The Best Hiking Fleece Jackets of 2021
A decent fleece midlayer should be a staple in every hiker’s backpack. The best hiking fleece jackets provide a much-needed boost in lightweight warmth on chilly days, can be worn at camp and while hiking, and won’t crush your soul when you look at the price tag or weight penalty. Synthetic polyester fleece feels soft against the skin and is significantly more affordable than down or synthetic insulated jackets.
Our picks for the best hiking fleece jackets:
Patagonia R1 Full-Zip Hoodie | Most Versatile
Decathlon Quechua MH120 | Best Budget
Melanzana Micro Grid | Fan Favorite
Arc’teryx Kyanite | Best Arc’teryx Fleece
Lightheart Gear Fleece Hoodie | Most Customizable
Mountain Hardwear Microchill | Best Ultralight
Rab Alpha Flash | Most Breathable
Best Hiking Fleece Jackets for Backpacking FAQs
Hiking Fleece vs. Puffy for Backpacking: Which is Better?
Many hikers do NOT carry a fleece and a puffy at the same time. You should take both if you anticipate cold/unpredictable weather or if you tend to get chilled easily—otherwise, pick one or the other in the interest of conserving weight and pack space.
Puffies, especially those insulated with down, have a higher warmth-to-weight ratio than fleeces. Because they’re thicker, they also offer more wind protection. Go with a puffy if warmth is your top priority.
However, almost all backpacking puffies feature thin, delicate face fabrics that can wear thin or snag if you’re not careful. Rain or sweat can ruin a down jacket. And while synthetic insulated jackets are less vulnerable to moisture, they’re often too warm for comfort while hiking.
In contrast, fleeces are durable. They’re not prone to snagging, and in the event of a rip, they’re easy to sew up with a needle and thread. You can wash your fleece in the laundry with the rest of your clothes, unlike a down jacket, which needs special care. They’re also thin enough to be breathable and offer a full range of motion, making them better suited to heavy activity. It’s no big deal if your fleece midlayer gets wet because it’s a hydrophobic material that absorbs less than 1% of its weight in water and dries very quickly. Also, they’re significantly cheaper than puffies. Go with fleece if you want a durable layer that you can wear while hiking or if you need to keep a close eye on your budget.
What are some features to look for in the best hiking fleece jackets for backpacking?
Weight: Under 14 ounces.
Zipper: Full-zip jackets are well-ventilated and easy to take on and off, but the zipper also adds weight and creates a cold spot down the middle. Pullovers are a pain to get on and off and can’t be unzipped to dump heat, but the lack of zippers minimizes heat loss. If you can’t decide, you can split the difference by going for a half-zip.
Hood: Adds to the weight and price of the fleece, but the increase is usually minimal, and you get a lot of added warmth in exchange. If you opt for a hood, make sure it has a shock cord adjustment so you can keep it in place and seal out cold drafts. Many of the fleeces on this list have both hooded and hoodless versions.
Pockets: Zippered handwarmer pockets are the most functional, but kangaroo pockets (found on many pullover-style fleeces) work well too. Having pockets mostly matters if you plan to wear your fleece around camp since, if you’re wearing it on the trail, you can store things in your backpack pockets instead.
Fit: A slim (not tight) fit is best as it will minimize cold spots and dead airspace. Reducing bulk with a trim fit will also save weight. You’ll probably only have a base layer underneath this, so there’s not much justification for a loose or baggy fleece (beyond your personal preference, of course).
Micro-grid pattern: Many of the best hiking fleeces feature “micro grid” fleece. The grid pattern is ideal for temperature and moisture management as it improves wicking and air circulation. Micro-grid fleece is a great feature for anyone who plans to hike in their fleece frequently.
Fleece Weights and Technologies
Fleece weight denotes the thickness and warmth (and, yes, weight) of fleece. Lightweight, or 100-weight, and midweight, or 200-weight, fleeces are most popular for backpacking and other technical pursuits. Heavyweight (300-weight) fleece is too bulky and heavy to be practical for all but front-country use. Most hikers will want a midweight fleece (especially those who run cold), but lightweight fleeces are appropriate for ultralighters and hikers in hot climates who want a slight boost in warmth.
Many jackets on this list feature some type of Polartec fleece. Polartec dominates the fleece market and is well known for their quality and innovative textiles.
The Best Hiking Fleece Jackets for Backpacking of 2021
Patagonia R1 Full-Zip Hoodie| Most Versatile Hiking Fleece
Weight: 11 oz.
Materials: Polartec Powergrid
The Patagonia R1 is a lightweight fleece that’s popular among thru-hikers. At 11 ounces, it’s not the lightest fleece on this list, but the grid pattern on the inside of the fabric excels at moisture wicking and breathability. It features an athletic fit that’s perfect for layering and a scuba hood that will make you look and feel like a ninja. In addition to the full-zip featured here, you can get the R1 as a pullover to save weight.
Materials and Features
Polartec is the gold standard for fleece fabrics. The R1 features their Power Grid material, a cutting-edge grid material that is lighter, more compressible, and more breathable than traditional fleece. The fabric is stretchy, which enhances mobility and makes it easy to push the sleeves up.
