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The Best Women's Fleece Jackets of 2019

We like the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T's nod to the old-school fleeces from the 80s  with modern fabrications of course.
By Cam McKenzie Ring ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Friday April 19, 2019
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In search of the best women's fleece jacket? In this 2019 update, we researched over 60 different of the best options on the market, settling on 11 of the best. We tested in a range of conditions, from the coldest nights of winter to blustery days at the climbing crag. We wore each on its own and as a technical layer, seeing stark differences in performance and application. After spending hours backcountry skiing, climbing, hiking, biking, and wearing each for weeks on end, we've pinpointed award winners and niche performers, to provide you with our best recommendations.


Top 11 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 11
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Awards Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award   
Price $169.00 at REI
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$141.74 at Amazon$63.70 at Amazon
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$139.95 at Backcountry
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$119.97 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Breathable, durable, helmet compatible hood, awesome thermoregulation, high valueBalaclava hood with neck gaiter, good wind and water protection for a fleeceLightweight, breathable, some water resistance in the bodyLightweight, breathable, full-length zipper and a hoodLightweight, compressible, breathable, cozy for a technical fleece
Cons Not weather resistant, a little expensiveNot very breathable, expensiveNot very warm, expensiveNot very warm, no weather resistanceNo hood or wind protection
Bottom Line A great go-to option that will fulfill all that you need from a technical layer.Technical jacket for alpine and ice climbing, or other active sports in colder climates.A breathable jacket for moving fast in the outdoors.This light fleece is a high-performance layer that is breathable and comfortable.A versatile jacket for hiking and using as part of a layering system.
Rating Categories R1 Full Zip Hoody Fortrez Hoody Deviator Hoody Rab Nucleus Hoody - Women's Patagonia R2 Jacket - Women's
Warmth (25%)
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Comfort (20%)
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9
Breathability (15%)
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Layering Ability (15%)
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7
Ease Of Movement (10%)
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Weather Resistance (10%)
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Specs R1 Full Zip Hoody Fortrez Hoody Deviator Hoody Rab Nucleus Hoody... Patagonia R2...
Type Lightweight Midweight Lightweight Lightweight Midweight
Main Fabric Polartec PowerGrid(93% recycled polyester/7% spandex) Polartec Power Stretch with Hardface Technology (88% polyester, 12% elastane) Polartec Power Grid 2L - 84% polyester, 16% spandex Thermic fleece Polartec Thermal Pro (97% polyester/3% spandex)
Unique Features Hidden zippered pocket, balaclava hood fits under a helmet, brick-patterned insulation balances breathability and warmth Balaclava hood with neck gaiter Thumb loops, Polygiene odor control treatment Close fitting hood fits under a helmet R1 grid panels on the side to reduce volume
Weight (ounces) 12.8 11.9 8.4 11.2 11.1
# of Pockets 2 (hand), 1 hidden zippered pocket (right hand) 3 (2 hand, 1 arm) 3 (2 hand, 1 chest) 2 (hand) 3 (2 hand, 1 chest)
Hood Option? Yes Yes Yes Yes No

Best Overall Women's Fleece Jacket


Patagonia R1 Full Zip Hoody - Women's


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 7
  • Comfort - 20% 8
  • Breathability - 15% 9
  • Layering Ability - 15% 10
  • Ease of Movement - 10% 10
  • Weather Resistance - 10% 3
  • Style - 5% 8
Weight: 12.8 ounces | Main Fabric: Polartec Power Grid with Polygiene
Extra breathable
Compresses well
Lightweight
Hood/collar zips up into a balaclava
Easy to layer
Not as warm as other contenders
Lacks water/wind resistance

The Patagonia R1 Hoody continues to be our favorite for its stand-out technical performance and overall comfort. The fabric is soft to the touch, showcasing a grid-like fleece pattern that provides ample breathability while locking in warmth. Soft on the skin, the outer layer is made up of a wind-resistant fabric that does help to cut the wind and layer easily underneath other jackets or bulkier layers. A classic amongst climbers, it moves well without retaining moisture or smells, even after a week of not washing and wearing it every day.

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 to a fancy restaurant. But this is the layer to have if you partake in heavy-duty cardio activities in cold climates. It's also a perfect option for wear on its own with a wicking base-layer t-shirt during the Fall or Spring. 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


Best Buy Award

$64.97
(34% off)
at Backcountry
See It

69
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 6
  • Comfort - 20% 8
  • Breathability - 15% 8
  • Layering Ability - 15% 8
  • Ease of Movement - 10% 7
  • Weather Resistance - 10% 4
  • Style - 5% 6
Weight: 9.3 ounces | Main Fabric: Polartec Classic 100 Micro
Lightweight
Affordable
Not very warm
No hood option
No longer has thumb loops

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 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 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


Top Pick Award

$63.70
(66% off)
at Amazon
See It

78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 5
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Breathability - 15% 10
  • Layering Ability - 15% 8
  • Ease of Movement - 10% 9
  • Weather Resistance - 10% 7
  • Style - 5% 8
Weight: 8.4 ounces | Main Fabric: Polartec Power Grid with Polygiene
Highly breathable
Lightweight layer
The front panel offers some water resistance
Doesn't offer much warmth
Cut a little short in the torso
Slim fit is hard to layer under

