The versatility, durability, breathability, price, and functionality of this humble piece of clothing make it a crucial part of my kit. For $20 or less, I have a light and trail proven product that I can’t fathom being outdoors without.
There are other products gaining traction that seem to perform better than the basic fleece pullover in some ways at least in lab settings. But at a much higher cost. And I question the long-term durability versus my humble fleece pullover I’ve bushwhacked, ski toured, scrambled, and did rough camping with over many seasons, miles, and nights in the backcountry. Oils, sweat, and salt are also harder to remove from these newer garments. In addition to compromising breathability and loft effectiveness, these factors also affect the long-term durability of the product for real-world world use.
So, yes, I am an advocate of the basic fleece pullover as a standard part of my kit.
Now that I’ve praised the fleece pullover, the astute reader may notice there are two different types of fleece. These two types? Solid (standard) fleece and Grid fleece.
What are the differences between solid and grid fleece?
The solid (standard) fleece is found in almost every discount store, thrift store, and most outdoor stores. You know the type: fuzzy, fluffy, and comfy. The modern equivalent of everyone’s favorite sweater.
A solid fleece breathes reasonably well, is moderately wind resistant, dries quickly, is durable, and warm for its weight compared to a traditional sweater or sweatshirt. I wear my fleece pullover on the larger side, so it ventilates well.
A grid fleece is somewhat newer versus the standard fleece. A grid pattern with elastane stitching is woven into the fabric. The breathability is better than the standard or solid fleece and that is the main selling point. A grid fleece is also less bulky vs. a standard fleece, too. The grid fleece does not dry as well versus the solid fleece due to the elastane stitching, does not block the wind as well, and is not quite as warm for its weight. The grid fleece, however, is a superior layer when worn under a shell due to its breathability versus standard fleece. As with any base-type layer, grid fleece works better when the layer is more form fitting.
The price of grid fleece is very comparable to standard fleece at this point. Discount stores sell grid fleece for a reasonable price. And ECWCS pullovers for the military are made of high-quality Polartec fleece and are sold at a competitive price. I have made good use of the Gen 3 Level II grid layers found inexpensively on eBay when winter backpacking.
So which layer to wear?
I think a solid or standard fleece is a more versatile layer overall. It can be worn as a light jacket by itself very easily. And the standard or solid fleece seems to do better in the wind and drizzly conditions. Size the fleece up a bit for maximum ventilation, and the versatility is enhanced.
However, if you tend to wear a fleece as a base-layer under a shell, the grid fleece is going to work better for your needs due to its breathability.
Wear grid fleece if breathability is the focus; standard or solid fleece if a more well-rounded layer is needed.
Or, to put it another way, grid fleece makes a better base layer. Traditional fleece is a better insulation layer.
I tend to wear my fleece as a light jacket when moving, so the solid fleece works better for my needs. For the rare very extreme cold weather when moving, the military grid fleece layers work well under my other layers. And it works well at night or in camp under my wind layers. I also tend to stash a grid fleece in my daypack as the bulk is less vs. a solid fleece.
In the end, it does not matter all that much, really, however. 🙂 Wear what is most comfortable for you, what is available, and your aesthetic preference.