It goes without saying that time outside is way more fun when you aren’t sweating through layers or making trips indoors to warm up. That’s where a solid fleece comes in. This hard-working layer traps heat and breathes well, so you can stay toasty on cold days without overheating. Arguably, the best fleece is the one that’s tailored to your tastes and adventures. It’s the little things—like whether it has a hood, the location of its pockets and how heavy it is—that make all the difference when it comes to comfort and functionality. Choosing the right style (such as pullover, half zip or full zip), weight (light or mid) and texture (hard face or brushed) can go a long way.
To make your decision a little easier, we consulted with our retail staff and referenced dozens of customer reviews to pinpoint the best fleeces of 2021. So, whether you’re adventuring in the backcountry or running errands around town, you can move in comfort.
Find our quick recommendations here or read on for our staff and co-op members' favorite fleece jackets.
Best Fleece Jacket for Hiking: REI Co-op Hyperaxis Fleece Jacket 2.0
Best Pullover Fleece for Backpacking: Patagonia R1 Pullover
Best Fleece Jacket for Skiing: Arc’teryx Kyanite AR Hoodie
Best Lightweight Fleece Jacket: The North Face TKA Glacier Quarter-Zip Pullover
Best Women’s Fleece Jacket for Everyday: Cotopaxi Teca Fleece Full-Zip Jacket
Best Men’s Fleece Jacket for Everyday: KUHL Interceptr Full-Zip Jacket
Best Fleece Jacket for Hiking
Fabric: Polartec® Power Stretch Pro polyester
Weight: 14.2 oz.
Sustainability attribute(s): Contains materials that meet the bluesign® criteria
Day hikers need a mid layer that’s as insulating as it is stretchy and breathable. Enter the REI Co-op Hyperaxis. Our staff loves this pick for staying warm on chilly trail starts, thanks to the jacket’s soft fleece inside and abrasion-resistant Polartec® Power Stretch® Pro finish on the outside.
“It’s thin enough while warming up on a trail or for an early morning hike,” reports Carlos Rodriguez, a retail specialist at the Wichita, Kansas, REI store, who lovingly dubbed his jacket Old Yeller because it’s “loyal and faithful.”
Though the finish doesn’t shed moisture on drizzly days (in fact, some say the fabric tends to absorb water), it does dry quickly, says Paige Frederick-Pape, an REI retail sales specialist in Austin, Texas. The Hyperaxis 2.0 also provides slight wind resistance, and its higher collar performs the work of a gaiter (one less item to carry).
A fitted silhouette is another reason to love this layer. The stretchy material conforms to your body more so than traditional fleece, trapping heat while providing some give. Becca Hawkins, a Washington-based copywriter for the co-op, who typically sizes up in jackets for a roomier fit at the hips, says there’s no need with this mid layer.
Note: This jacket won’t stand up to more rugged adventures like rock climbing or trekking through prickly brush (reach for the Kyanite for those outings). But Frederick-Pape says her Hyperaxis stays snag free when hiking amongst tree branches and softer brush. Buy here.
Best Pullover Fleece for Backpacking
Fabric: 93% recycled polyester, 7% spandex
Weight: 9.8 oz. (women’s); 11.7 oz. (men’s)
When warmth and packability matter a lot, reach for the Patagonia R1 Pullover. The over-your-head design keeps things simple: There’s no hood to bunch up under your pack and no pockets at the waist to add weight or bulk near your hipbelt. Users rave about how the R1 keeps them toasty, whether they’re hiking in winter or wearing the mid layer off trail. The gridded fleece interior keeps the R1 light and breathable, and its deep-venting front zipper and easy-to-roll sleeves make it a breeze to regulate your core temp—also a must when you’re racking up miles.
One customer reported that the R1 pulled its weight on a 10-day trek through Washington state. “It was absolutely amazing!” she wrote. “Gave me the extra warmth I needed under a jacket and held up extremely well to plenty of abuse during those 10 days.”
Backpackers appreciate the off-shoulder seams, which help prevent chafing from pack straps. When you don’t need it, the entire pullover balls up to the size of a grapefruit, leaving more room in your pack for snacks. There’s also a small chest pocket for an energy bar or gel. Buy here.
Best Fleece Jacket for Skiing
Fabric: Polartec® Power Stretch Pro: 53% polyester, 38% nylon, 9% elastane
Weight: 12.8 oz. (women’s); 13.9 oz. (men’s)
Price: $179 (women’s); $179 (men’s)
Movement and temperature regulation are key to a solid day on the slopes—luckily the Arc’teryx Kyanite Hoodie features Polartec® Power Stretch® Pro fabric to aid with both. A stretchy silhouette and gusseted underarms mean the Kyanite moves with you, whether you’re carving turns or catching air. And its air-permeable construction helps prevent overheating, making it a solid pick for layering beneath an insulated jacket or waterproof, breathable shell. A scuba hood also fits snugly under helmets to seal in heat while shredding. “Since I got this hoodie, I stopped wearing my beanie, because this one always stays put, no matter how you move,” wrote one customer. Adds Rodriguez: “It’s formfitting, so it keeps that warmth in.”
Kyanite wearers also rave about the jacket’s cozy brushed fleece interior and fitted design that layers well. “It's really the perfect all-around hoodie,” wrote another customer. “I've been using it during cold morning runs, during my climbing warm up and just as a comfortable layer during work. The material on this hoodie is the first technical fleece layer that feels cozy and wicks sweat.”
A single downside: no thumbholes. Buy here.
