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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Best for budget: Fleece Jackets reviewed

UP TO £50
At this price you get a basic insulation layer that will provide the warmth needed for hillwalking, but it will tend to lack the benefits of more expensive products. The fleece may be slightly thinner, so it’s not as warm as some costlier options. You may not get any pockets nor a hood. More subtle missing details may include no draught baffle behind the front zip, the front zip may only extend to the chest and there may be no zip garage to prevent the top of the zip from scratching your chin or neck area. This price band of fleece jackets is good for general hillwalking, though, and if you are on a tight budget you don’t need to spend more to be warm and comfortable on the hills.

FROM £51 TO £100
There is a clear improvement in performance in this price band compared to the lower-priced products. The fleece materials may be slightly thicker, and therefore warmer, or you may get additional benefits, such as a pair of well-placed pockets or a hood. The fleece materials may also offer additional wind resistance or breathability, or they may have a more durable outer face so they don’t snag on rocks so easily. In general, the jackets in this price bracket are well suited to more regular hillwalkers who will benefit from the small but incremental extras on offer.

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£101 AND ABOVE
In this price band the benefits are directed to more specific user needs. So you get more stretchy materials that may offer excellent levels of moisture management, along with higher levels of breathability, wind resistance or warmth. You will also have excellent pocket designs that allow easier access while wearing rucksacks and a hood that fits and moves very well with your head. The overall fit of these jackets may be more tailored to produce a closer and more athletic style, which better suits the needs of more active users, climbers and mountaineers. Hillwalkers can still benefit from these designs, though, if they can stretch to the price tags.


BEST FOR BUDGET UP TO £50


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Snugpak Impact Fleece Shirt £25

 

  • Men’s unisex design XS-XXL
  • Women’s see above
  • Weight 352g (size L)
  • Materials polyester fleece

IT'S GOOD This warm and cosy fleece provides the basic insulation needed for year-round hillwalking. While it doesn’t fully block the wind it provides a good balance between wind resistance and airflow to allow maximum breathability when worn under a waterproof outer layer. The fit is reasonably close, so you can wear it under layers easily. You get a short chest zip with a large internal baffle near the chin to stop scratching. 

HOWEVER As it only comes in a unisex design the fit range may not be as ideal for
some as other options, so it’s one to try before you buy. You only get a short front zip, so you cannot ventilate it as easily as a jacket style with a full-length zip. There are no pockets at all, so you will have to keep compasses, maps, and guidebooks accessible through other means. Like most fleeces, there is no hem drawcord. Of course you may be able to live without these benefits easily so consider whether they matter.

VERDICT A low-priced fleece top that provides the basic insulation hillwalkers will need, but it lacks many of the benefits of higher priced options.

  • Features 3/5
  • Fit 4/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 3/5 
  • Value for money 5/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 76%

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Berghaus Arnside Fleece £45

  • Men’s S-XXL
  • Women’s 8-18
  • Weight 369g (size L)
  • Materials polyester microfleece

IT'S GOOD This is a lightweight fleece that offers a good level of insulation for milder hillwalking conditions. It allows airflow to ensure it doesn’t get too sweaty when worn under a waterproof jacket, but also resists wind a little too. There’s a full-length zip and two zipped pockets large enough to take an OS map. The pockets are placed slightly higher on the body than some other designs so you can access them a little easier while wearing a rucksack with a hipbelt. It has a reasonable general fit. 

HOWEVER Pockets are slightly higher than on more basic designs, but they don’t have the best access when wearing a rucksack hipbelt. The front zip doesn’t get a draught baffle on the inside, or a chinguard at the top of it. Fit is acceptable but closer-fitting designs, or those with more adjustment than just elastication at the hem and cuffs, could be better for more regular users. There is no hood and this jacket is not quite warm enough on its own in winter. 

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VERDICT A perfectly adequate hillwalking fleece if you have a small budget. Has some useful pockets and good general performance. 

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 3/5 
  • Value for money 5/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%

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Craghoppers Timor / Caitlin £45

  • Men’s S-XXL (Timor)
  • Women’s 8-20 (Caitlin)
  • Weight 363g (size L)
  • Materials polyester fleece

IT'S GOOD This new jacket has
an additional chest pocket for stowing a compass or GPS receiver and this sets it apart from many others. It’s is great in summer and could be used in colder conditions if additional layers were worn underneath. The cuff and hem are elasticated and fit closely which helps to lock out the wind. The two main pockets are large enough for an OS map. The fit is slightly closer than some baggier styles, so overall, this is a good jacket for milder conditions.

HOWEVER The two main pockets are placed slightly too low on your body so their access is reduced when wearing a rucksack with a hipbelt, while the third pocket is placed a little too high on the chest as a rucksack shoulder strap tends to impede this more than necessary. Also the main zip doesn’t have an internal baffle to block out wind and there’s no chinguard at the top of the zip. The fit is closer than others, and the cuffs tended to ride up when scrambling, which left my wrists exposed. Others are a little warmer too.

