One of the best fleece jackets can be an extremely valuable addition to your outdoor wardrobe. Warm, quick drying and easy to care for, there’s a well-earned space for a fleece or two in every outdoors-persons wardrobe.
Fleeces also have the benefit of being very robust and hard-wearing. While today's best waterproof jackets or winter coats tend to very much dislike encounters with brambles or mud, a decent fleece will happily withstand much more abuse. The best fleece jackets are also extremely versatile garments, being equally at home in the gnarliest winter mountain situations as early morning dog-walking rambles or an extra layer around the campfire.
The big point of difference in fleeces is the material weight: lighter versions act as a kind of thick base layer, with heavier weight fleece rapidly turning into an outer-layer jacket. In addition, there are a bewildering variety of styles on the market, from basic cardigan-style jackets with a full zip, to mid-zip cagoule-type iterations, some with hoods, some with integrated buffs, some with thumb loops and even pit zips.
While any fleece will do most of the jobs you’d expect, it’s worth considering the specifics carefully – hoods can be annoying in a layering system when not in use, and thumb loops can be utterly useless in some situations, while perfect in others. Now let's take a look at some of the best fleece jackets to buy now, for a range of situations.
While there are many shapes, sizes and styles of fleece, the Arc’teryx Kyanite AR Hoody plots a course right through the middle of them all, and that's why it's our current top pick for the best fleece jacket around. Deceptively simple in design, the Polartec Power Stretch Pro material is hardwearing, comfortable and not too heavyweight, letting you layer a shell on top without overheating. The usual Arc’teryx attention to detail means plenty of neat detailing in all areas, particularly on the cuffs and in the hood design.
The hood is simple but effective, designed to be low-profile and layered, rather than a standalone, protective shelter as you’d expect on a shell. That said, there’s plenty of extra warmth on offer, the hood trapping all that heat from the body. This boosts morale even without an extra layer in windy or cold conditions, a nuclear option when the cold really bites. Overall, simplicity is the key to the Arc’teryx Kyanite AR Hoody, and it’s also the reason you’ll find this useful in almost every situation, keeping the weather off and the warmth in – sometimes, simple is best.
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. In short, a simple but effective winter warmer.
There’s a lot to be said about the Jack Wolfskin DNA Grizzly fleece, but the most important headline is that it is very warm indeed. So warm in fact, it’s more of a standalone jacket than a mid-layer, unless you’re in the arctic or similar. That warmness is partly down to a Polartec Classic 300-weight fleece material, which is pretty jolly warm to begin with, backed up with an extra layer of wind-proofing around the shoulders and neck, as well as a wind-proofed main zip. Indeed, it’s so warm that Jack Wolfskin has taken the precaution of adding pit zips just in case things get too steamy.
However, as an outer-layer that breathes pretty well, is enormously warm, and will keep all but the worst of weather at bay, it rather lives up to its namesake. It’s not hard to imagine a host of outdoor situations where the Jack Wolfskin DNA Grizzly fleece would come in handy, many involving chopping wood and watching the campfire blaze – which sound pretty good to us, frankly. Check out our Jack Wolfskin DNA Grizzly fleece jacket review for more info.
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. And it won’t let you down in the cold either.
Built for urban adventures, The North Face's TKA Kataka fleece mixes cool retro stylings with some practical features – namely, a non-PFC water-repellent finish, secure zip pockets and a binding on sleeve cuffs to keep drafts out. It's also an eco-friendly option, being made entirely from recycled polyester fleece, with an overlay of recycled nylon. It's geared towards use in inbetween-y seasons Spring and Autumn, and is designed to be warm, lightweight and quick to dry.
The Columbia Basin Butte Fleece strikes an interesting balance between mid-weight and heavyweight warmth fleece by means of a couple of ingenious technical tricks. The first is the addition of insulated panels across the top of the torso, the second is lining those panels with the company’s shiny Omni-Heat reflective material. The combination adds a touch of bling to an otherwise fairly standard fleece, and also amps up the warmth substantially without increasing the weight.
The result is a breathable but warm fleece that’ll be most at home in very cold conditions as a mid-layer, but perfectly capable of standing in as a technical jumper equivalent wherever needed. The only penalty is the slightly-less-pleasant texture of the upper torso section, although the inside collar is neatly lined with microfleece to combat that issue. Check out our Columbia Basin Butte Fleece review for more of what we thought.
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...
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.