Best Fleece Jackets for Women of 2020
Best Overall Women's Fleece Jacket
Patagonia R1 Full Zip Hoody - Women's
The Patagonia R1 Hoody continues to be our favorite for its stand-out all-around performance. This hoody is fashionable enough to be worn casually and technical enough for any mission outside. Soft on the skin, the outer layer is made of durable fabrics that'll layer easily underneath other layers. As a classic for long trips, it doesn't retain smells even after being unwashed for a week or so (trust us, we've tried it!). It is thin, fitted, and stretchy with excellent mobility. The colors are gush-worthy, and its versatility is still unbeatable. If there was any fleece or midlayer, we'd recommend, this is our top dog.
The main thing the R1 Hoody lacks is water resistance. While the fabric will stave off a mist, you'll want to pair it with a shell on a stormy day. As one of the most versatile fleece jackets we've tested, it's no wonder this has been a go-to for adventurers, casual hikers, and for those seeking a stylish jacket for the shoulder seasons.
Read review: Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Outdoor Research Vigor Full-Zip - Women's
The Outdoor Vigor Full Zip Hoody has everything you'd want out of a technical fleece for an excellent price. The fabrics are stretchy and mobile, with enough length through the arms and torso to fit even the tallest of women. We love the paneled design that locks in heat around the core but vents through the back, sides, and arms of the body for optimal thermoregulation. The pockets are plentiful and huge with storage large enough for your chia bread vegan sandwiches. This is the jacket we typically reach for when winter running, cross country skiing, and heading into the backcountry. It's breathable, will layer easily, with a fit that's stretchy, long, and true.
While its difficult to find any real caveats, it doesn't offer the best stand-alone warmth, nor is it water-resistant. If you're looking for a great deal, breathable design, and don't care too much for large amounts of warmth, you may have found just what you seek.
Read review: Outdoor Research Vigor Full Zip
Best Cozy Fleece for the Buck
Columbia Benton Springs - Women's
The Columbia Benton Springs is a bulkier midweight fleece jacket that's simple and will keep you warm and cozy. It has a thick, soft 100% polyester construction that provides excellent wind and water resistance. In addition to it being affordable and high value, it's also one of the least technical. It proves to be an excellent choice for household chores, lounging, or sipping tea next to the fire on a cold day. It can perform well on simple hikes that are quite relaxed and makes for a nice piece during any Fall or Spring day.
While this fleece is built for comfort and coziness, it doesn't perform well when working up a sweat. It lacks breathability, heating up quickly when exertion levels go from easy to medium. It's also hard to layer underneath slim-fitting jackets, given its bulkier design. If cozy comfort is what you seek, this high-value contender is our recommendation for you.
Read review: Columbia Benton Springs - Women
Best Quality for Comfort and Lounging
Lululemon Fleece Flurry
Looking to for a luxuriously soft fleece that'll keep you comfortable while you lounge, do yoga, tinker with projects, or take the dog for a walk? The Lululemon Fleece Flurry is an exceptionally silky, plush fleece composed of the softest materials (we think) known to humanity. Silky smooth on the outside and plush on the outside, you won't be able to stop stroking your sweater. The hood is huge, which allows you to burrow in when met with a cool windy breeze. Not only is it ripe with comfort features, but it's also relatively weather resistance. Functional, stylish, and cozy!
The heavier weight makes this fleece less breathable than most and heavier to don. While our testers really like the fit that hugs the hips, it may not be for every woman. Plus, this is Lululemon, it's expensive, so be ready to invest if you can't find it on sale. If lavish comfort and silky fabrics are your thing, this thicker fleece will have you humming.
Read review: Lululemon Fleece Flurry
Best for Poor Weather
Voormi High-E Hoodie - Women's
The Voormi High Hood E is a ¼ zip jacket featuring a merino wool-polyester construction, kangaroo style front pocket, and a huge balaclava hood. All designed to keep you protected in poor weather. It features a highly durable and abrasion-resistant hardened face fabric that does the best job at repelling water and wind that we've seen in our testing so far. If you like to get out in poor weather or are looking for a super warm fleece because you run cold, this is one to definitely check out. Plus, it's made by a local Colorado company that puts customer service first.
While this jacket is highly durable and protective, the fabrics are somewhat stiff and a tiny bit itchy. While the materials do stretch, they are much stiffer than any traditional fleece we've tested, which means sizing correctly is imperative. The arms and bust feel a little slim, which gave our main tester a hard time getting her guns inside. The price is also high, but its important to consider the quality of this garment - which is high. If you are seeking a thicker fleece that'll perform in all weather, this is our goto.