VERDICT The chest pocket is useful and it’s a good general design but the pockets could be slightly better positioned.

  • Features 5/5
  • Fit 4/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 3/5 
  • Value for money 5/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 80%

BEST FOR BUDGET FROM £51 TO £100


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Mountain Equipment Litmus Jacket £90

  • Men’s S-XXL
  • Women’s 8-16
  • Weight 503g (size L)
  • Materials Polartec Thermal Pro

IT'S GOOD The use of Thermal Pro fleece makes this ideal for year-round general hillwalking as it offers good insulation and some wind resistance. It also benefits from a third chest pocket to stow a phone or GPS receiver while using the other two cavernous pockets for hand-warming or a map. All pockets are easily accessed while wearing a rucksack belt. Good details include a large internal flap behind the front zip to keep draughts at bay and a substantial zip garage to protect the chin from being scratched. 

HOWEVER It doesn’t have a hood, so on chilly days you need to pack a warm hat. Also, like many other fleece jackets here, there is no adjustment other than elastication at the hem or cuffs, so you need to try it before buying to check these areas fit well. For me, the cuffs were a little looser than would be ideal, and the sleeves were a little less well-fitted as some. So if you prefer a closer, more athletic fit then others are better. This is quite warm so in summer you may need to wear it with the front zip open, or choose an alternative thinner fleece.

VERDICT A good general fleece with excellent pockets if you don’t need a hood or want a more athletic fit.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 4/5 
  • Value for money 4/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%

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Berghaus Pravitale 2.0 Extrem Men's Fleece Hoodie £90

  • Men’s S-XXL
  • Women’s none
  • Weight 547g (size L)
  • Materials stretch fleece

IT'S GOOD The fleece in this jacket offers a good level of insulation for year-round use, as well as a slightly tighter knit to help block out wind. The outer face appears less likely to snag, too, than others. You get a hood for cold conditions and the front zip has a good windflap inside that protects the chin from the zip. The two OS map-sized pockets are high enough to allow access while wearing a rucksack hipbelt. The fit is slightly longer than some and is neither overly close or overly baggy, making it a good style for hillwalking.

HOWEVER There is no women’s option or adjustment other than elastication at the hem, cuffs and hood and I felt I needed a slightly closer fit on the cuffs to be perfect. So one to try before buying. It’s perhaps a little warm for summer but would be ideal from early autumn through winter and into spring. Cuffs tended to ride up a little more easily than others that had a more athletic fit and performance. The price tag is reasonable for what you get, but of course you could spend less.

VERDICT Not perfect for every situation, but a good general all-rounder for most hill and mountain walking in the UK. A women’s option please!

  • Features 5/5
  • Fit 4/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 4/5 
  • Value for money 4/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%

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Haglöfs Tornado £70

  • Men’s S-XL
  • Women’s XS-XL
  • Weight 417g (size L)
  • Materials Pontetorto Tecnostretch fleece

IT'S GOOD The Heron is a good general hillwalking fleece for year-round use. It has an abrasion-resistant finish on the outside, good wind resistance, a fluffy inside and a good level of insulation for typical mountain conditions. The two main pockets are OS map-sized and easy to access while wearing a rucksack. The hood fits well and there is a baffle behind the front zip to block draughts as well as a garage for the zip. The fit is not overly close so you can wear thin layers under it if needed. The non-hooded version for £90 is ideal for hillwalkers, too.

HOWEVER The price tag is a little higher than others. The hem was slightly looser than ideal and as there is no hem drawcord it’s worth trying before buying. There is no adjustment, just elastication, at the cuffs or hood. Others have more insulation or an additional chest pocket and, of course, you can pay less if you need less insulation. While this fleece isn’t perfect, overall the downsides are small. 

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VERDICT Suits the needs of most hillwalkers. While small details could be better, it’s still a good option in either hood or non-hood versions.

  • Features 5/5
  • Fit 4/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 5/5 
  • Value for money 4/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 72%

BEST FOR BUDGET £101 AND OVER


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Mammut Aenergy / Botnica Light ML Hooded Jacket £115

  • Men’s S-XXL (Aenergy)
  • Women’s XS-L (Botnica)
  • Weight 415g (size L)
  • Materials Pontetorto Tecnostretch and DryFast

IT'S GOOD The materials set this apart from others by being a tighter knit than more open-knit designs so it blocks more wind but is still breathable, while the outer layer appears more abrasion-resistant than others. The fit is quite close and athletic with the elastication locking out draughts and the hood and cuffs fitting well. You get two OS map-sized Napoleon-style chest pockets on the men’s style while the women’s option has two side pockets that are lower on the body. There is a nice big internal baffle behind the front zip to keep out the wind and protect the chin.

