Best Retro Fleeces of 2024 - Outdoors Magic

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Best Retro Fleeces of 2024

For outdoor style and technical performance combined, you can't beat a good synthetic fleece. And who's saying no to a retro design? Not us.

Fleeces used to be preserve of geeky ramblers and bird-watching dads – the very opposite of cool. But in recent years the humble fleece has become on-trend, with heritage styles, colour-blocking and retro vibes transforming these fuzzy jackets into a standout fashion statement. Reinvigorated by the ‘gorpcore’ trend – the phenomenon of fashion-conscious urbanites wearing technical outdoor clothing – the retro-cool fleece is a must-have item for 2024, whether you’ll actually be wearing it up a mountain or (more likely) looking intrepid-chic in it down the pub. Here’s what to look out for when shopping for your next retro-cool fleece.

What is a Fleece?

In 1981, Malden Mills, the company behind Polartec, invented ‘polar synthetic fleece’ – or, to the everyday consumer, the fleece. It was a game-changing moment in the outdoors industry, with the birth of a new type of garment. They achieved this by knitting, napping and shearing synthetic yarns into thermal fabric for outdoor apparel, using polyester fibres engineered for ‘more versatile durability, greater resilience, lightweight warmth and fast dry times’. The rest is, well, history. Numerous different versions of fleece have been invented since then, with different levels of warmth, thickness, breathability and wind-resistance, but ultimately this entire genre was spawned from that 1981 innovation.

Related: The History of Fleece

What Makes a Fleece Retro-cool?

Many retro fleeces are, quite literally, heritage throwbacks, with brands re-releasing their original fleeces from the 1980s and 1990s. Sometimes these re-releases are carbon copies of the old lines; other times they are modern, 21st century reincarnations of the original designs. But all of these fleeces tend to have a few common styles and features, including:

  • Colour blocking – you will have seen this, even if you don’t quite know what it means. Essentially it’s the use of two or three (or more) bold and often contradictory colours together in one garment, with each colour often filling an angular block of the item of clothing. This usually involves the body of a jacket being split into squares or rectangles, with different colours in each block.
  • Bold colours – retro fleeces generally don’t focus on boring blacks and navy blues. Their very raison raison d’être is to stand out and they are often all about bold, fresh, eye-catching colours, such as oranges, purples, vibrant greens and aqua blues.
  • Pocket patches – a single chest pocket commonly features a ‘patch’ of different material – often in a colour that clashes and stands out against the rest of the jacket – for no real purpose other than to add to the design, feel and style of the garment.
  • Retro patterning and styling – from cardigan-like swirly patterns to vibrant pocket trims, coloured zippers and colour-blocked shoulder patches, all manner of design touches are included to give garments a striking, distinctive and noteworthy look.
Photo: Cotopaxi

What Features do Retro Fleeces Have?

Fleeces vary quite significantly in thickness and warmth, from ultralight micro-fleeces to heavy-duty, high-pile, super-cosy coats – and consequently it’s important to choose one that’s suitable for the conditions you’re likely to encounter. The easiest way to do this is to try the garments in a shop (where possible), or to check their gsm rating (grams per square metre) – the higher the figure, the warmer, thicker and heavier the fleece will be.

Other features to look out for include how many pockets the fleece has, whether it includes a full-zipper or half-zipper, and if a hood is included or not. The fit will often vary from slim and athletic to relatively baggy, while waist hem adjustment and wrist cuffs can help tailor the cut to your exact body shape.

But ultimately your purchase is less about technical features and more about the look, feel and vibe. Simply choose a fleece that floats your boat and you think will make you confident, whether it’s because you love the styling, adore the bold colours, or can’t get enough of the heritage design features. All of this is pretty subjective, but here are some of the best retro-cool fleeces we love here at Outdoors Magic.

