The Big Test: Fleece jackets reviewed (2019)

For decades the mainstay of a hillwalker’s wardrobe has been the humble fleece jacket, so we’ve selected six to see how they perform in the mountains.

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The runners up


Berghaus Spectrum Micro FZ 2.0 £55

Tester: Graham Thompson

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  • Material Micro fleece (100% polyester inc 50% recycled material)

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s 8-18

  • Weight 372g (size L) 

The Spectrum Micro FZ 2.0 is part of Berghaus’s Made Kind commitment, so it uses 50% recycled content in the fleece. It’s a soft fleece, and it allows a little more airflow than some, as well as good insulation for summer. Combined with other insulating layers it works well in winter too. 

There is a full-length zip, and you also get two map-sized pockets that are accessible above a rucksack belt. Flatlocked seams help to improve overall comfort. 

The hem and cuffs are elasticated without additional adjustment. On me both areas had a poor fit, so I’d have benefited from drawcords at the hem and Velcro cuff adjusters to prevent unwanted draughts around the waist and wrists. There is no zip housing at the top either. But at this price it is great for general walking.   

Pros

Price, weight, pockets, insulation, easily worn with other layers such as fleeces or waterproofs

Cons

No hem or cuff adjustment and these two areas did not fit me well enough, no zip housing on the main zip, higher-priced fleeces have harder face fabric for even less pilling 

Buy it if

You want a low-priced hillwalking fleece with good pockets and find the fit acceptable


Rab Nucleus Jacket £60

Tester: Anna Humphries

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  • Material Thermic Stretch mid-weight fleece with oval grid back (92% polyester 8% elastane)

  • Women’s 8-16

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Weight 312g (size 12)

This mid-weight fleece material allows for good airflow but it also resists the wind a little. It’s nice and stretchy too, so is great for scrambling over rocks. 

There is a full-length zip to allow ventilation and two zipped pockets that are large enough to take OS maps. The pockets are placed slightly higher on the body than some other designs, so you can access them more easily while wearing a rucksack with a hipbelt. It has a reasonably good general fit too. 

But unfortunately this Rab fleece lacks some ‘nice to have’ details. There are no drawcords on the hem or cuffs, with only elastication helping the fit in both areas. There is no hood either, and the fleece is not quite warm enough to wear on its own in winter. 

It works well with an additional fleece layer on the top though, so makes a great year-round option to wear with other layers. 

Pros

Price, weight, pockets, general features, insulation, stretchy fit, easily worn with other layers 

Cons

Not the warmest so in winter an additional warm layer is needed, no hem or cuff adjustment 

Buy it if

You want a good hillwalking fleece or your budget is limited but you still want good pockets and good general performance


Haglöfs Heron Jacket £110

Tester: Jon Bennett

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  • Material Pontetorto Techno Stretch fleece (93% recycled polyester, 7% elastane)

  • Men’s XS-XXL

  • Women’s XS-XL

  • Weight 342g (size M) 

This is the non-hooded version of the popular Heron Hood Jacket (£120) that won a Trail Approved award in March 2018. It uses the same 4-way fabric and is made from recycled materials so is good for the planet. 

The seams are well-placed and have a flatlock design to improve comfort. Although the Heron is not windproof it is noticeably more wind-resistant than some other fleeces. The two zipped hand pockets are accessible when wearing a rucksack. The full-length front zip has a baffle to prevent snagging and housing at the neck to prevent chafing.  

Something I don’t need but others may miss is a drawcord at the hem. The fabric has a good abrasion-resistant finish on the outside, while inside it is fluffier to add warmth. However, it is quite a lightweight fleece, so is more suited to summer or for layering in colder conditions. 

Pros

Price, weight, pockets, recycled material, insulation level and slightly more wind-resistant, stretchy fit, easily worn with layers 

Cons

Not warm enough for cold days so extra layers will be required, no chest pocket and no drawcord on the hem so check fit to prevent draughts 

Buy it if

You want an excellent fleece jacket, as a non-hooded or hooded design, when active and as part of a layering system on the coldest days 



The Top Three


Mountain Equipment Diablo £90

Tester: Graham Thompson

The Diablo provides all the basic needs of a hillwalker, so is there any reason to pay more?

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  • Material Polartec Thermal Pro (100% polyester)

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s 8-16

  • Weight 347g (size L)

It’s good

I’ve been wearing this fleece regularly for a year and it has proved its worth. It is made from a good fleece material that offers warmth for year-round use, although in winter I need an extra fleece layer under it to take off the chill. 

It is very breathable, so it also works well under a waterproof jacket without allowing condensation to build too easily. The two main pockets both take an OS map and can be accessed above rucksack hipbelts. The addition of a hood means I don’t need to find a hat when the temperature drops for short periods, and of course a hood cannot be dropped or blow away. 

The zip housing at the top of the main zip prevents scratches on my neck, while flatlocked seams also add a little more comfort. 

Overall I am happy with this fleece for hillwalking and trekking, and it’s also a good price for what you get compared to others.