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


Best Buy Award

$50 List
List Price
See It

57
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 8
  • Comfort - 20% 5
  • Breathability - 15% 4
  • Layering Ability - 15% 4
  • Ease of Movement - 10% 5
  • Weather Resistance - 10% 8
  • Style - 5% 4
Weight: 14 ounces | Main Fabric: Polyester
Inexpensive
Warm
Bulky
Lacking breathability
Doesn't layer well under a shell

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 not much you get a warm outer layer that will keep you toasty on cool nights. Considering that some of the models in this review cost four times as much, 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


Top Pick Award

$49.48
(50% off)
at Amazon
See It

75
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 9
  • Comfort - 20% 10
  • Breathability - 15% 5
  • Layering Ability - 15% 5
  • Ease of Movement - 10% 6
  • Weather Resistance - 10% 7
  • Style - 5% 9
Weight: 17 ounces | Main Fabric: polyester silken fleece
Warm
Comfortable and soft material
Lacking breathability
Not the best ease of movement

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.

Read review: The North Face Osito 2 - Women's

Top Pick for Around Camp


Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover - Women's


Top Pick Award

$64.96
(45% off)
at Backcountry
See It

76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 8
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Breathability - 15% 7
  • Layering Ability - 15% 6
  • Ease of Movement - 10% 7
  • Weather Resistance - 10% 7
  • Style - 5% 9
Weight: 14.4 ounces | Main Fabric: Polartec Thermal Pro
Comfortable
Warm
Retro styling
Kangaroo pocket
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.

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



$141.74
(29% off)
at Amazon
See It

78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 7
  • Comfort - 20% 7
  • Breathability - 15% 7
  • Layering Ability - 15% 9
  • Ease of Movement - 10% 9
  • Weather Resistance - 10% 9
  • Style - 5% 9
Weight:11.9 ounces | Main Fabric: Polartec Power Stretch with Hardface Technology
"Hardface" fabric repels light rain and some wind
Hood has a built-in neck gaiter
Not as breathable
Expensive

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 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

Hard at work field testing women's fleeces
Hard at work field testing women's fleeces

Why You Should Trust Us


Senior Review Editors Cam McKenzie Ring and Amber King are no strangers to layering up for many types of excursion, and both know the value that a good fleece adds to your 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, 20 year climber with 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 trails.

We researched the market thoroughly before making out final selection of the 11 models discussed here. The initial group consisted of over 65 different models! Once the fleeces were purchased, we identified 8 key categories to grade the competing jackets on during tests. We then commenced to wear the fleeces rigorously during a three month period of field testing. These jackets were worn everywhere from the streets of London to days out snowboarding, so you can be sure the test conditions were well-rounded. Some tests were done in a controlled manner, such as spraying water on a garment to examine its water repellent properties. We ended up with a comprehensive review, which should be a great place to start if you are in the market for a fleece jacket.

Related: How We Tested Fleece Jacket for Women


Analysis and Test Results


A fleece jacket is underpinning to any outdoor women's wardrobe. Worn as either a layer or on its own, it provides additional warmth for days that are too cool for a t-shirt and too cold for just a jacket. As a technical piece, a great fleece will regulate temperature and breath appropriately while providing comfort that will last you all day long. In our testing, we rated each product rigorously using the metrics; warmth, comfort, breathability, layering, ease of movement, weather resistance, and style. Those that performed best aren't necessarily the best in each metric, but provides a nice balance to keep you comfortable on the go.

Related: Buying Advice for Fleece Jacket for Women

We tested the different models based on their warmth  comfort  breathability  layering ability  ease of movement  weather protection  and style and fit.
We tested the different models based on their warmth, comfort, breathability, layering ability, ease of movement, weather protection, and style and fit.

Value


The prices of the different models that we tested range widely. 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 and Marmot Flashpoint models, costs a lot less to produce than the gridded fleece and hi-loft combo found on the Patagonia R2 . 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 is our Top Pick for Warmth.


Warmth


A major purpose of any fleece is its ability to keep you warm. The biggest factor in a jacket's warm is the relative amount and type of fleece. 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 the use of draw-cords or thumb loops are also 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.

High-loft fleeces have thousand of tiny hairs that help trap warmth. They are also soft to the touch.
High-loft fleeces have thousand of tiny hairs that help trap warmth. They are also soft to the touch.

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.

The North Face Osito was one of the warmest layers in our review. It worked well as a warm mid-layer on the ski hill  or as an outer layer on not-too-cold days. Here we're wearing it over the Patagonia R1.
The North Face Osito was one of the warmest layers in our review. It worked well as a warm mid-layer on the ski hill, or as an outer layer on not-too-cold days. Here we're wearing it over the Patagonia R1.

Some thinner jackets, like the Patagonia R1 Hoody, are relatively warm for their weight, thanks to increased coverage from long sleeves and a 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.

