Header: 1. Jim with son RJ on the top of Rattlesnake Mountain in Vermont, wearing his Patagonia Synch Snap-T fleece. 2. Daughter Molly wearing the same Patagonia fleece at the Burlington, VT Waterfront - the exact location where Jim and his wife, Patricia renewed their vows on June 7th of 2016, after 30 years of marriage.
Left: Jim (author) with son RJ on the top of Rattlesnake Mountain in Vermont, wearing his Patagonia Synch Snap-T fleece. Right: Daughter Molly wearing the same Patagonia fleece at the Burlington, VT Waterfront - the exact location where Jim and his wife, Patricia renewed their vows on June 7th of 2016, after 30 years of marriage.
The Better Sweater
The Better Sweater

The Origin of Fleece

When Yvon Choinard was looking for weatherproof insulation for his newly formed Patagonia clothing line, he turned to his heritage for answers. His father was a fisherman, so he checked in with people who fished commercially on what they used to keep warm. He discovered a synthetic pile liner worn under their foul weather gear and made a jacket with the pile on the inside and rough finish on the outside. It worked, trapping body heat if covered with a shell. Yvon next found a polyester-based fabric much like bath mats and fashioned a jacket from this as a prototype. From there, he contacted Malden Mills, the leading maker of fleece, to get a polyester fabric for such jackets. The result was the bunting jacket in the early 1980’s.

Patagonia began to use recycled fibers to save cost and reduce waste. They had fleece in the casual line, such as the Better Sweater, Synchilla, Los Gatos, and Micro D. Patagonia also used fleece in technical applications, such as R1, Retro X windblock fleece, ReTool, and Retro Pile. The lightweight, easy drying and adaptable fabric is a staple of their clothing line.

Differences in Fleece

All of Patagonia’s fleece is made from recycled polyester fibers. The thickness, finish, and applications vary based on the design of each garment. While all fleece dries quickly and insulates, Patagonia engineers each piece with specific uses in mind.

Tech pieces, such as an R1 fleece, have a grid inside the insulation. It provides stretch and great moisture transfer. The smooth outer surface disperses moisture and perspiration, so the garment dries quickly. Dry is better than wet when working or playing outdoors.

The Micro D Fleece
The Micro D Fleece

Casual pieces, such as the Better Sweater or Synchilla, are more simple in design, focusing on fashion as well as function. The Better Sweater is a fashion forward approach to fleece and one of Patagonia’s most popular pieces. Available in full zip, quarter zip, and vest, they have a resemblance to the old Norwegian ragg wool sweaters, but are much easier to care for. The Synchilla comes as a snap T pullover and full zip. It is a plain weave and relies on color and patterns for its appeal. As a plain weave, this staple has been in the line for almost four decades.

The Micro D is a lightweight alternative to the other two fleeces. Easily worn indoors, it is about half the weight of the Lightweight Synchilla and Better Sweater. Patagonia has also added the Shearling Button Pullover and crew as a transition between fleece and pile.

The Classic Retro-X Pile Fleece
The Classic Retro-X Pile Fleece

Pile Fleece

Pile is a more open weave than fleece. This allowed more air to be trapped, adding the warmth value, This is particularly true with layered with a waterproof or windproof shell. The Retro Pile Jacket is a simple version of pile. Styled much like the Bunting Jackets of the early 1980’s, it traps air and is stretchy and warm for casual wear. The Retro X adds a wind blocker on the inside of the pile. This layer is brushed polyester mesh, bonded to the pile. It is moisture wicking to keep you dry and has an odor control treatment.

The ReTool is a casual jacket, using a fabric very similar to the technical fabric found in the R2 jacket. Patagonia uses PolarTech Thermal Pro polyester fleece in this jacket. Unlike other pile jackets, the pile is on the inside, with a textured exterior that adds stretch and breathability.

The Los Gatos fleece is a high pile, 100% recycled fleece at a very affordable price point. It is offered in a quarter zip pullover, full zip jacket and hoody, as well as a vest. It is a double faced fleece, making it hard working and warm, especially when layered.

The R1 Air Technical Fleece
The R1 Air Technical Fleece

Tech Fleece

Tech fleece uses the same recycled materials as other fleeces, but engineers them into hard working pieces for specific purposes. Included in the tech fleece line are the regulator fleeces, first introduced in 1999, Tech Face Regulators, which add a DWR finish to the exterior of the piece, and the R1 Daily line, using stretch and a lighter weight to bridge the gap between baselayers and full on technical fleece.

The secret to the regulator line is air and moisture transport. These pieces keep you warm, allowing excess heat and moisture to pass through by using a grid. The grid has fleece, with air spaces in between, forming the block pattern. The fleece keeps you warm, while the spaces allow air and moisture to wick through and evaporate on the outer surface.

The R1 Techface comes in a jacket and full zip hoody. The R2, a thicker version of the Techface, comes in a jacket and full zip hoody. The R1 comes with a smooth stretchy exterior and as a pullover zip neck, pullover hoody, and pants. The R1 Daily, which has a smooth outside with a fleecy inside, making it a lighter weight transition piece which comes in a zip neck pullover and jacket.

The R1 Air is a lightweight, quick drying fleece for higher exertion activity in cold conditions. The 100% recycled pieces are available in zip neck, crew, and full zip hoody. This piece has a distinctive jacquard design instead of the grid found in other tech fleeces. It uses a hollow core yarn to assist in wicking and speeds drying. It is highly breathable for high energy activities. It is light and compressible. It’s a staff favorite at Patagonia Burlington.

The Unisex Synchilla Anorak
The Unisex Synchilla Anorak

Fleece Lab

A relatively new initiative by Patagonia is the development of a line of clothing called Fleece Lab. Fleece Lab is designed to be “fashion forward outerwear” that combines sustainability with street style. Fleece Lab uses recycled materials, including, recycled polyester, recycled wool, and reclaimed down. They are high quality products with an eye toward fashion trends. They also focus on low environmental impact.

Style-driven pieces include a women’s recycled Sherpa Hybrid Jacket, men’s Reclaimed Fleece Pullover, women’s Shelled Retro X Pullover, women’s Recycled High Pile Fleece Down Jacket, the unisex Synchilla Anorak, and the men’s and women’s Woolyester Chore Coat.

Environmental Impact of Fleece

Fleece is a miracle fiber for outdoor active use. There are environmental pluses and minuses to using fleece. Patagonia uses a high percentage of recycled material when manufacturing fleece fabrics. 80% of their fleece is made from recycled soda and water bottles. Starting in 1993, Patagonia started using more and more recycled materials in the construction of their fleeces. This keeps these materials out of the landfill and reduces the raw materials they need to use.

On the negative side, all fleece releases microfibers into the environment. These are primarily released during consumer washing. Up to 40% of these microfibers enter our waterways. Microfibers also can transport dangerous chemicals into the environment. These fibers are also found in soil, aquatic animals, and even sea salt. Patagonia is actively participating in experiments to reduce this pollution. One step you can take is to simply wash your fleece garments less frequently. Wear more, wash less. Another is to wash fleece garments in front loading washers whenever possible. Top loading washers release seven times more microfibers from fleece than front loaders according to experiments Patagonis has participated in. Less is better.

We hope this fleece breakdown will help answer any questions you may have and see how Patagonia is leading the way with how fleece and other goods are made. Let us know if you have any questions and/or stop in the store for more information.

- Jim Cournoyer, Patagonia Burlington

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