Looking for the best fleece jacket to keep you warm all winter long? You've come to the right place. We perused over 65 different options before choosing the 11 best for our side-by-side tests. Since no two fleeces are alike, we selected a variety of models for our review, including some heavy and thick ones that work best as outer layers on cold days and some breathable, lightweight options for more intensive activities. We tested them in the field for months while hiking, climbing, camping and many things in between. After comparing their warmth, breathability, and a host of other features, we selected our favorites, outlined below. Keep reading to see which we like best and why, and be sure to check out our women's-specific jacket reviews for all of your outerwear needs.
The Best Women's Fleece Jackets of 2018
The cold temps are here and we've made some updates to our women's fleece jacket review to make sure that we have all of the latest and greatest options for you to choose from. We tested some updated versions of our long-time favorites, like the Marmot Flashpoint and Patagonia R2, and we also added some new models into the mix, like the Rab Nucleus and the Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan. While neither of these unseated our Editors' Choice winner, the Nucleus Hoody came close and is another highly breathable fleece to choose from.
Best Overall Women's Fleece Jacket
Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's
We've long been a fan of the Patagonia R1 Hoody, and they keep making their classic performance fleece even better. The R1 Hoody scored well in almost all of our metrics, particularly when it came to warmth, breathability, layering, and ease of movement. This, in our opinion, is the best lightweight layering piece to wear for a variety of pursuits, from skiing and snowboarding to climbing and hiking in cold weather. The thumb loops help keep the sleeves in place, and the hood zips into a balaclava that covers your neck and lower face. That same zipper goes down to your belly button to help you vent on the go, and the gridded fleece design helps with that as well.
The main things the R1 Hoody lacks are water and wind resistance. You'll want to pair it with a wind or rain shell on stormy days. It also doesn't have many stylish qualities or bells and whistles; this is an active and performance layer, not something to wear around town. But this is the layer to have if you partake in heavy-duty cardio activities in cold climates. The Patagonia R1 Hoody moves with you, keeping you warm and regulating your body temperature even during your most active pursuits.
Read review: Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Marmot Flashpoint - Women's
The Marmot Flashpoint is a lightweight model that gets the job done without breaking the bank. We had great success layering with this piece; there's enough room for baselayers underneath, and it layers well under a rain or ski jacket. This model retails for under $100, making it almost half the price of some of the more expensive options in this review. All of the new material technology going into apparel these days is great, but sometimes it is nice to have a (relatively) inexpensive layer for getting out in.
It's fairly thin and breathable, which is great for when you are active in cold weather, but it is not very warm overall. The lack of a hood also makes it less warm than a model that has one. Marmot recently increased the price by $5 but did away with the thumb loops and media pocket in the sleeve; these aren't deal breakers, and we'd guess that they simplified the design to keep the price down. The result is still a lightweight option that you can stash in your pack for sunny hiking days where you might reach a cooler summit. Because it is so thin, it packs down compactly and it is a great emergency layer to always keep in your daypack.
Read review: Marmot Flashpoint - Women's
Top Pick for Breathability
Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody - Women's
The Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody has definitely "deviated" from a traditional fleece jacket. The Deviator has lightweight fleece in the arms and back but has a synthetic panel in the front that is covered by a light ripstop nylon. It's like your fleece, wind, and synthetic insulating layers all got together and merged into one. The result is a lightweight layer that is highly breathable for days when you are moving fast on the trail.
The Deviator is not all that warm. It's best used as part of a layering system as opposed to an outer layer for keeping you toasty. It's also cut so tightly that we can't wear much under it, but it is easy to wear it under other layers. We'd also prefer it to be an inch or two longer in the torso, particularly when wearing it under a climbing harness. It's cut so short that it rides up easily, which is annoying. Those small issues aside, if you are looking for something to wear while being super active anytime the temps are cold, the Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody*is your best bet.
Read review: Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody - Women's
Best Buy on a Tight Budget
REI Co-op Fleece - Women's
If you're in the market for a basic and inexpensive option, it doesn't get much more basic or inexpensive than the REI Co-op Fleece. For $50 you get a warm outer layer that will keep you toasty on cool nights. Considering that some of the models in this review cost $200, we appreciate the option to spend a lot less; however, you are getting what you pay for and that means not much in the way of design or technology.
It's made with a plain fleece pile of old, with little venting or breathability options. You want to put this one on at the summit only, and not wear it while being active. It's also on the bulky side, meaning it takes up a lot of room in your daypack and the cut it somewhat boxy. It didn't layer well under a rain jacket or other shell and is best used as a standalone outer layer only. If you're looking for something to beat up while camping or doing yard work in the winter, pick up one of these and save your expensive fleeces for more intense pursuits.
