the Women's Arc'teryx Fortrez


6. Patagonia Better Sweater ($139)

Patagonia Better Sweater FleeceCategory: Casual
Weight: 22.5 oz.
Fleece weight: Light/midweight
What we like: Classy looks and versatile performance.
What we don’t: Lets a lot of wind through.

Patagonia has more fleece options than just about any other gear company, ranging from the casual Synchilla Snap-T to the performance Regulator (R) series. Sitting conveniently in the middle is the popular Better Sweater, which can be used for anything from daily wear to light outdoor activities. Moreover, the Better Sweater is stylish and comes in a multitude of colorways that will make just about everyone happy. At around $140, it’s not even all that expensive for Patagonia.

Why isn’t the Patagonia Better Sweater ranked higher? Our top pick, the Arc’teryx Covert Cardigan, feels slightly thicker and has more of a tailored fit, which we prefer. Further, the Better Sweater has a tendency to let even the slightest gusts of wind through. But we do love the versatility: it’s easy to layer underneath a shell, and looks equally at home on your morning commute and the ski hill. As an added bonus, the updated 2019 model is made with 100% recycled fabric (environmental consciousness has become a Patagonia trademark). For a slimmer fit and added stretch panels on the side, see the Performance Better Sweater. 
See the Men's Patagonia Better Sweater  See the Women's Patagonia Better Sweater


7. Kuhl Interceptr Fleece Jacket ($115)

Kuhl Interceptr FleeceCategory: Casual/performance
​Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: A great value for a quality full-zip fleece.
What we don’t: Build quality can’t quite match the Arc’teryx or Patagonia models above.

We were immediately impressed when trying on the Kuhl Interceptr, which feels like a more economical sibling of the Arc’teryx Covert Cardigan above (it has more technical features too). For a very reasonable $115, you get an athletic-fitting fleece jacket with tons of storage (4 pockets in total) and handy features like articulated 5-panel sleeves with thumbholes at the end to keep your hands warm and the sleeves in place.

The Interceptr does great in mild fall and spring conditions, but don’t expect much in the way of wind resistance or warmth when the temperature really drops. For just $25 more, the Patagonia Better Sweater offers more warmth in a similar style. Plus, we don’t love the dual chest pockets of the Interceptr, especially for a casual layer. But if you’ve tried Kuhl products in the past and like the brand and styling, the Interceptr is a great value.
See the Men's Kuhl Interceptr Fleece Jacket


8. Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 2 ($175)

Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man (2017-2018)Category: Performance/casual
Weight: 13.4 oz.
​Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: Super soft and cozy.
What we don’t: Fleece sheds over time.

The Monkey Man is one of our favorite pieces of gear that Mountain Hardwear makes. First, it’s one the softest fleeces on this list, made with the signature Polartec High Loft that actually feels somewhat like real fur (you may find people reaching over to touch it). And like the popular Patagonia R2 below, stretchy panels along the sides help the latest Monkey Man 2 move well with you during high-output activities like climbing and biking. 

What are the downsides of the Monkey Man? As with most fleece jackets, wind cuts through it easily and you will get chilled using it as an outer layer when the temperature drops. Further, the sleeves are slightly longer than normal, although this didn’t bother our testers as they fit nicely over the top of the hands. And you should expect some fleece to shed as something this fuzzy tends to rub off on occasion. But in terms of coziness, this fleece is right near the top.
See the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man  See the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Woman


9. Fjallraven Keb Fleece ($175)

Fjallraven Keb Fleece jacketCategory: Casual/performance
Weight: 18 oz.
Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: Quality materials and good looks.
What we don’t: Pricey and no hand pockets.

If you’ve worn Fjallraven apparel in the past, you may be drooling over the Keb Fleece. In typical fashion, this jacket has a high-end look and feel that few brands are able to emulate. For the build, Fjallraven uses a unique polyester and wool blend that does a nice job at keeping you warm while still retaining a decent amount of moisture wicking ability and stretch. The end result is a very comfortable and functional fleece that also looks the part.

Like many Fjallraven products, the Keb Fleece toes the line between casual and performance use. The fleece blend, reinforced G-1000 shoulder panels (it wouldn’t be Fjallraven without some G-1000 in the mix), and aggressive hood are built for the outdoors, but the clean design and attractive colorways wear well in the city too. This fleece isn’t for everyone—and particularly at a steep $175—but it’s another classy piece of gear from the Swedish company.
See the Men's Fjallraven Keb Fleece  See the Women's Fjallraven Keb Fleece


10. L.L. Bean Sweater Fleece Full-Zip ($89)

LL Bean Sweater Fleece Full-ZipCategory: Casual
Fleece weight: Light/midweight
What we like: Nice looks and great price.
What we don’t: Not as well made or versatile as the Patagonia Better Sweater. 

