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Fleeces are made from synthetic insulated fabrics and are highly breathable, machine-washable, and quick drying.
Technically, we’re talking about synthetic Polar fleece here, made with polyester, as opposed to the kind of fleece harvested from sheep.
Polar fleece is a relatively new material in the outdoors market, and was first created in the USA by Malden Mills, founder of Polartec, in 1979.
It was an instant hit with walkers, campers and mountaineers as it’s naturally hydrophobic, barely retaining water when wet and making it very quick to dry.
It’s also deliciously warm, but does not withstand wind that well – so if you’re out in the elements, a fleece is best used worn over base layers and under a waterproof, windproof shell jacket.
The versatility of fleece fabric means there are myriad types of light mid layers available, including zipped jackets, pullovers, gilets and hoodies.
These come in different weights, too – lightweight, thin fleeces work best as part of a layering system, whilst thick, chunky fleeces work well when worn alone.
What should I look for in a fleece?
If you’re planning on wearing your fleece under a waterproof jacket we’d recommend picking a lightweight half or quarter zip pullover.
If you want a fleece layer you can wear on its own, a zipped hoody or a jacket is your most versatile bet. Zipped pockets are useful, and a high-cut neck and elasticated cuffs help retain heat, too.
Fleece is animal-friendly
Fleece is also good option for vegans and for anyone who doesn’t wear wool, or if you’re avoiding animal down.
Newly fabricated fleece isn’t particularly good for the environment, although it has been proved to be long-lasting, which is a plus.
But it’s possible to make fleece jackets from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles or from recycled fleece material, and these models are a great eco-conscious choice.
Fleece is a brilliantly warm material – but it’s not usually much good in windy weather. Not so Alpkit’s Yakutian, which is designed to be warm even when the wind is biting.
The dense knit of the outer material traps in heat, and the soft brushed inner layer feels comfortable to wear all day long. Thumb loops and a longline cut make this a great mid layer for skiing and snowboarding, too.
We love the slim, stretchy fit - if you find most fleeces rather bulky and want something sleek and easy to layer under a waterproof, this is a quality choice.
After a simple fleece you can wear daily and that won’t break the bank? Look no further than TOG24’s Shire.
Currently reduced to under £25, this is a fuss-free casual fleece that’s ideal for dog walking, popping on for the walk to work or just to have on hand as a spare cosy layer on chilly days.
This simple design sports two pockets and a comfy high neck, and its fleece material is pleasingly soft against the skin. The Shire’s longer cut is flattering and looks great with jeans.
At this price point, it’s a no-brainer, and one you’re likely to get plenty of use out of.
A comfy fleece that’s technical enough for hiking adventures, all for under £25? Decathlon pull it out of the bag with their Hiking fleece jacket for women from own brand Quechua.
This slim-cut fleece is stretchy and lightweight enough to work brilliantly when worn under waterproof layers for walking trips.
We like the flattering hood and the breathable side panels, which help keep you cool when you pick up the pace.
This isn’t a bulky, warming fleece for winter – save it for use as a mid layer on spring and autumn hikes, or as an outer layer in sunny weather. Various colourways are available.
The North Face know their onions when it comes to reliable outdoor wear, and their Glacier fleece is one of our favourite pieces – an easy fleece jumper you’ll find yourself wearing everywhere you go exploring.
The Glacier is super soft, has a flattering feminine cut and holds its shape after multiple washes.
It’s a pity there are no pockets, though.
Currently reduced to £25 in some colourways (the black is a handy neutral piece you could also wear to work), and a full zip jacket version is also available.
This is fleece, but not as you know it – Rab’s Superflux is made with Thermic stretch fleece, which is sleek and slim on the body but still packs enough stretch and warmth to keep you comfortable even when you’re on fast-moving scrambling or climbing adventures.
The Superflux traps body heat in nicely but is also relatively breathable, making it ideal for winter sports, and other technical features include pockets that are compatible with a climbing harness, and a hood designed to fit under a helmet.
The perfect companion if you’re heading for the hills.
Paramo reckon the Alize offers ‘warmth, water-repellence, wind-resistance, breathability and comfort in one soft, stretchy hoodie’.
We’d have to agree, this is a high-performing, adventure-ready mid layer, and our top pick if you’re after a fleece for outdoor sports.
We love how velvety smooth the outer material is, and despite how thin and lightweight the fabric of the Alize is (you’ll barely notice you’re wearing it), this jacket offers instant welcome warmth and traps in heat while still letting your body breathe.
That soft outer material is water repellent, too, and will withstand light rain.
While we like the slim cut of the Alize, we would suggest ordering a size up, as the fit is on the small side.
Swedish outdoor brand Fjallraven have applied their know-how to fleece and made a basic hoody into a seriously covetable jacket.
The Övik is made with recycled polyester, and has a deliciously soft brushed inner layer and a bobble-resistant knitted outer.
Zipped pockets and a well-cut hood make it easy to wear anywhere, and we found it one of the most wind-resistant models we tried out.
The Övik was not the most breathable fleece on test, but it is very warm – ideal for everything from casual winter walks to wearing down the pub, and this fleece is also thick enough to work alone as a jacket in warmer weather.