Durable and timeless, fleece is an outdoor staple. Looking to upgrade your fleece game? We’ve got you covered with our list of the best fleece jackets for men in 2021.
Long gone are the days of the thick, baggy fleece that pills over time. Years since the first advent of the now ubiquitous material, today’s lineup of fleeces runs the gamut from light and airy to water-resistant to fluffy warm.
Capable of straddling the lift line and the coffee shop line, fleece has worked its way into the hearts of both casual and technical users. When durability, warmth, and managing sweat matter, it’s tough to beat a fleece. And there’s no denying its coziness. Whether you’re looking for a fleece to wear to the crags or head out to work, we’ve found the perfect fleece for every pursuit.
The Best Fleece Jackets for Men in 2021
Quick Pick: Arc’teryx Fortrez Hoody
Flexibility is the chemistry behind a great fleece. A midweight fleece has this in spades. You can throw it over a T-shirt in fall, layer it under a shell in winter, and come spring, you can wear it over a light base layer while cozying up around the fire pit.
What levels up the fleece game, though, is durability and weather resistance, without sacrificing breathability. At the core of Arc’teryx’s Fortrez Hoody ($225) is Polartec’s Power Stretch with Hardface. In 2001, Polartec developed and patented the process of applying a polymer to the exterior surface, dramatically improving weather and abrasion resistance to the environment while keeping the inside velvety soft to the touch.
Off the shelf, the hard-face treatment is highly water-repellant (not as waterproof as NeoShell or Power Shield, but these fully weather-resistant materials don’t breathe nearly as well). Pour water on the jacket and it beads up, immediately rolling off the surface. In contrast, the jacket remains highly breathable for this amount of weather protection.
Its breathability does come at the price of some reduced wind protection. Breathability and weather protection will always have a tradeoff, but this jacket threads that needle better than most.
True to all Arc’teryx products, the fit is fantastic and no detail is overlooked. The arms taper nicely and the hem drops down in the back for extra coverage. The fit is athletic and the surface is smooth. It accommodates layering both over and under without leaving you feeling bunched inside like a sausage.
The snorkel style hood fits snug around the face, stopping just below the chin. And should you want more coverage, the brand has included an integrated balaclava that pulls up over the nose. This requires you to pull the balaclava over the head as you put the jacket on. Around town on moderate days, you can simply keep the balaclava behind the neck.
The nick in the Fortrez’s armor — like all Arc’teryx products — is the price of $225, which makes it the most expensive fleece on the list. There are cheaper options, but its quality, flexibility, and ability to straddle warmth, weather resistance, and breathability are second to none. In exchange for opening your wallet, you get a fantastic fleece that is the most capable fleece you can buy.
- Weight: 16 oz. (on our scales)
- Fit: Athletic
- Fabric weight: 224 gsm (Polartec Power Stretch with Hardface; 88% polyester, 12% elastane)
- High breathability for a hard-face
- Fantastic fit
- Integrated balaclava
- Not as wind-resistant as other hard-face fleeces
Warmest Fleece: Patagonia R2 TechFace Hoody
With the help of Polartec’s technology, Patagonia was one of the first to bring the midweight fleece into the modern outdoor vernacular The crux has always been thermal regulation. The classic Synchilla jacket (which you can still buy today), doesn’t breathe as well and feels bulky. And there is a trove of high-loft fleeces that all breathe exceptionally well but at the expense of freely spilling heat. And very few can block winter’s wet, windy weather. Patagonia straddles this line with its R2 TechFace Hoody ($189), which is a truly winter-ready fleece.
Patagonia has tackled this before. Inside the brand’s latest iteration, the R2 TechFace is lofted with a thick, high-loft weave that feels fat in the hand and cozy against the skin. The tight grid pattern pulls moisture away from the skin and traps heat between the long fibers.
Unlike Patagonia’s traditional R2, the brand treated the exterior face with a densely knitted TechFace fabric. Patagonia treats the face fabric with a DWR coating. Pour water on the fleece and it rolls right off the surface. The result is more breathable than a softshell but warmer, drier, and more durable than a traditional fleece.
