Fleece layers haven taken a bit of hit these past few years as consumers flocked to down and synthetic puffies for insulation and popular style.

While fleece may be down, it’s not out, and many predict a comeback. Brands are attempting to re-invigorate the category with new fabrics, technologies and designs.

One new take from Icebreaker is to bring fleece back to its wool roots, plus make it a viable softshell outerwear piece. The New Zealand merino wool brand does both in its Kodiak Long Sleeve Zip, a product we’ve been testing since last spring. (There’s also a similar hooded version).

Right off the bat, your customers might be dubious — a merino wool outer layer, can it work? The Kodiak is 100 percent merino wool, minus the trim, so there is no poly or nylon mix here to toughen it up. With some similar all-merino products, we’re used to snags, pulls and pilling.

Not so with the Kodiak. First and foremost, this product impressed us with its durability. The tight, thick and smooth knitted exterior held up to everything we threw at it, including serving as camping blanket for the dog one night. Nearly half-a-year later, there’s not the not the slightest scratch or pulled thread.

The Kodiak’s ability to insulate, breathe and control odor is great as expected with merino. And while this isn’t a next-to-skin piece, we didn’t feel too much itch from the brushed interior, only cozy warmth.

As an outerwear product, we were pleasantly surprised about the Kodiak’s wind resistance. It was perfect for riding our bike to work during cool mornings, without having to add an extra windbreaker. Bonus points: it doesn’t have that stiff feel that other wind-resistant softshells have.

There’s a nice big, sturdy full-length zipper, two zippered exterior hand pockets and one zippered chest pocket (with a pass through for headphones), plus two interior pockets on the reverse of the hand pockets.

The medium fit was great for our tester, who has a slim build and long arms. The sleeves surprisingly ran even a little long for him (a first for a medium!), but that was great for those bike rides to cover the gaps while the arms were stretched out.

But here’s the real question: Does the Kodiak replace the puffy? Yes and no.

When it comes to insulation, protection and style, plus an advantage of breathability, we say yes. In and around town, this was our go-to piece. Its form-fitting style also layers well under a jacket if extra protection is needed. 

But in the backcountry, the Kodiak’s disadvantage is weight (the men’s medium came in at 19.3 ounces on our scale) and compressibility (it can go down to a size of about a football). The Kodiak’s durability held up in the backcountry, but its bulk and weight made us frequently opt for our lighter puffies instead.

Bottom line: This is a great piece for the urban outdoorsman and bike commuter. It will stand up to a more serious workout in the backcountry, if the customer doesn’t mind the extra bulk and weight. 

MSRP: $250

SNEWS® Rating: 4.5 out of 5