Review: EMS Divergence Fleece Jacket

The Divergence Fleece Jacket from Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) is a comfortable and warm mid-weight jacket that offers more protection from the wind than a traditional fleece jacket.  I have found it to be a good choice for outdoor activities in cooler weather and as a mid-layer beneath a shell in wetter or colder conditions.

Divergence Jacket Basics

The Divergence Jacket is made from Polartec Wind Pro Fleece, which gives this jacket a leg up when compared to traditional fleece.  The difference is noticeable in light to moderate winds, though in stronger winds, the Wind Pro fabric cannot act as a windbreaker, so the resistance is not as noticeable.

In addition to being wind resistant, the material is breathable like other fleece, which allows moisture from your body to escape, while keeping warmth in.  It also offers some resistance to moisture coming at you in the form of rain or snow.  The jacket is not waterproof though, so in anything beyond a light snow or very light rain, it would be best to have a shell on over this jacket.

In addition to just fleece, a panel made from a mix of the fleece and spandex (they nylon/spandex on the outside and fleece on the inside) goes across the upper back on the jacket and down the sides to allow some extra stretch that is missing from fleece alone.

The cut of the jacket is slightly athletic and contoured to your body to reduce the bulk of the jacket.  This comes in handy during outdoor activities as the jacket does not get in the way or bulk up underneath a backpack.  There is also a cinch-cord at the base of the jacket, which allows you to tighten the lower end of the jacket to keep it closer to your body and prevent heat loss.   The collar zips all the way up and covers about half your neck.

There are three pockets on the jacket, two traditional hand pockets near the base and a chest pocket.  The two hand pockets are large enough to put your hands in while wearing gloves and the chest pocket is large enough to place a map or small electronics in.

The cuffs on the sleeves are made from the same material that the spandex panels are made from.  This gives the cuffs a tight fit around your wrists, which helps keep moisture out and heat in.

The jacket is part of EMS’ SYNC system.  It can be snapped into an EMS SYNC shell.

The jacket can be washed on the cold cycle in your washing machine, but it is suggested that it is line dried and that you avoid using any fabric softeners on it.

Divergence Jacket Experiences

I have had plenty of jackets over the years and a large number of those have been some sort of fleece jackets, so I was interested in seeing how the Divergence Jacket compared to others, especially my bulkier fleece and the soft-shells that I have.

When I first received the Divergence, I was a bit taken aback by just how light it seemed.  The Wind Pro Fleece really does do an amazing job at reducing bulk, while still maintaining warmth.  There is enough wind resistance to make this jacket warm in colder temperatures in low to moderate winds.  That said, when the wind really blew hard, I could feel it and in those cases, a shell would make the difference and extend the range of this jacket.

For outdoor activities this jacket worked well for hiking in colder weather (20s to 30s) without strong winds.  With a base layer on underneath, this jacket kept me warm and I did not find myself overheating as I have with some of my heavier fleece jackets.  When I stopped hiking the jacket did a good job at staying warm and warding off low to mid-level breezes.  However if the wind picked up or I was stopping for more than a few minutes, I did end up throwing my shell on over the jacket.  In those cases, the jacket was warm under the shell and once I started moving again, the shell came off.  I do not have a SYNC compatible shell, but with my regular shell, the jacket fit well underneath and the two were comfortable to wear.

Thanks to our snowless winter so far, I have not been able to use the jacket for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, but I think that it would do well as an outer layer during intense activities and as a mid-layer beneath a shell in colder conditions or when you were skiing downhill.

The jacket also does well for work around the house and when I am out and about.  I have found it to do well in both cases.  Because it is breathable and wind resistant, it is comfortable to wear when splitting and stacking wood where with heavier jackets you tend to overheat.  The fact that it also contours to your body is helpful because the jacket itself stays out of the way.  For general purposes, the jacket is fine to wear around town and out to dinner.

Divergence Jacket Pluses

I am usually not a fan of athletically cut clothing, but I do like the trim, body contoured cut of the Divergence Jacket.  It fits snugly without being too tight.  This cut also keep the jacket out of the way, moves with you as you are engaging in physical activity and fits well beneath an outer shell.

It might not seem like much, but I like the spandex cuffs on the sleeves.  I like that snug fit.  It helps me stay warm and if I was skiing, it would help keep snow from getting up into my sleeve if I was going through some powder or I fell.

The Wind Pro Fleece is a nice improvement over standard fleece too.  It is not completely windproof, but it does give you a good base level of protection that gives the Divergence an almost soft-shell jacket quality.

Divergence Jacket Minuses

The Wind Pro Fleece is also a bit of a disappointment.  It works very well in light to moderate winds, but with a strong gust mixed in or a steady stronger wind, the wind resistance of the jacket is not enough to protect you from the wind.  For outdoor activities this is not much of a problem since I would have my shell either already on or be ready to wear it.  When it comes to wearing this jacket around town though, you have to be conscious of the wind conditions, as it will not provide as much warmth when it is really windy.  There is nothing worse than trying to pump gas on a cold and windy night in a jacket that just is not keeping you warm.

Along the same lines the moisture resistance on the Divergence is not much more than you would find in standard fleece.  That means a light drizzle or a light snowfall is fine with this jacket, but much more than that and you will likely start feeling damp at the very least.  In those cases, it is best to put the shell on over this jacket.

I like a hand pocket that is insulated and the Divergence pockets are not.  The outer portion of the pocket is the fleece material, but the inner portion of the pocket is just liner, which does not provide much hand warming ability.

Final Thoughts

Out of a possible five hiking boots, I will give the Divergence Jacket four.  My gripes about it are minor and do not detract from its functionality as an outdoor jacket.

It fits well, is warm and works in a range of conditions thanks to its wind resistance.  It has been a good jacket for hikes in colder weather, will be a good base jacket for ski and snowshoe trips this winter and looks good and can be worn as a general purpose jacket when I am not out enjoying the outdoors.

Disclaimer: I received the Divergence Fleece Jacket free of charge from EMS in return for an honest review here on Adventures in the Outdoors