Fleece vs. Wool: Which One Is Warmer for Your Winter Adventures?

Fleece vs. Wool: Which One Is Warmer for Your Winter Adventures?

Wool and fleece are fabrics usually worn in winter. If you're going on a cold adventure, you might be thinking about whether it makes a difference to wear wool or fleece. So let our guide walk you through the debate of fleece vs. wool and which one is warmer for your winter adventures.

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What is the wool fabric?

Fleece vs. Wool: Which One Is Warmer for Your Winter Adventures?

Wool, a natural fabric with a history spanning thousands of years, is not exclusive to sheep. It can be sourced from various animals, such as goats, alpacas, llamas, and musk oxen. While sheep's wool is the most common, there are different breeds resulting in varying qualities and prices.

Less common types of wool include cashmere from cashmere goats and qiviut wool from musk oxen. Wool from llamas and alpacas, often referred to as fleece due to its distinct texture, is still technically a type of wool, causing some confusion.

To produce wool fabric, the fur from wool-producing animals needs to be sheared annually for their health and comfort. Without shearing, the fur can become matted, tangled, and harbor bacteria. Early civilizations utilized sheared wool to create fabric for clothing and textiles. The process involves separating, cleaning, and spinning the fibers into yarn, which is then woven into fabric.

As wool can come from different animals, the texture and qualities of the fabric may vary. Generally, wool is known for its warmth, durability, and often higher cost.

What is the fleece fabric?

The term "fleece" commonly refers to the wool of alpacas and llamas, but in textiles, it's often associated with a synthetic fabric. Unlike natural fibers like wool or cotton, synthetic fabric is man-made in a factory.

Fleece is not synthetic wool but was created to imitate its softness. It is typically made from polyester, a plastic derived from petroleum and other chemicals. Fleece fabric can have various textures depending on its production method, with polyester spun into yarn and woven into fabric using different weaves.

Examples of fleece include sherpa, made from 100% polyester with a fluffy texture used in jackets and hats, and polar fleece, thicker and commonly used for blankets. While most fleece is 100% polyester, some blends incorporate cotton for use as interior linings for clothing.

Polyester fleece with added spandex is stretchier and often used in cold-weather activewear. The synthetic nature of fleece provides versatility, resulting in durable and warm fabric options.

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What's the difference between fleece and wool?

Fleece vs. Wool: Which One Is Warmer for Your Winter Adventures?

Both wool and fleece excel in providing insulation for cold weather, despite their distinct origins. Wool, derived from sheep, serves as nature's efficient material for moisture-wicking clothing. On the other hand, fleece, crafted from polyester, represents a modern engineering solution.

Breathability

In selecting fabrics for warmth, breathability is essential for comfort. Wool and fleece are generally breathable, but it's worth noting that wool, being a natural fiber from animal coats, tends to be slightly more breathable than fleece. The circulation of air among wool fibers is vital due to its animal origin.

While different types of fleece fabrics vary in breathability depending on their weaving methods, some, like sherpa fleece, may feel less breathable when used in clothing. Additionally, fleece can be treated with coatings like flame retardants or waterproofing, reducing its breathability by impeding air penetration through the fibers. In terms of breathability, wool holds a slight advantage over fleece.

Durability

Fleece, being made from synthetic materials, is generally more durable than wool. Synthetic fabrics, like fleece, are designed to be sturdy and long-lasting with strong, resilient fibers that don't easily break. They usually require minimal care to maintain their durability.

Wool, while inherently strong and more durable than natural fabrics, such as cotton and silk, needs proper care to retain its qualities over time. In terms of durability, synthetic fleece has a slight edge over wool. For winter clothing that will see frequent use, fleece is the preferable choice.

Warmth

Which is warmer: fleece or wool?

Wool is naturally designed to provide insulation and keep animals warm, making it slightly warmer than fleece. It is commonly used in heavy winter coats for excellent warmth, especially in very cold climates. However, wool's downside is that it is most effective when dry. If soaked by rain, snow, or other elements, it takes longer to dry compared to fleece.

Fleece is warm but not as naturally warm as wool. Its advantage lies in quick-drying when wet due to its synthetic nature and low water absorption. In cold and wet conditions, fleece can keep you warmer than wet wool.

