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 2017-2018, 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.
 

1. Arc’teryx Covert Cardigan ($179)

Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan (2017-2018)Category: Casual/performance
Weight: 18.7 oz.
Fleece weight: Midweight
Pockets: 2 hand, 1 sleeve
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 crosses over nicely between everyday wear and performance use. It looks great for casual days around town, but can pull double duty for cool weather hiking or as a midlayer for resort skiing. 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. And we think it’s a step up in build quality from the popular Patagonia Better Sweater.

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 Patagonia or The North Face either. These issues aside, you won’t find a better looking or feeling fleece jacket. 
See the Men's Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan  See the Women's Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan

 

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

Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T fleeceCategory: Casual
Weight: 14.3 oz.
​Fleece weight: Midweight
Pockets: 1 Snap pocket
What we like: Super 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 skiing. It’s definitely not performance oriented in any way, but people 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

 

3. The North Face Denali 2 ($179)

The North Face Denali 2 fleece jacketCategory: Casual
Weight: 24.7 oz.
Fleece weight: Heavyweight
Pockets: 2 hand, 2 chest
What we like: 300-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). We love the heavyweight fabrics, which provide the most warmth and wind protection of any jacket on this list. The 300-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

 

4. Marmot Reactor Fleece Jacket ($95)

Marmot Reactor fleece (2017-2018)Category: Casual/performance
Weight: 12.7 oz.
​Fleece weight: Lightweight
Pockets: 2 hand, 1 sleeve
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 Polartec’s legendary 100-weight 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. 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

 

5. Arc’teryx Fortrez Hoody ($199)

Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody fleeceCategory: Performance
Weight: 13.6 oz.
Fleece weight: Lightweight
Pockets: 2 hand, 1 sleeve
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 (2017-2018)Category: Casual
Weight: 20.7 oz.
Fleece weight: Light/midweight
Pockets: 2 hand, 1 chest
What we like: Classy looks and versatile performance.
What we don’t: Lets a lot of wind in and ages somewhat quickly.

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. More, 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. More, the Better Sweater has a tendency to let wind in and age a little more quickly than it should. 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. 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. Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody ($159)

Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody fleece jacketCategory: Performance
Weight: 12.9 oz.
Fleece weight: Lightweight
Pockets: 1 chest
What we like: Fantastic performance and technical features.
What we don’t: No hand pockets.

Black Diamond’s CoEfficient Hoody has everything we look for in a technical midlayer: an athletic fit, superior breathability and moisture wicking, and good warmth. As a result, it’s a great a go-to piece for demanding activities like ski touring. We’ve worn it over a baselayer for staying cool on the skin track where its air permeable design really shines, and throw on a shell over the top for the descent. We also love the clean styling and build quality of the CoEfficient, which is competitive with the best on the market from Arc’teryx and Patagonia.

What are the downsides of the CoEfficient Hoody? First, due to the high levels of breathability it’s not super warm as a standalone piece in cold temperatures. Second, if you don’t want a hood, you’ll have to look elsewhere (while Black Diamond has made a non-hooded version in the past, the updated CoEfficient currently only is offered with a hood). More, you only get a single chest pocket and the fit is very snug fit—similar to the Fortrez above. But as an all-out performance piece for high-output activities, the BD CoEfficient is at the top of its class... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Black Diamond CoEfficient  See the Women's Black Diamond CoEfficient

 

8. Fjallraven Keb Fleece ($175)

Fjallraven Keb Fleece jacketCategory: Casual/performance
Weight: 17.3 oz.
Fleece weight: Midweight
Pockets: 1 chest
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

 

9. Arc’teryx Delta LT ($139)

Arc'teryx Delta LT fleece jacketCategory: Performance/casual
Weight: 9.9 oz.
Fleece weight: Lightweight
Pockets: 2 hand, 1 sleeve
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 9.9-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. 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

 

10. Patagonia R3 Hoody ($199)

Patagonia R3 Hoody (2017-2018)Category: Performance
Weight: 18 oz.
Fleece weight: Midweight
Pockets: 2 hand, 1 chest; 0 hand, 2 chest (reversible)
What we like: Functional and well-executed reversible design.
What we don’t: Expensive, and not everyone will love the technical look.

