With the array of fleece apparel available today, it can be difficult to discern which pieces truly stand out above the rest. From jackets to hats and everything in between, fleece has become a cold weather staple. But not all fleece garments are created equal when it comes to providing warmth, comfort and durability.
To help you make the best choice, let's explore the key attributes that set the best fleece clothing apart. Discover how to identify excellence in fleece by focusing on the details that enable superior insulation, breathability and performance.
With so many fleece jackets on the market, it can be tricky to select the right one for your needs. From lightweight layers to heavy-duty outerwear, fleece comes in a variety of weights, features and fits. Whether you're shopping for a fleece zip hoody, fleece pullover or anything in between, here are some key features to look for when choosing a fleece jacket.
The material of a fleece jacket is one of the most important factors. Fleece is typically made from polyester, but can also be made from recycled plastics like PET bottles. Polyester fleece is lightweight, breathable, quick-drying and provides insulation. It's a very versatile material that works well as an outer layer or mid-layer. Look for high-quality branded fleece material and pay attention to the density and thickness of the fleece as that impacts warmth.
Always consider the fit and coverage you need from your fleece jacket. More athletic fits work well for intense outdoor activities while regular fits provide more coverage and versatility. Make sure to check the length based on your needs.
Performance features like stretch fabric panels, articulated elbows and ergonomic seams provide mobility and comfort during active use. Adjustable hem cords, hoods and collars allow you to customize coverage and seal out drafts.
Look for smooth fleece interiors that feel soft against your skin. Dense fleece can cause overheating. Lightweight and midweight fleeces work well for most people but go heavyweight if you run very cold.
Many fleece jackets now use recycled polyester made from plastic bottles and other recycled materials. This gives an eco-friendly sustainability benefit compared to virgin polyester. Recycled fleece is often reasonably priced too.
Check if the fleece has certified recycled content. Some brands use proprietary recycling processes to turn old garments into new. This removes waste from landfills and completes the recycling loop. And don't worry - recycled fleece performs the same as normal fleece.
Fleece jackets provide varying levels of insulation depending on their thickness and density. Lightweight fleeces work well as heat-retaining base layers while midweight and expedition-weight fleeces can insulate as outerwear.
The weight of the fleece usually correlates with warmth. Look for a fleece weight that matches your needs. A 100-200 weight fleece is lightweight and breathable while a 300 weight fleece will be heftier and warmer.
Keep in mind that fleece pile compresses over time, reducing insulation. So a thicker fleece maintains warmth for longer than a thin style.
Basic polyester fleece soaks up moisture and lacks weather resistance. However, some styles have DWR (durable water repellent) coatings or nanotechnology for water resistance.
If you need rain protection, look for a fleece jacket with an integrated waterproof outer layer. Some also have taped seams to prevent leaks. This creates a warm and dry 2-in-1 jacket.
For windy conditions, tightly woven zip fleece or softshell styles with wind-resistant outer fabric provide protection. A hood also seals out drafts in stormy weather.
Synthetic jackets made of fleece may have collars that stand up to cover your neck or fold down for versatility. Athletic styles often have elasticized cuffs to seal in warmth while casual options have open cuffs.
Some fleeces designed as mid layers have low profile collars and cuffs that fit smoothly under outer layers and backpacks. This prevents bunching and discomfort. For maximum comfort, look for collars and cuffs made with smooth, chafe-free fleece or soft microfleece. An integrated hood also provides cozy head insulation.
Hand pockets keep your fingers toasty and store small essentials. Look for fleece jackets with zippered pockets if you'll be active. Some even have internal media pockets with headphone routing.
Chest pockets provide easy access to small items and phones. While not always necessary, they can be handy for storing maps, lip balm, snacks and so on.
For varied ventilation options, look for full and half length zippers. Anti-chafing zipper guards add comfort. High collar styles may have a zipper garage at the throat.
Fleece jackets range widely in price from budget-friendly to luxury. Cheaper fleeces may pill faster and lack performance features. Premium options provide better quality and longevity.
Look for sales prices and clearance deals, especially at the end of the season, to get maximum value. Higher priced fleeces often go on sale eventually.
Consider cost per wear - if you'll use a fleece frequently, investing in a quality one you love can be worth it. Check reviews to find good value at any price point.
Fleece fabric is inherently breathable thanks to its porous construction. This makes it more breathable than synthetics like nylon or polyester shell jackets.
Look for features like mesh lining that enhance air flow and moisture wicking. Athletic style fleeces maximize ventilation while wind-resistant softshell fleeces offer less.
