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Over the last 9 years, we have tested over 55 of the best fleece jackets for women. This review offers a comparison of 13 of the highest-performing fleeces on the market, integrating style, comfort, and utility. Our globe-trekking testers have put each to the test, scaling high mountains, climbing big walls, sailing on rough seas, and running miles in the backcountry. In our testing, we compare structural details, textiles, fit, general comfort, and water resistance to see which performs the best for different niches in the outdoor world. Our unbiased insights offer excellent recommendations to help you find exactly what you are looking for.
The Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoodie is an exceptionally dynamic fleece that performs well across the board. Rather than specializing in any particular use, the R1 Air has useful features that pretty much everyone can enjoy. It's a lightweight fleece that approaches midweight warmth. A fuzzy interior and exterior and an impressive amount of stretch add a lot of comfort to this thin hoody. A fitted hood stays up even in the most trying conditions, and cleverly designed cuffs are comfortable even pushed up our forearms. The zig-zag pattern in the fleece does an excellent job regulating body temperature on a hike without leaving us cold hanging out at camp later.
On the other hand, those same zig-zags let wind flow right through this thin fleece and transfer precipitation easily to our base layers underneath. It doesn't have thumbholes, if those are a must-have for you, and the fuzzy exterior holds onto forest debris. The slim fit of the R1 Air works great for some of our testers but isn't an ideal fit for curvier women. It can be layered over and under other clothing and proves itself uncommonly useful in just about every situation.
Weight: 8.9 oz | Main Fabric: 94% Polyester, 6% spandex
REASONS TO BUY
Extremely stretchy with extended coverage
Comfortable thumbholes and cuffs
Great warmth-to-weight ratio
REASONS TO AVOID
Chest pocket lays lumpy
Extraordinarily long torso
Light colors are see-through
The Outdoor Research Vigor is a thin, lightweight fleece that looks and feels more like a shirt with impressive technical performance. With a low weight and thin fabric, this high-performance layer is very packable. A very long torso, long sleeves, and some seriously stretchy fabric keep the Vigor mobile and comfortable for more people in more situations. A cleverly designed fleece grid system maintains stellar breathability. All this high-tech performance comes for an enticingly low cost.
Though the large chest pocket is very useful, it also tends to lay quite lumpy on our chests and looks very strange. The torso offers top-notch coverage but is so long it fully covers the butt of our 5'4" main tester. We're also not a big fan of how see-through the light colors are. But when it comes to serious performance when it matters, the OR Vigor is one of our favorite models and a high-value item.
The very affordable Columbia Benton Springs is a simple pullover that keeps you warm and cozy. It offers that instant warmth feeling with its extra soft fleece interior. A small amount of stretchiness is much appreciated as well. It's less technical but still works for basic tasks around the house, a leisurely hike, and relaxing afterward. It comes in a ton of color options, sure to match just about anyone's wardrobe.
As much as we love this fleece for lounging, it's not particularly breathable. We found ourselves easily developing hot and cold patches while sitting in a chilly camping chair. With regular seams crossing the tops of the shoulders and under the armpits, the Benton Springs isn't designed for much movement. Its overall bulk is also difficult to layer over or under other clothing and jackets. But if you crave a cozy fleece to snuggle up on the couch in, the budget-friendly Benton Springs is a solid choice.
Weight: 12.6 oz | Main Fabric: 53% polyester, 38% nylon, 9% elastane
REASONS TO BUY
Comfortable, soft, and very stretchy
More polished look
Easy to layer
REASONS TO AVOID
Zipper is a windy day weak point
Slim cut may be limiting
The Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody is a fleece jacket masquerading as a comfortable sweatshirt. Even when brand new, this soft stretchy hoody wears like an old familiar sweatshirt, with give in all the right places. It's hard to overstate how comfortable we are with the Kyanite on. Though it's not the only model we tested with seams removed from high friction areas (located further back on the shoulders rather than across the top, and farther out under the biceps rather than in the armpits), it has some of the most mobile and comfortable shoulders because of it. A smooth exterior gives this zip-up sweatshirt a more polished look, and its semi-relaxed slim cut layers well over and under other clothing.
