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Wool Vs Fleece: Key Differences in Warmth, Weight and More (2024)

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wool vs fleece differenceWool’s natural fibers insulate heat even when wet. Fleece relies on trapped air, so when wet it gets real cold, real fast.

Sure, fleece seems charming at first with its soft synthetic feel. But peel back its petroleum-based layers, and you’ll find fleece lacks wool’s sustainability.

So cast off those synthetic imposters. Choose wool for its enduring warmth and eco-friendliness. You’ll look great while staying cozy, and you can rest easy knowing your clothing choice wasn’t a baaad one.

Key Takeaways

  • Wool provides better insulation and retains warmth when wet, whereas fleece loses insulation when soaked.
  • Due to its natural antibacterial properties, wool resists odors; however, fleece rapidly absorbs smells.
  • More durable over time, wool outlasts fleece.
  • As a renewable, sustainable natural fiber, wool comes from sheep; conversely, fleece production utilizes non-renewable petroleum and releases environmentally harmful microplastics.

What is Wool?

What is Wool
Wool comes from the hairs of animals; it’s a breathable natural fiber that regulates your body temperature.

Wool is a versatile material that has been used for garments for thousands of years. The wool fibers have a natural crimp that allows air to be trapped between them. This provides insulation while still allowing moisture to pass through. Therefore, wool keeps you warm in the winter yet cool in the summer.

Wool sweaters and other wool garments don’t hold odors like synthetic fabrics. The wool fibers contain lanolin, a naturally occurring wax that’s antibacterial and antimicrobial.

The most common types of wool for apparel include merino wool, cashmere, lambswool, Shetland, and alpaca. Merino wool is very fine and soft while maintaining insulation abilities. Cashmere comes from goats and is one of the most luxurious and expensive wools.

Lambswool is shorn from young sheep and is soft and durable. Shetland wool comes from sheep in the Shetland Isles and is a warm, lightweight wool. Alpaca fiber rivals cashmere for softness and warmth. With all these varieties, you can find the perfect wool sweater or garment for your needs.

What is Fleece?

What is Fleece
Y’all know that cheap and tacky polyester fleece jacket you love? It’s destroying the planet faster than Hummers guzzling down Venti Frappuccinos at the local Starbucks.

Unlike natural fibers like wool, fleece is made from synthetic polyester fibers produced from non-renewable petroleum. The manufacturing process introduces trillions of microplastic particles into waterways that contaminate ecosystems.

When fleece garments are washed, they shed even more plastic into the environment.

  1. Made from plastic – polyester fibers come from fossil fuels
  2. Sheds microplastics – trillions of tiny plastic bits
  3. Non-biodegradable – fleece doesn’t break down naturally
  4. Unsustainable – petroleum is a non-renewable resource
  5. Pollutes oceans – plastic particles consumed by wildlife

While fleece jackets and blankets feel soft and fuzzy, they come at a heavy cost to the planet. Consider wool or other natural fabric alternatives that are renewable and biodegradable.

Key Differences Between Wool and Fleece

Key Differences Between Wool and Fleece
When choosing between wool and fleece for your outdoor gear, you’ll want to compare factors like warmth, water resistance, weight, and odor control. Wool insulates well when wet and resists odors better thanks to its antimicrobial properties, but fleece is lighter weight and often more affordable.

Research shows wool excels at moisture management while fleece dries more quickly, so consider the climate and activity when deciding between these natural and synthetic fibers.


You’d be warmer in wool since it insulates even when wet.

Wool Fleece
Absorption Absorbs 30% of its weight Absorbs less than 1%
Insulation Traps air even when wet Loses insulation value when wet
Warmth Retains body heat Wicks moisture, not warmth
Durability Natural fibers resist pilling Synthetic fibers pill easily
Sustainability Biodegradable and renewable Made from plastic fibers

Wool base layers trap air and resist absorbing moisture. The natural fibers are excellent at retaining your body heat, unlike fleece which prioritizes wicking abilities over insulation.

Water Resistance

When wet weather hits, fleece soaks right through while wool keeps you drier.

  • Soggy fleece clings to skin.
  • Wool resists absorbing moisture.
  • Pairing a wool baselayer with waterproof outerwear keeps you warm and dry.

Though fleece seems convenient, wool excels in wet environments. The natural fibers trap air and shed precipitation so you stay insulated. Wool’s breathability also prevents that clammy feeling. For true comfort through the elements, trust wool over fleece.


You’ll stay lighter on your feet with wool’s natural lightweight warmth. Merino wool garments insulate without heft. The breathable fibers trap air with little added weight, unlike fleece jackets. Synthetic materials rely on thickness for insulation.

Though fleece seems convenient, wool’s natural performance excels with barely a whisper of added ounces.