The Hoody comes with a snorkel style hood that zips up smoothly over the chin and fits snug around the head. It’s the best full coverage hood in our lineup and is meant to be worn under a helmet. Because of the bulk of this jacket (it weighs in at a hearty 17 ounces, making it the heaviest technical fleece on our list), we find this jacket best for skiing vs. climbing, where most will prioritize a lighter weight fleece.
But you get a lot of well-thought-out design elements and accouterments with this weight. Two insulated hand pockets ride above the hips and are compatible with a pack’s belt. Inside the jacket, two deep sleeves can pocket gloves, skins, or even a Nalgene water bottle. A chest pocket sits over the left side. The sleeves and hem are long and resist creeping up when you pull your arms above your head.
The jacket has a roomy — but not baggy — cut. It wears well over a base layer, rides svelte under a shell, and looks fantastic by itself around town. The zipper isn’t backed, so wind can breach the front. But it pulls smoothly through the neck and over the chin.
There are plusher Sherpa fleeces available. But the R2 Tech is more form-fitting. More durable. For those who roll their eyes at the classic fuzzy fleece, the smooth silhouette of the R2 TechFace may persuade you to reconsider an upgrade to your wardrobe.
- Weight: 17.1 oz.
- Fit: Athletic
- Fabric weight: 258 gsm — 94% polyester (77% recycled), 6% spandex breathable stretch double weave with a DWR coating
- Not as breathable
Bargain Fleece: Eddie Bauer Cloud Layer Full Zip
The First Ascent line calls upon Eddie Bauer’s deep roots in mountaineering. After all, EB outfitted the first American teams on K2 and Everest in the early 1960s. The Cloud Layer ($80) is a luxuriously soft, double-brushed fleece with a semi-athletic fit. It’s tough enough to play outdoors but has a city-friendly vibe.
The handwarmer pockets are sewn to the side seam, creating a pair of inside pockets. The front zipper is backed with a fleece tab to block the wind. A port allows earbud cords to be pulled through the chest pocket.
Though Eddie Bauer bills its fit as “athletic,” we found it more boxy and straight. It feels more like a jacket than a sweater. Using a 155gsm polyester, it straddles the line between lightweight and midweight is best for cooler but not cold days.
The chin is a little bulky and the zipper can catch when pulled down from the collar. But like all Eddie Bauer products, the jacket goes on sale frequently. While it lists for $80, you can buy it now for $40, making these sacrifices acceptable trade-offs and our best fleece for those on a budget. And with eight available colors, there’s something for everyone.
- Weight: 12.1 oz.
- Fit: Looser than advertised
- Fabric weight: 155 gsm (100% polyester)
- Boxy fit
- Less technical
Best Lightweight Fleece: Patagonia R1 Pullover Hoody
Patagonia revolutionized the field of fleece ratings with its R-value fleece line. We’ve been rocking the brand’s lightweight R1 fleece since 2006, where we wore it for a month straight on an expedition in Alaska. We still use it on cold winter runs, working around the house, and it has occasionally slipped into the office.
The R1 Pullover Hoody ($159) is Patagonia’s most technical R1 fleece. The fleece is comprised entirely of Polartec’s Power Grid fabric. The fat lofty fleece patches trap warm air and assist in channeling moisture away. The checkerboard grid pattern also reduces the fleece’s mass, allowing it to disappear in the pack.
The sides, hood, and lower hem are constructed from a lighter-weight Power Grid fleece. It’s thinner and has a tighter grid pattern. This allows the material to cleanly ride under a helmet, tuck into your bibs, and spill heat more freely by matching the body’s natural cooling zones. When the trail turns up, the deep 3/4 zip pulls down to your naval, allowing extra heat to spill.
The entire piece zips up tight into a balaclava that covers the nose. Thumb loops pull the sleeves generously over the wrists for warmth. The R1 Hoody has a true athletic fit. It wears well over a lightweight base layer but could be worn next to skin. For cold mountain excursions, this is a top you can comfortably wear from tent to top.
