On three-season backpacking trips in the Mountain West, and on cooler trips elsewhere, I consider a fleece top like the REI Co-op Quarter-Zip Fleece Pullover ($45, 8 oz) to be an essential item. It serves two functions:
- As a second layer in brisk conditions (e.g. chilly mornings, windy ridges and peaks), when my hiking shirt isn’t sufficiently warm on its own; and,
- As a mid-layer in cool-and-wet or cold-and-wet conditions, worn between my hiking shirt and rain shell, to insulate me and to buffer any precipitation or perspiration that seeps through or is trapped by my rain gear.
A fleece is complementary to, not a replacement for, a high-loft jacket with down or synthetic insulation, such as the Patagonia Ultralight Down Hoody. That piece is useful for trapping body heat during inactivity, like during a rest stop or in camp.
For backpacking, the most desirable fleece is also perhaps the simplest. It should be made of 100- or 200-weight polar fleece (or similar), have a chest zip, and be sized to fit over a hiking shirt. That’s it. No full-length zips, pockets, water- or abrasion-resistant panels, wind-resistant membranes, or other extraneous features.
Update: The REI Quarter-Zip Fleece has been discontinued. A reliable substitute is the Patagonia Micro D Fleece Pullover, which has nearly the same materials and features, and a reasonable price tag for the source.
Review: REI Co-op Quarter-Zip Fleece Pullover
This $45 top — which is on sale now for just $22 — may be the benchmark for backpacking fleeces. It’s an exact match to my earlier description: 160-ish weight polar fleece, quarter-zip, and feature-less. My size Medium weighs 7.1 oz.
I purchased the Pullover for a yo-yo of the Pfiffner Traverse, a high route through Colorado’s Front Range that hovers between 10,000 and 12,000 feet in elevation, and used it daily. It was lovely for the mornings — when I would start hiking at 6 AM, temperatures had not warmed up yet, and the sun was often blocked by high ridges. It was also useful during a few afternoon thunderstorms, during which temperatures seemed to plummet.
Quite simply, there’s nothing more I want in a fleece top for backpacking. If I was willing to spend two- or three-times more, I could find a more high-performance fleece (e.g. hooded, more breathable fabric, or thumb loops), but it would not be two- or three-times better, or more applicable for 3-season conditions.
My only reservation in a full-throated endorsement of the REI Pullover is that I’m uncertain of its durability. After 1.5 weeks of hard use, it’s as good as new. But what about after 1.5 years? REI used a run-of-the-mill polar fleece fabric, which based on previous experience will result in reasonable durability. With extensive use the fabric will start to pill and thin, and eventually need replacement.
Own the REI Quarter-Zip Fleece Pullover? What’s been your experience with it?
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I’ve been so close to pulling the trigger on this over the past few weeks but I had questions about durability after seeing it in person and feeling the fabric. Given the choice, would you prefer a hooded version of this top or does that make it less versatile / harder to layer?
The fabric durability should be about average, since the fabric is about average. Expect pilling with moderate use, and over time the fleece will thin, especially in high-abrasion areas like under the shoulder straps. It happens, and I’m not convinced that higher-end fleeces will be substantially better.
For 3-season backpacking, I think a hood-less version is the way to go. Hoods and thumbloops are nice for a more winter-oriented fleece, but they’re overkill for the backpacking season.
My fiancee loves them for around the house. Can’t really speak to backcountry durability, but they are a great value. Unfortunately I had the zipper come apart on the first one I had but got a replacement for even cheaper than original cost at REI. My main complain is that the sleeves are a bit floppy. I can spend $20-$30 more on a northface fleece made of the same fabric, but it’s not important enough of an improvement to matter.
Sleeves are a bit floppy? Hmm, hadn’t noticed. Could you explain that more? I thought it was sized perfectly, in terms of overall volume and sleeve length.
I meant to say that the cuffs are a bit loose and prone to stretching out since they don’t appear to have a dedicated elastic. Reviewers on REI’s site describe them as “wizard sleeves”. I’m used to milsurp equivalents of the patagonia R1 grid fleece and it doesn’t have the same issue.
I can not find a reference to the weight of material on the REI website, it only says medium weight. When someone asked for more specifics, REI responded with
REIservice · 5 months ago
This is a lightweight fleece. It is equivalent to a 100 or 150 weight fleece.
Has the material changed, or is the 200 weight assessment an estimate?
It’s extremely similar in thickness to the Patagonia Micro D Fleece, which is spec’d at 4.7 oz per square yard, which equates to 160 grams per square meter. In the 100-, 200-, and 300-weight fleece vernacular, assume it’s something around 160. I would say it’s a good thickness for the Mountain West in 3-seasons, heavy enough to provide insulation but not thick and sweaty. In the East, you could use it as your sole insulating layer in the summer, since temps don’t drop much below the 60’s or 70’s at night.
How would you describe the fit? I am extra-medium-sized (American MD or a Euro/Athletic LG)… do you think I’d be better off sizing up or down?
I am a small US medium. The medium fits me well, not tight. I would describe it as a straight US medium. If you’re not sure, buy both and return one.
Sounds good, thanks.
I’ve got what sounds like the same fleece except purchased spring last year. I hiked the PCT with it. No major durability issues to speak of. Extremely minor pilling on the inside. Shoulders look fine (where pack would wear it out). I’d take a picture to show it, but you wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from the pictures on the REI site. Mine was closer to 8 oz if I recall correctly. I like my patagucci R1 as much as anyone, but the REI fleece is my backpacking layer.
I’ve gotten the kids version of these REI fleeces for my girls for years and they have cycled now through a number of kids with rough wear and no problems. I actually think they may (shockingly) wear better than my Patagonia fleece which was obviously a lot more $$$.
