Fleeces have had a transformation in recent years. Oversized, retro-style designs have become a staple for most fashion-focused brands, while the popularity of walking and hiking has seen an increase in the options of technical apparel on offer.
At its core, a fleece should be able to be worn as an outer layer on mild days or as a midlayer beneath a waterproof jacket or thick winter coat during colder climes. Temperature regulation is just as important as keeping you warm though, and the best fleeces will keep you cosy without causing you to overheat.
Not all fleeces are the same though. On one side, you’ll find the fashion-focused designs that go big on fluffy materials, eye-catching colourways and bold branding. On the other, the fleece’s aim is to be lightweight, subtle and constructed from technical fabrics.
How we tested
For this article, we tested fleeces from across the spectrum. Each was put through its paces in a number of settings – from everyday wear around the home and on the streets of London, to afternoons spent hiking in bare woodland of Epping Forest – and temperatures varied from low double digits to truly wintry conditions.
To be featured in our round-up of the best fleeces, the product had to do what it claimed in its marketing material, as well as keep us comfortable throughout. Handwarmer and storage pockets were both added bonuses. Each was washed as per care instructions as well to ensure that it kept its shape.
The best men’s fleece jackets for 2021 are:
- Best overall – The North Face Denali sherpa jacket: £155, Thenorthface.co.uk
- Best for walking – Patagonia men’s lightweight better sweater fleece jacket: £120, Patagonia.com
- Best mid-layer – Berghaus men’s vanth hooded fleece: £130, Berghaus.com
- Best for breathability – Arc’Teryx kyanite AR ½ zip: £130, Atcteryx.com
- Best lightweight fleece – Rab men’s filament hoody: £80, Rab.equipment/uk
- Best vegan-friendly fleece – Passenger offgrid fleece: £84.95, Passenger-clothing.com
- Best for wearing with a backpack – Adidas Terrex tech flooce hooded hiking fleece jacket: £110, Adidas.co.uk
- Best brightly-coloured fleece – Cotopaxi teca fleece pullover: £90, Cotopaxi.com
- Best for sustainability – Finisterre hegen full zip wool fleece: £125, Finisterre.com
- Best festive print – Columbia men’s sweater weather printed half zip fleece: £75, Columbiasportswear.co.uk
The North Face Denali sherpa jacket
It’s not often that we’re blown away by a fleece, but the Denali sherpa jacket from The North Face did just that. A re-issue inspired by a piece from the brand’s mountain archives, the thick-pile recycled sherpa fleece is very on trend in the fashion department. But it’s much more than a good looking outer layer...
The use of sherpa fleece made it an incredibly warm companion on the coldest days, while the chest and side zipped pockets were ideal for storing emergency gloves and keeping hands toasty. The only snag is that it’s probably too bulky to wear under a waterproof layer – but when something looks this good, why would you cover it up?
Patagonia men’s lightweight better sweater fleece jacket
Best: For walking
Patagonia is a frontrunner in using recycled materials, and its lightweight better sweater fleece is one of the only fleeces we reviewed that could claim to be made from 100 per cent polyester fleece. This focus on sustainability doesn’t mean it has taken its eye off the ball elsewhere, either, and you’re left with a jacket that is great for walking and the planet. Its two zippered chest pockets are big enough for a smartphone or hiking essentials (aka snacks). Elastane binding at the collar, cuffs and hem kept it firmly in place throughout testing.
Berghaus men’s vanth hooded fleece
Focusing on functionality rather than fashion? The vanth hooded fleece from Berghaus is a great addition to any walker’s wardrobe and makes for a great mid-layer beneath a waterproof jacket. Made from Polartec’s Power Grid fabric, it packs a surprising amount of warmth into a relatively thin layer, and its hood can keep you fully covered when the cold weather is relentless. A soft chin guard helps to prevent the full-length zip irritating your neck and chin. Its £130 price tag is the only downside, but you’ll be glad you made the investment when it’s helping to keep you warm.
