The Best Fleece Jacket for Women Review

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Our Editors' Choice winner is a great layer for cool fall days in the mountains.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring
Which women's fleece jacket is the best? With outdoor gear companies continuously updating their lines, answering that question is an ever-evolving process. So, we've updated our previous review by testing out eight more top-of-the-line models. We reviewed a mix of the best technical fleeces out there, as well as cozy around-town options. We put these different models to the test while hiking, climbing, and just running errands. Our unique side-by-side comparison testing process allowed us to see how they measured up for warmth, breathability and even style and fit, among other categories. We'll break down each of those categories for you, and give our top recommendations for which women's fleece jackets you should be buying this year.

Read the full review below >

Review by:

Top Ranked Fleece Jackets - Women's Displaying 1 - 5 of 15 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
The North Face Radium Hi-Loft - Women's
The North Face Radium Hi-Loft - Women's
Read the Review
Patagonia R2 - Women's
Patagonia R2 - Women's
Read the Review
Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's
Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's
Read the Review
Video video review
Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody - Women's
Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody - Women's
Read the Review
The North Face Osito 2
The North Face Osito 2
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award    Top Pick Award    Best Buy Award 
Street Price Varies $76 - $130
Compare at 4 sellers
Varies $85 - $169
Compare at 8 sellers
$159
Compare at 6 sellers
Varies $80 - $179
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $80 - $99
Compare at 8 sellers
Overall Score 
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74
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Warm, breathable technical fleece that’s also cozyLightweight, compressible, super breathable, cozy for a technical fleeceSuper breathable, compressible, light, built-in hood w/ninja-like balaclava, thumb loopsOffers wind and water protection, abrasion-resistant, lightweight, built-in hood w/balaclava, well-fittedGreat value, soft raschel fleece is comfortable and warm
Cons Little wind or rain protectionNo hood or wind protectionThumb loops too tight, torso not as long as men's R1 hoodyNot as warm or breathable as other technical fleeces, balaclava doesn't zip as high as R1Does not ventilate well, sleeves a bit too short, not designed for being active
Best Uses Backcountry skiing, alpine climbing and layering under a shellBackcountry skiing, cardio activities on cold daysRock climbing, extra layer to toss in the pack, cardio on cool daysMid-layer for alpine climbing, skiing, or other winter pursuits, around town, as a light stand-alone jacketOuterwear for wearing around town, layering under a shell
Date Reviewed Oct 22, 2014Sep 06, 2014Oct 23, 2014Sep 06, 2014Sep 06, 2014
Weighted Scores The North Face Radium Hi-Loft - Women's Patagonia R2 - Women's Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody - Women's The North Face Osito 2
Warmth - 25%
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9
Comfort And Coziness - 20%
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6
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9
Breathability - 15%
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5
Layering Ability - 15%
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5
Ease Of Movement - 10%
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9
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9
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10
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8
Style - 5%
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7
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9
Wind Protection - 5%
10
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4
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6
Water Resistance - 5%
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Product Specs The North Face Radium Hi-Loft - Women's Patagonia R2 - Women's Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody - Women's The North Face Osito 2
Style/Design Tailored, long sleeves Tailored, long sleeves Minimalist, athletic, lightweight layering Tailored, athletic, long sleeves Slightly tailoredd silhouette, long in the back
Main Fabric Polartec Thermal Pro Polyester Hi-loft Polartec Thermal Pro and Polartec Power Dry Polartec Power Dry Ployester Polartec Wind Pro w/Hardface Technology, Polartec Power Dry Polyester Raschel Fleece
Unique Features Stretch fleece panels on the side reduce volume Thumb loops, stretch panels on the side to reduce volume Built-in balaclava, thumb loops Partial Deluge DWR finish Oversized collar, hem cinch drawcord
Color Selection True Navy, Rambutan Pink, Vaporous Grey, TNF Black Black, Birch White, Cochineal Red, Dark Currant, Tobago Blue, Violetti Black, Tobago Blue, Violetti Cobal Blue, Tobago Blue, Tailored Grey 18 colors
Weight 12.9 oz 11.8 oz 11.4 oz 10 oz 19 oz
# of Pockets 4 (2 interior) 5 (2 interior, 1 chest) 1 chest 3 (2 exterior, 1 chest) 4 (2 interior)
Hood Option? No No Yes No No

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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  • All Reviewed Products
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The North Face Osito 2
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Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover
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Arc'teryx Caliber Hoody - Women's
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Patagonia Better Sweater - Women's
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Patagonia R2 - Women's
$169
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North Face Denali - Women's
$179
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66
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Mammut Aconcagua Hoody - Women's
$169
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71
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Marmot Flair Hoody
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The North Face Oso Hoodie
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Columbia Fast Trek II - Women's
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49
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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.

