Wool vs. Fleece

Wool vs. Fleece

Are you planning to do some outdoor adventures along with your friends but currently stuck whether to choose wool or fleece as a mid-layer? Well, there’s an easy solution to that. You can compare their respective advantages and disadvantages. This way, you’ll easily know which one is better based on your needs.

While it is crucial to choose the right base layer, selecting an excellent mid-layer is just as important. Intense activities that can make you sweat a lot require good moisture-wicking capability from all layers and not just the base. Even if your base layer has excellent breathability, it will not matter if your mid-layer doesn’t have a decent one.

Wool and fleece are the two most common insulating fabrics that are used for much mid-layer clothing. So, to find out which one is better for your next outdoor trip, make sure to stay tuned!

Let’s dive right in!

Fleece

Fleece is made of polyester blend or polyester. It is a type of synthetic material that was created to imitate wool.

This fabric is widely used in various clothing, especially for hiking applications in cold weather conditions. Fleece has excellent properties that can provide you good comfort and warmth so you can focus more on your outdoor activities.

wool and fleece hiking gear

Comfortability

Fleece feels nice against the skin since it is very soft. Its softness is similar to cotton, while its texture is the same as a yarn. Additionally, it doesn’t itch, which makes it perfect as an alternative to wool. Fleece provides a very warm feeling to the wearer. That’s why it is used in many baby towels, sweatshirts, as well as sweatpants.

Durability

Since fleece has excellent durability, you don’t need to worry about mildew or mold. Aside from that, fleece won’t easily get damaged by overcompression. Naturally, fleece is very durable. Even if you wear it for almost every day for a couple of years, you will only see it getting a bit thin but not worn out.

Easy to Wash

With fleece, you don’t need to use any specific drying technique or special laundry detergent. You can simply throw it in the laundry with the rest of your garments. Not to mention that it is quick-drying as well.

xenolith sweater
via @koraoutdoor on Instagram

Excellent Water Repellency

Because fleece has excellent water repellency, you don’t need to worry about getting wet and cold. Also, even if it gets wet due to too much water, fleece naturally dries quickly. Overall, fleece is a very versatile material.  It also feels nice to the skin, especially when layered with either waterproof or windproof outer-layers.

Ethical

Unlike wool, fleece is not made from animal fibers because it is a synthetic fabric that is made from polyester. Polyester comes from plastic, and its fibers are woven into a light fabric. This fabric is brushed, so it increases in volume.

Sometimes, natural fibers such as rayon, hemp, or wool are mixed into the fleece to produce a specific vibrancy or texture of the fabric. Lastly, fleece can also be created from recycled plastics like water bottles. This makes fleece environment-friendly while being inexpensive since it doesn’t use animal products.

Affordability

Fleece clothing is usually affordable, but with few exceptions such as fully waterproof or windproof fleece garments that are normally found in high-performance jackets like softshells.

fleece gear
via @koraoutdoor on Instagram

Lightweight

Since fleece is a lightweight fabric, it is very comfortable to wear. Therefore, it adds no extra heft to the layering system. While generally lightweight, fleece still comes in different weights that insulate at a different rate, which is an advantage since you’ll have a variety of choices.

Breathability

Fleece has excellent breathability as it allows moisture to move through. Additionally, it can wick moisture away effectively, which also helps in maintaining the interior of the clothing dry. Breathability is crucial, so you don’t get soaked in moisture, especially in bad weather conditions.

fleece gear on winter
via @ninac820 on Instagram

Low Adsorption

One of the main traits of fleece is its ability to allow moisture to pass through. Technically, all fabrics will allow water through. However, fleece works differently because it has a low absorption rate. This allows moisture to pass through the fabric without being resisted by the fabric’s fibers.

Quick-Drying

Quick-drying is related to the low adsorption property of fleece to wick moisture away. Clothing that mainly uses fleece dries very fast, which makes them perfect for different weather conditions.

Wool

Wool is an excellent fabric with great insulation. It has characteristics that are difficult to copy, even with our current technological advantages. So, what makes wool really good material?

Flame Retardant

In terms of fire safety, wool is an excellent material to be used. Due to the structure of the wool fiber, it needs more oxygen that is available in the atmosphere to become flammable. Of the most typically used fiber materials such as nylon, acrylic, polyester, rayon, and cotton, wool is prominent for being the most flame retardant. Wool doesn’t drip, melt, or stick to the skin when it burns, which makes it perfect for camping.

wool gear on winter
via @lilyslensonlife on Instagram

UV Protection

Wool, particularly Merino wool, is perfect for outdoor wear as it gives excellent protection against UV rays. In particular, wool provides a natural UV protection factor of up to 30+. It effectively absorbs the sun’s UV rays before it can make contact with the wearer’s skin.

