Durable, simple, and warm, the REI Groundbreaker can easily layer under a loose jacket to battle chilly temps on winter days. While the basic fleece lacks breathability and the bells and whistles of higher performance fleece, the medium warmth 100% polyester jacket provides cozy comfort for chilly temps. The main attribute of this hoodless fleece is the fantastic price it comes at. For a bit of warmth when you need it, this jacket can take care of you on mellow adventures.Editor's Note: On November 14, 2022, we added the Groundbreaker 2.0 to our line up.
REI Co-op Groundbreaker 2.0 Review
Cons: Poor layering, bulky, lacks breathability
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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REI Co-op Groundbreaker 2.0
$29.89 at REI
$169.00 at REI
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|Pros||Affordable, cozy, simple||Comfortable, warm, simple, versatile, breathable||Athletic fit and performance, breathable, technically proficient||Breathable, lightweight, inexpensive, comfortable for athletics||Inexpensive, warm, comfortable|
|Cons||Poor layering, bulky, lacks breathability||Few features, less technical, no thumb loops||Thin with little warmth, little leisure wear transition,||Average weather resistance||Bulky, hoodless, poor layering|
|Bottom Line||This price-point jacket provides ample warmth and a casual feel||This lightweight piece has all the warmth of a mid-layer jacket but with a highly breathable design that's ideal for colder, active adventures||This highly technical fleece works well during high-intensity outdoor activity by offering performance and breathability||Highly featured and even higher performing, this cost-effective option provides a hard-to-beat value||Affordable, comfortable, and functional, this fleece offers the no-frills basics that you'd want in a jacket|
|Rating Categories||REI Co-op Groundbre...||Patagonia R1 Air Fu...||Mountain Hardwear S...||Outdoor Research Vi...||Columbia Steens Mou...|
|Layering Ability (15%)|
|Weather resistance (10%)|
|Specs||REI Co-op Groundbre...||Patagonia R1 Air Fu...||Mountain Hardwear S...||Outdoor Research Vi...||Columbia Steens Mou...|
|Measured Weight||11.6 oz||12.5 oz||13.3 oz||13 oz||16.6 oz|
|Main Material||100% polyester||100% Polyester||100% polyester||94% polyester, 6% spandex||100% polyester|
|# of Pockets||2||3||2||3||2|
|Unique Features||Stretch binding at waist and cuffs||Slim-fit hood, quick drying||Raglan sleeves, thumb holes, three-piece fitted hood||Thumb holes, UPF 30, 3-panel hood with binding||None|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The non-technical REI GroundBreaker 2.0 provides comfort and warmth throughout the coldest season at an exceptional price. Simple in design and function, the jacket provides a bit of warmth on cooler evenings, during casual hikes, and relaxing with friends during summer camping trips. However, it's far from a high-performance model so if you're looking for a lightweight fleece that can charge up hills and breathe with ease, then check out some of the other jackets in this review.
Built with thicker, fleecy fabrics, the Groundbreaker 2.0 offers warmth through all the cold months and cold mornings. It functions well as a stand-alone option for the shoulder seasons, where you need a little extra plush comfort. It can also be layered underneath a shell when it gets really cold outside. Its 100% polyester makeup keeps it warm, even when wet. Unfortunately, it doesn't offer a huge amount of wind resistance, despite its thicker fabrics, which takes away from warmth on blustery days. Overall, this is a warm fleece jacket option that is less of an option for technical climbing but is great for post-climbing beers.
While this isn't a technical fleece designed for cardio adventures, it is well suited at home or around a chalet after skiing. The fleecy fabric pile is relatively thick and feels nice right against the skin. The jacket features two hand warmer pockets, but there are no zippered pockets for secure storage. We would typically wear this while hanging out around camp, cozy in our sleeping bag, around the fire on a warmer night, or relaxing at home.
The high pile Groundbreaker offers some resistance to snow but readily absorbs water. When testing the fabric's tenacity to water, we saw the water bead for a moment before completely absorbing into the fabric, which was validated during a particularly stormy day. After walking around with it as a jacket, we could feel some wind cut through the loosely knit design, while the fabric absorbed the water falling from the sky. For breezy days with good weather, it's a nice choice, especially when stacked with a warm base layer. The thicker fabrics offer good protection from the basic elements; however, during a storm or even when there's a bit more precipitation, don't be surprised that it's not water or windproof. Be sure to bring a shell with you.
While this isn't the heaviest fleece that we reviewed, our testers felt like the garment weighed on them a bit. The simplicity of the garment and the lack of extra pockets, hood, or other features help minimize the weight. When we put it on the scale, the Groundbreaker was 11.6 ounces for a size medium making it one of the lightest jackets we reviewed. While the marginal weight is nice, the lack of features makes it less than perfect for throwing into a pack for backcountry missions.
While this fleece offers some breathability through its thicker fabrics, it's not one we'd recommend for hiking in warmer weather. While thinner, more technical fleeces provide amazing thermoregulation, this is not one of them. This jacket lacks ventilation besides the full-length zipper, which is another reason this jacket is best for at-home use where you're not going to be too sweaty. For walking the dog or light evening strolls, it is more than adequate.
Given the thicker fabrics integrated into its design, it's really best for layering over a base layer. There is ample room in the area of the jacket for this purpose. While it can fit underneath a looser upper layer, the thicker fabrics make layering more difficult. The flush fleece snags and catches, especially if the upper jacket is also fleecy. However, under bigger, looser shells, it does okay. The tapered knit wrist makes it easier to grab when pulling it on underneath something, while the hoodless collar doesn't add the bulk that a hoody would provide. Overall, it is harder to layer than technical fleeces, but of the thicker non-technical fleeces, it's actually one of the easiest.
Should You Buy the REI Groundbreaker 2.0?
This is one of the least expensive products in this review but is not a technical performer. If a non-technical fleece jacket is what you seek at a reasonable price, consider it, but it's unlikely you'll see the value if you're seeking a technical fleece that you can take skiing, mountain biking, or while building up a sweat. It also doesn't pack down particularly small, so you need to carry a pack large enough to house it once you take it off. It's best for leisurely hikes, hanging out at home, or getting chores done, and is also backed by REI's amazing warranty, which is a bonus.
What Other Fleece Jackets Should You Consider?
The REI Groundbreaker stands out for its inexpensive price and high-pile construction. This fleece jacket is best worn on its own on less adventurous outings where you simply need a little extra warmth. If you're seeking a technical fleece, we would recommend the Mountain Hardwear Stratus Full Zip or Outdoor Research Vigor, as they score well in our review, and can be purchased at exceptional price points.
— James Lucas
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