The Best Fleece Jacket for Women Review
Which women's fleece jacket is the best? With hundreds of different types and weights out there, answering that question can be a complicated process. We tested seven of the top-of-the-line technical models to help you figure out which is the best one for you. We reviewed a mix of lightweight breathable models as well as some heavier options, and we put them to the test while camping, hiking, climbing, skiing and even running errands around town. Through our unique side-by-side comparison testing process, we rated how they measured up in several categories, including warmth, comfort, breathability, layering ability, ease of movement, wind and water protection and even style and fit. We'll break down each of those categories for you, and give our top recommendations for which women's fleece jackets you should buy this year.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Analysis and Test Results
Fleece jackets are now a staple of any outdoor enthusiast's gear cache. Why? This synthetic material has some great properties for active women, such as the ability to resist moisture, retain warmth and dry quickly. To learn more about this type of material and construction, check out our Buying Advice article. This review will help you decide on what criteria to look for in a fleece jacket, and which model might be the best for you. Over half a dozen hard-charging ladies provided their feedback and testing for this review, and their decades of outdoor experience and honest comments helped shape the opinions expressed below.
Selecting the Right Product
Trying to settle on just one fleece jacket can be a difficult endeavor. Not only are there so many great options out there, but also there's not one model that is going to do everything you want it to do perfectly. A technical piece might be great for the mountains, but not be as cozy or stylish for lounging around the coffee shop. A lightweight breathable model is ideal for when you are doing aerobic activities in cold climates, but it won't keep you warm when sitting still. In an ideal world, we'd just buy one of every brand (and every color?) and have many options to choose from, but with the price of many models being upwards of $150, that's not a realistic option for most of us. So, taking some time and thought to select the right fleece jacket for your intended activity is good idea.
Types of Fleece Jackets
Fleeces are often categorized by weight (lightweight, midweight and heavyweight), which is a measurement of the thickness of the pile, expressed in how much one square meter of the material weighs in grams.
Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's and the Marmot Flashpoint - Women's.
The North Face Radium Hi-Loft - Women's, the Patagonia R2 Jacket - Women's, and the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody - Women's.
The North Face Denali Jacket - Women's and The North Face Tech-Osito Jacket - Women's.
When selecting which models to include in this review, we noticed that there was a distinct difference between the technical fleeces and more casual models. While we focused this review on the technical models, it's worth noting the differences.
Criteria for Evaluation
The primary purpose of a fleece jacket is to keep you warm, and we made this the most important category that we evaluated each model on. We found that success in this area came down to four criteria: the type of fabric, its thickness or weight, the amount of coverage provided and the ability to seal in warmth.
There were many differences between the types of material used on the products that we tested, with some even having multiple types on one jacket. The simple fleece pile of old has now morphed into many new and different kinds, from hi-loft and silken "raschel" fleeces to gridded fabrics. Polartec, the leading synthetic material manufacturer, now makes more than two dozen different types of fleece, and almost all of the models that we tested were made with Polartec brand material.
The raschel fleece jackets (the high-pile Muppet-like fur), like The North Face Tech-Osito Jacket, were some of the warmest models out there. Fleece keeps you warm by trapping warm air around your body in the spaces between the fibers. The hi-loft fabrics have thousands of hairs that can trap and retain warmth, and even a relatively thin jacket like the Patagonia R2 kept us warm thanks to it's hi-loft material. Thicker model with weights over 300 g/m², like The North Face Denali Jacket, were also much warmer than some thinner models, like the Marmot Flashpoint.
Some thinner jackets, like the Patagonia R1 Hoody, were relatively warm for their weight, thanks to increased coverage from thumb loops and full face balaclava. The thinner Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody was not a particularly warm jacket, but when the wind kicked up the "Hardshell" coating on the fleece made it retain warmth better than other more porous models. Another feature that helped to seal in warmth was a cinch cord hem like the one found on The North Face Denali Jacket. Cinching down the bottom of the jacket on cool and windy days prevented updrafts and minimized heat loss.