While the fabric itself does a decent job repelling cold breezes, the main zipper is an obvious weak point, easily letting cold air in. We appreciate the mesh pockets when we need extra breathability, but in truly cold situations, they're a hindrance. The slim, straight profile of the Kyanite won't work for every body shape, though its elasticity surely helps. We love feeling like we're wearing a familiar sweatshirt when we don the Kyanite, while still getting the technical performance we crave in the backcountry.
Weight: 16.1 oz | Main Fabric: Merino Wool and polyester
REASONS TO BUY
Merino wool "HardFaced technology" offers superior wind and water resistance
Super durable construction
Stylish and great color choices
REASONS TO AVOID
Breathability is subpar
Itchier fabrics to some
Stiffer fabrics limit sizing and mobility
The Voormi High-E Hoodie is a ¼ zip jacket featuring a merino wool-polyester construction, kangaroo-style front pocket, and a huge balaclava hood. All are 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 check out.
While this jacket is highly durable and protective, the fabrics are somewhat stiff and a tiny bit itchy. The materials stretch, but they are much stiffer than any traditional fleece we've tested, which means sizing it correctly is imperative. The arms and bust feel a little slim, which gave our main tester a hard time getting a comfortable fit for her biceps. The price is also very high, but it's on par with the quality of this garment, which is also high. If you are seeking a thicker fleece that'll perform in seriously trying conditions, the Voormi High-E is our go-to.
The North Face Summit FutureFleece LT Pullover is a unique fleece that excels when worn for sweaty sports. It feels more like wearing a shirt than a fleece jacket, yet is far warmer than it first appears. A checkered fleece pattern on the inside adds warmth while leaving plenty of space for excess body heat to vent away. The cuffs are lined with a thin, soft, pliable elastic band that simply pulls away on one side to loop over your thumbs — one of the easiest and most comfortable ways to include thumbholes and maintain sleeve comfort when not using those thumbholes that we've encountered. A tight fitted hood stays up even while running directly into strong winds, and when down, it gathers comfortably and warmly around your neck.
Naturally, as a very thin fleece shirt with high breathability, the Summit FutureFleece LT Pullover is one of the least warm fleeces in this lineup. Its slim profile and thin fabric are also difficult to wear over any base layers that aren't next to skin. And its light fabric and checkered fleece pattern let us easily see contrasting colors worn underneath. But for extending our runs into early winter mornings with temperatures in the teens, there's no model we reach for more than the FutureFleece Pullover.
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 by rigorously wearing each model during several months of field testing. On trail runs, ski tours, lounging around the house, exploring cliffs and woods, and resort skiing with friends, these jackets were worn daily. They've seen the dry climates of Nevada, Wyoming, and Colorado, in addition to the wet coastal zones of California, 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.
Our testing of fleece jackets is comprised of five rating metrics:
Warmth (25% of total score weighting)
Comfort (25% weighting)
Versatility (20% of weighting)
Breathability (15% weighting)
Layering Ability (15% weighting)
Senior Review Editors Maggie Nichols 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. Maggie has been a professional backcountry guide for over 15 years, leading backpacking trips, river trips, and touring expeditions across much of the US and internationally. Growing up in the Midwest, where temperatures regularly dip below zero, Maggie learned how to layer at a young age. As an adult, she has spent months on end guiding and traveling in far-flung destinations like the glaciers of Svalbard, the mountains of Lesotho, and the cloud forests of Ecuador. Amber King has been a climber for over 20 years, tackling high peaks all over North America in places from Rocky Mountain National Park to the North Cascades. She's been an outdoor educator and science teacher for over five years, spending hours in the backcountry on rivers, climbing rocks, and summiting mountains. Both these women have been testing gear for GearLab for many years and are experts in their fields.