Arc’Teryx kyanite AR ½ zip
Best: For breathability
The Kyanite from Canadian brand Arc’Teryx is a versatile and smart fleece that doesn’t look out of place in any environment – whether that’s the office or the depths of the outside. We found it could handle a range of conditions – from crowded trains or frosty morning walks – and its Polartec construction helped regulate temperature throughout. Its front zip could be unzipped to around halfway, while two front pockets were great for keeping our hands warm and out of the elements.
Rab men’s filament hoody
Best: Lightweight fleece
Can’t quite stretch your budget to the Berghaus offering above? Enter the filament hoody from Rab. A similar design (albeit using Thermic fabric rather than the more expensive Polartec variety) it is an ideal midlayer for all sorts of activities – from walking and hiking to the more extreme winter pursuits.
Our favourite thing about the filament hoody was how light it was. At just 274g, it could easily be thrown in a day bag on milder starts in case we needed an additional layer later on. Its only downside was a lack of hand warming pockets.
Passenger offgrid fleece
Best: Vegan-friendly fleece
Fashion-focused fleeces shouldn’t cost the earth, as this offering from the New Forest-based Passenger proves. The retro fleece is not only one of the cheaper picks in our round-up but it is also made from 100 per cent recycled and sustainable materials, is vegan friendly, and the company will even plant a tree for every order received. We liked how the fleece kept us warm from the wind and cold but remained breathable. Its lined hand pockets were super snug for our hands too.
Adidas Terrex tech flooce hooded hiking fleece jacket
Best: For wearing with a backpack
Hiking with a backpack can soon turn into a hot, sweaty mess. Throw in a freezing blast of wind, and any damp patches caused by overheating can turn a fleece from something that’s meant to keep you warm to a layer that’s literally sending shivers down your spine. We didn’t have any of these issues with the tech flooce fleece from Adidas Terrex. Its use of a range of materials in different areas kept us warm but sweat-free. Panels on the shoulders and lower back also protected the fleece from rubbing and abrasion when wearing a bag.
Cotopaxi teca fleece pullover
Best: Brightly-coloured fleece
If you want a fleece that is going to turn heads for all the right reasons, then look no further than the teca fleece by Cotopaxi. The garment is made from repurposed fleece and DWR-treated polyester, meaning that the excess material from another brand’s off-cuts are put on your back rather than getting sent to landfill This also means that each run is limited edition – so you’ll have to move fast if you like this teal and rusty combination. Aside from looking great, our favourite feature of the teca fleece is how soft it feels against your skin, meaning it’s one we hardly took off during testing.
Finisterre hegen full zip wool fleece
Best: For sustainability
A lot of brands have started to tap into sustainability, and there are numerous fleeces that we’ve tested that include recycled materials and ethical initiatives. Small British brand Finisterre has been championing this approach from its Cornish workshop for more than a decade, and the hegen is the core fleece in its line up. Made from a blend of recycled wool and polyester, we found it kept us comfortable whether inside or out, and it was thin enough to be worn as a mid-layer if required.
Columbia men’s sweater weather printed half zip fleece
Best: Festive print
No fleece round-up would be complete without at least one festive design. This offering from Columbia has a subtle enough print that means you can wear it throughout winter – and not just as an ironic novelty jumper. It was one of the thinner fleeces that we tested, meaning you might want something a bit thicker or a coat on really cold days, but it was great in mild conditions or just in the office.
The Verdict: Men’s fleeces
The North Face Denali sherpa jacket was the best all-round fleece we tested, combining a stylish look with winter-worthy warmth ideal for exploring all environments. For a fully functional fleece, the price and capabilities of the Rab Filament hoody are tough to beat, while the eco-credentials of the Patagonia, Cotopaxi, Passenger and Finisterre fleeces are worth a special mention.
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Protect yourself from unpredictable weather with our review of the best men’s waterproof jackets
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