The Best Fleece Midlayers for Thru-Hiking of 2023

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.

Best Fleece Midlayers for Thru-Hiking: Quick Navigation

Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoodie | Most Versatile
Decathlon Quechua MH120 | Best Budget
Melanzana Micro Grid | Fan Favorite
Arc’teryx Kyanite | Best Arc’teryx Fleece
Mountain Hardwear Microchill | Best Ultralight
Rab Alpha Flash | Most Breathable
Senchi Wren | Most Versatile Fleece System

Best Fleece Midlayers FAQs:
Fleece vs. Puffy for Thru-Hiking: Which is Better?
Features to Look for in the Best Thru-Hiking Fleece Jackets
Fleece Technologies

Best fleece midlayers for Thru-Hiking FAQs

Hiking Fleece vs. Puffy for Thru-Hiking: 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.

  • The Best Down Jackets for Thru-Hiking of 2023.
  • The Best Synthetic Jackets for Thru-Hiking of 2023.

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.

Fleeces are easy to repair with a needle and thread, unlike most insulated jackets.

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 percent of its weight in water and dries 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 fleece midlayers for thru-hiking?

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 Fleece Midlayers for Thru-Hiking of 2023

Patagonia R1 Pullover Hoodie Men’s | Women’s (Most Versatile Fleece Jacket)

Best fleece midlayers for thru-hiking: Patagonia R1.

MSRP: $139
Weight: 11 oz. (men’s) | 9.7 oz. (women’s)
Materials: 100 percent recycled polyester fleece

The Patagonia R1 is a lightweight fleece that’s popular among thru-hikers. At 11 ounces, it’s not the lightest midlayer 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. It’s made with 93 percent recycled polyester and 7 percent spandex. 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 Patty’s proprietary “HeiQ” 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.

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Decathlon Quechua MH120 Men’s | Women’s  (Best Budget Thru-Hiking Fleece)

Best fleece midlayers for thru-hiking: Decathlon Quechua MH120.

MSRP: $30
Weight: 11.9 oz. (men’s) | 9.5 oz. (women’s)
Materials: 100% recycled cationic polyester

What? Hiking gear for just $30?  You can hardly find decent wool socks for $30, 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 grid.  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 percent 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.
No hooded option; lightweight fleece isn’t that warm; runs small; non-gridded fleece won’t breathe well.

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Melanzana Micro Grid Hoodie V2 | Fan Favorite

best hiking fleece

Best thru-hiking fleece jackets: Melanzana Micro Grid V2.

MSRP: $78
Weight: 12.1 oz. (men’s large) | 9.3 oz. (women’s medium)
Materials: Polartec Micro Grid (100 percent recycled 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. But it’s only sold in-person at their store in Leadville, making Mellies very difficult for most of us to come by. 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. As of 2021, the second rendition of the Micro Grid Hoodie (V2) is made with 100 percent recycled post-consumer waste. Same as before, the V2’s recycled Polartec fabric is soft, fast-drying, and highly effective at trapping heat. There are no zipper-induced cold spots, and the bold grid pattern enhances breathability.

We like that the kangaroo pocket has small openings that minimize gapping and 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.
Limited in-store availability, no online availability; not the lightest; pullover design reduces ventilation/ease of use; can be too warm to hike in; filling kangaroo pocket causes sag.

Read our review of the Melanzana Micro Grid.

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Arc’teryx Kyanite Men’s | Women’s (Best Town to Trail Fleece)

Best fleece midlayers thru-hiking

Best fleece midlayers for thru-hiking: Arc’teryx Kyanite.

MSRP: $179
Weight: 14.6 oz. (men’s) | 12.1 oz. (women’s)
Materials: Polartec Power Stretch Pro

We love the way this jacket fits. It has great range of motion and is insanely comfortable. Although expensive, 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 jacket. It won’t be quite as warm as this layer, but it’s $20 cheaper and over an ounce lighter.

Materials and Features

This jacket is stretchy. The fleece itself is Polartec Power Stretch 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.

Pros: Warm; stretchy; flattering fit; snug scuba hood; articulated design.
Expensive; heavy; slim cut may not be comfortable for everyone; non-gridded fleece won’t breathe well.

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Mountain Hardwear Microchill Jacket Men’s | Women’s (Best Standalone Ultralight Fleece)

Best fleece midlayers thru-hiking

Best fleece midlayers for thru-hiking: Mountain Hardwear Microchill Jacket. Photo via Mountain Hardwear.