Analysis and Test Results
Fleece jackets that range from technical to just plain cozy are what we cover. Each is tested over a series of rigorous tests with a focus on evaluating key metrics that include warmth, ease of layering, comfort, movement, breathability, and weather resistance. We can help point you in the right direction of finding exactly what you need using these factors.
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 Quarter-Zip is an excellent technical fleece that moves with your body, keeps you covered, breathes, and provides exceptional warmth for its weight. It has performance similar to the top dogs at a fraction of the price. A less technical jacket, the Columbia Benton Springs, is even cheaper and offers great value for casual use. After over a year of using it regularly around the house and on leisurely hikes, it still looks fresh and keeps us warm and cozy on any cold day.
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.
The warmest fleeces we tested were the Patagonia Synchilla Snap-T and the REI Hyperaxis 2.0. They accomplish their overall warmth in slightly different ways. The Synchilla is made of thinner fabric that's less permeable, helping to trap heat against your body. The Hyperaxis is much thicker and made of finely soft fleece that's more breathable but still keeps you nice and toasty. The fabric of the Arc'teryx Kyanite is very similar to the Hyperaxis, but slightly thinner, resulting in a small decrease in overall warmth. The Columbia Benton Springs is similar in permeability and heat to the Synchilla, but has a different fit that doesn't hold air against your torso as well as the Synchilla. The Voormi High-E Hoodie is also quite warm, with its wool interior and wind and water-resistant exterior.
The Patagonia R1 Air Hoody is another warm option — made even more impressive by its thinner fabric and status as a lightweight fleece rather than a midweight model. We also found the Kari Traa Rothe to be quite warm. It's the coziest model we tested, with thick sweatshirt-like cuffs, and only loses a few points in warmth because it's an oversized pullover with lots of room left over for draftiness. The exceptionally thick Patagonia Better Sweater is also quite warm, though its lesser coverage and lack of mobility lost it a few points in our scoring. The lightweight The North Face Canyonlands Hoodie packs some good warmth for its weight. Both the Outdoor Research Vigor and the Mountain Hardwear Stratus Range bring excellent warmth-to-weight ratios to the table and make good activewear layers.
Comfortable and cozy are 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 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? Is it able to move with you while you recreate? How does it fit and is it accommodating of a wide range of body shapes? What kind of pockets does it have and how convenient are they?
The Arc'teryx Kyanite and Patagonia R1 Air are our favorites when it comes to sheer comfort. Both these models are very soft inside, giving them a great feel next to our skin. The R1 Air has a whopping five pockets, which we love, while the Kyanite feels like wearing your favorite hoody. They each have seams removed from high-friction areas — the shoulder seams have been moved back to avoid conflicting with backpack straps, and the armpit seams are lower on the torso or out on the arm to avoid rubbing. They're not the only ones to have these high mobility seams, but they're also exceptionally stretchy and pleasant to wear and move in every way. The Outdoor Research Vigor also has highly mobile seams and hyper stretchy construction offering comfort in a range of activities. However, it loses a few points when it comes to fit and pocket functionality. Its absurdly long torso isn't a great choice for wider hips and curvier figures, and its single large chest pocket lays oddly and just can't match the enjoyableness of hand pockets.
The Patagonia Synchilla, Kari Traa Rothe, and Columbia Benton Springs all share similar degrees in style of comfort. All three of these models are composed of the "classic" fuzzy fleece, inside and out. They're all modestly stretchy and have other fit styles that add comfort. The Benton Springs is more slim fitting, the Synchilla blouses over like an old school sweatshirt, and the Rothe is simply oversized with gloriously delightful, wide sweatshirt-style cuffs. The super thin The North Face FutureFleece Pullover feels more like a shirt than a jacket, with lightweight comfort etched into every detail. Notably, the Cotopaxi Teca Fleece has a similar look and construction to these three, but is significantly more scratchy to wear, with a short torso and boxy fit that our testers just don't enjoy as much. The Voormi High-E and The North Face Canyonlands offer solid comfort in mobility and performance during activities, with convenient pockets and a generous fit.
