The Best Fleece Jacket for Women Review

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We put seven of the top technical models to the test while hiking, climbing and playing in the snow to help you find the best one for your next outdoor adventure.
Credit: Catherine McKenzie
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.

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. You'll also want to read our Introduction to Layered Clothing Systems article to see how the different layers work with each other and what to wear in the mountains to stay warm and dry.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Senior Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Fleece Jackets - Women's

Displaying 1 - 5 of 7 << 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 R1 Hoody - Women's
Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's
Read the Review
Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody - Women's
Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody - Women's
Read the Review
Patagonia R2 Jacket - Women's
Patagonia R2 Jacket - Women's
Read the Review
The North Face Tech-Osito Jacket - Women's
The North Face Tech-Osito Jacket - Women's
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award      Best Buy Award 
Price $170 List | $170 online
Compare at 3 sellers
$159 List | $111 - $159 online
Compare at 3 sellers
$199 List | $133 - $199 online
Compare at 4 sellers
$169 List | $85 - $140 online
Compare at 4 sellers
$99 List | $64 - $99 online
Compare at 4 sellers
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Pros Warm, breathable technical fleece thats also cozy.Highly breathable, compressible, light, built-in hood w/ninja-like balaclava, thumb loops.Balaclava hood with neck gaiter, good wind and water protection for a fleece.Lightweight, compressible, breathable, cozy for a technical fleece.Soft, warm, comfortable, side panels reduce bulk.
Cons Little wind or rain protection.Not very warm, poor wind and water resistance.Tight fit in the shoulders, short cut in the waist, expensive.No hood or wind protection.Not breathable.
Date Reviewed Jan 08, 2016Jan 08, 2016Jan 08, 2016Jan 08, 2016Jan 08, 2016
Weighted Scores The North Face Radium Hi-Loft - Women's Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody - Women's Patagonia R2 Jacket - Women's The North Face Tech-Osito Jacket - Women's
Warmth - 25%
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8
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6
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7
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9
Comfort - 20%
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9
Breathability - 15%
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6
Layering Ability - 15%
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Ease Of Movement - 10%
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Wind Protection - 5%
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Water Resistance - 5%
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Style - 5%
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Product Specs The North Face Radium Hi-Loft - Women's Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody - Women's Patagonia R2 Jacket - Women's The North Face Tech-Osito Jacket - Women's
Type Midweight Lightweight Midweight Midweight Heavyweight
Main Fabric Polartec Thermal Pro (96% polyester, 4% elastane) Polartec Power Grid (93% recycled polyester, 7% spandex with Polygiene) Polartec Power Stretch with Hardface Technology (88% polyester, 12% elastane) Polartec Thermal Pro (97% polyester (63% recycled), 3% spandex) and Polartec Power Grid 100% polyester silken fleece
Unique Features Stretch fleece panels on the side reduce volume 3/4 length zipper, thumb loops Balaclava hood with neck gaiter R1 grid panels on the side to reduce volume Stretch fleece panels on the side reduce volume
Color Selection Highrise Grey, Garnet Purple, TNF Black Aquastone, Black Silver lining, Tamarillo, Tanzanite, Vultee Blue Aquastone, Ultramarine, Black, French Red, Tailored Grey Luminous Pink, TNF White, TNF Black, Starry Purple, Kokomo Green, Tofino Blue
Weight (ounces) 13 10.7 12.2 11.7 18
# of Pockets 2 hand 1 chest 3 (2 hand, 1 arm) 3 (2 hand, 1 chest) 2 hand
Hood Option? No Yes Yes No No

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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



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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The tested models (left to right): Patgonia R1 Hoody, TNF Denali, Patagonia R2, TNF Radium Hi-Loft, Marmot Flashpoint, Arc'teryx Fortrex Hoody and TNF Tech-Osito.
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 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.

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Lightweight (100 g/m) - These models are fairly thin and not very warm, but tend to be breathable and best for when you are hiking or climbing in cold weather where you want to stay warm but not sweaty. They typically work well as an outer layer over only a thin baselayer, but can be worn as a mid-layer under a shell or other fleece. Some of the lightweight models that we tested were the Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's and the Marmot Flashpoint - Women's.

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Midweight (200 g/m) - Midweight models are some of the most versatile layers for outdoor pursuits. They work great as outer layers for cool days in the mountains, and for really frigid conditions they provide extra warmth under a shell or insulated jacket. We tested a variety of midweight models, including The North Face Radium Hi-Loft - Women's, the Patagonia R2 Jacket - Women's, and the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody - Women's.

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Heavyweight (300 g/m) - Heavyweight models are warm and toasty options for really cold weather. They tend to be on the bulky side (because the material is so thick) but provide a lot of warmth and are typically worn as an outer layer. We tested two heavyweight models, 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.

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Technical - These fleeces have an emphasis on breathability, ease of layering and movement, and packability when compared to casual models. They also have a more streamlined fit and a steeper price tag. Extra features might include side stretch or breathability panels, thumb loops or thin hoods that work under a helmet. 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.

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Casual - Fleece pile is a very comfortable material, and it has replaced the function of a cozy sweatshirt or sweater in many people's wardrobes. Casual styles 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 it is not raining or snowing.