It doesn’t get much more classic than the L.L. Bean Sweater Fleece Full-Zip. From the throwback logo on the chest to the knit exterior and wide range of muted colorways, the jacket is an everyday staple. The middle-of-the-road fit (L.L. Bean calls it “slightly fitted”) slides easily over a long-sleeve baselayer or dress shirt, although it is a bit bulky for wearing under a rain shell. And you don’t get a waist cinch for truly sealing out the cold, but the light to midweight insulation, drop hem, and lined hand pockets make the Sweater Fleece a nice match for many spring and fall days.

In many ways, this L. L. Bean is a budget alternative to Patagonia’s Better Sweater above. Both have a timeless look, similar pocket layouts, and a lot of around-town appeal with their moderate levels of warmth. Where the Patagonia gets the edge is its very cozy interior, which uses higher quality fleece, plus it’s longer lasting and less prone to pilling excessively over time (this is especially valuable if you’ll be wearing the jacket for activities like downhill skiing). But for a substantial $50 savings, it’s hard to argue with the simple L.L. Bean for daily use.
See the Men's L.L. Bean Sweater Fleece  See the Women's L.L. Bean Sweater Fleece


11. Arc’teryx Delta LT ($139)

Arc'teryx Delta LTCategory: Performance/casual
Weight: 9.3 oz.
Fleece weight: Lightweight
What we like: Great mix of performance and casual features.
What we don’t: Pricey for not a lot of warmth.

Most all-around daily wear and performance fleeces favor the casual user, but the Arc’teryx Delta LT flips those priorities as a lightweight alpine midlayer that still looks good around town. With a gridded finish on the exterior, soft touch interior, and premium 100-weight fleece, the Delta LT wicks moisture and breathes exceptionally well. The jacket’s performance slant is evident in its feathery 9.3-ounce weight—nearly the lightest on our list—but you still get features like two hand pockets and a small pocket on the left sleeve. Further, the jacket received a longer hem and a more relaxed fit in its most recent update, making it even better for crossover use. For lightweight, cozy, and efficient warmth, the Delta LT is the whole package.

As a performance midlayer or if you like a semi-trim cut, we prefer the Delta LT over the Marmot Reactor above. It’s easier to add a shell over the top of the Arc’teryx, and the jacket is fantastic for activities like shoulder season climbing or backcountry skiing. But we give the edge overall to the Reactor because of price: both jackets are very well made and are similarly warm, but the Delta costs $44 extra. Even with the large price gap, we really like the Delta LT—just not enough to rank it any higher.
See the Men's Arc'teryx Delta LT  See the Women's Arc'teryx Delta LT


12. Patagonia R2 Jacket ($169)

Patagonia R2 Fleece jacketCategory: Performance/casual
Weight: 13.4 oz.
​Fleece weight: Light/midweight
What we like: Combination of warm high-loft fleece and performance R1 fabric.
What we don’t: Not very wind or water resistant.

Patagonia’s R2 is their go-to fleece for active outdoor pursuits in the cold. The jacket features a combination of high-loft fleece over the core of the body and stretchy material on the side panels, sleeves, and cuffs (the same fabric that makes up the popular R1). This combination gives the jacket the breathability, light weight, and freedom of movement of a baselayer, but the core warmth of a thick fleece. In a sense, it’s a best-of-both-worlds combination of a performance jacket like the Arc’teryx Fortrez and a cozy, casual layer like the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man.

Although the R2 is impressive for a fleece, we can’t deny that a synthetic or down jacket will provide similar warmth in a lighter, more packable, and often more weather resistant package. On the other hand, the R2 breathes better than a puffy jacket, has a thinner feel, and a more casual look. And while we’re talking fleece, it’s worth shedding light a few other items in Patagonia’s line-up: for a truly lightweight and performance-oriented layer, check out the R1, which subtracts the R2’s high-loft fabric and adds a hood. Second, the R2 TechFace (with a durable water- and wind-resistant exterior) is worth a close look if you’ll be wearing your fleece as an outer layer.
See the Men's Patagonia R2  See the Women's Patagonia R2


13. Columbia Titan Pass 2.0 II ($99)

Columbia Titan Pass 2.0 II Fleece jacketCategory: Casual
Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: Great price and good warmth.
What we don’t: Shorter lifespan than a premium model.

