Wool vs Fleece: 10 Differences Between Fleece and Wool (2023)

The word fleece has at least 2 different definitions which apply to fabric. This is what makes it hard to know what someone is talking about because one person is thinking of one definition and the other, the second. The world of fabrics can be a confusing place at times.

The term ‘fleece’ can refer to and does refer to the fur or hair taken from animals that are turned into wool. But if you are talking about fabrics, then fleece is usually made of synthetic materials and is not real wool. It has some qualities of wool but it is not the real deal.

To learn more about the differences between wool and fleece just continue to read our article. It will try to solve the problem and keep you from being confused about what is really fleece. Then you should know how to use both materials properly.

Wool vs Fleece 101

Is Fleece Wool?

The DifferenceBetween Fleece And Wool

Wool Fleece

Is Fleece Warmer Than Wool?

Fleece vs MerinoWool

Wool vs Fleece When Wet

Wool vs Fleece Mid-Layer

Wool vs Fleece Base Layer

Fleece vs Wool Backpacking

Wool vs Fleece Gloves

Fleece vs Wool Hat

Some Final Words

Is Fleece Wool?

Wool vs Fleece: 10 Differences Between Fleece and Wool (1)

In one definition yes it is and this is what we were just talking about. Fleece in its original meaning is the hair on a sheep or other animal before it is shorn and turned into the wool fabric. That is not how we will use the word here.

The other definition of the term fleece will be used in this article as it means a synthetic fabric that is a vegan’s alternative to wool. That style of fleece is made from polyethylene terephthalate or other materials like cotton, polyester, and so on.

When people are talking about fabrics, they are talking about the faux wool meaning of the word fleece. When they are talking about the raw material that makes wool, then they are using the original definition of the word.

Hopefully, that makes this issue as clear as mud and you see the difference. The world of fabrics and fashion changes definitions of terms to meet their needs which gets everyone wondering what they are referring to. Maybe they should have picked a different name for the synthetic fabric and kept people out of the dark on this subject.

The DifferenceBetween Fleece And Wool

Here is a quick comparison chart so you can see the difference between real wool and the fabric they call fleece at a glance.

Category Wool Fleece
origin Sheep & different animals Man made chemicals and polyester
Existence Thousands of years Since about 1974
Construction from other fibers None Can be made from cotton, hemp, polyester, rayon and wool
Insulating Does a great job keeping the cold and moisture away Not as good as wool and when wet has no insulation properties
Drying time Takes a while to dry Is quick drying
Weight Heavier than fleece Lightweight material
Breathability Breathes very well Breathes well unless coated with waterproofing or other chemicals
Biodegradable Yes Eventually
Cost Can be very expensive Like most synthetic materials it can be very cheap
Moisture Repels water or moisture Low absorption rate

Wool Fleece

Wool vs Fleece: 10 Differences Between Fleece and Wool (2)

As we said earlier. Wool and fleece are the same thing, that is if you are talking about the hair shorn from animals that is turned into the wool fabric. It is warm, great for winter, and can be dyed many different colors if you do not like the original one.

But wool can also be used to make the synthetic type fabric giving it some of the natural properties wool is known to have. Fleece, the fake fabric, can also be made from cotton, hemp, rayon, and other natural fibers making it a more inexpensive option to wear when the weather gets colder.

Natural is always better than synthetic materials and that is due in part to the chemicals used to create synthetic materials like faux wool fleece. Also, the faux fleece material was created to cut down on the expense you face when trying to buy wool.

It is supposed to be a lot cheaper than many wool varieties helping you stay warm, look good, and all at a very low price. It is up to you which one you wear as both fabrics come in many colors and designs

Is Fleece Warmer Than Wool?

Not really. Wool is warmer than fleece but according to the differences chart above, that action is not beating fleece by much. Fleece dries quicker than wool will so when that happens it may be the point where fleece is warmer than wool.

But when fleece is wet, it is a lot like cotton and doesn't keep the cold away from your skin. Wool will continue to act as good insulation when it is wet. So out of the 3 options, wool beats fleece in two of them.

That means that wool is warmer than fleece and the bonus points also go to wool as that material can keep you cool in the summer if you use the right version. That is what keeps wool on top of this competition. It just has more characteristics that fleece cannot mimic.

One thing you will notice about many synthetic materials. They were all created by someone who wanted to create a synthetic version of a natural fabric. Wool and fleece, silk and rayon, cotton, and viscose.

The story is the same but they come from different eras.

Fleece vs MerinoWool

What makes fleece a popular choice over merino wool is the supply. It can take up to two years before a merino sheep is ready to be shorn and that gap in time makes tat wool product hard to come by. It also boosts the price.

Fleece is man-made so it can be made any time and it is made often so there is a good supply of fleece clothing items ready to be purchased. The large supply keeps the price down so more people can afford to wear that material over merino wool.

Both fabrics can be long-lasting, durable, and breathable but merino wool is better as it is not flammable as fleece can be, it protects against UV rays, and repels water so you stay warmer.

Fleece is not a good insulator when it gets wet but merino wool is as well as being very good at regulating your body temperature. Where fleece earns points in this competition is in its lightweight, its low cost, and its ability to be treated rougher than merino wool

Wool vs Fleece When Wet

Wool vs Fleece: 10 Differences Between Fleece and Wool (3)

If you want quick drying so you can get back out on the slopes or hike up the mountain again, then you would want to wear fleece on your next outdoor outing. This is a very quick drying material that keeps you active.

But fleece is not good at keeping you warm once it gets wet. That means you have to go inside frequently and let the material dry before resuming your outdoor recreation. With wool, you do not have to interrupt your fun and go inside to dry off.

Wool is a very good insulator when wet and that helps you avoid catching a cold or the flu. While wool may cost more upfront, it prevents back-end costs like medical treatment, trips to the doctor’s, and more.

