Disclaimer: Since I am only one man, I unfortunately have neither the time nor the resources to acquire and laboriously compare many different pieces of gear. As such, the reviews on this blog are only my honest assessment of certain pieces of gear and clothing that I’ve purchased and used over the years. If you are looking for exhaustive comparisons backed up by hours and hours of testing and data, I’d highly recommend checking out reviews from sites like The Wirecutter and OutdoorGearLab, both of which I refer to in these reviews and when I’m shopping for myself. I am not affiliated with any of these sites, but I rely on their research like any other consumer, and have found their work to be helpful, transparent, and extremely thorough. All of this said, thank you for reading, and I hope you find that the following recommendations positively inform your outdoor gear research and purchasing.
A good fleece should be part of everyone's travel or camping arsenal. It’s great for layering, has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, and retains body heat even when wet. Given the vast array of fleeces available, it's worth considering the conditions under which you expect a certain piece to perform, as well as the purpose you hope it will serve. In a sea of fuzzy choices, these criteria will help you determine whether a $180 miracle of thermal technology is overkill for your needs or if a $50 budget pick might leave you wanting more.
Currently, the fleece I use for everyday wear is the Mountain Hardware Monkey Man 200 Jacket. It’s a slightly older model at this point, but it is the most comfortable layer I’ve ever had the privilege of wearing and has served me faithfully for many years. It’s still available from some retailers such as Backcountry, but its spirit lives on in the updated Monkey Man and Monkey Man Grid II jackets. The MM200 garnered OutdoorGearLab's "Best Buy" award (most bang for your buck) in 2014, back when it was the current iteration.
One thing to keep in mind is that almost by definition, fleeces (the Monkey Man 200 included) don't do much to protect from wind and aren't particularly water resistant. Those few that are engineered for wind or rain protection are likewise less breathable.
I find it difficult to find clothing that fits my 6'4" frame with matching gibbon arms. As a result, the size large that I have is slightly roomier than needed in the torso. But for a casual fleece, this is a fine tradeoff for sleeves that are long enough. My only other critique of the Monkey Man is that the elastic that keeps the sleeve cuffs snug has loosened substantially over time. It in no way impacts the jacket's thermal efficacy, but is more of a small daily annoyance. Any time I try to push my sleeves up, within 10 minutes they have sagged back down to my wrists.
Would I recommend the Monkey Man 200 for everyday use? Absolutely. But I wouldn't endorse it for backpacking or when space and weight are at a premium. It’s large and fluffy, making it difficult to layer over and less ideal for technical use. For my purposes, its high loft is much appreciated, but that factor can be left up to personal taste.
For my next fleece, I'd like to try something more technical, like Patagonia's R2 Fleece. But for an everyday fleece layer, I'd still highly recommend the velvety soft, high-pile Mountain Hardware Monkey Man 200 Jacket for around $75.