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With so many different types of material (and colors!) choosing the right fleece can be a challenge. Our full review will help decide what you need (and don't) in your next jacket.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

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 there's also no 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. 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.

Types of Fleece Jackets
Fleeces are often categorized by weight (lightweight, midweight and heavyweight), and we discuss this more in our Buying Advice article. For the purpose of this review, however, we noticed a distinct difference between the types available on the market, and that was whether they were designed with technical pursuits in mind, or not.

Technical
Half of the models that we tested for this review update fell into the technical category. They were differentiated by an emphasis on breathability, ease of layering and movement, and packability compared to the other models. They also have a more streamlined fit and a steeper price tag. You should opt for one of these jackets if you plan to be engaged in high cardio output activities in cold conditions, such as ice climbing, cross-country skiing, winter running, hiking or backcountry skiing. Typically, a technical fleece will be part of your layering system, and act as a midlayer between your baselayer and outer shell.

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The technical models from this review update (left to right): TNF Radium Hi-loft, Patagonia R2, Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody, Patagonia R1.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

Around-town
This style tends to emphasize comfort and coziness over performance. The fit on these models tends to be more relaxed so that you have room for layers underneath it, and more stylish so as to be appropriate for around-town wear. They also tend to be less expensive, as the materials used are often more basic and without a bunch of extra details. These are great options if you are looking for a warm layer to wear under a ski jacket, for hanging around your campsite, or simply as an everyday outer layer around town, assuming its not raining or snowing.

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The around-town models that we tested in our updated review (left to right): TNF Osito 2, TNF Oso Hoodie, Comlumbia Fast Trek II, Marmot Flair Hoody.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

Criteria for Evaluation

Warmth
The primary purpose of a fleece jacket should be to keep the wearer warm, and we found that success in this metric 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 was a lot of difference between the types of material used on the products that we tested and some even had multiple types of fleece on one jacket. Polartec, one of the original performance synthetic materials companies, now manufactures over two dozen different types of fleece! Through our testing we found that the raschel (or high-pile "Muppet-like" fleece), like The North Face Osito 2 and The North Face Oso Hoodie, were some of the warmest models out there. They were also on the thicker side, with weights over 300 g/m2, and that also served to make them warmer than some of the thinner products like the Patagonia R1 or Piton Hybrid Hoody.

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Cut from the same cloth? The high pile raschel material on The North Face Osito 2 reminds us of our favorite kids character.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

Even though the Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's is made of a lighter weight material, we did still find that it was relatively warm thanks to increased coverage from its thumbs loops and full face balaclava. The thinner Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody - Women's was not a particularly warm jacket either, until the wind kicked up, and then it was able to retain warmth better than other models thanks to it wind protective fleece. Another feature that helped to seal in warmth was the drawstring on the bottom hem of The North Face Osito 2. Cinching the jacket down on cool and windy days prevented updrafts and minimized heat loss.

Comfort & Coziness
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 and coziness, 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 the Columbia Fast Trek II - Women's, we took note of the qualities made them less comfortable.

Sometimes this comfort and coziness is sacrificed for performance. Our Top Pick Patagonia R1 Hoody is not particularly cozy, but it is a technical beast and we love it anyways. One of the only exceptions was our Editors' Choice winner The North Face Radium Hi-Loft - Women's, which not only topped our coziness scale but is technical to boot. Most of the around-town models that we tested scored highly in this metric, often thanks to their silky raschel material. These touchable jackets, like the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover also earned some of our top ranks for warmth, but didn't score so well in breathability and other technical performance metrics

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The raschel lined hood on The North Face Oso will keep you warm and cozy on cold days.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

Layering Ability
This metric had many connotations for our women's fleece jacket review. We considered how easy it was to wear a base layer underneath each test piece and how easily we could wear fleece 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 purchasing a fleece jacket.

