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The Pas Normal Studios Escapism Performance Fleece is more robust than a jersey but lighter than a jacket. Made from one third wool it is very warm yet breathable, with deep pockets and quality zippers adding to the practicality. It's a bit short in the body, though, and its 'fit and flare' shape won't appeal to all.
This fleece sits somewhere between a warm, woolly jersey and a lightweight jacket, with a cut that, says Pas Normal Studios (PNS), combines 'features of cycling and casual fits'. I was very interested to see how it compared with the Stow Away Jacket (perfect fit) and Wool Jersey (way too small) I also tested earlier this year, and the result is mixed.
I'm a small according to the PNS guide, and that's what I tested. The upper fits perfectly, and the high collar is both attractive and comfortable, but from chest to hips the Escapism Fleece flares out. One cycling buddy said it looks too big around the waist.
It has what PNS calls a 'hybrid fit', designed to work both on and off the bike, but when cycling I felt it could do with more length in both the body and sleeves. If you're shorter, with shorter arms, you might get on better with it than me.
The fabric is a combination of natural and synthetic fibres, which makes for a soft and thick yet fairly stretchy finish. The wool component (one third) helps keep me a lot warmer than my purely synthetic jerseys in the early morning nip.
The natural fabric with its 'open mesh' structure (lots of super-soft tiny wool blocks on the inner lining) is designed to help release air and moisture. I found this pretty effective when putting in more effort: despite its clear thermal properties, I found I didn't overheat despite building up a bit of a sweat.
As you'd expect, it isn't water resistant, but PNS says the fabric reduces 'cling' in wet conditions anyway, which I found to be true – and you get some grace if it does start raining because it's so thick.
The fleece features three very deep pockets: two on the front and one side-access zip pocket on the back.
As with the Stow Away Jacket, you can fit a serious amount in these – far more than you'd want to while riding. They're positioned higher up than typical handwarmer pockets, to stop them jostling around when full, which works well in practice if you do need to stash anything bulky.
The Performance Fleece also features a two-way YKK Vislon zipper, so you can unzip from the bottom up, which is handy for ventilating without undoing the whole thing.
It also makes for easier access to the built-in pockets on the back straps of the Escapism Bib Shorts, if you happen to have those too. The silicone zip toggles help, with a nice tactile feel.
The overall feel of the fleece is one of exceptional quality, which is consistent with all PNS kit I've tried. But you'd hope so for the price. At £200 this is firmly in the 'how much!?' category.
It's not easy to compare prices, though, because you don't commonly get cycling fleeces; essentially it's somewhere between a jacket and a winter jersey. On top of that, natural fibres are more expensive, but they're not the norm.
MAAP's Alt_Road Jersey is another premium woollen blend, and the long sleeve version, which we've not reviewed (you can read my review of the short sleeve here), is £165 – a bit cheaper. At a similar price, Stolen Goat's Adventure Down Jacket (now £180) is also a casual and warm bit of kit for seasonal riding – although that's where the similarities end.
These other premium options with similar purpose suggest you're not getting too much more for the higher price tag, though.
A cheaper option at £80 is Specialized's RBX Expert Thermal Jersey, which is also warm and well made – though Emma also found it noticeably short in the arms and torso, and had an issue with the pockets (read her review here).
The PNS fleece needs a cold (30°C) wash thanks to the wool – you won't want to get that wrong with the £200 price tag. It washes up well, though, and dries fast too. As well as the 'Dark Stone' (aka brown) on test, it's also available in green or black.
While the fit of this top is different to what many cyclists will be acquainted with, it starts to make sense when paired with a more casual pair of bike shorts or trousers. It's a versatile and classy looking bit of kit, but the short length does steal some of the comfort on colder rides.
High-quality part-wool breathable fleece for chilly days with an unusual fit and expensive price tag
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Pas Normal Studios Women's Escapism Performance Fleece Zip
Size tested: Small
Tell us what the jacket is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
PNS says: "The Performance Fleece Zip gives remarkable thermal properties and is designed to fit and function optimally when on and off the bike" (which accounts for the 'hybrid fit').
I found it really warm but did not like the fit, which is loose around the waist.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the jacket?
- Open mesh wool structure
- 3 deep pockets, raised for freedom of movement
- Wool / Polyester / Elastane
Very clearly premium with great attention to detail and quality fabric/construction.
Very warm but lack of length took away a bit from comfort.
Looks set to last after a few months of wear and washing.
It is not made to be waterproof, but water does bead a bit and doesn't soak through easily as the fabric is thick.
Those squares of wool really work to let heat out; I felt warm but not too hot.
I found the fit strange; it flares out and is a bit short.
Size is correct against PNS's guide.
Quite heavy but it's a thick item.
Feels really cosy - if I liked the shape and it was a bit longer it would be a winner.
We haven't tested a fleece quite like this, but it's more expensive than most similar items.
How easy is the jacket to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Very easy, but you have to be mindful of that washing temperature!
Tell us how the jacket performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It's warm, breathable and feels very high quality.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the jacket
The understated, classy looks.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the jacket
The length; it's too short for me.
Did you enjoy using the jacket? Yes
Would you consider buying the jacket? No, I am still not sold on the shape (or price).
Would you recommend the jacket to a friend? Probably not.
Use this box to explain your overall score
This fleece does what it's supposed to: it's warm, breathable and practical. But I think the cut needs some attention; it's just too short to be a practical piece, for me. It's also rather expensive. Its quality lifts it above average, but taking everything into account, I'd say it's a 6/quite good (especially if the length suits you) rather than 7/good.
About the tester
I usually ride: My Scott Foil My best bike is: Oldie but the goldie, CAAD 8
I've been riding for: 5-10 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, mtb, Triathlon, Audax