PHOTO: L.L.Bean
(CNN) —  

For those living in colder climates, in homes with a chillier average room temp in winter, there’s good news: It’s flannel sheet season.

Popularized as an outdoor work garment after the Industrial Revolution thanks to its warmth, sturdiness and affordability, flannel was popularized in the United States by the mid- to late-19th century, when it was used to make long underwear and household items like bedding.

Flannel is constructed from cotton and man-made fibers, and is brushed on one or both sides, which gives it its soft, cozy feel. That brushed surface is what allows flannel to trap air and retain body heat while still remaining breathable — and that’s what makes it a popular bedding material specifically in winter. Like linen, flannel is intended to be absorbent and moisture-wicking, so well-made flannel in theory should not cause sweaty sleeping. So while they’re generally warmer than basic cotton sheets, their softness does lend them to year-round use.

One user note about flannel sheets: Similar to linen sheets, washing flannels does create significant lint buildup in the dryer, particularly after the first wash. This reduces with subsequent washes, in our experience. And because of the brushed-on-both-sides nature of good quality flannel sheets, consumers can expect some pilling — a shedding of the residual fibers — especially in the first few uses of the sheets.

Overall, we tested 10 sets of top-rated flannel sheets in a range of prices. After weeks of testing, these proved to be the best:

Luxurious without feeling overly thick or too weighty, Garnet Hill offers a delectably comfortable flannel sheet at a mid-to-high end price point, starting at $197 for a queen set (which includes two pillowcases, a fitted sheet and a flat sheet). These flannels come in lots of varieties of color and size, and instill confidence you’re getting a quality product that’ll last for years to come.

Very close to our overall favorite because it is both supremely cozy and the most lightweight of all the sets we tested is West Elm’s organic flannel sheet, which starts at $170 for a queen set. These sheets didn’t come out on top because they’re available in only two colors and cannot be ordered a la carte like Garnet Hill’s sheets.

If you’re sleeping in really cold weather and you want to feel positively bundled, L.L.Bean makes a weighty flannel sheet for you — at a competitive price point for the level of craftsmanship therein at $119 for a queen set.

Also delivering an excellent and very warm night of sleep, Pinzon by Amazon turns out a substantial flannel sheet at just $70.99 for a queen set. That’s half the price of some of the other higher-end brands, but you won’t feel like you’re sacrificing quality.

Best overall flannel sheets: Garnet Hill Hemstitched Supima Flannel Bedding ($197 for a queen set; garnethill.com)

Garnet Hill Hemstitched Supima Flannel Bedding
Garnet Hill Hemstitched Supima Flannel Bedding
PHOTO: Garnet Hill

From straight out of the packaging through to waking up on a chilly morning, Garnet Hill’s Hemstitched Supima Flannel sheets were our best overall. Garnet Hill’s product offered a warm, restful night of sleep without feeling overheated, which was a factor with some of the other sets.

Garnet Hill’s flannel sheets are crafted in a family-run mill in Portugal from 100% American-grown Supima — that stands for superior pima, which is a first-rate type of cotton grown in the USA, with an extra-long staple fiber that promises increased strength, softness and color retention. Supima is combed to remove impurities, and brushed multiple times for extra softness. It’s then treated with a “velvet” finishing process that seals the color and richness of the fabric, ensures the quality of the drape, and reduces any pilling. And indeed, the Supima cotton here translates into a luxurious softness and smoothness without feeling overly fuzzy or clingy.

The design of the Garnet Hill sheets is simple and pretty, with a stitched hem on the top of the top sheet and on the pillowcases, and they’re available in 11 tasteful colors, more than any other brand we tested, including some untraditional options like a cool green and light pink. At 60 x 80” width and depth for a queen set, these felt roomier than some of the other sets. The fitted sheets are elasticized for a better fit; we found a bit of gap on the fitted sheet with plenty of width overhang on the top sheet to tuck. Some may prefer a tighter-fitting sheet but we didn’t mind not having to struggle to make the bed.

We didn’t personally experience any pilling after washing this set, and they continued to feel extra-soft to the touch after the first few washes and dries, perhaps even more than right out of the packaging. While we can’t say with certainty that Garnet Hill would last years longer than the other sets we tested, they felt of substantial quality and durability, like bedding we would happily take out of storage at the first sign of a crisp autumn chill.

What set these over the top, in addition to their comfort and high-end feel, is their variety: You can buy individual fitted and top sheets and pillowcases for ease of replacement, and in a generous five different sizes. And bonus: You can get them monogrammed (which makes a sweet gift).

