testing the best hiking fleece in patagonia

Best Lightweight Fleece Jacket – Comparison Table

Fleece Price Weight Fabric
The North Face FutureFleece Hoodie 160 7.3 FutureFleece, Grid,  124g
Mountain Hardwear AirMesh Hoody 85 5.0 AirMesh, Brushed, ~100g
REI Co-op Swiftland Half Zip 89 7.5
PolarTec Power Grid, 119g
Mountain Hardwear MicroChill 2.0 Pullover 55 9.0
Velous Micro Fleece, 168g
Patagonia R1 Air Pullover 119 10.2 ZigZag Grid, 162g
The North Face FutureFleece LT Pullover 130 5.1 FutureFleece LT, Grid, 100g
Polartec Alpha Direct Hoodie 100 4.5 Alpha Direct, 90g

Best Lightweight Fleece Jacket – Overall

The North Face FutureFleece Hoodie

The North Face FutureFleece Hoodie is an innovative lightweight grid fleece constructed with high warmth-to-weight Octa fiber.

FutureFleece is warmer than most other fleece in its weight class, and lighter and more breathable than most other fleece in its warmth class. With FutureFleece you can have your cake and eat it too.

  • Price: $160
  • Weight: 7.3 oz
  • Fabric: FutureFleece, grid, Octa fiber, 124 g/m2
  • Pros: Lightweight. Breathable. Warm. High warmth-to-weight. Hood.
  • Cons: Expensive.


The big story with this lightweight fleece jacket is the namesake fabric. At a macro level, FutureFleece Hoodie is another grid fleece design. The exterior is a flat faced knit, just-stretchy-enough, that holds the garment together and prevents heat from drifting away. The interior is designed in a grid pattern of approximately ¼ inch squares. They alternate between insulative loop clusters and empty space to encourage breathability.

The loop clusters are an effective and soft-to-the-touch choice. They add structure to the garment that lofts the exterior face off of your skin. The effect reminds us of a super thin puffy jacket with an open-face interior.

At a microscopic level, the FutureFleece is built with Octa fibers. This is an innovative new yarn. Each strand is manufactured with eight ridges surrounding a hollow core. As the ridged surface interlocks with adjacent strands, it captures dead air space. As does the hollow core. All of which enhances its insulative properties.

The FutureFleece hoodie is feature-light. It is constructed with a full front zip, one zippered chest pocket, and thumb loops. The hem, wrists and hood all have a light touch of elastic.


This is the best all-around lightweight fleece in terms of its comfort, breathability, and warmth-to-weight.

Best Ultralight Fleece Jacket

Mountain Hardwear AirMesh Hoody

The Mountain Hardwear AirMesh Hoody is a very very breathable, comfy, high warmth-to-weight ratio ultralight fleece. It is constructed with Octa yarn, and sold at a great price.

  • Price: $85
  • Weight 5 oz
  • Fabric: AirMesh, Brushed Back, Octa Yarn, ~100 g/m2
  • Pros: Ultralight. Breathable. No Zippers. High warmth-to-weight. Hood.
  • Cons: Not very durable. Not the warmest.


Like similar high tech FutureFleece from The North Face, Mountain Hardwear AirMesh Hoody is constructed with Octa fiber yarn. Its hollow core and interlocking ridges create microscopic pockets of dead air that boost its insulative properties.

Unlike FutureFleece which is gridded, Mountain Hardwear AirMesh is brushed back, meaning there aren’t empty spaces. The interior surface is all just super soft fuzz. The exterior is literally mesh, and as such, it is shockingly breathable. Even just walking around lets a breeze pass through.

With that in mind, we acknowledge that this very lightweight fleece would not feel very warm at all in windy conditions. Like polartec alpha direct hoodies, you may need to pair it with a wind breaker, or at least a rain shell. On the flip, when you’re not moving and it’s not windy, the Airmesh feels very warm relative to its weight.

The AirMesh Hoody is a lightweight fleece jacket without any zippers, our favorite chassis for a midlayer. Going sans zipper reduces weight, reduces places that can rub or chafe, increases warmth-to-weight, and reduces cost. It’s mostly all upside.

As features go, AirMesh Hoody has thumb loops and elastic around the hem and cuffs. Minimalist, but that’s really all you need in an ultralight hiking fleece jacket.


A high-tech, lightweight fleece that’s this warm and hyper breathable for under $100 is a killer deal. This is the most well-rounded, high performance ultralight fleece we’ve tested, just know that it is ineffective in the wind without an additional layer over top.

Best Lightweight Fleece Jacket – Value

REI Co-op Swiftland Half-Zip Pullover

REI Co-op Swiftland Half-Zip Pullover is a classic, name brand Polartec Power Grid fleece that does it all for less than a hundred bucks. The exterior is flat faced, the interior is gridded. The fabric is stretchy, breathable, comfortable, cozy, and soft. You will want to wear this fleece everywhere.

  • Price: $90
  • Weight: 7.5 oz
  • Fabric: Polartec Power Grid, 119 g m/2
  • Pros: Stretchy. Breathable. Comfy. Good value. Actual Polartec Power Grid.
  • Cons: Moderate warmth-to-weight. No hood.


While Swiftland is marketed for running, the fact that it weighs only 7.5 oz makes it super applicable as a lightweight fleece jacket for hiking.

The Polartec Power Grid is a tried and true blend of breathability and warmth. A flat face outer fabric prevents heat from drifting off. The interior surface is comprised of alternating clusters of fleece pile and empty space. The former insulates while the latter vents.

The fabric is super stretchy and designed for movement. That makes it very comfortable to hike in, chill in, or sleep in. This is all-purpose athleisure at its finest. Even if you buy it as running or hiking fleece jacket, you’ll wind up wearing it for everything else too.

While this Swifltand is super breathable and stretchy, it’s a lightweight fabric and a bit less warm than average. But warm enough to be a great all-purpose sporty fleece.

As features go, Swiftland has a quarter zip which helps for venting, a chest pocket, and thumb loops.


A lightweight, comfortable, breathable, do-it-all Polartec Power Grid fleece. A bit less warm than average. Excellent to hike in.

Best Lightweight Fleece Jacket – Under $60

Mountain Hardwear Microchill 1/2 Zip

For a lightweight, ultra affordable, and ultra basic microfleece, grab the Mountain Hardwear Microhill 2.0 Pullover. Sometimes the simplest solution gets the job done best.

  • Price: $55
  • Weight: 9.0 oz
  • Fabric: Velous Micro Fleece, 168 g/m2
  • Pros: Good value. Warm. high warmth-to-weight.
  • Cons: Uncomfortable seams. Less breathable. No hood.


We’ve all worn fuzzy “microfleece” before, so you probably have a good idea of how the Microchill 2.0 will feel and perform. And to be honest, as lightweight fleece jackets go, it performs pretty dang well.

Fuzzy microfleece is less breathable, less quick drying, and less stretchy, and overall less comfortable than more expensive grid fleeces. But because it’s less breathable, it captures heat better and has a higher warmth-to-weight ratio. And mechanically venting the quarter zip helps make up for any shortfalls.

As lightweight fleece jackets go, this one is a titch heavier than average. We weighed a M’s size large at 9.5 oz, and are assuming the medium is closer to 9.0. This contradicts misinformation online that lists in anywhere from 4.8-6 oz. We assure you it is heavier than that.

Lastly, the seams. They feel sturdy, but are obtrusive and feel a bit scratchy. We recommend only wearing this fleece over a long sleeve base layer.


Sometimes simplicity gets the job done best. The Mountain Hardwear Microchill 2.0 is warmer and lighter than most “technical” fleeces costing 2-3X as much money. However, it is slightly less breathable, less stretchy, and less quick-drying.

Most Comfortable Lightweight Fleece Jacket

Patagonia R1 Air Pullover

Patagonia R1 Air is the warmest, coziest, and heaviest of the lightweight fleece family and is a nice upgrade to original R1.

  • Price: $119
  • Weight: 10.2 oz
  • Fabric:  R1 Air, 162 g/m2, zigzag grid, hollow core yarn
  • Pros: Warm. Soft. Breathable. Comfy.
  • Cons: Heavy end of lightweight spectrum. Expensive. No hood.


The Patagonia R1 Air Pullover is lighter than average. But at 10.2 oz it’s on the far heavy end of the lightweight spectrum, and it’s the heaviest lightweight fleece jacket in our guide. But it’s so comfortable that we’re willing to fudge the 10 oz rule.

R1 Air is manufactured with 100% recycled 162 g/m2 fleece fabric. But it has a good volume-to-weight ratio. The R1 Air is lightweight for how bulky it feels, which is good thing because that contributes lots of warmth.

Its zigzagging knit pattern is designed to boost breathability in a similar way to how grid fleece functions. We like how the zigzag valleys create less empty space than square grid fleece. This boosts breathability significantly with only a minimal hit to its insulative ability.

The hollow core yarns have a high warmth-to-weight ratio, adding thickness and insulation without weight.

This pullover hiking fleece jacket features a quarter zip for venting, and a sewn chest pocket. There’s no other features, and we appreciate its minimalism. Thumb loops are the only thing we would add.


Patagonia R1 Air is supremely comfortable, warm, and breathable. It is a great all purpose fleece that is responsibly designed. It’s a bit heavier than we prefer, but pays it back with added warmth.

Most Breathable Lightweight Fleece Jacket

The North Face FutureFleece LT Pullover

Perhaps one of the lightest and most breathable of all fleeces, we like The North FutureFleece LT Pullover for warm weather camping or exertion in the cool temps.

  • Price: $130
  • Weight: 5.1 oz
  • Fabric: FutureFleece LT Grid, Octa fiber, 100 g/m2
  • Pros: Ultralight. Ultra breathable.
  • Cons: Not very warm. Not the softest. No hood. Expensive.


Like its thicker, warmer sibling, FutureFleece LT has flat face fabric and a gridded interior. The grid is comprised of ¼ inch alternating squares of pile clusters and empty spaces. The clusters insulate while the empty spaces encourage breathability.

FutureFleece LT fabric weighs 100 g/m2. Which is lighter and less insulated than standard FutureFleece fabric, which weighs 124 g/m2. This can be seen in the gridded fabric clusters of LT, which are flatter and less voluminous compared to the protruding loop clusters of the standard 124 g/m2 FutureFleece fabric.

However, LT still reaps all of the benefits of Octa fiber. The hollow core and interlocking ridges creates microscopic pockets of dead air that have insulative properties. This improves warmth-to-weight.

At 5 oz, even juiced up by Octa Fiber, it’s FutureFleece LT still isn’t very warm. We think it’s comparably insulative to a mid or heavyweight merino wool base layer. Not a bad warmth-to-weight, considering comparable merino is almost twice as heavy.

Feature-wise, this is a super bare bones lightweight fleece jacket. The quarter zip vents and thumb loops secure the sleeves. That’s it.


FutureFleece LT is incredibly ultralight and supremely breathable. It breaks the chill, but it’s not warm enough to be an all-purpose backpacking camp fleece by itself. Great to wear while hiking in cool weather or camping in warm weather.

Most Innovative Lightweight Fleece Jacket

Polartec Alpha Direct Hoodies

Wearing a Polartec Alpha Direct Hoody is the equivalent of wrapping yourself in lightweight synthetic puffy jacket insulation that is uncontained by a shell. It is arguably too breathable, but offers a very high warmth-to-weight when combined with a wind breaker.

  • Price: $100
  • Weight: 4.5 oz
  • Fabric: Polartec Alpha Direct 90 g/m2
  • Pros: High warmth-to-weight. Extremely breathable. Comfy. Hood.
  • Cons: Not durable. Too breatahble. Requires windbreaker. Weird looking.


