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Fleece - the fabric for all seasons

A buyer’s guide to fleece jackets


Fleece is the optimal material for outdoor uses
Fleece is the optimal material for outdoor uses

Fleece? What’s fleece? Well, isn’t it that soft, fluffy polyester fabric? You know, the incredibly breathable fabric that boasts outstanding insulating properties? That’s basically correct, but not every fleece material is the same. There are several aspects that come together to make this functional outdoor material what it is.

Modern fleece is no longer just the soft polyester we know and love, but rather blended fabrics with polyamide, elastane or wool. Plus, fleece can also have a smooth surface or the design of a knitted wool pullover. In any case, fleece is soft on the inside, highly breathable, and its weight and insulating properties are always perfectly balanced, particularly when compared to fabrics made of pure wool (or cotton).

Besides synthetic shirts, fleece is the fastest-drying material among all functional fabrics. It instantly makes you feel warm and it is easy to clean, it retains its shape, and it’s sometimes even (very) elastic.

In the following, you’ll find out all you need to know about fleece, or more specifically, outdoor jackets made of fleece. Not every fleece jacket is the same, either. A few tips and tricks will guide you through the maze of fleece jackets and help you find the perfect one.

Why get a fleece jacket?

Fleece jackets are highly breathable and easy to clean
Fleece jackets are highly breathable and easy to clean

Have you ever asked yourself what kind of outdoor jacket you would need for warm, cold, dry, windy, and calm weather conditions? The most sensible answer would probably be a light windproof or softshell jacket, a weatherproof or hardshell jacket, a breathable or fleece jacket and a well-insulated down or synthetic jacket. Put these four jackets and you’d have year-round protection.

Light softshell jackets offer versatile and breathable weather protection for demanding adventures. Hardshells are an impenetrable shield against strong winds and bad weather and provide you with durable protection in wet conditions. Jackets with down or synthetic fibres are warm and light at the same time. They can be worn with or without an outer jacket and don’t take up too much space. Finally, fleece jackets are the breathable and insulating second layer that can be worn with or without (depending on the type of fleece) an outer jacket.

Fleece jackets are great for outdoor activities because they are well-insulated and hydrophobic and perspiration is able to pass through the fabric, which is not so much the case for jackets insulated with synthetic fibres or down. In addition, they are perfect as a mid layer for strenuous physical activities at mild temperatures, regardless of whether you’re skiing, mountain biking in winter, mountaineering, hill walking, kayaking, or slacklining. When temperatures drop, your fleece jacket will keep you warm without a build-up of heat. Thus, these jackets are just as important for outdoor enthusiasts as waterproof functional wear and extra warm, insulated clothing. Fleece jackets are the most versatile underjackets for all imaginable activities and capable of adapting to changing weather conditions. Depending on the individual model, a fleece jacket can also be worn as an outer jacket on windy days for there are models that are almost entirely windproof as well.

What types of fleece jackets are available?

Knitted fleece, pile fleece, high loft fleece, bipolar fleece, micro fleece, stretch fleece, hard fleece, waffle fleece, fleece in various weights (100g/m², 200g/m², 300g/m², etc.), there are countless designations for different kinds of fleece, some of which are irrelevant. We will only examine the most important ones so that you can make a sensible choice.

Norröna - Falketind Warm1 Jacket - fleece jacket
Norröna – Falketind Warm1 Jacket – fleece jacket

Classic fleece

The traditional fleece is usually made of polyester and very soft on the inside as well as the outside. It is made in different weights. Weights around 200g/m² are most common. These jackets are nice and warm and perfect for wearing underneath outer jackets. They usually come in the form of inner jackets for 3-in-1 jackets. Lighter fleece jackets made of thinner fabrics serve as mid layers for strenuous physical activities (micro fleece). Some of these jackets are made of fabrics with grid-like pattern, which increases their breathability and stability. At the same time, it provides better moisture management. These models are called waffle fleece jackets. You’ll often find waffle fleece in the form of Pontetorto Tecnostretch.

Knitted fleece

Knitted fleece has a weight of approximately 200g/m² and a design reminiscent of a knitted jumper. Despite its urban look, it is functional as well. Most jackets made of knitted fleece come with a hood and a somewhat more casual fit. It looks fantastic, but bipolar fleece looks just as good. Its fashionable outer surface is somewhat rougher, but its interior is rather conventional. These jackets are rather heavy and have a thick layer of insulation, but are also pretty uncommon.