The breathable merino wool fibers trap air to insulate while adding minimal weight. Unlike fleece jackets which use thickness for warmth, merino wool garments provide lightweight warmth. So while fleece may seem convenient, merino wool excels at insulation with barely any extra weight.

Merino wool’s natural lightweight warmth keeps you light on your feet. The breathable fibers trap air to insulate without much added weight, unlike bulky fleece jackets. Synthetics like fleece rely on thickness for insulation. But despite fleece’s convenience, merino wool’s natural performance is superior, insulating with just a whisper of extra ounces.

Odor Resistance

Merino wool’s natural anti-stink keeps you fresh when fleece reeks after just a few wears. The breathable fibers resist odor while that synthetic stench clings to fleece. With merino wool, the natural fibers form tiny air pockets that minimize odor build-up, but fleece’s synthetic material absorbs odors over time.

The Pros of Wool

The Pros of Wool
When choosing between wool and fleece for outdoor apparel, wool’s natural performance properties are compelling. Its antimicrobial qualities make it resist odors even after repeated wearings. Wool continues insulating when wet because the fibers trap air, and its breathable weave regulates your body temperature in dynamic conditions.

With these innate benefits, merino wool makes an ideal active mid-layer that excels across varied weather and pursuits.

Odor Resistant

Don’t you hate how synthetic fleeces trap odors when you’re trekking outdoors? Thankfully, wool’s natural antimicrobial properties will help combat stank buildup so you can adventure in comfort.

  1. Wool contains lanolin that makes it naturally odor resistant.
  2. The fibers allow ventilation to keep you dry.
  3. Wear wool for your base and mid layers to stay fresh.

Wool blocks odors better than fleece, allowing you to focus on the sights, not the smells.

Insulates When Wet

Got soaked in the rain? No worries, wool’s still got you covered. Unlike fleece, which absorbs moisture, wool fibers repel individual water droplets. The lanolin in wool creates a hydrophobic barrier, preventing saturation. Your wool layers trap layers of warm air, maintaining insulation even when wet.

Choose merino wool baselayers and insulation for reliable warmth in wet weather.

Wool’s natural ability to insulate when wet makes it the perfect choice for cold, damp adventures.

Material Stays Warm When Wet? Why?
Wool Yes Fibers don’t absorb moisture, retain trapped air
Fleece No Absorbs moisture, compressing insulation
Down No Loses loft and compresses when wet


You’ll stay drier hiking in wool since its breathability whisks sweat away. The natural fiber’s clumped structure contains countless tiny air pockets that ventilate well. Despite excellent insulation, wool breathes freely, moving moisture outward. Your perspiration readily evaporates instead of accumulating inside synthetic fabric.

Regulates Temperature

Wool’s impressive breathability keeps you cooler in summer and warmer in winter by regulating your body temperature naturally. Like a smart thermostat, wool adapts to your activity level and surroundings, balancing warmth and ventilation through its unique fiber structure.

  • Wool base layers keep your skin dry during workouts by wicking moisture away.
  • The air pockets in wool fibers act as good insulators in cold weather by trapping your body heat.
  • Natural fibers like wool excel at regulating temperature changes compared to synthetic fabrics.
  • A thick wool sweater provides warmth in winter but breathes well enough for moderate weather.

With wool’s natural ability to adapt to temperatures, you stay comfortable wearing it year-round for outdoor adventures and around town. The right wool weight dresses in style while keeping you cool when active and cozy in the cold.

The Cons of Wool

The Cons of Wool
As an outdoor enthusiast choosing fabrics, you know the drawbacks of wool shouldn’t be overlooked when comparing it to fleece. Wool apparel comes with a premium price, costing 50-100% more than synthetic alternatives.

The natural fibers can also cause itchiness for some wearers, depending on the wool type.

Caring for wool brings high maintenance requirements like hand washing, air drying, and avoiding wringing. Most significantly, the material is slow to dry once it gets wet. This means your merino base layers or mid-layers will keep absorbing moisture and gaining weight as you sweat or encounter precipitation.

Considering wool’s downsides including cost, potential irritation, care demands, and drying time helps balance its pros when selecting the best fabrics for your adventures.


Compared to fleece, wool costs you 50-100% more.

Item Fleece Jacket Merino Wool Sweater
Brand Generic Smartwool
Price $50 $120
Quality Decent Excellent

The premium for natural merino comes from limited supply. Quality wool commands higher prices, but it repays that investment with comfort and longevity. Synthetics like fleece sacrifice long-term value to hit lower price points. For serious outdoors use, wool’s extra cost brings extra performance.

Can Be Itchy

Depends on the wool type, but some can make your skin crawl. Merino’s ultrasoft microfibers minimize itch on sensitive skin. But other wools like Shetland can feel scratchy from coarser fibers. Looser weaves tend to itch more than dense weaves in wool sweaters.

