Nothing spells cozy quite like a fleece jacket, whether it’s a high-pile heavyweight or a sleek performance layer. And they’re more than just soft: Fleeces’ breathability and affordability make them an excellent option for everything from daily use to skiing, climbing, and hiking. We’ve worn a lot of fleeces in our time and have a deep appreciation for the breadth and depth of this category. Below we break down our favorite women’s fleeces of 2023, including performance styles from brands like Patagonia and Black Diamond and everyday options from Outdoor Research, Kari Traa, Stio, and more. For more information, check out our comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
 


Our Team's Women's Fleece Jacket Picks



Best Everyday Fleece Jacket for Women

1. Patagonia Better Sweater ($149)

Patagonia Better Sweater fleece jacketCategory: Casual
Weight: 15.9 oz.
Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: A classy jacket with Patagonia’s hallmark quality and performance.
What we don’t: Might look too old-fashioned for some; thick and runs small.

Choosing our favorite everyday fleece wasn’t an easy task, but the Patagonia Better Sweater hits the best balance of quality, performance, and casual-yet-classy style. Most of the colorways feature a muted heathered knit aesthetic— earning the “sweater” in the name—but the Patagonia tacks on a lot of function compared to your standard cardigan, including interior and exterior pockets, a wind flap behind the front zipper, and an easy-to-launder polyester build that's 100% recycled. It’s also impressively warm: The midweight fleece features a plush microfleece interior and smooth exterior that provide sufficient protection from the wind. If you’re in the market for a high-quality, do-all jacket for everyday use, the Better Sweater is a great place to start.

Style is largely subjective, but in our opinion, the Better Sweater looks a lot more on-brand during the commute to the office than post-hike at the brewery (if it says anything, our 30s-something tester didn’t love it, but it’s now her mom’s favorite fleece). The thick fabric can also feel a touch restrictive, and it doesn’t help that the jacket runs a little small (you might need to size up). But if you want the performance of a fleece without looking like you just stepped out of the campground, it doesn’t get much better than the Better Sweater. And for the full suite of options, Patagonia also offers the design in Hoody1/4-Zip, and Vest varieties.
See the Patagonia Better Sweater

 

Best Performance Fleece Jacket for Women

2. Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody ($169)

Patagonia R1 Air Full Zip fleece hoodyCategory: Performance
Weight: 10.9 oz.
Fleece weight: Light/midweight
What we like: Warm yet breathable; trim fit is great for layering.
What we don’t: Loses its soft feel over time; not water-resistant.

Patagonia offers a robust lineup of casual and performance fleeces, and at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Better Sweater is the R1 Air here. Built to prioritize breathability for activities like hiking, climbing, and skiing, the relatively lightweight R1 Air uses hollow-fiber yarns and raised zig-zag patterning to trap heat when you want it and dump it when you don’t. The trim fit layers well under a shell jacket, and with three streamlined zip pockets, off-shoulder seams for comfort while carrying a pack, and a low-profile hood, it’s fully functional as a standalone piece, too. Added up, the R1 Air is one of the first fleeces we reach for when packing for high-output days on the trail, skin track, or rock.

The R1 Air is first and foremost a performance fleece, but it's so cozy and stylish that we often opt for it for daily wear, too (depending on your style, you might prefer it over the Better Sweater for casual use). That said, we've been disappointed with the way the fabric has worn over time—the fleece is wildly soft at first but takes on an almost rough feel after dozens of launderings. And while you’d be hard-pressed to find a better combination of warmth and breathability, there are other performance features that the R1 Air lacks: A jacket like the Patagonia R2 TechFace offers a weather-resistant shell (great for use as a standalone piece), while thinner fleeces like the Black Diamond Coefficient LT Hybrid below might be better for mild conditions or truly high-output use.
See the Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody

 

Best Budget Fleece Jacket for Women

3. REI Co-op Trailmade Fleece ($60)

REI Co-op Trailmade women's fleece jacketCategory: Casual
Weight: 10.9 oz.
Fleece weight: Light/midweight
What we like: A warm and breathable midlayer for just $60.
What we don’t: Sightly inferior build quality and fit.

You can spend a lot of money on fleeces these days, but thankfully there are still a number of fun and functional options in the budget category. At just $60, REI’s Trailmade is less than half the cost of many jackets here but still checks all the boxes: It’s soft and cozy, relatively breathable, lightweight enough to squeeze into a daypack, and durable enough to last through a few seasons of wear. And with six fun colorways and eight women’s sizes, there’s a Trailmade for almost everyone.

What are the compromises in opting for such a wallet-friendly fleece? REI’s build quality simply does not measure up to that of premium designs from brands like Arc’teryx and Patagonia: The fit is less refined, the recycled polyester will pack out over time, and the feature set is fairly basic (you don’t get a chest pocket or thumb loops). But the Trailmade is decently stylish for a budget piece—especially compared to the Columbia Benton Springs below—with fun colorways, thoughtful accent stitching, and contrasting elastic at the cuffs and waist. All told, it’s an excellent value for both casual and light performance use, especially when you consider that a down or synthetic midlayer can run you upwards of $300 or more. 
See the REI Co-op Trailmade Fleece

 

Best Women’s Hybrid Fleece/Synthetic Jacket

4. Black Diamond Coefficient LT Hybrid Hoody ($180)

Black Diamond Coefficient LT Hybrid fleece hoodyCategory: Performance
Weight: 7.2 oz.
Fleece weight: Lightweight
What we like: A Swiss Army Knife jacket for mild conditions or high-output activities in cold weather.
What we don’t: Thinner and snugger fitting than traditional fleeces.

Hybrid fleeces are a relatively new concept, but they’ve quickly become one of our go-tos for performance use. Most designs pair a fleece back and arms with synthetic insulation at the core, resulting in a best-of-both-worlds combination of breathability and warmth. As a bonus, they also resist light wind and moisture, thanks to the nylon face fabric covering the insulation. The result is an all-in-one package deal that all but eclipses the more standard baselayer-windbreaker combination. Among the options, Black Diamond’s Coefficient LT Hybrid is a standout favorite: It’s impeccably built, offers great stretch with a trim fit, and is the perfect weight for high-output activity.

