Fleece Vs Polyester: Which is Better for Outdoor Clothing? 8 Questions Answered

Last Updated on 03/07/2023

fleece vs polyester

In this article, we compare the pros and cons of Fleece Vs Polyester. We explain what fleece is made from and why polyester works differently, even though it is made of the same material.

Before we jump into the topic of fleece vs polyester, it is important to recognize that most fleece products are made from polyester, which has been brushed to make it loftier. So polyester and fleece are made of the same thing (most of the time), but they feel and wear very differently. Let’s figure out what the differences are.

Fleece Vs Polyester

Polyester offers durability and resistance to the elements, while fleece provides supreme softness and warmth. When deciding which is the better material for your needs, you can simplify the choice to warmth/comfort = fleece, and breathability and durability = polyester.

There are many different types of fleece, though, and even more variations of polyester. Let’s try and get more specific s we can figure out which is best out of polyester or fleece.

Difference Between Fleece and Polyester

Different Types of Fleece

When you think of fleece, you probably think of a mid-layer top that is lightweight and warm. You might not think there would be more than nine different types of fleece, but here you are.


This type of fleece is very thin and lightweight, making it perfect for layering. Microfleece is ideal for situations where you want warmth without bulk. Microfleece is often used as a backer or liner for fabrics that aren’t as comfortable, like the collar of a waterproof jacket where it touches your chin.

Midweight Fleece

This is the standard type of fleece you’ll find in most fleece jackets. It’s warmer and thicker than microfleece but not as heavy or thick as heavyweight fleece. This is by far the most common type of fleece and what most people think of when they hear the word.

Heavyweight Fleece

As the name suggests, this type of fleece is thick and offers the highest warmth. It’s typically used in outerwear designed for extremely cold temperatures. They provide amazing insulation in winter as part of a layering system but work very well as an outer layer too.

Sherpa Fleece

Sherpa fleece is designed to mimic the properties of wool. It’s characterized by a distinct fluffy texture on one side and smooth on the other. Sherpa fleece, also known as pile fleece, is very comfortable next to the skin and is also quite breathable for how warm it can be. I always think of the Mountain Hardwear Monkeyman Fleece when I think of Sherpa.

Mountain Hardwear Men's Standard Polartec Microfleece 1/4 Zip, Black, Medium

Polar Fleece

This is a type of polyester fleece that’s very warm, lightweight, and soft. Polar fleece is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water, and it’s commonly used for jackets, hats, blankets, and gym clothes. Polartec is my absolute favorite brand of polar fleece, and I have a closet full of their fleece to prove it.

Micro Polar Fleece

It’s a softer and more lightweight version of polar fleece. It has excellent insulating properties and is often used as a liner around the collar or cuffs in performance wear or on the inside of gloves or a hat. Micropolar fleece is extremely soft and comfortable next to the skin but also durable to wear and tear.

Printed Fleece

Printed fleece has printed designs or patterns on it. It’s commonly used for blankets, jackets, and crafting projects. I have never mentioned printed fleece on Gear Assistant. When I think of this type of fleece, I think of those oversized fleeces with wolves or a big wolf head you see people wearing in Walmart.

Stretch Fleece

This type of fleece includes a small amount of spandex to provide extra stretch. It’s often used in activewear, where mobility is important. Most fleeces are stretchy to some degree, but stretch fleece is next-level flexible. It is often used as panels under the arms or around the shoulder on high-performance hiking fleeces.

French Terry Fleece

Unlike other types of fleece, French Terry has loops and soft piles of yarn on one side and a smooth, soft surface on the other side. One company that makes amazing French Terry fleece tops is Fat Face.

Different Types of Fleece

What Is Fleece Made From?

Fleece is generally made from polyester. The polyester fibers are woven into a light fabric and then brushed to create a thick, insulating material. Fleece can also be made from recycled plastic bottles, making it a popular choice for environmentally conscious consumers.

What Is the Difference Between Fleece and Polyester?

Many synthetic fabrics are made using polyester, including most fleece tops. But, if we assume that fleece is referring to brushed polyester and polyester as non-brushed, then here are the differences as I see them.


