In the roughly four decades since Polartec and Patagonia invented fleece, the fluffy fabric has become ubiquitous. Patagonia enlisted the materials manufacturer back then to create an alternative to wool and cotton, something that would be lightweight yet warm and stay that way even when it got wet — something to wear in the mountains. Outdoor gear designers still love fleece for these reasons, and though style brands have made the stuff ubiquitous, it's outdoor gear designers that continue making it better.
Earth-Friendly Fabric: Houdini Mono Air
We've long been aware that the ocean is full of plastic trash, but the prevalence of microplastics, plastic particles smaller than five millimeters, is a somewhat more recent reality check. They can come from personal care products or broken down bits of larger plastic, but they also fray off synthetic clothing — think polyester, think fleece — when we wash it.
Houdini designed its Mono Air collection, which features a zip-up hoodie and a quarter-zip pullover, to address the issue. The fleece fabric that makes up each garment consists of little square pockets that hold fibers in a design that reduces microfiber shedding by 80 percent. It's made from recycled polyester and is recyclable itself. It's no surprise that Polartec is behind this new type of fleece fabric, which it calls Power Air Light.
Fuzz with Room to Breathe: Patagonia R1 Air
Patagonia made its first fleece jackets from fluffy pile, but some of its most popular today are its lighter technical variants. Its R1 is beloved by adventurers for its versatility as a layer, but Patagonia isn't one to rest on its laurels for too long. In early 2021 it will reveal a new version of the R1 called R1 Air.
Like its predecessor, the new fleece is lightweight and warm, even when it's wet. It looks similar too, but for a zig-zag pattern that gives it a sweater-like appearance. But that pattern, along with the hollow-core yarn it's made of, make the R1 Air more breathable and faster-drying. It's also more fleecy, by which we mean that it's softer. And that translates to a technical fleece that casual wearers will love too.
Waterproofing That Sticks: Spyder Fleeces With Empel
Typically, durable water repellent (DWR) treatments are applied to fabrics after they're woven. They make water roll off in beads, but they can lose their potency with time and use (though they're easy to reapply, DIY style). They're not for everything either — stick them onto something soft, and it can get stiff.
This year, however, Spyder is professing a solution to both issues. Its new Alps and Boulder fleeces use Empel, a PFC-free waterproofing treatment applied to the fiber, not the fabric. Spyder claims the process creates a permanent molecular bond that won't wear or wash out, and Empel's elastic properties mean these fleeces are as soft and cozy as ever.