For rock climbing and other active outdoor pursuits in the cold, the Patagonia R3 is a proven winner. The jacket features a high-loft fleece that is warm without being overly thick, stretchy construction for ease of movement, and a very comfortable hood. What sets the R3 apart is its reversible design: with the high loft side facing out, you get a single zippered chest pocket and 2 open hand pockets, while the smooth side has 2 chest pockets. In either case, the R3 breathes well relative to its warmth and has a high-end feel that justifies the steep price tag.

The downside of opting for a fleece like the R3 as a warm performance layer is weight and bulk. Synthetic and down jackets that offer similar warmth are lighter, pack down smaller, and do a better job blocking wind and light rain. On the other hand, the R3 breathes better, has a cozier feel, and its reversible design is a nice touch. For the ultimate warm performance fleece, we don’t think you can do any better than the Patagonia R3.
See the Men's Patagonia R3 Hoody  See the Women's Patagonia R3 Hoody

 

11. Columbia Titan Pass 2.0 ($75)

Columbia Titan Pass 2.0 fleece jacketCategory: Casual
Fleece weight: Midweight
Pockets: 2 hand, 1 chest
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. 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. More, 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 2017-2018.
See the Men's Columbia Titan Pass 2.0  See the Women's Columbia Titan Pass 2.0

 

12. Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man ($160)

Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man (2017-2018)Category: Performance/casual
Weight: 14 oz.
​Fleece weight: Lightweight
Pockets: 2 hand, 1 chest
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). Like the Patagonia R3 above, the Monkey Man moves well with you during high-output activities like climbing and biking. 

What are the downsides of the Monkey Man? It’s on the thin side and you will get chilled using it as an outer layer when the temperature drops. 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

 

13. Kuhl Interceptr Fleece Jacket ($115)

Kuhl Interceptr Fleece (2018)Category: Casual/performance
​Fleece weight: Midweight
Pockets: 2 hand, 2 chest
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. Don’t expect much in the way of wind resistance or warmth when the temperature really drops, but the Interceptr does great in mild fall and spring conditions. 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

 

14. Outdoor Research Transition Hoody ($150)

Outdoor Research Transition Hoody fleece jacketCategory: Performance
Weight: 9.7 oz.
Fleece weight: Lightweight
Pockets: 2 hand, 1 chest
What we like: Lightweight and regulates temperature well.
What we don’t: Lacking in casual appeal.

Outdoor Research has been on a roll of late, and we really like their new Transition Hoody. At just 9.7 ounces, this fleece jacket is superlight and a great option for those on the go in cool weather. The Polartec Power Grid fleece is stretchy and regulates temperature well, and the athletic cut means the jacket won’t get in your way like many of the baggier options on this list. More, the face fabric on the Transition Hoody is surprisingly durable given its low weight, making it attractive for deep backcountry exploring.

The OR Transition Hoody is ranked here mostly because of its heavy performance slant. Yes, it’s built for activities like bouldering, fall and winter hiking, and even running in the cold. But most people prefer the option of some casual use from their fleece. More, we’ve had better luck in terms of build quality from performance brands like Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, and Patagonia. Outdoor Research makes good gear, but it’s not quite up to premium standards. 
See the Men's OR Transition Hoody  See the Women's OR Transition Hoody

 

15. Toad&Co Ballard Fleece Jacket ($129)

Toad&Co Ballard Fleece JacketCategory: Casual
Weight: 23.1 oz.
Fleece weight: Heavyweight
Pockets: 2 hand, 1 chest
What we like: Thick, warm, and comfortable. 
What we don’t: Western/mountain inspiration isn’t for everyone. 

We were pleasantly surprised with the Ballard Fleece from Telluride-based Toad&Co, which hits a really nice sweet spot between comfort for daily use and performance. First, the jacket is thick and well made—the fleece has good density and loft, even more so than many of the options above. The brushed lining on the inside is soft and comfortable against the skin. And Toad&Co added woven twill panels on the chest and shoulders with a DWR finish, which is nice for preventing moisture during light precipitation. 