Columbia’s Titan Pass 2.0 jacket has clean lines, decent warmth, and all the features you need in a basic fleece. The 200-weight Polartec is warm enough for most spring or fall days provided it’s not too windy, and a cinch cord dials in the fit at the hem. And with new styling and the addition of stretchy underarm and side panels for increased mobility and breathability, the 2019 update offers a definite boost in performance. Columbia’s Steens Mountain below may be their biggest seller in the midweight category, but we prefer the added features and modernized look of the Titan Pass 2.0.

A value-minded fleece like the Titan Pass does come with a few compromises. The Polartec fleece is comfy and warm, but it is prone to pilling up after extended wear and washing. In addition, the jacket doesn’t have the tailored cut that you get with a premium fleece. But there’s a lot to like with the Titan Pass 2.0 as a daily midlayer or outer piece, and we think it’s Columbia’s best fleece jacket currently on the market in 2019.
See the Men's Columbia Titan Pass 2.0  See the Women's Columbia Titan Pass 2.0


14. Outdoor Research Deviator ($189)

Outdoor Research Deviator jacketCategory: Performance
Weight: 10.7 oz.
​Fleece weight: Lightweight
What we like: A lot of warmth and weather protection in a lightweight package.
What we don’t: Not durable, lacks the coziness of many fleece jackets.

At first glance, the Outdoor Research Deviator doesn’t necessarily scream “fleece.” In fact, it’s a bit of a hybrid fleece/insulation jacket with lightweight and breathable fleece in the sleeves, hood, and backpanel and synthetic insulation over the core. In many ways, it’s a more performance-oriented version of the R2, substituting warmer, more packable, and more protective synthetic insulation for the Patagonia’s thick fleece. The result is a jacket that is warmer than others of similar weight, but equally breathable and packable.

We consider the Deviator a staple part of our layering lineup, but over the years it has disappointed us in a few ways. For one, the 7D ripstop nylon sealing in the insulation is unsurprisingly not very durable. Especially in comparison to a fleece jacket, you’ll want to be careful while wearing the Deviator around rocks, tree branches, and other sharp objects. Secondly, the fit of the Deviator has not impressed us—one size feels too short, while the other seems overly baggy. But for active insulation during a hike or a fleece jacket to wear in basecamp, the Deviator is definitely deserving of a close look.
See the Men's Outdoor Research Deviator  See the Women's Outdoor Research Deviator


15. Toad&Co Los Padres ($129)

Toad&Co Los Padres FleeceCategory: Casual
​Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: Fleece/wool blend for a warm, breathable layer.
What we don’t: Lack of hood and chest pocket detract from performance.

We’ve been pleasantly surprised with recent products from Telluride-based Toad&Co, which have hit a nice sweet spot between performance and comfort for daily use. The Los Padres jacket is just one of a couple on this list that combines wool into the fleece for extra warmth (even when wet) and added breathability. Toad&Co designed the jacket with a DWR finish on the front and back shoulder panels, great for keeping out moisture during light precipitation. Overall, it’s a well made jacket, with high performance details hidden behind a casual look.

In terms of uses, the Los Padres is great for wearing around town—that’s probably its most common designation—but its warmth, breathability, and weather protection make it a viable midlayer option for downhill skiing too. Unfortunately, the omission of a hood and zippered pockets keep it from being up there with the top performers. But the design has a decidedly western/mountain vibe, which is a nice point of differentiation from the urban/performance slant of many of the options above.
See the Men's Toad&Co Los Padres


16. Mountain Hardwear Type 2 Fun Hoody ($125)

Mountain Hardwear Type 2 Fun HoodyCategory: Performance
Weight: 11.8 oz.
Fleece weight: Lightweight
What we like: Great mobility; doesn’t bunch underneath a harness or backpack.
What we don’t: Lacks versatility; not very warm.

Outdoor enthusiasts love to joke about Type 2 Fun when referring to an activity that isn’t enjoyable in the moment, but only after the fact. In other words, a sufferfest. So for a technically-savvy pullover fleece built for high-output activities, we think Type 2 Fun is the perfect name. This new offering from Mountain Hardwear features a form-fitting, ¾ zip design, which means there’s no zipper or excess fabric bunching up underneath your harness or backpack. Further, the light, 190-weight fleece breathes decently well and offers good mobility, and the hood is sleek enough to fit under a helmet. And with such a trim fit, the Type 2 Fun can even double as a baselayer on a really cold day.

