Of all the things to come out of fashion’s ongoing love affair with the great outdoors, the renewed interest in fleeces might just be our favourite.
These fuzzy jackets have always been highly functional, but until relatively recently they were the preserve of embarrassing dads and bearded birdwatchers. In other words, the absolute antithesis of cool.
That’s why we’re bringing you the best fleeces out there right now, and tried them out ourselves so that you don’t have to.
Our aim was to test a variety of fleeces to suit every budget and taste, but they also had to perform well in the cold, look the part and be built to stand the test of time. For us, the options listed below tick all three boxes.
From retro classics to recycled fabrics, these are the best men’s fleeces to buy in 2021.
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Patagonia classic retro-x fleece
Patagonia is a name synonymous with fleece. In fact, the fleece jacket as we know and love it today probably wouldn’t exist without the brand. The retro-x model has been going strong since the Seventies (although it wasn’t called “retro” back then) and is essentially the high-water mark for what an outdoors fleece should be. The thick-pile construction, contrast chest pocket and collar, and boxy fit are often imitated, but, as of yet, never bettered, making the retro-x the undisputed king. Vintage versions can fetch hundreds but the current crop still boasts the same sturdy build and stylish looks. An absolute classic of the genre.
The North Face pumori expedition jacket
Taking its name from one of Everest’s neighbouring peaks, The North Face’s pumori expedition jacket draws on the outerwear used by mountaineers in the late Eighties and early Nineties. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if The North Face told us it had been beamed directly from the Himalayas in 1987 via some sort of outdoor-gear time machine. Why? Two words: fit and quality.
With its slightly cropped length, boxy cut and slouchy shoulders, this thing is heavy on the retro styling. It’s built like it’s from 30 years ago too, and not in a bad way. The phrase, “they don’t make them like they used to”, comes to mind. Except they do, and this baggy fleece, complete with armpit zips, pumori expedition arm patch and super-thick fabric is the proof. Oh, and it’s made from recycled bottles collected from the Everest foothills, which is a nice touch.
Finisterre axiom full-zip fleece
The fashion industry is rife with greenwashing, so it’s refreshing when a brand comes along that really does practise what it preaches. Cornwall’s Finisterre is one such company, and this rather appealing fleece is a prime example of what it does so well. To begin: this is a very handsome jacket. And with that to one side, let’s focus on the details.
First off, the axion fleece is made from 100 per cent recycled polyester – even the bag it comes in is made from a water-soluble plastic substitute. In general, fleeces aren’t the most environmentally sound of garments thanks to the way the fibres break down when washed, but this is about as close as they get to being eco-friendly. Fit-wise, it’s nice and trim and the fabric isn’t overly bulky, making it well suited to layering. Overall, it’s a great-looking, functional piece of kit that you don’t have to feel too guilty about buying.
Universal Works lancaster fleece
In practical terms, a fleece is hard to fault. But from a style standpoint, it's never going to be the most versatile jacket in your wardrobe. That's where this button-up option from Nottingham's Universal Works comes in handy. It boasts all the functional benefits of a traditional fleece but thanks to details like the button front, shawl collar and patch pockets, it'll pair well with anything from soft tailoring to jeans and trainers. For anyone looking for a way to work some fleece into their day-to-day outfits without getting all Ray Mears about it, this is your solution. Fit-wise, it’s fairly short in the body and roomy around the arms and shoulders. We’d recommend sizing up if you’re usually in between sizes.
Uniqlo long-sleeve fleece jacket
For a more affordable option, Uniqlo is well known for serving up some solid options at wallet-friendly prices. In the past, the Japanese retailer has even teamed up with ultra-hip New York label Engineered Garments to produce some highly sought-after fleecy treats. Suffice to say, it's a brand that knows it's way around a good fleece, and is a good first port of call.
We loved this particular fleece not just for its very reasonable price tag, but also for its simplicity. It's the sort of jacket that will go with anything, which means you're getting a lot of bang for your buck in terms of cost per wear. There are no frills, no embellishments, no trend-driven quirks. It's just a classic, minimal fleece that you likely find yourself reaching for a lot.
Adsum expedition fleece jacket
Adsum’s urbanised, streetwear-leaning take on outdoor gear has made it a common sight in many of the world’s coolest and most exclusive menswear boutiques. Outerwear, in our opinion, is what the NYC-based brand does best, and fleece frequently crops up in some shape or form on a seasonal basis.
We loved this grey and purple number’s reverse-pile design. Instead of being on the outside of the jacket, the thick, high-pile side of the fabric serves as the lining, achieving a smooth, sweater-like finish on the outside. It also features three zip pockets, a drawcord hem and elasticated cuffs to keep body heat in and the cold out. Plus, it looks great. Layer it with a hoodie and some heavy outerwear for deep-winter protection, or simply with a T-shirt when the mercury begins to rise.
Columbia powder keg fleece
Unfortunately, due to the fundamental laws of the universe, we'll never be able to go skiing in the Eighties. However, with this brightly coloured throwback fleece pullover from Columbia, we can get pretty close, from a style perspective at least.
The powder keg fleece is perfect for adding a splash of colour to casual outfits. It's cut from thick, 250g fleece fabric and features a roomy cut for maximum mobility. We're big fans of the press stud collar and the drawstring neck, which, although not hugely useful to us, we can imagine would be handy for keeping the powder out if you did decide to hit the slopes.
Penfield mattawa colourblock fleece
We’re big fans of Penfield’s stylish take on classic outdoor garb, and this thick-pile fleece is no exception. It’s a heavyweight jacket with a mesh lining and works great as either a cosy outer layer or as a mid-layer, provided that the outerwear is loose enough to accommodate it. We found ourselves mostly wearing it over hoodies and T-shirts though. After all, why would you want to hide it under a coat?
Features wise, it’s got the standard three-pocket set up – two zip hand-warmer pockets and a contrast zip pocket on the chest – and elasticated cuffs and hem for a comfortable fit. But what really sells it to us is the mixture of retro design elements and quirky colour blocking. If you’re looking for a classic, functional fleece that eschews boring in favour of bold, this is a solid option from a solid brand.
Filson ridgeway pullover fleece
There's something about orange outerwear that never fails to get us hot under the collar. Add in some tactile fabric, a few contrast pockets and a bit of well-placed toggle action and you're onto a winner.
The new ridgeway pullover from Seattle-based upscale outdoor brand Filson ticks all of the boxes for us. Looks aside, it uses Polartec thermal pro fleece which locks in heat and feels nice and soft too. It also features elastic trims at the hem and cuffs to seal out the worst of the weather. It's somewhere between a technical fleece and a cosy hoodie, which makes it a must-have for life in lockdown, in our humble opinion.
Timberland is no stranger to rugged outdoor garb, so it shouldn’t come as much of a shock to learn that it makes some very nice fleece jackets. This particular model gives a nod to the Nineties with its bold colour palette and thick-pile sherpa fabric, but in terms of cut it’s trim and form-fitting compared to others.
The fabric is thick, soft, and lined with a contrasting mesh material. There’s also a large Timberland patch logo on the sleeve as well as a smaller branded patch on the chest pocket. Best of all, the whole thing is made from recycled plastic.
The verdict: Men’s fleeces
Patagonia’s classic retro-x fleece is the most recognisable and frequently imitated style out there, and is, in our opinion, impossible to beat. It’s not cheap, but when you consider these things tend to last decades, the price is entirely justified.
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