We’ve found the Coefficient LT Hybrid to be especially ideal when we’re wearing a backpack or getting the brunt of the weather at our front, as is the case with wind-generating activities like running, biking, or nordic skiing. It’s also a great climbing layer due to its snug fit and helmet-compatible hood, although the back is permeable to light winds. It's worth noting that the thin Polartec Power Grid fabric is more akin to a baselayer than most fleeces here—you won’t be able to layer it over anything bulky and will want more warmth for mid-winter use. But for mild conditions or high-output activities in cold weather, the Coefficient LT Hybrid is an incredible hybrid layer. Arc’teryx offers a similar design in their Delta Hybrid Hoody ($200), and for a step up in warmth, check out Patagonia’s Nano-Air Light Hybrid, which pairs R1 Air fleece with their popular Nano-Air synthetic jacket.
See the BD Coefficient LT Hybrid Hoody

 

Best Women’s Pullover Fleece 

5. Outdoor Research Trail Mix Cowl Pullover ($89)

Outdoor Research Trail Mix Cowl Pullover fleeceCategory: Casual
Weight: 10.8 oz.
Fleece weight: Light/midweight
What we like: An easy-to-find Melanzana alternative; great cozy and casual vibes.
What we don’t: Pricier than the Melanzana Micro Grid and no hood.

Melanzana popularized the micro-grid pullover, but their fleeces are ridiculously hard to get your hands on—if you want a new one, you’ll have to show up in person at the Leadville, Colo. store, by appointment only. But if you don’t need the “Melly” brand name, there are no shortage of high-quality knockoffs available, including the Outdoor Research Trail Mix Cowl Pullover here. The Trail Mix Cowl has earned its stripes as a solid Melanzana alternative, with a similarly gridded midweight fleece, kangaroo pocket, and roomy, relaxed fit. And it certainly wins out in terms of convenience: The Trail Mix is widely available online in a large assortment of colorways and sizes.

Unlike the standard Melly, the Trail Mix Cowl features a cozy turtleneck in lieu of a hood, which could be a pro or con based on your intended use (we prefer the cowl for casual wear but do love a hood on our performance pieces). It also adds a mesh pocket inside the kangaroo pocket—great for storing a phone—and a thin layer of thermal fleece at the waist for comfort and fit, as well as a stylish drop-tail hem. We do prefer the two-tone colorways of the original, and the Trail Mix is a bit pricier at $89, but it's nevertheless our favorite fleece pullover of the year. For a few other options, check out the Mountain Hardwear Summit Grid Tunic Hoody and Melanzana look-alikes from cottage brands like Fayettechill and LightHeart Gear.
See the Outdoor Research Trail Mix Cowl Pullover

 

Best Heavyweight Women’s Fleece Jacket

6. The North Face Denali 2 ($180)

The North Face Denali 2 women's fleece jacketCategory: Casual
Weight: 1 lb. 1 oz.
Fleece weight: Heavyweight
What we like: Warm, durable, and timeless.
What we don’t: Thick fabric can feel bulky and stiff.

Cold temperatures call for more insulation, and The North Face’s iconic Denali 2 delivers in spades. If you came of age in the mid-2000s (at least in the PNW), you probably know this fleece from high-school hallways and college quads, where it was just about as ubiquitous as a JanSport backpack. And with classic styling, heavyweight polar fleece, and weather-resistant nylon panels at the chest and arms, it’s for good reason it has stood the test of time. When it comes to fleeces, weight is a solid indicator of warmth: At 1 pound 1 ounce, the Denali 2 is significantly heavier than most fleeces and ready for some cold winter temperatures.

Given its weight and bulk, the Denali 2 is not particularly well suited for backcountry use—in other words, this is not the ideal fleece to have to stuff into your daypack or backpacking pack. What’s more, it’s not nearly as mobile as stretchier or lighter options like the Better Sweater or R1 Air above and might leave you feeling a bit constricted. But most people don’t buy the Denali for serious outdoor endeavors, and it makes a really nice fleece for walking around the city—it blocks wind and provides warmth where others on this list will not. If you’re looking for a substantial and tough fleece jacket from a respected brand, this is it.
See The North Face Denali 2

 

Best of the Rest

7. Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T ($129)

Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T women's fleece jacketCategory: Casual
Weight: 12.8 oz.
​Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: Very cozy and warm.
What we don’t: Few features and roomy fit.

It’s hard to move very far down this list without including Patagonia's legendary Synchilla Snap-T. This pullover is pretty much synonymous with the word “fleece”—it first came onto the scene back in 1985—and can be a very versatile piece of gear despite its simple appearance. The Synchilla is easy to throw on before heading out for a walk or bike ride and perfect for wearing out on the town after a day of skiing. It’s definitely not performance-oriented in any way, but the masses have had no problem embracing its casual slant.

Don’t expect a whole lot of features on the Patagonia Synchilla. The lack of pockets is one potential issue—aside from the famous snap chest pocket, of course—and you don’t get panels of fancy stretch fabrics or adjustments like some of the technical pieces here. But it’s the material that matters: soft, two-sided, extremely cozy fleece. And as a bonus, it’s often available in some pretty fun patterns and colorways. All told, it’s for good reason that the Synchilla has reached iconic status in the outdoor world and beyond. Finally, keep in mind that the Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T has a fairly roomy fit, much more so than the Better Sweater and R1 Air above. 
See the Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T

 

8. Arc’teryx Kyanite Hoody ($180)

Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody (women's fleece jacket)Category: Performance/casual
Weight: 12.2 oz.
Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: A plush and stretchy midlayer made with premium materials.
What we don’t: Not as breathable as the Patagonia R1 Air.

British Columbia-based Arc’teryx is known for their top-notch quality and technical savvy, and the Kyanite Hoody is no exception. Featuring Polartec’s premium Power Stretch Pro, the trim-fitting and stretchy Kyanite is a fantastic layering piece with articulated patterning that places a premium on mobility. It balances warmth and breathability well, too, with enough insulation for spring and fall weather while still effectively dumping heat during high-output activity. Finally, this material is one of our all-time favorites in terms of comfort: It’s nicely stretchy, soft against the skin, and maintains a high-end fit and finish throughout its lifespan (and in between washings). Added up, the Kyanite Hoody fits the bill as a premium midlayer for cold-weather activities like resort skiing and snowshoeing.