However

While I like it and have worn it regularly over the last 12 months, including six weeks walking the Camino de Santiago (pilgrims’ way in Spain), the hem on this fleece is quite loose on me. I need the size L for body length, so I wished there was a drawcord I could cinch in to lock out draughts. 

The cuffs too are not as tight as I’d like for battling through wild weather. The hood would also be even better if it fitted just a little closer. But these are tiny niggles and will depend on your body shape… I am just quite skinny! 

There is no third chest pocket either, something I like for a GPS receiver, guidebook or map, so the main pockets can be used just for handwarming. Durability has not been an issue, but the higher-priced materials are undoubtedly more durable.

Verdict

A great all-round fleece for trekking and hillwalking if you want to control your budget limits, and don’t need the extra benefits that come with paying more.

  • Features 4/5

  • Fit 4/5

  • Comfort 5/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 5/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 88%

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Montane Iridium Hoodie £120 / Hybrid Hoodie £100

Tester: John Bennett

The Iridium offers durability and a third chest pocket, but do you really need those features?

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  • Material Pontetorto Technostretch (88% polyester, 12% elastane)

  • Men’s S-XXL (Iridium Hoodie)

  • Women’s 8-16 (Iridium Hybrid Hoodie)

  • Weight 380g (size M) 

It’s good

The Iridium Hoodie is made from Pontetorto Technostretch fleece, and has an external ceramic print to enhance durability, while the lower-priced Hybrid Hoodie (for women) doesn’t use this fabric throughout, instead having a light stretch fleece on the sides. 

The Iridium is a very comfortable jacket to wear, with a fluffy inner and flatlocked seams. The stretchable hood moved well with my head, even though there is no drawcord to make further adjustments. 

There is a useful third GPS device-sized chest pocket, and both zipped hand pockets are sited high enough to be easily accessible while wearing a rucksack. 

The full-length zip has a baffle on the inside to prevent both cold spots and snagging, and there’s also a zip housing at the top to prevent chafing around the neck. 

In terms of warmth, the Iridium is ideal for general hillwalking, and can be worn with other insulating layers in winter, as I did when I wore two fleeces at once on our chilly photoshoot. 

However

Women only get the option of the Hybrid version of this jacket, which doesn’t benefit from the same amount of Pontetorto Technostretch fabric. Also, while the four-way stretch material fitted me well, there’s no option for adjustments as no drawcords are provided at the hem or the hood, and the cuffs only get elastication, so you need to check it fits your body shape. It also costs a little extra and weighs a bit more than other jackets on test.

Verdict

An excellent, well-designed, comfortable, mid-weight stretchable fleece with a useful chest pocket and hood for use when active on cooler days.

  • Features 4/5

  • Fit 5/5

  • Comfort 5/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 92%

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Arc’teryx Kyanite £150

Tester: Anna Humphries

Does the higher price tag make the Kyanite the perfect option for the hillwalker?

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  • Material Polartec Power Stretch Pro (53% polyester, 38% nylon, 9% elastane)

  • Women’s XS-XL

  • Men’s XS-XXL

  • Weight 355g (size M)

It’s good

The Kyanite is made from Polartec Power Stretch Pro, a well-proven fabric that has a more elastic and body-hugging feel than others. It also feels really tough thanks to its tight durable outer face, as well as all that nylon, which other fleeces just don’t have. This benefit makes it better for mountaineering and harder use than some other fleeces. 

On the inside it is fluffier, and overall it feels slightly warmer and more windproof than the others here, making it ideal for year-round use; but it is also breathable enough to wear under a waterproof without becoming clammy. I was also able to wear it over the other fleece I was using on this photoshoot and together they were ideal for the cold winter day we experienced. 

The two good-sized pockets can be easily accessed while wearing a rucksack, and the hood is stretchy and fitted well. The hem and cuffs are elasticated and also fitted me fine. 

The Kyanite comes in fantastic colours, rather than just the usual pinks and purples for women! 

However

With only elastication to manage the fit of the hood, hem and cuffs, it’s worth making sure this jacket fits as it cannot be adjusted to lock out draughts. Also there is no third chest pocket on the outside, only an internal valuables pocket. 

The price is probably the biggest challenge here, and it is certainly one to make you think when you compare it with others. The most likely cause of the price hike is the use of Polartec Power Stretch Pro, as adding nylon to the polyester will crank up the price, and also the fabric is far more stretchy too. So you need to decide if this fabric is worth the extra cash. Certainly for regular hill use, I love this jacket more than the others – but the price does make me wince!

Verdict

A durable fleece that is very stretchy and body-hugging, making it ideal for regular users, particularly while mountaineering or scrambling, but the price does chill the dream a little.

  • Features 4/5

  • Fit 5/5

  • Comfort 5/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 3/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 92%


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Montane Flux

This insulated jacket is a sound contribution from Montane, consisting of Primaloft fill and a jam-packed list of features. To start with, the Flux has one of the best hood designs. It not only draws in around the face and has a wired peak, but it also fits over a helmet and still cinches in at the neck. When the hood is not needed it can be rolled away. There are plenty of pockets, with two on the chest and two at the hip, one of which the jacket can be stuffed into. The neck is lined for extra cosiness, while the hem and sleeve cuffs use a drawcord and Velcro respectively to keep out draughts. But it’s another jacket not specifically designed for women and therefore it’s not as flattering as something like the Redpoint Optimus or Infinity Light. Those who prefer a stuffsack as their method of storage and a lighter, warmer jacket for the same price may want to try the Rab Photon Hoodie instead.

