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I'm currently preparing for 3 weeks of Trekking in March in Nepal (Lukla / Cho La Pass / Everest Base Camp...). One thing my guide told me to bring is a Fleece jacket.

I'm confused by the wide range of prices. What are objective quality metrics for Fleece jackets?

When I looked at them, I saw that the thickness of the product is one difference. Likely, thicker means warmer, but it seems not to be connected directly to the price:

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    Golden Fleece is the best, but Jason and The Argonauts don’t like to share... – Jon Custer Nov 26 '18 at 13:28
  • I suggest you browse through the Polartec site, polartec.com. It is one of the more well-known and trusted brands of fleece used by outdoor enthusiasts. Some higher-end clothing brands will have their own proprietary fleece, but Polartec is somewhat of a standard though you will find they make many different kinds of fleece! – topshot Nov 27 '18 at 15:16
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Some (maybe not all) aspects are:

Insulation per weight ratio While your observation "the thicker the warmer" is true in general, there are fleeces that are warmer for the same weight and thickness than others. Unfortunately, there's normally no objective measure given for that feature in product descriptions.

Stretch While simple fleece fabrics are built on a base fabric that does not stretch at all, more expensive ones are woven in a way that makes them stretch. This allows the clothes to be tailored more close-fittingly while it still can follow the wearer's movements. A more body-fitting jacket provides better insulation for the same fabric and saves on fabric and hence weight.

Stability Cheap fleece fabrics are more susceptible to "pilling", i.e. the fibers tend to clump together into small spherical fuzz under repeated frictional load.

Cut and features The cut of specialized alpine gear is typically optimized for this usage. For example, alpine clothing typically does not have seams on top of the shoulders pieces since they can be irritating or lead to chafing when wearing a heavy backpack. Since this construction requires more pieces of cloth and is harder to sew, cheaper jackets might opt for simpler constructions. Also gear by more expensive and alpine-specialized brands may have nice features like pockets that are placed in a way that they are not blocked by your backpack straps, zippers that can be used with gloves and similar small advantages. It is not said, that a cheap piece of clothing won't have such features, but sometimes more by chance than by design.

Finally, you will of course also pay for the brand name on the more expensive gear.

  • What is the difference between the fleeces? If only the thickness differs, the insulation should be exactly the same. So you imply that there is something else different. What is it? – Martin Thoma Nov 26 '18 at 5:59
  • How can I know beforehand if a Fleece fabric is more susceptible to pilling? – Martin Thoma Nov 26 '18 at 6:09
  • @MartinThoma Well, not really. The insulation basically depends on how good the fleece can retain a layer of warm air close to your body. So if you have one fleece where the warm air gets blown out with every move you make (don't even think of windy conditions), it will provide less insulation than one, that is better at holding the warm air. This is, however, not necessarily a property of the fiber material but of the way the fabric is woven. – Benedikt Bauer Nov 26 '18 at 6:12
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    @MartinThoma You can't deduce it from the material itself. Reviews by customers who have this product already and by outdoor magazines may give a hint. However, they will normally only mention pilling if it occurs in an unusual and annyoing way. – Benedikt Bauer Nov 26 '18 at 6:14
  • I think this is a good answer. An important though regrettable point is highlighted here: it is hard to judge out-door gear for performance without actually holding in your hands and even then you need a lot of experience. – fgysin Nov 26 '18 at 10:47
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When you buy Patagonia or Arcteryx you are paying, at least in part, for a status signaling label. Patagonia is sometimes derisively referred to as Patagucci. That said, I do own some Patagonia clothing and I've found it to be durable and functional. They also arguably have sourcing arrangements that reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing. Similarly, Arcteryx is sometimes referred to as the 'Cult of the Dead Bird', but all of my outdoor sports minded friends who've laid out the money for Arcteryx have been satisfied with the performance of their clothing, if not the price.

You may be able to find some general retail outdoor clothing that will be perfectly functional, but dirt cheap. However, the lower the price point, the more chance there will be that the manufacturer has cut corners in the construction somewhere. You aren't going to the top of Everest, but there is a chance you could be outside several days in snow and high winds. You don't want to worry about your clothing failing under those conditions.

If you aren't sure about being able to evaluate construction quality, but have friends who are alpinists, or at least regular hikers, you might get them to go shopping with you. Also, your trekking service may be happy to recommend specific models that they know to be fit to the purpose. However, they may not lead you to the best bargains.

  • How can I spot construction problems beforehand? – Martin Thoma Nov 26 '18 at 6:09
  • @MartinThoma If you aren't the sort of person who sews their own clothes, or who buys and tests lots of clothing for alpine enviroments you probably can't. That's why I included the clause about getting advice from qualified friends or from your trekking service. – Charles E. Grant Nov 27 '18 at 2:15
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    Or read the many product reviews often found on both manufacturer and retailer sites. – Martin F Nov 30 '18 at 20:13
  • @MartinF excellent idea if the reviews are read with a grain of salt. Some may written by shills for the manufacturer, and some many be written by that odd segment of the Internet that hates everything even if they've never actually tried it. Still, if you read several of them you can usually get an idea if a piece of clothing is fit for purpose. – Charles E. Grant Dec 3 '18 at 18:41
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Breathability I bought a really cheap fleece before a combat medic course in 2017, so I could wash it a high temperature without feeling a big loss if I destroyed it. It looked great. But it was like a raincoat. It was horrible.

I have realized that I need two different fleece jacket. A decent looking for normal daily use, and one with really high breathability for serious outdoor use. For extra insulation, just another layer is one way to go. For example add a mesh layer under the normal long wool underwear.

Suggestion: Take a look at the Norrøna page for midlayers, study the difference between their products, and transfer the ideas it gives you to general use.

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    What makes some Fleece more breathable than others? If they use the same material, given the same weight, they should have exactly the same breathability. – Martin Thoma Nov 26 '18 at 6:08
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    A good question. I give you an upvote for that. One part of the answer may be that less breathable fleece often have a nice shiny outer surface. -- But i believe it may be something more. – Ole Bjørsvik Nov 26 '18 at 20:06
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    Great question—I love great products and I hate overpriced products so I’m interested in objective metrics. Others have said and I agree that performance of the whole product will be interaction between the material itself and the garment design, the way it is shaped and assembled. Re material—“Fleece” is not as tightly regulated commodity (as say 6061-T6 aluminum) and fleece of the same nominal material and thickness may have very different fiber diameter, pattern of fibers (type of weave or knit or knap), coatings on fibers—all affecting warmth, moisture and breathability. – mmcc Nov 26 '18 at 22:56
  • I just bought Norrøna's most breathable fleece, Lyngen Raw fleece, without any windstopper function. I'm really satisfied with it, and use it when I expect to sweat. But it looks a bit like a rag that has been hanging after a car, and it isn't suitable for street wear. The windstopper version would be more handy for street use, and as an outer jacket. – Ole Bjørsvik Jan 9 at 16:07

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