How does the Kyanite stack up against our top-ranked Patagonia R1 Air? With a durable nylon face, it can put up a decent defense against light rain and wind, while the R1 Air is noticeably permeable to both. And after countless washings, the Arc'teryx is the softer of the two. On the other hand, the Patagonia gets the edge in terms of breathability, which is often our biggest ask of a fleece. Plus, it's around $10 less than the Kyanite Hoody. In the end, both are marquee performance fleeces from two of our favorite brands, and it's worth considering your priorities when deciding between the two. For other options with the same high-end Polartec fleece, check out Rab’s Power Stretch Pro ($190) and the more affordable REI Co-op Hyperaxis ($149) below.
See the Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody

 

9. Adidas Terrex Tech Fleece Hooded ($140)

Adidas Terrex Tech Fleece Light Hooded (women's fleece jacket)_Category: Performance/casual
Weight: 13.1 oz.
Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: A stretchy and durable fleece that’s great for both performance and casual use.
What we don’t: We’d love to see Adidas bring back the chest pocket and nylon front.

An Adidas jacket might seem like a strange entry on a list of outdoor-oriented fleece jackets—and a year ago, we would have agreed—but their Terrex Tech has quickly become one of our go-to fleeces for both around-town and backcountry use. The hoody features a gridded interior that balances warmth with breathability (it’s cozy, too), alongside a sleek exterior that’s especially durable and more moisture-wicking than most. We’ve also found the Terrex Tech’s fit to be just right: Adidas added a bit of stretch to the material, which gives it a snug yet highly mobile feel. Added up, it’s an excellent layer for cragging, hiking, and daily use.

We’ve tested a few of Adidas’ fleeces and have a soft spot in our hearts for their “Techrock Flooce”—not only for its strange name, but also for its feature set, which includes a zippered chest pocket and water-resistant nylon at the chest, upper back, and arms. The Techrock Flooce is out of stock at the time of publishing, and the Tech is undeniably a simpler and more casual replacement. But it gets the clear edge in breathability and is an even more versatile option for both front- and backcountry use. Not everyone will be able to get behind the Terrex brand (it’s taken us a while to accept Adidas into the outdoor space), but their offerings are surprisingly high-performing, well fitting, and worth a closer look.
See the Adidas Terrex Tech Fleece Hooded

 

10. Kari Traa Rothe Fleece ($100)

Kari Traa Rothe women's fleece jacketCategory: Casual
Weight: 8.8 oz.
Fleece weight: Light/midweight
What we like: A traditional-looking fleece without the bulk.
What we don’t: Stiff collar; has a tendency to shed.

Norwegian brand Kari Traa bucks the shrink-it-and-pink-it trend with a lineup of high-performance outerwear designed for women, by women. You won’t find boxy or bland baselayers here—Kari Traa, the Olympic freestyle skier who founded her namesake company, places a high priority on fun color schemes and flattering shapes. The Rothe is one of their most classic fleeces and rife with thoughtful features and details, including a tall collar, high-quality ribbed cuffs, hand pockets, and a classy logo patch next to the chest pocket. What’s more, the relatively thin material offers a traditional look and feel without the bulk of a jacket like the Denali above.

With a healthy selection of colorways and availability in seven sizes (including two plus sizes), there’s a Rothe for almost everyone. And true to its casual intentions, it offers a fairly relaxed fit that gives off laid-back, everyday vibes. Not everyone will like the stiff collar, which doesn’t fold down like some designs, and the Rothe has a tendency to shed a great deal at the beginning of its lifespan (laundering it a few times will expedite the process, and using a washing bag like a Guppyfriend can help keep those microplastics out of the water cycle). But the Kari Traa is nevertheless an excellent option for those looking for a fun spin on a traditional fleece and makes a great companion for daily commutes, casual outings, après, and more.
See the Kari Traa Rothe Fleece

 

11. Norrøna Falketind Alpha120 Zip Hood ($219)

Norrona Alpha 120 women's fleece jacketCategory: Performance
Weight: 8.6 oz.
Fleece weight: Lightweight
What we like: Incredibly warm for the weight; quick-drying and breathable.
What we don’t: Expensive; cuffs have accumulated stains.

Norrøna might fly a little under the radar this side of the Atlantic, but the Norwegian outdoor clothing brand gives names like Patagonia and Arc’teryx a run for their money. From their Falketind mountaineering collection, the Alpha120 is a high-quality fleece hoody that prioritizes breathability, quick dry time, and a lightweight build. The 120-gram Polartec Alpha fleece is so loosely woven that you can see through it, but this is where the magic happens: We’ve been totally blown away by this material’s warmth, and it effectively dumps heat, too. Under the arms and at the sides and hood, sleek and snug-fitting 139-gram Polartec Power Grid fabric (similar to that of the thin BD Coefficient LT Hybrid above) provides a great low-bulk alternative to the fuzzy Alpha core.

The Falketind Alpha120 packs in a lot of warmth for the weight, and although we haven’t found it to be noticeably more breathable than similarly lightweight options, it does dry noticeably fast. As a result, it’s a great choice for high-output activities like mountaineering, backcountry skiing, trail running, and alpine climbing. We did have initial concerns about the jacket’s durability given the thin makeup of the Polartec Alpha in particular, but it’s still faring well after moderate use (minus some staining at the cuffs). You’ll pay a little more for the Norrøna name, but the Alpha120 is a serious performance fleece that has more technical chops than most offerings here.
See the Norrøna Falketind Alpha120 Zip Hood

 

12. Stio Sweetwater Fleece Jacket ($159)

Stio Sweetwater Fleece Jacket red (women's)Category: Casual
Weight: 14.8 oz.
Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: A more colorful and better-fitting alternative to the Better Sweater.
What we don’t: Might run too long for some.

Based at the foot of the Teton range in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Stio offers a variety of fun and high-quality outerwear for both casual and performance use. Their Sweetwater Fleece Jacket is a great alternative to the Better Sweater above for those looking for a more modern vibe. Like the Patagonia, it combines a sweater-knit face fabric with a brushed interior liner, which gives off classy wool vibes without the upkeep or scratchiness. On the other hand, it’s available in a wide assortment of bright colorways, and—with a longer length and drop-tail hem—bucks the short-and-boxy trend to which Patagonia fleeces often succumb.