Read review: REI Co-op Fleece - Women's
Top Pick for Warmth
The North Face Osito 2 - Women's
The North Face Osito 2 Jacket is a warm layer that's great for layering with during the winter. If you need something to wear under your shell for cold days on the ski hill, the Osito 2 is an excellent choice. The hi-loft fleece is soft and comfortable, and the jacket is very warm for its weight. The cut is roomy enough to wear over a base layer, and it still fit well under our winter jacket without leaving us feeling too confined.
The Osito 2 is not a highly breathable model — its job is to trap your heat in freezing weather, so you will build up quite a bit of sweat if you try to wear it while hiking. It also has slightly shorter arms and less ease of movement than a more technical option. But it will keep you warm on the hill or the deck once the lifts close, and makes for a great around-town layer as well. Best of all is the price, which is only $100.
Read review: The North Face Osito 2 - Women's
Top Pick for Around Camp
Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover - Women's
If you're looking for a classic fleece for camping or around town, the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover is an excellent choice. This pullover is warm and cozy, while still offering a bit more breathability than a heavier fleece, like The North Face Denali. While the cut is slightly boxy, that does leave room for extra layers underneath, and you can still wear it under a rain or wind jacket. It only weighs a pound and is easily stashed in your day or backpack for an extra summit or evening layer.
It's not as breathable as the more "hi-tech" options that we tested, like the R1 Hoody, and the cut doesn't give it the best ease of movement. This is the layer to don after the activity is over and not during. But we need to wear something warm in those times too, and we love the styling nod to the original Patagonia fleece jacket. The Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover has updated color combinations, and with multiple choices to choose from, you're sure to find one that works for you.
Read review: Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover - Women's
Best for Windy Locales
Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody - Women's
If you prefer to wear your fleece as an outer layer and hang out in windy and drizzly environments, the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody is worth the investment. The "Hardface" fleece sheds water almost as well as a softshell jacket, and it helps block the wind as well. It has the best weather resistance of any model in our review, though it is no substitute for a rain or wind jacket in truly wet or blustery conditions. But for alpine or ice climbs, hikes on drizzly or gusty days, the Fortrez provides a lot more protection than the other options in this review. It also has a built-in gaiter on the hood, should you want to cover your face.
The cut on the Fortrez Hoody is on the trim side, and if you want to wear it over a substantial baselayer, you may need to size up. The "Hardface" technology makes it slightly less stretchy, comfortable, and breathable than the Patagonia R1 Hoody, and it's not the layer we'd want to cuddle on the couch in. It's also the most expensive model that we tested, and the $200 price tag seems a little excessive. You do get a quality piece for the price, but you could also purchase a less expensive option and a windbreaker for about the same amount. If you prefer to wear only one layer though and money is no object, the Acr'teryx Fortrez Hoody is a slick option.
Read review: Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody - Women's
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. But not all fleeces are created equal, and the model that will keep you warm in super cold conditions won't work for a cross-country ski outing. We tested these models in a variety of conditions and activities over several months, and then we scored their performance in several key areas, including warmth, comfort, breathability, layering ability, ease of movement, weather resistance, and style. In the rest of this article, we'll go through our difference performance criteria and let you know which are the standout models in each. We'll also discuss the differences between the most and least expensive options and give you some tips on what look for when buying on a budget.
The prices of the different models that we tested range from $50 to $200! While there are many kinds and styles of fleece out there, part of what goes into that price discrepancy is the technology going into the material. A plain fleece pile, like on the REI Co-op ($50) and Marmot Flashpoint ($99) models, costs a lot less to produce than the gridded fleece and hi-loft combo found on the Patagonia R2 ($169). The "hi-tech" materials give you more breathability and warmth per weight, but may not be a necessary expenditure if you are simply looking for a warm outer layer. If that sounds like you, check out the The North Face Osito 2, which retails for only $100 and is our Top Pick for Warmth. Our Price vs. Performance chart can help you find a value pick in all of our reviews. Look for models that fall in the lower right-hand corner, which indicates that they are high performing but not that expensive.
The primary purpose of a fleece jacket is to keep you warm, and this is the most important category in our evaluations. While the weight and thickness of the pile is the primary differentiator for warmth, other factors also contribute to the warmth it provides, including the type of fabric, the amount of coverage provided, and the ability to seal it in.
There are 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 fabric.
The raschel fleece jackets (the high-pile Muppet-like fur), like the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T and The North Face Osito 2, are some of the warmest models in our test group. 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 trap and retain warmth, and even a relatively thin jacket like the Patagonia R2 kept us warm thanks to its hi-loft material. Thicker model with weights over 300 g/m², like The North Face Denali 2, are also much warmer than some thinner models, like the 100 g/m² Marmot Flashpoint.