It doesn’t take more than a quick glance to see that the Type 2 Fun Hoody clearly is not a casual or crossover piece like the Arc’teryx Covert or even the Fjallraven Keb above. Further, with such a lightweight build, we have a hard time recommending it for anything other than relatively warm shoulder season days. You get more warmth and features with a jacket like the Arc’teryx Fortrez, but do sacrifice the trim fit and freedom of movement we love about the Type 2 Fun. And for a middle-ground option, Mountain Hardwear does make a full-zip, hoodless version of the Type 2 Fun.
See the Mountain Hardwear Type 2 Fun Hoody


17. Columbia Steens Mountain 2.0 ($35)

Columbia Steens Mountain fleece jacketCategory: Casual
Weight: 16.6 oz.
​Fleece weight: Lightweight
What we like: Tons of colors and sizes.
What we don’t: Durability is questionable.

Soft, inexpensive, and offered in a ton of sizes and colors, the Steens Mountain is a very popular budget fleece. First and foremost, this is a very simple jacket: the fabric is basic and you don’t get any features to speak of. But it provides decent warmth and styling and a hefty portion of coziness, especially for the price of only $35 (prices do vary on retailers like Amazon depending on the color).

It’s a good idea to set reasonable expectations for a fleece in this price range. For its weight and bulk, the Steens Mountain does very little to trap warmth or keep out wind, nor is it super breathable. It’s also not trim fitting and layers poorly under a hardshell. To put it simply, the Steens Mountain won’t be your workhorse for any kind of serious outdoor use. But if you’re looking for an inexpensive layering piece to wear around town, Columbia’s bottom shelf offering should get the job done.
See the Men's Columbia Steens Mountain  See the Women's Columbia Benton Springs


18. REI Co-op Groundbreaker Fleece Jacket ($50)

REI Co-op Groundbreaker Fleece jacketCategory: Casual
Weight: 14.8 oz.
​Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: Comfortable and inexpensive.
What we don’t: Thin and lower build quality.

Seattle-based REI knows a thing or two about the importance of a fleece—they’re useful in the PNW about 9 months a year. Rounding out this list, their Co-op Groundbreaker Fleece is another good example of a legitimate budget option. It’s lightweight and relatively easy to squeeze into a pack on a day hike or bike ride, yet built well enough to last through a few seasons of wear. And we like this retro-styled version more than last year’s standard fleece, particularly with its addition of kangaroo pockets.

REI Co-op’s in-house line of clothing is catching up fairly quickly to other brands, and we continue to be impressed with their new releases. But realistically, the Groundbraker is not high-end in nature. The fleece is relatively thin like other budget options, so don’t expect serious protection from the cold, and the look and feel isn’t up to Patagonia or Arc’teryx standards. But this jacket certainly is competitive with the Marmot Reactor and Columbia Steens Mountain, which makes sense given its reasonable price point.
See the Men's REI Co-op Groundbreaker  See the Women's REI Co-op Groundbreaker


Fleece Jacket Comparison Table

Fleece Jacket Price Category Weight Fleece Pockets
Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan $179 Casual/performance 18.9 oz. Midweight 2 hand, 1 sleeve
Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla $119 Casual 14.3 oz. Midweight 1 chest
Marmot Reactor Fleece $99 Casual/performance 11.4 oz. Lightweight 2 hand, 1 chest
The North Face Denali 2 $179 Casual 24.7 oz. Heavyweight 2 hand, 2 chest
Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody $199 Performance 13.2 oz. Lightweight 2 hand, 1 sleeve
Patagonia Better Sweater $139 Casual 22.5 oz. Light/mid 2 hand, 1 chest
Kuhl Interceptr Fleece Jacket $115 Casual/performance Unavail. Midweight 2 hand, 2 chest
Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 2 $175 Performance/casual 13.4 oz. Midweight 2 hand, 1 chest
Fjallraven Keb Fleece Jacket $175 Casual/performance 18 oz. Midweight 2 hand, 1 chest
L.L. Bean Sweater Fleece $89 Casual Unavail. Light/Mid 2 hand, 1 chest
Arc'teryx Delta LT $139 Performance/casual 9.3 oz. Lightweight 2 hand, 1 sleeve
Patagonia R2 Jacket $169 Performance/casual 13.4 oz. Light/Mid 2 hand, 1 chest
Columbia Titan Pass 2.0 II $99 Casual Unavail. Midweight 2 hand, 1 chest
Outdoor Research Deviator $189 Performance 10.7 oz. Lightweight 2 hand, 1 chest
Toad&Co Los Padres $129 Casual Unavail. Midweight 2 hand
Mountain Hardwear Type 2 Fun Hoody $125 Performance 11.8 oz. Lightweight 1 chest
Columbia Steens Mountain 2.0 $35 Casual 16.6 oz. Lightweight 2 hand
REI Co-op Groundbreaker Fleece $50 Casual 14.8 oz. Midweight 2 hand