Criteria for Evaluation


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Testing out TNF Denali Jacket while camping. We tested the different models based on their warmth, comfort, breathablity, layering ability, ease of movement, wind and water protection and style and fit.
Credit: Scott Ring

Warmth


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/m, like The North Face Denali Jacket, were also much warmer than some thinner models, like the Marmot Flashpoint.

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If you are looking for something that is warm and cozy, check out a high pile raschel fleece like TNF Tech-Osito Jacket. The Muppet-like "fur" keeps you toasty by trapping warm air between all the tiny hairs.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

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.

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Features like a balaclava hood help keep you warmer even if the layer itself is not that warm.
Credit: Scott Ring

Comfort


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.

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Sometimes comfort comes down to tiny details, like zipper guards at the neck or flat lying seams. In the case of the Patagonia R1 Hoody, the 3/4 length zipper ends at the navel and eliminates any pressure points that a zipper may cause under a harness or backpack waistbelt.
Credit: Scott Ring

Layering Ability


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.

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Layering the Marmot Flashpoint over the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody. The ability to add and remove layers while being active in the mountains is key to staying warm, dry and happy.
Credit: Scott Ring


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.

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The North Face Radium Hi-Loft layers easily under a ski jacket thanks to the compressible material and side-stretch panels. When searching for a mid-layer, look for something that is not too bulky so that you don't feel too constricted.
Credit: Catherine McKenzie

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.

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Raglan sleeves (the seams are off the tops of the shoulders) are preferred for wearing under a pack for long distances. Also, note the flat seams on the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody, which reduce irritation under a pack as well.
Credit: Kenny Barker

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.

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We liked wearing the low profile Patagonia R2 Jacket while hiking with a pack on cold days. It's a breathable and streamlined layer that won't bunch up under a waistbelt.
Credit: Elaina Arenz

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.


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The North Face Denali Jacket is a great layer to wear while belaying, but not while climbing.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

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 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.

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There are many ways to increase the breathability of a fleece, including baffles (top), gridding (middle) an many pinprick holes (bottom).
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

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 "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.

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The "Hardface Technology" on the Arc'teryx Fortrez helps block the wind, and the hood and face gaiter help keep you warm and protected on a blustery day.
Credit: Kenny Barker

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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Fleece jackets are not the best outer layer for snow sports, even in warm weather. Wind cuts right through the porous TNF Radium Hi-Loft jacket.
Credit: Catherine McKenzie

Water Resistance


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.

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Water beaded up and rolled off the Arc'teryx Fortrez, making this the best choice of all the models we tested for alpine and ice climbing.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

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.

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Comparing the style and fit of our favorite (and least favorite models). The Arc'teryx Fortrez has a sleek look, with long arms and a tapered silhouette, while The North Face Denali is not as flattering with a boxy cut and shorter arms.
Credit: Kenny Barker

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.

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From left to right: the lightweight Patagonia R1 Hoody and Marmot Flashpoint, and the midweight Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody and Patagonia R2 Jacket.
Credit: Kenny Barker
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From left to right: the midweight TNF Radium Hi-loft, and the heavyweight TNF Tech-Osito Jacket and TNF Denali Jacket.
Credit: Kenny Barker

Editors' Choice award: The North Face Radium Hi-Loft


Editors' Choice Award
The North Face Radium Hi-Loft - Women's
Price:   $170 List | $170 online
Compare prices at 3 resellers


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This model from The North Face's Summit Series line continues to impress our our testers, winning our Editors' Choice award for the second year in a row. 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 hi-loft 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 at the same time. There are stretch fleece panels on the side torso and arms, which allow for greater ease of movement and less constriction 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.

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Our Editors' Choice winner is a cozy and stylish layer that is great for everything from winter hikes in the desert to layering under a shell in the alpine or even just for cozying up on the couch.
Credit: Catherine McKenzie

Best Buy Award: The North Face Tech-Osito Jacket


Best Buy Award
The North Face Tech-Osito Jacket - Women's
Price:   Varies from $64 - $99
Compare prices at 4 resellers


Read the review

The North Face Tech-Osito Jacket - Women's is our Best Buy pick. This technical version of the popular Osito 2 Jacket is a great all-around warm layer. The silky raschel material 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, has a slightly tapered silhouette and makes a great outer layer for cool fall days. It will even fit under a shell in winter, and thanks to the side stretch panels you won't feel too bulky or constricted. You'll get a lot of use out of this versatile jacket, without the price of a more technical fleece.

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The North Face Tech-Osito is an affordable and warm layer that works well as both an outer and mid-layer. It's fluffy and soft, and comes in a variety of bright and more muted colors.
Credit: Glenda Huxter

Top Pick for Breathability: Patagonia R1 Hoody


Top Pick Award
Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's
Price:   Varies from $111 - $159
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Patagonia made some big updates to their classic performance fleece this year and we like every one of them. The grids are slightly larger and the zipper now goes down to the navel. This makes the Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's even more breathable and well deserving of our Top Pick for Breathability award. This hoody 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 makes it far more versatile as a mid-layer and it zips into a balaclava that covers your neck and lower face. The interior grid fleece design breathes beautifully and the pullover features thumb loops to keep the sleeves in place. The R1 will move with you, keep you warm and regulate body temperature, even during your most active pursuits.

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Heading out for a hike on a cold day? Our Top Pick for Breathability is the layer to take along. The Patagonia R1 Hoody breathes exceptionally well, keeping you warm but also dry.
Credit: Catherine McKenzie

Cam McKenzie Ring
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