Comparing different fabrics and materials is a helpful way of not only learning more about a particular material, but also understanding what makes them different from others and, ultimately, which one you should go for.
Throughout these past two years, we have compared various materials, some in regards to their use in jackets and other garments, and others for their ability to provide insulation.
Today we will have a mix of both these qualities as we look at Fleece and Cotton, two commonly-used fabrics, one especially suited for colder weather and the other excelling at breathability and moisture absorption.
Let’s get right down to it!
- 1. Fleece
- 2. Cotton
- 3. Fleece vs Cotton: Comparison and Differences
- 4. Use in Jackets and Outdoor Garments
- 5. Which One Is Better?
We have covered both of these materials before, but fleece a bit more extensively as it is a fundamental part of many jackets and cold-weather garments.
A material that comes from Polyester, fleece is the synthetic alternative to natural wool. It shares many similarities to it, but it also differs quite extensively. We have covered this topic more in-depth here.
Fleece comes in a number of different thicknesses and types, some of which are fuzzy, whereas others are more robust and rougher. Despite this, fleece has one characteristic that is shared among all of its types: its softness.
Typically, fleece is used for its ability to provide insulation, that is, to trap heat and keep you warm. However, its low water adsorption ability and high durability are two other qualities that make it a very preferred and versatile material to use.
Fleece is commonly used in jackets, namely the ever popular softshell jacket and, of course, fleece jackets that are made entirely out of it. (read also: fleece vs softshell jacket)
It is a breathable and moisture-wicking material that is quick to dry and also very lightweight.
Being a synthetic product that is fairly easy to manufacture and source, fleece is also quite affordable in all of its form, but the regular type is more so than the microfleece, which is the type of fleece to go for if you want all the great qualities of this material.
Now, on the other hand, cotton is a natural, plant-based material that is also widely available, very affordable and highly versatile, which is why it is used in so many different clothes and household textiles.
Its fibers are made of cellulose in the shape of small and thin tubes, hollow in the middle. This is how it is found in its natural form, prior to the boll opening, drying out and then finally collapsing and twisting. This is the last “natural” form of the cotton plant, which is then picked and processed into fibers that are then spun into yarn.
This process is not just a physical one, but also a chemical process that removes the wax coating the boll. Yes, indeed, cotton plants are hydrophobic, which may be surprising to some, considering that cotton absorbs moisture so well.
Aside from being breathable and commendably durable, cotton is also hypoallergenic, a quality that it is not too common in textiles. On top of that, it is very soft and does not irritate the skin either, which is why cotton masks, buds and face pads are made from it.
Typically, cotton is a fabric best suited for milder conditions, preferably dry ones as it absorbs water to an extent that would pose serious risks in the wrong weather.
Let’s now see how these two materials compare and how they are used in jackets and other outdoor gear.
You might also like: Cotton vs Wool Fabrics: Differences and Comparison
3. Fleece vs Cotton: Comparison and Differences
Being a hydrophobic fiber, fleece fares much better than cotton does in wet conditions. Its absorbency is low and it has an effect of letting moisture move through, as opposed to soaking it all in.
This is the ability to wick moisture at play, which fleece is renowned for. However, cotton is a good moisture wicking garment, too, the difference being that it absorbs most of that moisture.
Therefore, unless the cotton is waxed, which inherently affects its overall performance, and not necessarily for the better, you are better off with fleece in wet weather.
Insulation and Breathability
Considering that fleece is made specifically to imitate wool, that is to provide insulation in cold weather, it is the better of the two in this regard as well.
Cotton breathes better, however, as its fibers allow for a greater deal of air flow. In fact, cotton is renowned for being “cool”, especially so when it is wet, which has its advantage in hot weather, but is extremely perilous during winter.
Comfort and Durability
While fleece is very soft and highly versatile, cotton is the better of the two. It wears much more comfortably and it is also quite soft.
Cotton also does not tend to hold on to body odor like polyester does, and its durability to high temperatures makes it a far superior fabric for things that require good sterilization or that you will be sweating profusely in.
This is the main reason why underwear is almost exclusively made out of cotton.
As regards durability, while cotton is a durable fabric in itself, especially when wet, it does not compare to fleece. Polyester is renowned for its high durability due to its strong fibers, and it is the better of the two in this case.
There is no comparison in this regard as cotton is the ultimate winner.
Being a plant-based material that lasts for a long time and is also biodegradable, makes cotton a very sustainable fabric compared to most fabrics, let alone those of synthetic origins that require a good deal of chemical processing to manufacture, such as fleece.
4. Use in Jackets and Outdoor Garments
Out of these two fabrics, fleece is the most commonly used one for outdoor gear, clothing and jackets. The reason being its durability, versatility and especially the breathability and moisture-wicking ability.
Typically, fleece is used in jackets that should provide a good amount of insulation but at the same time prevent overheating and excessive sweating. For example, soft shells, which are almost always lined with either regular or microfleece on the inside.
Fleece jackets are another type of jackets that rely on fleece for its warmth and comfort.
Cotton is also used, but usually it is part of a jacket’s lining due to its softness and comfort. There are cotton jackets available, too, which are best suited for dry conditions and warmer temperatures.
As we mentioned previously, cotton can be made waterproof through the process of waxing, which we have also discussed in a previous piece, but while these jackets will perform fairly well in milder conditions, waxing greatly affects cotton’s ability to breathe and wick moisture away.
In outdoor gear, fleece is also reserved for bedding and general insulating items that are meant to be comfortable. Cotton is used less in this regard because of its low resistance against the elements.
5. Which One Is Better?
While we are certain you have an idea which one to go for at this point, this is more of a conclusion of the above.
Cotton is better when it comes to keeping you comfortable and cool. It is sustainable and fairly affordable, depending on what you are going for.
On the other hand, fleece is also a comfortable material that is meant to do the opposite of cotton, keep you warm in low temperatures.
It is highly durable and very affordable, and just like cotton, it comes in a variety of weaves and constructions, leaving you with plenty of options to choose from.