Gear Review – Squak Mountain Co. fleece hoodie

Joan’s rocked a Melazana (aka “Mellie”) fleece since 2011. It’s been a staple of her backpacking for well over a decade. And after well over a decade of active use, the Melly fleece needed to get replaced. I told Joan about a Utah-based company, Squak Mountain Co., making a similar fleece style. Intrigued, Joan bought the Squak Mountain Co Microgrid fleece hoodie. Here are her impressions. -PM

Why do I use grid fleece?

I do not own many clothes, and I like to wear the same things all the time. That means I have to love the items I have absolutely. A microgrid fleece hoodie has been one of my clothing staples. In summer, it’s what I sleep in while backpacking. In winter, I live in my hoodie day and night. I wear it over a baselayer while hiking, and it keeps me cozy during the long hours of darkness while snuggling into my sleeping bag.

Because my clothes get this much use, they are bound to wear out eventually. After 11 years of constant use, my two “Melly” (or Melanzana) microgrid fleeces need to be replaced- one got so threadbare it finally ripped to shreds, and the other hardly provides any insulation anymore.

In the Southeast Appalachian ~2012.

I don’t want to go through the hassle of getting a new one because you can only get them through an appointment now. And Paul cracks too many jokes about Mellys, #vanlife, and Instagram at this point.

Two years ago, I sewed a hoodie fleece clone (out of 100 weight Polartec), though I adjusted the fit to make it better for me with longer arms and a more curvy fit. While I love it for sleeping, non-grid fleece is not as good for hiking as I’ve wanted something else.

In the past year, I tried a simple grid fleece quarter zip on and off, but I missed the pouch and hood. I run cold, and my extremities are susceptible to cold (due to Raynaud’s and my general longer body shape). I need full head and neck coverage if the temperatures are cold enough to warrant a fleece. The integrated hood works better for me (compared to a hat or buff) because it sinches down snuggly.

I also hated the 1/4 zip fleece because it lacked a kangaroo pouch. The pouch is essential for my late fall/winter system. The kangaroo pouch is a game-changer- because my hands lose their ability to give off heat, warming them with my core/belly body heat is critical. Pants pockets are not as warm and certainly not as spacious. The pouch also keeps gear and food warm. I can dry damp gloves or mittens and cold-soak my lunch or dinner. I also keep an extra set of gloves warming in my pouch.

I was excited when Paul found a Utah-based company selling microgrid fleeces with hoods and pouches for just $60— and no wait or hassle to order.

I’ve been using it constantly for my backpacking and hiking/camping trips this fall, and as long as the durability is just as good, it will be my new go-to fleece.

Why the Squak

The Squak is a fantastic grid fleece hoodie. I love the fit, the availability, and the price. It is the right weight for late fall/ winter in Utah’s canyon country. It felt comfortable moving down into the shady cold pockets of air in the canyons, and it was also good in the stiff breezes when emerging out of the canyons into the sunshine.

The fleece is not as fuzzy on the inside as the Melly fleece and is slightly more stretchy. That makes the Squak more breathable.

The hood and sleeves fit me better than the Melly since I have longer arms and a longer neck. It also has thumb loops on the sleeves. Since my arms and hands tend to get cold, I am thrilled about the added warmth. My only complaint is that the cuffs on the sleeves are slightly too tight for my liking,g but the snug fit around the wrists does keep the drafts out.

Time will tell if my new Squaks will last a decade, but I’m glad there is a reasonably-priced replacement for my essential hiking and backpacking staple with the features I love. It’s telling that I purchased two; anything I enjoy using is worth buying twice!

And some words from Paul…
Joan had a BOGO half-off code from Squak and generously bought me one. As Joan stated, this garment is not a fuzzy garment of comfort, ala the classic Melly grid fleece. Instead, it’s very similar to the military ECWCS Gen III Layer 2 grid fleece with a smooth, non-fuzzy side and a grid side, but in reverse, with the grid pattern facing out rather than inside.

USMC issued “Frog fleece” with a kangaroo pocket. As a side note, the genuine military issue gets made with Polartec Power Dry fleece.

It’s more an activewear base layer than a static insulation layer vs. the Melly fleece. Again, similar to the ECWCS layers in terms of purpose.
My men’s medium weighs 12 oz vs. just under 10 oz for my thrift store solid fleece or my 8.5 oz Decathlon grid fleece. I prefer a solid fleece, with a ventilating zipper,  for the reasons I stated in the article about the grid and solid fleece differences.
At 12 oz, it’s too heavy for me, and the lack of a zipper makes it a bit warm for my hiking style to carry as a backpacking staple during three-season use. However, I can see myself pairing it with the ECWCS grid fleece pants for deeper winter backpacking.
The only size avail for me ended up as a safety orange in a medium. I thought to use this around town more than anything, perhaps not the optimal color. 🙂
However, I started using it for bike riding around town in the earlier and later hours and, paired with a wind shell, found it worked quite well. The wind shell + Squak grid fleece combo lets me stay warm without overheating. Something I find more challenging to manage on bike rides than hiking. The bright orange sticks out well for bike riding.

The windbreaker combined with the Squak, buff combos (a lighter Coolmax one or a heavier bright orange one I use during hunting season), and a runner’s skull cap works well for the 20F +/- biking.

I can also picture using this layer during the cooler weather we find ourselves in when we hike in places during rifle season.
I pump out a lot of heat when very active, and the grid fleece regulates the heat better with the equally necessary wind shell layer for cold-weather bike riding. A solid fleece lets in too much wind but does not breathe well enough under the shell. The hood also gives me more options for keeping my (very bald) head warm when paired with neck gaiter combos and a runner’s skull cap.
Overall, the piece quickly fit a niche that I could not work with my existing outdoor clothing and fit very well. It’s quickly becoming a favorite piece of clothing for reasons I did not anticipate until recently.

Two things Joan likes – selfies and when we match! I biked into the driveway just as Joan returned from backpacking.  PCO Joan.

.On a non-technical level, I should note that while Squak’s a Utah-based company, the garment is made in China. No different than much outdoor gear and clothing, but I should mention this fact.

Update – Squak now uses a more subtle and, in my opinion, sharper-looking label. It gives off a retro ski lodge vibe!

.Finally, Joan’s in the process of swapping out her well-loved but worn gear. She purchased a Lightheart Gear (LHG) fleece hoodie very similar to the classic Melly (more insulative, less base layer-like) and plans to give her impressions of this piece in the coming weeks. Like the Melly, the LHG fleece is also made in the USA. Which I find is a great bonus. Stay tuned.
UPDATE  APRIL 2023 –  I’ve used it a lot this past cold and wet winter. I’ve grown to like this garment more and more over the months. Excellent garment for a good value.

My friend Wendy and I sporting our Squaks on a ski tour. I loved it for any high-output activity in cold weather. PCO Wendy.

Disclosure – Joan purchased the fleeces with her funds.
I did sign up for an affiliate program where I’ll receive a small commission for any purchase you make with no additional cost. You can also use a coupon code to get 15% off your purchase.
Women’s Squak | Men’s Squak | Children’s SquakCoupon Code = PMAGS-SQUAK
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