woman ice climbing while wearing fleece
Author Morgan Tilton testing fleece jackets in Colorado; (photo/Xander Bianchi)

The Best Fleece Jackets for Women in 2022

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

To find the best fleece jackets for women, we tested these midlayers side-by-side across a wide variety of environments across all four seasons, weather conditions, and outdoor activities. We also used them for daily life from shoveling snow to running errands.

Our testers have included a range of skilled pros from an AMGA-certified rock guide and sugar beet harvester to a ski patrol tail guide, professional wildlife photographer, and rancher. We’ve worn these fleece rock climbing, glassing for animals, trail running, and weight lifting as well as cleaning our rigs, riding a cruiser around town, and cooking meals at the campsite.

These layers have proven their durability and heat-retention while traversing Idaho’s remotest wild rivers, working the land in North Dakota farmlands, ascending cracks in Utah’s Indian Creek, and hiking and skiing 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 while tailgating, we’ve got you covered.

With so many fleeces to choose from, it can be hard to pick the best option for your outdoor activities. Check out our buyer’s guide and FAQ for a breakdown of the how and why of fleece jackets. We also scoured the market for the best men’s fleece jackets, which you can read about in our men’s review.

The Best Fleece Jackets for Women in 2022

Best Overall: Norrona Falketind Alpha 120 Zip Fleece

Norrona Falketind Alpha 120 Zip Fleece

We really enjoyed using the Norrona Falketind Alpha 120 ($199) as a midlayer while alpine snowboarding and cat skiing, and the design worked super well for climbing, too. The higher hand pockets keep the zippers from pinching underneath a harness.

This amazing fleece looks and feels good — the long length reaches the bottom of the hips with an asymmetric longer back cut and generous hem. The arms are lengthy, so we can cozy up our wrists or slide the fabric over the backs of our hands with the thumbhole. Despite the extensive fabric, the cut is sleek without bulk.

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, which means the textiles are free of toxins and sustainably sourced. Additionally, more than 50% of its fibers are recycled.

Most of all, it’s covered in technical features. It offers a surprising amount of warmth at a low weight (244 g), and it has flatlock seams that reduce knobs or rubbing along the stitching.

The underarm gussets allow for a greater range of motion, and we love the fitted hood and zippered chest pocket (a rare feature on women’s fleeces). The two zippered hand pockets have generous space, too.

Norrona boasts 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.

Specs:
  • Weight: 8.6 oz.
  • Fit: Athletic
  • Fabric: Polartec Alpha 120
  • Density: Midweight
  • Special features: Integrated hand gaiters (thumb loops)
Pros:
  • Big warmth at a very low weight
  • Highly breathable during activity
  • Sustainably sourced and toxin-free materials
Cons:
  • No blockage against wind
  • Face fabric isn’t the most tenacious

Check Price at CampSaverCheck Price at Norrona

Runner-Up Best Fleece: Arc’teryx Kyanite Hoodie

Arc’teryx Kyanite Hoodie

With a cozy, soft brushed interior liner and air-permeable construction, this synthetic midweight hooded fleece ($179) remains one of our favorite overall fleece jackets, balancing warmth, comfort, and breathability. And it even offers protection from the elements — the nylon in the weave helps guard against wind and abrasion.

The stretchy fabric used for the hem and cuffs smoothly pulls on over watches or jewelry. The fabric around the hips easily expands, and the four-way stretch fabric around the underarms doesn’t restrict movement one bit.

This hoodie had a surprising resilience to extremely cold, strong wind, which we found while wearing 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 windchill. After moving and warming up, we sweated even in cold conditions. This fleece did a great job wicking sweat, effectively moving moisture away from the body to keep us dry while running at a brisk pace.

There aren’t thumbholes, but we love the length of the arms, which cover our wrists and can stretch to comfortably cover our whole hand if we don’t want to carry glove liners.

The cut is attractive alone and streamlined for layering under a down jacket or harness or beneath a jacket while running errands around town. Just wear deodorant, as the fabric does retain body odor.

