Life outdoors can be brilliant... unless you're so cold you can't appreciate being out in all that glorious fresh air. Combat this by drafting in one of the best fleece jackets to wear over your breathable base layers, and, depending on the weather, to wear with a waterproof jacket.
Fleece jackets for women and men come in a variety of designs. Some are full zip jackets, others are mid zip, and a few are the pull-over style replete with hood. You'll find examples of all of these in our guide to the best fleece jackets round-up below.
Different fabric weights are one key differentiator, as are additional design elements such as thumb loops and waterproofing or wind-proofing membranes. The best fleece jackets are usable year-round, as an extra layer on cool summer evenings, or a standalone jacket in spring/autumn, and as a mid-layer in winter.
They come in handy on hikes and shorter walks, and are a godsend when camping or working outdoors. In short, this humble (and admittedly not very stylish) garment is a versatile piece for the outdoors person to own.
Before we reveal our pick of the best fleece jackets, let's look at how you can select the right one for you...
Choosing the best fleece jacket for you
The biggest question when buying a fleece jacket is how warm you need it to be, and therefore whether you plan to wear it as an actual jacket, and/or as a breathable midlayer. Heavier weight fleeces are lovely and warm on their own, but if worn as a midlayer they can get too hot, as well as being feeling bulky and restricting movement.
Lighter weight fleeces make excellent winter-weight base layers, as well as handy autumn jackets. It’s also worth considering whether a hood is necessary. While a hood adds warmth on the coldest of days, they can lead to overheating if used in high-intensity pursuits. When not used, they can result in an uncomfortable extra layer around the neck, which can in turn get in the way of a shell hood.
Finally, if you plan to use your fleece as a midlayer, avoid the most robust waterproof and windproof membranes, as these tend to be on the bin liner end of breathable. However, in an outer softshell-style jacket, both are handy attributes.
The Berghaus Pravitale brings a lot to the table. The latest evolution of a fleece that Berghaus has been iterating for years, this mid-weight jacket can also serve as a winter mid-layer, and has a hood and thumb loops for when the mercury really drops.
Thumb loops are excellent for anchoring mid-layer sleeves, protecting the wrist from cold, but also great as emergency fingerless gloves when you’re moving fast. Two harness-compatible pockets also act as vents if needed, and a shoulder pocket is ideal for a ski pass, but otherwise, this is a simple but effective winter warmer.
Patagonia has made a strong ethics play for some years now, and this fleece is the latest demonstration of that commitment. As well as 100% recycled polyester fleece, you’re getting low-impact dyes and Fair Trade Certified sewn, and all fabric is Bluesign approved.
Aside from that highly laudable laundry list, the fleece itself is an understated classic design, full of thoughtful little touches like the micro-polyester jersey trim at cuffs and hem that protects the main fabric from abrasion, along with flat-seam construction that removes chafing points and reduces bulk, both highly desirable in a fleece mid-layer.
Overall, if you wear your ethics on your sleeve, then make sure the sleeve is this one - it won’t let you down in the cold either...
The Arc’teryx Fortrez has all the assets you’d want in an outer and a mid-layer too, with an ingenious variation on classic fleece material, called Polartec Power Stretch with HardfaceTechnology. The Hardface bit being a more robust outer ‘face’ that sheds water and resists abrasion better than normal Power Stretch fleece.
A hood adds significant warmth, while the Arc’teryx Fortrez has another trick up its sleeve - or hood, in the shape of an ‘integrated Phasic AR panel’. This is essentially a lightweight loop of material inside the hood, which can be pulled out and used as a buff-style neckwarmer, or over the face like a balaclava. In the coldest conditions being able to trap heat like this is a real boon, adding real flexibility for very little weight.
Paramo’s Bentu Fleece is a great example of the mid-layer concept, mainly because it’s specifically designed to be one, combining with the firm’s Bentu Windproof to create a weatherproof layering system. However, it’s a solid standalone fleece too, made of directional Nikwax Fleece+ fabric. This adds a water-repellent element to the standard fleece, as well as excellent breathability.
A highly practical set of pockets (the chest one sized for a map) along with articulation and light stretch gives an all-rounder fleece that’ll see you right in pretty much any situation.
- Walk in comfort with the best men's walking shoes
- And the best women's walking shoes
- Or give mud the heave-ho with the best wellies
Fresh from the Jack Wolfskin and National Trust collaboration, the Gibside Women’s Fleece Jacket is a lightweight (360g) layer with a full zip design. It’s boasting decent eco credentials too, as it uses 100 per cent recycled membrane and PFC-free fabrics.
This best fleece jacket contender is named after the National Trust’s Gibside Georgian landscape garden, and, thanks to its Nanuk 200 fleece insulation, it lends itself well to keeping you warm (but not overheated) on wildlife and beach walks alike.
The Gibside, available in Alloy (grey) and Rhododendron (burgundy-red, can also be zipped into compatible Jack Wolfskin waterproof jackets during the cold months.
It’s often the case with favourite items of outdoor gear that they’re quite unassuming, low-key things that just get on with their job. This is one of them - no hood, three pockets, Polartec 200 fleece.
Sure, there’s no bells and whistles, but this will serve you well whether worn solo while walking the dog on misty summer mornings, or as a mid-layer for off-piste Alpine excitement.
Columbia have used 100% recycled polyester here too, adding a warm glow to whichever uses you put this fleece to.
- The best walking trousers to protect you from the elements
- Mean while, the best walking socks keep your feet blister-free
As the name suggests, the Keela Genesis has a hidden superpower: it’s actually waterproof. By incorporating cutting-edge hydrophilic film technology into the Innovation XL lining system, Keela have built a breathable but waterproof fleece jacket - which is probably why it is a favourite with Mountain Rescue Teams.
The outer fleece is durable mid-weight Zetland 100 with a DWR coating, and with reinforced shoulders and deep pockets, this has ‘ready for bad weather’ written all over it...
The concept of the hybrid hoody certainly isn’t new, but it is an interesting one, theoretically giving more warmth for less weight, and crucially bulk. This is where Salomon really delivers with the Pulse, taking a mid-weight fleece and adding a 50% recycled Pertex Quantum layer pumped with 60g/m² Fiberfill fibers to really turn up the heat.
This also lets Salomon loosen up the fit and aim for a more urban style without losing valuable heat, which in turn means you get a more versatile wardrobe item - albeit somewhat technical. A full hood adds in more warmth options, as does the full front zip and obligatory two large hand pockets. Ideal for cooler days everywhere, as well as a ski mid-layer for when the cold really bites...