Seek fine merino for itch-free activewear and base layers. Soft next-to-skin comfort motivates us to get outdoors.

High Maintenance

Hand wash wool sweaters in cold water. Use wool detergent. Do not machine wash or dry wool sweaters.

Wool’s delicate nature demands a gentle approach, but its unrivaled comfort and versatility make the extra care worthwhile.

  1. Hand wash in cold water
  2. Use wool detergent
  3. No machine washing or drying
  4. Reshape while damp
  5. Lay flat or hang to dry

Slow Drying

You’d be sitting around longer waiting for wool to dry if you get caught in the rain. Wool’s natural fibers absorb more water than synthetic fleece. Although wool retains insulation when wet, it takes much more time to dry than quick-wicking fleece.

For active outdoor pursuits, choose fleece over wool if you anticipate wet conditions.

The Pros of Fleece

The Pros of Fleece
When choosing fabrics for outdoor adventures, fleece’s moisture-wicking capabilities excel. The synthetic fibers rapidly pull sweat from your skin and dry quickly, unlike wool that absorbs it. This polyester fabric also offers exceptional lightweight warmth at around 9 ounces per square yard.

With fleece keeping you drier and preventing clinging moisture, it makes sense this fabric dominates rain jackets and base layers despite sustainability concerns.

Moisture Wicking

Unlike wool, fleece’s moisture-wicking powers quickly pull sweat from your skin and get it moving out so you stay drier.

  • Helps regulate your body temperature during aerobic activity
  • Moisture passes through the fabric instead of collecting
  • Allows a cooling effect as the sweat evaporates
  • Great for highly active pursuits like winter trail running
  • Lightweight fleece layers provide warmth minus the sogginess

Fleece’s excellent moisture management and fast-drying performance complement its warmth, breathability, and packability – making it a versatile fabric for active winter adventures.

Quick Drying

Fleece dries quickly, so you stay cozy even after getting soaked on the slopes. Its synthetic fibers don’t absorb much water, with high-quality fleece holding less than 1% of its weight. This allows moisture to pass through while providing continuous warmth and breathability.

Fleece makes an excellent active mid-layer that complements a moisture-wicking base layer and waterproof shell.


Travel light with fleece. Its feathersoft fabric weighs next to nothing, so you stay toasty without the extra burden. Fleece’s low weight makes it ideal for ultralight hikers traversing long distances.

A men’s large 100 weight fleece jacket weighs around 9 ounces – lighter than a bottle of water.

The synthetic material doesn’t absorb moisture like wool, keeping its weight minimal.

Take only the essentials on your next wonderland trail adventure with a fleece layer that warms without weighing you down.

The Cons of Fleece

The Cons of Fleece
When choosing outdoor fabrics, consider fleece’s environmental impact. Compared to natural fibers like wool, fleece relies on petroleum-derived plastics that contribute to microplastic pollution. The synthetic material also degrades faster than wool, requiring more frequent replacement, and readily absorbs odors that require frequent washing.

As research reveals fleece’s lack of sustainability, durability issues, and odor absorption, the choice between it and wool grows more complex.

Not Sustainable

Unlike natural fabrics, new fleece releases tiny plastic fibers into water sources with each wash. If sustainability concerns you, opt for recycled materials or wool, a more eco-friendly material, instead of fleece.

Fleece simply is not sustainable, as it introduces microplastics when you choose it, gradually degrading the environment over time.

Not Eco-Friendly

You ought to remember that fleece isn’t eco-friendly since it’s made from plastic. Fleece originates from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource. When washed, it releases microplastics into water sources. Consider wool for excellent microbial properties or natural down as renewable choices over this type of plastic.

Durability Issues

Durability-wise, fleece degrades faster than wool yet costs less initially. Merino wool shirts last for years while fleece falls apart quicker in a wide range of colors. Though fleece seems a bargain over wool types at first, it proves less frugal as holes develop rapidly compared to the wool’s resilient fibers.

Within the world of fabrics, wool’s strength and longevity triumph over fleece’s disposability.

Odor Absorption

Despite fleece’s fresh facade, its true stench surfaces swiftly while wool wafts wistfully.

  • After a few gentle cycles, fleece reeks while wool resists odors for multiple days.
  • Fleece fibers absorb human scent rapidly unlike wool’s natural defenses honed over thousands of years.
  • Hearing the word fleece elicits feelings of freshness, but its stench appears quickly.

Unlike wool’s ancient odor absorption powers, fleece fails to suppress scent, assaulting noses frequently.

Caring for Wool Garments

Caring for Wool Garments
Let’s gently hand wash wool garments in cold water, avoid wringing, and lay flat to air dry. This will maintain their natural fibers. Wool requires more care than fleece to preserve its unparalleled warmth, breathability, and odor resistance.