Specs:
  • Weight: 12.8 oz.
  • Fit: Athletic
  • Fabric: Polartec Powerstretch Pro: 53% polyester, 38% nylon, 9% elastane
  • Density: Midweight
  • Special features: Helmet-compatible hood
Pros:
  • Wind-resistant fabric
  • Stretchy
  • Attractive cut that’s easy to layer
Cons:
  • No thumb loops
  • Fabric retains body odor

Check Price at REICheck Price at evo

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 also amazing on the wallet. It’s got a midweight fleece fabric, a full-zip front, and two zippered hand pockets. 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 also has high-quality 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.

Specs:
  • Weight: 10.7 oz. (women’s medium)
  • Fit: Relaxed
  • Fabric: Polyester
  • Density: Midweight
  • Special features: YKK zippers
Pros:
  • Soft
  • Durable
  • Affordable price
Cons:
  • Less warmth compared to other designs
  • Doesn’t offer wind protection

Check Price at REICheck Plus Sizes Price at REI

Favorite Technical Fleece: Patagonia R1 TechFace Hoody

Patagonia R1 TechFace Hoodie

This unique technical hooded zip-up ($179) is quickly becoming a classic for adventures in our book. The lightweight fleece is thoroughly armored.

A snag-free synthetic material is treated with a durable water repellent (DWR), allowing precipitation to drip off while being air permeable yet capable of barricading a breeze. The double-weave fabric is stretchy and breathable.

While this layer isn’t the burliest shield for blizzards or rainstorms, the R1 is as slender as a fleece gets, making it a great choice for layering beneath other jackets year-round or pulling on in variable conditions. We grab it for summer days at the crag, trail runs on drizzly spring days, or backcountry ski tours.

Two hand pockets with zip closures are smartly placed a few inches above the hem, allowing space for a harness. And an internal chest pocket with a streamlined zipper is a great stowaway for an ID or credit card. The cuff can reach up and snug around the chin.

The hood is spacious enough to fit over a helmet yet contoured to sandwich beneath one, too. Plus, there’s an integrated laminated visor to help prevent obstruction of vision — rain drips off nice and easy.

We appreciate that the stretch-knit cuffs aren’t bulky and slide easily over thin gloves or a watch. Overall, this layer is comfortable and articulates well during big-movement activity from skinning to climbing.

Specs:
  • Weight: 337 g (women’s small)
  • Fit: Athletic
  • Fabric: 69% recycled nylon, 23% polyester, 8% spandex double-weave
  • Density: 177 gsm
  • Special features: DWR treatment
Pros:
  • Versatile, technical midlayer
  • Weather-resistant and durable
  • Comfortably moves with the body
Cons:
  • For some body types, the cut is too slim

Check Price at Patagonia

Best Hood-Free Choice: Helly Hansen Daybreaker Fleece Jacket

Helly Hansen Daybreaker Fleece Jacket

This full-zip fleece ($65) is a simple, streamlined layer that fits nicely over a base layer and beneath a ski or snowboard jacket. We really like having a fleece with no hood to tuck in or snag, especially when we’re doing activities that require a helmet and already-beefy jackets or face masks. This fleece is one of our go-to midlayers for laps at the ski resort — and best of all, the price is moderate.

A Bluesign-certified garment, we greatly appreciate that the fleece fabric is made from 100% recycled polyester. This jacket also offers one of the most inclusive size ranges with XS through 5XL sizes available for the women’s fleece. Furthermore, at only 280 g, this midlayer feels light despite a fair amount of warmth.

We haven’t noticed the high-quality YKK zippers wear down or get stuck, including on the two hand pocket closures. And the flat seams help create a close fit. When zipped up, the fleece keeps the neck hugged and décolletage warm and protected.

For a well-contoured and non-technical midlayer, this fleece is a great option. Beyond resort skiing and riding, this is a nice fleece year-round on cool days for casual walks, everyday errands, and work meetings as well as casual outdoor activities like hikes and campouts.