At $197 for a set of queen sheets, the price of these was on the steeper side for flannel sheets, but that price tag delivers a high-end, very well-made, satisfying product.

Best lighter-weight option: West Elm Organic Flannel Solid Sheet Set ($170 for a queen set; westelm.com)

West Elm Organic Flannel Solid Sheet Set
West Elm Organic Flannel Solid Sheet Set
PHOTO: West Elm

West Elm’s Organic Flannel sheets were among our favorites to sleep in. Also made in Portugal, and brushed and sheared for greater softness, West Elm’s flannels felt less fuzzy as well as smoother and sleeker than most of the other brands, if sleekness is a thing you can say about a flannel. Because of the lower fuzz factor, these felt higher-end than a lot of the others. Like a lot of the West Elm catalog, these sheets felt sophisticated, modern, cool.

West Elm’s sheets were one of the cooler sets of sheets — which is to say, they were still warm and cozy, providing a comfortable, restful night of sleep without any overheating. These were easy to sleep in even when temperatures outside were still in the 70s, making these our flannel pick for warmer weather. Some of the other sets we tested felt equally high-quality and lovely to the touch, but were heavier and thus less comfortable when the weather was warmer. In fact, for warmer sleepers like our tester, this was a set we wanted to return to night after night — they were snuggly and inviting, like your favorite pajamas.

These are also Global Organic Textile Standard and OEKO-TEX certified to a standard of 100, which means they’re tested in a third-party lab, assured to be free from 300 harmful substances and meet strict standards such as having a minimum of 70% organic fibers. Like the Garnet Hill sheets, West Elm’s are generously sized, with plenty of room in both the fitted and the top sheets. After multiple wash and dry cycles, we did see a bit of pilling, which is to be expected even with high-quality flannels. But through laundering and continued sleep, these maintained an excellent bed fit and retained their softness and high-quality feel.

These ranked slightly lower than our highest only because you can’t buy replacement sheets or pillowcases, and because they’re available in just two colors, light gray and stone white. The color limitation didn’t bother us that much though, as it feels on-brand for West-Elm in that neutral-palette chic-comfort kind of way. The sets come in four sizes (twin, full, queen, and king).

If you’re looking for cozy sheets that won’t have you waking up sweaty (and you don’t expect to order individual sheets), then West Elm’s Organic Flannel Solid Sheet Set is the one for you.

Best cold-weather sheets: L.L.Bean Ultrasoft Comfort Flannel Sheet Set ($119 for a queen set; llbean.com)

L.L. Bean Ultrasoft Comfort Flannel Sheet Set
L.L. Bean Ultrasoft Comfort Flannel Sheet Set
PHOTO: L.L. Bean

Perhaps not surprisingly, our favorite flannel sheet in the toastiness department came from winter wear go-to L.L.Bean. At the unboxing of this set, our first impression was, well, the name fits — these are in fact ultrasoft and they do exude comfort. This L.L.Bean set feels higher-end, thanks to woven-in-Portugal brushed cotton, and a Bean-exclusive process that removes surface fibers to create a velvet-like finish. These cost two-thirds of the price of two of our other top winners but don’t feel like a compromise in quality at all — and that was of course appealing as well.

The Ultrasoft Comfort sheets feel even softer and more comfortable after going through the washer and dryer, without any pilling or fading. They’re a more snug fit than our other winners, with little gap on the fitted sheet, and less extra length on the top sheet, and they seemed to fit the bed slightly better after the first washing and drying. They’re also available in a generous nine colors and four sizes — a good amount of variety.

These are a warmer sleeper than some of the other sets, which is why we picked them as our best for cold winter nights. (They’re not as warm, we found, as L.L.Bean’s Premium Supimas, which we also tested, but they’re also not as expensive.) These felt like a midweight flannel — which translates to perfectly comfortable on a warmish early fall evening, and on a chilly winter morning, we still wanted to linger with these and a hot cup of tea.

Best bargain: Pinzon Signature Cotton Heavyweight Velvet Flannel Sheet Set ($70.99 for a queen set; amazon.com)

Pinzon Signature Cotton Heavyweight Velvet Flannel Sheet Set
Pinzon Signature Cotton Heavyweight Velvet Flannel Sheet Set
PHOTO: Amazon

One of our favorite warmer flannel sheet sets was the Amazon Pinzon Signature Cotton Heavyweight Velvets. Right out of the box, these were a thicker, warmer, durable-feelingsheet. They’re extra insulated and fluffy, kind of like a new stuffed animal, but without feeling like you’re sleeping in children’s bedding.