This is one attribute that makes fleece jackets unique from other types of outdoor gear, so it is a major purchasing consideration. We might not think about how cozy a ski or rain jacket is, but when it comes to a layer that we will often wear against the skin, we need it to feel good! When we were evaluating for comfort, we considered each product's details, like whether the zippers scratched the skin and if the pockets were lined with fleece. We paid attention to how fit affected our comfort and recorded which fleeces had cozy thumb loops and hoods. Finally, on the models that stood out for their lack of coziness, like TNF Denali Jacket, we took note of the qualities that made them less comfortable.
Sometimes comfort is sacrificed for performance. The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody is not particularly cozy, but it is a technical beast and we love it anyway. Our Editors' Choice winner, The North Face Radium Hi-Loft, not only topped our coziness scale but is technical to boot, as is the Patagonia R2 Jacket. The Patagonia R1 Hoody has a soft feel on the inside, and the 3/4 length zipper made it the most comfortable model to wear under a pack or climbing harness. The zipper ends at the navel and doesn't sit under a waistbelt, eliminating any bunching or pressure points in that area. The silky raschel material on The North Face Tech-Osito Jacket was also very comfortable against the skin.
There are many reasons why you'll want to consider layering ability when purchasing a fleece jacket. We considered how easy it was to wear a base layer underneath each piece and how easily we could wear it under a shell or insulated jacket. And we also wore (or tried to wear) each model under a climbing harness and a backpack. All of these are important characteristics to consider when selecting your next fleece jacket.
When it came to using these models as a layer under a shell and insulated jacket, the light and midweight fleeces excelled, as they tended to be cut closer to the body and have a slimmer profile. The North Face Radium with its hi-loft pile easily fit under an insulated ski jacket without any restriction in the arms, as did the Patagonia R1 Hoody and R2 Jackets. While it was hard to wear the heavyweight TNF Denali under a jacket due to its boxy cut and thick material, the similarly heavyweight TNF Tech-Osito Jacket has low profile panels on the sides to reduce bulk and increase the ease of layering.
As for the jackets being their own outer layer, some models, like the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody, had room for a light base layer underneath but not much else due to a tight fit in the shoulders. The Denali Jacket was the opposite, as it could fit any of the other fleeces we tested underneath it. The Marmot Flashpoint also had a roomier cut, and we could layer both over and under it.
When it comes to layering under a pack or climbing harness, there are some other construction details to consider, like seams and zippers. All of the models that we tested had a raglan style sleeve construction, where the seaming at the shoulder cuts across horizontally off the shoulder, moving the seams out of the way of pack straps. This is to avoid having the straps of your pack dig the seams into your shoulders. This is a nice construction detail and selling point, but not an immediately obvious difference. While you might start to feel the seams digging into you after hours on the trail with a heavy pack, we weren't able to discern a difference during a 30-minute hike with a 25-pound pack.
When choosing a fleece jacket to wear under a pack or climbing harness, our testers found that the more streamlined the fit, like on the Patagonia R2 Jacket, the better. Otherwise the material tends to bunch up around the waist and become uncomfortable. The Patagonia R1 Hoody was an even better option with its 3/4 length zipper that didn't bunch up under a waistbelt.
Ease of Movement
When gearing up for outdoor activities in cold weather, ease of movement is another key consideration. If you're using a fleece for a technical winter activity, usually you'll be wearing it underneath a shell or, in really cold weather, an insulated jacket. So we tried on these fleeces under a tight-fitting soft shell, a down jacket and an insulated ski jacket. Not surprisingly, the lightest and thinnest pieces, like the Marmot Flashpoint and the Patagonia R1 Hoody made the best mid-layers. Less bulk made for greater range of motion in our shoulders and arms, and didn't leave us feeling like a stuffed-sausage. Other standouts were The North Face Radium and Patagonia R2 jackets. The contrasting panels of stretch fleece on the sides of those jackets increased their ease of movement. On the other hand, a stiffer, bulkier jacket like TNF Denali scored much lower in this category. This is the layer you put on after a climb, not during.
If you plan on wearing your fleece jacket for activities where you'll need a lot of movement in your arms, like climbing or cross-country skiing, look for a model that is made with a small percentage of spandex or elastane. Fleece pile itself is not very stretchy, so a little extra stretch will go a long way.