Some thinner jackets, like the Patagonia R1 Hoody, are relatively warm for their weight, thanks to increased coverage from thumb loops and full face balaclava. The thinner Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody is not a particularly warm jacket, but when the wind kicks up the "Hardshell" coating on the fleece help it retain warmth better than more porous models. Another feature that helps to seal in warmth was a cinch cord hem like the one found on The North Face Denali 2 Jacket. Cinching down the bottom of the jacket on cool and windy days prevents updrafts and minimizes 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 our skin, we need it to feel good!
When evaluating for comfort, we considered each product's details, like whether the zippers scratched the skin and if the pockets are 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 North Face Denali 2, 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. The Patagonia R1 Hoody has a soft feel on the inside, and the ¾ 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, like we had with the Rab Nucleus Hoody. The silky material on the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover is also very comfortable against the skin, and the Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody is so comfy that we wore it all day long without it bothering us at all.
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 comes to using these models as a layer under a shell and insulated jacket, the lightweight and midweight fleeces excel, as they tend to be cut closer to the body and have a slimmer profile, along with thumb loops to keep the sleeves in place. The Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody, Rab Nucleus Hood, and Patagonia R1 and R2, easily fit under an insulated ski jacket without any restriction in the arms. The Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover is a little too bulky to fit under a backpack but still layers easily with baselayers and outerwear. It's hard to wear the REI Co-op and The North Face Denali models under a jacket due to their boxy cut and thick material.
As for the jackets being their own outer layer, some models, like the Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan, have room for a light base layer underneath but not much else due to a tight fit in the shoulders. The Denali is the opposite, as it can 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. Many of the models that we tested have 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. Another option is to place a nylon panel on the shoulders, which also shifts the seams off to the sides and helps minimize pilling and abrasions in that area.
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, like on the Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover. The Patagonia R1 Hoody is an even better option as it has a ¾ length zipper that doesn't bunch up under a waistbelt. The downside to the ¾ zipper is that it is annoying to have to pull the jacket over your head every time you want to put it on or take it off. If you don't like that option, then the Rab Nucleus with its full-length zipper is a better bet. Another thing to consider is the length of the torso. The Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody is just a hair too short and it rode up under our harnesses and hip belts.
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, Patagonia R1, Outdoor Research Deviator, and Rab Nucleus Hoody are the best mid-layers. Less bulk gives you a greater range of motion in the shoulders and arms and doesn't leave you feeling like a stuffed sausage. Another standout is the Patagonia R2. The contrasting panels of stretch fleece on the sides increase the ease of movement. On the other hand, stiffer and bulkier models like Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan, The North Face Denali 2, and REI Co-op scored much lower in this category. These are the layers you put on after a climb, not during.
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, hi-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 fleece in the Outdoor Research Deviator, Rab Nucleus Hoody and Patagonia R1 have grid lines that provide a lot of ventilation. The Patagonia R2 and Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover's material is more lofted with microscopic holes throughout to allow moisture to escape. Each of these systems seems to work very well in their 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 and Covert Cardigan doesn't allow for as much breathability as the other technical options, but it does 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 might be a greater concern. The Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody gives you a little bit of both, as the lightweight grid fleece in the back vents well, while the synthetic insulation and nylon shell in the front helps to break the wind a bit.
Most of the women's fleece jackets that we reviewed provided very little protection from the elements. We typically recommend using this type of layer in conjunction with a shell or windbreaker, and our scores below reflect their weather resistance relative to each other as opposed to a rain or windbreaker jacket.
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 and repelling a light rain, for a fleece that is. The North Face Denali 2 Jacket has nylon panels on the shoulders, and water beads up and rolls off it, so it will keep you drier in a light rain. The nylon shell on the front of the Outdoor Research Deviator also repels water, but the arms and back do not. While these models might give you a bit more time to find shelter if you get caught out in a storm, it's best to always carry an impermeable layer with you on your adventures.
Not surprisingly, models that are the most breathable, like the Rab Nucleus Hoody and Patagonia R1, are also the 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.
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, like the Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan. So, we polled our friends (both male and female) and asked them to weigh in on their favorite looks. 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.
The Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan looks more like a high-end wool jacket, and it received our highest score for style. The Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover also scored high; it hints at the original fleece pullovers of old, without the neon color schemes and super boxy cut. And if you are looking for that fur-like material, The North Face Osito 2 delivers.
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 of The North Face models, the arm length tends to run short, much to the annoyance of our testers with long wingspans. Some models have tighter shoulders or more tapered waists. To compare the different fits, check out the composite images below. Here's a side-by-side look at the heavier models in this review.
For the lighter weight models, we like the style of the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody, which has a smooth face and flattering trim cut. The Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody has a unique look to it as well, and comes in attractive contrasting colors. Here are the lighter options that we tested.
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