Best Overall Women's Fleece Jacket
The North Face Radium Hi-Loft - Women's
Toasty, breathable, technical, and cozy all in one
Minimal rain/wind protection
This model from The North Face's Summit Series line continues to impress our testers, winning our Editors' Choice award for the second year in a row. The North Face Radium Hi-Loft
is a technical model designed for being active in cold environments. It's made with a cozy and warm hi-loft material and has a unique baffled construction that allows for maximum ventilation. The one drawback to this design is that the baffles allow cold air to seep in on windy days, but as a layer under a shell this fleece is ideal. It will keep you warm and prevent you from getting sweaty at the same time. There are stretch fleece panels on the side torso and arms, which allow for greater ease of movement and less constriction under another layer. There is no hood, which is nice in this case since it's mostly meant as a layering piece, and it looks pretty good for a technical fleece. Our Editors' Choice winner is ideal for layering in the winter or for a packable layer on your next hiking trip.
Read full review: The North Face Radium Hi-Loft - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Marmot Flashpoint - Women's
Media slot in sleeve pocket
Not very warm
No hood option
The Marmot Flashpoint
is a lightweight model that gets the job done without breaking the bank. It's fairly thin and breathable, which is great for when you are active in cold weather, but it is not very warm overall. We had great success layering with this piece; there's enough room for baselayers underneath, and it layers well under a rain or ski jacket. There are some nice features for the price point, including thumb holes and an arm pocket with a slot for your headphones. And speaking of price, this model retails for under $100, making it almost half the price of some of the more expensive options in this review. All of the new material technology going into apparel these days is great, but sometimes it is nice to have a (relatively) inexpensive layer for getting out in.
Read full review: Marmot Flashpoint - Women's
Top Pick for Breathability
Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's
Hood/collar zips up into balaclava
Not as warm as other contenders
Lacks water/wind resistance
Patagonia made some big updates to their classic performance fleece this year and we like every one of them. The grids are slightly larger and the zipper now goes down to the navel. This makes the Patagonia R1 Hoody
even more breathable and well deserving of our Top Pick for Breathability award. This hoody scored well in almost all of our metrics, particularly when it came to warmth, breathability, layering and ease of movement. The minimalist R1 Hoody doesn't have many stylish qualities or bells and whistles, but this is the layer to have if you partake in heavy-duty cardio activities in cold climates. The hood makes it far more versatile as a mid-layer and it zips into a balaclava that covers your neck and lower face. The interior grid fleece design breathes beautifully and the pullover features thumb loops to keep the sleeves in place. The R1 will move with you, keep you warm and regulate body temperature, even during your most active pursuits.
Read full review: Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's
Top Pick for Around Camp
Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover - Women's
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. We also love the styling nod to the original fleece jacket, but with updated color combinations. And with over 30 different choices to choose from, you're sure to find one that works for you.
Read full review: Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover - Women's
Analysis and Test Results
Fleece jackets are now a staple of any outdoor enthusiast's gear cache. Why? This synthetic material has some great properties for active women, such as the ability to resist moisture, retain warmth, and dry quickly. To learn more about this type of material and construction, check out our Buying Advice
article. This review will help you decide on what criteria to look for in a fleece jacket, and which model might be the best for you. Over half a dozen hard-charging ladies provided their feedback and testing for this review, and their decades of outdoor experience and honest comments helped shape the opinions expressed below.
Testing out the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T while hiking in the Adirondaks. We tested the different models based on their warmth, comfort, breathablity, layering ability, ease of movement, wind and water protection, and style and fit.
Criteria for Evaluation
After months of testing these seven different models in a variety of conditions, we scored their performance in a total of eight different metrics. The chart below shows you how the scored overall relative to each other. Below, we'll break down the different testing categories one by one and how the different fleeces performed in each.
The primary purpose of a fleece jacket is to keep you warm, and we made this the most important category that we evaluated each model on. We found that success in this area came down to four criteria: the type of fabric, its thickness or weight, the amount of coverage provided and the ability to seal in warmth.
