Stretch Fleece Tops

Puzzled by their lack of popularity amongst walkers and backpackers,
CHRIS TOWNSEND has tested a selection for Trailwalk

There can be few walkers who don't own at least one fleece jacket, probably a mid-weight one. Heavyweight and windproof fleeces are quite popular too. But lightweight fleece, especially stretch fleece, doesn'tseem to find much favour with walkers. This puzzles me as it's the ideal weight for wearing as part of a layer system, the most efficient way to cope with varying weather conditions and levels of activity. I use this type of fleece all year round, as my main warm wear in summer and as a base layer or mid layer in winter. When it's really cold I often wear two stretch fleeces, a more versatile combination than a thicker single fleece. I also like stretch fleece because it's lightweight and fairly low in bulk and so takes up little room in the pack, adding very little to a backpacking load.

Stretch fleece doesn't lend itself to complex designs. All those tested are simple pullover styles. A few have small chest pockets but other than that there are no features at all. I prefer fairly loose hems so I can tuck the garment into my trousers without it riding up and pulling out. I also like sleeves that can be pulled up when it's hot, which requires very stretchy or adjustable cuffs. Other points to look for are flat seams, especially over the shoulders and in garments that will be worn next to the skin, and sleeves that don't ride up when you extend your arms, as when scrambling or using trekking poles. The last are surprisingly hard to find.

There are several different stretch fleece fabrics available. Some are two-way stretch, some one-way. The first are closer fitting and so better for wearing next to the skin. Either will work well as a mid layer. All the fleeces tested breathe well. In particular bi-component fleece wicks moisture away from the body amazingly quickly and is superb as a cold weather base layer. This fleece has a fluffy raised inner that takes moisture off the skin fast and a smooth outer on which the moisture can spread out for quick evaporation.