Even more popular than the Sweetwater Fleece Jacket is the Sweetwater Fleece Hoodie, which features a wide collar with hood, along with an offset front zipper for flair. A kangaroo pouch and thumb loops round out the build, which is decidedly casual yet classy—the perfect insulator for fall days in your favorite mountain town. Keep in mind that both versions do run long—if you’re of shorter stature, the drop-tail hem might simply be too much. But regardless of which Sweetwater you opt for (it’s also available in a half-zip), you’re getting a well-built fleece that will keep you warm while looking good in the process.
See the Stio Sweetwater Fleece Jacket

 

13. Helly Hansen Cascade Shield ($165)

Helly Hansen Cascade Shield women's fleece jacketCategory: Performance/casual
Weight: 14.1 oz.
Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: Softshell exterior adds wind- and water-resistance.
What we don’t: Bulkier and less breathable than standard fleeces.

Cold weather can often mean wet weather, especially if you live in maritime climates like the Pacific Northwest, Northeast, or Alaska. It’s easy enough to throw a waterproof shell over your fleece, but Helly Hansen’s Cascade Shield offers a nice two-in-one solution with their Stormfleece material. Stormfleece features a softshell fabric on the outside for water resistance and windproofing, along with a cozy fleece interior that’s both warm and breathable. Whether you want a little extra protection for the commute or plan to wear the Cascade Shield while ice climbing or backcountry skiing, it’s a versatile jacket from a trustworthy brand.

What are the downsides of opting for a hybrid fleece? Breathability will suffer—a primary reason we see offerings like the Coefficient LT Hybrid above forgo weather-protective material at the back—and the Cascade Shield will be heavier and bulkier than most jackets of similar warmth. But, in addition to the weather protection, we do love the added durability of the softshell material, which is just one more reason to reach for the Cascade Shield as an everyday companion. Added up, it’s a capable Swiss Army Knife for winter adventuring and daily commuting. It’s also worth noting that Patagonia's R2 TechFace features a similar design (and is wildly popular among our peers), but it’s currently only offered in a hoodless version for women.
See the Helly Hansen Cascade Shield

 

14. Fjallraven Keb Fleece Hoodie ($195)

Fjallraven Keb Fleece Jacket (women's)Category: Performance/casual
Weight: 15.2 oz.
Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: Combination of wool and polyester is very warm.
What we don’t: Too heavy for the backcountry; too snug-fitting for many casual users.

If you’ve worn Fjallraven apparel in the past, you may be drooling over the Keb Fleece. In typical fashion, this jacket has a high-end look and feel that few brands are able to emulate. For the build, Fjallraven uses a unique polyester and wool blend that does a nice job keeping you warm while still retaining a decent amount of moisture-wicking ability and stretch. We also like the simple but effective storage layout, including two nicely sized hand pockets and one smaller chest pocket. Finally, the trim fit is ideal for layering and incorporates stretch for both mobility and comfort.

Like many Fjallraven products, the Keb Fleece toes the line between casual and performance use. The fleece blend, reinforced G-1000 shoulder panels (it wouldn’t be Fjallraven without some G-1000 in the mix), and aggressive hood are built for the outdoors, but it all adds up to a fairly heavy build that you’re unlikely to want to bring on weight-conscious endeavors. On the other hand, the clean design and attractive colorways wear decently well in the city, but the snug fit doesn’t offer the outright casual appeal of designs like the Rothe or Trailmade above (and you’re certainly paying a steep premium at $195). But there’s no denying that the Keb is another classy piece of gear from the Swedish company. For a lighter-weight option with similar styling, check out Fjallraven’s $45-cheaper Abisko Trail Fleece.
See the Fjallraven Keb Fleece Hoodie

 

15. REI Co-op Hyperaxis Fleece Jacket 2.0 ($149)

REI Co-op Hyperaxis 2.0 (women's fleece jacket)Category: Performance/casual
Weight: 14.2 oz.
Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: A high-performance Polartec Power Stretch Pro fleece at a reasonable price.
What we don’t: Lacks the fit and finish of the Kyanite above.

Seattle-based REI knows a thing or two about the importance of a good fleece—they’re useful in the Pacific Northwest about nine months a year. But breaking in tradition from more basic fleeces like the Trailmade above, the Co-op has put together a surprisingly modern and performance-oriented design in the Hyperaxis 2.0. It’s true that $149 is expensive for an in-house REI product, but with this fleece, you get premium Polartec Power Stretch Pro (the same fabric used in the Arc’teryx Kyanite above), low-profile seams, and even features like thumb loops. The result is a good-looking, well-built, and versatile jacket.

In many ways, the REI Co-op Hyperaxis 2.0 does a pretty darn good impersonation of pricier jackets like the Kyanite. Both are performance fleeces that use a stretchy and moisture-wicking shell fabric that’s built to hold its shape over time and breathe during high-intensity movement. With the Kyanite, you get Arc'teryx’s more premium build quality, which leads to a lower weight, better fit, and overall cleaner look. But for over $30 less, the more affordable Hyperaxis 2.0 isn’t far behind if you don’t mind the slight compromises in fit and finish. And when colder temperatures arrive this fall, check out the Co-op’s Flash Power Air Fleece ($139), which features Polartec Power Air layered fleece for a nice combination of warmth and breathability.
See the REI Co-op Hyperaxis Fleece Jacket 2.0

 

16. Rab Capacitor Hoody ($140)

Rab Capacitor Hoody (women's fleece jackets)Category: Performance/casual
Weight: 12.5 oz.
Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: Stretchy side panels add mobility and venting.
What we don’t: Lacks the durability and weather resistance of a brushed-back fleece design.

U.K.-based Rab makes some of our favorite down jackets and hardshells for demanding backcountry use, so it comes as little surprise that their fleece jackets are impressively well built and competitive. From their collection, the Capacitor is a high-performance pick that offers a modern take on the classic midweight design. Like the much-loved (but now discontinued) Patagonia R2, this jacket features 200-weight fleece, stretchy side panels for added mobility and venting, and a flattering shape. Tack on a low-profile brushed finish and trim-fitting hood that slides easily underneath a climbing helmet, and you get a decently warm yet breathable performance piece built for action.

