Review: REI Quarter-Zip Fleece Pullover || Benchmark standard for $22

Wearing a 200-weight fleece atop 13,250-foot Mt Bancroft, where the wind was howling at 30 mph and temperatures were only in the 50’s.

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.

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?


Disclosure. I strive to offer field-tested information, insights, and advice, and I have a long-term incentive to be a trustworthy source. I do not publish sponsored content or native advertising, and I do not accept payments in exchange for reviews. I have no financial affiliations with or interests in any brands or products.

This website is supported by affiliate marketing, whereby in exchange for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors like REI or Amazon, at no cost to the reader. This post contains affiliate links.

Posted in , on July 25, 2017
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35 Comments

  1. Paul G on July 25, 2017 at 10:03 am

    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?

    • Andrew Skurka on July 25, 2017 at 11:24 am

      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.

  2. Daniel on July 25, 2017 at 10:48 am

    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.

    • Andrew Skurka on July 25, 2017 at 11:25 am

      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.

      • Daniel on July 25, 2017 at 11:42 am

        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.

  3. Matt on July 25, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    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?

    • Andrew Skurka on July 25, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      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.

  4. Alex Nosse on July 25, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    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?

    Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka on July 25, 2017 at 4:30 pm

      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.

  5. Matt on July 25, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    Sounds good, thanks.

  6. BCap on July 25, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    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.

  7. Val on July 25, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    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 $$$.

  8. Jennifer L Tislerics on July 26, 2017 at 5:42 am

    Aside from weight savings, are there other reasons you recommend a 1/4 zip instead of full zip?

    • Andrew Skurka on July 26, 2017 at 7:10 am

      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.

  9. Chris Smith on July 26, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    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.

  10. Jeramie Nielsen on July 26, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    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!

    • Andrew Skurka on July 28, 2017 at 2:19 pm

      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.

  11. Dax Blake on October 31, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    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?

    • Andrew Skurka on October 31, 2017 at 7:07 pm

      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.

      • Dax Blake on November 1, 2017 at 4:42 pm

        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.

  12. Brett Wallihan on March 26, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    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.

  13. Douche Packer on April 10, 2018 at 5:55 pm

    Unbelievable, they’ve chosen to stop selling this item

    • Andrew Skurka on April 10, 2018 at 7:31 pm

      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.

      • Douche Packer on April 16, 2018 at 4:19 pm

        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

  14. Dax Blake on April 16, 2018 at 6:44 pm

    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.

    • Paul G on June 10, 2018 at 11:33 pm

      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.

  15. Jari Perho on October 30, 2018 at 2:23 pm

    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.

    • Andrew Skurka on October 30, 2018 at 2:43 pm

      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.

  16. Brad on December 14, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    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.

  17. Fredrik Backlund on January 17, 2019 at 5:42 am

    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?
    Thanks

    • Andrew Skurka on January 17, 2019 at 8:11 am

      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.

      • Fredrik Backlund on January 20, 2019 at 12:09 pm

        Thanks, that gave me some insight!
        Yes, it was from your kit list I saw the shirt.
        Best regards!

  18. Brian Vinci on March 20, 2019 at 6:25 pm

    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.
    https://www.craghoppers.com/us/corey-v-half-zip-fleece-firth-red-platinum-black/

  19. Bob Nunnink on June 11, 2019 at 4:49 am

    Seems to be no longer available. Do you have a new choice?

    • Andrew Skurka on June 12, 2019 at 3:50 pm

      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.

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