Best Women's Fleece
Author Morgan Tilton testing fleece jackets in Colorado; (photo/Xander Bianchi)

The Best Fleece Jackets for Women in 2021-2022

We’re here to help you find the best fleece jackets for women. Insulate yourself against cold and stay outside longer.

In order to find the best fleece jackets for women, we tested across a wide variety of environments and tasks. In recent years, our testers have included an AMGA-certified rock guide, a sugar beet harvester, a ski patrol tail guide, a professional wildlife photographer, a rancher, a hunter, a winter camper, and several more female hikers, skiers, and climbers on our staff.

These layers were tested while rock climbing, glassing for animals, ranching, farming, trail running, weight lifting, backcountry touring, skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and cold-weather camping. Our testers traversed through Idaho’s remotest wild rivers, North Dakota farmlands, up cracks in Utah’s Indian Creek, and throughout Colorado’s high-elevation peaks and limestone walls. Temperatures stretched from splitting cold at sunrise to scorching beneath the sun during fieldwork.

And while there isn’t a single fleece that works for every person and use, we’ve highlighted a variety of options so you can find the one that suits you best. Whether you’re after a high warmth-to-weight ratio, a jacket with good range of motion, or just plain ol’ comfort from the cold, we’ve got you covered.

The Best Fleece Jackets for Women in 2021-2022

Best Overall: Arc’teryx Kyanite Hoodie

Arc’teryx Kyanite Hoody

 

This synthetic midweight hooded fleece ($179) is durable and stretchy with excellent wicking ability. The nylon in the weave helps guard against wind.

As one tester explained, “This hoody had a surprising resilience to extremely cold, strong wind.” She wore this jacket as an outer layer during fall and winter trail runs around 9,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies.

Temperatures ranged from 20 to 40 degrees F plus wind chill. After moving and warming up, sweat was noticeable even in cold conditions.

“There aren’t thumbholes, but I love the length of the arms, which cover my wrists and can stretch to comfortably cover my whole hand if I don’t want to carry glove liners,” she said.

Also, the cut is attractive alone and streamlined for layering under a down jacket or harness. Just wear deodorant, as the fabric does retain body odor.

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Runner-Up: The North Face Denali 2 Jacket

The North Face Denali 2 Jacket

The Women’s Denali 2 Jacket ($179) is an awesome choice for a fleece. Somewhere between a standard and relaxed fit, it has a 100% recycled polyester fleece fabric with DWR finish, overlays and abrasion-resistant shoulders, adjustable hems, and three zippered pockets (two hand, one chest pocket).

The fleece weight is on the higher end at 350 gsm; this made it one of our top choices in testing in the middle of Colorado winters. It’s also zip-in compatible with most other TNF jackets — a huge perk if you already own The North Face outerwear and are looking for flawless layering integration.

And the Denali 2 is available in sizes XS-2XL (3XL will be available soon).

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Best Budget: REI Groundbreaker Fleece Jacket 2.0

REI Groundbreaker Fleece Jacket 2.0

This jacket ($50) isn’t only an amazing quality fleece, but it’s amazing on the wallet too. It’s got a midweight fleece fabric, a full-zip front, and two zippered hand pockets. Yup, sometimes, that’s all you need.

We love the soft yet durable feel of the fabric and this fleece’s perfect ability to stand on its own or with other layers. It’s also got YKK zippers throughout. Our testers found it wasn’t as warm as other fleeces we tested, and one wished the collar was higher to block wind. But other than that, it’s a super great fleece.

If you are a no-fuss person who loves to get outside and is in need of a solid and warm fleece midlayer, consider REI’s Groundbreaker. The Groundbreaker Fleece 2.0 also comes in men’s and plus sizes.

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Most Breathable: Orvis PRO Half-Zip Fleece

Orvis PRO Half-Zip Fleece

This fleece ($59) is midweight but feels lighter than other midlayers I’ve worn, even though it retains warmth well,” said our tester, who pulled on the fleece as an outer layer or midlayer in below-freezing conditions while camping, hiking, and walking in Colorado.

The fleece side panels allow heat and sweat to escape, so you don’t get too hot. One tester explained, “I could transition from 10 degrees outside to dinner inside a busy restaurant without needing to take it off.”

The polyester-spandex blend is reinforced by an abrasion-resistant coating but doesn’t block wind well. Overall, the freedom of movement for the warmth-to-weight ratio is solid.

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Best Water Resistance: Voormi Access NXT Pullover

Voormi Access NXT Pullover

The Access NXT ($229) has a lot going for it. It blends the best qualities of fleece with stink-resistant, warm-when-wet wool. And it’s even made in the USA.

“I’ve never used a pullover that repels water — it feels too good to be true. Even if it’s poured on, liquid beads off the surface,” said our tester, who wore this DWR-coated midweight midlayer while ice climbing, backcountry touring, and resort snowboarding in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.

