Find the best fleece jacket for every activity. Insulate yourself against cold, wet, and wind to stay outside longer and happier.
Fleece helps retain the energy our bodies give off. And today’s designs are increasingly fine-tuned for diverse levels of breathability, wicking power, weight, and protection against the elements. So wearing the optimal style for your body and activity can help you venture and perform in greater comfort.
In order to find the best women’s fleece, we tested across a wide variety of environments and tasks. The testers included an American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA)-certified rock guide, a sugar beet harvester, a ski patrol tail guide, a professional wildlife photographer, a rancher, and a hunter.
These layers were muddied and tugged while rock climbing, glassing for animals, ranching, farming, trail running, weight lifting, backcountry touring, skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and 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 in the glades 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. These are the fleeces that will hold up while on the clock and playing outdoors.
Best Fleece Jackets for Women of 2020
Best Overall: Arc’teryx Kyanite Hoody ($179)
This synthetic midweight, hooded fleece is durable and stretchy with excellent wicking ability. The nylon in the weave helps guard against wind.
As one tester explained, “I’ve used other fleece layers this thin, and the wind cuts right into you. 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 the 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.
Best Budget: REI Co-op Groundbreaker Fleece Jacket ($50)
The Groundbreaker is a midweight 100-percent-polyester midlayer. While hunting, hiking, and glassing for animals, our tester found this layer to be super comfortable. And it’s very durable with impressive stretch and warmth-to-weight ratio.
It was “perfect” for midrange temperatures, 25 to 30 degrees, and very wind resistant. As a second layer, this jacket was very quiet and easy to take on and off in situations where the tester needed to keep noise to a minimum. And we happily give the YKK zipper a 10 out of 10.
Taller women will be appreciate that the arms are plenty long. And while the pockets are nice and big, zippered pockets would make this fleece more user-friendly.
Cons: It’s not very water resistant and doesn’t dry fast. But, for the price point, it’s a steal.
Best Water Resistance: Voormi Access NXT Pullover ($199)
The Access NXT 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 (durable water-repellent)-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 outerlayer. This jacket is comfortable to touch and move in and 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. And while this pattern is technically camoflague, it looks good enough to wear all winter long.
Most Durable: Under Armour Wintersweet Half Zip 2.0 ($80)
Looking for a durable fleece that won’t break the bank? Then it’s time you met this Under Armour Wintersweet Half-Zip. The fabric is 100 percent 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, while rafting, fit beneath a drysuit. And to top it off, the price is super friendly.
Best Hand Coverage: Norrona Trollveggen Powerstretch Pro Zip Hood ($189)
“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 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.
Made From Recycled Materials: Topo Designs Mountain Fleece ($149)
The Mountain Fleece harks back to the classic roots but with a slightly more fitted, conventional cut. “This fleece is super cozy for camping out, 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-percent-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: “It’s a bit too bulky and warm for a multiday backpacking trip or skiing.”
Most Packable: Obermeyer Catalina Fleece Hoodie ($99)
The Catalina is a lightweight fleece made of a polyester blend with the feel of a heavyweight base layer. Our tester, an AMGA guide, led courses at Colorado’s Shelf Road and explored cracks at Indian Creek while putting this hoodie through the rounds.
Temperatures ranged from 20 to 70 degrees during the day. In those conditions, the pullover’s insulation, warmth-to-weight ratio, and stretch performed super well.
She was particularly impressed by the durability. “Despite being in rock climbing environments, I never saw signs of abrasion even though the fabric is so soft and comfortable against skin,” she said, and noted that the back length was spot-on for overhead reaching to place gear.
Overall, the hood is on the smaller side. The supple fabric offers freedom of movement. No zipper makes the piece fashionable enough to wear in town and comfortable enough to wear under a harness.
Drawbacks: It’s not water resistant, doesn’t dry super fast, and doesn’t cover up odors. Ultimately, it’s a super solid piece that’s also on the lower end of the price spectrum.
Best Wool Blend: Patagonia Woolie Fleece Pullover ($159)
The Woolie Fleece pullover 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, and 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.
Most Breathable: Orvis PRO Half-Zip Fleece ($119)
“This fleece 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 out, 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.
Best Cotton Blend: Mammut Chamuera Hooded Jacket ($149)
This fleece 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 tail 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.
How to Choose a Fleece Jacket
Fleece is an insulating midlayer or lightweight jacket or vest made from synthetic materials, typically polyester or a polyester blend. The human-made fabric soft, 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 that’s 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.
Modern fleece designs often feature water- and abrasion-repellent treatments to enhance durability. Some even integrate wool fibers for the best of both worlds.
If a wool fleece includes cashmere, a super-soft and fine goat hair, price increases considerably. Otherwise, the majority of fleece and wool falls in a similar price range, plus a handful of budget-friendlier fleece options.
Have a favorite fleece we missed? Let us know in the comments for future updates to this article.