Specs:
  • Weight: 280 g
  • Fit: Athletic
  • Fabric: 100% recycled Polartec polyester
  • Density: 100 gsm
  • Special features: 100% recycled polyester
Pros:
  • Eco-friendly materials
  • Lightweight
  • Clean aesthetic
Cons:
  • Doesn’t shield wind, rain, or snow
  • Snug fit and better to size up for looser preference or bulkier body builds

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Helly Hansen

Most Breathable: Orvis PRO Half-Zip Fleece

Orvis PRO Half-Zip Fleece

The smart construction of the pullover Orvis Pro Half-Zip Fleece ($119), with its breathable fabric on the underarms and sides, makes it our top choice for breathability. And the outermost fabric is abrasion-resistant yet not rough against the hand.

At a midweight level, it feels lighter than other comparable weights we’ve worn, even though it retains warmth well. We pulled on this fleece as an outer layer or midlayer in frigid 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. We could transition from 10 degrees outside to dinner inside a busy restaurant without needing to take it off.

Overall, the four-way stretch, freedom of movement, and warmth-to-weight ratio are solid. There’s also a chest pocket with a zipper closure.

Specs:
  • Weight: Unavailable
  • Fit: Athletic
  • Fabric: Polartec Power Stretch Hardface (chest and upper arms), Polartec Power Grid (lower arms and side panels)
  • Density: Midweight
  • Special features: Chest pocket and center half-zip
Pros:
  • Side panels allow heat to escape while active
  • Retains warmth well
  • Good freedom of movement
Cons:
  • Doesn’t block wind well

Check Price at Orvis

Best Water Resistance: Voormi Diversion Hoodie

Voormi Diversion Hoodie

Having a super technical fleece that repels water feels too good to be true. The DWR coating on the Diversion Hoodie ($269) means this fleece sheds moisture, making it our number one pick for water resistance. It blends the best qualities of fleece with stink-resistant, warm-when-wet wool. It’s breathable. And it’s even made in the U.S.

Even if it’s poured on, liquid beads off the surface, which we confirmed while wearing this DWR-coated midweight layer ice climbing, backcountry touring, and resort snowboarding in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. The unique construction weaves soft 21.5-micron wool in the interior with an outer-facing nylon layer that reinforces the midlayer’s strength. It works super well as an outer layer, too.

We appreciate the assortment of pockets with two outer hand pockets, an interior mesh chest pocket with a zipper (and headphone port), and two long, stretchy interior dump pockets to toss items like hats and gloves.

This jacket functions well in broad conditions from blizzards and freezing temps to frigid bluebird days. We also experienced a few sun-baked single pitches while ice climbing, 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.

It does come with a higher price tag but is worth it for a long-term investment in an everyday workhorse. Consider sizing up — we found the thumbholes and wrist seams a bit too snug despite the overall great fit.

Specs:
  • Weight: 12.2 oz. (women’s medium)
  • Fit: Athletic
  • Fabric: Wool blend
  • Density: Midweight
  • Special features: DWR finish
Pros:
  • Repels water, rain, snow, and wind
  • Extremely durable
  • Odor-resistant
Cons:
  • Higher price tag
  • Wrist seams are not stretchy — consider sizing up

Check Price at Voormi

Best Wool Blend: Patagonia Woolie Fleece Pullover

Patagonia Woolie Fleece Pullover

The Woolie Fleece pullover ($159) blends recycled wool, cotton, and nylon. This is a great fashion-forward fleece that allows for outdoor adventures leading right into a meeting or dinner out.

It was the perfect outer layer when we walked the town trails with our family on chilly afternoons. And we wore this layer in the Colorado Rockies during pre-dawn and evening hikes to capture photos of wildlife, as well as for midday sledding and snowball-fight excursions with the kiddos.