There were many differences between the types of material used on the products that we tested, with some even having multiple types on one jacket. The simple fleece pile of old has now morphed into many new and different kinds, from hi-loft and silken "raschel" fleeces to gridded fabrics. Polartec, the leading synthetic material manufacturer, now makes more than two dozen different types of fleece, and almost all of the models that we tested were made with Polartec brand material.
The raschel fleece jackets (the high-pile Muppet-like fur), like The North Face Radium Hi-Loft
and Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover
, were some of the warmest models out there. Fleece keeps you warm by trapping warm air around your body in the spaces between the fibers. The hi-loft fabrics have thousands of hairs that can trap and retain warmth, and even a relatively thin jacket like the Patagonia R2
kept us warm thanks to it's hi-loft material. Thicker model with weights over 300 g/m², like The North Face Denali Jacket - Women's
, were also much warmer than some thinner models, like the Marmot Flashpoint
High-loft fleeces have thousand of tiny hairs that help trap warmth. They are also soft to the touch.
Some thinner jackets, like the Patagonia R1 Hoody
, were relatively warm for their weight, thanks to increased coverage from thumb loops and full face balaclava. The thinner Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
was not a particularly warm jacket, but when the wind kicked up the "Hardshell" coating on the fleece made it retain warmth better than other more porous models. Another feature that helped to seal in warmth was a cinch cord hem like the one found on The North Face Denali Jacket
. Cinching down the bottom of the jacket on cool and windy days prevented updrafts and minimized heat loss.
Features like a balaclava hood help keep you warmer even if the layer itself is not that warm.
This is one attribute that makes fleece jackets unique from other types of outdoor gear, so it is a major purchasing consideration. We might not think about how cozy a ski or rain jacket is, but when it comes to a layer that we will often wear against the skin, we need it to feel good! When we were evaluating for comfort, we considered each product's details, like whether the zippers scratched the skin and if the pockets were lined with fleece. We paid attention to how fit affected our comfort and recorded which fleeces had cozy thumb loops and hoods. Finally, on the models that stood out for their lack of coziness, like The North Face Denali Jacket
, we took note of the qualities that made them less comfortable.
Sometimes comfort is sacrificed for performance. The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
is not particularly cozy, but it is a technical beast and we love it anyway. Our Editors' Choice winner, The North Face Radium Hi-Loft
, not only topped our coziness scale but is technical to boot, as is the Patagonia R2 Jacket
. The Patagonia R1 Hoody
has a soft feel on the inside, and the 3/4 length zipper made it the most comfortable model to wear under a pack or climbing harness. The zipper ends at the navel and doesn't sit under a waistbelt, eliminating any bunching or pressure points in that area. The silky material on the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover
was also very comfortable against the skin.
Sometimes comfort comes down to tiny details, like zipper guards at the neck or flat lying seams. In the case of the Patagonia R1 Hoody, the 3/4 length zipper ends at the navel and eliminates any pressure points that a zipper may cause under a harness or backpack waistbelt.
There are many reasons why you'll want to consider layering ability when purchasing a fleece jacket. We considered how easy it was to wear a base layer underneath each piece and how easily we could wear it under a shell or insulated jacket. And we also wore (or tried to wear) each model under a climbing harness and a backpack. All of these are important characteristics to consider when selecting your next fleece jacket.
When it came to using these models as a layer under a shell and insulated jacket, the light and midweight fleeces excelled, as they tended to be cut closer to the body and have a slimmer profile. The North Face Radium
with its hi-loft pile easily fit under an insulated ski jacket without any restriction in the arms, as did the Patagonia R1 Hoody
and R2 Jackets
. The Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover
was a little too bulky to fit under a backpack, but still layered easily with baselayers and outerwear. It was hard to wear the heavyweight The North Face Denali
under a jacket due to its boxy cut and thick material.
The North Face Radium Hi-Loft layers easily under a ski jacket thanks to the compressible material and side-stretch panels. When searching for a mid-layer, look for something that is not too bulky so that you don't feel too constricted.