Conditions ranged from blizzard and freezing to frigid bluebird days. We also had a few sun-baked single pitches on the ice, during which the pullover was a prime outer layer. This jacket is comfortable to touch and move in and is extremely durable, even against abrasive textures.

Plus, it’s odor-resistant due to the blend of 21.5-micron wool and nylon. It does come with a higher price tag but is worth it for a bomber everyday layer.

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Best Climbing-Compatible: Norrona Falketind Alpha 120 Zip Fleece

Norrona Falketind Alpha 120 Zip Fleece

This fleece is amazing. It feels good, it looks good, but most of all, it’s covered in technical features. The Norrona Falketind Alpha 120 ($189) offers lots of warmth at a low weight (244 g) and has harness-compatible zippered hand pockets, flatlock seams, underarm gussets, a fitted hood, and a zippered chest pocket (which we love and have found is a rare feature on women’s fleeces).

Norrona boasts that this breathable fleece midlayer is great for ski touring, mountaineering, hiking and backpacking, climbing, and general outdoor activities. We tested it backpacking, hiking, climbing, snowshoeing, and more. And we agree.

Norrona’s Falketind Alpha 120 fleece is made with a combination of Polartec Alpha and Polartec PowerGrid fabric (grid fleece). It’s also one of the most sustainably made technical fleeces we tested. Its fabric is Oeko-Tex- and Bluesign-certified, and more than 50% of its fibers are recycled too.

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Best Wool Blend: Patagonia Woolie Fleece Pullover

Patagonia Woolie Fleece Pullover

The Woolie Fleece pullover ($159) blends recycled wool, cotton, and nylon. Our tester, a professional wildlife photographer based in the Elk Mountains, wore this layer during pre-dawn and evening hikes to capture creatures, as well as for midday sledding and snowball-fight excursions with her young daughter.

The piece’s breathability, warmth-to-weight ratio, insulation, and durability received the highest marks from her. “The weight of the Woolie makes it an ideal standalone top layer on a chilly day or a midlayer on a colder day,” she said after waiting with her camera for ducks to fly from a pond one morning. She sandwiched the fleece between a long-sleeve base layer and a down jacket in 15-degree weather with a 10mph breeze.

“The biggest con is, like most fleeces, it attracts hair,” she said. “While the material is technical, the box-neck-style yoke and stand-up collar is difficult to zip a jacket over, so it’s not a top choice for multiday treks,” she added.

“However, it’s a great technical fashion fleece that allows for outdoor adventures leading right into a meeting or dinner out. And it was the perfect outer layer when I walked the town trails with my daughter in the afternoon.”

Note: For sensitive skin, direct contact can be slightly itchy.

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Best Cotton Blend: Mammut Chamuera Hooded Jacket

Mammut Chamuera Hooded Jacket

The Chamuera Jacket ($149) won high marks for breathability and durability. “Moisture breathed and evaporated well, even though the outer woven polyester material is super durable,” said our tester, a ski patrol trail guide, about the Chamuera after hikes and trail runs with the heavyweight midlayer.

Conditions were brisk and windy post-snowfall, with temperatures ranging from 30 to 50 degrees. The high-reaching zippered neck helped block wind, and there’s enough stretch to comfortably fit a long-sleeve base layer beneath.

“The hip pockets are spacious, and the zippers are close-seamed to the garment, which is great, so they can’t snag or catch on other various layers,” she noted. But she was most excited about the fabric quality. “The cotton interior is amazing for comfort and softness.” Plus, the exterior is sleek.

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Best Recycled Materials: Topo Designs Mountain Fleece

Topo Designs Mountain Fleece

The Mountain Fleece ($149) harks back to the classic roots but with a slightly more fitted, conventional cut. “This fleece is super cozy for camping out or hanging at the base of a crag while climbing, and it’s my go-to piece for chilly nights by the campfire. I also get a ton of compliments on the look,” said our tester, who took this piece on outdoor overnighters throughout the Colorado Rockies.

The design is a 100% recycled polyester and nylon blend that’s dense, which offers great warmth and wind resistance. The reinforced elbows and ribbed cuff sleeves also bar climate and retain warmth while adding durability. The trade-off for sustainable warmth? It’s a bit too bulky and warm for backpacking or skiing.

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Best for Plus Sizes: prAna Polar Escape Half Zip Plus

Prana Polar Escape Half Zip Plus

Looking for a midweight, plus-size fleece? The Polar Escape Half Zip Plus by prAna ($99) offers accurate 1X-3X sizing, a relaxed fit, a thicker high-pile (chenille texture) recycled polyester fleece with a soft jersey knit lining. And prAna topped it off with a kangaroo pocket in front and a fleece-lined hood. It also adjusts at the hem to lock in warmth. We’ve only got two words: cozy AF.