 Outer fabric Peaq Micro

Inner fabric Peaq Air

Insulation Primaloft

Colours black, legion blue, chilli red

Sizes XS-XXL (men’s)

Weight 528g (size S)

Made in China

Stores in the UK 100

Tog rating 2.1

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Montane Prism

This duvet jacket weighs 372g; synthetic insulation; large chest pockets; hood rolls to collar; elasticated cuffs; scoop tail; excellent movement in sleeves; packs into its own pocket; ideal as back-up insulation from spring to autumn. But not as warm as others.

Verdict: Buy it if you want a very lightweight backup mid layer or windproof insulation layer for mild winter use.


Montane Jaguar/Panther

Polartec Wind Pro fabric provides the basis for this fleece mid layer, and this really gives it an advantage as the fabric holds back the wind a little better than more open-knit materials. The inside of the material is extremely fluffy, making this very warm. You get a hem and collar drawcord to lock out the draughts too. For a closer fit without restricting movement the sides are made from stretch fabric, and this works really well. The two chest pockets are map-sized and allow easy access to maps on the move while wearing a rucksack. All that makes this particularly suitable for winter use for a variety of activities. But there is no hood, like most equivalent jackets. This is also quite a heavy garment at 660g, but in cold temperatures the extra warmth provided by this garment probably balances the scales.

 

Fabric: Polartec Wind Pro, Dryactiv Stretch
Sizes: XS-XL (men’s Jaguar); 8-18 (women’s Panther)
Weight: 660g (size L)
Made in China
UK stores: England 60; Wales 15; Scotland 20; Ireland 5

Verdict: Buy it if you want a warmer mid layer for autumn, winter and spring or just feel the cold (but don’t need a hood).


Montane Puma

This provides a different kind of soft shell experience from some other jackets, but it is quite suitable if you want something beyond what a normal fleece can offer. It is made from a fabric that is more wind- and water-resistant than a conventional fleece and it also feels far more durable. Under the arms you get more conventional stretch fleece fabric for greater breathability too. Generally this feels quite warm , which in part is reflected in its higher weight. It is very slightly more breathable than some other soft shells as well, which is an advantage as it prevents overheating and allows it to be worn under a waterproof jacket without affecting the condensation control too badly. You get two large chest pockets that easily take a map, but better still you get an extra pair of map-sized chest pockets, and all these can easily be accessed while wearing a rucksack hipbelt. The body has a long cut with a scooped tail – which is ideal for most activity. Adjustable cuffs, hem drawcords and collar drawcords complete a very practical jacket. All that for just £90 is superb value and hard to improve on. But you do not get a hood, something that I think would be very useful in the windy, drizzly weather for which soft shells are designed. Similarly some soft shells are more wind- and water-resistant. This is a little heavier than some comparable tops too. As with the winning Montane shell, it does not come in a women’s fit.

 

Material: Freeflow soft shell, DryActiv Stretch
Sizes: XS-XXL
Weight: 568g (L)
Made in China
Stores in UK: England 60, Wales 15, Scotland 25, Ireland 5

Verdict: Buy it if you want soft shell with superb pockets and no hood, as this is by far the best option and ideal for just about any mountain activity.


Montane Verso Jacket

This insulated jacket weighs 448g, so it is ideal for carrying year-round, and like many others of its type it makes use of Primaloft insulation and Pertex fabric to keep the weight down. It stuffs into the chest pocket, saving the weight of a stuffsack. To keep draughts out the front zip has a baffle on the inside and the hem has a drawcord adjuster, while the cuffs are elasticated. You get a zipped chest pocket plus zipped, map-sized hip pockets. The jacket fits comfortably close while the fleece lining in the collar is a welcome bonus for chilly weather. There is a hood provided that rolls into the collar, but this is not insulated, so it is only good enough to keep the wind off. This makes the Verso ideal for hill-walkers who need something to throw on when the temperature drops on the summit of a hill. But the cuffs and collar are not adjustable, so make sure they fit closely enough to keep draughts out. I don’t think that hood is a lot of use, as you really want an insulated hood if you need any extra headwear at all in winter. The main niggle though is that this was a tight fit into the chest pocket – not something I would like to attempt with cold or damp hands. Like other lightweights it does not feel as durable as heavier garments.

 

Outer: Pertex Quantum
Inner: Peaq wicking nylon
Insulation: Primaloft
Colours: black/black, electric  blue/black, black/black
Sizes: S-XL
Weight: 448g (size L)
Made in China
Stores in UK: England 40; Wales 10; Scotland 20; Ireland 5

Verdict: buy it if you want a low-weight insulating layer to throw on when the temperature drops while camping or sitting on the summit of a hill.