desert climbers on ridgeFleece has been around for nearly 30 years now. It is universally found not only in outdoor clothing but in many standard clothing brands. This commonality means that we might think we know all there is to know about fleece. But do we? How complicated is the simple fleece and what does it have to offer us?



What are the positive attributes of fleece?

Fleece is warm, quick drying, light and easy to move in.

What are the limitations of fleece?

It is in no way windproof or weather proof! Wind will cut straight through you when wearing a fleece. If you are wet as well this can lead to serious chilling.

How have manufacturers tried to get around these limitations?

Standard fleece. This is often sold as part of a layering system. Base layer, mid layer (fleece) and shell is still the traditional and much adhered to way of getting the best use out of your fleece. Partially superseded in some respects this system remains practical and popular.

What is grid patterened fleece?  Grid patterned fleece is a very light weight garment that dries very efficiently without loosing its insulating properties. Working on the principle of the string vest the grid 'touch points' draw off sweat and wick the moisture over the surface fabric. The gaps between the grids trap more air offering more insulation.

Pertex shell sewn over the fleece. This was the first attempt to windproof fleece and it works well without compromising the breathability of the garment. The Pertex takes the sting out of the wind and allows some shower resistance. This design is still fundamentally sound. The reason it remains less than popular is that it often looks terrible. This is however changing slowly. The Rab Vapour Rise range of clothing looks increasingly respectable. This type of fleece is often referred to as Soft Shell and comes in a wide variety of fleece and Pertex thicknesses.

Membrane Fleece. Several companies produce fleece jackets that have a breathable membrane laminated between two layers of fleece. Windstopper (Gore) and Windbloc (Polartec) would be two examples of this type of fleece fabric. The advantage of this type of fabric is that it gives you wind resistance, looks like a normal fleece and therefore you can be seen at the pub in it. As a stand alone jacket it certainly has its place when walking or cragging in non winter conditions in the UK. Unfortunately these jackets do have limitations for other activities. They are harder to dry, stiffer, heavier and when worn with a shell jacket often much less breathable than a normal fleece.

Tighter weave fleece. This is a good way to reduce wind chill without compromising the breathability of the fleece. Polartec Wind Pro is a good example of this type of fleece fabric. Offering excellent breathability it is still not quite as windproof as some of the other options available.

What does 100, 200, 300 weight fleece mean?

These three weights were the three weights that Polartec introduced when they originally released their range of fleece fabrics. They still exist as Classic 100, 200, 300 from Polartec. Other manufacturers did and still do sometimes use these numbers as a way to differentiate between their fabric ranges as well. It should be mentioned that probably 200 and certainly 300 weight fleece has been superseded for technical use by other types of synthetic and down insulation. 300 weight is too heavy and bulky for climbing use.

How do I compare all these different types of fleece garment on the market with so many different types of fleeces and fleece fabrics?

Different manufacturers use different brands of fabric such as Gore or Polartec or their own named brands of fabric. Patagonia has its own Regulator range of fabrics to distinguish between different weights, thickness or wind resistance of fleece fabrics. There are several ways that you can negotiate the fleece minefield. Talking to a knowledgeable member of staff in Outside is one of them. If you want to figure out what is best for your purposes yourself then go online and look at a clothing brand or fabric manufacturer brand websites. Polartec, Gore, Patagonia, Arcteryx and many more all describe their fabrics and their practical uses in detail.

Does paying more for a fleece really make a difference?

Yes. The cheapest fleeces are perfectly good as a mid layer under a shell or as an outer layer in the summer. The more expensive fleeces however might incorporate more wind resistance, faster drying times or lighter weights. Not only this but more expensive garments are generally better designed with stretch panels to ease movement or more technical cuts that make clothing easier to climb in.

To learn more about Fleece fabrics vist


Images © Patagonia, John Dickey, Location: International (route name) above the village of Hibsche, Oman with Jebal Misht in the background.

TUESDAY, JULY 30, 2013

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