Teddy/high loft fleece

High loft fleece is a nice and fluffy type of fleece (also known as teddy fleece). Even though such jackets are rather lightweight, they are also quite warm because of their very long and fine polyester fibres. Therefore, even thin jackets are well-insulated. These fluffy little jackets are just as suitable for physical activities as they are for the couch.

Smooth outer

Smooth-face fleece jackets are the most versatile types of fleece. The so-called stretch fleece comes with a Hardface outer. It is made of polyester, polyamide, and elastane. These jackets are nice and soft on the inside. On the outside, they are tough and wind resistant (to varying degrees). This allows you to wear the relatively tight-fitting jacket for a variety of activities because it is suitable for rucksacks, light breezes, and those particularly strenuous physical activities that require a lot of freedom of movement. Polartec is a name you should remember if you are interested in one of these jackets. Make sure to check out Polartec Power Stretch, Polartec Power Stretch Pro, Thermal Pro, and Power Dry as well. The so-called Hardfleece jackets are woven on the outside and so robust that they’ll remind you of softshell jackets. They are made of a water-repellent and nearly windproof material.

 Mammut- Aconcagua Jacket - fleece jacket
Mammut- Aconcagua Jacket – fleece jacket

Depending on your needs, you should choose a somewhat more casual or tight-fitting fleece jacket. A general rule for layering functional textiles: the tighter it is, the more breathable it will be. However, your jacket should not be too tight because you obviously still want it to be well-insulated and not restrict your freedom of movement

Everyday fleece jackets

Urban jackets such as those made of knitted fleece, high loft fleece, bipolar fleece, and very thick fabric (250g/m² and more) often have a more relaxed fit, since they are designed for everyday use. They are comfortable to wear for sports, at home, and before and after exercising. Make sure your jacket is wide enough to wear a jumper underneath it.

Classic, athletic fleece jackets

Classic 200g/m² models as well as micro fleece and waffle fleece jackets feature a regular, athletic fit and are usually worn on top of a layer of functional clothing and underneath a weatherproof or insulated jacket. The thickest is not always the warmest. Therefore, you should not buy a fleece jacket that is really wide. It is always better to wear a thin, long-sleeved functional shirt underneath it instead of a heavy jumper. Such jackets are just as commonly worn for skiing, trekking and hillwalking. They can be worn as versatile and warm everyday clothing as well.

Slim-fitting stretch fleece jackets are definitely the sportiest of fleeces. They offer moderate weather protection and outstanding temperature management and drying properties. Since the elastane serves to provide a lot of flexibility, these jackets should fit tightly. Such jackets are most often worn for endurance sports, mountaineering, climbing, and skiing.

Hard fleece

Hard fleece jackets are somewhat heavier and tougher. Since they can also be worn as outer jackets, you should go for a wider jacket so you can wear a midlayer underneath. At cool temperatures, hard fleece jackets can serve as particularly breathable weatherproof jackets when combined with lightly insulated softshells. The jacket is perfect for just about any any occasion.

You should consider both the fit and the cut of your fleece jacket, just as you would do when buying a regular women’s or men’s jacket. Some jackets are longer (in the back), some are short and can be worn underneath an outer jacket, and some models feature a tapered, feminine design.

Thumb loops, pockets and hood

Marmot fleece jacket with thumb loops
Marmot fleece jacket with thumb loops

Many jackets come with long sleeves and thumb loops. The number and arrangement of the pockets is just as important as the cuffs (fixed or adjustable). Fleece jackets with hoods are just as fashionable as they are practical. The hoods are either adjustable or have a precise fit and can be worn underneath most climbing and cycling helmets.

Due to their flat design, most fleece jackets are made to be worn as a midlayer. Some particularly athletic jackets are designed as hybrids. This means that either the material is reinforced at different spots or different types of fleece were incorporated into the jacket (i.e. stretch under the arms). High-quality fabrics are resistant to pilling, keep their shape, easy to clean, and durable. The perfect fleece jacket is an integral part of your outdoor gear!

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