Itching for a new fleece jacket? We researched over 100 options before purchasing the best 13 women's models. We climbed, hiked, ran, and lounged hard day in and day out. We walked or ran at least 10 miles in each product while traveling from Northern Canada to Southern Colorado to the deserts of Las Vegas. Each contender was then objectively evaluated based on a few key metrics that we find important when shopping for a fleece jacket. After seven years of testing the best products on the market, we've got a good handle on what products are the best, and which resemble the rest.
The Best Women's Fleece Jackets
|Price||$169.00 at REI|
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|$131.26 at Amazon||$89.98 at Backcountry|
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|$124.93 at REI|
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|$178.95 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Breathable, durable, helmet compatible hood, awesome thermoregulation, high value||Balaclava hood with neck gaiter, good wind and water protection for a fleece||Lightweight, breathable, full-length zipper and a hood||Super cozy materials, stylish, lightweight, warm||Super breathable, wind and water resistance, lightweight design, layers easily|
|Cons||Not weather resistant, expensive||Not very breathable, expensive||Not very warm, no weather resistance||Expensive, not the most breathable, zipper slips||Tight through the shoulders, expensive, stinky after one use|
|Bottom Line||The reigning champion that simply can't be beat for versatility.||A technical jacket for alpine and ice climbing, or other active sports in colder climates.||This light fleece is a high-performance layer that is breathable and comfortable.||The lightweight and stylish fleece is built for town and leisurely hikes.||Our favorite for aerobic activities during the winter months.|
|Rating Categories||R1 Full Zip Hoody||Fortrez Hoody||Rab Nucleus Hoody - Women's||Kyanite Hoody||Vigor Hybrid Hoody|
|Layering Ability (20%)|
|Ease Of Movement (15%)|
|Weather Resistance (5%)|
|Specs||R1 Full Zip Hoody||Fortrez Hoody||Rab Nucleus Hoody...||Kyanite Hoody||Vigor Hybrid Hoody|
|Main Fabric||Polartec PowerGrid(93% recycled polyester/7% spandex)||Polartec Power Stretch with Hardface Technology (88% polyester, 12% elastane)||Thermic fleece & Power Grid||Nylon, polyester||Nylon, polyester|
|Unique Features||Hidden zippered pocket, balaclava hood fits under a helmet, brick-patterned insulation balances breathability and warmth||Balaclava hood with neck gaiter||Close fitting hood fits under a helmet||Stretchy, abrasion-resistant fabric, gussets for movement||Insulated front and back panel, breathable arms|
|# of Pockets||2 (hand), 1 hidden zippered pocket (right hand)||3 (2 hand, 1 arm)||2 (hand)||2 hand||2 (2 hand, 1 chest)|
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 or to work, and technical enough to swing around on the side of a cliff. Soft on the skin, the outer layer is made up of durable fabrics that layer easily underneath other jackets or bulky 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. What wins our heart is its range of versatility. We love the color options, and its fit works for most women out there.
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. Aside from that, it's perfect for wearing out on a casual date with friends, or while summiting big mountains across the world.
Read review: Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's
Best Cozy Fleece for the Buck
Columbia Benton Springs - Women's
The Columbia Benton Springs is a heavier weight fleece jacket classic that doesn't offer any fancy bells and whistles. It is composed of a thick 100% polyester material from the outside to the inside and offers excellent wind and water resistance and ideally used over other base layers. In addition to it being the most affordable and highest value out there, it's also one of the least technical. It is an excellent option for simple chores around the house and cozy to wear while comfortably sipping tea next to the fire on a cold day. It can perform well on simple hikes that aren't very exhaustive but is limited when you start to heat up.
This fleece is built for comfort and coziness and doesn't perform while exploring in a sweaty state. It lacks breathability, heating up quickly when exertion levels go from easy to medium. Also, it's hard to layer underneath slim-fitting jackets, given that it's so bulky.
Read review: Columbia Benton Springs - Women
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 base layers underneath, and it sits 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 relatively 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. It's 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 keep in your daypack.
Read review: Marmot Flashpoint - Women's
Top Pick for Breathability
Outdoor Research Vigor Hybrid Hoody - Women's
The Outdoor Research Vigor Hybrid is a cross between a thin insulated jacket and a fleece mid-layer. Utilizing PowerGrid fleece technology, this is one of the most breathable layers that we've tested. The material on the front offers some water and wind resistance, and it's a favorite amongst early morning runners that love to get out in the Winter. The tight is slim, giving it great functionality underneath slim shells and jackets. This jacket weighs 10.2 ounces and can easily fit into a backpack when it heats up.
This is not a warm fleece jacket when standing around in the cold; it's designed for motion. The fit is small, making it hard to layer a longer sleeved base layer underneath. Also, it stands out of one of the stinkiest fleeces we've tested thus far. These things aside, it's our go-to for fast ascents and sweaty, cold weather days.
Read review: Outdoor Research Vigor Hoody - 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, and you'll get 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 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
Notable for Poor Weather
Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody - Women's
If you prefer to wear your fleece jacket 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 base layer, 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
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 for 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. The initial group consisted of over 100 different models! 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 everywhere from the streets of London to days out snowboarding and climbing, 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. With all these, we bring you a comprehensive and informative review after over five years of tests and thousands of hours on belay, and on the trail.
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, and weather resistance. Those that performed best aren't necessarily the best in each metric, but provides a nice balance to keep you comfortable on the go.