Read review: Voormi High-E Hoodie - Women's
Best 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, that'll give you more breathability than other heavier fleece. While the cut is slightly boxy, 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 and the cut, unfortunately, doesn't give it the best movement. This is the layer to don after the activity is over and not during; however, we need to wear something warm in those times too, and we love the styling nod to this original Patagonia fleece jacket.
Read review: Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
Senior Review Editors Cam McKenzie Ring and Amber King are no strangers to layering up for many types of excursions. Both know the value that a good fleece jacket adds to any collection of outdoor clothing. You can find Cam in the sandstone landscape around Las Vegas with her two boys. She's also a five-year veteran of Yosemite Search and Rescue and an accomplished climber, racking up over 20 years of experience, including El Cap big wall routes on her resume. Amber King has been a climber for over 20 years, tackling high peaks all over North American in places from Rocky Mountain National Park to the North Cascades. She's been an outdoor educator and science teacher for the last five years, spending hours in the backcountry on rivers, climbing rocks, and summiting mountains.
We researched the market thoroughly before making our final selection of the 13 models discussed here. Once the fleeces were purchased, we identified key categories to grade the competing jackets on during tests. We then commenced wearing the fleeces rigorously during three months of field testing. These jackets were worn daily, on trail runs, ski tours, lounging around the house, and resort skiing with friends. They've seen the dry climates of Wyoming and Colorado, in addition to the wet coastal zones of Hawaii and Canada. In addition to field testing every single garment, we also perform a series of objective tests, like pouring water on each, to determine nuances of each textile that you'd never be able to decipher on your own without all in hand at the same time. With over seven years of testing experience under our belts, we can say that we're experts in the field, and you can trust our recommendations.
Analysis and Test Results
We chose fleece jackets that range from hi-pile to high performing. Breathable to cozy and comfortable. After testing each hands-on, they are assigned an objective score based on ratings across six metrics; warmth, comfort & fit, layering ability, ease of movement, breathability, and weather-resistance. Using these, you can determine what's most important to you to find exactly what you're looking for.
Your money matters and most of us seek high-value options. While many of our top performers can be pricey, some options have a much higher value. For example, the Outdoor Research Vigor Full-Zip is an excellent technical fleece that moves with the body, looks good, breathes, and provides exceptional warmth. It has performance similar to the top dogs at a fraction of the price.
Other less technical fleeces, are more budget-friendly in nature. For example; the Columbia Benton Springs is has an incredibly low price but lacks technical breathability for high output activities like trail running. The REI Hyperaxis 2 stands out for its comfortable roomy construction with excellent thermoregulation. Companies that offer lifetime warranties, like Patagonia, also provide a higher value than those that don't. While the initial price may be high, you can easily send in the product for a brand new version (if you're not happy) — even if it's a few years down the road.
A major purpose of any fleece jacket is its ability to add warmth as either a stand-alone layer or with a base layer or jacket. The most significant factor in a jacket's warmth is the amount and type of fleece used in its construction. Other factors that factor into warmth include coverage around areas like the head, face, neck, and hands. Jackets with the ability to seal in warmth through drawcords or thumb loops are much warmer with the versatility to thermoregulate more efficiently.
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 and is seen in most of the fleeces that we've tested in this review.
The raschel fleece jackets (the high-pile Muppet-like fur), like the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T, 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. The thicker models with weights over 300 g/m², like The North Face Denali 2, are also much warmer than some thinner models, like the Arc'teryx Kyanite.
Warmer jackets, like the Columbia Benton Springs, don't feature a hi-pile fleece, but a polyester material that feels comfortable against the skin…it's just not as soft. While this jacket is warm, it doesn't thermoregulate as well as other high-end options. This can lead to feeling colder, especially if you sweat during winter use.
Technical fleece jackets like the Patagonia R1 Hoody are relatively warm for their weight, thanks to increased coverage from long sleeves and a full face balaclava. Other technical fleeces aren't as thick but still relatively thin and can produce a generous amount of warmth and thermoregulation. For example, the Rab Nucleus is one of the thinnest tested but offers good warmth while on the move or under another layer.
The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody is not a particularly warm jacket, but when the wind kicks up, the "hardshell" coating on the fleece helps it retain warmth better than more porous models. It also features a concealed and unique balaclava, which adds to its warmth. 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.
Comfort and Fit
Comfortable and cozy is so important if you plan on wearing your fleece all day long. Unlike other outdoor garments that might not sit next to the skin, like, say, a rain jacket, this metric is super important to consider. Comfort is a function of how the product feels when out and about for long days on end. Were we ready to pull it off or keep it on? Also, how does it fit?