Best Retro Fleeces 2024

We have tested these fleeces during hiking trips in December, January and February in the Lake District, with a mix of very wintry and unseasonably mild conditions – as well as on post-hike chill sessions in the pub. Here are our favourites:

  • Finisterre Axiom – Best Retro Fleece
  • Craghoppers Whitlaw – Best Value Retro Fleece
  • Napapijri Half Zip Fleece Trentino Hz
  • Cotopaxi Teca Fleece Full-Zip Jacket
  • Columbia Men’s Sweater Weather Printed Half Zip Fleece
  • Montane Chonos
  • Fjällräven Vardag Pile Fleece
  • Rab Outpost
  • Patagonia Classic Retro-X
Photo: Finisterre

Finisterre Axiom Full Zip Fleece

Weight: 445g (men’s small)
Price: £95

There is a lot to love about this fleece. The colours are vivid to the max – whether you opt for ‘allium purple’, ‘dark teal’ or ‘beeswax’ – and the design detailing oozes retro vibes. The chest pocket features a patch of colour blocking and a boldly-coloured zipper, and matches the flaps of the handwarmer pockets. The all-round cut is relatively slim and athletic, and works really well as a fleecy mid-layer for ‘real’ adventures, yet still looks sharp in the city. But, best of all, is the sustainability of this jacket. Finisterre are an eco brand with a cutting-edge approach, and the Axiom fleece is made from 100% recycled polyester. You also get elasticated wrist cuffs, a good neck collar and a cosily-soft feel against the skin. A version featuring a quarter-length zip with snap buttons is also available.



Photo: Craghoppers

Craghoppers Whitlaw

Weight: 620g (men’s medium)
Price: £35

Stark two-tone colour blocking, with one bold colour across the arms and chest, and another across the lower torso, give this fleece a statement look, and will inevitably imbue you with some outdoorsy swagger. Subtle additional colour-ways in the zipper trims, elasticated cuffs and waist hem add to the colourful and courageous styling, while the zip toggles (styled almost like mini climbing ropes) are dotted with the jacket’s key colours. It all syncs together nicely. You get two handwarmer pockets, one chest pocket, a vintage Craghoppers logo, and a relaxed fit. The fleece itself is light and soft, and versatile enough for a range of conditions. Like the Finisterre product, it is made from recycled polyester, with approximately 24 plastic bottles recycled to make this fleece.



Photo: James Forrest

Napapijri Half Zip Fleece Trentino Hz

Weight: 600g (approx)
Price: £70

Napapijri is a name synonymous with hipster chic – a true fashion-outdoors crossover brand with gorpcore in its genes. It’s no surprise, therefore, that it makes some epic heritage fleeces, with styles that ride the cusp between rambler retro and urban contemporary perfectly. There are absolutely loads to choose from, but we’re drawn to the Trentino Hz, which is made from 100% recycled polyester. The standout feature is the cavernous central pocket – an envelope-like pouch emblazoned proudly with the brand’s name. This distinctive pocket is a long-standing Napapijri icon (we can remember all the cool kids at school thinking they were fashionistas wearing it back in the early 90s) and gives the fleece a certain uniqueness. Bold colours and shoulder patches complete the retro look, while the fleece material itself – extremely high-loft with a humongous neck baffle – make this jacket very warm indeed. As such, it’s ideal as an outer layer during cold and dry winter days, although we found the interior a tad rough and uncomfy.



Photo: Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi Teca Fleece Full-Zip Jacket

Weight: 325g (women’s small)
Price: £90

Cotopaxi uses a kaleidoscopic range of bright and beautiful colours in its clothing, and it looks stunning. The new Teca fleece (due for release soon) is no exception, with four bold and contrasting tones used in a colour blocking style with a twist. Rather than large, angular rectangles or squares of colour, the Teca employs a trio of horizontal bands across the chest. It looks sleek and smooth, and is pretty much as bright as can be. Such an approach might be a tad polarising, but for many it’s aesthetically pleasing and attention-grabbing. Great as a standalone jacket or mid-layer, the Teca is soft and cosy, and made from recycled fleece and DWR-treated, polyester taffeta left over from other companies’ production runs. This keeps perfectly good materials out of landfill, and instead repurposes them into new garments. It also means each colourway is a limited edition, so be quick – once it’s gone, it’s gone. Our only gripe with the Teca is the absence of zippers on the hand-warmer pockets.



Photo: Columbia

Columbia Men’s Sweater Weather Printed Half Zip Fleece

Weight: 508g (men’s small)
Price: £52.50

This comfy, well-priced fleece comes in a variety of retro designs. One looks rather lumberjack-chic, with a red and black styling similar to a chequered outdoor shirt. Another is almost cardigan-like, featuring fuzzy, abstract patterning – a medley of arrows, triangles and rhombuses of different colours. In both cases, the result is in-vogue and funky, and the kind of top likely to attract compliments galore. The construction includes a zippered chest pocket (with the compulsory colour-blocked patch), and abrasion-resistant trim detailing at the collar, shoulders and wrist cuffs. You also get a high collar, woven overlays and mid-range warmth.