Fleece Jacket Buying Advice

Fleece Categories: Casual vs. Performance

The majority of people wear fleece jackets for their unbeatable combination of coziness and warmth. They are terrific for layering on chilly evenings, wearing around the cabin, and underneath your ski jacket. Accordingly, most fleeces trend toward being casual in nature, from hard-weave cardigan-style jackets that dress up nicely to basic fleeces that are little more than the fabric itself. Casual fleeces make up the majority of our list, although we do want to reiterate that they still are great for layering.

Ski Touring (Black Diamond CoEfficient)
Ski touring in a performance-oriented fleece


For performance or serious outdoor use as an outer layer, a down jacket or synthetic jacket beats out a fleece in most cases. Both are lighter, more packable, and offer better protection from the elements. Where fleeces do have the upper hand is breathability, although this can also be a downside as most offer little wind resistance. There are a small handful of high-end, climbing-centric brands that do offer performance fleeces. The Arc’teryx Fortrez Hoody is built for bouldering or scrambling in chilly weather, and Patagonia’s R Series has similar intentions in mind. Some fleeces like the Kuhl Interceptr are more of a hybrid piece: good for wearing around town but also easy to move in and decently tough.

Full-Zip vs. Pullover

Most of the jackets toward the top of this list are of the full-zip variety, which gives you maximum versatility and are easy to slip on and off. Full-zip models tend to have more features like hand pockets and stretchy side panels, whereas pullovers are more basic and function like a sweatshirt (albeit a very comfy one). The upside of fleece pullovers is that they weigh slightly less, pack down smaller, and generally are cheaper. The Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla is an extremely popular fleece pullover that in many ways defines the category.

Fleece Jackets (full-zip and pullover)
Full-zip vs. pullover fleece designs


Fleece Weight and Warmth

For an idea of how warm a particular fleece will be, some jackets list the fabric thickness or fleece weight. Polartec’s Classic Line breaks it out into three categories: 100, 200, and 300-weight fleece, and other brands use a similar nomenclature. 100-weight jackets are thin and great for high-output activities when breathability wins out over maximum warmth. In their lightest form, such as the Patagonia R1, the fleece is merely a small step up in terms of insulation from a baselayer. Midweight or 200-weight fleeces are warmer and are a great pairing for fall and spring or a mild-weather day on the slopes. Heavy fleeces of the 300-weight variety are bulky and warm and can insulate when temperatures dip below freezing.  You’ll often find high-loft designs with enough insulation for cold days—a jacket like The North Face Denali 2 falls into this category.

As more companies have moved toward designing their own proprietary fleeces and Polartec has diversified their offerings, the demarcation isn’t quite as simple as explained above. But it’s still helpful when available, and in general, the weight of the fleece correlates with its warmth. The heavier a jacket is, the more likely it will be able to keep you warm and block wind from entering.

Patagonia Synchilla Snap-T (camping)
Patagonia's Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T uses a cozy 200-weight fleece


Wind and Water Resistance

One area of confusion that you consistently find in user reviews is the lack of wind resistance that fleeces provide. It’s true—fleece jackets are not intended to combat heavy wind or rain. The synthetic fabric itself is hydrophobic, but wind can make its way through the porous construction rather easily. Exceptions include jackets with WindStopper or tough face fabrics, which provide a modest increase in weather resistance. The Arc’teryx Fortrez uses Polartec HardFace fabric on the outside and the classic Denali 2 jacket from The North Face has non-fleece nylon panels that can repel light amounts of precipitation.

No matter the fleece, when the conditions get tough you’ll want to bring along a more reliable wind and rain protector like a softshell jacket or rain jacket. One of our favorites is the Patagonia Adze Hybrid that has fleece on the interior of the jacket for added warmth but a thick outer layer so you don’t feel the elements. 