Pinzon sheets are made from 100% cotton velvet with a double-napped finish on both sides, rendering them extra soft and velvety to the touch. They’re 190-gram heavyweight flannel, a detail that reflects the number of ounces it takes to make up a yard of fabric, which explains why they feel heavier and are longer lasting. They provided a restful, comfortable night of sleep in both colder and warmer weather — we didn’t feel weighed down by these on early fall nights, like with some of the other sets. These were a roomier fit on the bed, not tight but not baggy either. They wash and dry without shrinking or pilling, and retain their sturdiness after laundering.

Pinzon are available in 11 different colors or patterns, but only queen, king, and California king sizes, and you can’t buy replacement sheets or pillowcases, which cost these a few points in overall rank. If a midprice, good quality, snuggly sheet is on your list, these hit the mark.

These admirably held their own among all the sets tested, but unlike some of the higher-priced sheets, these are not made from Supima cotton nor are they certified-organic — a factor reflected, fairly enough, in their price. For $70, though, the Pinzon feel — and sleep — more pricey.

How we tested

We tested 10 sets of flannel sheets based on two primary criteria: quality and variety.

We unwrapped each set and snuggled right into them to record initial impressions. We made notes, prepared a bed with the sheets, slept on them straight out of the packaging, washed and dried them in the dryer and reapplied them to the same bed and slept on them again, multiple times. (Note: As did the linen sheets we tested, all the sets of flannel sheets created a lot of dryer lint during the first drying cycle — like, a “stop the dryer cycle and scoop out the lint partway through” amount of lint.) We noted how they felt to touch, against the face and the body, as well as when tossing, sleeping and waking up, and how they felt after laundering and reusing. We took note of which sets felt warm and cozy, which felt sturdy or maybe too heavy, and which may have prompted any noticeable body temperature issues.

Quality and feel

  • Initial feel: How do they feel right out of the box: Are they soft? Are they thick or about average? High-quality-feeling or … less so? We opened each set of sheets asking the following questions: How do they feel in your hands? Is this a product you’d want to put on your bed, and against your skin?
  • Sleep feel: How do they feel to sleep on? We made notes on each set of sheets as to whether they were soft (or too soft), fuzzy, cozy, heavy, high-quality. And ultimately, how they promoted a night of sleep.
  • How they feel after washing: We evaluated if the sheets softened a great deal after washing and drying, and the wrinkle factor. (Note: The wrinkle factor was medium to high for most of them after being dried without ironing.)
  • Durability after sleeping and washing/drying: We assessed if each set felt durable after multiple washing and drying cycles, and if the sheets began to pill or fade or get worn in any way.
  • Fit on bed: We made a bed with each set of sheets multiple times, assessing how well they fit, noting if they were tight or loose, gapping or sagging. (Note: many of the sets, even the more expensive ones, were roomier in both width and length than the regular cotton sheets we usually use.) We noted if the fitted sheet was marked with which end is top or bottom, if there was enough width and length on the top sheet to tuck under the top mattress, and overall, if the bed-making process was laborious at all.

Options

  • Number of sizes: We evaluated how many different size options there were for each sheet brand (nearly all included at least full, queen and king, and those that offered twin, California king or other specialized sizes were awarded higher scores).
  • Colors: We noted how many colors each sheet set was available in; some were available in only two, while others were available in upwards of 10.
  • Availability of individual replacements: We assessed whether you can buy individual sheets and pillowcases for each set for those consumers who need replacements, want to mix and match colors or styles, or simply do not want or need a top sheet, for example.

How we rated

Each set of sheets received a score in each subcategory, and the total of those subcategory scores was the total rating of that set. We also factored the price, as well as any minor distinctions in design and packaging presentation. Check out how we broke down the points below.

  • Quality/feel had a total of 70 points: Initial feel right out of the box (10 points); how they feel to sleep on (comfort level, as well as warmth) (20 points); post-wash feel (did they soften) (15 points); post-wash durability (any pilling, shrinkage, fading, after either sleeping or washing/drying?) (15 points); bed fit: (do they slip at all, or stay in place)? (10 points)
  • Options had a total of 30 points: number of size options (10 points); color options (10 points); availability of individual replacements of sheets or pillowcases (10 points)

Other sheets we tested

L.L. Bean Premium Supima Flannel Sheet Collection
L.L. Bean Premium Supima Flannel Sheet Collection
PHOTO: L.L. Bean

L.L.Bean Premium Supima Flannel Sheet Collection ($199 for a queen set; llbean.com)

On the higher end of both quality and price of the sheets we tested fell L.L.Bean’s Premium Supimas. These felt thicker than most of the sets and sumptuous to the touch, with a pretty stitched hem at the top of the top sheet and the pillowcases. This set was exceedingly cozy, but in warmer weather, perhaps just too warm — we imagined these are a perfect fit for a cold Northeast night in a cabin. And if that is your reality, and you get these, they’re likely to last for years to come. These sheets were wider and roomier than a lot of the other sets. They’re available only in three sizes, full, queen, and king, but you can order separate full and king size pillowcases.

