A backpacker uses a fleece instead of a jacket for a wide range of conditions. The ideal fleece is full zip, has no cotton, uses the micro grid design, has a hood, thumb holes, a zipping chest pocket, and breathes well. Weighs 6-10 ounces.
Finding the right fleece
A mainstay of backpackers these day is a hooded polyester fleece of some type. They dry quickly, breathe and are what you hike in when you need warmth.
You can wear them in weather down to the 20s while backpacking as your jacket layer with just a long sleeve wool t-shirt underneath and maybe your rain jacket as a wind shirt.
In buying a hoody it is easy to get something that you want to switch out (that is a euphemism for “you bought the wrong one and can’t wait to replace it”). A lot of fleeces are heavy. Some are heavy and not warm.
Some have weather resistant layers so that they don’t breathe, are heavy and aren’t that warm for the weight. Some lack a hood.
Before I started backpacking I owned a few fleeces. Early on I found myself with several fleeces. None of them were good choices for backpacking.
One was my cotton warm up jacket I’ve had for years and still wear around town. Couple-three pounds and if it gets wet it only gets dry in the dryer. That didn’t cut it for backpacking.
Another one was my workout fleece that I’m still using. So I didn’t waste any money (I already had it) and still love it. But no hood. No zip up pocket. Regular fleece instead of micro grid.
The kind of weave that is warmest and lightest is referred to as “micro grid.” Ideally it should have a zipping chest pocket your backpack doesn’t interfere with.
Micro grid weighs less, is warmer and breathes better. For after workouts none of those things are important to me. But when backpacking I’m surprised how much of an improvement it is.
I prefer a full length zipper so I can take it off while hiking without stopping to remove my backpack. The backpack kind of holds it there until I need it.
When I get cold I just put it back on.
If the wind is pulling the warmth off of me I use my rain jacket (my Packa now) as a windshirt. Rain gear can and should do double duty.
I really liked the Terramar Ecolater. I bought a couple for Happy and myself and they were great. When we went to get new ones we discovered they had been discontinued.
The link above is one of scores that show the Ecolater for sale, but admit it is out of stock. The link does show you what it is like. It has a hood, thumb holes to hold the sleeves over your hands, a zip pocket and a great weight.
The Marmot Men’s Neothermo Hoody has been discontinued. I just bought one from Amazon (using the affiliate link, of course) and got one of the women’s for Happy. However, colors and sizes are rapidly disappearing. By the time anyone reads this, I expect that they are all sold out, at least in a size that will fit an adult.
Also, to like the Marmot, you have to be ready to do without pockets for your hands. I’m on board with that, but many people are not. Especially for anything outside of through hiking.
Bottom line: the market was flooded with this particular item, at around seven ounces, in a perfect configuration for backpacking. As more and more people sold them, each manufacturer found they weren’t selling enough to justify keeping the product
The full zip is not the current trend for wearing around town—instead pullovers are. Bottom line is that everyone dropped their product in the full zip space and it has gone from flooded to empty as a market segment.
Further, micro grid without weatherizing fleeces pill a little more than other iterations. So manufacturers are tempted to surface them —adding weight but making them better for uses other than through hiking.
Anyway. That is why a perfect fleece is hard to find right now. I expect that will change again by next year, and when it does I’ll know exactly what I’m looking for.