Use a delicate detergent, soak the garment in cool water, gently agitate, and rinse thoroughly. Avoid twisting, wringing, or pulling the wool while wet to prevent stretching and damage to the fibers. Lay items flat on a towel and reshape while damp before air drying completely. Heat from dryers causes wool to shrink or felt.

Although air drying takes longer, it retains the garment’s shape and performance. With proper hand washing and air drying, your wool layers will last for many seasons, making their higher initial investment worth it.

Take the extra time to care for wool, and it’ll provide superior comfort on adventures for years to come.

Caring for Fleece Garments

Caring for Fleece Garments
Simply toss your fleece in the washer and dryer to easily restore its technical performance and moisture wicking properties after each wear. Fleece is a great choice for active pursuits in variable weather conditions. The synthetic fibers efficiently pull sweat from your skin and dry quickly, while the lofted pile retains some insulation when wet.

This makes fleece an excellent option for highly aerobic activities where you’ll work up a sweat, like running, hiking, climbing, or XC skiing. Fleece won’t weigh you down by absorbing moisture. Just throw it in the machine after each use.

The heat from the dryer will fluff the fibers right back up, so the fleece is ready to wear again.

Take advantage of this simplicity. Having multiple fleece midlayers allows you to always have a dry option after breaking a sweat in the mountains or outdoors in hot weather. The ease of washing fleece after each wear makes rotating through multiple garments effortless.

Stay comfortable and travel light by packing a few lightweight fleece pieces. They offer reliable insulation and breathability across diverse weather conditions thanks to their convenient machine wash and dry care.

Choosing Wool or Fleece for Your Needs

Choosing Wool or Fleece for Your Needs
Which will you grab when headed outdoors – the natural fiber that cleverly regulates your body temperature or the synthetic that swiftly wicks away sweat? Your decision likely depends on the intended use and conditions.

  • Temperature regulation – Wool insulates when cold yet breathes when hot. Fleece lacks wool’s cooling properties.
  • Odor resistance – Wool resists odors while fleece absorbs them. You’ll need to wash fleece more frequently.
  • Weight – Fleece weighs much less once wet. Wool absorbs moisture, adding weight.
  • Layering – Wool works better next-to-skin, while fleece excels as a midlayer under a shell.
  • Feel – Wool can be itchier than smooth fleece against skin for some. Try merino wool for softness.
  • Durability – Fleece withstands abrasion better but develops pilling. Wool is prone to holes.
  • Sustainability – Wool is renewable and biodegradable. Fleece sheds plastic microfibers.

The main reason to choose fleece is its lightweight breathability. But wool offers comparable temperature regulation with a softer feel. For jacket recommendations, fleece works well for active pursuits, while wool suits casual wear.

Regardless of your priority, layering appropriately helps compensate for each material’s drawbacks. Test different wool and fleece combinations to find your optimal system for the conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do wool and fleece compare in terms of sustainability and environmental impact?

Wool is more sustainable than fleece. Did you know washing fleece garments releases over 1,900 microfibers per wash into our water? Whereas wool is a natural fiber that biodegrades without impact.

What types of wool and fleece fabrics are best for sensitive skin?

For sensitive skin, choose lightweight merino wool or high-quality microfleece. Merino wool is naturally soft and odor-resistant. Microfleece is lightweight, breathable, and smooth when brushed properly. Avoid heavy, scratchy wools and cheap fleece that can irritate sensitive skin.

How do wool and fleece garments hold up over time with frequent use and washing?

You, my friend, will quickly find those beloved fleece garments becoming faded and misshapen, while your rugged wool garments laugh in the face of time, wear, and washing. The choice is clear: go with wool for durability, or continue replacing your synthetic fleece annually.

Which is better for temperature regulation and avoiding overheating – wool or fleece?

Wool is generally better for temperature regulation and avoiding overheating than fleece. Wool’s natural fibers allow more airflow and wicking of moisture away from your skin. Fleece’s synthetic fibers trap heat and moisture next to your skin, causing you to feel hotter and sweat more.

What’s the price difference between comparable wool and fleece garments? Is the extra cost of wool worth it?

You’ll typically pay 50-100% more for comparable merino wool pieces versus synthetic fleece. The extra durability, odor resistance, and comfort of wool make the investment worth it for serious outdoor enthusiasts.


When choosing between wool and fleece, consider your intended use. Both have advantages, but wool’s natural odor resistance and insulation when wet make it better for active pursuits. However, fleece’s affordability and lightweight comfort excel for casual wear. Ultimately, wool’s versatility across conditions gives it the edge for the prepared outdoor enthusiast.

Though more maintenance, investing in merino wool helps you adventure comfortably in every season.

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Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a site dedicated to those passionate about crafting. With years of experience and research under his belt, he sought to create a platform where he could share his knowledge and skills with others who shared his interests.