The R1 Hoodie has two drop-in handwarmer pockets (not zippered) and a zippered chest pocket. It features a tight-fitting scuba hood that provides complete coverage for the forehead and bottom half of the face below your nose when fully zipped.
The comfort/functionality of this jacket speaks for itself, but it also features several small, thoughtful details that set it apart from the competition. The cuffs are elastic and have thumb loops to keep the sleeves pulled entirely over your wrists, enhancing warmth and comfort. The fabric has Polygiene permanent odor control to help offset fleece’s natural tendency to retain unpleasant smells. Patagonia also sews this garment with offset seams that sit off the shoulder to reduce uncomfortable rubbing beneath your pack straps.
Pros: Breathable; moisture-wicking; recycled materials and Fair Trade sewing; odor control; thumbholes; offset seams; scuba hood.
Cons: Expensive; heavy; hand pockets don’t have zippers; not especially warm for the weight.
Decathlon Quechua MH120 | Best Budget Hiking Fleece
Weight: 11.9 oz.
Materials: 100% recycled cationic polyester
What? Hiking gear for just $20? You can hardly find decent wool socks retailing for $20, so the fact that you can get an entire fleece for that price is actually incredible. It’s also lightweight and made with 100% recycled polyester. Decathlon keeps costs low by limiting marketing expenses and keeping most of the production process in-house. The product image featured above makes the MH120 look more like a heavy-duty base layer, but while it does have an athletic fit and a soft brushed interior, it’s not slim enough to be practical as a next-to-skin layer for hiking and camping.
Materials and Features
The MH120 is about as minimalist as it gets: no hood, no thumb loops, no fancy Polartec technology. The fabric is nicely stretchy, though, and it’s roomy enough for a base layer to fit comfortably underneath. The jacket’s brushed interior feels nice and soft and helps the layer trap heat more effectively. It also has two zippered handwarmer pockets. The MH120 uses 100% recycled materials and a dope dying process that conserves water and energy compared to traditional dyeing. Decathlon guarantees this fleece for abrasion resistance, colorfastness, seam integrity, and resilience after repeat laundering for two years.
Pros: Crazy cheap; recycled materials and dope-dyed fabric; soft brushed interior.
Cons: No hooded option; lightweight fleece isn’t that warm; runs small.
Melanzana Micro Grid | Fan Favorite
Weight: 12.2 oz. (men’s large)
Materials: Polartec Micro Grid (100% polyester)
Leadville, CO-based Melanzana’s Micro Grid hoodie is a cult classic in the outdoor community. Those lucky enough to own a coveted “Melly” tend to sport it proudly on the trail. This fleece is warm, versatile, comfy, and affordable. Unfortunately, it’s only sold in-person at their store in Leadville, making Mellies very difficult to come by for most of us. Still, we’re just putting it out there: it’s a great performance fleece that’s worth keeping in the back of your mind in case an opportunity to visit the Melanzana store ever presents itself.
Materials and Features
Melanzana’s iconic hoodie is a pullover-style fleece featuring a kangaroo pocket, raglan sleeves, and an adjustable scuba hood that provides excellent coverage. It’s not the lightest fleece on this list, but it’s very warm—almost too warm to hike in. High-performing Polartec Micro Grid fleece traps heat effectively, especially since there are no zipper-induced cold spots to contend with. The grid pattern also enhances breathability.
We like the kangaroo pocket, which has small openings that minimize gapping keep your belongings from falling out. The scuba hood is also a delight: it’s an unusual feature for a pullover, but it provides excellent coverage when pulled up and cinched, and when the hood is down, it functions like a cowl neck to keep your neck warm.
Pros: Iconic style; made in USA; no zippers = thermal efficiency; kangaroo pocket; affordable; lots of color options; cozy scuba hood; comfortable; very warm.
Cons: Limited in-store availability, no online availability; not the lightest; pullover design reduces ventilation/ease of use; can be too warm to hike in.
Arc’teryx Kyanite | Best Town to Trail Fleece
Weight: 13.9 oz.
Materials: Polartec Power Stretch Pro
We love the way this jacket fits. It has great range of motion and is insanely comfortable. This piece is expensive, but it can pull double duty as a hiking fleece and a casual around-town jacket. The trim, athletic fit is flattering, thermally efficient, and ideal for layering.
If you like the look of the Kyanite but wish it were lighter/cheaper, check out the hoodless Kyanite LT jacket. It won’t be quite as warm as this layer, but it’s $40 cheaper and weighs just 9.9 ounces.
Materials and Features
This jacket is stretchy. The fleece itself is Polartec Powerstretch Pro, a soft and four-way-stretchy polyester-elastane blend with a nylon face material. The hem, cuffs, and hood are all bound with stretch fabric, as well, and the underarm panels are gusseted to maximize comfort and range of motion. That’s just the level of detail we would expect from an Arc’teryx design. One caveat: since ease of motion seems to be the name of the game with this jacket, we would have preferred raglan sleeves instead of traditional sleeves that join at the shoulder.