Best Lightweight Fleece Jacket
Fabric: Recycled polyester
Weight: 8.8 oz. (women’s); 7.6 oz. (men’s)
Sustainability attribute(s): Contains recycled materials
The North Face TKA Glacier Quarter-Zip Pullover likely won’t be your first pick for sending a couloir or summiting a 14-er, but it’s perfect for everyday pursuits when you want something warm and lightweight. This versatile mid layer wins where it counts. The TKA Glacier easily stands up to freezing temps when layered beneath an insulated jacket. Our staff loves it for everything from running errands to casual hikes. It packs down to about the size of a softball and weighs less than 8 ounces, the lightest in our featured roundup, making town to trail transitions a breeze.
“I've worn it running almost a dozen times now. It's comfortable and serves the role of a second layer perfectly,” wrote one customer.
Elastic-bound cuffs and hem help trap heat. A quarter zip allows you to regulate temperature. And it comes in a range of colors. Buy here.
Best Women’s Fleece Jacket for Everyday
Fabric: Repurposed Polartec® microfleece polyester
Sustainability attribute(s): Contains recycled materials.
There are many reasons to feel good about the Cotopaxi Teca Fleece. First, it’s one of the more sustainable wears on our list. That’s because Cotopaxi makes this jacket with leftover fabric that would otherwise sit in a landfill and contribute carbon to our atmosphere. This 100% repurposed fleece is a stylish way to consider your carbon footprint.
Other reasons to love the jacket: It has a longer fit and elastic binding at the hem and cuffs to trap warmth. A water-repellent finish keeps you dry. And, in true Cotopaxi fashion, it comes in a range of eye-catching colors for a look that will help you stand out—both on and off the trail. And because Cotopaxi uses remnant fabrics leftover from production of other garments, every fleece color combo is limited edition.
“It has become my go-to for everything from hiking, camping, snowshoeing, to just lounging because it's so cute and so cozy,” says one customer.
Note: Some customers dislike the zipper-less pockets, which make it easy for items to slip out while on the move. Buy here.
Best Men’s Fleece Jacket for Everyday
Fabric: 78% acrylic, 22% polyester on body; 70% acrylic, 30% polyester on sides
Weight: 1 lb. 3.2 oz
For the days when you want a fleece that looks as good as it performs (for trail to town ease), consider the KUHL Interceptr Full-Zip Jacket. “It looks like a sweater, but behaves like a fleece,” says Frederick-Pape.
The Interceptr’s tailored, classic design looks just as good on the trail as it does paired with jeans for an evening out or a day running errands. A micro-suede collar ups the cozy factor on chilly outings, and thumb loops keep your sleeves in place. Its inset chest pockets make for convenient storage (like keys) that won’t get in the way of pack straps, should you wear the fleece on a post-work hike or morning commute.
And while the Interceptr’s stylish design will keep you looking sharp, its technical aspects will keep you warm. The fleece features more than 300 grams of moisture-wicking Alpaca fleece to help you maintain your core temperature, plus performance Kashmira side panels to increase breathability and reduce bulk.
“It’s got a little trail, a little bit of casual, blended together with some technical aspects. It looks good,” says Ed Zebrowski, a product information specialist at REI. Buy here.
Fleece Jacket Buying Advice
Why should I buy a fleece jacket?
You should consider a fleece jacket for two reasons: First, it’s a versatile option for wearing with jeans around town on colder days. Second, fleeces make solid mid layers for outdoor adventures because they’re highly breathable, quick drying and tailored for easy layering.
A fleece can be part of a layering system that features a breathable base layer and a windproof or waterproof shell on top. Adding a fleece between the base layer and the outer layer can help you stay warm on cold days.
If you’re hiking in the fall or spring, a breathable fleece can help you stay cozy when you’re just starting out, or when you stop for a snack at the summit. The only downside: Fleeces typically aren’t windproof (though some have a finish that makes them wind-resistant). On extra blustery days, pack a shell.
Of course, fleeces are also great for things like running errands, jogging to and from the gym or spectating a sporting event on a dry day when temps are on the cooler side.
What makes a fleece jacket “good”?
Your fleece should be warm, breathable and, depending on your needs, wind resistant. Prioritize one that fits close to your body (to trap heat and layer easily) and offers enough stretch to move with you.
Typically, fleeces come in brushed and hard-face models. Hard-face models like the Co-op Hyperaxis are typically a little more durable and offer wind protection. Brushed fleeces like the Cotopaxi Teca are often cozier but can get caught on brush and are more prone to pilling.
What’s the best way to wash a fleece jacket to prevent pilling?
Pilling occurs when the fabric balls up on the surface and looks worn. To avoid this, don’t wash your fleece until you really need to.
Additionally, fleece and other mechanically treated fabrics may shed microfibers at higher rates than other fabrics (though all textiles shed to some extent when laundered), according to a study funded by REI. Microfibers are tiny strands of fabric, smaller than the width of a single piece of hair, that can remain in the environment for decades. Most of the plastics in the ocean are microfibers. Washing garments less often can help reduce this impact (as well as save energy and water). If you’re especially concerned about microfiber shedding, another step you can take is to use a front-loading washer with a microfiber filter or to use a washing bag.
Should I waterproof my fleece jacket?
Nope! Simply grab a wind or waterproof shell to throw over your fleece, and you’ll be set for a drizzly day.
We asked REI Co-op staff, members and customers to share their favorite fleece jackets. They reported back with their top choices for everything from hiking to backpacking to running errands around town. These are the best fleece jackets currently available at REI.
Article by Sarah Grothjan. Sarah is a news and features writer for Uncommon Path. Her writing has appeared in Outside magazine. REI member since 2019.