Aside from weight savings, are there other reasons you recommend a 1/4 zip instead of full zip?
Weight is a small factor. Bigger issue is rigidity of the zipper (unless you use a really light one, which is prone to breaking), and that it can’t be used easily with a sternum strap and hipbelt in the way.
Agree 100%. Bought two of these off the REI clearance rack last year and they are great for actual outdoor activities. My much more expensive Patagonia R1 has been retired to in-town use only. The cut of the R1 is better for people like me with long arms, but when actually moving around the sleeve length is not an issue for me.
Does the mean this fleece will be a replacement on your Core 13 list?
On a side note, I picked one up today myself, and it seems like it will be a great fleece. I’m thinking of doing Mt. Sherman here in about two weeks, and I’m definitely planning on bringing this!
Yes, I’ll have to update some links. The listed products should work fine too, but I can’t endorse them with first-hand experience.
Stopped by REI to pick one up today. None in the store and they appear to be a closeout online. Maybe they will be back in the spring but they are gone for now. Other suggestions?
If you’re a Costco member, you might try there. My local Costco just put out a tremendous amount of fall and winter clothing, including a few simple and inexpensive fleece pullovers.
Otherwise, try the TNF TKA Glacier 100, http://amzn.to/2ijcSRb, which has slightly thinner fabric.
Thank you for the reply.
Checked Costco today but our local store didn’t have anything in stock. The joy of Costco. Took a chance and ordered this option from Amazon: Columbia Men’s Klamath Range II Half-Zip Pullover Columbia (http://a.co/5C5aNev) There were too many reviews for TNF item suggesting it was a knockoff, at least on Amazon. The Columbia was cheaper too. We will see.
Mountain Hardware makes one. It isn’t shown directly on their website but if you search for MicroChill Lite it shows up. I used it for JMT last summer and loved it.
Unbelievable, they’ve chosen to stop selling this item
No, entirely believable.
That’s what these companies do. They invest a bunch of resources (time + capital) into making a product, and sometimes it turns out good: the design is solid and it has a legitimate end use. But higher-ups get impatient with sales or decide to change course, and everything gets thrown out, baby with the bathwater.
I have worked with a handful of brands, mostly not big players, and have witnessed several wholesale re-brands and countless start-from-scratch product lines.
There are some brands that are more consistent and patient, and not surprisingly they’re more successful. Think about how long Marmot Precip, Patagonia Capilene, and Montbell Superior Down have been around. They might change the materials, but they try not to mess with the purpose, performance, or price points.
Sounds like every industry in a way… higher ups that’re out of touch, change things to make it look like they’re doing something different, and then ruin a perfectly good thing
I was able to get Columbia Klamath Range II quarter zip pullovers at their outlet store in Cincinnati for $17.99. While I never secured an REI version, the Columbia seems to come pretty close based on what I have read here. I own five now and I practically live in them for work and play. Thanks to Andrew and his review.
Just snagged one of these in a Utah outlet this weekend! Cozy, warm, and only 7 ounces in men’s small. I went down from my usual medium sizing (6’0″ 160#) and the small is perfect – slim fit, good arm length, and just enough room to push the sleeves over my forearms when it gets warm.
Speaking of fleece, I wonder if you have any experience treating a shirt like this with Nikwax’s Polar Proof wash-in waterproofing? I tried it on a few fleece jackets, it added a little bit of weight after drying, and now they simply refuse to get wet, when before they acted like sponges. It also reads on the bottle that the treatment inhibits pilling which should extend the garment’s lifespan.
I have not tried to do that. Where I typically backpack, it’s semi-arid, so I rarely wish that my mid-layer had some water-resistance to it. When I need to stay dry, usually I’m putting my rain jacket on.
I have had an older version for over 12 years. Has fire spark holes and thin elbows but still my favorite. Zipper still works. Old version has small zippered key pocket near bottom right. Love it.
Will this be a good option for an extra layer on Marathon Mont Blanc 90 km? Will bring a 100g Haglofs windjacket and a TBD waterproof jacket as well (Mandatory) and most likely run in a thinner long sleeve or a short sleeve+arm warmers. Seems like it is less in the mandatory list than the CCC,don’t know why really. If the weather hits with wind, low temp and rain on the slow paced accents I want to be ready. I reccon it is a lot of thin fleece out there that let moister out but REI is not my first choice since i live i Europé. Any other suggestions? What is your view on merino/polyester blended layers…better when wet?
Here’s my gear list from 2017 UTMB, https://andrewskurka.com/2017/gear-list-utmb-obligatory-mandatory-personal-ultra-trail-mont-blanc/
Race conditions were generally cool and damp, with periods of light to moderate rain, and snow/slush on the passes. I opted to NOT carry this exact fleece because of pack volume constraints, instead going with a L/S shirt and windshirt because they were more packable. That combination worked fine, although for a wetter race the fleece would have been better.
Fleece is fleece. If you can find a fleece in Europe that weighs about 8 oz with a quarter-zip, that’ll be perfect. I can find these at wholesale clubs like Costco here, and cheap.
For this layer, I prefer synthetic fibers over wool. Wool is warmer when wet (but still not warm), but it absorbs much more moisture and gets much heavier. Synthetic fleece can be very easily wrung out if it gets really wet.
Thanks, that gave me some insight!
Yes, it was from your kit list I saw the shirt.
Ive been using fleeces by craghoppers, durability is outstanding! I still have the first one i bought 8 years ago and have abused this fleece.
Seems to be no longer available. Do you have a new choice?
Look for something with similar specs. It should not cost much, and there are a few other options out there. Shop the sales — fleece technology is not rapidly changing.