walkhighlands


Gear test – Hooded fleece

Peter MacfarlaneLast winter I did a roundup of various midlayers and some of the feedback I got was that plain old fleece still has a lot of fans. This includes myself by the way, more often than not you’ll find me in a microfleece of some sort as its versatile, quick drying and low bulk which means it layers well. With these thoughts in mind I put together this review, but because it’s coming out in early winter I added in another favourite feature of mine: a hood.

A fleece hood done well replaces a hat as it’ll move with your head and not obscure your vision, it’ll pull up and down easily and it’ll fit under a waterproof’s hood without causing you grief or getting you into a fankle with too many adjustment cords hanging around your face.

There’s a variety of styles here and it’s down to personal preference which might work best for you be it full zip or pull-on, no pockets or many pockets, close fitting or relaxed and the fabrics are all very different too.

The size and fit comments on the men’s samples are in regards to my 5’11” average size large frame and the women’s fit will be explained in the text from feedback by my fellow tester, Joyce Macfarlane (yes, we’re related).

I took all the weights and prices are all RRP, shop around folks.

HF4

ArcteryxArc’teryx Covert Hoody

£140.00
618g
Women’s version available

When I sent out requests for submissions for this review a few less technically designed suggestions came back which I was interested in largely to see if they were just a branding exercise or if these less technical designs were still good for the outdoors, the Covert Hoody is one of these.

The Covert is a relaxed fit, not baggy but there is room for another midlayer under it and I’ve been wearing a t shirt and sweatshirt under it as the temperature has dropped recently. The more casual fit still lets me be pretty mobile with just a little hem lift if I put my arms straight up but the body is quite short so it’s never going to work the best with a bigger pack featuring a hip or waist belt. But for days out on easy trails with a little pack and general use the Covert is excellent, it’s warm and comfortable with big hand warmer pockets and the main zip comes up nearly to my nose for extra winter cosiness. The hood is simple with no adjustments but moves very well with my head, there’s a little stretch pocket on the sleeve and the cuffs and hem are lycra bound. The fabric is thick, with a knitted look to the outer and brushed inner with a heather finish to complete the old woolly jumper look. It has a bit of wind resistance and does wick and dry as you’d expect in a technical design.

The Covert won’t see any winter Munros, but Conic Hill, the Kilpatrick Hills and the mayhem of an outdoor Christmas market are all within easy reach for it.

Black DiamondBlack Diamond CoEfficient Hoody

£129.00
376g
Women’s version available

The CoEfficient is a very simple design with just a single good sized mesh chest pocket and a full length zip. The cuffs are in a lighter stretch fabric so they don’t bulk up under other layers and work great with winter gloves. The hood is close fitting, it zips up to my top lip and moves perfectly with my head, either zipped up or loose. The overall fit is slim and the body is very long for a modern mountain top. It covers my backside, works perfectly with a pack belt and doesn’t flinch when I lift my arms with the good shoulder articulation. The fabric is a light Polartec Powerdry which has a soft gridded inner face to trap warmth and wick sweat away to the smooth outer where it does dry fast. The fabric has a good bit of stretch so the close fit doesn’t feel restrictive, but as there’s no wind resistance this is a very much a layering piece in winter. Under a waterproof its low bulk and sweat management work very well. A nice feature is the microsuede inner collar, feels great on a sweaty neck.

BerghausBerghaus Pravitale

£80.00
526g
Women’s version available

The Pravitale is a beefier feeling fleece with a thick stretchy fabric which has a smooth outer and soft brushed inner to wick sweat away. There’s a little bit of wind resistance from the outer face and it’s a warm fleece too. The main zip comes up to my chin and the hood is a good fit which moves very well with my head. There’s a little built-in articulation around the neck which allows the movement and means the hood never feels tight even when I look hard to the side. There are two low set zipped pockets which are fine as hand warmers and storage of soft or squashy items when you’re wearing a pack hip belt. There’s also a little upper arm pocket for lip balm or other wee niknaks.

The fit is neat but not too slim and the length is very good too. The long sleeves have thumbloops which disappear if you don’t use them die to a neat design and there’s a draught flap behind the main zip. It does the job and feels like a proper mountain jacket.