As for the jackets being their own outer layer, some models, like the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
, had room for a light base layer underneath but not much else due to a tight fit in the shoulders. The Denali
was the opposite, as it could fit any of the other fleeces we tested underneath it. The Marmot Flashpoint
also had a roomier cut, and we could layer both over and under it.
Layering the Marmot Flashpoint over the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody. The ability to add and remove layers while being active in the mountains is key to staying warm, dry and happy.
When it comes to layering under a pack or climbing harness, there are some other construction details to consider, like seams and zippers. Most of the models that we tested had a raglan style sleeve construction, where the seaming at the shoulder cuts across horizontally off the shoulder, moving the seams out of the way of pack straps. This is to avoid having the straps of your pack dig the seams into your shoulders. This is a nice construction detail and selling point, but not an immediately obvious difference. While you might start to feel the seams digging into you after hours on the trail with a heavy pack, we weren't able to discern a difference during a 30-minute hike with a 25-pound pack.
Raglan sleeves (the seams are off the tops of the shoulders) are preferred for wearing under a pack for long distances. Also, note the flat seams on the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody, which reduce irritation under a pack as well.
When choosing a fleece jacket to wear under a pack or climbing harness, our testers found that the more streamlined the fit, like on the Patagonia R2 Jacket
, the better. Otherwise the material tends to bunch up around the waist and become uncomfortable, like on the Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover
. The Patagonia R1 Hoody
was an even better option with its 3/4 length zipper that didn't bunch up under a waistbelt.
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 gearing up for outdoor activities in cold weather, ease of movement is another key consideration. If you're using a fleece for a technical winter activity, usually you'll be wearing it underneath a shell or, in really cold weather, an insulated jacket. So we tried on these fleeces under a tight-fitting soft shell, a down jacket, and an insulated ski jacket. Not surprisingly, the lightest and thinnest pieces, like the Marmot Flashpoint
and the Patagonia R1 Hoody
, made the best mid-layers. Less bulk made for greater range of motion in our shoulders and arms, and didn't leave us feeling like a stuffed-sausage. Other standouts were The North Face Radium
and Patagonia R2
jackets. The contrasting panels of stretch fleece on the sides of those jackets increased their ease of movement. On the other hand, a stiffer, bulkier jacket like The North Face Denali
scored much lower in this category. This is the layer you put on after a climb, not during.
If you plan on wearing your fleece jacket for activities where you'll need a lot of movement in your arms, like climbing or cross-country skiing, look for a model that is made with a small percentage of spandex or elastane. Fleece pile itself is not very stretchy, so a little extra stretch will go a long way.
The North Face Denali Jacket is a great layer to wear while belaying, but not while climbing.
Making fleece material more breathable has been a decades-long process for the outdoor gear industry. The original Patagonia fleeces were great, until you started hiking in them and your sweat puddled up on the inside, leaving you cold and clammy. With the advent of newer, high-tech materials, those days are a thing of the past. The technical models that we tested all have different means to wick the moisture generated from your exertion away from your body and out of the material.
The Patagonia R1
material is a gridded fleece, with the grid lines providing the space for ventilation. In the Patagonia R2 and Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover
, the material is more lofted with microscopic holes throughout to allow moisture to escape, and on The North Face Radium
the baffled seams perform a similar function. Each of these systems seems to work very well in their own unique way — the main downfall being that whatever allows moist air to escape will also allow cool air back in. The uniform fabric on the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
didn't allow for as much breathability as the other technical options, but it did provide more protection from the wind. It seems as though you do have to make a choice when purchasing one of these layers, and that is whether breathability is your main concern or protection from the wind. If you are looking for a cross-country skiing layer, opt for breathability, but if you need something for alpine climbing, protection from the wind would be a greater concern.
There are many ways to increase the breathability of a fleece, including baffles (top), gridding (middle) an many pinprick holes (bottom).
The "Hardface Technology" on the Arc'teryx Fortrez helps block the wind, and the hood and face gaiter help keep you warm and protected on a blustery day.