With many high marks, the piece’s breathability, warmth-to-weight ratio, insulation, and durability caught our attention. The weight of the Woolie makes it an ideal standalone top layer on a chilly day or a midlayer on a colder day, which we found after waiting with our camera for ducks to fly from a pond one morning. We typically sandwiched the fleece between a base layer and a down jacket when temps would drop as low as 15 degrees F with a 10mph breeze.

The biggest con — like with many fleeces— is that it attracts hair. Also, while the material is technical, the box-neck-style yoke and stand-up collar are difficult to zip a jacket over, so it’s not a top choice for technical or multiday treks.

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

Specs:
  • Weight: 16 oz.
  • Fit: Relaxed
  • Fabric: 40% recycled wool, 35% recycled cotton, 18% recycled nylon, 7% other fibers
  • Density: Midweight
  • Special features: ¼-zip neck, rib-knit cuffs, and hem
Pros:
  • Breathable
  • Fair Trade Certified
  • Fashion-forward
Cons:
  • Box-neck-style yoke makes it more difficult to layer
  • Slightly itchy for some folks

Check Price at Patagonia

Best Cotton Blend: Mammut Chamuera Hooded Jacket

Mammut Chamuera Hooded Jacket

The Chamuera Jacket’s unique blend of a soft, cotton interior with polyester exterior won high marks for breathability and durability. Moisture breathed and evaporated well, even though the outer woven polyester material is super durable, which we discovered while ski patrol guiding, hiking, and trail running.

As a warm midlayer, the design ($149) worked well when 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, so they can’t snag or catch on other various layers. But we were most excited about the fabric quality. The cotton interior is amazing for comfort and softness. Plus, the exterior is sleek.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 4.1 oz.
  • Fit: Unavailable
  • Fabric: Cotton (interior), polyester (exterior)
  • Density: Midweight
  • Special features: UPF 50+ fabric protects against UV rays
Pros:
  • Slender fit
  • High-zippered neck blocks the wind
  • Spacious hip pockets
Cons:
  • Not as durable as other designs
  • Some reviewers found the fabric pilled

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Best Relaxed Fleece With Plus Sizes: The North Face Denali 2 Jacket

The North Face Denali 2 Jacket

One of our favorite choices in this year’s lineup is the warm and cozy Women’s Denali 2 Jacket ($179). Somewhere between a standard and relaxed fit, it has a 100% recycled polyester fleece fabric with DWR (durable water repellent) finish that sheds light moisture if it gets wet.

Nylon panels on the chest and shoulders offer abrasion resistance in high-use areas. We also love the adjustable hems and three zippered pockets (two hand, one chest).

The fleece density is on the higher end at 350 gsm. This thick insulation made it one of our top choices for 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-3XL.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 2 oz. (women’s small)
  • Fit: Relaxed
  • Fabric: 100% recycled polyester (fleece fabric), 100% nylon (overlay)
  • Density: Heavyweight
  • Special Features: DWR finish
Pros:
  • Three pockets
  • Weather- and abrasion-resistant finish on shoulders and chest
  • Wide range of sizes
Cons:
  • It’s a bit too bulky to pack for a backpacking trip

Check Price at REI

Best High-Pile Fleece 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’re looking for, this fleece is a great choice.

Specs:
  • Weight: Unavailable
  • Fit: Relaxed
  • Fabric: Recycled polyester
  • Density: Midweight
  • Special features: Oversized hood, interior pockets
Pros:
  • Accurate sizing 1X-3X
  • Made from recycled materials
  • Big, cozy hood and kangaroo pocket
Cons:
  • Some testers didn’t like the looser fit
  • Limited color choices

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Best of the Rest

Topo Designs Subalpine Fleece

Topo Designs Subalpine Fleece

Our former love for the OG Mountain Fleece — which is still available at a nice steal ($61) — has been replaced by the upgraded Topo Designs Subalpine Fleece ($189), especially with that full front zipper. Our biggest hangup with the prior design was the pullover, leading to snagged or static hair.