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The R1 balaclava fits under a helmet to keep you extra warm on a cold day.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring


When it came to using these models as a layer under a shell and insulated jacket, the technical fleeces really excelled, as they tended to be cut closer to the body and have a slimmer profile. Even The North Face Radium with its high-lofted pile easily fit under an insulated ski jacket without any restriction in the arms. The Patagonia R1 Hoody was the easiest to layer on top of, and it fit under all of the other fleeces that we tested. As for the jackets being their own outer layer, the technical fleeces had room for a light base layer underneath (or even the R1), but not much else. The around-town models, like the Columbia Fast Trek II and The North Face Osito 2, had more room for a heavier base layer or even light sweater underneath them, however these models were difficult to layer under an insulated shell.

Most of the technical jackets have a raglan style sleeve construction, when 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 and with a heavy pack, we weren't able to discern a difference during a 30 minute hike with a 25 pound pack on.

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Traditional sleeve construction in the Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody (above) vs raglan sleeves on the Patagonia R2 (below). The off-shoulder seems on the R2 reduce friction points from heavy pack straps.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

When choosing a fleece jacket to wear under a pack, our testers found that the more streamlined the fit, like on the Patagonia R2 - Women's, the better. Otherwise the material tends to bunch up around the waist and become uncomfortable. Again, the technical models scored higher in this test, and realistically you wouldn't want to be hiking with a less breathable around-town fleece on anyways, as you would end up a swampy mess. The pockets on the technical models, such the Piton Hybrid Hoody, sit a little higher up off the hips so that they can still be accessed while wearing the pack's hipbelt.

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The R2 jacket fits well under a pack and is a great layer for cold-weather hikes. The "pack compatible" pocket was indeed accessible with the hip belt done up.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

The around-town fleeces that we tested did not fit well under a climbing harness. They were all too bulky and not streamlined enough, nor would you want to actually be climbing with them on, though they were all nice to wear as belay coats afterwards. As for the technical models, we were able to get good fits under our harnesses with all of them, however, we noticed that none of the pockets were "harness compatible" as Patagonia so claims for the R2 jacket and Piton Hybrid Hoody, and The North Face for the Radium Hi-Loft. Perhaps when wearing a men's harness you would be able to access the pockets, as a men's harness sits lower on the hips, but our female specific harnesses cinch on the waist and obscure all the hand pockets. This might seem like a minor quibble, and it is - we don't regularly reach into our pocket when climbing anyways! But why advertise them as harness compatible when they are not?

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The Piton Hybrid fits well under a harness, though we weren't able to use those "harness compatible" pockets.
Credit: Norah S. Siller

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, and insulated jacket. So we tried on these fleeces under a tight-fitting soft shell, a down jacket, an insulated ski jacket. Not surprisingly, the lightest and thinnest pieces, like the Arc'teryx Caliber Hoody - Women's, the Patagonia R1 Hoody and Piton Hybrid 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, some of the stiffer, bulkier, around-town jackets like the Patagonia Better Sweater - Women's and The North Face Osito 2 scored much lower in this category

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Our Editors' Choice winner has stretch fleece panels on the sides of the torso and arms for less bulk and a greater ease of movement.
Credit: Norah S. Siller

Breathability
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 baffling 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 Piton Hybrid 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.

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The different breathable materials: baffling on the Radium (left), pinpoint holes on the R2 (middle) and gridded fleece on the R1 (right).
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

None of the around-town models that we tested were very breathable, and they weren't something that you would want to hike or climb in. They also weren't very compressible, unlike the technical models which, due to their fabric design, pack down nicely and are a smart choice for throwing in your pack as an extra layer.

Wind Protection
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 Polartec Wind Pro material on the Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody does an excellent job of cutting the wind on a blustery day. 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.

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The Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody's hood and balaclava seal in warmth, while the fleece's Deluge DWR finish repels water.
Credit: Skiy Detray

Water Resistance
As with wind protection, very few products that we tested in our updated review provided any protection from the rain. The DWR (durable water repellent) finish on the Piton Hybrid 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 Oso Hoodie has taffeta panels on its hood and shoulders, and water did bead up and roll off that jacket, so it too 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.

