Every hiker should own a decent fleece mid-layer or base layer for two main reasons: durability and warmth. They are thin enough to be breathable, light enough to not add that much extra weight and warm enough for chilly summits and cooler nights camping.
A fleece layer offers a full range of motion, which makes them best for heavy activity in cooler weather. Fleece also absorbs less than 1% of its weight in water, which means it dries very fast AND is more resistant to water.
You'll see us wearing a fleece layer out on a trail run, mountain biking, under a puffy in the snow, curling up in our sleeping bag, on a boat or hanging by a windy body of water. In our opinion, it's an all-season layer and in this gear review we'll dive into our top 6 Micro Grid Fleece options out there. Every piece we reviewed is a great alternative to the coveted, but overhyped (unpopular opinion) Melanzana Micro Grid Fleece Hoodie.
Here are some features to focus on when looking for the best hiking micro grid fleece for backpacking:
Weight: Ideally you want something under 14 ounces if you’re looking to maximize your weight:warmth ratio.
Hood: A feature that adds to the weight and overall price of the product, but the increases are usually minimal and the added warmth in exchange is worth it. If a hood is on your checklist, make sure it is well fitted or has a cord adjustment so it stays in place while moving and keeps out cold drafts. Almost all of the micro grid fleece hoodies we listed are hooded.
Fit: This category is truly up to personal preference, but a slim (not tight) fit is actually best to minimize cold and dead airspace. A trimmer fit can also save you weight and reduce bulk. Since you’ll most likely be using this as a midlayer, you’ll only have a base layer underneath, so there is not much justification for a loose fit.
Material and Micro Grid Pattern: Many of the best and fan favorite backpacking fleeces are made with micro grid fleece fabric. A popular manufacturer of this is Polartec micro grid fleece. Polartec dominates the fleece market and is well known for their quality and innovative textiles, however there are a number of other manufacturers with comparable quality. For example, I know Youer uses their own custom recycled poly grid fleece. The grid pattern improves wicking, breathability and air circulation by providing more air space against the body than “standard” fleece, which helps with temperature and moisture management.
Zipper: A full-zip jacket or hoodie can be easy to take on and off, which creates quick ventilation. However, the zipper also adds to the overall weight and creates a cold spot down the middle of the jacket. Pullovers can be more of an annoyance to take on and off but no zipper means less heat loss. Half-zips are a good middle ground option, but we have also found that a perfectly fitted pullover does the job well and is super comfortable when the temps are right and it’s the only layer you need.
Pockets: Kangaroo pockets work well and seem to be the most common option out there. Zippered pockets tend to be the most functional. But, having pockets mostly matters if you plan to wear your micro grid fleece around camp or on trail.
We've listed these in order of the overall score given (10 being the highest).
Full Disclosure: we absolutely LOVE all of these pullovers and have worn each of them on numerous occasions. It was very challenging to not give them all a 10/10.
You could also tweak the order based on what you're looking for...activewear, loungewear, ultralight, ultra warmth, etc. That being said, you'll see some pros, cons and preferred activities that we've used each hoodie for highlighted below.
1. Best Hybrid - On and Off Trail
Weight: 10.6oz - Women's XS
Materials: Polyester, Spandex and Polartec Power Grid
Pros: Thumb holes, hoodie drawstring, built in neck gaiter, semi-wind resistant outer material, colors offered on website are awesome, warm and well constructed.
Cons: Not the warmest out of all the options but comes in at a close 2nd. Less fitted than other options.
Activities: Mountain biking, running, hiking, cross-country skiing.
Seasons / Weather: Fall, Winter, Spring (semi-wind and rain resistant)
Overall Score: 9.5/10
2. Most Athletic & Wind-Rain Resistant
Brand: Hiker Hunger Outfitters
Weight: 10oz to 13oz - 10oz Women's S
Materials: Micro Grid Fleece Inner, Spandex/Polyester Outer
Pros: SUPER warm, rain and wind resistant, hand mitts, thumbholes, comes in two different fits (athletic and standard), most affordable, zipper pocket for small items.
Cons: No kangaroo pocket, slightly heavier than other options.
Activities: Running, hiking, mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing, cycling and more.
Seasons / Weather: Fall, Winter, Spring (wind and rain resistant)
Overall Score: 9/10
3. Most Customizable & Colorful
Brand: SAMBOB Biz
Weight: 10oz - Men's M
Materials: Lightweight Polartec Gridded Fleece
Pros: So buttery soft, fun colors, unique front pockets that are HUGE (almost like a kangaroo pocket but not connected in the middle), fun buttons and collar, nice fitted cuffs.
Cons: No thumb holes, wouldn't consider this one activewear for working out but definitely perfect for heading into town, lounging around the house or a campfire. No hoodie.
Activities: Walking, hanging around the house, in the backyard or a hammock.
Seasons / Weather: Spring, Summer, Fall
Overall Score: 9/10
4. Best Patterns
Weight: 7.6oz - Women's XS
Materials: Custom Pillow Line Fleece
Pros: Super cute pattern and color combos, thumb holes, kangaroo pocket, women’s cut, spandex on sides and sleeves (gives it a bit more movement), fun buttons and built in neck gaiter. Women owned business.
Cons: Material becomes rough feeling after washing, not very warm in the wind.
Activities: Running, hiking, going into town and beach walks.
Seasons / Weather: Spring, Summer
Overall Score: 8.5/10
5. Best Warmth:Weight Ratio
Brand: Burgeon Outdoors
Weight: 7.5 to 10oz - 7.8 oz for Women’s Small
Materials: Micro grid fleece
Pros: Super soft and fuzzy, large hood, airy neckline, kangaroo pocket, and nice fitted shape. Retail store in New Hampshire!
Cons: Drawstrings on hoodie quite long and not the best material, no thumb holes, thicker fleece material (this could be a pro and a con).
Activities: Cycling, mountain biking, hiking
Seasons / Weather: Fall, Winter, Spring (very warm)
Overall Score: 8.4/10
6. Best Ultralight
Weight: 8oz - Women’s XS
Materials: Custom Micro Grid Fleece
Pros: Really light and thin grid fleece, different colors, kangaroo pocket w/lining
Cons: No thumb holes, pocket lining isn’t super soft to keep your hands warm
Activities: Cycling, hiking, hanging around the campfire or playing frisbee in the backyard.
Seasons / Weather: Fall, Winter, Spring
Overall Score: 8.3/10
You really can't go wrong with any of these options! Each one is created and manufactured with the upmost care to design and quality from companies that build communities of outdoor culture and believe the great outdoors and its beauty should be accessible to all.
We'd LOVE to hear what you think. If you currently own outdoor apparel for any of these brands, leave a comment below! Stay cozy & happy trails!
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