For activities like winter hiking or skiing, the Capacitor is a nice step up from a jacket like the Patagonia R1 Air above—its midweight designation makes it a better option for cold weather, while the large side panels, trim fit, and scuba hood keep performance high. We do have a slight preference for a brushed-backed design like that of the Rab for performance use, as the smooth exterior is a bit more durable and weather-resistant than the Patagonia’s knit face. However, keep in mind that not everyone will prefer a hood on their midlayer—they can get in the way under a hardshell—and Rab only offers a hooded Capacitor for women. But for $140, it’s nevertheless one of the best-priced midweight fleeces here and has a lot going for it both in and out of the mountains. For a lighter design, check out Rab’s Nexus Jacket ($130).
See the Rab Capacitor Hoody

 

17. Cotopaxi Teca Fleece Full-Zip Jacket ($110)

Cotopaxi Teca Fleece Jacket Full-Zip women'sCategory: Casual
Fleece weight: Light/midweight
What we like: Retro styling and unique colorways.
What we don’t: Significantly pricier than the Trailmade; not warm enough for winter.

Performance fleeces can offer serious midlayer warmth for skiing and hiking, but sometimes you just want to throw on a casual fleece and feel cozy. In this category, we really like the Teca Fleece Full-Zip, which combines Polartec Micro Fleece with Cotopaxi’s hallmark retro styling. Cotopaxi uses all repurposed materials for the Teca, meaning that every production run results in different colorways, and each design is unique. To round out the build, two handwarmer pockets give you functional storage for daily tasks or outdoor pursuits, and elastic binding at the cuffs and hem provide a nice seal against the elements.

At just $110, the Cotopaxi is a nice alternative to the Trailmade and Rothe above for those looking for a fun yet low-priced fleece for around-town use (the Teca also comes in hooded full-zip, vest, and pullover versions). You can certainly wear it while hiking, skiing, climbing, biking—or whatever your adventure of choice—but the Cotopaxi isn’t as warm as many of the alternatives here, and it doesn’t stuff down super small, either. What’s more, build quality doesn’t quite measure up to brands like Arc’teryx and Patagonia, but Cotopaxi products get the job done for casual use, and we love that they’re made with repurposed materials. 
See the Cotopaxi Teca Fleece Full-Zip Jacket

 

18. Patagonia Retro Pile ($149)

Patagonia Retro Pile women's fleece jacketCategory: Casual
Weight: 15.2 oz.
Fleece weight: Heavyweight
What we like: A modern take on a traditional shearling fleece.
What we don’t: Boxy fit with proportions that don’t work for many.

Patagonia’s Retro Pile might just be the most classic fleece jacket here, with a double-sided shearling that epitomizes winter-weight fleeces of yore. (Before the age of microfleece or gridded fleece, there was synthetic shearling, which sought to mimic a sheep’s hide and wool.) The Retro Pile’s double-sided design offers this high-pile fleece on both the interior and exterior, resulting in an extra dose of warmth and coziness for shoulder-season and winter days. And with a classy elastic binding on the collar, zipper, and hem; corded zipper pulls; and a front and back yoke, it goes the extra mile to earn the "retro" in its name.

But for all its fun styling, the Retro Pile isn’t perfect. Many women have found the fit to be off—in contrast to sleek and trim designs like the Fjallraven Keb, Norrøna Alpha120, and Patagonia R1 Air above, the Retro Pile has a boxier shape that doesn’t seem to always nail the proportions. Some women complain about the arms being too tight, while others gripe that the length is too short. And like many fleeces, it has a tendency to shed, although this can be remedied after a few wash cycles. But if you’re drawn to the style (and the fit works for you), the Retro Pile gets more cozy points than just about any other fleece here, and it’s hard not to love the throwback styling. 
See the Patagonia Retro Pile

 

19. Columbia Benton Springs ($45)

Columbia Benton Springs fleece jacketCategory: Casual
Fleece weight: Midweight
What we like: Tons of colors and sizes.
What we don’t: Looks and feels like a budget fleece; durability is questionable.

Soft, inexpensive, and offered in a ton of sizes and colors, the Columbia Benton Springs is a very popular budget fleece. First and foremost, this is a decidedly simple jacket: The fabric is basic, and the feature set is limited to two handwarmer pockets and a hem cinch. But it provides decent warmth and styling and a hefty portion of coziness, especially for the price of only $45 (prices do vary on retailers like Amazon depending on the color).

It’s a good idea to set reasonable expectations for a fleece in this price range. For its weight and bulk, the Benton Springs does very little to trap warmth or keep out wind, and it's not super breathable. It’s also not trim-fitting and layers poorly under a hardshell. To put it simply, it won’t be your workhorse for any kind of serious outdoor use. But if you’re looking for an inexpensive layering piece to wear around town, Columbia’s bottom-shelf offering should get the job done.
See the Columbia Benton Springs

 

Women's Fleece Jacket Comparison Table

Fleece Jacket Price Category Weight Fleece Weight Fleece Type
Patagonia Better Sweater $149 Casual 15.9 oz. Midweight Knit
Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody $169 Performance 10.9 oz. Light/mid Gridded
REI Co-op Trailmade Fleece $60 Casual 10.9 oz. Light/mid Polar
Black Diamond Coefficient LT Hybrid $180 Performance 7.2 oz. Lightweight Gridded/hybrid
OR Trail Mix Cowl Pullover $89 Casual 10.8 oz. Light/mid Gridded
The North Face Denali 2 $180 Casual 1 lb. 1 oz. Heavyweight Polar
Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T $129 Casual 12.8 oz. Midweight Polar
Arc’teryx Kyanite Hoody $180 Performance/casual 12.2 oz. Midweight Dual-surface
Adidas Terrex Tech Fleece Hooded $140 Performance/casual 13.1 oz. Midweight Gridded
Kari Traa Rothe Fleece $100 Casual 8.8 oz. Light/mid Polar
Norrøna Falketind Alpha120 Zip Hood $219 Performance 8.6 oz. Lightweight Gridded
Stio Sweetwater Fleece Jacket $159 Casual 14.8 oz. Midweight Knit
Helly Hansen Cascade Shield $165 Performance/casual 14.1 oz. Midweight Polar/hard face
Fjallraven Keb Fleece Hoodie $195 Performance/casual 15.2 oz. Midweight Dual-surface
REI Co-op Hyperaxis Fleece Jacket 2.0 $149 Performance/casual 14.2 oz. Midweight Dual-surface
Rab Capacitor Hoody $140 Performance/casual 12.5 oz. Midweight Knit
Cotopaxi Teca Fleece Full-Zip Jacket $110 Casual Unavailable Light/mid Polar
Patagonia Retro Pile $149 Casual 15.2 oz. Heavyweight Sherpa
Columbia Benton Springs $45 Casual 1 lb. 0.6 oz. Midweight Polar


Women’s Fleece Jacket Buying Advice


What is Fleece?