Both fabrics have their advantages, and the choice depends on your activities and the weather. For cold and wet weather with outdoor activities, fleece may be the better option. In cold but dry conditions, wool will provide better warmth than fleece.

Weight

Wool is heavier than fleece, contributing to its ability to keep you warmer by trapping warm air. However, if wool gets wet, it becomes even heavier, and since wool takes longer to dry, this is not ideal.

Fleece, being synthetic, is lightweight, with most of its warmth coming from its fluffy texture rather than its weight. This lightweight nature puts fleece at a slight disadvantage for warmth.

For those who find heavy fabrics uncomfortable, the lightweight nature of fleece might be preferred to the heaviness of wool.

Softness

Fleece comes in various textures, generally softer than wool and sometimes feeling similar to cotton. Its softness makes it excellent as a clothing lining, providing comfort against the skin and avoiding itchiness.

Wool, on the other hand, can feel dense and itchy over time due to the natural texture of its fibers, often influenced by its weight.

Many types of wool contain lanolin, causing allergies and discomfort for some individuals, even if the wool feels soft. However, the softness of wool varies among different animals. For instance, cashmere is one of the softest wools while alpaca is also soft and lacks lanolin, making it suitable for those with wool allergies. It's essential to note that softer, higher-quality wool tends to be more expensive.

Moisture-wicking

Both fleece and wool effectively repel moisture. Natural fibers like wool, originating from animals, inherently possess high water repellency to keep the animals dry. As long as wool doesn't become fully saturated, it excels at wicking away moisture.

Fleece is also moisture-wicking because it doesn't absorb much moisture. Even when used as a clothing lining, if the outer fabric gets wet, the inner fleece layer remains relatively dry. Even if fleece becomes saturated, it dries quickly. Both fabrics exhibit excellent moisture-wicking abilities, so the choice between them depends on your activities and weather conditions.

Ease of Care

Fleece is easy to care for and can be washed in the machine with regular laundry. However, it's important to avoid high heat as synthetic fibers can be damaged or melt, affecting the fabric's texture.

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For wool, hand-washing is recommended using lukewarm water and a mild detergent. Gently squeeze the water out without wringing and lay it flat to dry to maintain its shape. Avoid hanging wool to dry, as it can lead to stretching. Never use bleach on wool, and for knit wool fabrics like sweaters, folding is preferable to prevent stretching. Avoid putting wool in the dryer as it can easily shrink.

Cost

Wool is pricier than fleece because animals producing wool can only be sheared once a year, making the wool supply lower and production more challenging. Rarer wool types like qiviut, cashmere, and alpaca are even more expensive. In contrast, fleece is more affordable as it is synthetic and easier to produce through chemical reactions, contributing to its lower cost.

Uses

Wool and fleece are used similarly for cold-weather outerwear, including blankets, scarves, coats, and socks. Wool is also used for sweaters, while fleece can be standalone or used as a lining under fabrics like denim jackets. The key distinction is that fleece is often used for performance wear while wool is more common in casual or business attire like suits and pants. 

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Fleece vs. wool: Which one is better for hiking?

Fleece vs. Wool: Which One Is Warmer for Your Winter Adventures?

Wool and fleece are both excellent choices for cold-weather wear, but determining the better option depends on your preferences and activities.

Wool might be preferred if you like natural fabrics and prioritize sustainability as it's more eco-friendly and doesn't involve harmful chemicals. Wool is warm, durable, and stylish, making it suitable for leisurely activities. However, it's pricier and requires more care, making it less ideal for heavy outdoor activities.

If you're vegan or allergic to wool, fleece is a synthetic and more affordable alternative with similar qualities. It's easy to care for, making it suitable for everyday wear, and a great choice for outdoor activities like hiking or exercising in the cold.

RELATED: The Best Sustainable Fabrics for Different Seasons and Occasions

#wemovetogether Wrapped in Warmth

Whether you choose wool or fleece-lined clothing when shopping for winter clothing, either makes an excellent choice to keep you warm and cozy. Your preference and reasons for wearing them are key factors.

Explore the warmth, comfort, and style of our Merino Wool and All Fleece-Lined collections, ideal for all your winter activities.

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