HOWEVER It’s not the warmest fleece jacket available, so while great for active users and in warm weather, for casual walkers and in cool temperatures it will need supplementing with warm layers. Some other fleeces are more wind resistant, so a windproof layer may be needed.There is no adjustment at the cuffs, hood or hem apart from elastication so try before you buy. 

VERDICT Close-fitting design for active users but it is not the warmest option and men need to decide if they want Napoleon-style pockets rather than hand-warming side pockets.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 4/5 
  • Value for money 2/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 76%

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Berghaus Extrem 7000 Hoodie £130

  • Men’s XS-XL
  • Women’s 8-16
  • Weight 395g (size L)
  • Materials Polartec Power Grid

IT'S GOOD The Power Grid material has a grid pattern on the inside to improve insulation and an open weave to improve breathability so this works really well under a waterproof or windproof jacket. Extra reinforcement at the waist, forearms and hood improves durability. The hood, body and sleeves all fitted me closely, with tight elastication locking out draughts at the cuffs, hem and hood. Two main pockets placed high on the body allow easy access while wearing a rucksack hipbelt. Nice touches include a balaclava section in the hood and a soft fleece chinguard at the top of the zip. The close fit is great for more athletic users. 

HOWEVER Casual walkers may prefer something less figure hugging. While it fitted me fine there is no adjustment at the hem, cuffs or hood apart from firm elastication, so try before buying. The material is quite an open weave so doesn’t block wind. The price tag is high for what you get.

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VERDICT A close-fitting, athletic design that’s great in mild conditions but needs a windproof or waterproof layer in a breeze and additional insulation in colder conditions.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 5/5 
  • Value for money 2/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 80%

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Salewa Ortles Full Zip Fleece Jacket £145

  • Men’s S-XXL
  • Women’s 8-14
  • Weight 415g (size L)
  • Materials Polartec Power Stretch Pro

IT'S GOOD Polartec Power Stretch Pro is a superb fabric that provides plenty of insulation, exceptional stretch and wind resistance. It’s also more abrasion resistant than more open-knit designs. The result is a figure-hugging jacket without restriction of movement, and it’s warmer than many other fleeces making it good year-round option. You get two main pockets that are placed just high enough to allow access while wearing a rucksack hipbelt, and the front zip has an internal baffle to block draughts.

HOWEVER It’s a great fabric but it’s so pricy, especially when you consider there’s no hood or additional features apart from a couple of pockets. The material is very figure hugging and probably doesn’t need any adjustment at the hem or cuffs, but you don’t get any anyway so it’s one to try to be sure it fits and that you feel comfortable in its close, athletic fit. In summer it may be a little too toasty as it fits so closely – even with the front zip open it will tend to stay warm.

VERDICT A superb fabric that hugs the body and provides good warmth for British mountain use – but the price tag may freeze you in your tracks to the checkout!

  • Features 3/5
  • Fit 5/5 
  • Comfort 5/5 
  • In use 4/5 
  • Value for money 1/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 72%

Haglöfs Barrier Q

This is a really simple, classic insulated jacket of the lightweight variety, and it only just loses out to models such as the Millet Hyperlite on weight. However, unlike the Hyperlite, you don’t have to worry about where you left its stuffsack, as the Barrier Q zips neatly into its own inside pocket (and where some jackets can make it feel like a battle of wills trying to pack it away, this takes around 30 seconds). Features include two external pockets with zips, a soft chinguard, and elasticated hem and cuffs. It includes a women’s cut, and at only £75 it offers the best value for money here. But more adjustment would go a long way as there’s no cinch on the collar and the hem is only elasticated. The elastication works fine, but a drawcord would give you more options. The cut is also fairly short, so those who like more protection for their posterior may want to try something like the Patagonia.

Outer fabric Performac 1001

Inner fabric polyester

Insulation Thermolite Micro 80g/m2

Colours black, deep red, spring green

Sizes S-XXL (men’s); 8-18 (women’s)

Weight 341g (size 10)

Made in China

Stores in the UK 125

Tog rating 2.3

A good lightweight jacket which has a lightweight price to match.

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The North Face TKA 200 Full Zip

This midweight fleece from The North Face is wonderfully soft and comfortable and a pretty good fit, although the collar is a little tight. The lightweight fabric and feminine design are great, but thicker cuffs would be good. Not as warm as some. The wind flap under the front zip is good, and the handwarmer pockets are nice and deep.

 

Colours: Eight including tapas red, windflower orange, jewel blue, white, black
Sizes: XS-XL
Fabric: TKA 200 (100% polyester)
Men’s version: Yes
Contact: 01539 738882, www.thenorthface.com/eu

Verdict: A fairly priced fleece that looks as good on the street as it does in the hills. The North Face’s own TKA fabric is very lightweight, but not as warm as some.