The Kyanite also features massive, zippered handwarmer pockets provide plenty of storage. Unlike most jackets, these pockets sit mostly above the level of a backpack hip belt, so they’ll still work even when you’re hiking. The balaclava/scuba-style hood won’t droop in your eyes and provides great protection when fully zipped up.
Pros: Warm; stretchy; flattering fit; snug scuba hood; articulated design.
Cons: Expensive; heavy; slim cut may not be comfortable for everyone.
Lightheart Gear Fleece Hoodie | Best Customizable Hiking Fleece
Weight: 10 oz.
Materials: 100% Polartec polyester micro grid fleece
Lightheart Gear’s fleece hoodie is eerily reminiscent of the Melanzana Micro Grid listed above, but it’s a few ounces lighter and is available online. If you love the look of the Melly but are one of the many who can’t get your hands on one, this is a great alternative.
Materials and Features
The design, materials, and price of this jacket are extremely Melanzana-esque. Both pullovers have raglan sleeves, a scuba hood that also functions as a cowl neck when not pulled up, and a kangaroo pocket. Both use a form of Polartec micro grid fleece to lock in warmth while maintaining breathability. Lightheart also offers thumb holes in the cuffs and customizable colors. We do blanch at the $60 upcharge for custom sewing, which increases the price by 80%.
Pros: Custom colors; kangaroo pocket; raglan sleeves; lightweight; scuba hood is very cozy; no zippers = no cold spots.
Cons: Custom colors cost $60 extra; not super warm; lack of zippers makes it harder to get on and off.
Mountain Hardwear Microchill Jacket | Best Ultralight Hiking Fleece
Weight: 6 oz.
Materials: 100% polyester Velous Micro Fleece
If weight savings is your priority, this is the fleece for you. It’s tough to find a performance fleece that weighs in as light as this bad boy. The Microchill isn’t the warmest midlayer on the list, but it is the lightest thanks to the incredibly thin fleece. It’s ideal for hikers who run warm, those who want to use it as a supplemental jacket rather than a standalone midlayer, and those who only plan to take it out in warmer conditions. The Microchill is also available as a pullover for $30 less if you want something affordable that can also function as a heavy-duty base layer.
Materials and Features
This jacket features 100% polyester Velous Micro Fleece, which feels luxuriously soft against the skin. It’s very thin, perfect for adding just a touch of lightweight warmth to take the edge off in cold weather. We’d expect a layer this lightweight to be very bare-bones, but the Microchill incorporates nice features like zippered hand pockets, an adjustable hem, and elastic cuffs.
Pros: Ultralight; zippered handwarmer pockets; adjustable hem.
Cons: Not very warm; no hooded option; expensive considering the warmth level.
Rab Alpha Flash | Most Breathable Hiking Fleece
Weight: 9.6 oz.
Materials: Polartec Alpha polyester fleece, Thermic brushed back single jersey
If you’re looking for something fancy, technical, and generous in the warmth department, the Rab Alpha Flash is a great option. It’s a fuzzier, loftier fleece than many on our list, even though it’s also among the lightest at just under 10 ounces. This is probably the best option on our list for anyone seeking a fleece that can take the place of their puffy: it’s warm and light enough to compete with your average insulated jacket, with all the breathability, durability, and moisture management advantages of fleece to boot. It’s also less expensive than most puffies, though it’s on the high end of the price range for a fleece.
Materials and Features
Polartec Alpha is a grid fleece that was originally designed for use by special forces. It’s a top performer in terms of breathability, compressibility, and thermal efficiency, delivering consistent, lightweight warmth while wicking sweat for maximum next-to-skin comfort.
The Alpha Flash also incorporates Thermic brushed back single jersey, a thin, stretchy fleece, in the sides, underarms, and chest pocket. These panels are lightweight and highly breathable, so they help to keep the weight down and maximize ventilation.Because this piece is so breathable, you may need to pair it with a windproof shell (such as your rain jacket) in breezy conditions.
The jacket features flat lock seams, which are smooth and low-profile (so no uncomfortable rubbing). It has a zippered chest pocket and an adjustable hem, but no handwarmer pockets and no hooded option. This is in the expensive side for a fleece, but it’s a good value considering its performance and features.
Pros: Breathable; packable; lightweight; excellent warmth-to-weight ratio; flexible fleece side panels.
Cons: Expensive; no hooded option; no handwarmer pockets.
More of the Best Gear of 2021
- The Best Backpacking Packs of 2021
- The Best Backpacking Meals of 2021
- The Best Backpacking Rain Jackets of 2021
Why should you trust us?
Because we’re so incredibly intelligent, of course! Attractive, too. (Not to mention extremely humble).
But if that isn’t enough to impress you, there’s also the fact that everyone who contributed to this article is an experienced thru-hiker with thousands of on-trail miles under their belt. We’re gear nerds who love putting our equipment to the test on trails long and short, and we’ve tested dozens of hiking fleeces in pursuit of warmer backcountry days.
Moreover, we do our best to stay plugged into the trail community’s gear preferences (we are definitely those obnoxious people on trail who always want to know what everyone else is packing). That means our picks for the best hiking fleeces aren’t just our opinions: they’re based on years of feedback from the thru-hiking community.
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