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Fleece vs Flannel vs Sherpa vs Down: Mid Layer Materials Compared

Whether you’re shopping for a new jacket, mid-layer for skiing, or camping blanket, you’ll have a wide range of materials to choose from. But, to find the right one for you, you must understand those materials and what makes them unique.

Of all the materials designed to keep you warm, the most popular today are fleece, flannel, sherpa, and down. While most customers have heard of these materials before, most have no idea what sets them apart from each other. Don’t worry. We’re here to help.

So, what’s the difference between fleece, flannel, sherpa, and down?

While there are a lot of differences between those four materials, the main difference is what they’re made of. Fleece and sherpa are both made out of synthetic fibers. Flannel can be made out of either wool or cotton. Down, on the other hand, is made of goose or duck plumage.

Preference plays a large role in a customer’s choice between fleece, flannel, sherpa, and down. Since there’s so much more to learn about each material, let’s take a closer look at each one individually before we compare them side-by-side.

What Is Fleece?

Fleece is a synthetic material made 100% of plastic, despite resembling and being named after a sheep’s wool coat. It’s mostly made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) but could be made of other synthetic fibers as well. Despite being warm and comfortable, it’s man-made.

The story of fleece dates back to the 1970s when Malden Mills first started experimenting with the material. The material was finally introduced to the sportswear industry in 1981 when Malden Mills collaborated with Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of fleece:

  • Fleece is soft, thin, and breathable.
  • It is an excellent insulator, especially polar fleece.
  • Fleece is less allergenic than natural fibers.
  • Since it’s made of plastic, fleece is eco-friendly.
  • Fleece is known for absorbing water, but also drying fast.
  • Also, fleece maintains a good smell longer than other materials.
  • Fleece is durable and not that expensive.

Now let’s take a look at some of the disadvantages of fleece:

  • Fleece is extremely prone to static electricity.
  • It is highly-flammable since it’s made from polyester.
  • Fleece is also prone to pilling.
  • It needs to be cleaned often.

Fleece is one of the many man-made wonder materials available today. It’s lightweight, warm, durable, and doesn’t harm any animals in the process. At the same time, it’s also flammable and won’t do much to protect you from the wind. It has its uses, but it’s not designed for everyone.

One of the most popular fleece used with jackets, but it’s also used to make blankets, gloves, hats, scarves, pants, hoodies, and other high-performance outdoor clothing.

What Is Sherpa?

Sherpa is a member of the fleece family. Much like its counterpart, sherpa is made of synthetic fibers and is 100% man-made. Unlike regular fleece, sherpa fleece has two different sides to it. The exterior is smooth and soft, while the interior is fluffy and resembles the coat of a sheep.

Believe it or not, sherpa fleece gets its name from the Tibetan Sherpa people of Nepal. They were notable for leading foreigners up and through the Himalayan mountains, so you already know it’s designed for the cold temperatures. Sherpa is often used as an interior lining.

Let’s take a look at the benefits associated with sherpa fleece:

  • Sherpa is extremely soft and fluffy.
  • It is an excellent insulator and helps keep your body warm.
  • Sherpa absorbs moisture quickly and dries extremely fast.
  • Also, Sherpa can be machine-washed.
  • Sherpa is an inexpensive option.
  • Mimics the look of a sheep’s wool coat better than fleece.
  • Sherpa is extremely lightweight compared to natural fabric.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the disadvantages with sherpa fleece:

  • It is gets dirty very easily.
  • Sherpa is highly-prone to pilling and shedding.
  • Attracts pet hair and lint.
  • Sherpa needs to be cleaned often to avoid bad odors.
  • It is highly-flammable, just like fleece.

Sherpa fleece is a great option for those that want to stay away from natural fibers coming directly from an animal. It’s lightweight and highly breathable, with many people considering it warmer and more comfortable than regular fleece. You’ll know a sherpa fleece when you see it.

Since sherpa fleece is commonly used as lining and insulation, you can find it featured on your winter clothing — such as jackets, pants, gloves, and hats — but also in many household items — such as blankets and baby items — due to its soft and fluffy nature.

What Is Flannel?

While fleece and sherpa are synthetic materials, flannel is either wool or cotton — making it a natural material. Many people know flannel for its iconic plaid pattern with clothing, but the fabric is available in various patterns, looks, designs, and styles.

In fact, people have used fannel since the 17th century. It was originally made popular in Wales and used as a replacement for their plain wool clothing. It’s known for its napped finish, which helped Wales better protect itself from the wet and freezing winters.

Let’s take a look at some of the major benefits of flannel:

  • Flannel is not only warm and insulating, but it’s breathable.
  • It is comfortable to the touch.
  • Flannel is much heavier than fleece or down feathers.
  • It is easy to maintain and is machine-washable.
  • Flannel is available in a wide variety of designs.
  • Flannel won’t wrinkle easily and will maintain form.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the major disadvantages with flannel:

  • Flannel is prone to pilling over time.
  • Since it’s made of cotton, the flannel is prone to shrinking on you.
  • Flannel can bleed colors inside a washer machine.

Flannel is one of the most popular and iconic fabrics known to man. Its napped finish gives it that feel and texture we’ve all grown to love over the years. If you’re considering flannel, know that you’ll be protected from whatever the environment and climate try to throw at you.

Most people love flannel when it comes to jackets and long-sleeve button-ups, but it actually has far more use than that. Some of the most popular uses include blankets, bedsheets, sleepwear, bibs, pillow covers, and even Christmas stockings!

What Is Down?

When you think of flannel, you think of either wool or cotton. When you think of down, on the other hand, you think of either duck or goose. This is because it’s made out of the fine undercoat of these birds, which is pulled from underneath the feathers. No ducks or geese are harmed in the process.