The prices of the different models that we tested range widely. While there are many kinds and styles of fleece jackets out there, part of what goes into that price discrepancy is the technology going into the material. Typically, as price decreases, so does the technicality of the fleece. This means it typically can't thermoregulate as well as other expensive options. For example, we have two winners of the best buy award. The ultra inexpensive Columbia Benton Springs is a super warm classic style fleece, best used while lounging around a cabin or doing chores in town. The Marmot Flashpoint is a little more than twice as expensive, and offers a lightweight architecture. While both are great alternatives to more technical options out there, neither are great at thermoregulating. The Flashpoint is a much better lightweight light hiking option, while the Columbia is best for lounging and comfort. The REI Groundbreaker is another low priced fleece but stands out as the simplest design. All are worth checking out.
When you move up on the price scale, the fleece jackets get better at thermoregulation. However, sorting through this can be tough as some have a steep price tag. The Rab Nucleus is well priced with pockets and offers excellent breathability. Other technical fleeces are stellar, but come at a cost, or are highly specialized.
A major purpose of any fleece jacket is its ability to add a little warmth. The biggest factor in a jacket's warm is the relative 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 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 and 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 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. 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 100 g/m² Marmot Flashpoint.
Other warmer jackets like the REI Groundbreaker and Columbia Benton Springs, our Best Buy award winner, doesn't feature this super-soft hi-pile fleece, but a 100% polyester construction that feels comfortable against the skin, but not as soft. Both of these jacket options are quite warm but are hard to layer, making them best as a stand-alone fleece. The Groundbreaker is a little thinner than the Benton Springs, making it a little less warm and less resilient to weather.
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. It also integrates thicker fabrics to help add to the warmth. 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. 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.
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. 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. Our highest scorers, like the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap, Patagonia R2, and The North Face Osito 2 use a hi-pile fleece that is so soft that we never wanted to take it off. Both the REI Groundbreaker and Columbia Benton doesn't use this hi-pile fleece, but the material is equally comfortable. The Groundbreaker is thinner and not as cozy as the Benton. All these jackets offer padded hand pockets and a high collar that we could easily nuzzle in to. These are our favorite layers that we look forward to most at the end of the day when we simply want to curl up in a ball in front of a fire and chill out!
More technical fleeces like the Patagonia R1 Hoody and Arc'teryx Fortrez aren't as cozy and comfortable as the fleeces mentioned above, earning scores that are a tiny bit less than the top scorers. The R1 stands as for having the plushest Polartec Grid fabrics that feel amazing on the skin.
The Rab Nucleus are similar, except the fabric patterns are a little smaller, and the square tufts are not as large, making it feel a little less cozy. Other fleeces that aren't as comfortable - but still score high - utilize straight polyester material that isn't super plush or high pile, like the Marmot Flashpoint. Of these technical fleeces, the Patagonia R1 stands out for its super stretchy fabrics and silky smooth fabrics. While this isn't differentiated in the scoring, it's clear from our testing that this is a tester favorite, another reason it earns our Editors' Choice award.
The ability to put 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 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 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 Vigor Hybrid 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 base layers and outerwear. It's hard to wear the REI Groundbreaker, Columbia Benton Springs and The North Face Denali models under a jacket due to their boxy cut and thick material. Of the three, the Groundbreaker is the thinnest with hoodless cut and fits more easily under less restrictive upper layers.
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, Groundbreaker, and Benton Springs 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.
When choosing a fleece jacket to wear under a pack or climbing harness, our testers found that the more streamlined the fit, the better. For example, the Arc'teryx Kyanite has a high set of pockets that can be fully be accessed while wearing a harness or backpack. In addition, the fit is super fit, making it a little harder to fit bulkier layers underneath, but super easy to put it underneath shells and jackets. The Outdoor Research Vigor Hoody also feature this streamlined fit that we love.
Thicker layers like the Patagonia R2, REI Groundbreaker, and Columbia Benton Springs bunch up under backpack straps, forcing one to continually adjust the layer. While these are decent options for cold weather hiking, a thinner fleece worn with a jacket will offer better performance and fewer frustrations on the trail.
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, like the Rab PowerGrid Hoody, Patagonia R1, Outdoor Research Vigor Hybrid, and Rab Nucleus Hoody offer 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. 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 and The North Face Denali 2 scored much lower in this category. These layers ride up when you put your arms up and don't move with the body. 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 hi-tech materials, those days are a thing of the past. A great technical fleece can both insulate while off-loading heat efficiently so you don't get cold when you standstill.
The best performers in this category are easily jackets that utilize PowerGrid Technology. Of these jackets, the Outdoor Research Vigor Hybrid excels, earning a Top Pick in this metric. The PowerGrid Technology, also found in the Patagonia R1, and Rab Nucleus Hoody use a latticework of tiny Polartec brick islands with ventilation channels in between. This allows the fabric to both stretch and breath.
The Vigor excels because its fabric is the thinnest. It also uses a Nylon material as a face fabric, making this jacket relatively water and wind-resistant, while offering immense breathability. The Rab Nucleus is also thin throughout the body, but it doesn't stretch as much as the Vigor, meaning it doesn't vent as well, even though its an impeccable thermoregulator. The Patagonia R1 also offers incredible breathability, but it's the thickest of these jackets that utilize this PowerGrid technology.
Thicker jackets that offer breathable functionality use a different method. 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. Unfortunately, the 100% polyester blends used in both the Columbia Benton and REI Groundbreaker are not as breathable as more technical layers. However, of the two, the Groundbreaker is thinner and offers more technical performance than the Benton.
The uniform face 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.
The Arc'teryx Kyanite also uses a uniform face fabric, but it's surprisingly thin, which offers a decent level of wind protection, balancing a good level of breathability. 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 Vigor Hydrid is our favorite.
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.
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, so it will keep you dry in light rain.
The nylon shell on the front of the Outdoor Research Vigor Hybrid 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.
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.
A Note on Style
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 your next hike. We hope that our in-depth and hands-on review has helped you in finding your next fleece for whatever your needs.
— Amber King & Cam McKenzie Ring