Most of the women's fleece jackets that we reviewed provided very little protection from the wind. Although we typically recommend using this type of jacket in conjunction with a shell or wind breaker, if you're looking for a do-it-all option, the "Hardface Technology" on the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
does an excellent job of cutting the wind on a blustery day, for a fleece that is. The material is still relatively thin and it does not provide the same wind blocking protection as a dedicated wind jacket. You can read our Women's Wind Breaker Jacket
review for more information on the many uses of that layer.
Not surprisingly, models like The North Face Radium
and Patagonia R2
that were the most breathable were also most susceptible to the wind. If you carry a breathable fleece into the backcountry, make sure to always bring along a shell in case the wind picks up. And if you are looking for a combination fleece/shell jacket, check out The Best Softshell Jacket for Women Review
Fleece jackets are not the best outer layer for snow sports, even in warm weather. Wind cuts right through the porous TNF Radium Hi-Loft jacket.
As with wind protection, very few products that we tested provided any protection from the rain. While fleece is naturally hydrophobic (the fibers don't absorb water like cotton does), water can still saturate through the material and get you wet.
The "Hardface Technology" on the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody
repels water, but only up to a point. It is still not designed to keep you dry in a heavy rain, but the finish does make it more versatile than any of the other models we reviewed. The North Face Denali Jacket
has nylon panels on its shoulders, and water did bead up and roll off that jacket, so it will keep you drier in a light rain. Otherwise, it's best to always carry an impermeable layer with you on your adventure. Check out The Best Rain Jacket for Women Review
for more options there.
Water beaded up and rolled off the Arc'teryx Fortrez, making this the best choice of all the models we tested for alpine and ice climbing.
Style and Fit
This is a bit of a subjective category as everyone's style is different. Some people like wearing bright colors and don't mind looking like a Muppet, and others prefer more muted tones. If you live in a mountain town, the de rigueur
fashion is technical fleece jackets and Sorels at the bar. In a big city, you might still wear a casual fleece jacket around town but want it to have a more stylish look, like the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover
. So, we polled our friends (both male and female) and asked them to weigh in on their favorite stylish pieces to try and form a consensus. We'll note here that we rated style "by fleece standards," recognizing that fleeces are not the sexiest piece of clothing you'll ever wear.
One of the sleekest models that we reviewed was the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody. The smooth face and trim cut is flattering, and this model received a lot of compliments for its looks. We also really liked the Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover
. It hints at the original fleece pulloevers of old, without the neon color schemes and super boxy cut. The North Face Radium Hi-Loft
also has a unique look, with the baffling seams giving it a similar design to a down jacket but with a soft and silky feel. Most of the models were cut with a tapered silhouette to be more flattering, except for The North Face Denali Jacket. It still has a a boxy cut circa the 1990's fashion, and it was not a tester favorite.
Comparing the style and fit of our favorite (and least favorite models). The Arc'teryx Fortrez has a sleek look, with long arms and a tapered silhouette, while The North Face Denali is not as flattering with a boxy cut and shorter arms.
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 North Face
models the arm length tends to run short, much to the annoyance of our testers with long wingspans. However, the Radium Hi-Loft
actually has the longest arms of all the models we tested, and probably wouldn't fit well on someone with shorter arms. To compare the different fits, check out the composite images below, which includes photos of each fleece on one model.
From left to right: the lightweight Patagonia R1 Hoody and Marmot Flashpoint, and the midweight Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody and Patagonia R2 Jacket.
From left to right: the midweight TNF Radium Hi-loft and Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover, and the heavyweight TNF Denali Jacket.
We put seven of the top technical models to the test while hiking, climbing and playing in the snow to help you find the best one for your next outdoor adventure.
The fleece jacket's ability to resist moisture, retain warmth and dry quickly makes it the perfect addition to the active woman's gear list. With the array of different models on the market, it can be tough to pick just one. It is our goal to help you make your selection by reading through our extensive tests and ratings. You can also check out our Buying Advice
article for more information on fleece material and construction, and some extra tips on what to look for when purchasing your next one.