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, we noted the qualities that made them less comfortable. We also noted which fleeces we simply didn't want to take off or looked forward to putting on at the end of the day.
The coziest and most comfortable fleeces are loaded with plush materials and typically feel super soft against the skin. Some of our highest scorers, like the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap, use a hi-pile fleece that is so soft that we never wanted to take it off.
Other high scorers, like our Best for Comfort and Lounging, the Lululemon Fleece Flurry features super soft and silky materials that feel like heaven against the skin. Others use thicker polyester, like the Columbia Benton, but the material is equally comfortable. All of these jackets offer high nuzzling collars and large pockets. The Lululemon is our favorite because its fit hugs the body, wrapping you in lavish comforts, while others feature a boxier fit.
All of these jackets are bulkier than the Arc'teryx Kyanite, which is a lightweight, less technical jacket that's super cozy. It's one you'd choose if you appreciate a high level of comfort that's incredibly soft against the skin (even more so than other technical fleeces) but doesn't carry the bulk of the jackets mentioned above. It was our go-to for Spring days, making bread and hanging out around the house.
Technical fleeces are also comfortable but don't typically feature heavier, silkier material. Instead, they have functional pockets. A technical fleece that feels good against the skin is a huge plus! All the models we tested fit this bill. The Patagonia R1 provides exceptional comfort as the material is pretty stretchy and soft on the skin. The Arc'teryx Fortrez features the softest microfleece of both located on the inside of the jacket. All have a balaclava hood that fits nicely under a helmet and doesn't limit peripheral vision. For fit, the Patagonia R1 has the longest lengths in both the arms and torso, while the Fortrez features a slim fit that's a little short.
We didn't rate any of the jackets on fit but note some of the key fleeces that might work for some ladies. In our testing, we try to keep an objective brain around fit. Even though the fit may not work for our testers, we realize it may work for other women out there. Here, we outline some ideas for fit. The jackets with stretchier materials and seams typically will accommodate most women with more curves. Stiffer jackets with stiffer seams will typically fit women with a more narrow or specific profile.
Jackets for Longer or Curvy Ladies
Jackets best for ladies with long limbs or curves are those that can offer good coverage and stretch. The following are options for you ladies to consider. Or, if you like a roomier fit, this is a good place to look. Let's start with the Outdoor Research Vigor Full-Zip; it has some of the longest materials in both the torso, arms and widthwise through the chest. The REI Hyperaxis is another, but its fit is looser and roomier, while the OR Vigour hugs the body better. The Mountain Hardwear Type 2 Fun is another longer jacket with a roomier fit, similar to the REI Hyperaxis 2. The Patagonia R1 Hoody is another well-fitted stretchy hoody that'll accommodate longer limbs, but the torso and arms aren't as long as the above three contenders.
Jackets for Super Narrow or Slim Ladies
Those that are thin and narrow in shape require a different fit than those that are long and narrow. While the jackets mentioned above will surely hug your bottom, if you're long and thin, the Outdoor Research Vigor Hoody and Patagonia R1 Hoody will probably be the best. If you're petite and prefer a jacket with a trim fit, look for narrow clothing. For example, the Ortovox Fleece is a super-thin fleece with narrow shoulder and arms that won't feel too bulky on thin frames. The Voormi High-E Hood is another with more rigid fabrics, but exceptional protection. The fit through the arms is thinner and less stretchy and quite complementary to any small frame.
Putting this jacket on underneath an insulated coat or shell is essential when considering layered systems on cold days. To evaluate this metric, we looked at the material that would articulate with an upper layer and pulled on shells and jackets to see how well each slide on. We also note which works best with thicker base layers and which scrunch up. We also tried to wear each layer with a full backpacking set-up and underneath a harness. Those that layered easily did well in this metric, while bulkier, stickier options didn't fare as well.
A piece that layers well is one that'll fit easily under a jacket but provide enough room through the arms and torso to put on a long-sleeved base layer. Those with integrated thumb loops help the process to pull it on and off. Of these, the Outdoor Research Vigor Full-Zip excels. Its thinner design is mobile and smooth, making layering over or under layers simple. We also appreciate its lavish thumb loops. The Mountain Hardwear Type 2 Fun ¾ zip is another with a lighter construction but less fitted look.
The Patagonia R1 series also does well in this metric. The classic Patagonia R1 has a smooth, hardened face fabric that slides under-insulated jackets while offering ample stretch through the arms to accommodate thicker base layers. The Rab Nucleus and Arc'teryx Fortrez also perform well in this metric, with the Fortrez having a continuous face fabric that easily slides under the stickiest of jackets.
