Layer up for spring, autumn and winter with our favourite fleece jackets, hoodies and pullovers
Versatile, warm and lightweight, a good fleece is a must for any hiker, climber or outdoor lover. To be clear, we’re talking about polar fleece here, not the kind harvested from sheep. Whether you’re after a warmer outer layer for autumn days or a toasty mid-layer for the depths of winter, the best fleece jackets form an essential and versatile part of any outdoors wardrobe.
Polar fleece is made from synthetic insulated (and often recycled) fabrics and is highly breathable, machine-washable and quick-drying, making it easy to care for as well as comfortable. It’s also naturally hydrophobic, barely retaining water when wet – but it doesn’t withstand wind well, so if you’re out in the elements, it’s best worn over baselayers and under a waterproof, windproof shell jacket.
In this article, we’ll explain what features you should be looking for in your next fleece jacket and recommend some of the best fleece jackets for different uses and a variety of budgets.
Best fleece jacket: At a glance
- The best do-it-all fleece jacket: Rab Shadow Hoody
- The best classic casual fleece: Fjällräven Övik hoody
- The best cheap fleece midlayer: Craghoppers Durrus fleece
- The best for winter hikes: The North Face Glacier pullover
- The best for ultimate technical performance: Arc’Teryx Kyanite AR Hoody
How to choose the best fleece jacket for you
What style of fleece mid-layer should I buy?
The versatility of fleece fabric means there are lots of different garment types available, including zipped jackets, pullovers, gilets and hoodies. They come in different weights too: lightweight, thin fleeces work best as part of a layering system, whilst thick, chunky fleeces can be worn alone.
If you’re planning on wearing your fleece under a waterproof jacket, we’d recommend picking a lightweight half or quarter-zip pullover, or a sleeveless gilet. If you want a fleece layer you can wear on its own, a zipped hoodie or a jacket is your most versatile bet. Zipped pockets are useful, while a high-cut neck and elasticated cuffs help to retain heat.
Is Polar fleece environmentally friendly?
Fleece is a purely synthetic fibre so if you’re vegan or want to avoid insulated jackets stuffed with animal down, it’s a great option. However, the fabrication process isn’t particularly great for the environment.
The good news is that it’s very long-lasting, meaning you can minimise your impact by buying a good one that won’t need replacing for many years. Even better, keep an eye out for more eco-friendly recycled fleeces, which are typically made from old garment material or from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles.
The best fleece jackets to buy
1. Rab Shadow Hoody: The best do-it-all fleece jacket
Rab’s Shadow Hoody isn’t a conventional fleece jacket. With a soft, brushed interior matched to a softshell outer, the Shadow Hoody may not be as instantly toasty warm as some other rivals here, but it’s far more versatile – and that’s why you’ll grow to love it.
While wind blows straight through traditional fleeces, the Shadow Hoody keeps the heat where it’s meant to be: on the inside. The stretchy softshell layer fends off breezes as ably as it does light rain, and it’s this versatility that allows it to be as brilliant as a mid-layer as it is an outer layer in milder or less extreme conditions. You can throw it over a T-shirt for milder evenings, or pop it over a thermal base layer and under a jacket for when it’s really coming down outside.
The close-fitting hood, big pockets, handy thumb loops and sturdy-feeling zips make this admittedly pricey garment feel like it’s worth every penny. It’s a cracking all-rounder – and it’s one of the items in our wardrobe that we’d never want to be without.
Key specs – Material: Polyester; Recycled: No; Pockets: Two, zipped; Hood: Yes
2. Fjällräven Övik hoody for men and women: The best classic casual fleece
Cult outdoor brand Fjällräven has applied smart Swedish technology to fleece, and come up with a wear-everywhere fleece hoodie that also serves as a seriously covetable mid-layer. Made from environmentally friendly recycled polyester, the Övik has a soft brushed inner layer and a bobble-resistant knitted outer. The high-performing Övik is very warm, yet breathable – ideal for everything from winter hikes to wearing down the pub. That slim cut makes it easy to layer this fleece under thicker jackets and coats, too. Both the men’s and women’s versions sport a flattering cut, cosy hood, leather trim and zipped pockets. Expensive, but a purchase you’re likely to get a lot of wear out of for years to come.
Key specs – Material: Polyester; Recycled: Yes; Pockets: Two, zipped; Hood: Yes
3. Craghoppers Durrus fleece pullover: The best cheap fleece midlayer
Price: £60 | Buy now from Craghoppers
After a versatile fleece on a budget? The Craghoppers Durrus fleece is a fantastic microfleece with great insulating properties – and at a very pocket-friendly price.
This is a lightweight fleece, so it’s easy to stash in your rucksack ‘just in case,’ and its half-zip design makes it easy to pull over existing layers.
We’re also impressed by the Durrus’ convincing sustainable qualities – it’s a recycled fleece incorporating materials found in discarded plastic bottles, and each fleece uses around 18 bottles in its construction.
The Durrus is aimed primarily at men, but we think its simple design and smart ochre colour makes it a gender-neutral choice. We think it’d be a great addition to any outdoors wardrobe as a mid layer.
Key specs – Material: Polyester; Recycled: Yes; Pockets: One, zipped; Hood: No
4. The North Face TKA Snap Neck fleece for men and women: The best for winter hikes
Price: £65 | Buy now from Cotswold Outdoor
The North Face fleeces are a classic, and with good reason – they last for years and are thoughtfully designed. The newly-launched and well-priced TKA Glacier fleece is an easy choice if you’re after a versatile fleece you can wear in all seasons, and we love its retro styling.
The TKA is thin enough to ensure that you don’t overheat and boxy enough to be easily layered over long-sleeved tops and undercoats, yet it’s still warm enough to keep you toasty on a freezing day. And if your winter activities get you a little sweaty, the fast-drying mechanism wicks water away and keeps the fleece from getting soggy – perfect for hiking and for snow wear. It’s also made with recycled polyester for extra brownie points. This is another design that’s aimed at men but that we’d consider unisex.
Key specs – Material: Polyester; Recycled: Yes; Pockets: No; Hood: No
5. Arc’Teryx Kyanite Hoody: The best fleece for technical performance
The right fleece can be the ultimate mid-layer for active adventures, and whether you’re skiing, hiking or climbing in cooler weather, we reckon Arc’Teryx’s new Kyanite fleece hoodie is the perfect addition to your layering system.
Made with durable Polartec fleece material, the Kyanite is far stretchier than your average fleece, so it moves with your body even if you’re working up a sweat. It’s also deliciously soft, which makes it great for all-day wear.
We prefer this hoody version of the Kyanite for extra protection for your face and head, but jacket and half-zip styles are also available.
Key details – Material: Polartec; Recycled: Yes; Pockets: Two; Hood: Yes
6. Patagonia Synchilla fleece for men and women: Best for style
Retro fleeces are making a bit of a comeback – if you want to get in on the action, look no further than Patagonia’s fun Synchilla fleece. A cult classic, it’s back in a variety of garish and not-quite-so-garish patterns that stand out whether you’re hiking, climbing or just exploring the city. These’s plenty of substance as well as style here – the Synchilla is warm, delightfully soft and easy to layer. It has a handy chest pocket, a half-zip and is also ethically produced – the Synchilla is made using recycled fleece and is Fair Trade certified.
Key details – Material: Polyester; Recycled?: Yes; Pockets: One, popper; Hood: No