The Company Store Legends Hotel Velvet Flannel Sheets
The Company Store Legends Hotel Velvet Flannel Sheets
PHOTO: The Company Store

The Company Store Legends Hotel Velvet Flannel Sheets ($152 for a queen set; thecompanystore.com)

A more affordable option that also offered a restful night of sleep were The Company Store’s Legends Hotel Velvet Flannels. They were soft, snuggly, comfortable and warm, woven from 100% combed cotton — a cotton made from removing the shortest fibers and impurities — in Portugal, but felt slightly less luxe to the touch, and flimsier of fabrication than some of the more expensive brands above. These fit our bed perfectly, and are conveniently labeled TOP at one end of the fitted sheet. They’re available in four sizes and in 11 colors, and can also be monogrammed.

Boll & Branch Flannel Sheet Set
Boll & Branch Flannel Sheet Set
PHOTO: Boll & Branch

Boll & Branch Flannel Sheet Set ($280 for a queen set; bollandbranch.com)

Luxury bedding maker Boll & Branch also turns out a lovely flannel set from fair trade organic cotton that is GOTS certified and OEXO-TEX certified to standard 100. Boll & Branch prides itself on sourcing from ethical factories with fair wages and environments. Their flannels are also made in Portugal, and are brushed and sheared for a more velvety finish. The quality of these was noticeable to the touch, and they were sturdy and warm, without overheating, at least in colder temperatures. On warmer nights we found these to be a little too heavy, though, and for the higher price there were other sets we enjoyed just as much as these. They’re a wider fit, like many we tested, though not noticeably so. They do come in six different sizes, but only five colors, and you can’t purchase replacements.

Home Fashion Designs Flannel Sheets
Home Fashion Designs Flannel Sheets
PHOTO: Home Fashion Designs

Home Fashion Designs Flannel Sheets (starting at $47.89 for a queen set; amazon.com)

If you’re looking for a kid-friendly, more affordable set of flannel sheets, Home Fashion Designs on Amazon are a good destination. These 100% Turkish cotton flannel sets are comfy and warm without being too hot, sturdy without being too heavy, and deliver solid nights of rest. They come in eight cute patterns, including the moose-pine-tree motif we tested, along with penguins, polar bears, winter wonderland and a number of others. Perhaps expected based on the price, Home Fashion Designs did feel of a quality notch below many of the others we tested, but they were certainly comfortable and more than satisfactory. These served a tighter fit than many of the others, which we didn’t mind, per se, but wouldn’t have objected to a little more length on the sides of the top sheet, either. You can’t buy replacements, but the price point here makes buying multiples a bit more feasible.

Mellanni 100% Cotton Flannel Sheet Set
Mellanni 100% Cotton Flannel Sheet Set
PHOTO: Amazon

Mellanni 100% Cotton Flannel Sheet Set ($42.97 for a queen set; amazon.com)

Another solid choice in the lower-price category is the cotton flannel set from Mellanni. The main descriptor we noted in evaluating the Mellanni’s was fuzzy — imagine sleeping with a child’s teddy bear enveloping you; they started out very soft, and after a washing and drying got even softer. These fit the bed narrower than a lot of the sets tested, and we would like a little more to tuck on the sides, thank you very much. These were a runner-up to the Pinzon by Amazon set in the best bargain flannel sheet category, but they just didn’t feel as high quality as the Pinzon. They offer a lot of variety though, with six sizes and nine colors at a very attractive price point.

Threshold Printed Flannel Sheet Set
Threshold Printed Flannel Sheet Set
PHOTO: Target

Threshold Printed Flannel Sheet Set ($30 for a queen set; target.com)

At $30 for an entire set of queen sheets, the Threshold Printed Flannel Sheets are the least expensive set we tested. For this price range, these are solid and satisfying, but they didn’t rank as our bargain winner because the quality doesn’t feel as high as the other sets. These were the only set that came in a cute flannel bag with a velcro closure, which is a nice touch. They come in nine cute patterns (floral, plaid, stripes), but note that the pattern is only printed on the top side of the top and fitted sheets, and the pattern-printed side is softer and snugglier than the non-printed side. These are a warmer sleeper, but suitably comfortable, particularly for the price. If this is the price range you seek, and you don’t need your sheets to last for decades to come, we do recommend these.

Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: