Choosing the right fleece for your needs can prove a nightmare, especially as so many different manufacturers offer multiple types of garment.
Many of today’s fleeces are specialised technical products, with quality materials and superb construction the norm. Having said that, it is all too easy to head to the rack carrying the warmest possible models. That’s fine if you are sitting around a campfire at night and wanting to keep off the chill, but if you plan on wearing it for active pursuits, then you might want to consider a fleece that will work well as part of a layering system. In that way you can add or remove items of clothing as the elements change.
As well as offering varying degrees of warmth, most fleeces offer excellent breathability, so, thankfully, those days are long gone when you could feel the sweat trickling down your back. Having said that, increased breathability can also lead to a lack of resistance to rain, so bear that in mind. If the plan is to use the fleece solely as a top layer around town or for travelling, then consider a wind-resistant model.
As for key features, more fleeces are now sporting hoodie options, adding versatility to the jacket (check out the excellent Columbia Altitude Aspect Full Zip Hoody, the Paramo Ostro and the Fjallraven Ovik below). Aside from the most basic of styles, you will be hard pressed to find a fleece without some configuration of handwarmer pockets. I have found that a Napolean/chest pocket is always a bonus. Thumb loops also come in handy, as they stop the sleeves from riding up the arms. Aesthetics possibly head the list, so remember that if you only plan on wearing your new fleece as a casual accessory, then all those technical features that help bump up the price will play second fiddle to a good fit. – Michael Cowton
COLUMBIA ALTITUDE ASPECT FULL ZIP HOODY
The Altitude immediately caught my eye, not only due to the introduction of two new colourways, but also for its attractive styling. I appreciate one should not always be drawn by looks – I have fallen foul of that a few times – but the Altitude, simply by its design and feel, is going to pass muster. Capable of resisting both light rain and stains, the fleece is crafted from thick, warm, sweater-face fleece, with the added bonus of an Omni-Shield water-repellent woven overlay on the hood and collar. Features include hand pockets, a zip-closed security chest pocket, drawcord adjustable hem, and a woven overlay around the neck, so comfort is guaranteed. The polyester and elastane double weave twill has been designed in an active fit, and suffice it to say you get an awful lot of fleece for your money. £90.
I often find it remarkable how manufacturers can package so much into a product which then packs down into its own pocket. Take, for example, the lightweight, wind resistant, water-repellent Páramo Ostro. Made from Nikwax Windproof fabric, the clean, functional design includes a close-fitting hood and five pockets lined with mesh pump liner to help move moisture. The top has an off-centre zip, which avoids bulk when layering and is comfort around the mouth area; a curved back hem which is great for protecting the lower back from chill winds; and cuffs which can easily be pushed up the arm. Back to the multitude of pockets: you have a zipped, secure internal chest pocket which has been sized to carry a compass or small valuables; two handwarmer pockets with one-way concealed zip; and two internal drop pockets. The Ostro has been designed to be combined with the Ostro windproof jacket.£125, www.paramo-clothing.com.
In mid-Sept, Páramo will have the new Ostro Plus Fleece joining the range, to sit alongside the Ostro Fleece and Windproof Combo, providing a colder weather option. Retailing at £160, the men’s Ostro Plus and women’s Alize Plus Fleece are constructed from new, ultra water-resistant high loft Nikwax Fleece+, and are not only soft and comfortable to wear, but also functional and versatile. The close-fitting ‘ninja’ hood fits snugly under a helmet, while the asymmetric zip prevents bulk and discomfort around the chin.
FJALLRAVEN OVIK FLEECE HOODIE
Keeping names firmly planted on the home front – Ovik is the nickname of Fjallraven’s hometown Ornskoldsvik – the company has created the Ovik family of versatile and robust products for general outdoor life. Enter the functional and cosy fleece jacket with a knitted exterior and a soft brushed inside. The Ovik Fleece Hoodie works as an insulating mid layer under a shell, and for everyday wear kicking around the house. Features include a fixed hood with drawcord adjustment; two spacious zipped pockets; elastic binding at the sleeve cuffs; and drawcord adjustment at the hem. The front zipper has a protective flap in G-1000 original to help protect the chin, and the elbows, hem, pockets and inside of the edge of the hood also benefit from G-1000 with its extra durability. The fleece and mesh linings of the pockets are made from recycled polyester and produced using an environmentally friendly process that both spins and dyes the fibres at the same time, leading to much lower levels of water and energy consumption compared to traditional dyeing techniques. £130.