Sustainable

The wool comes from animals, which make it a natural product, and thus it is both renewable and biodegradable at the same time. Compared to synthetic materials, wool will decompose. After a woolen clothing has been worn out, you can simply put it underground, and it will gradually compost.

Long-Lasting

The exceptional flexibility of wool fibers makes them more long-lasting. Naturally, wool fiber can be bent back on itself around 20,000 times without breaking. This is a huge difference compared to about 2,000 times for silk and 3,000 times for cotton. Furthermore, wool has an excellent elasticity, which makes its fabrics more resistant to tearing. Additionally, the outer skin of wool fibers acts as a protective film, which provides wool cloth an enhanced resistance to abrasion.

wool backpacking winter
via @koraoutdoor on Instagram

Water Repellent

Wool fibers are coated with lanolin, which makes the fabric exhibit great water-repellency. It can also maintain dryness for a significant amount of time. Wool can still provide some insulation, even if it gets wet.

Temperature Regulation

Similar to many animal-sourced materials, wool comes with great temperature regulation. It has excellent breathability, which prevents overheating. It also effectively insulates by keeping you warm in cold weather.

Odor-Resistant

Wool textiles and clothing have excellent natural odor resistance because of wool fibers’ unique traits. These fibers have the capability to absorb large amounts of water vapor, which is twice as much as cotton and thirty times as much as Polyester. This absorption property of wool helps to prevent the accumulation of unpleasant smells, bacteria, and sweat. It also helps to keep your skin drier.

wool winter skiing
via @koraoutdoor on Instagram

Wool vs. Fleece Comparison Table

 WoolFleece
Adsorption++++
Breathability++++++
Drying++++
Weight+++++
Affordability++++
Temperature Regulation++++
Durability+++++
Insulation+++++
Water Resistance+++++
Wind Resistance+++++
Easy to Wash++++
Comfort+++++
Environment Friendly++++

Wool vs. Fleece

Water-Resistance

While both wool and fleece have great insulation properties, the latter has a slight advantage since it has better temperature-regulation. Thus, it is also much better in wet conditions. When it comes to fleece, it typically gets wet faster compared to wool. Once it is wet, it has almost no insulating capability left.

Meanwhile, wool is much better in wet environments because its fibers have lanolin. The only drawback for wool is it takes a long time to dry compared to fleece.

wool vs fleece winter gear
via @eemilyameliaa on Instagram

Weight

Compared to wool fiber, fleece fiber is incredibly lightweight. It is a synthetic material, and it is specifically made as an alternative to wool to compensate for some of the wool’s undesired characteristics. In this case, it’s the weight. With fleece’s lighter fibers, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts can get rid of some of their unnecessary loads.

Odor-Resistance

When it comes to preventing odor, wool is a better choice than fleece. Odor-resistance is an important factor if you’re planning to spend a couple of days for your outdoor adventure. The excellent natural absorption property of wool helps to prevent the accumulation of sweat and bacteria. Additionally, unlike fleece, wool helps in keeping your skin drier.

Breathability

Both wool and fleece have excellent breathability. However, fleece garments with waterproof and wind-resistant membranes are not as breathable. Wool is a better option if you want a balance in protection and comfort.

cold-resistant jacket
via @malahphoto on Instagram

Affordability

Fleece was created because wool, particularly Merino wool, is pretty expensive. Even though wool is environment-friendly and high quality, sourcing, and processing, it takes a lot of time. It takes up to two years for a sheep to be sheared, which means wool supply is very limited. Hence, wool garments are expensive compared to fleece.

Our favorite Fleece Mid-layers

The North Face Men's Apex Bionic 2 Jacket

The North Face Men’s Apex Bionic 2 Jacket is a heavy-duty casual jacket. It is robust and durable, but not really suitable for athletic applications or technical trips because of its boxier cut and stiff fabric. This jacket is a preferred softshell jacket for the general public due to its casual styling, durability, and its weather resistance.

It’s a nice, inexpensive jacket for people who want a good looking coat that can withstand cold conditions but don’t really want the additional protection of a hood. It also sports a very good weather-resistance and will surely block light precipitation and wind. Expect it to keep you warm and dry if you mainly use it in the snow or around your town.

To sum it up, the North Face Men’s Apex Bionic 2 has been a best-selling outerwear for many years now, mainly thanks to its durable, comfortable, and thick design while having a reasonable price.