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One of the few water-resistant fleeces we reviewed, the Piton features a Deluge DWR finish that makes water bead up and roll off.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

Style & 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 stylistic 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, and 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 classier models that we reviewed was the Patagonia Better Sweater - Women's, which looks like a casual sweater on the outside and feels like a soft sweatshirt on the inside. This piece is sleek and could easily be worn to a casual office. The Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover and The North Face Osito 2 also won extra style points. Even though some models, like the Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody, are more technical, they also received fairly high style ratings because they were so flattering.

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The Patagonia Better Sweater has a sweater-like exterior and a soft, fleecy interior.
Credit: Meg Benedik

The Marmot Flair Hoody has a cute and cozy lounging design, but the color and sheen of the model tested this year read velour jacket more than anything else. Many of the highly rated products are "slim fitting," meaning that they are tailored at the waist and designed to flatter your body, rather than swallow it. The Columbia Benton Springs and Fast Trek II jackets had some of our lower ratings due to their boxy cuts and simple designs.

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 test 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 in this updated review, and probably wouldn't fit well on someone with shorter arms. To compare the different fits, check out the composite image, which includes photos of each fleece on one model.

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Our updated review products, from left to right:TNF Radium Hi-Loft, Patagonia R2, Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody, Patagonia R1, TNF Osito 2, TNF Oso Hoodie, Columbia Fast Trek II and Marmot Flair Hoody.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

Editors' Choice Award: The North Face Radium Hi-Loft
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The close-fitting cut of this technical North Face jacket allows it to fit well under a pack when hiking.
Credit: Norah S. Siller

This new release from The North Face really impressed our testers this year, and out of all of the fleeces that we tested, this is the first one we'd buy ourselves! The North Face Radium Hi-Loft - Women's is a technical model designed for being active in cold environments. It's made with a cozy and warm high-lofted material, and has a unique baffled construction that allows for maximum ventilation. The one drawback to this design is that the baffles allow cold air to seep in on windy days, but as a layer under a shell this fleece is ideal. It will keep you warm and prevent you from getting sweaty. The jacket has stretch fleece panels on the side torso and arms, allowing for greater ease of movement and less contrition under another layer. There is no hood, which is nice in this case since it's mostly meant as a layering piece, and it looks pretty good for a technical fleece. Our Editors' Choice winner is ideal for layering in the winter, or for a packable layer on your next hiking trip.

Best Buy Award: The North Face Osito 2
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Our Best Buy award winner is cozy, warm, and reasonably price, and makes a great around-town jacket or layer under a shell.
Credit: Norah S. Siller

The North Face Osito 2 is our Best Buy pick. This updated version of the older Osito model is a great around-town jacket. The silky raschel material on the Osito 2 leaves you feeling like you're being hugged by Elmo all day long, and it will keep you warm too. This jacket has plenty of room for layering underneath and has a slightly tapered silhouette, and it makes a great outer layer for cool fall days. It will even fit under a shell in winter, meaning you'll get a lot of use out of this jacket, without the price of a more technical fleece. There isn't a lot of breathability in this piece, so you won't want to wear it on your next hike, but this does make a cozy layer for running errands or heading out on cold nights. You might even be mistaken for a Muppet in some of the brighter colors!

Top Pick Award: Patagonia R1 Hoody
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Stealth ninja climbing in our Top Pick winner, the R1 Hoody.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

While many other fleece jackets are retooled and redesigned from year to year, the Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's has been largely left alone, and it is once again our Top Pick. Consistent year to year in its design and performance, it scored well in almost all of our metrics, particularly when it came to warmth, breathability, layering and ease of movement. The minimalist R1 Hoody doesn't have many stylish qualities or bells and whistles, but this is the layer to have if you partake in heavy-duty cardio activities in cold climates. The hood on this fleece makes it far more versatile as a mid-layer and it zips into a balaclava that reaches up over the nose. The interior grid fleece design breathes beautifully and the pullover features thumb loops to keep the sleeves in place (although, we must say these thumbies were a little too tight). The R1 will move with you, keep you warm and regulate body temperature, even during your most active pursuits.

Cam McKenzie Ring & Amanda Fenn
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