Bulkier layers like the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover, Columbia Benton Springs, and The North Face Denali 2 are a little too bulky to fit under a jacket but still layers easily with base layers and outerwear. Of the three, the Columbia Benton Springs is most likely the one that'll fit under a super roomy shell best, while The North Face Denali 2 is meant to simply wear on its own.
When choosing a fleece jacket to wear under a pack or climbing harness, our testers found that the more streamlined the fit with high hand warming pockets (or none), the better. For example, the Arc'teryx Kyanite has a high set of pockets that can be fully accessed while wearing a harness or backpack. The Mountain Hardwear Type 2 Fun has no handwarmer pockets, making it a favorite of ours for backpacking and climbing (and it's packable). While the Patagonia R1 once had this functionality, it doesn't anymore as it lacks even a chest pocket - sad day.
Ease of Movement
When getting ready to climb your next multi-pitch or get out on the ski hill for the day, your fleece must move with your body. This ensures that you have a full range of motion so you can tackle your goals with ease. To evaluate this, we wore each with a layered system. We climbed up rocks and skied down mountains. Those that didn't bunch, catch, or ride up or make us feel claustrophobic did the best in this category.
Not surprisingly, the lightest and thinnest pieces with mobile fabrics, like the Patagonia R1, Outdoor Research Vigor Full-Zip, Rab Nucleus Hoody, and Arc'teryx Kyanite offers the best movement. These less bulky layers provide a greater range of motion in the shoulders and arms, without you feeling like a stuffed sausage. The REI Hyperaxis and Lululemon Fleece Furry are two thicker models with excellent mobility. The Lululemon hugs the body, while the REI Hyperaxis 2 offers movement in the form of more room. The Mountain Hardwear Type 2 Fun offers excellent mobility with its thinner, less fitted design that's great for sports like climbing, running, and backpacking.
Other bulkier jackets like the Columbia Benton Springs and the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover still offer decent movement but are not recommended for use while on the move. While they allow your full range of motion, the jackets move up and down with your arms, which is a little annoying when you're cruxing out on your project at the crag.
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. A tremendous technical fleece can both insulate while off-loading heat efficiently so you don't get cold when standing still.
The best performers in this category are easily those that use PowerGrid technology, offering lots of breathable channels amongst its insulation. Of them, Patagonia R1, Outdoor Research Vigor Full-Zip, and Rab Nucleus use this technology and all function well as layers to stay on all day.
The PowerGrid uses a latticework of tiny brick islands with ventilation around them. All of these jackets are suitable for keeping you cool when you start to sweat. Thinner jackets with these channels spaced out provide better ventilation, like the OR Vigor, than those that are tinier and tightly packed together, like the Mountain Hardwear Type 2 Fun.
Thicker jackets that offer breathable functionality use a different method. The Patagonia 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. Unfortunately, the 100% polyester blends used in the Columbia Benton are not as breathable as more technical layers.
The uniform face fabric on the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody and Arc'teryx Kyanite doesn't allow for as much breathability as the other technical options. The Fortrez uses a Hardface Technology that is less breathable than the Kyanite (that is quite thin). This offers better protection from the wind, sacrificing venting.
Even though most of the women's fleece jackets that we reviewed provided very little protection from the elements, we still tested the weather resistance of each fleece. We stood in wind storms and dumped water on the fabric to see how well it resisted absorption. Some products provided better resistance to wind or water than others, but inherently, a mid-layer is designed to be layered in conjunction with a shell or windbreaker. That said, you will find great practicality in wearing a fleece on its own.
By far and away, the Voormi High E Hood offers the best weather protection that we've seen so far in a fleece jacket. Made with merino wool and polyester, it provides the best amount of insulation when wet. Hardface Technology is incredibly durable and completely repels water and wind. The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody is another jacket that's touted for its weather protection. While it also has a very weather resistant membrane, the zippers prove to leak, while the Voormi kept us completely dry. The North Face Denali 2 Jacket is another stand-up protector from the weather. It has nylon panels on the shoulders, and water beads up and rolls off, so it will keep you dry in light rain.
While the world of fleece jackets is large, it may be challenging to choose which one to buy. Lucky for you, we've done the hard work. These contenders have seen action all over the world and are worn regularly and reported on regularly. Our recommendations are unbiased and founded on hands-on research and experience that you can trust. We hope we've helped you make some hard decisions in your quest to find the best one for your ambitions and preferences.
— Amber King & Cam McKenzie Ring