For high exertion activities, lightweight and midweight fleeces provide the most breathability. The thicker the fleece, the warmer yet less breathable it becomes.
Insulation is the key factor that makes fleece jackets so effective in cold weather. Fleece is a lightweight, soft and fuzzy synthetic fabric designed to trap body heat and provide warmth without extra bulk. The fluffy texture of fleece creates thousands of tiny air pockets that help retain heat next to your body. This insulation allows fleece jackets to provide warmth equivalent to wool, but with a more comfortable and flexible feel.
There are different weights of fleece fabric measured in grams per square meter (GSM). Lightweight fleece ranges from 100-200 GSM while midweight fleece is 200-300 GSM. Heavier weight fleece can be over 300 GSM. The higher the GSM, the more dense and insulating the fleece. Heavier fleece provides more warmth but can also feel bulkier.
Features like zipper closures, elastic cuffs and high collars complement the insulating properties of fleece. Zippers allow you to regulate airflow and retain heat more effectively. Snug cuffs and collars seal out drafts and keep body heat from escaping through openings.
Many fleece jackets also have an inner brushed lining for additional insulation. This soft, fuzzy surface traps air to add an extra layer of warmth. The brushed side helps the fleece hold in more heat versus a smooth surface.
The inherent insulating properties of fleece make it an ideal material to protect against the cold. Thermal insulation is essential to the functionality of fleece jackets as outerwear.
Most fleece clothing can be used in combination with outer layers to provide additional warmth. While fleece relies on the texture of the fabric, insulated jackets add insulating layers inside:
These internal insulating layers help prevent cold air from penetrating while allowing body moisture to escape. This allows insulated jackets to offer superior protection from the elements.
Insulated jackets also cut wind better than fleece alone. The smooth exterior fabric combined with internal insulation minimizes air penetration for comfort in windy weather. Features like adjustable hoods, cuffs and hems provide a tailored fit that seals in warmth by preventing airflow to the head and extremities. Zippered pockets allow you to warm your hands or stow gloves when not in use.
The insulation adds warmth without compromising range of motion. Insulated jackets allow full freedom of movement for active pursuits in the cold. Breathable internal layers prevent overheating and moisture buildup during aerobic activities.
Fleece's natural insulating properties have made it the go-to fabric for cold-weather apparel and outerwear. Before synthetic fabrication, wool provided the primary protection from the elements. But wool's bulkiness and propensity to absorb moisture led to the development of fleece.
Polyester fleece was first created in the 1970s as a lightweight alternative to wool. It provided similar insulation to wool but with more breathability. Fleece dries quickly and doesn't absorb moisture like wool garments.
Fleece became widely adopted for its versatility and comfort. It works as a base layer or mid layer to retain heat. Outer fleece jackets and pullovers provide warmth equivalent to a wool sweater but with easier care and maintenance.
Athletes and outdoor enthusiasts favor fleece for its breathability and performance. The stretchiness and soft texture provide insulation without impeding mobility or causing overheating. Fleece headwear, neck gaiters and gloves offer protection for vulnerable extremities.
For cold weather apparel, fleece hit the sweet spot between natural fibers and performance synthetics. The fuzzy fabric traps air efficiently to provide effective insulation. Fleece's inherent warmth and comfort make it indispensable for chilling environments.
Outer-layer fleece jackets and performance fleece fabrics are designed to work together to provide warmth, breathability and protection from the elements. The outer layer acts as a barrier against wind, rain and snow, while the performance fleece lining provides insulation to retain body heat. When used together, they create a versatile layering system for activities like hiking, climbing and skiing.
The outer layer serves several key functions when paired with an insulated fleece lining:
Without a wind and water-resistant outer layer, fleece clothing would quickly become soaked, eliminating its warmth. The outer shell plays a crucial role in regulating temperature and keeping wearers comfortable in cold, wet conditions.
Performance fleece fabrics represent a new generation of synthetic insulations designed specifically for use in outerwear. Key characteristics include:
Performance fleeces enhance the comfort and versatility of insulated outerwear. The lightweight warmth cuts down on bulk without sacrificing insulation. Increased breathability reduces inner condensation when working hard. The athletic stretch and sleek fit complements the outer shell for a streamlined layering system.
The material used in fleece clothing is arguably the most important factor when it comes to performance and quality. Fleece jackets and pullovers are typically made from polyester fleece, which is a synthetic fabric designed to mimic qualities of wool while being more lightweight and easy to care for. The actual composition of the polyester fleece can make a big difference in key areas like warmth, breathability, durability and eco-friendliness.
