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Fleece Jackets: Which to Buy and What to Know First

This is our guide to the super soft (and slightly controversial) outerwear.

fleece jackets

You won't find a jacket much cozier than a fleece one. First championed by outdoor clothing brand Patagonia at the end of the 1970s through to the mid 1980s, faux sherpa fabric has revolutionized clothing. The man-made fabric was developed at an innovative textile factory called Malden Mills, which would eventually become Polartec. It used polyester to simulate the curly woolen coat shorn from sheep. It was a hit with the apparel industry and turned millions of people into fluffy lamb-people.

The curly fibers work by trapping warm air in thousands of pockets. Those pockets also cut down on fabric density, making it more lightweight than a traditional heavy wool coat. Today, you can hardly walk down the street in the fall without seeing someone wearing a fleece jacket. They're everywhere, and for good reason. Fleeces are one of the foremost garments spearheading the current gorpcore trend — aka fashion influenced by outdoor brands (i.e. The North Face, Patagonia, Arc'teryx, etc).But fleece jackets do come at a cost to the environment, research suggests.

Why Synthetic Fleeces Are a Problem for the Environment

Most fleece jackets are made from polyester. And polyester (aka polyethylene terephthalate) is plastic, which derives from a chemical reaction between air, petroleum, and water. But wait, I know. I can hear you now. People use plastic for everything. Why are fleece jackets the problem?

Due to their size, the microplastics fleece jackets shed are harder to corral. If you see a water bottle floating along the shoreline, you pick it up. Or, if there is a herd of them floating a few miles offshore, a conservation crew can scoop them with one swift sift. Microplastics usually measure out to no more than a few millimeters (five at max). For context, a pea is roughly 10 mm across. The tip of a pencil is roughly 1 mm across. They're hard to see and even harder to address. But, microplastics are everywhere.

What You Can Do About It

There's hope, though, for those of us who retreat to high-pile jackets whenever winter appears from around the bend. Studies have found that some jackets shed a whole lot the first time you wash it but then do so less abundantly with each subsequent wash. Sure, flushing a wad of microplastics away with the first wash isn't worth celebrating, but this leaves room for pre-treatments that could eliminate that initial shed. You could also bag your fleece during its first wash. There are mesh laundry bags that can trap the microplastics these kind of garments emit. If you're opposed to this extra step, buying a wool jacket is one way of avoiding it. Woolen jackets won't be washed the same way, and the material they do shed is natural.

The Best Fleece Jackets for Men

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    Best Overall Fleece Jacket
    Classic Retro-X Fleece Jacket

    The quintessential fleece jacket, Patagonia's deep-pile fabric is a favorite. The brand has gone through numerous fleece iterations including Synchilla and Woolyester, but deep-pile was revived for a reason. It's cozy as hell and looks great. The all-polyester fabric uses 50-percent recycled yarns and is wind-proof and super warm. Zippered hand pockets keep your belongings on your person while DWR-coated polyester paneling and storm-plackets and elastic hems and cuffs keep the weather at bay.

    Best Affordable Fleece Jacket
    Deep-Pile Fleece Jacket, Arctic
    Line of Trade

    Made from 100-percent polyester, deep-pile fleece, Line of Trade's Arctic Jacket is an incredible value for its price. It's substantial enough to serve as a standalone jacket during the tail end of winter, but light enough to survive those first few (sweltering) days of spring. Sadly, though, it's crafted entirely from man-made materials. You should definitely bag this one if you wash it.

    Best Upgrade Fleece Jacket
    English Wool-Blend Fleece Jacket
    Snow Peak

    Jack of all trades outdoors brand Snow Peak also makes apparel — along with their tents, kitchenware, fire pits and so on and so forth. Their fleece jacket is made in Japan from a blend of English wool and polyester and should be dry cleaned only. I prefer Snow Peak's because of how it fits: trim but not too tight and oversized without being too slouchy.