DidriksonsDidriksons Bora

£60.00
472g
Men’s version available

The Bora is another more casually styled fleece made in a knitted polyester fleece with a soft brushed inner. It breathes and dries well but has no wind resistance with quite an open knit to the fabric. There are two open hand warmer pockets and two inner poachers’ pockets. The main zip goes up the chin and the relaxed fit hood can be cinched in with a drawcord to move better with your head. There are thumbloops at the cuffs and the arms are a good length, as is the body. Articulation isn’t the best with some hem left with a high reach but this really is an all-round use fleece, not a mountain fleece so there were no complaints from my tester who enjoyed the fabric, the warmth and a fit that was just right, not too skinny as some athletic tops can be or squared off as most unisex designs tend to be. Another one for easy trails and the summits of the high street.

FjallravenFjallraven Abisko

£150
468g
Women’s version available

The Abisko is immediately cosy when you pull it on and to me it feels the warmest fleece in the review. It’s not heavy feeling although the fabric is thick; it has a smooth outer with a brushed inner, has a good bit of stretch to it and does feel light to wear. There’s no wind resistance to speak of so if the warm fabric does get me sweaty it does wick away and dry fast and the Abisko does layer well under a shell on cold days, it’s not a sweat box at all. The fit is on the slightly relaxed side of neat, with long arms with thumbloop cuffs and a decent length to the body.

There are two huge low-set open handwarmer pockets with corresponding poacher’s pockets inside and a single huge zipped chest pocket. The main zip goes up to just under my bottom lip so when zipped up I can stick my chin out or keep it in, when there’s a blizzard blowing past your face these wee things suddenly seem very important. The hood is simple and is a good fit which moves well with my head. It’s a little looser around my lower face than most which some folk will like as it feels a lot less enclosed fully zipped up than with some other hoods. It feels a little old school, it’s those big open pockets maybe, but its winter Munro ready.

HaglofsHaglofs Rando Stretch Hood

£120.00
450g

The Rando is apparently aimed at the ski mountaineering folk, but it looks and feels like a walkers and climbers fleece so here it is. The first thing is the length with the longest body in the review, completely covering my backside. The fit is neat too so no extra fabric bunching up and it doesn’t ride up on my when I wear it. The stretch fabrics help the close fit to feel unrestrictive and there are two different weights of fabric inhere too. The heavier weight is across the chest, most of the arms and the hood and has some wind resistance with a lighter elsewhere. This works well on my back where a pack keeps the wind off and it gets sweaty anyway and also of the cuffs where the low bulk fabric layers well with gloves. The cuffs also have well shaped thumbloops and the arms are nice and long. The hood is a good fit, quite neat fitting and it moves very well with my head and the main zip just covers the bottom of my chin. There are two zipped mesh chest pockets, one a good size and one a bit bigger with a longer zip and a key loop inside. Must be a skiers thing?

The fabric is excellent, very comfy, fast wicking and dries well. The closer fit means the Rando layers well and those pockets work very well under a shell jacket as you can get at them without unzipping yourself to get at them.

IcebreakerIcebreaker Atom

£160.00
446g
Women’s version available

We’re used to merino base layers but technical merino midlayers are less common on the hill. I’ve tested a few over the years and worn with a merino base layer a heavier mid seems to build me a cold weather microclimate that takes the sting out of wind and keeps me comfy across a good range of conditions and temperatures even with merino’s slower drying times compared to synthetics. The Atom mixes merino with nylon for durability and a little spandex for stretch while staying light and soft. It’s a warm and very breathable fabric and dries pretty well with a smooth outer face and a fuzzy brushed inner. The slim fit layers under a shell very well and the body and arms are a good length.

The cuffs have thumbloops and the two low set zipped pockets are a good size. I thought the inner pocket bags were going to be usable poacher’s pockets but there’s a gap in the stitching so small items will fall out, you have been warned. There’s a small zipped chest pocket which is very stretchy, so it’ll take a beanie hat with some persuasion. The hood is double fabric which keeps the worst of wind off my ears, the single fabric itself has no wind resistance. The hood is well shaped with a subtly shaped visor but it’s still low bulk and fits under a shell hood just fine. The main zip stops very low down leaving my neck exposed which I’m not so keen on, especially if I have a crew-neck baselayer on underneath. But those who struggle with feeling closed-in wearing a hood might welcome this.

MammutMammut Aconcagua Pro

£135.00
382g
Women’s version available

The Aconcagua says alpine climber when you look at it, but I learned long ago that look just means less faff and weight in a design, so it shouldn’t be overkill on the winter Munros. The Aconcagua is a simple design, close fitting with a decent length on the body and nicely long arms with simple thumbloop cuffs. Articulation is good, the hem doesn’t pull up when I reach up and movement is helped by the stretchy fabric which comes in two different types. The yellow has a smooth outer/brushed inner with alittle bit of wind resistance and the grey is thinner with a gridded inner face for extra wicking power. It seems to work well, over a light baselayer it keeps me pretty dry and it layers well under a shell.

