Fleece, a manufactured fabric that is durable and can be used in many different ways, is an important part of the clothing industry.
Because it is warm, comfortable and breathable, a fleece top can also be used as an outer layer on cool days. Fleece jackets can be windproof, water-resistant or waterproof, which is uncommon for regular fleece tops. Fleece can be used to cover a jacket or waterproof-breathable insulation jacket on cold days. Mid-layers like fleeces or softshells can trap air near the skin and provide insulation. Fleeces do exactly this. You will be comfortable in cold or wet conditions if you have a good rain jacket.
Fleece has many advantages over other fabrics, regardless of its use. The rest of this text will highlight some of these benefits. Let’s begin at the beginning.
All things fleece
A brief history
The Norwegian company Helly Hansen was the first to use fleece (sometimes called pile) in clothing. Helly Hansen and Norwegian Fiber Pile Inc. made the first fleece, Fiberpile, in 1961. The Swedish loggers discovered that it provides excellent thermal insulation in cold and wet conditions.
The smoother version of the Polar fleece was created by Malden Mills in the United States (now called Polartec). They produced it in 1979. Polartec accepts 1981 to be the birth year for the synthetic polar fleece. Engineering polyester fibres made this into new knit constructions. Patagonia created a pile called Synchilla, which is made from synthetic chinchilla. It was soft, double-faced fabric with no pilling. This was thanks to Pontetorto’s Tecnopile in Italy – which began producing pile fleece fabrics back in 1985 – and the emergence today of polyester fleece technology.
Fleece fabric can be described as a synthetic fabric made from plastic-like polyester, polyolefin, or polypropylene. It is usually made from polyester. These are some of the most important properties of polyester fibres for making hiking clothes:
- Polyester fibres are water-repellent and moisture-wicking. They also dry quickly.
- They are extremely durable and resist stretching.
- Polyester fibres are not subject to shrinkage.
- Wrinkle and abrasion resistance.
- Easy to maintain and resist chemicals
- These fibres are light and easy to make.
The polyester fabrics can also be coated with a hydrophilic coating, making them moisture-wicking. This is crucial for transporting moisture from the skin to its outer surface and back to the environment.
Polyester has been used in sportswear since the 1970s because of these qualities. Synthetic fibres are preferred for activewear because of their many performance enhancements over natural fibres. Textile fibres are great for moisture control, thermal regulation and breathability, cooling effects and softness.
Fabric made from fleece is made from polyester yarn. The yarn is then knitted to create a fabric with many tiny loops. The yarn is then napped or sheared. This causes the fabric to puff up and thicken, creating a soft-handle pile. Finally, the pile can be trimmed to an even length. The result is lightweight, breathable and durable. It also has quick drying times. Fleece is also warm and breathable, typical for sheep’s wool. It does not absorb moisture. It is also very good at insulation. However, its insulation capacity is similar to wool but at half the weight. You can also treat the fabric with a durable water repellent (DWR), which makes it waterproof. It cannot replace a waterproof rain jacket regularly worn in heavy or continuous rain.
Many sustainable alternatives to fleece clothing are made from recycled polyester or PET plastic bottles. Unifi Manufacturing Inc., for example, makes REPREVE recycled polyester fibre out of plastic bottles. Patagonia, the first outdoor clothing company to use recycled fleece in 1993, was founded by David and Mary.
Fabric weight or grade
The pile can be made in many weights and finishes. They offer different levels of loft, insulation, and many layering options. Polartec’s classic Polartec fleece fabrics are rated at 100, 200, or 300. The heavier and more warm the pile, the higher the number. Polartec 100 equals 9.5 oz/linear yard, Polartec 200 equals 12.5 oz/linear yard, and Polartec 300 equals 16 oz/linear yard. Others label their fleece tops as “lightweight”, “midweight”, or “heavyweight”, depending on the fabric weight per square meter. (Usually 100g/m2, 200g/m2, 300g/m2).