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Now in turn fleece is being displaced by other fabrics, but it's

still a useful tool to pack in your outdoors arsenal. But which one

should you choose? We guide you through the soft, fluffy fleece

jungle...

What's it for and why is it good?

Put simply, the stuff is there to keep you warm. It's a matted,

mesh of synthetic fibres that'll trap warm air, dry out reasonably

quickly, feel comfy and luxurious and pack down fast. It's basically

a high tech pullover.

Conventional fleece has very little wind or water resistance, so

in anything short of perfectly still conditions, you'll need to wear

it with some sort of waterproof or windproof shell to stop the

trapped warm air in the fibres from blowing away.

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There are three classic fleece weights originally introduced by

Malden Mills the makers of Polartec fleece.

  • 100

    weight or microfleece is the lightest normal fleece and the limit

    for many people as an undershell insulator when moving fast. It

    packs small and light and may be all you need except in really

    cool conditions.

  • 200 weight or midweight / normal fleece is twice the weight

    per square metre as microfleece and is significantly warmer. Many

    people will find it too heavy for active use, particularly with a

    shell, however it's ideal for stops and for less active use when

    camping and so on.

  • 300 weight or heavyweight fleece is a third heavier again and

    is next to useless for active use, though great for sitting around

    in cold climbing huts, snuggling in pubs and caffs and generally

    staying warm when stationary.

If you run on the warm side then a 100 weight microfleece might be

your best choice, if you run cooler then think about 200 weight and

for active use, forget about the heavier 300-weight

fabrics.

Own brands

It used to be the case that Polartec fleece substantially

outperformed cheaper, own brand fleeces which were prone to bobbling

with use. Things have changed though and the latest own brand fabrics

from outdoor brands are much better than they used to be. Polartec

has also dropped its prices and this winter, Regatta is selling

genuine Polartec fleece.

We'd happily use most own brand fleeces for general outdoor

use.

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One of the side effects of the levelling out of the fleece playing

field has been the development of a range of 'clever' fleeces with

premium prices. The four most obvious are:

  • Ultrafleece

    or Karisma - a densely woven fleece used by Mountain Equipment,

    Montane and others, it's significantly more wind resistant than

    'normal' fleece and slightly less thermally efficient making it

    more versatile for UK mountain use. A good option though now being

    superceded by shelled microfleeces. Polartec's Thermal Pro is a

    ver similar fabric, but also available in heavier weights.

  • Powerstretch - made by Polartec, Powerstretch is a

    close-fitting, stretchy fleece derivative that's thermally

    efficient and works well in technical situations. Not the most

    flattering fabric out there, but hey, eat less do-nuts....

  • Thermal Pro is Polartec's range of high tec fleeces at

    high tec prices. It covers a whole range of fabrics, but the

    common factor is that they use cunning fabric structures to make

    the fleece significantly warmer for its weight than you'd expect.

    In weights all the way from microfleece through to heavier, furry

    grades like MHW's Monkey Phur. It first appeared as Patagonia's

    Regulator fleece.

  • Warm Zone is the result of Lowe Alpine's co-operation

    with Du Pont. It maps thick and thin areas of a tough, stretch

    fleece onto the body so you get insulation where you need it most.

    Light and warm, it looks strange, but we like it.

Windproof fleece

We've used lots of windproof fleece over the years and so far,

none of it has been breathable enough for active use in the UK,

though it may function better in cold, dry mountain conditions at

high altitude. Frankly we believe there are better alternatives to

windproof fleece such as Schoeller, synthetically insulated windproof

jackets and some types of softshell. We'd save this for dog

walking.

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Most fleece tops are based on a simple jacket or smock design but

there are a few points you should be aware of when buying....

  • Closer

    cut jackets will be more thermally efficient and eliminate air

    pockets which allow you to lose heat watch out for lost mobility

    though.

  • Handwarmer pockets are great for general use, but if you're

    planning to use a pack with belt or a harness, you should opt for

    chest pockets which won't get in the way instead.

  • An adjustable hem and close-fitting cuffs are near essential,

    without them air will be free to billow into and out of your

    top.

  • A nice, comfy collar will keep your neck warm on winter days

    and stop shell jacket from rubbing unpleasantly.

  • There are a few technical fleeces with hoods around, though

    generally the hoods are designed to be used for extra heat during

    stops and under helmets. Look for captive drawcords which won't

    whip into your face in high winds and ideally the ability to cover

    the lower part of your face.

  • Zip-In fleeces are a waste of time for proper outdoor use. The

    system leaves a cold gap where the zip is plus is less versatile

    than a seperate fleece and shell jacket. Don't bother.

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As clothing technology's developed, alternatives to fleece have appeared

many of which are either more weather resistant or lighter for the

insulation value than fleece.

One alternative is shelled microfleece - for example

Marmot's Driclime range or ME's Microtherm - which uses a very

lightweight fleece lining with a woven, windproof outer.

The other is synthetically insulated jackets which use a

lightweight synthetic fibre - often Primaloft - in a windproof shell

to give effective, damp resistant insulation.

Both are definitely worth considering for active use, but lack

that luxurious soft touch for sitting around the caff after a hard

day on the hill.