    Guppyfriend Washing Bag

    Here's the bag I keep talking about. You stuff your fleece inside it before you put it in the wash. It'll catch the microplastics it sheds.

    Sherpa Jacket
    Topo Designs

    Topo Designs transforms your stereotypical fleece jacket into a 2-in-1 coat with a quilted side. The jacket's entirely reversible, meaning you can wear the fleece side out when it's super chilly and the fleece side in whenever it's wet or rainy out. The fleece itself is DWR treated, though, so it'd survive some wetness if it came on unexpectedly.

    Greg Shell-Trimmed Fleece Running Jacket
    District Vision

    It's no question that most fleece jackets are planted firmly in the outerwear realm. Pioneered by Patagonia, the style remains mostly outdoors to this day, but there are modern brands pulling it closer to athletic and corporate settings as well. See: District Vision. Their Fleece Running Jacket is trim, lightweight and has a contrasting, high-vis waterproof pocket.

    Sherpa Colorblock Pullover
    Todd Snyder

    Available in sizes XS through XXL, this Todd Snyder sherpa pullover favors two traditional tan tones over bright color blocking and splashy accents. It's definitely more casual because of it, but the hem and cuffs are cinched to protect you against the cold — a feature adopted from more outdoors-centric iterations.

    Sherpa Fleece Jacket

    This handsome jacket comes from another storied outdoors brand, albeit one that's steeped in logging rather than tree-hugging. It features a high-pile fleece courtesy of Polartec that's actually a touch heavier than Patagonia's Retro-X. That said, it's still breathable and won't suffocate your skin. Other details include nylon reinforcements, as well as ribbed hems and cuffs.

    Winter Pass Printed Fleece Jacket

    This muted fleece from Columbia has a cool checkered pattern, plus a deep-pile exterior that rivals the best in terms of coziness. The inside's lined with micro-fleece, too, so there's softness on both the inside and out. You can choose from three versions of this pattern, too: green (seen here), black and traditional Buffalo plaid (red).

    Ridge Fleece 1/4 Zip
    The North Face

    This isn't The North Face's most popular fleece by any means — the Denali Jacket is — but it's the best (in my opinion). It has a zipper that runs halfway down the front, where a kangaroo pocket cuts it short. I love the pockets on most of my other fleeces, but they tend to bulge or weigh the whole thing down. The kangaroo pocket centralizes the weight and keeps the top truer to the shape of your body.

    Wool Fleece Jacket
    American Trench

    What sets American Trench's fleece apart from others? It's made from all-natural thick-pile wool. Polyester is only used on the backing, which makes a smooth (not soft like the front) interior against the skin. This option is far warmer than polyester but it requires special care. Made in the US by a small New Hampshire company, you should heed caution before washing this one — even dry cleaning. Ask a professional before proceeding in either direction. (I'd argue dry cleaning is OK but they may say otherwise.)

    Fleece Zip Jacket
    Sonder Supplies

    Fleece jackets, in my opinion, should be one or the other: super simple or overt and extreme. I don't love some of Patagonia's fleeces (Retro-X aside) because they live in this sort of middle ground. Sonder Supplies is definitely the former, but fittingly so. The entire thing is tonal: green fleece, green hardware, green plackets and a green logo.

    Warm-Up Fleece

    Battenwear makes what they call a Warm-Up Fleece, which is an oversized jacket with a plush polyester body, zipper pockets, an envelope-style chest pocket and both ribbed cuffs and a ribbed hem. It's soft, made in the US and it comes in several colors.

    Boa Fleece Jacket

    Like Patagonia's famed Snap-T, Gramicci's Pullover excels as both outerwear and a stylish layer. The Boa Fleece fabric is more chill than the some of the other options on this list, but that just adds to its versatility.

    More Jackets and Cozy Layers
    Taylor Stitch

    Explore the following guides to find more of our top jacket recommendations.

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