Fleece is a man-made material designed to mimic wool, first created in the late '70s or early '80s by a wool-apparel company called Malden Mills (fun fact: Malden Mills went bankrupt in the 2000s and re-emerged as Polartec—the current industry giant). Fleece is made from petroleum that is formed into strings, which are then woven into fabric. Although it’s synthetic, fleece shares a number of properties with wool: It traps air and is thus very insulative, naturally repels water (making it quick-drying and fairly water-resistant), and is very breathable. And unlike wool, fleece is machine-washable and hypoallergenic—and, of course, it’s vegan too. 

Slacklining in Norrona Alpha120 women's fleece jacket
Slacklining in the Norrøna Falketind Alpha120

As an outerwear material, fleece is fairly distinct from other insulators such as down and synthetic fill. For one, it’s less expensive, and despite its tendency to pill, can be fairly durable, too (just don’t get it too close to a flame—it will melt). It’s also cozier and significantly more breathable, which has massive benefits as a midlayer or an insulator in casual and performance settings alike. But fleece can’t quite match the warmth-to-weight ratio of down especially, and it’s not as water-resistant as synthetic insulation (most synthetic jackets feature a nylon shell with a DWR finish). There’s certainly a time and place—we love our fleeces for resort skiing, rock climbing (particularly hybrid designs), hiking, and of course casual use—but they’re not our first choice for fast-and-light missions or serious endeavors when we want maximum warmth efficiency or weather resistance.

Fjallraven Abisko Trail Fleece (hiking by lake near Fitz Roy)
Fleece is generally cheaper, cozier, and more breathable than down or synthetic fill

Fleece Types

Fleece was originally designed to mimic a sheep’s hide and wool, meaning traditional varieties had a high-pile exterior and smooth interior. But given its fully synthetic makeup, the category has now evolved into a variety of forms, from thick sherpa fleece to sleek grid-backed fabrics. Really, the sky's the limit—if you want an example of how many different styles of fleeces there are in 2023, check out the fabrics section on Polartec’s website. Below, we break down the fleece types displayed in the jackets above (our list is by no means comprehensive).

Polar Fleece
Imagine a thick fleece jacket, akin to The North Face's Denali 2, and you’ve got polar fleece: A simple, double-sided fabric that’s warm, cozy, and more prone to pilling than most. Polar fleece is such a staple that its name was co-opted by the brand Polartec, responsible for high-end fleeces like Polartec Alpha and Polartec Power Stretch Pro. Polar fleece is very simple compared to more tech-savvy fabrics: You don’t get any windproofing or water resistance, no special breathability or weight-saving measures, and no gridded patterns. But it still hits all the features that we look for in a fleece and is affordable to boot. Note: In thinner varieties (less than 200 gsm), polar fleece is often referred to as microfleece.

Women's fleece jackets (Polartec tag)
Polartec is the biggest name in fleece and responsible for most of the fabrics used in the jackets above

Knit Fleece
Knit fleece, or sweater-knit fleece, is epitomized by jackets like the Patagonia Better Sweater and Stio Sweetwater, which feature a heathered knit face fabric (reminiscent of wool) alongside a cozy, brushed interior that acts and feels like traditional fleece. Jackets with knit fleece are prized for their classy looks, pill resistance, and warmth, and are great alternatives to wool cardigans or jackets. On the other hand, their fairly thick and bulky build means they’re not an ideal choice for serious outdoor use.

Gridded Fleece
Whereas sweater-knit fleece is a very casual material, gridded fleece (also known as waffle or thermal fleece) goes the opposite direction with a high-performance slant. Characterized by fleeces like the classic Patagonia R1 (which uses Polartec’s Power Grid) and Melanzana Micro Grid, the interior of a gridded fleece features patterns of raised fleece (squares, circles, or hexagons, for example) with channels in between for air to flow. On the exterior, you often get a smooth surface that distributes moisture to speed up evaporation. The result is maximum warmth and breathability with minimal weight and bulk—the difference in breathability is particularly palpable compared to other types of fleece. Note: While the Patagonia R1 Air is technically defined as a jacquard fleece (meaning that a raised pattern is woven into its material), for all intents and purposes, it fits into the gridded fleece category.

Arc'teryx Delta Hybrid fleece (gridded fleece)
Gridded fleece on the Arc'teryx Delta Hybrid Hoody

Sherpa/Faux-Shearling Fleece
Sherpa fleece is about as close as you can get to fleece’s origin story without dipping into shearling wool (for this reason, it’s also commonly called faux-shearling fleece). On one side, you get a smooth knit backer (if we’re drawing comparisons, this would be the sheep’s hide); on the other, you get a lofty, high-pile fleece that’s reminiscent of unprocessed wool. On our list above, the Patagonia Retro Pile Fleece features double-sided shearling, which means that you get this faux-wool material both on the interior and exterior. Sherpa fleece is bulky and decidedly casual, but if you’re looking for the epitome of cozy, this is it.

Other Dual-Surface Fleeces
Many gridded and sherpa fleeces feature a smooth side and a fleecy side (ironically, gridded fleeces generally place the fleecy side next to skin, while sherpa fleeces do the opposite), but they’re not the only types of fleece that fall into the dual-surface category. Here we want to specifically highlight Polartec’s Power Stretch Pro material, which is almost sweatshirt-like in nature with a soft polar fleece on the interior and smooth, low-friction exterior. With this construction, Power Stretch Pro and other similar blends retain all the benefits we love about fleece while adding excellent range of motion, shape retention, and durability. For a closer look at this technology, check out offerings like the Arc’teryx Kyanite and REI Co-op Hyperaxis 2.0 above.