Form follows function in this garment and its sole purpose is to flex with whatever the mountain throws at you. It’s not the best at any one thing (it’s not super warm, it’s not water-resistant, and it’s not all that city-friendly). But we find it’s durable enough, warm enough, and very comfortable — a combination that yields the widest range of use in our mountain kit. And that’s what we like about it.
- Weight: 11 oz.
- Fit: Athletic
- Fabric weight: 176 gsm (Polartec Power Grid fabric with HeiQ Fresh durable odor control)
- Layers well
- Vents well
- Full-coverage hood
- Not super warm
- Expensive for lightweight fleece
Urban Fleece: Mono Air Houdi
If you’re looking for a sleek fleece that wears well in the city, look no further than Houdini. The Swedish brand is best known for Scandinavian design, constructed with Earth-friendly manufacturing methods. Its Mono Air Houdi ($200) captures this in spades.
The jacket uses Polartec Power Air with Hardface technology. Polartec Power Air encapsulates the lofted fibers, spun into a long continuous yarn. The fibers are reputed to shed five times less than traditional midlayer fabrics commonly used in fleece. Big picture, this reduces microfiber shedding — a major contributor to environmental pollution.
The exterior feels hard to the touch, is durable, and does cut the wind some. It’s not treated with a DWR, but the hydrophilic properties manage to keep water near the fabric’s surface.
The Power Air Light fiber is spun into a whopping 288gsm fabric. This is treading into heavyweight fleece territory. Unfortunately, we didn’t find it warms up as well. The fabric is knitted into “pads” on the inside. While warm air will insulate in the channels between the pads, being a continuous fiber, it’s not as lofty as a gridded fleece and hence, it doesn’t trap warm air like a gridded fabric. And the jacket won’t compress like one either.
The double zipper is overbuilt and the pockets lay around the hips. The silhouette is stylish — the most attractive fleece on the list — but these design decisions push this jacket away from the backcountry and towards the city.
In return, you get a jacket that has an earth-friendly story. And after you’ve worn it out, Houdini will gladly take it back and recycle it for another life.
- Weight: 20 oz.
- Fit: Athletic
- Fabric weight: 288 gsm (Polartec Power Air Light)
- Clean design
- Made from recycled/recyclable fibers
- Left side zipper may confuse U.S. buyers
- Not as warm as a gridded fleece
Best High-Loft Fleece: Mountain Hardwear Polartec High Loft Jacket
A few years back, Mountain Hardwear made a pivot to better align with its roots. Over years of growth, the brand had grown from hardwearing mountain gear into more pedestrian product lines. The pivot re-centered on what made Mountain Hardwear a standout brand when it launched: dependable mountain equipment.
One product that never lost its way was Mountain Hardwear’s Polartec High Loft Jacket ($175). Formerly known as the (questionably named) Monkey Man fleece, this jacket is the quintessential high-loft fleece. We’ve worn it up the Grand Teton, on countless backcountry excursions, and around town on everyday errands. Its gridded fabric compacts tight in the pack and the fit is generous enough to wear over layers comfortably.
The downside of any high-loft fleece is air permeability. Hold it up to the light, and you’ll spot the weakness. Pinholes between the grid channels are a double-edged sword. They trap air wonderfully, but also let a wind blow right through it. On windy, wet days, you’ll certainly want to layer it under a windbreaker or rain jacket. But since a shell is already in any backcountry kit, for those who prefer fleece over a puffy for its merits in breathability, this is a sacrifice we can live with.
- Weight: 13.4 oz.
- Fit: Regular
- Fabric weight: 244 gsm (Polartec High Loft)
- High-loft fleece
- Mountain capable
- Not wind-resistant
- Baggier than we would prefer
- So soft it invites unwelcome petting
Best Fleece ‘Shirt’: 686 Sierra Fleece Flannel
Ah … Remember the ’20s? The 1920s, not 2020. A time when classic button-up shirts ruled the outdoor wardrobe. If your style trends more mountain vintage than mountain technical, 686 has a throwback, snap-closure, flannel-style fleece that warms up like a log-hewn cabin.