This bizarre insulation has been around for less than a decade, so if you aren’t up to speed on Polartec Alpha Direct, here’s the story. This fabric is constructed with a dense grid of high loft, super fuzzy fleece clumps. It was designed to be paired with an exterior shell fabric. The face fabric blocks wind, while the Alpha Direct insulates and wicks.

But when the ultralight cottage industry got a hold of this material, they divorced it from the shell and began selling garments of purely Alpha Direct, without any exterior shell.

The effect is a lightweight fleece jacket that is decently warm, but less wind resistant and more breathable than anything else you have ever experienced. In fact, it’s so breathable that most heat simple drifts off and dissipates in the slightest breeze, or even just as a result of the wearer walking. In that sense, they are more breathable than anything else.

However, when worn alone, Polartec Alpha Direct hoodies are not very warm. Again, they’re functionally too breathable. That’s why we recommend pairing them with a windbreaker, like the 3.7 oz Patagonia Houdini, or the 1.6 oz Zpacks Ventum.

When combined with a wind shell, Alpha Direct hoodies effectively becomes a build-your-own-puffy-jacket. The whole system weighs only 6-8 oz.


While they’re lots to gush about, Alpha Direct Lightweight Fleece Jackets have plenty of downside that we should call too. First, this is a fragile material that is not durable, nor used is it being used as-intended. We don’t expect mainstream brands to adopt it in a big way, since they would get too many customer complaints and warranty activations. What’s more, Alpha Direct can shed, which is harmful to the environment.

The knit grid on which the alpha direct clumps are affixed is a difficult base material to work with, which is why you are unlikely to see many features added to these garments. If you’re lucky, it might have a kangaroo pocket, but don’t expect zippers.


Alpha Direct is an exciting, potentially game changing replacement for hiking fleece jackets. When paired with a windbreaker, it delivers a higher warmth to weight. When worn by itself, it is more breathable than all other fleece. Downsides are its poor durability and the fact that it’s too breathable and requires a windbreaker to insulate.

Why fleece jackets should weigh 10 oz or less

Ten ounces of fleece jacket is all you need for 3-season hiking and backpacking. As a midlayer, fleece’s job is to ensure you are comfortable in cool temperatures while stationary, and comfortable in cold temperatures while also generating heat as you hike. A fleece hiking jacket is not responsible for keeping you warm while stationary in cold temperature; that is the job of your puffy jacket.

As an insulation material, down and synthetic batting are far superior to fleece in terms of warmth-to-weight ratio. Therefore, any insulation weight past what is needed for a lightweight fleece jacket to keep you comfortable while stationary-in-cool or moving-in-cold would be better dedicated to a puffy jacket.

Lightweight fleece jackets weighing 10 ounces or less sufficiently checks those boxes and is plentifully available. Therefore, we believe that midweight and heavyweight fleece serves little-to-no purpose for hiking and backpacking. It is very suboptimal.

Lightweight Fleece Jacket + Puffy vs Heavyweight Fleece

Hiker 1 has a Patagonia Better Sweater, a very popular heavyweight fleece that weighs 22.5 ounces. Hiker 2 has a North Face FutureFleece Hoodie that weighs 7.2 ounces, and a Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer puffy jacket that weighs 8.8 ounces, for a combined weight of 16 oz.

Stationary comparison: Hiker 1 can stay comfortable while stationary in their fleece down to 45 degrees. Hiker 2 can stay comfortable while stationary down to 55 degrees in their fleece, and comfortable down to 35 while stationary when wearing both their fleece and puffy.

On-the-move comparison: Hiker 1 can comfortably hike in their Better Sweater in temps ranging from 20-35, but any warmer than that and they will overheat. Hiker 2 can comfortably hike in their FutureFleece in temps ranging from 30-45, or add their ghost whisperer in for temps ranging from 10-30.

Comparison Results: Hiker 2 is carrying 29% less weight and is more comfortable across a significantly wider range of temperatures both while moving and while stationary.