Made with super soft 100% polyester Polartec double-face sherpa fleece, the style harks back to the classic roots but with a straight and slightly more fitted, conventional cut. This fleece is super cozy for camping out, huddling around a campfire, hanging at the base of a crag while climbing, and also gets loads of compliments while walking an urban grid or picnics at the park.

We love the addition of two zippered exterior hand pockets plus the vertical zippered chest pocket and interior pockets. There’s so much more room to carry items beyond the external chest pocket with the snap closure, which was carried over.

The Subalpine’s reinforced chest, back, and elbows offer great warmth and wind resistance, thanks to the Taslan nylon, a durable fabric with a DWR finish for resistance against the elements.

The 3-inch ribbed cuff sleeves also bar climate and retain warmth while adding durability. (Note: bulky watches don’t work well with those cuffs.) The tradeoff for sustainable warmth? It’s a bit too bulky and warm for backpacking or skiing.

Specs:
  • Weight: Unavailable
  • Fit: Straight
  • Fabric: 100% polyester
  • Density: Midweight
  • Special features: DWR overlays at elbows, chest, and back
Pros:
  • Super cozy and warm
  • Great warmth and wind resistance
  • Reinforced elbows
Cons:
  • A bit too bulky and warm for packability and rigorous outdoor activities

Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at Topo Designs

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 2.0 ($80). The fabric is 100% polyester and traps heat exceptionally well.

We were surprised by the freedom of movement we felt in this fleece despite how much warmth it offered. It was resilient to roughness and didn’t show any signs of wear even after a frigid, rowdy, remote whitewater rafting trip on two rough waterways in Idaho.

Conditions ranged from absolute downpours in the evenings and mornings to damp walks around camp and wind while rowing plus plenty of douses from the freezing rapids. We didn’t take this sweater-knit fleece off once — except in our sleeping bag.

It didn’t reveal stench, even after multiple days of arduous use. Plus, it stayed dry through constant exposure to dampness and rain.

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.

Specs:
  • Weight: Unavailable
  • Fit: Athletic
  • Fabric: Polyester
  • Density: Midweight
  • Special features: ½-zip
Pros:
  • Traps heat well
  • Good freedom of movement
  • Affordable price
Cons:
  • Some athletes prefer a full front zipper
  • Not the sleekest fleece choice for layering

Check Price at Amazon

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 degrees. 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 high-quality YKK brand zippers and an articulated design that allows for freedom of movement. Specifically, the gusseted arms lend to plenty of stretch — especially great for activities that require a 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.

Specs:
  • Weight: 6.2 oz.
  • Fit: Trim
  • Fabric: Polartec Classic 100
  • Density: Lightweight
  • Special features: Zippered sleeve pocket
Pros:
  • Super light and packable
  • Stretchy material is great for active use
  • Highly breathable and wicking
Cons:
  • No thumbhole loops
  • Some prefer fleece jackets with hoods

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Arc’teryx

Norrona Trollveggen Powerstretch Pro Zip Hood

Norrona Trollveggen Powerstretch Pro Zip Hood

“The snug fit of the Trollveggen 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 ($229) 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.

Specs:
  • Weight: 14.53 oz.
  • Fit: Regular
  • Fabric: Polartec Power Stretch Pro (face), polyester & wool blend (side panels)
  • Density: Midweight
  • Special features: Thumb loops
Pros:
  • Stretchy material offers good range of motion
  • Thumb loops
  • Excellent breathability and moisture wicking
Cons:
  • Seams on arms and chest can be uncomfortable against the skin

Check Price at CampSaverCheck Price at Norrona

Kari Traa Rothe Midlayer Fleece Jacket

kari traa rothe midlayer pullover fleece

For those looking for an affordable, 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 the market, and we loved its level of warmth in testing.

Specs:
  • Weight: Unavailable
  • Fit: Relaxed
  • Fabric: Polyester
  • Density: Midweight
  • Special features: Zippered chest pocket
Pros:
  • Modern, sporty design
  • Affordable price
  • Warm and comfortable
Cons:
  • Some reviewers found the fabric a tad rough
  • The zipper sometimes snagged, according to users

Check Price at REICheck Price at evo

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

A 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, 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 any fabric liners. We’d classify all of our picks as midlayers, though some are warmer than others.