VAUDE ME SMALAND
A light, quick drying, polyester fleece, which can be zipped into an outer shell. Features include two front pockets, stand-up collar, drawcord at the bottom hem, adjustable through pockets, contrasting flatlock seams in the front and back. The Smaland is a Green Shape guaranteed Vaude eco product, which guarantees a functional, environmentally friendly product made from sustainable materials. £59, www.vaude.com
I once heard of a member of the public who entered an outdoors store, looking to buy a waterproof jacket for his wife. He went through the rack, checking item after item, until he landed on one particular product which had all the features he was looking for. Did he buy it? No, because he said it wasn’t manufactured by Berghaus. That says a lot for the brand, but it also says a lot more about some people’s buying habits. I have been reviewing gear for the past seventeen years, and I happily admit to being a Berghaus fan during all of that time. However, I do not wear blinkers, and am happy to criticise brands when necessary. Happily, this is not one of those occasions, for the Stainton has all the hallmarks of a traditional fleece, being classically styled, warm and durable. Weighing in at around 355g, the Stainton has a full-zip closure and will suit casual countryside walkers. £65.
SNUGPAK IMPACT FLEECE SHIRT
This pullover-style brushed fleece top has a half-length zip with a high neck-warming collar, and benefits from an anti-pilling finish on both sides. Moisture-wicking and breathable, this is a warm, cosy mid layer which can be worn throughout the year, as it is perfect for either layering or worn on its own. Being lightweight, it is a good one to wear whilst on the move. Classed as unisex, you may have trouble holding on to it from the other half. £24.95.
DIDRIKSONS MONTE MICROFLEECE USX
This polyester knitted, breathable, soft fleece sweater is classed as ‘ECO progressive’, being manufactured in recycled. It has a front zipper, and can be used both separately or as a thermal layer underneath a shell. £40, www.didriksons.com
DIDRIKSONS DEW USK
Not exactly a fleece, I admit, but I thought I would throw this into the mix, as it is manufactured in polyester, and comfort and warmth come courtesy of a brushed tricot lining. The Dew Usk benefits from an ergonomic fit, zipped hand pockets and cuff thumb-holes. In case you were wondering, the woven taped breast pocket matches the fabric of Didriksons’ Arcus Jacket. £170, www.didriksons.com
Regatta’s lightweight and warming Montes mid-layer is made of mini stripe microfleece which is soft to wear, and benefits from being easily packable into a daypack. It features a raglan sleeve design, a warming stand collar, quarter zip and Regatta embroidery on the chest. £30.
This breathable, polyester knitted sweater has a zipper and two pockets up front, as well as thumb loops at the cuffs. £55, www.didriksons.com
SHERPA KARMA ZIP TEE JACKET
Sherpa’s Adventure Gear Collection features technical fabrics and innovative designs, and includes this performance and comfort-driven Karma, which is both quick drying and breathable. With a side entry, Napolean chest pocket, the seams are placed off the tops of the shoulders and hips to prevent chafing when wearing a pack. The Karma Collection carries the Bluesign, environmentally friendly label. – Side-entry Napoleon chest pocket. £40.
Stuck for what to wear under your fleece…
Didriksons Janne USX Polo is made from 100 per cent cotton knit, functional fabric, which rapidly wicks perspiration and moisture to the surface. £tbc, www.didriksons.com
Mammut Trovat Tee is equipped with exclusive ‘drirelease’ material, which provides moisture management when you need it most. The antimicrobial FreshGuard treatment also prevents unpleasant odorus. £38.
Royal Robbins Vista Chill Plaid (l/s) Shirt is made from a blend of cotton and polyester and Wick-ed Cool (great name!). Available in several colours, I particularly like the crimson. The shirt features ultra-wicking fibres with cooling treatments that actively cools the skin, and I have found this perfect for trekking and travel. £60, www.royalrobbins.co.uk