Fleece Jackets (wind resistance)
Many fleece jackets only provide modest wind resistance



A notable upside of fleeces is their breathability. This is one of the primary reasons that they work so well as a midlayer, and it also contributes to their shortcomings as a true outer layer in the cold and wind. Compared to a softshell jacket, a fleece is made from standard polyester that is dotted with tiny openings—hold up a fleece into the sun and you’ll see light streaming through.

Some windproof jackets have a separate layer sandwiched between the inner and outer fleece to prevent those bone chilling gusts. Unfortunately, by blocking the wind, breathability suffers along with one of our favorite benefits of a fleece: the plush next-to-skin feel. Those downsides make a windproof fleece one of our least favorite fleece types; we prefer a synthetic insulated jacket or down jacket with wind blocking fabric instead.  

Patagonia Performance Better Sweater stretch
Some performance-oriented fleeces include stretchy and breathable side panels



Fleece jackets range widely in terms of fit, and it’s important to look into the jacket’s intended use to make sure it aligns with your own. Performance pieces have a trim cut that is designed to remove excess fabric for added mobility and efficient ventilation. While very effective on the mountain, the style doesn’t always translate well to urban life. If you’re in search of a jacket adept at both, something like the Arc’teryx Covert Cardigan may the ideal choice, with enough room to be comfortable but not so loose as to be useless in the backcountry. For casual wear, a roomier fit option like the Patagonia Synchilla or one of the other budget options may be the ticket.

Fleece Jacket Features

Fleece Loft
The synthetic nature of fleece jackets means they can vary pretty dramatically in style, and one of the best representations is the amount of loft in the jacket. Less loft means a lower profile that has a brushed, sweater-like look, while high-loft options are fuzzier and thicker. Much of the decision will come down to personal preference on style and feel. Some of the high-loft options have polarizing looks (the extra fuzzy Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man comes to mind). The extra soft feel of a high pile jacket is well worth it for some, while those that use their fleece around town may prefer a lower loft alternative like the Arc’teryx Covert Cardigan.

Nearly every fleece out there is offered in either hooded or standard fare. For use as a classic midlayer, we typically lean towards a non-hooded option as even a low profile hood can get in the way underneath your shell (unless you always use both hoods). And for use under a ski jacket, it’s a no-brainer to go with a non-hooded model. Alternatively, in colder conditions a hood is a welcome addition and many fleece hoodies are nicely fitted over your head and should stay on even while exercising.  

Black Diamond CoEfficient (hood)
A low-profile hood helps a fleece fit nicely under a helmet


Performance fleeces designed for activities like running or cross-country skiing will occasionally have thumbholes built into the sleeves. While serving as an opening for cold air to sneak in when not in use, the openings work well for keeping the sleeves in place during high effort activities or when taking on and off layers. User tip: if you’re eyeing a jacket that has this feature, we recommend checking to make sure the fabric around the thumbhole has some stretch so it doesn’t feel like your thumb is being yanked around when you extend your arms. 

Fleece vs. Synthetic and Down Insulation

The midlayer market is chalk full of options, and the two primary fleece competitors are synthetic jackets and down jackets. Both are more expensive than a fleece but offer improved warmth relative to total weight and are far more packable. None are the end-all-be-all insulating layer, which is why it is common for people to own one (or more) of each of the three options.

Fleeces (Patagonia R2 climbing)
Climbing in the breathable Patagonia R2 jacket

If a cozy next-to-skin feel is top of the list, a fleece remains your go-to choice. Synthetic and down jackets require a lining and outer shell to hold the insulation, which impacts comfort and the ability to pull away sweat and hot air. As such, the fleece excels at aerobic activities when bulk isn’t as much a factor. While it’s still a fine option for backpacking or climbing, the fact remains that it takes up too much space in your pack to be the best option.

Caring for a Fleece Jacket

Pilling is one of the downsides of a low quality fleece, and even a nicer option can start losing fleece over time. Once a jacket starts pilling up, it’s difficult to reverse the process, so prevention is key here. One of the best ways to extend the life of your fleece is keeping it clear of a drier. Line drying or at least tumble-drying on low will do wonders, and some have had success washing their fleeces on the delicate wash cycle. Also, while fleece jackets are a popular choice for hanging around the campfire, do your best to keep it clear of the flames. The plasticky construction will melt when exposed to extreme heat. Beyond those considerations, fleeces are easy to maintain and should give you years of comfy service. 
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