Norrona Falketind Warmwool2 women's fleece jacket
Many dual-surface fleeces have a smooth, low-friction exterior

Hybrid Fleece/Synthetic Jackets

Building off the fleece types above, it’s become more and more common to see fleece paired with synthetic insulation—a combination known as a “hybrid” jacket. Most commonly, these jackets feature a fleece back with a synthetically insulated front (often finished with a nylon or polyester shell), which maximizes breathability alongside warmth and weather protection. The breathable back is especially nice when wearing a backpack, and we love the added tech at the front for wind-generating activities like trail running, backcountry skiing, and nordic skiing. High-quality examples of this design include the Black Diamond Coefficient LT Hybrid, Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid, and Arc’teryx Delta Hybrid Hoody. For high-performance use, we reach for our hybrid fleeces more than any other.

Black Diamond Coefficient LT Hybrid Hoody (women's fleece)
The Black Diamond Coefficient LT Hybrid Hoody features synthetic insulation at the front

Fleece Categories: Casual vs. Performance

In general, we can organize fleeces into two main categories: casual and performance. Casual fleeces provide an unbeatable combination of coziness and warmth for everyday use. They are terrific for layering on chilly evenings, wearing around the cabin, and daily commutes. Our favorite casual fleeces range from sweater-knit designs that dress up nicely (the Patagonia Better Sweater, for example) to basic pieces that are little more than the fabric itself. And while many fleeces on our list are intended for performance use, in reality, they can all be worn in casual settings (when we first got our R1 Air, we never wanted to take it off). That’s the glory of fleece: Unlike many pieces of activewear, fleece’s hallmark features of warmth, comfort, and breathability cross over seamlessly for daily wear.

Performance fleeces have a number of common attributes: They’re snug-fitting (unlike many casual offerings, which can be on the boxy side) and stretchy, feature high-tech fabrics like Polartec Power Stretch Pro and Alpha, and often include hoods and thumb loops. Hybrid fleece/synthetic jackets also fall into the performance category, in addition to fleeces with weather-resistant face fabrics (such as the Helly Hansen Cascade Shield and Patagonia’s TechFace collection). When deciding on a performance fleece, it’s worth thinking about your needs in terms of weather protection, mobility, warmth, and packability. There’s virtually something for everyone.

Drinking coffee in the Patagonia Better Sweater and Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan fleece jackets
The Patagonia Better Sweater and Arc'teryx Covert Cardigan are two popular casual fleeces

Fleece Warmth and Weight

For an idea of how warm a particular fleece will be, some jackets list the fabric thickness or fleece weight. This is often expressed in terms of grams per square meter—100, 200, and 300-gram, for example—and some brands have come up with their own rating system (Patagonia's R1 and R2, for instance). In its lightest form, a fleece is only a small step up in terms of insulation from a baselayer (the Black Diamond Coefficient LT Hybrid is one example) and ideal for high-output activities when breathability wins out over maximum warmth. Midweight or 200-weight fleeces are warmer and make a great pairing for fall and spring or mild-weather days on the slopes. Heavy fleeces of the 300-weight variety are warm and can insulate when temperatures dip below freezing, but their bulk often comes at the cost of mobility and breathability. 

As more companies have moved toward designing their own in-house fleeces and Polartec has diversified their offerings, the demarcation isn’t quite as simple as explained above. But it’s still helpful when available, and in general, the weight of the fleece correlates with its warmth. In other words, the heavier a jacket is, the more adept it will be at keeping you warm and blocking wind from entering.

Hiking in Rab Capacitor Hoody women's fleece jacket
The 200-gram Rab Capacitor is ideal for hiking in brisk weather

Breathability

A notable upside to fleeces is their breathability, which is one of the primary reasons that they work so well as a midlayer. Compared to a softshell, down, or synthetic insulated jacket, a fleece is dotted with tiny openings—hold up a fleece into the sun and you’ll see light streaming through—which helps a great deal with airflow. And of course, the thinner the fabric, generally the more breathable the fleece will be. On the other hand, it also contributes to their shortcomings as a true outer layer in the cold and wind. As we mentioned above, some hybrid fleeces include wind-resistant fabrics, making them less permeable to air—but keep in mind that while these styles offer more protection against the elements, breathability takes a back seat. If we know we’re venturing out in inclement weather, we usually prefer to pair a baselayer with a windbreaker jacket, or wear a softshell or synthetic insulated jacket with wind-blocking fabric instead.

Arc'teryx Delta Hybrid fleece jacket (fleece back)
For active use, fleece offers more breathability than other midlayer types

Wind and Water Resistance

Although often worn as standalone pieces, fleece jackets are not intended to combat heavy wind or rain. The synthetic fabric itself is hydrophobic (i.e., it won't absorb moisture), but wind and water can make their way through the porous construction rather easily. What's more, unlike down or synthetic jackets, fleeces—even dual-surface designs with low-friction exteriors—do not feature a durable water repellent (DWR) finish. Some designs, like the classic North Face Denali 2 and Cotopaxi Teca, incorporate non-fleece nylon panels that can repel light amounts of precipitation, but these only cover a few inches across the chest. In the end, no matter the fleece, when the conditions get tough, you’ll want to bring along more reliable wind and rain protection like a softshell jacket or rain shell.

Climbing in the Adidas Terrex Techrock Flooce fleece jacket
Hard-face fleeces add a shell for increased wind and water resistance

Hard-Face Fleece
We've often seen manufacturers add a tough, weather-resistant shell to boost the wind and water protection of fleece. The Helly Hansen Cascade Shield, for example, pairs polar fleece with a woven softshell exterior. Similarly, Patagonia’s popular TechFace jackets feature R1 or R2 fleece along with a double-weave shell (unfortunately, only the non-hooded R2 TechFace is made in a women's version). These styles—which we call hard-face fleeces—are a great alternative to full-blown softshells, and they're cozier, too. But while they're impressively wind-resistant and can fend off light moisture—great for PNW commutes and shoulder-season days in the mountains—we don't recommend hard-face fleeces for all-out rain. In truly wet weather, you'll still want a more reliable rain jacket or hardshell.