Polyester is known for its durability. It’s highly resistant to wear and tear, while fleece tends to pill over time or go bald in areas of high usage. Check out the Arcteryx RHO LT Zip Neck Top as an example of a non-fleece polyester top which is way more durable than a fleece top of similar weight.

Fleece Vs Polyester For Warmth

Fleece is generally warmer than polyester. It’s designed to trap heat and provide insulation. Fleece has been brushed to make it fluff up, which gives it more space to trap warm air. Fleece makes an excellent mid-layer for outdoor sports, and the colder it gets, the more you can wear. Polyester is more of a thin sports top material or a base layer.

Fleece Vs Polyester For Breathability

Both polyester and fleece can be made to be very breathable; however, because fleece is generally warmer, polyester is the better choice for high-intensity workouts and hikes. One key feature that makes a garment breathable is the weave density of the fibers and also how much loft they have. The tighter the weave and the more dense it feels, the warmer it will get when you’re active.

Mountain Hardwear Men's Standard HiCamp Fleece Hoody, Trail Dust Landscape, Small

What Is Softer, Fleece or Polyester?

Fleece is usually softer than polyester, providing a plush and cozy feel that is perfect for blankets, jackets, and loungewear. Fleece has been brushed to make it loft up, but this also makes the material super fine and soft to the touch. Polyester can still be silky smooth, but for softness, fleece takes the win.

Does Fleece or Polyester Block Wind?

Polyester is generally more effective at blocking wind than fleece due to its tighter weave. Neither of them will block the wind like a wind blocker or rain jacket would. Generally, a thin membrane is required to block the wind fully but if you double or even triple up on a couple of layers of polyester or fleece, this will do a pretty good job of blocking the wind.

Is Polyester Fleece Waterproof?

Polyester fleece is not entirely waterproof, but it does have some water-resistant properties. It can withstand light rain but will not hold up in a downpour. 

What you will likely find when wearing polyester fleece and it starts to rain is that for the first 15 minutes of light rain, it will simply bead and sit on the surface. After a while, it will start to soak through, but a benefit of fleece is that it doesn’t hold much water; it’s not like a sponge (as many cotton fabrics are).

Does Fleece Absorb Water?

Fleece doesn’t absorb water as cotton does. It wicks moisture away, making it a better choice for activewear. If it gets soaked and you wring it out, then you will notice it doesn’t feel heavy with water. It’s not so uncomfortable to wear it wet, so if you don’t want to suffer the sweatiness of a waterproof hardshell while hiking, then the fleece isn’t a bad choice for an outer layer.

Fleece Vs Polyester For Breathability

Is Cotton Warmer than Polyester Fleece?

In general, polyester fleece is warmer than cotton. The synthetic fibers in polyester fleece are better at retaining heat than the natural fibers in cotton. If you were to compare brushed cotton to polyester fleece, you would see that the fleece is much thicker as well as being more lightweight as well.

One thing cotton is better at is being breathable. I much prefer hiking in a moisture-wicking cotton shirt on a hot day than a synthetic one. Because cotton absorbs more water, I like to drench my shirt in rivers to cool down.

Side Note: When I buy hoodies, I always look for the composition of the materials on the label. What I am looking for is a blend of cotton and polyester. The ideal ratio is 80% cotton and 20% polyester for comfort, durability, and warmth.

Is Fleece Better than Polyester for Hiking?

In terms of hiking, the decision between fleece and polyester can be subjective. Fleece offers exceptional warmth and comfort, which is perfect for cooler climates. However, for strenuous hikes or warmer weather, the breathability and moisture-wicking properties of polyester might be more suitable.

Neither material is definitively “better” than the other; it truly depends on your specific needs. While fleece offers superior warmth and softness, polyester provides durability, wind resistance, and better moisture management. Consider these factors when choosing between fleece and polyester for your next outdoor adventure. 

In conclusion, you should own and use both when the time calls for it.

We hope you found this guide to fleece vs polyester informative and that you now understand the differences and benefits of each.

Gear Assistant
Gear Assistant

This article has been written and/or edited by Andrew N. 20+ years of hiking, mountaineering, and camping experience, with access to all the latest outdoor gear.

Gear Assistant