The midweight flannel is made from a medium-weight fleece. The baggiest fleece on the list, the Sierra ($90) has a generous fit with plenty of room for a base layer (or two). When layering over the Sierra, you’ll probably want to reach for a more relaxed fit shell. If you decide to hit the slopes without a shell, each sleeve has a tab to clip your gloves.
The Sierra is a wonderfully soft shirt that transitions from the slopes and back to the pub with ease. If you like the idea of wearing flannel on the slopes but want the warmth and protection of a fleece, this is an easy choice.
- Weight: 16 oz.
- Fit: Relaxed
- Soft to the touch
- Because of its relaxed fit, it’s not as efficient at trapping heat
Best Fleece for Cold-Weather Endurance: Norrona Falketind Octa Jacket
Fleece excels in keeping you dry and warm, but its Achilles heel is its inability to adapt to the outside temperature. The number one way to straddle the “hurry up and wait” lurch of activity while on the move in the mountains is to mimic the body’s internal thermal gradient. You want a clothing system that works like our skin, gradually dropping the temperature gradient from the skin’s surface to the outside world. You need a microclimate.
Norrona’s Falketind Octa ($219) will be the most controversial addition to our fleece lineup. I can already read the comments claiming, “That’s not a fleece!” But hear me out, it’s likely the most effective garment you can invest in.
It works in the same way our own thermoregulation system does. The gridded insulated fleece liner increases surface volume to simultaneously trap air and pull moisture away from the skin. By spreading your sweat across the larger surface volume, it allows evaporation to occur both readily and safely away from the skin, reducing the effects of rapid conductive and evaporative heat loss. That’s what fleece does.
The integrated shell blocks wind from rapidly pulling away your heat-trapping sweat, slowing the release of heat and moisture. The result is a fleece that keeps you warm and dry with a shell that prevents that rapid flash of cooling when you stop. Genius.
The Falketind Octa has an athletic fit that slips over a lightweight T or long sleeve base. Under the sleeves and arms are lined with breathable, stretchy panels that vent heat. The 80gsm fleece lines the torso and backside of the arms. Two side pockets can keep the hands warm and hold a few bars.
A lined windbreaker jacket is one of our favorite fleeces in our arsenal. It straddles utility and punches above its weight, making it ideal across a broad spectrum of outdoor applications. Think of it like a cool-weather action suit or a warm-weather parka. At 9 ounces, there’s never a time we can’t afford to bring it. We use it on cold-weather runs, skate skiing, fat biking, mountaineering, and toss it in the pack on local hikes.
- Weight: 9 oz.
- Fit: Athletic
- Fabric weight: 80 gsm (insulation)
- Shell: 100% polyester
- Engineered to keep you warm and dry while on the move
- Not modular (you can buy a light fleece and windbreaker for the same price)
- Left-sided zipper may confuse U.S. buyers
Best Casual Fleece: Royal Robbins Connection Grid Jacket
While Royal Robbins cut his teeth at Yosemite, he realized not every fleece needs to look like you just walked out of Camp 5. And that’s why we like the Connection Grid Jacket ($109).
The grid pattern on the outside is durable, with lofty fleece lining the inside. Its colors are muted: Moss, Dark Blue, and Pewter. The loose, casual fit wears like a cardigan and layers well with a flannel. And the boxier cut makes it more shacket than fleece.
- Weight: 19 oz.
- Fit: Roomy
- Fabric weight: 100% polyester
- City-friendly looks
- Boxy fit
- Not performance-oriented
Buyers Guide: How to Buy a Fleece Jacket
De rigueur for 80’s outdoors, fleece has taken somewhat of a back seat to the explosion in down and synthetic insulation. Its warmth-to-weight ratio can be too bulky for backpacking. You can buy more thermal bang for your buck with a puffy. But fleece triumphs when you are working up a sweat. It’s durable, wicks moisture, and breathes much better.