Fleece Jacket Features

Hood
Many fleeces are offered in either hooded or non-hooded varieties. For use as a classic midlayer, we typically lean towards a non-hooded option, as even a low-profile hood can get in the way underneath your shell (unless you always use both hoods). And for pairing under a ski jacket, it’s a no-brainer to go with a non-hooded model. Alternatively, a hood is a welcome addition in colder conditions, and many are nicely fitted and stay in place even while exercising. For climbing and backcountry skiing—and particularly if you’re planning on wearing your fleece as an outer layer—a hood can be a really nice feature, and we appreciate both under- and over-the-helmet varieties.

Thumbholes
Performance fleeces designed for activities like running or Nordic skiing will occasionally have thumbholes built into the sleeves. While serving as an opening for cold air to sneak in when not in use, the openings work well for keeping the sleeves in place during high-effort activities or when taking layers on and off. User tip: If you’re eyeing a jacket that has this feature, we recommend checking to make sure the fabric around the thumbhole has some stretch so it doesn’t feel like your thumb is being yanked around when you extend your arms—and that the sleeves are long enough that the loops fall in the right place. 

Women's fleece jacket thumbloops
Thumb loops keep sleeves in place and help boost overall warmth

Full-Zip vs. Pullover
Most of the jackets on this list are of the full-zip variety, which gives you maximum versatility and are easy to slip on and off. Full-zip models tend to have more features like hand pockets and stretchy side panels, whereas pullovers are more basic and function like a sweatshirt (albeit a very comfy one). The upside of fleece pullovers is that they weigh slightly less, pack down smaller, and generally are cheaper. The Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T is an extremely popular fleece pullover that in many ways defines the category, and offerings like the Melanzana Micro Grid (similar to the Outdoor Research Trail Mix Cowl) have a cult following for everyday and performance use alike.

Melanzana Micro Grid fleece pullover
The wildly popular Melanzana Micro Grid Hoodie pullover

Fit and Sizing

Fleece jackets range widely in terms of fit, and it’s important to look into the jacket’s intended use to make sure it aligns with your own. Performance pieces like the Fjallraven Keb have a trim cut that is designed to remove excess fabric for added mobility, efficient ventilation, and easy layering. On the other hand, roomier options like the Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T have a relaxed look that’s great for casual wear. Casual fleeces in particular do not cross over well for performance use because of the extra bulk, but we do find ourselves wearing trim performance fleeces a lot around home and for daily use. If you’re in search of a jacket adept at both, an option like the Arc'teryx Kyanite Hoody may be the ideal choice, with enough room to be comfortable but not so loose as to be useless in the backcountry. 

Layering over Arc'teryx Delta Hybrid Fleece jacket
Performance fleeces are trim-fitting and layer well under a shell

Is Fleece Sustainable?

We're big fans of fleece, but the man-made material is not without its downsides. Polyester fleece is a synthetic, petroleum-based material, which means a few things. For one, it’s plastic—in fact, it’s made up of the same stuff as those single-use plastic bottles many of us try to avoid. Second, unlike sustainably produced natural materials like cotton or down, the production of fleece can result in greenhouse gas emissions and potentially unsafe work environments. And finally, fleece sheds throughout its lifetime, littering microplastics in its wake—as multiple studies have shown, one single fleece jacket can release thousands of fibers into wastewater with each wash. Given the current state of plastics in our oceans, this is not good news.

But there are steps we can take to address this issue. Companies like Patagonia and Polartec produce most of their polyester fabrics (including fleece) from recycled plastic bottles, which both reduces emissions and repurposes materials that might otherwise end up in a landfill. At the time of publishing, 87% of Patagonia’s polyester fabrics are derived from recycled materials. We’re also seeing manufacturers increase their use of natural fabrics—yes, even in fleece—including hemp, lyocell, wool, and bamboo. Unlike polyester fleece’s microplastics, fibers that shed from these materials actually biodegrade. And then that leaves you, the consumer. You can do your part by following the three R’s (reduce your consumption, reuse what you have, buy products made with recycled materials), and when you can, seek out clothing made with natural—rather than synthetic—fibers. Finally, consider purchasing a wash bag (like this one from Guppyfriend), which will keep your fleece's microplastics out of your washing's wastewater.

Patagonia R1 Air Hoody (looking out of tent door)
Most modern fleeces are made with recycled polyester

Caring for Your Fleece

Pilling is one of the downsides of a low-quality fleece, and even more premium options can start losing fleece over time. Once a jacket starts pilling up, it’s difficult to reverse the process, so prevention is key here. One of the best ways to extend the life of your fleece is avoid the dryer. Line-drying or at least tumble-drying on low will do wonders, and you might have success washing your fleeces on the delicate wash cycle. Also, while fleece jackets are a popular choice for hanging around the campfire, do your best to keep them clear of the flames, as the plasticky construction will melt when exposed to extreme heat. Beyond those considerations, fleeces are easy to maintain and should give you years of comfy service.

Norrona Falketind Alpha120 women's fleece jacket (skiing midlayer)
Taking proper care of your fleece jacket will help prevent pilling and maximize its lifespan

Fleece vs. Synthetic and Down Insulation

The midlayer market is chock full of options, and fleece’s two primary competitors are synthetic jackets and down jackets. Both are more expensive than fleece but offer improved warmth relative to their weight and are far more packable. Further, synthetic jackets provide better protection against wind and rain (although some modern fleeces aren’t far behind). But synthetic and down jackets require a lining and outer shell to hold the insulation, which impacts comfort and the ability to pull away sweat and hot air. Thus, if breathability and a soft next-to-skin feel are at the top of your list, a fleece is probably your best bet. In sum, fleece excels at aerobic activities when bulk isn’t as much of a concern, such as resort skiing and day hiking. And to be sure, there simply is no end-all-be-all insulating layer, which is why it's common for people to own one (or more) of each of these styles of jackets.
Back to Our Top Women's Fleece Jackets  Back to Our Women's Fleece Comparison Table

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