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Fleece Jacket and Pullover Buyers Guide

Polartec Fleece
Polartec fleece was invented in 1981 and took over the outdoor industry by storm.

Fleece is a synthetic fabric that’s proven ideal for outdoor recreational use because it’s warm, fast drying, and extremely durable. Fleece clothing requires no special care and can be machine washed and dried for years without shrinkage. Stylish and available in many difference colors, fleece pullovers and jackets, hats, gloves, mittens, and hats are still the best multi-purpose and affordable garments available to hikers and backpackers today.

Invented by Polartec in 1981, there are many different kinds of fleece garments available today in use by hundreds of outdoor companies such as REI, Patagonia, The North Face, Marmot, Mountain Hardware, Columbia, LL Bean, Eastern Mountain Sports and many others.

However, there are many different types of fleece available which can make choosing the right fleece jacket or fleece pullover (usually a 1/4 zip sweater) difficult. This guide is designed to help hikers figure out the best fleece garment for their needs.

Types of Fleece

There are four types of fleece of interest to hikers and backpackers: lightweight, midweight, heavyweight and windproof. These usually correspond to 100 weight, 200 weight, 300 weight, and Polartec Windpro fleece when described in more technical specifications. Lets explore the properties of each of these fleece types in greater  detail below and explain when the conditions in which they’re the most appropriate.

Lightweight Fleece (100 Weight Fleece)

Lightweight (also called 100 weight) fleece is the most popular fleece jacket thickness or pullover weight used by hikers and backpackers because it will keep you warm in cool weather when you’re hiking with a backpack, without causing you to sweat. It’s also idea for use under a rain jacket because it will can absorb condensation without chilling you.

100 Weight Fleece
100 Weight Fleece

When shopping for lightweight fleece jackets or pullovers, you’ll find that retailers and manufacturers call it by several different names including Polartec Thermal Pro Lightweight, 100 Weight Fleece, R1, and TKA 100.

Description and best use:

  • Wear over a base layer in cool or damp weather
  • Low bulk
  • Highly breathable
  • Good when you’re generating a lot of heat
  • Easy to pack in a backpack

Most Popular Products:

Midweight Fleece (200 Weight Fleece)

Midweight Fleece is often used as an outer layer in cooler weather and when you’re less active. It’s thicker than lightweight fleece and more insulating, although it’s still quite breathable.

200 Weight Fleece
200 Weight Fleece

When shopping for midweight fleece jackets or pullovers, you’ll find that retailers and manufacturers call it by several different names including: Polartec Thermal Pro Midweight, 200 Weight Fleece, R2, and TKA 200.

Description and best use:

  • Over a base layer in colder weather
  • Can be layered under a hard shell jacket
  • Very breathable
  • Good when you’re generating less heat
  • Bulkier than 100 weight fleece

Most Popular Products:

Heavyweight Fleece (300 Weight Fleece)

Heavyweight Fleece is almost always used as an outer layer in cold dry weather when you’re less active or stationary during such activities as camping or working around the house outdoors. While breathable, heavyweight fleece is very warm and heavier than lighter grades of fleece, making it too bulky and hot for active use.

300 Weight Fleece
300 Weight Fleece

When shopping for heavyweight fleece jackets or pullovers, you’ll find that retailers and manufacturers call it by several different names including: Polartec Thermal Pro High Loft, 300 weight Fleece, R3, or TKA 300.

Description and best use:

  • Bulky, dense fabric
  • Usually worn as an outer layer in cold, dry weather
  • Very warm and best used for stationary outdoor activities like camping

Most Popular Products:

Wind Proof Fleece

Wind Proof Fleece Jackets and Pullovers can be lightweight, mid, or heavyweight. They typically have a wind proof membrane sandwiched between an inner an outer fleece layer. This results in a noticeably less breathable fabric, making such garments good for stationary activities in cold or windy weather.

Wind Proof Fleece
Wind Proof Fleece

When shopping for windproof fleece jackets or pullovers, you’ll find that retailers and manufacturers call it by several different names including Polartec Thermal Wind Pro, Windwall, R4,or Windstopper. Many Wind Proof Fleece garments also have a hard faced outer fabric that provides better abrasion resistance and further ind protection.

Description and best use:

  • Less breathable than regular fleece
  • Best worn as an outer layer in cold and windy weather
  • Available in lightweight, mid, and heavyweight fleece jackets and pullovers

Most Popular Products:

Jacket, Pullover, Hoody or Vest?

What’s the best type of fleece garment for hiking? While it depends to a certain extent on your metabolism and whether you run hot or cold, most people choose the following garments for the different activity levels, noted below.

  • Pullover, usually a 1/4 zip
    • Most common garment for 100 weight fleece
    • Cool weather hiking, when more warmth is needed over a base layer
    • Moderate weather under a rain jacket, when condensation can cool your core
  • Hoody, 1/4 or full zip
    • Commonly worn using 100 or 200 weight fleece
    • Cool and dry weather hiking, climbing, or skiing when you want more head warmth
  • Vest. full zip
    • Popular for 200 or 300 weight fleece, and wind proof fleece
    • Worn as an active outer layer for winter hiking
  • Jacket, full zip
    • Available in all fleece weights, but most common for 200 weight, 300 weight, and windproof fleece
    • Worn as a mid-layer or outer layer for lower levels of activity such as camping

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  1. Patagonia Micro D pullover is always in my pack during all three season trips and day hikes. It’s also a daily wear in cool temps. Light, warm and comfortable in a wide range of conditions.

  2. I’m glad you noted that fleece is an excellent thermal layer for wearing underneath a rain shell. I think a lot of people have a misconception that the down puffy they brought with them is the only insulating layer they need. Then they wear it under a rain shell and are surprised at how quickly it gets wet (usually from a combination of sweat and the tiny bit of water that seeps in to most jackets).

  3. I have found that cheap or thrift store fleece works just as well as the expensive stuff–the only precaution is to hold the garment up to the light to make sure it has no thin spots.

  4. Great summary.The big appeal of fleece for me is that it is cheap. But it’s also heavy and bulky compared to downwear like Montane’s
    down liner wear — my favorite. Under premium wind wear this is great.

    So I carry fleece vest on day hikes along with wind wear but opt for the down liner gear on backpack trips. I wouldn’t want to be carrying full top and bottom fleece day after day! In 3 season Sierra these liners are the only insulsted gear I carry and it has proved sufficient over years.

  5. Excellent breakdown, thank you.

  6. The wind proof fleece is one that I never carry. I find its easier to use either a wind shirt or my hard shell over a fleece, much more versatile.

  7. So like most guys I shave during the week for work but end up with some stubble for my weekend excursions. Because of this, I typically shy away from hoodies and other sweatshirts that just end up frizzing like crazy where my beard chafes in them.

    Can you recommend or point out a crew neck fleece by a quality brand?

  8. Thank-you for the helpful information. Fleece is an excellent layer under a shell in the Pacific Northwest where it rains more times than not.

  9. Picked up a Patagonia R1 hoody a couple of months ago and I’m loving the versatility as both an outdoor and mid layer when on the move. Dries faster than my 200 wt. fleece but won’t provide quite the warmth when inactive
    Good breakdown with this piece.

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