How Fleece Works
Fleece works because of two simple principles. First, it moves moisture away from the body. Sweat is the body’s way to release heat. The hydrophobic fibers in fleece wick sweat (and the heat trapped within it) away from the body. Second, its fluffy weave traps heat.
By itself, fleece isn’t warm. Like every insulation layer, its fleeces lofting ability to trap air warmed by the body that makes it “feel” warm. The greater the loft, the more air can be trapped, the warmer a fleece will feel.
Detangling Fabric Weight (and Warmth)
To meet a variety of cold weather, fleece is available in three weights and measured in grams per square meter (gsm). We’ve provided some general thermal ranges for each weight. But keep in mind warmth is dependent on many variables, including body size, percent body fat, diet, a good base layer, and one’s general constitution for the cold.
Lightweight (100 gsm; 32-50 degrees Fahrenheit) is ideal for moderate temperatures or aerobic activities in the cold. It’s thin, durable, insulates from the cold, but breathes well enough to wear when working up a sweat. We reach for a 100 weight on cool summer mountain mornings or winter runs where for extra insulation that you can’t find in a simple base layer.
Midweight (200 gsm; 0-32 degrees F) is a notably thicker, more “lofty” fleece than a lightweight fleece but it doesn’t sacrifice breathability. Hold it up to the light, and you can see light peeping through the weave. A good midweight is the most versatile of the three weights, capable across winter’s shoulder seasons. Throw it on for a crisp autumn walk, or layer it under a shell at the resort. If you are new to fleece, we recommend you start with a good midweight.
Heavyweight (300 gsm; deep cold) is for deep winter days, where activity is minimal. You don’t want to do a lot of physical activity in a 300-weight fleece. These can also work as standalone jackets on cold days without precipitation.
Hard-face fleeces are brushed and fuzzy on the inside but have a smooth outer face. This brings some weather protection and added durability, with minimal impact on breathability. The hard face finds a sweet spot when playing in exposed environments. They can block a light rain, brush off a granite wall, and deflect a breeze without sweating out.
By nature, fleece does an exceptional job of moving moisture away from the body, leaving you feeling warmer and drier. As such, it’s prized for its ability to insulate and breathe. Not it’s weather resistance.
Still, many fleeces are available with a durable water-repellant (DWR) coating, a treatment that is washed into the material. This treatment prevents water from saturating the material while maintaining the fabric’s inherent breathability.
Some new fleeces, like hard-face or Patagonia’s TechFace line, have a smooth outer surface that blocks the wind and adds extra durability without sacrificing too much breathability.
If you want to wear a fleece as an outer layer, we’d recommend a fleece with a DWR or hard-face surface.
Looking for more wind protection, you may want to look at softshells (which we’ve left off this list). They bridge the gap between a fleece and a rainshell. These hybrid jackets trade breathability for added protection and sit in their own category. In general, we find that pairing a fleece with a hardshell is a better option for backcountry play.
In general, the lighter the fleece, the more breathable it will be. Under exceptionally cold conditions, you can wear a lightweight fleece as a base layer and its breathability will match the conditions.
And while no fleece will outpace the body’s ability to generate heat, full-zip or three-quarter-zip fronts do a great job at spilling heat away from the torso. As do lighter weight panels that some fleeces stitch under the arms, back, and sides.
While hard-face fleeces still manage to move air and moisture, they typically slow the rate of heat transfer. They will keep the air closer to the body longer than their soft-face counterparts and feel less “breathable.”
Pros and Cons of Fleece
The downside to any fleece is that it can be heavier and bulkier. And if untreated, the polyester will begin to smell over time. And being synthetic, fleeces are prone to melting when exposed to flames. We’ve all woken up after a night around the campfire to find a small hole burned into our favorite fleece.
But fleece triumphs when durability matters. It’s tough to put a dent in a good fleece, and fleeces with a hard-face treatment are more durable than ever. And they function exceptionally well in wet conditions, leaving your skin feel dry (and thus warmer).
When looking for the right fleece, consider your activity. We recommend choosing a lighter-weight fleece for more aerobic activities and armoring up with hard-face fleeces if you’re doing battle with the elements.