Down insulation, also known as down feathers, has been used as insulation for hundreds of years. When on the bird, these feathers help trap air and prevent heat loss. When used in products, the result is the same, and it offers a lightweight and lofty type of material that’s highly versatile.

Let’s take a look at some of the advantages when choosing down:

  • Down is capable of a higher fill power, which means greater insulation.
  • Also, down products offer higher packability than most other materials.
  • Down is capable of maintaining its loft for a long period of time.
  • Down feathers capture and retain heat, for added warmth.
  • Since down feathers are extremely soft, you get a lightweight design.
  • Some down-insulated material also has a water-resistant coating for added versatility in light rain.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the downfalls when choosing down:

  • When wet, down feathers won’t retain heat and will lose its function.
  • Down is known to cluster when put through the wash.
  • Down-insulated material is much harder to maintain than some of its counterparts.
  • Down isn’t hypoallergenic.
  • Down tends to be more expensive than other options.

It should be noted that there’s a difference between something that’s labeled as 100% down and something that’s labeled as just down. With a 100% down product, the material must be made of only down feathers. With a down product, there could potentially be added fibers and feathers.

You’ll mostly find down feathers used in jackets, where they’re stuffed between two thin pieces of fabric. In addition, you can find down feathers used in bedding (especially comforters), blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, mattress covers, quilts, gloves, and even dusters outside of jackets.

Fleece vs. Flannel

The main difference is that fleece is synthetic, and flannel is natural. If you’re looking for something manufactured out of plastic and polyesters, fleece is the right fabric for you. If you’re interested in wool or cotton, flannel is right for you.

Here’s a look at some of the other major differences between the two:

  • Flannel has been used since the 17th century, while fleece was invented in the 1970’s.
  • Both flannel and fleece wash well, but flannel might shrink on you in the process.
  • Fleece won’t unravel when cut, but flannel will likely unravel when cut.
  • Both fleece and flannel provide warmth, but fleece is often considered warmer.
  • Neither fleece or flannel will wrinkle over time.
  • Fleece is lightweight, while flannel is either medium- or heavy-weight.
  • Also, fleece is slightly better at insulating than flannel is.
  • Fleece is much more cost-effective than flannel.
  • Flannel is much more kind to the skin and is easier to care for.

Fleece and flannel both have their advantages, but they’re not created equal. With completely different textures and uses, choosing between the two largely comes down to preference. However, since they’re both highly effective, many people decide to have both, so they’re prepared for anything.

Fleece vs. Sherpa

Since sherpa is a member of the fleece family, they’re both made out of synthetic fibers — mostly plastic — and are made to resemble wool fabric. The main difference between the two is how they’re used because sherpa is mainly used as a lining, and fleece holds a variety of roles.

Here’s a look at some of the other major differences when comparing fleece vs. sherpa:

  • Sherpa is 100% synthetic, but some fleece is made of cotton as well.
  • Fleece is more water-resistant than sherpa.
  • Sherpa is often used as lining, while fleece can be used for many things.
  • Sherpa is much warmer than its fleece counterpart.
  • Both sherpa and fleece require a cold wash and should be air-dried.
  • Sherpa is more fluffy and bumpy, while fleece is more smooth and thin.
  • Both sherpa and fleece are inexpensive options, but sherpa is a little cheaper.
  • Sherpa has two sides to it, one that’s made smooth and one that’s made bumpy.

Sherpa has a unique look to it that gives it its name. The bumpy and fluffy texture better represents a sheep’s coat of wool, but that doesn’t mean regular fleece doesn’t have value. Use the sherpa when you need extra warmth, but fleece when you need movement.

Fleece vs. Down

When comparing fleece vs. down, the main difference is similar to the difference between flannel and fleece. Much like flannel, down insulation is natural since it comes from a live duck or live goose. However, since fleece is made of polyesters and plastic, it’s far from being a natural fabric.

Here are some of the other major differences between a fleece and down:

  • Down comes in a variety of fill powers, which you won’t get with fleece.
  • Primarily down used as insulation, while fleece is used for a variety of roles.
  • Down won’t do as well in wet conditions and will lose virtually all of its warmth power.
  • Fleece is much easier to layer with, whereas down is primarily used as a top layer.
  • Since down is used as insulation, the exterior is often made out of another material.
  • Down comes with better packability than fleece, but it largely depends on the exterior material.
  • Fleece is generally less expensive than down material.
  • Both fleece and down can go through the wash, but you’re better off air-drying your fleece.

There aren’t many similarities between down and fleece, so it’s usually easy to decide which one is right for you. While the broth provides warmth in times of need, flannel is a much better option when shopping on a budget. On the other hand, down comes with a much more unique look.

Related Questions

With so many different types of fabric and material out there designed to keep you warm, you likely have a lot of questions. Of course, we answered a lot of those above, but let’s take a look at some related questions you might have with your newfound knowledge:

  1. What are the different types of fleece? In addition to sherpa fleece, you can also find French terry fleece, lycra fleece, microfleece, and power fleece — among many others.
  2. What is the difference between wool and cotton? Aside from cotton coming from the cotton plant and wool coming from sheep, cotton is much lighter and wool is more heavy.
  3. What are the best fabric materials for extra warmth? The best fabric materials include fleece, wool, cotton, flannel, sherpa and silk.
  4. Are any birds killed when pulling down feathers? No waterfowl (ducks or geese) are killed when having their down feathers pulled, but the practice is often considered wrong by many animal activist groups.

Fleece, flannel, sherpa, and down are four of the most popular materials in the world right now. They’re used for various products and can be found in virtually every single country, state, city, and town. For more information and expert advice, feel free to contact us today.

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