Though almost no fleece is built to withstand rain or high winds without an extra shell on top, you may occasionally find yourself caught in unexpected situations. We tested each fleece's water and wind resistance, both in the field and in the lab at home. We also weighed and packed each jacket to evaluate which are packable and worth traveling with.
The vast majority of the fleece jackets we tested do not repel water and offer only modest protection against the wind — with one notable exception: the Voormi High-E. This jacket excels at sloughing off water and turning away wind in ways that we typically associate with a much more robust layer. We're seriously impressed by the weather resistance of this fleece, and it's the only one we're willing to wear without a shell when the weather takes a turn for the worse. The Patagonia R1 Air doesn't have the repellent features of the High-E (though its chest pocket does shed water), but it weighs just 10.7 ounces and it's remarkably packable, making it a different sort of versatile.
The Arc'teryx Kyanite and REI Hyperaxis 2.0 are more wind resistant than most, and their thicker fabric takes longer to soak through to our baselayers when caught in unexpected weather. The Patagonia Better Sweater is exceptionally thick, offering similar protection to the Kyanite and Hyperaxis, but is heavier and bulkier, losing it a small margin in this metric. The Outdoor Research Vigor and The North Face FutureFleece LT Pullover aren't windproof or waterproof, but dry very quickly and are both lightweight and compressible, making them great candidates for cramming in a daypack or carry-on.
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 issues are a thing of the past. A tremendous technical fleece can insulate while off-loading heat efficiently so you don't get cold when standing still.
The most breathable fleece we tested by far was The North Face Summit FutureFleece. The interior of this fleece shirt is comprised of checkers of thin fleece and no fleece, letting us easily dump heat on a run without getting too cold even as temps swung down into the teens. The Outdoor Research Vigor, Patagonia R1 Air, and Mountain Hardwear Stratus Range also have similarly patterned fabric that leaves small sections without fleece, allowing for better breathability.
The Arc'teryx Kyanite and The North Face Canyonlands are reasonably breathable for fully lined jackets. The Kyanite is aided in this endeavor by mesh hand pockets that act as vents when left unzipped as well as superbly soft and stretchy cuffs that are easily worn pushed up our forearms. The Canyonlands is lighter and thinner overall.
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 slides on. We noted which works best with thicker base layers and which scrunch up. Those who layered easily did well in this metric, while bulkier, stickier options didn't fare well.
Slotting the middle ground of layering, with the ability to be worn over underlayers and under overlayers, are the REI Hyperaxis 2.0 and Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody. Both these sweatshirt options feature a relaxed but slim fit (easier to wear under a coat) and are extra stretchy (easier to pull on over base layers). The North Face Canyonlands is very similar in its fit and layering ability, but is slightly less stretchy and has shorter sleeves and torso than the other two.
The Patagonia R1 Air is also stretchy enough to wear over clothing but has a slimmer fit that's less convenient to put on over a loose-fitting base layer. On the other hand, it's also thinner than most sweatshirt-style fleeces, making it easier to layer under an outer jacket or shell. The Mountain Hardwear Stratus Range is in a similar boat, with a slim fit that can be layered over slim base layers and easily worn under most outer layers. However, it's quite thin, creating lumpy spots over the wrong underlayer. The Outdoor Research Vigor is supremely stretchy yet thin, also making it easy to layer. However, it too is so thin it shows lumps, and its ultra long torso often sticks out strangely from under a jacket.
While the world of fleece jackets is large, it may be challenging to choose which one to buy. We did our best to put each and every model through an intensive battery of tests and subjected them all to months of wear and tear to learn which ones are best in what situations. Whether you're looking for a big cozy fleece to live in all winter, a technical layer for skiing, or a breathable option for high octane adventuring, we've tried them all. We hope that our unbiased testing and thorough findings help you to find the right fleece for your lifestyle and your budget.
Overview Enjoying the mountains to the fullest extent...
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