Mention the term "fleece" in an outdoors setting and people automatically think of a synthetic fabric. For 30 years, since Malden Mills created its Polarfleece fabric, high-loft "fleece" jackets made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and other synthetic fibers have dominated the market.
This year a New Zealand company has gone back to the roots of what fleece originally was back in the pre-PET days. The company, Icebreaker, recently introduced a line called Realfleece, which includes men's and women's tops made 100 percent of wool.
Icebreaker is known for its merino wool tops and long underwear. The fine wool of the merino sheep does not itch, and used as sportswear for the outdoors the insulating but breathable fabric has gained in popularity in recent years.
Realfleece uses the same type of merino yarn as all Icebreaker (www.icebreaker.com) apparel, though piled on in a thicker bulk. The wool fabric of the Realfleece tops is up to two millimeters thick.
The front side of a Realfleece top is smooth. On back, the fabric is manipulated with a wire roller brush, creating a soft and furry face. Warmth comes from the fabric's loft, which is airy and insulating.
I tested a Realfleece top this winter for activity as well as everyday wear. It is comfortable and good-looking, doing double duty as a sporty mid-layer that insulates in the winter or for wearing around town.
The Realfleece top I tested has a full zipper in front and zip-up hand pockets. It can be used alone as a jacket during moderate days or as a cozy mid layer under a shell or insulated parka in the cold.
Icebreaker's craftsmanship and style are commendable. The company's clothes, in general, fit great and last a long time. But you do pay for all that: Items in the Realfleece line, which debuts in full later this year, will cost between $180 to $225.
--Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.