Photo: Montane

Montane Chonos

Weight: 472g (men’s small)
Price: £95

If you like retro vibes but don’t like the garish colours or show-off designs, the understated Montane Chonos might be the one for you. It looks good without being loud or brash, opting for a single colour scheme and back-to-basics style rather than anything too extravagant. Made from an opulently cosy, high-pile fleece known as Thermo 300, Montane describe the jacket as a “winter staple from crag to summit” and the “perfect fleece jacket to wear between seasons”. The Chonos also features wind-resistant Tactel overlays, a close-fitting collar, full-length YKK Vislon front zip with internal baffle, two hand pockets, low-profile wrist cuffs, adjustable waist drawcord and a Montane heritage logo. The cut is slim and athletic, and the soft, comfy feel is top-notch.



Photo: Fjallraven

Fjällräven Vardag Pile Fleece

Weight: 775g (men’s small)
Price: £150

This fleece stands out from the crowd thanks to its Scandi-inspired minimalism. The chest pocket is the star of the show, with an elegant classiness and understated style – the pocket flap is made from G-1000 Eco while the metal snap button has Fjällräven’s arctic fox logo beautifully etched onto its surface. The jacket’s exterior is delightful too, featuring tuft-like lumps of super-cosy, fleecy goodness, while the inner is a flat-knitted jersey material that’s smooth and comfy. You also get two mesh-lined hand pockets and a full-length central zipper with stormflap. Fjallraven describe the Vardag as a ‘robust jacket…for everyday outdoor life in cold temperatures’. We’d agree – it’s just a shame the price is so, well, Scandinavian.



Photo: James Forrest

Rab Outpost

Weight: 691g (men’s small)
Price: £110

Of all the fleeces on test here, the Rab Outpost feels like the most technical – a layer that is better suited to mountain environments than some of the more ‘lifestyle-y’ and fashion-focused fleeces in our round-up. This comes courtesy of the deep-pile, shearling-style Polartec 300 Classic material, which delivers “effective insulation, even in extreme cold”. The Outpost, consequently, is genuinely warm and will be overkill for all but the coldest of days, plus it’s far from light or compact for carrying in your pack. But, for when you need a real temperature boost, this fleece definitely hits the spot. Other features include three pockets, double-weave Matrix overlays for added protection across the shoulders and chest, a lightweight stretch finish at the hem, cuff and hood, and finally a fitted hood and large fleece-lined chin guard for protection against the elements. On top of all this warmth and tech, you still get a retro-inspired look and old-school vibes too.



Photo: Patagonia

Patagonia Women’s Classic Retro-X

Weight: 615g (women’s medium)
Price: £180

Retro by name, retro by nature, this fleece is a Patagonia favourite, and for good reason. It’s made from 85% recycled and Fair Trade certified polyester, and includes a windproof barrier bonded between the fleece exterior and a moisture-wicking, brushed-polyester mesh lining with HeiQ Pure odour control. Other features include a full-length front zipper with internal stormflap, a vertical zippered nylon chest pocket, and two zippered hand-warmer pockets lined with brushed-polyester mesh. The price is rather sky-high – par for the course when it comes to the highly sought-after Pata-Gucci logo – but the retro look and technicality of this jacket are first-rate.


Jack Wolfskin Blizzard Fleece

Price: £160
Weight: 745g

If fleece has a drawback in performance terms, it is that it is not always wind-resistant. And of course, its other drawback is that it is made of synthetic fibres, which are ultimately derived from petrochemicals and therefore not very good for the environment. Jack Wolfskin’s new Blizzard jacket overcomes both of these issues with an innovative 3-layer fleece construction that incorporates exclusive Polartec Windbloc fabric, made from a fully recycled outer and inner plus a waterproof and breathable Jack Wolfskin Texapore Ecosphere membrane in between – which is also made entirely from reused/recycled content.

The result is a windproof and highly weather-resistant fleece that works well not just as a midlayer but also as a warm outer layer in chilly, gusty and drizzly weather.

Read our full Jack Wolfskin Blizzard Fleece review.

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