In terms of uses, the Ballard Fleece is great for casual use around town—that’s probably its most common designation—but its thickness and warmth make it a viable midlayer option for downhill skiing too. And 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 Ballard Fleece

 

16. Columbia Steens Mountain 2.0 ($60)

Columbia Steens Mountain fleece jacketCategory: Casual
Weight: 16.6 oz.
​Fleece weight: Lightweight
Pockets: 2 hand
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. It’s a good idea to set reasonable expectations for a fleece in this price range (we’ve seen it for around $35 on Amazon). But it does provide decent warmth and styling, albeit at the sacrifice of long-term durability. This won’t be your workhorse for any kind of serious outdoor use, but if you’re looking for a simple and inexpensive layering piece, the Steens Mountain should get the job done.
See the Men's Columbia Steens Mountain  See the Women's Columbia Benton Springs

 

17. ExOfficio Alpental Pullover ($80)

ExOfficio Alpental Fleece JacketCategory: Casual
Weight: 19 oz.
​Fleece weight: Midweight
Pockets: 1 chest.
What we like: Comfortable and inexpensive.
What we don’t: Too casual for serious outdoor use.

A good number of the fleeces on this list are hybrid or performance pieces, but the ExOfficio Alpental Pullover is one of our favorites for travel and everyday use. The exterior is thick and durable, offering ample warmth and wind-blocking capabilities for chilly weather, while the interior is soft and comfortable on the skin. To be sure, the design is casual with a pullover style and buttons on the neckline instead of a zipper, but the Alpental looks great, is extremely comfortable, and can even be used as a midlayer for resort skiing. We prefer, however, to wear it as the first thing we put on back in the cabin or before heading out on the town. Often available at a steep discount (we've seen it for under $50 on Amazon), it’s a nice value, too.
See the Men's ExOfficio Alpental Pullover

 

18. REI Co-op Fleece Jacket ($60)

REI Co-op Fleece JacketCategory: Casual
​Fleece weight: Lightweight
Pockets: 2 hand
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 here about 9 months a year. Rounding out this list, their Co-op Fleece Jacket 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 new full-zip version more than last year’s pullover, and particularly with the addition of hand 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 Co-op Fleece Jacket 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 Fleece Jacket  See the Women's REI Co-op Fleece Jacket

 

Fleece Jacket Comparison Table

Fleece Jacket Price Category Weight Fleece Pockets
Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan $179 Casual/performance 18.7 oz. Midweight 2 hand, 1 sleeve
Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla $99 Casual 14.3 oz. Midweight 1 chest
The North Face Denali 2 $179 Casual 24.7 oz. Heavyweight 2 hand, 2 chest
Marmot Reactor $95 Casual/performance 12.7 oz. Lightweight 2 hand, 1 sleeve
Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody $199 Performance 13.6 oz. Lightweight 2 hand, 1 sleeve
Patagonia Better Sweater $139 Casual/performance 20.7 oz. Midweight 2 hand, 1 chest
Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody $159 Performance 12.9 oz. Lightweight 1 chest
Fjallraven Keb Fleece Jacket $175 Casual/performance 17.3 oz. Midweight 1 chest
Arc'teryx Delta LT $139 Performance/casual 9.9 oz. Lightweight 2 hand, 1 sleeve
Patagonia R3 Hoody $199 Performance 18 oz. Midweight 2 hand, 2 chest
Columbia Titan Pass 2.0 $75 Casual Unavail. Midweight 2 hand, 1 chest
Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man $160 Performance/casual 14 oz. Lighweight 2 hand, 1 chest
Kuhl Interceptr Fleece Jacket $115 Casual/performance Unavail. Midweight 2 hand, 2 chest
Outdoor Research Transition Hoody $150 Performance 9.7 oz. Lightweight 1 hand, 1 chest
Toad&Co Ballard Fleece Jacket $129 Casual 23.1 oz. Heavyweight 2 hand, 1 chest
Columbia Steens Mountain 2.0 $60 Casual 16.6 oz. Lightweight 2 hand
ExOfficio Alpental Pullover $80 Casual 19 oz. Midweight 1 chest
REI Co-op Fleece Jacket $60 Casual Unavail. Lightweight 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)

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)

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 Black Diamond CoEfficient, 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)

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)

Breathability

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

Fit

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.

Hood
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)

Thumbholes
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 (like the Black Diamond CoEfficient) 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.

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. 
Back to Our Top Fleece Jacket Picks  Back to Our Fleece Jacket Comparison Table

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