Looking for a new fleece jacket specifically for women? We can help! After researching over 60 different models, we tested the top 9 to help you figure out which is the best one for you. We included some lightweight and breathable options that are geared towards layering and being active, along with some heavier ones that work better as standalone outer layers. We wore them while hiking and skiing, on climbing and camping trips, using them for months in a variety of conditions. Then we compared their performance in some key areas, like how breathable they were and if we had good freedom of movement in them or not. We have a bunch of great recommendations for you below, including our favorite overall model, some Top Picks for those looking for a highly breathable or warm jacket, along with some budget picks as well. We also have women's-specific reviews of almost every type of outer layer out there, should you be looking for something else.
The Best Women's Fleece Jackets of 2018
Analysis and Award Winners
We've recently updated our review to make sure we have all the latest and greatest options for you to check out. We included some new models this season from Outdoor Research and REI, and re-tested an old favorite, the Osito 2 from The North Face. We still love the Patagonia R1 and it's our favorite overall option for layering and other cold-weather activities, but we were impressed by all of the three new models above and they each won an award as well. Keep reading below to see why.
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 is lacking 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 to town. But this is the layer to have if you partake in heavy-duty cardio activities in cold climates. The R1 Hoody will move 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. 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.
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. But this is a great 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 could wear much under it, but it was certainly easy to wear it under other layers. We also wished it was an inch or two longer in the torso, particularly when wearing it under a climbing harness. 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 almost $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 too confined.
The Osito 2 is not a breathable model — its job is to trap your heat in freezing weather, so you will build up quite a bit of sweat if you also 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 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. 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. After months of testing these nine different models in a variety of conditions, we scored their performance in a total of eight different metrics. Below we'll break down the different testing categories one by one and let you know which were the standout performers 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 almost $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 ($95) models, costs a lot less to produce than the gridded fleece or grid and hi-loft combo found on the Patagonia R1 and R2 models ($159 and $169 respectively). 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 you are looking for good value picks, be sure to first determine your needs when purchasing any product, and then you can selectively find something that fits your needs without blowing your budget! You can also use our Value chart below, where we show you the price of the jacket relative to its performance in our tests. Those that lie on the bottom right are a great value, like the aforementioned Marmot Flashpoint, our Best Buy winner, and The North Face Osito 2, which retails for only $100 and is our Top Pick for 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 Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover and The North Face Osito 2, 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 its 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, and the Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody was so comfortable that we could wear 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 came to using these models as a layer under a shell and insulated jacket, the lightweight and midweight fleeces excelled, as they tended 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, as well as the Patagonia R1 and R2, 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 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 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. The Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody was just a hair too short in the torso and tended to ride 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 and Outdoor Research Deviator, made the best mid-layers. Less bulk made for a 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. The contrasting panels of stretch fleece on the sides increased the ease of movement. On the other hand, stiffer and bulkier models like The North Face Denali 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, 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 fleece in the Outdoor Research Deviator and Patagonia R1 has grid lines that provide a lot of 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. The Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody does give 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 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 that were the most breathable were also most susceptible to the wind. If you carry a breathable fleece into the backcountry, make sure to always bring along a shell in case the wind picks up. And if you are looking for a combination fleece/shell jacket, check out The Best Softshell Jacket for Women Review.
As with wind protection, very few products that we tested provided any protection from the rain. While fleece is naturally hydrophobic (the fibers don't absorb water like cotton does), water can still saturate through the material and get you wet.
The "Hardface Technology" on the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody repels water, but only up to a point. It is still not designed to keep you dry in a heavy rain, but the finish does make it more versatile than any of the other models we reviewed. The North Face Denali Jacket has nylon panels on its shoulders, and water did bead up and roll off that jacket, so it will keep you drier in a light rain. 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. Check out The Best Rain Jacket for Women Review for your next waterproof layer.
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. 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 of The 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.
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.