I’m a sucker for hooded jackets, whether they’re hardshells, softshells, puffies or fleeces. There’s something about them. The ability to snuggle up into their hoods when the wind picks up or the temperature drops is great. Hoods are awesome. However, when you’re wearing multiple layers of clothing (as I always do in the cold months of the year, winter parkas are for suckers) they can get too much in your face – literally.
I have been looking for a great non-hooded fleece midlayer for a while, especially since I purchased a down vest last year. The vest’s collar is so massive and comfortable that wearing a hoodie underneath kind of sucks. I couldn’t find the right one, but with its update to a tried and true classic Patagonia has nailed it. I was looking for something with a classic and casual look, while also being able to perform when moving about. Most knitted fleeces tend to be bulky or lack range of motion. They’re warm, so that’s nice when you’re just hanging about, but when the pace picks up their downsides become annoying. The Patagonia Performance Better Sweater solves that problem by combining fabrics and with a smart cut. I was unable to find that many extensive reviews of this revised classic so I decided to write one myself.
As can be expected from a reputable brand such as Patagonia, construction is decent throughout. Flatlock seams make sure there is little risk of chafing, the patterning on the stretch side panels ensures great range of motion and the sleeves are patterned in such a way that your jacket will not ride up when sticking your arms above your head. YKK throughout gives the zippers the best possible start in life. No cold wind will creep through the elasticated cuffs on the sleeves and hem, while they are not so tight that they become uncomfortable. All in all this is a well-constructed piece of clothing with attention to detail.
Compared to the classic Better Sweater (of which I like the look but not the cut and functionality) the most important features are without a doubt the Polartec stretch fleece side panels running from the hem all the way to the sleeve cuffs. This gives the wearer a range of motion unheard of in knitted-surface fleeces. It also ensures that this fleece can be worn tightly over a thin base layer without getting annoying or uncomfortable, making it very well suited for layering. Other than that it is fairly straightforward. Raglan style sleeves ensure further range of motion in the arms. Three mesh-backed pockets can hold essentials or may act as vent ports if you run hot. The collar is lined with microfleece for added comfort against sensitive skin. This fleece has nothing but the essentials and that’s why I like it. There’s only one thing missing although it hasn’t annoyed me so far – a chin guard would have been a nice touch.
While most knitted-surface fleeces tend to be boxy, this is definitely a slim fitted one, although I admit choosing between a small and medium was a tough one. Seeing as I want to be able to layer it even with cold-winter gear I chose a small. The sleeves are fairly long, so the fit is definitely tuned for an athletic build. If you’re either very muscular or short and stocky this might not be the fleece for you. I’m 1,78m at 71kg and a small is tight but comfortable for me. The sleeves are just about long enough although 1 or 2 extra centimeters wouldn’t have hurt. Obviously I could have gone with a medium but that was too big on the body and too long on the hem when combined with climbing hardshells such as the Arc’teryx Alpha series jackets.
This fleece is suitable for a whole range of applications. Want to take a stroll through town? No problem. Want an extra layer of warmth on your summer trek? Check. Do you need to wear something underneath your shell? Yes, sir. Is your synthetic puffy or down vest slightly too cold on its own? It can solve that problem too. Due to its tight fit and stretchy side panels it can perform in a wide variety of circumstances and during various activities. A true all-rounder indeed.
Stretch side panels
Classic knitted-surface look
No chin guard
If you have an athletic build and are looking for a classic-looking performance fleece, then look no further. This is a great layering piece in a variety of circumstances and differing climates. A workhorse you can take trekking, climbing or hiking, but that is still able to look the part when wearing it to the pub at night. Also comes in a hooded version if that’s what you’re looking for.