Making fleece material more breathable has been a decades-long process for the outdoor gear industry. The original Patagonia fleeces were great, until you started hiking in them and your sweat puddled up on the inside, leaving you cold and clammy. With the advent of newer high-tech materials, those days are a thing of the past. The technical models that we tested all have different means to wick the moisture generated from your exertion away from your body and out of the material.
The Patagonia R1 material is a gridded fleece, with the grid lines providing the space for ventilation. In the Patagonia R2, the material is more lofted with microscopic holes throughout to allow moisture to escape, and on The North Face Radium the baffled seams perform a similar function. Each of these systems seems to work very well in its own unique way – the main downfall being that whatever allows moist air to escape will also allow cool air back in. The uniform fabric on the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody didn't allow for as much breathability as the other technical options, but it did provide more protection from the wind. It seems as though you do have to make a choice when purchasing one of these layers, and that is whether breathability is your main concern or protection from the wind. If you are looking for a cross-country skiing layer, opt for breathability, but if you need something for alpine climbing, protection from the wind would be a greater concern.
Most of the women's fleece jackets that we reviewed provided very little protection from the wind. Although we typically recommend using this type of jacket in conjunction with a shell or wind breaker, if you're looking for a do-it-all option, the "Hardface Technology" on the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody does an excellent job of cutting the wind on a blustery day, for a fleece that is. However, the material is still relatively thin and it does not provide the same wind blocking protection as a dedicated wind jacket. You can read our Women's Wind Breaker Jacket for more information on the many uses of that layer.
Not surprisingly, models like The North Face Radium and Patagonia R2 that were the most breathable were also most susceptible to the wind. If you carry a breathable fleece into the backcountry, make sure to always bring along a shell in case the wind picks up. And if you are looking for a combination fleece/shell jacket, check out The Best Softshell Jacket for Women Review.
As with wind protection, very few products that we tested provided any protection from the rain. While fleece is naturally hydrophobic (the fibers don't absorb water like cotton does), water can still saturate through the material and get you wet. The "Hardface Technology" on the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody repels water, but only up to a point. It is still not designed to keep you dry in a heavy rain, but the finish does make it more versatile than any of the other models we reviewed. The North Face Denali Jacket has nylon panels on its shoulders, and water did bead up and roll off that jacket, so it will keep you drier in a light rain. Otherwise, it's best to always carry an impermeable layer with you on your adventure. Check out The Best Rain Jacket for Women Review for more options there.
Style and Fit
This is a bit of a subjective category as everyone's style is different. Some people like wearing bright colors and don't mind looking like a Muppet, and others prefer more muted tones. If you live in a mountain town, the de rigueur fashion is technical fleece jackets and Sorels at the bar. In a big city, you might still wear a casual fleece jacket around town but want it to have a more stylish look. So, we polled our friends (both male and female) and asked them to weigh in on their favorite stylish pieces to try and form a consensus. We'll note here that we rated style "by fleece standards," recognizing that fleeces are not the sexiest piece of clothing you'll ever wear.
One of the sleekest models that we reviewed was the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody. The smooth face and trim cut is flattering, and this model received a lot of compliments for its looks. The North Face Radium Hi-Loft also has a unique look, with the baffling seams giving it a similar design to a down jacket but with a soft and silky feel. Most of the models were cut with a tapered silhouette to be more flattering, except for The North Face Denali Jacket. It still has a a boxy cut circa the 1990's fashion, and it was not a tester favorite.
While we didn't rate the jackets based on their fit (since fit is different for everyone), there were significant differences in the way that some of the pieces were cut, even within a single brand. We have noticed that on most North Face models the arm length tends to run short, much to the annoyance of our testers with long wingspans. However, the Radium Hi-Loft actually has the longest arms of all the models we tested, and probably wouldn't fit well on someone with shorter arms. To compare the different fits, check out the composite images below, which includes photos of each fleece on one model.
The fleece jacket's ability to resist moisture, retain warmth and dry quickly makes it the perfect addition to the active woman's gear list. With the array of different models on the market, it can be tough to pick just one. It is our goal to help you make your selection by reading through our extensive tests and ratings. You can also check out our Buying Advice article for more information on fleece material and construction, and some extra tips on what to look for when purchasing your next one.
— Cam McKenzie Ring
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