Fleece may mimic wool in some regards but it does not copy everything that wool can do. If you can afford it, go with the wool over the fleece as you should stay healthier. Did we mention that fleece is made with harsh chemicals and wool is not?

Wool vs Fleece Blanket

They say that a fleece blanket is warmer than a wool one and the reason for that is that wool breathes better than fleece does. That may be true when you are inside a nice warm room that has the windows closed and no humidity to worry about.

When you go outside, wool may be the warmer of the two due to the fact that moisture will remove the insulating powers of fleece and cool you down a lot faster than wool will. Fleece should be smoother than wool, giving it the edge here.

That smoothness translates into a more comfortable slip as wool may irritate your skin. The issue you have to worry about when camping is that if a campfire spark hits the fleece blanket, it will start to melt or catch on fire.

Wool is fire retardant and a lot safer to use when you want to sleep by or near the open flame. Of course, your preference will play a role in deciding which one is better but for the money, it looks like wool is better here.

Wool vs Fleece Mid-Layer

This category is more of a tie than anything else. Both fleece and wool are recommended as good blankets or clothing items for mid layering. The place where wool would have the advantage is if the fleece gets wet.

Wool doesn’t stop insulating when it gets but fleece will. Once wet that cold air or wind will come right through the fabric and cool you down. That may be good on a hot night in your bedroom but not outdoors where the air gets really cold.

The mid-layer is the more insulating layer and that is where you want your best blanket or clothing item. Fleece can be good here but it is not going to trump wool. If you opt for wool be prepared for some bulk.

Merino wool as a mid-layer is often made in 200 to 400 g/m2 which means it will be thicker than fleece and bulkier. Fleece is usually made in 200 g/m2 sizes which is the equivalent of the 200 to 400 g/m2 that wool; is made into.

That means you should look slimmer wearing fleece and saving some money as an added bonus.

Wool vs Fleece Base Layer

Wool vs Fleece: 10 Differences Between Fleece and Wool (4)

This is the layer that focuses on breathability and makes insulation a secondary priority. Yet, that secondary priority is also very important as once fleece gets wet you won’t have any cold protection. Your body should feel cooler than when you wear wool as a base layer.

Also, wool breathes better than fleece does so your body should not sweat as much and bulk here is better than using thinner materials. If you are worried about odor build-up, then you may want to reconsider wearing fleece if it is 100% man-made.

Unless that material is coated to prevent odor build-up you may have a problem after a few hours outside. Wool is great at preventing those odors you would rather live without. That is a major plus when you are out with someone who may turn into a long term partner.

Fleece does have its good points as a base layer, but again it is hard for faux materials to best natural ones in all departments.

Fleece vs Wool Backpacking

While some [people prefer fleece when they are out in nature, traveling the different trails and seeing new sites., it may be hard for that material to best wool. Fleece will be less bulky which is a plus as well as lighter in weight, which is good news for your hips, knees, and legs.

But there are some drawbacks to using fleece as a base layer and as a blanket in the wild. Drawback number one is that fleece loses all insulation ability when it gets wet. Getting wet includes perspiration. When you are carrying a heavy pack and walking long distances in the sun, expect to perspire and lose your insulation.

Drawback number two comes when you are at your campsite and you start a fire. If you have a fleece blanket or coat, etc., on then one spark can ruin your trip. Fleece will melt and burn on you. Wool not only insulates when wet, but it also hinders fires.

Drawback number three comes into play if your tent is not well insulated. The moist cold air will wet your fleece blanket and cool you way down. Wool on the other hand will absorb that moisture and still keep you warm.

Wool vs Fleece Gloves

The fleece blends found in many glove options are more durable than cashmere or merino wool gloves. But that is par for the course as synthetic materials usually are more durable than natural fabrics.

Also, the synthetic fleece gloves should cost you a lot less at the cashier than wool gloves will. Then wool gloves may wear out after two seasons while the fleece ones live on.

Yet, that is where the fleece gloves end their victories as once they get wet, wool is the better glove to have on. Without that insulation, your hands will get cold and hard to use. Wool will keep your hands warmer and more flexible even when wet.

Plus, wool breathes a little better than fleece does so your hands should not overheat when you wear that style of glove. With merino and cashmere’s ability to thermoregulate, you should be fine on a cold winter’s day.

As for looks natural tends to look and feel better than synthetic materials. Your hands may feel that the fleece is soft but it is an artificial softness. Wool gloves come with a natural softness that just feels better than fleece.

Fleece vs Wool Hat

Wool vs Fleece: 10 Differences Between Fleece and Wool (5)

If you can withstand or overcome the itchy nature some wool versions come with, then you should be warmer in a wool hat rather than a synthetic one. The same principles apply to wool and fleece hats as they do blankets, gloves, and clothing.

Once fleece gets wet, forget about keeping your head nice and warm. Fleece may feel smoother and does not itch than wool but the risk is there and it is your choice what you will wear when you go out n the cold. If it is a soft rain or snowfall avoid wearing fleece.

The cost of fleece is a great temptation and it is without question that material is cheaper than wool. But in the long run, those back end hidden expenses add up when you wear fleece over wool. It is something to think about especially when clothing children.

As for looks, the fleece hat may be less bulky than wool, which in some people’s minds is a very good thing, but having less bulk is not the trump card that would make fleece better than wool.

Some Final Words

In this head to head comparison, wool just beats fleece in just about every category. It is the better fabric as it is a natural one and it is hard to copy natural when you are man-made.

The chemicals used to create fleece should be of some concern to you as well. It is possible that your skin will absorb them if you wear fleece a lot this winter. The choice is yours and the cost may be the deciding factor in which fabric you wear.


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