Marmot Women's Flashpoint Jacket

If you’re looking for an affordable mid-layer, then the Marmot Flashpoint Jacket won’t let you down. It is crafted with a 100g/m2 weight fleece, which makes it one of the lightest mid-layers in this review. This one is a perfect choice for activewear or an additional layer of warmth in cold conditions.

It has great breathability and big enough to fit over thicker base layers. The thin material makes it comfortable to wear under a jacket. It is easy to pack away and carry as it only comes in 9.3 ounces in size small.

The Marmot Flashpoint Jacket is pretty soft against the skin. Since it’s so light, you will barely notice that it’s there. Its seams are made with flatlock construction for a comfortable fit. Marmot has also incorporated two handwarmer pockets in this mid-layer to make the chilly days more tolerable.

Overall, we like Marmot Flashpoint Jacket’s simplicity. It layers well and fits into a backpack easily. If you are searching for an inexpensive mid-layer, then this one’s for you.

The North Face Women's Osito Jacket

The North Face Osito Mid-Layer is a warm fleece that works well under an outer shell. It is made with a lofted raschel fleece. The manufacturer categorizes it as a midweight fleece. But for us, it seems like a heavyweight when it comes to warmth. Its hi-loft fleece is comfortable against your skin while insulating your body heat.

Its hand-warming pockets are lined with soft microfleece. Additionally, it comes with a zipper guard just in case you want to completely zip up the high collar. The North Face Osito comes with a very reasonable price compared to many of the more technical fleeces in the market today.

Overall, it is a basic mid-layer that will certainly keep you warm on freezing days. It is a nice layer for the slopes, and for sure, it will look good on the deck at the end of the day as well.

Our favorite Merino Wool Mid-layers

Icebreaker – Descender Long Sleeve Zip – Women's

The Icebreaker Descender Long Sleeve Zip comprises 3% Lycra Elastane, 9% Nylon, and 88% Wool. It comes with a zip neck collar for additional temperature regulation.

Also, it has nice mobility and stretches since it has lycra content. It has improved durability because of its Corespun fabric. It is a technical and versatile mid-layer crafted to breathe and insulate during cold days along the trails, out on the slopes, or even up in the mountains. The Icebreaker Descender Long Sleeve Zip is always ready for any of your adventures.

Smartwool Men's Base Layer Top - Merino 250 Wool Active 1/4 Zip Outerwear

The Men’s Merino 250 Wool Active ¼ Zip Outerwear is crafted with an interlock knit for improved odor-resistance, thermoregulation, breathability, and comfort. You can wear it all day long without feeling any discomfort thanks to its conventional zipper design and Merino-covered shoulder panels.

It also has an added comfort due to its targeted ventilation and insulation, which is perfect for some pretty intense activities. It is also very durable because of its flatlock seam design. This construction helps in significantly reducing chafing, which makes it perfect to wear underneath a snow jacket during a long day of winter hiking.

Overall, the Smartwool Men’s Merino 250 Wool Active ¼ Zip Outerwear is worth the price because it provides excellent thermoregulation, odor control, wicking properties, breathability, and warmth. It also offers next-to-skin comfort during colder days.

Icebreaker – Tech Trainer Hybrid Jacket – Men's

The Icebreaker Tech Trainer Hybrid Jacket is a technical layering piece crafted for cold-weather training and running. It sports a hybrid construction that provides an optimal balance of breathability, protection, and warmth. Its main fabric features a stretchy and soft midweight jersey blend of Lycra and Merino wool that stretches and insulates.

Across the upper shoulders and front arms, there are zoned panels of ultralight, air-permeable Pertex Quantum Air fabric that integrates a DWR finish to repel windy conditions and light moisture. Additionally, its offset shoulder seams prevent chafing when you are carrying a pack. It is also incorporated with Nylon, which significantly adds durability.

Conclusion

Your choice will ultimately come down to your use of the mid-layer and the weather conditions that you expect. If you’re not that concerned about the price, then we highly recommend wool because it is fully loaded with excellent characteristics that we have discussed above. On the other hand, if you’re not willing to spend more and you feel like you’re going to be active on your next outdoor adventure, then fleece is your best bet as it dries quickly and wicks sweat effectively.

In terms of overall performance and factors, wool is better compared to fleece. It is more expensive than most fabrics out there. But considering how highly it performs, it is just worth the price. If you are frequently doing some casual outdoor activities, then wool is a good investment.

On the flip side, you’re just looking to wear a low-priced mid-layers; a fleece mid-layer is a nice option. Aside from being relatively inexpensive, it possesses excellent traits that are on par with wool. These traits include excellent breathability, durability, comfortability, and water repellency.

But then again, it’s your needs that matter most when choosing the right fabric.