Lightweight: The lightest fleece jackets are around 100 gsm. These layers are great for high-aerobic activities like nordic skiing or running because they are generally more breathable and less bulky. An example of the best fleeces in this category is the Arc’teryx Delta LT Fleece.

Midweight: Midlayers are a bit thicker at 200 gsm but still could be used while active at colder temperatures. They also offer good insulation and can be integrated into a complete layering system underneath a protective wind or rain shell. The REI Groundbreaker and Topo Designs Subalpine Fleece are good examples of midweight fleeces.

Heavyweight: The thickest fleece layers are around 300-400 gsm and are great for layering up at the campsite. They tend to be a bit bulkier and warmer than light or midweight fleeces. They typically aren’t as comfortable or breathable during high-output activities. The North Face Denali 2 Jacket was among the heaviest-weight fleeces we tested this year.

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)

Layering Systems

Though some of our favorite fleeces can be used as a standalone layer in adverse weather, many are designed to be integrated with other jackets as part of a layering system. Using several layers allows you to stay comfortable as the conditions change or as your level of activity increases or decreases.

For example, if you are hiking uphill and start to sweat, you can shed your insulating layer (maybe it’s a fleece) and keep hiking in a base layer. If the wind starts to howl, zip a wind shell over your fleece to trap heat.

Weather & Water Resistance

Modern fleece designs often feature water repellent treatments to prevent your fleece from absorbing moisture if weather conditions deteriorate. This means they do a much better job keeping you warm when it’s wet outside than a cotton sweatshirt.

The Voormi Diversion Hoodie is particularly good at this, according to our reviewers. Most fleeces are not truly waterproof, however, and it’s still a good idea to bring a rain jacket as part of a complete layering system.

Some fleece jackets also have a fabric weave or outer coating that offers protection from the wind, like the Arc’teryx Kyanite Hoodie. These features are most useful when you intend to use your fleece as a standalone outer layer, as compared to an insulating midlayer.

Similarly, abrasion-repellent treatments on the outside of your fleece can enhance durability. This is especially useful for climbing or other activities during which your jacket may be scraping against rough surfaces.

Breathability

If you’re going to be running, skiing, biking, or generally moving in your fleece, breathability is essential. Fleece is typically made with materials that are designed to draw or “wick” moisture away from the body. Light or midweight layers are best for active pursuits; the dense fabric of heavyweight fleece tends to be less breathable.

Among our winners for the breathability category, the Orvis PRO Fleece Half-Zip Pullover is constructed with more breathable material on the side panels and underarms. These panels let heat escape from areas where you are likely to sweat the most.

Another choice with excellent aeration but heat-holding power is the Norrona Falketind Alpha 120. Other fleece designs 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.

Why You Should Trust Us

We know outdoor activities don’t all look alike, so we made sure that every fleece we tested was used in a wide range of conditions and activities. Our team of experienced field testers included a ski patroller, a professional wildlife photographer, a rancher, an AMGA-certified rock guide, a winter camper, a hunter, and many other female climbers, skiers, and backpackers.

This crew of outdoor professionals and enthusiasts used these layers running at 9,000 feet in the Rockies, tracking wildlife through the Elk Mountains, and sledding with their kids. They climbed ice and rock across the West in below-freezing temperatures. One tester harvested crops, shoveled dirt, and cleaned machinery at her farm in North Dakota, and another explored some of Idaho’s most remote rivers by raft.

Using this breadth and depth of experience, we’ve narrowed down this season’s best fleeces for women who work and play outside on a regular basis.

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 insulating 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 fleece jacket looking out at mountain

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). This can range from lightweight layers that are great for high-aerobic activities to heavyweight jackets perfect for layering up at the campsite. For more details, check out our section on warmth and insulation above.

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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