MSRP: $85
Weight: 5.9 oz.
Materials: 100% polyester Velous Micro Fleece

If weight is your priority, this is the fleece for you. It’s tough to find a standalone performance fleece as light as this bad boy.  The Microchill isn’t the warmest midlayer on the list, but its incredibly thin fleece makes it featherlight at just six ounces. It’s ideal for hikers who run warm or only plan to use it 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 percent 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.
Not very warm; no hooded option; expensive considering the warmth level.

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Senchi Wren Hoodie Unisex (Best Alpha Direct Fleece Midlayer)

Best fleece midlayers for thru-hiking: Senchi Wren.

MSRP: $80
Weight: 3.7 oz.
Materials: Polartec Alpha Direct 60 (78 percent recycled polyester)

The Senchi Wren is lighter than the lightest standalone fleece on this list and more breathable than the most breathable standalone on this list. The only trouble (other than being perennially out of stock) is that the Wren’s Alpha Direct fleece is so light and breathable that it doesn’t function as well as a midlayer on its own, except in high-output conditions.

Layering an ultralight wind shell over top of the Wren will keep the wind from cutting through without adding much weight, giving you a highly versatile, streamlined midlayer system that can be adjusted on the fly depending on conditions. That ultralight versatility, combined with the midlayer’s phenomenal next-to-skin comfort, is why Senchi has become a cult classic in the cottage gear industry over the past few years.

Materials and Features

Alpha Direct is Polartec’s lightest fleece because the fibers are soft enough to be worn directly against the skin without an intervening layer of backing fabric. Alpha Direct doesn’t resist wind very well, but by the same token, it has unparalleled breathability. It’s most effective when paired with a windproof layer: go with just the fleece when sweating through a tough climb, and throw the wind shell on top when the trail levels out and you need more warmth.

The Wren has gussted underarms and articulated sleeves for improved mobility. A balaclava hood and elastic bindings for the hood and cuff reduce drafts. For a somewhat heavier fleece weight and a quarter-length zipper for ventilation, check out the Senchi Lark instead.

Pros: Soft next-to-skin feel; ultralight; very breathable; functional balaclava hood and articulated sleeves.
Cons: Poor standalone wind resistance; no pockets; frequently out of stock.

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Rab Alpha Flash Men’s | Women’s (Most Breathable Standalone Thru-Hiking Fleece)

Best fleece midlayers thru-hiking

Best fleece midlayers for thru-hiking: Rab Alpha Flash.

MSRP: $135
Weight: 9.6 oz. (men’s) | 7 oz. (women’s)
Materials: Polartec Alpha polyester fleece, Thermic brushed back single jersey

The Rab Alpha Flash is a great option if you’re looking for something fancy, technical, and generous in the warmth department. It’s a fuzzier, loftier fleece than many on our list, even though it’s also among the lightest at 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 breathability, compressibility, and thermal efficiency. It delivers 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 on 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.
Expensive; no hooded option; no handwarmer pockets.

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More of the Best Gear of 2023

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 testing our equipment 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.

Competence and backpacking proficiency personified.

Rachel Shoemaker and Alexander “GPS” Brown contributed to the most recent update of this list.

Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm (@chris.helm).

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Comments 7

  • Karen Young : May 7th

    Patagonia’s micro D 1/4 zip fleece doesn’t have pockets or a hood but is another lightweight option. Price point of $59 and 9.1 oz for a men’s average size. I find it warmer than my R1 and choose it for backpacking. R1 is for car camping or walks at home IMO

  • Ben : May 15th

    My R1 is my go to for fall hiking and is always under my winter hardshell. Heck, I was wearing it when my son was born (hospitals are cold). It breathes well and is plenty warm for being active in colder temps. If below 40, you may want a shell or puffy around camp once you’re done exerting all your hiking energy. The half zip creates a deep V for dumping heat and makes it easier to get on and off.

  • Jedi : Nov 27th

    The weight on the Mountain Hardware Microchill Jacket is a complete lie. I recently ordered a men’s large based on the advertised weight of 5.9oz. Imagine my dismay when it arrived and it weighed in at 11.5oz. – nearly twice the advertised weight! Beware that the claimed weight is a blatant example of false advertising.

  • morty412 : Feb 22nd

    I can vouch for the Senchi Alpha hoody. That thing is a game changer. 3oz. I use it with a merino base and when it chills, just throw on my 6 oz. Montbell Versalite jacket. It basically has replaced a puffer jacket. Alpha Direct is the real deal. I got mine by signing up with Senchi to get pre-noticed on their next drop.

  • Propensity : Feb 23rd

    Ditto on the Mountain Hardware Microchill. Not only is the actual weight over 11 ounces (not 5.9), MH has been misrepresting it for years. What’s worse, these “reviewers” never test/check for themselves and so they confirm and perpetuate the lie.


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