One of the main reasons fleece has become so popular as an insulating layer for outdoor activities is the air pockets that form between the fibers when woven together. This construction creates plenty of dead air space that helps prevent body heat loss and keep you warm. However, the density and thickness of the fleece fabric impacts warmth - a 200 weight fleece will be warmer than a 100 weight fleece jacket.
The fabric composition also affects breathability. Fleece allows perspiration to pass through for evaporation much more easily than other materials like wool. However, lower quality and cheaper fleeces tend to be less breathable, causing moisture to build up on the inside which reduces insulation. High quality fleeces use finer denier polyester fibers specially engineered to allow excellent airflow.
When it comes to durability, not all fleeces are created equal either. Abrasion resistance comes down to the tightness of the knit, density of fibers and quality of construction. Tighter and denser fabrics with reinforced seams will withstand more wear and tear before pilling or developing holes. Going with a trusted outdoor brand known for durable fleece will last much longer through regular use.
Finally, the sourcing of the polyester and manufacturing process has sustainability implications. Many top outdoor brands now use high percentages of recycled polyester from plastic bottles or worn-out fleece garments. This gives fleece jackets made from recycled polyester an eco-friendly element compared to virgin polyester. Environmentally conscious companies are also improving energy efficiency and waste reduction in fleece production.
Polyester fleece offers several inherent performance advantages that make it an ideal material for insulating jackets and outerwear:
For outdoor activities like hiking, climbing and backpacking, a polyester fleece jacket really shines. The material gives you reliable warmth but doesn't cause you to overheat when exerting yourself. It also makes a cozy everyday jacket for cooler weather where breathability and easy care are big advantages over wool.
While all polyester fleece jackets capitalize on the inherent benefits of the material, the quality and construction can really amplify or reduce a jacket's performance in key areas like warmth, weather resistance, durability and comfort.
Higher-quality fleeces start with premium polyester fibers engineered for optimal durability, breathability and warmth. Tighter knits made from finer fibers offer better heat retention by minimizing airflow through the fabric. They also last longer against pilling and wear. High fill power goose down is warmer and more durable than lower fill power down.
Premium fleece jackets also pay close attention to details of construction. Well-designed fleece will have articulated shaping for better mobility. This includes gusseted underarms and raglan sleeves to prevent restriction when reaching and layering.
For technical and alpine-ready fleeces, you'll see performance features like a wind-resistant softshell chest panel, helmet-compatible hood, reinforced shoulders and mixed knits in high-abrasion areas. These purpose-built details boost a jacket's versatility and resilience in demanding mountain environments.
Finally, premium outdoors brands test their gear rigorously to refine the fit, shape and features over years of real-world use. This feedback helps improve the jacket design and create a refined fleece pullover you'll want to wear every day.
While premium fleeces require more investment upfront, the years of extra performance and satisfaction easily justify the higher cost for many. Focusing on quality polyester fleece helps ensure you get outstanding warmth, breathability, weather protection and longevity from your jacket.
Stio connects you with the outdoors through quality products infused with a mountain soul. Proudly operating from Jackson Hole, WY, we take inspiration from our natural surroundings and put it into every piece of apparel we make. From technical performance to aesthetics, Stio outfits you with exceptional products for unforgettable outdoor experiences.
The most desirable fleece is typically considered to be 100% pure wool fleece. Wool fleece is derived from sheep and is highly valued for its softness, warmth and natural insulation properties. It's known for its durability and ability to retain warmth even when wet. Additionally, wool fleece is often hypoallergenic and resistant to odors, making it an excellent choice for those with sensitive skin or allergies.
Yes, there are different grades of fleece. Fleece is typically graded based on factors such as the length and quality of the fibers, as well as the overall softness and warmth of the fabric. Higher-grade fleece tends to have longer and finer fibers, resulting in a softer and more luxurious feel. These higher-grade fleeces are often used in premium clothing and bedding items. Lower-grade fleece may have shorter or coarser fibers, making it less soft and warm. However, it can still be suitable for many everyday uses and can offer a more affordable option.
A fleece should ideally not be too tight or too loose, but rather have a comfortable fit. It should have enough room to allow for movement and layering underneath, but not be so loose that it loses its insulating properties. A slightly relaxed fit is generally recommended, ensuring that it allows for freedom of movement without being overly baggy. Ultimately, it's important to find a fleece that fits well for individual comfort and preferences.