Features like a balaclava hood help keep you warmer even if the layer itself is not that warm.
Features like a balaclava hood help keep you warmer even if the layer itself is not that warm.

Comfort


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?


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.

Fleece-lined pockets help keep your hands warm and cozy.
Fleece-lined pockets help keep your hands warm and cozy.

The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody is not particularly cozy, but it is a technical beast, and we love it because it's good at what it does. The Patagonia R1 Hoody, on the other hand, is ridiculously soft on the skin and comes loaded with big pockets and double-padded cuffs at the wrists and hem that make it great to wear all day. It is offered in both a full-zip and ¾ zip model. The full-zip is great in its versatility, while our testers love the ¾ zip to wear under a pack or with a climbing harness. This interesting design eliminates 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.

Here we see the full-zip option for the R1 fleece  our Editor's Choice. It's super comfortable fabrics  stretchy materials  and large pockets make it a great choice for those in search of a comfy fleece coat.
Here we see the full-zip option for the R1 fleece, our Editor's Choice. It's super comfortable fabrics, stretchy materials, and large pockets make it a great choice for those in search of a comfy fleece coat.

Layering Ability


The ability to put this jacket on underneath an insulated coat or shell is important 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 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.


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.

Thumb loops are a great feature that helps keep your sleeves in place when layering and offers more coverage and warmth on cold days.
Thumb loops are a great feature that helps keep your sleeves in place when layering and offers more coverage and warmth on cold days.

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.

We like the ability to layer the Marmot Flashpoint both over and under other layers. We can wear it comfortably over the Patagonia R1 Hoody  and it fits under a rain or hard shell also. This makes it a more versatile piece.
We like the ability to layer the Marmot Flashpoint both over and under other layers. We can wear it comfortably over the Patagonia R1 Hoody, and it fits under a rain or hard shell also. This makes it a more versatile piece.

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.

The Marmot Flashpoint has extra nylon panels on the shoulders. This provides a wee bit of extra protection from a light rain and also reduces wear in that area from backpack straps.
The Marmot Flashpoint has extra nylon panels on the shoulders. This provides a wee bit of extra protection from a light rain and also reduces wear in that area from backpack straps.

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, in both the ¾ length and full length, doesn't bunch under a waist belt because of its fitted, stretchy material that hugs the body and heavier hem line that keeps it weighed down without riding up. The only 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.

We liked wearing the low profile Patagonia R2 Jacket while hiking with a pack on cold days. It's a breathable and streamlined layer that won't bunch up under a waistbelt.
We liked wearing the low profile Patagonia R2 Jacket while hiking with a pack on cold days. It's a breathable and streamlined layer that won't bunch up under a waistbelt.

Ease of Movement


When getting ready to climb your next multi-pitch or get out on the ski hill for the day, it's important that your fleece moves 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, 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.

The Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody has stretchy fabric added to the material blend to give you greater ease of movement in the shoulders and arms.
The Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody has stretchy fabric added to the material blend to give you greater ease of movement in the shoulders and arms.

Breathability


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. This breathability provides for better temperature regulation so you ultimately stay dry and warm, even when transitioning from a warm sunny morning to a cold breezy afternoon.


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.

A gridded material  like on the Outdoor Research Deviator  lets your heat vent through the jacket. It also helps that the material is so thin.
A gridded material, like on the Outdoor Research Deviator, lets your heat vent through the jacket. It also helps that the material is so thin.

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.

Our Top Pick for Breathability  the Outdoor Research Deviator  is a great choice for hiking or running in cool weather where you want a little bit of coverage but not too much. (And don't let the shorts fool you  it's only 55 degrees on this trail due to the higher elevation.)
Our Top Pick for Breathability, the Outdoor Research Deviator, is a great choice for hiking or running in cool weather where you want a little bit of coverage but not too much. (And don't let the shorts fool you, it's only 55 degrees on this trail due to the higher elevation.)

Weather Resistance


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 spritzed 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.


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.

Water beads up and rolls off the Arc'teryx Fortrez  making this the best choice of all the models we tested for alpine and ice climbing.
Water beads up and rolls off the Arc'teryx Fortrez, making this the best choice of all the models we tested for alpine and ice climbing.

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.

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 while 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.

Some of the heavier options in our review include (left to right): The North Face Denali 2  Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan  Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover  REI Co-op Fleece  and Then North Face Osito 2.
Some of the heavier options in our review include (left to right): The North Face Denali 2, Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan, Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover, REI Co-op Fleece, and Then North Face Osito 2.

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.

Conclusion


The Patagonia R1 is our editor's choice and a great example of an excellent fleece mid-layer.  Wear it anywhere...from the beaches to the high mountains.
The Patagonia R1 is our editor's choice and a great example of an excellent fleece mid-layer. Wear it anywhere...from the beaches to the high mountains.

If you haven't already got one, a fleece jacket is the next perfect addition to your outdoor wardrobe. A great fleece will provide you with warmth and thermoregulation as you move through your days. Wear it out on the town or on your next hike. Regardless, we hope that our in-depth and hands-on review has helped you in finding your next fleece for whatever your needs.


Cam McKenzie Ring