In terms of feedback from customers and testers, some were not happy with the looser fit (some thought it runs large), and some also weren’t sold on the colors. But prAna does market it as an oversized fit. So, if that’s what you are looking for, this fleece is a great choice.

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Best of the Rest

Under Armour Wintersweet Half Zip 2.0

Under Armour Wintersweet Half Zip 2.0

Looking for a durable fleece that won’t break the bank? Then it’s time you meet this Under Armour Wintersweet Half-Zip ($80). The fabric is 100% polyester and traps heat exceptionally well.

As one tester explained, “I was surprised by the freedom of movement I felt in this fleece despite how much warmth it offered. It was resilient to roughness and didn’t show any signs of wear. It didn’t reveal stench, even after multiple days of arduous use. Plus, it stayed dry through constant exposure to dampness and rain.”

While whitewater rafting two extremely remote riverways in Idaho, our tester didn’t take this sweater-knit fleece off once — except in her sleeping bag. Conditions ranged from absolute downpours in the evenings and mornings to damp walks around camp and ice-wind while rowing plus plenty of douses from the freezing rapids.

The midlayer slid over a long-sleeve base layer and fit beneath a drysuit while rafting. And to top it off, the price is super friendly.

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Arc’teryx Delta LT Fleece Jacket

Arc'teryx Delta LT Fleece Jacket

This ultra-packable, borderline ultralight (LT is Arc’teryx-speak for lightweight) fleece layer is one our editor tested extensively this fall, from 35-degree early-morning weather up to an overcast 60.  Whether we were walking, hiking, climbing, or running — this “jacket” kept us warm.

The Arc’teryx Delta LT ($149) is made with an air-permeable, synthetic 100-velour Polartec microfleece. It also features YKK zippers and an articulated design. Specifically, the gusseted arms lend to plenty of stretch — especially great for activities that require greater range of motion.

We found the Delta LT perfect in terms of breathability, warmth, and fast-wicking powers. And quality touches like smooth mesh-backed zippered hand pockets, a brushed polyester collar, and sleeve pocket just add to its greatness.

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Norrona Trollveggen Powerstretch Pro Zip Hood

Norrona Trollveggen Powerstretch Pro Zip Hood

“The snug fit of the Trollveggen ($209) looks nice and offers good insulation, while the stretchy material allows for a variety of movements and activities. And thumbholes are always a pro,” said our tester, a ski instructor who farms sugar beets in North Dakota during the offseason.

She wore this medium-weight wool-polyester blend in windy, cold conditions during her 12-hour shifts collecting beet samples, shoveling dirt, and cleaning machinery in 25- to 70-degree temps.

“In the coldest temperatures, this midlayer was better paired with another outer layer,” she noted. She also runs and lifts weights in her free time and said the layer has great moisture-wicking ability.

One drawback: The multiple seams, which connect the color panels on the arms and chest, make the fleece uncomfortable against the skin.

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Kari Traa Rothe Midlayer Fleece Jacket

kari traa rothe midlayer pullover fleece

For 90 bucks and for those looking for a more casual fleece layer that can also work great for layering in winter, look no further than this Kari Traa fleece. The Rothe Midlayer Fleece Jacket ($90) is an insulated midlayer pullover the brand says “is big on warmth, comfort and modern, sporty design.”

Casual components refer to the relaxed fit and ribbed cuffs, while more standard features include a high collar, zippered hand pockets, and a chest pocket. The polyester fleece fabric is higher pile than most fleeces on market, and we loved its level of warmth in testing.

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Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Fleece Jacket for Women

Fleece is an insulating midlayer or lightweight jacket or vest made from synthetic materials, typically polyester or a polyester blend. The human-made fabric is soft and fuzzy, imitates wool fleece, and often has a full or partial front zipper.

It’s not to be confused with wool fleece, a natural fiber used to create apparel, which comes from a variety of animals including sheep, lamb, alpaca, and goat.

Benefits of Fleece

Fleece is generally breathable, wicks moisture, and is quick-drying, which can be good for cardio activities like backcountry skiing, trail running, backpacking, or hiking. Designs vary based on their warmth-to-weight ratio, wind and water resistance, bulkiness, and features like thumbholes, pockets, or hoods.

Wool, on the other hand, regulates temperature well, shields wind, carries anti-odor properties, and is naturally water-repellent due to lanolin that coats the fibers. Comparatively, fleece wets quicker than wool but dries faster.

Warmth and Insulation

Fleeces offer varying levels of warmth and insulation from the cold, based on the type of fabric, weight, and if any fabric liners are added. We’d classify all of our best of picks as midlayers, though some are warmer than others.