There’s a single good sized, zipped mesh chest pocket which unusually is on the right hand side, which one got one comment from a pal “Ah, a fleece for left handers at last!”. The main zip has a wind flap and comes to just under my nose for excellent protection. The hood is close fitting, very well shaped and moves with head. Where it joins the top at the neck though is a little tight on me, collared zip neck baselayers have been a no-go but crew necks are okay. Worth trying one on to check, we’re not all the same shape and it was the only niggle for me.

OMMOMM Contour Race Hood

£80.00
332g

The Contour is the simplest hoody here with just a half zip and no pockets and was designed for mountain marathons – this means a close overall fit. Articulation is excellent and although the body is only average length with a scooped trail the hem stays tucked into a pack belt. The stretch fabric helps this and also helps the close fit to be less compressing that it might be. The fabric has a very smooth outer which layers exceptionally well under other jackets and it has a brushed inner for wicking. Sweat management is good and drying times also seem to be good so far.

There are thumbloop cuffs and the sleeves are just long enough for these to be comfortable. The hood is very well shaped and close fitting, moves perfectly with my head and the half zip come up over my chin.

It’s cut down to the bare essentials, but that might well be all you need.

ParamoParamo Enduro

£145.00
472g

The Enduro is the wild card in this review with the wind resistance and water repellency of a softshell, but it says fleece on its arm in big letters, so it must be a fleece.
The fabric is very smooth with a dense weave to shut the wind out. There’s very little stretch to it but the Enduro is well designed so arm movement is unrestricted. Sweat management is excellent as is drying time with moisture from me on the inside or a bit of rain on the outside as the excellent water repellency lets me wear this into weather that might have me unpacking my shell while wearing another fleece.

The fit is trim but not too slim with good length on the body and arms. The hood is good fit and moves well with my head bit isn’t too close fitting and the half-length zip comes up to just below my bottom lip. There are three zipped mesh chest pockets, one small, two decent sized and two large vents which run from near my elbow almost to my waist. The vent zips and main zip are double ended so can be opened from either end. This might seem strange on the main zip, but means you can vent your core while keeping spindrift zipped away from your face.

The Enduro has practical and useful features, it looked like a busy design when it first came in for test but the zips pulls are all where you need them and it does the job.

sherpaSherpa Ananta

£80.00
372g
Women’s version available

The Ananata is most casually styled fleece in this review and comes in a chunky 200 weight fabric. It’s a trim cut with along body and arms and does have very good arm articulation with no hem lift. The hood is a relaxed fit but still moves well with my head and can be cinched in with a simple drawstring. There’s a sleeve pocket for your ipod and it’s finished with some nice contrast stitching.
Days out around the hills, wee rambles and everyday use are where the Ananata fits best, time where you want that little bit of outdoor comfort and performance but don’t want to look like a mountaineer.

SpraywaySprayway Carina Hoody

£60.00
278g Size 12/Medium
Men’s version available

The Carina is the lightest fleece in the review and comes in a microfleece fabric which has a touch of wind resistance and decent moisture management. My tester found the fit quite trim with long arms and a good length on the body with a slightly scooped tail adding a wee bit of extra protection.

The cuffs have an inner cuff with a thumbloop in a softer fabric, there are two low-set zipped hand warmer pockets and the main zip goes up to just below Joyce’s bottom lip. The hood is quite roomy, which meant room for Joyce tying her hair back and still being able to use the hood. It moved well with her head and there was no loss of vision going hard left or right.

The fabric has the feel of a hard wearing fleece, there’s a little stretch in there for comfort and the general looks work for casual while the design works for the hills. A decent all-rounder.

HF1

The Last Word

My first technical fleece was a Karrimor Alpiniste, it had clever pockets and a hood and nearly 25 years later I’m still looking for something as good. The Paramo Enduro comes close, a mountain fleece you can pull on and live in with good features and an excellent fabric. The OMM hoody’s simplicity is perfect under a shell on a winter’s day. Fjallraven’s Abisko is pure comfort on the coldest mountain day.

There are no bad choices here though, some of the niggles I had with hoods might not bother you, try them on, zip them right up and see how they feel.

The more casual designs are always worth a look, the Sherpa pull-on has seen more use than I expected and there’s maybe something to be said for the feeling of being dressed for action, even when you’re just trekking to the newsagents.

HF2




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