What better way to meet the coming cool weather than with a warm and fuzzy fleece jacket?
But when it comes to all the names, styles, prices and features, it’s easy to get lost in the avalanche of choices.
Patagonia clothing company’s Corey Simpson said via email, “Fleece has been a long standing go to insulation layer for our customers and friends.
“The market has an incredible amount of fleece choices for consumers. North Face, Arctery’x, Patagonia, Mountain Hardware, all these brands offer some great choices at various weights and warmth ratings.”
But Simpson says, “The devil is in the details in many of these products. Some have small points of difference while others have large gaps in difference.”
First let’s look at the basics. One way to compare fleece is by the weight of the fabric.
“A typical way to think about it is this: the lighter the weight the less thermal value you will get but you will be able to do high output activities in cold weather in this weight. The higher/heavier the weight the more warmth you will get but the activity level will diminish a bit.”
Mountain Outfitters, a first-rate outdoor store in Monteagle, owner Hayes Burnett recently offered the Times a guided tour of the range of quality outerwear.
He explained that fleece garments are often rated as 100-, 200- and 300 weight.
Burnett offered examples of various styles in each of Patagonia’s weight range. He said that the light 100-weight fleece makes a good insulation layer, while the heavier 300-weight line is nearly windproof and can be used in relatively cold weather as a stand-alone garment.
Brands have their own names for the designation. Patagonia has the Regulator line in R1 (100), R2 (200) and R3 (300) options. The North Face line offers a TKA (Thermal Kinetic Advancement) that simply is designated TKA 100, 200 or 300.
Simpson describes Patagonia’s R1 Hoody as “an iconic layering piece for Alpine climbing and backcountry skiing. It provides enough warmth to keep you comfortable but breathes well.”
R3 is a plush, high-loft fleece that maximizes warmth in deep cold with minimal weight. It has Polartec PowerDry side panels for an improved technical fit. R2 is a short-sheared, high-loft fleece with R1 panels to improve fit and mobility for extended comfort on long approaches, ice climbs and ski tours. Its fur-like fibers offer superior warmth and lightweight breathability.
R1 is minimally designed and finely tuned for the full spectrum of mountain endeavors. Its high/low grid fabric traps heat to insulate and moves moisture off the skin.
Standing out in wind proofing and warmth, the R4 is the warmest Patagonia technical fleece, with a stretchy wind-proof laminate sandwiched between a high-loft exterior and an R2 grid interior.
Cheap does not
“Looking at the price of any garment often offers a case of literal sticker shock. With a name brand fleece, the companies that we like to work with are usually more expensive, but the garments usually last longer. Also, the way they make the garment has a much smaller footprint on the environment.”
Burnett said it’s better to spend a bit more on a garment and get one that will last through the years rather than getting a new one each year.
“Buy it once with quality instead of buying a fleece every year, and you get a fleece that will last, say, eight years. In the long run, it saves you money.”
Burnett said that while the shop offers more expensive brands, it offers the best price on those brands as well.
Simpson agrees, “Patagonia’s top design priority is quality and function. Fleece has been a long standing go-to insulation layer for our customer’s and friends.”
Brands like Patagonia and The North Face offer details that stand above generic fleeces.
The R1 hoodie that Simpson mentioned is made from Polartec Power Grid fabric. What that means is the fleece is a grid of the high/low grid interior that is lighter and more breathable.
According to the manufacturer, it stretches, traps heat and compresses to stow in a back pack.
Other features not in a generic hoodie is a snug-fitting balaclava-style hood, with a soft zipper garage for more chin comfort, a Variable Conditions Cuff with discreet on-seam thumb loops and a spiral-stitch construction that accommodates pushing up the sleeves. The shoulders are sewn with off-shoulder seams for pack-wearing comfort.
Putting it together
Whether it’s climbing towards high camp on K2 or exploring your back yard with your dog, layering is best way to stay warm.
“The number one thing that we like to start with is layering,” Burnett said. “Layers trap the most air pockets, so instead of one huge jacket, we like to have three smaller jackets layered on top of one another.”
Breathability is key to the system. Breathable layers keep you from sweating (and getting chilled by that sweat) even if you are warm.
He warned to leave cotton garments at home.
“Cotton is an amazing material when you’re in your house lounging around, but as soon as cotton gets wet it actually takes heat away from your body.
“If you are at any outdoor venue at all, cotton is not your friend.”
Polyester fleece is great for wicking and exceptional for breathability; it’s the inner and outer layers that allow those qualities to shine.
Burnett suggests a breathable rain shell for a top layer in wet or snowy weather and to start with a base layer like Patagonia’s Capilene polyester base layer.
Still lost with layering choices? Before heading out to shop look at a kit builder on Patagonia’s website. The free guide shows various choices grouped by weather and exertion, or look for kits put together for specific destinations or activities. You don’t have to buy anything, and the interactive site will help you visualize your kit.
How It Works
Polartec’s fleece is considered a leading fleece fabric.
According to the company what makes the fabric the hallmark of fleece design is that it has a lofted fiber structure that creates thermal air pockets to prevent convective heat loss and regulate core warmth. This breakthrough design construction provides the highest warmth per weight ratio for insulating materials while remaining highly weather resistant, durable and soft to the touch.
A soft double-sided face gives fleece the versatility to integrate with layered systems, whether worn directly against the skin or on top of other fabrics. The hydrophobic properties further enhance the inherent ability to repel water, resist saturation and dry quickly.
Mountain Outfitters is located at 903 W. Main St. Monteagle.