Lightweight fleeces are typically around 100 gsm, midweight fleeces are typically around 200 gsm, and heavyweight fleeces are around 300g-400 gsm. GSM (grams per square meter) simply refers to the weight of the fabric used.

Some examples of the best lightweight fleeces on this list are the Obermeyer Catalina Hoodie and Arc’teryx Delta LT Fleece, while the REI Groundbreaker and Topo Designs Mountain Pullover are good examples of midweight fleeces.

Our runner-up pick, The North Face Denali 2 Jacket, was the heaviest-weight fleece we tested this year. And if you were curious, our best overall pick falls on the heavier end (345 gsm) of a midweight layer.

Editor Mary Murphy in the technical Norrona Falketind Fleece midlayer and a beanie as she hikes in fall
Editor Mary Murphy in the technical Norrona Falketind Fleece; (photo/Mary Murphy)

Water Resistance

Modern fleece designs often feature water- and abrasion-repellent treatments to enhance durability. Some even integrate wool fibers for odor control while keeping your warmth in.

Size and Fit 

Generally, women’s-specific fleece jackets take into account women’s different shapes and ratios in areas like the hips and shoulders. Many of the more athletic-fit fleeces we tested are also tailored (and even gusseted) in the arms and shoulders to be more form-fitting, though there are plenty of relaxed-fit fleece jackets on the market as well.

Price

If a wool fleece includes cashmere, a super-soft and fine goat hair, its price increases considerably. Otherwise, the majority of fleece and wool falls in a similar price range, plus a handful of budget-friendlier fleece options.

FAQ

What Is a Fleece Jacket?

Fleece is an insulating midlayer or lightweight outer jacket created from synthetic materials, typically polyester or a polyester blend. The human-made fabric is soft, breathable, and quick-drying, and it imitates wool fleece.

Fleece jackets are long-sleeved, often with a full or partial front zipper. The material needs an additional treatment in order to be wind- or water-resistant.

Fleece is not to be confused with wool fleece, a natural fiber used to create apparel, which comes from a variety of animals including sheep, lamb, alpaca, goat, and bison.

The first-ever synthetic fleece textile was developed in 1981 by Malden Mills Industries, which is now known as Polartec. Using the fabric, Patagonia collaborated with the company to develop the Synchilla Fleece pullover in 1985. Today, dozens of companies in addition to Polartec produce fleece fabric.

For What Activities Should I Use a Fleece Jacket?

Fleece jackets are a key warmth midlayer for cooler and cold seasons or when the temperatures drop each evening. As a midlayer, a fleece is a solid addition beneath a snow or rain jacket. Typically, they fit well over a trim, synthetic T-shirt — especially if you tend to run hot — or a thinner long-sleeve base layer.

These jackets can be breathable and moisture-wicking for high-output activities like hiking, biking, running, skiing, and snowboarding at the resort or in the backcountry. If the temperature or environmental conditions are fickle, a fleece treated with additional weather protection — like the wind-blocking Voormi Diversion Hoodie — can help protect against gusts or snowfall while skinning uphill or traversing a ridgeline.

The density and thickness of fleece vary, so you’ll need to consider the temperature range of your environment, how cardio-intensive your activity is, and your personal health needs. Check out our insulation and weight section above to learn more about fleece weights.

woman wearing red fleece jacket outside

Is a Fleece Jacket Good for Winter Use?

A fleece jacket is an excellent midlayer for cold temperatures and wintry weather. Many fleeces are designed with an athletic, slender fit to pair beneath a snow jacket.

Some designs are roomy, and others have a fluffier surface called pile, which is also known as high-pile, high-loft, sherpa, or faux shearling. Pile fleece can still be technical, but it’s generally bulkier, which some recreationists don’t prefer if they’re traveling far and limited on backpack space.

Designs without a fabric treatment to guard against wind or snow work well for cold, sunny, and cloudy conditions. A handful of technical fleece jackets are constructed to withstand wind and snow. They won’t replace an outer layer but are great for high-output activities like backcountry skiing and splitboarding.

How Warm Is a Fleece Jacket?

The warmth of a fleece jacket varies based on the material’s density, which is measured in grams per square meter (gsm). They range from lightweight fleece jackets for high-aerobic activities like nordic skiing or running to thick, heavyweight designs for layering up at the campsite. Check out our insulation and weight section above to learn more about fleece weights.

Is Fleece Better Than Cotton?

In a word, yes, fleece is better than cotton — if we’re talking about managing precipitation, turbulent weather conditions, perspiration, and overall safety during outdoor activity.

Though some folks enjoy the touch of cotton, fleece is a hydrophobic fiber that repels water and dries relatively quickly. Cotton absorbs moisture, doesn’t dry quickly, and can chafe when wet.

Recreationists should avoid fabric that holds sweat and stays damp, which can potentially increase the risk of hypothermia and discomfort.


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