In conclusion, the combination of lightweight fleece jacket plus a puffy jacket weighs less than heavyweight hiking fleece jacket, and outperforms it in all respects. While ten ounces is a slightly arbitrary cut off point, it is easy to remember, and a good line to draw in the sand. Any weight you are putting towards hiking fleece past 10 ounces would be better spent towards a puffy jacket.

Specific Considerations for Backpacking Fleece  

There are some minor differences between the how a lightweight fleece jacket is used on a day hike vs a backpacking trip. However, we feel that the differences are minor enough that was have not organized them separately in this guide. But there are three considerations worth calling out.

  1. Backpacking fleece should be extra light. Backpackers carry heavier packs than day hikers, and carry the weight over longer distances. Therefor, we recommend backpackers focus specifically on fleeces weighing less than eight ounces.
  2. Backpacking fleece needs to be versatile. If it’s too breathable, it won’t perform as well for hanging out at camp. If it’s too warm, you won’t be able to hike in it. Find a good all-around model.
  3. Hoods are more important. We prefer a backpacking fleece jacket with a hood to compensate for the fact that we usually sleep in hoodless quilts, rather than sleeping bags.

Best Chassis for a Lightweight Fleece Jacket

We’ve thought a lot about the ideal configuration of zippers and hoods that make the best lightweight hiking fleece jackets. For starters, we want to minimize the use of zippers as they add weight without warmth, additional cost, pressure points, and also create another failure mechanism.

It’s acknowledged that zippers add venting, but our preferred lightweight fleece jackets are sufficiently breathable, which means venting is of minimal benefit.

We frequently sleep in our fleece jacket, which is another reason to dislike zippers, as they can poke or rub uncomfortable. We prefer hoods, as they are nice for hiking in cool windy weather, weigh only an additional ounce or so, and add head insulation when sleeping with a hoodless quilt, and when worn over a hat, secure it down to your head nicely.

Lightweight Fleece Jacket Chassis Power Ranking

  1. Hoody, no zippers
  2. Quarter zip pullover, hoody
  3. Quarter zip pullover, hoodless
  4. Full zip hoody
  5. Full zip jacket, hoodless

Why We Prefer A Kangaroo Pocket

Given our druthers, we prefer a lightweight fleece jacket with a kangaroo pocket (which also means no full length zippers). A kangaroo pocket is optimal for the following reasons:

It is the best way to warm your hands, since each hand will radiate some amount of heat onto the other. A kangaroo pocket does not involve a zipper, which means your hands won’t scrape against metal. It saves weight, and it won’t ever rub while you have your hip belt on. A kangaroo pocket adds excess fabric over your core, which is an important insulation point and a good use of material.

Fleece Jacket Pocket Power Rankings

  1. Kangaroo Pocket
  2. Chest Pocket
  3. Separate Hand Pockets

Stretch, Moisture Wicking, Quick-Drying

All fleece is stretchy, moisture wicking, and quick drying by definition. While some lightweight fleece jackets exhibit more of these traits than others, we feel that the baseline of classic microfleece is good enough. We care more about optimizing for warmth-to-weight and breathability, as those traits have a bigger impact on how comfortable you will be while wearing the fleece in most situations.

All fleece is at least slightly stretchy. As hiking is mostly just walking with trekking poles, we don’t need to worry about big climbing reaches. Moisture wicking is of little importance to us as well, as we tend to do most of our hiking in long sleeve sun hoodies, so there is less opportunity for the fleece itself to pick moisture up directly off the skin.

Quick drying is perhaps the most important of these secondary traits, usually due to sweat. But once again all hiking fleece jackets, even inexpensive ones have a solid baseline when it comes to quick-drying.

While some lightweight fleece jackets might be more quick drying than others, we’ve never met a lightweight fleece that was “slow-drying” and think this isn’t a real problem. Rather, it’s something that marketing wants us to think is important.


Once more for good measure – Ditch those heavyweight fleeces! They are a bulky and very ineffective use of carried weight.

We hope you’ve found this buyers guide to lightweight hiking fleece jackets helpful, and we know you’ll love any of the options we’ve listed. They will keep you warm when stationary in cool temps or when active in cold temps. Happy hiking!


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