The Best Fleece Jacket for Women Review
Which women's fleece jacket is the best? After researching dozens of jackets and testing seven for several months, we've come up with the best ones for a variety of uses. 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 key categories, including how warm we felt in them and if they were breathable or not. Keep reading below to see which ones were our favorites, and what we recommend for some specific applications, such as aerobic activities in cold weather or just for lounging around camp.
Read the full review below >
Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Women's Fleece Jacket
Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's
Hood/collar zips up into balaclava
Not as warm as other contenders
Lacks water/wind resistance
Patagonia keeps 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. 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.
Read review: Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Marmot Flashpoint - Women's
Media slot in sleeve pocket
Not very warm
No hood option
The Marmot Flashpoint is a lightweight model that gets the job done without breaking the bank. It's fairly thin and breathable, which is great for when you are active in cold weather, but it is not very warm overall. 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. There are some nice features for the price point, including thumb holes and an arm pocket with a slot for your headphones. And speaking of price, 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.
Read review: Marmot Flashpoint - Women's
Top Pick for Around Camp
Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover - Women's
Not breathable enough for active pursuits
A little bulky if trying to layer or wear under a backpack
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. We also love the styling nod to the original fleece jacket, but with updated color combinations. And with over 30 different choices to choose from, you're sure to find one that works for you.
Read review: Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover - 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. 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.
Criteria for Evaluation
After months of testing these seven different models in a variety of conditions, we scored their performance in a total of eight different metrics. The chart below shows you how the scored overall relative to each other. Below, we'll break down the different testing categories one by one and how the different fleeces performed in each.
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 Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover, 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 - Women's, 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 The North Face 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. 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 material on the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover 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 Patagonia R1 Hoody and R2 Jackets easily fit under an insulated ski jacket without any restriction in the arms. The Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover was a little too bulky to fit under a backpack, but still layered easily with baselayers and outerwear. It was hard to wear the heavyweight The North Face Denali under a jacket due to its boxy cut and thick material.
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 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. Most 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, like on the Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover. 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. Another standout was the 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 The North Face 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 and Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover, the 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 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. 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 review for more information on the many uses of that layer.
Not surprisingly, models like the Patagonia R2 was 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, like the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover. 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 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. We also really liked the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover. It hints at the original fleece pullovers of old, without the neon color schemes and super boxy cut. 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 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. 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
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.
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