You all know about the importance of layering when it comes to dressing for chillier days. And you’ve probably all heard about how crucial it is to have proper, non-cotton base layers and solid outer layers when planning your adventuring outfit. But you still may not know the importance of having the best midlayer.
Worn between your base and outer layer, your midlayer has a huge impact on the comfort you feel while doing your favorite outdoor activity, be it skiing, hiking, snow-shoeing or just hanging out.
This said, there is such a large range of options out there—varying in material, price, durability, breathability, warmth and more—that deciding which one to buy can be pretty tricky.
The truth is, as is the case with most travel gear, it is not possible to name one single midlayer as the “best” as there are so many different things to consider, depending on the primary activity you have in mind.
Because of all these variables, we made this buying guide to help you sort through a bunch of the most popular midlayers, ultimately helping you decide which item is the best for you and your needs in 2019.
Remaining true to its high-end standard of producing clothing that is not only well-made and technically on point, but also beautiful, Arc’teryx is easily the first on our list.
The Atom LT Hoody
is a wonderful piece of clothing and a great choice for anyone looking for a versatile layer that does just the trick for a midlayer.
Synthetically insulated with 60g/m2 Coreloft filling, the hoody provides perfect warmth for cold days when combined with a shell. It is also solid enough to be a stand-alone layer on mild spring or fall days.
The hoody features two zippered hand pockets, comes in many different colors for both women and men, and has the option of coming with a drawstring-hood.
As far as weight goes, this clocks in at only 11 ounces and is easily packable, and yet it’s incredibly durable considering its light-weight.
My main criticism is just that the synthetic insulation is slightly less breathable than other newer materials out there. But the high warmth it provides is a reasonable trade-off for the moderately lower breathability.
This Arc’teryx midlayer fits quite slim so we recommend getting one size larger than normal if you plan on combining it with other layers. The hoody comes with a reasonably hefty price tag but is worth just about every dollar.
Patagonia is the ‘go-to’ for many outdoor enthusiasts out there, and for very good reason. They are world-renowned for their high quality, extremely solid gear designed by adventurers for adventurers, and their R-series jackets (of which there are three models, R1, R2 & R3) are no exceptions.
But it’s the R2 Fleece Jacket
that has caught my eye, and is the best for cold weather in my opinion. It’s debatably the warmest midlayer on this list.
The most noticeable difference between the R2 Fleece and its peers is its lack of a hood – anyone looking specifically for a hooded middle layer should stop right now and jump to other products on the list!
The R2 model combines two of Patagonia’s fleece types – their warmest on the chest/core area and a lighter style under the arms and along the sides. This has created a well-balanced sense of warmth while preventing you from totally overheating if using this jacket for cardio-intense activities. It’s available in women’s too
While more expensive than other items on our list, the R2 fleece is still very reasonable compared to other Patagonia products and well priced considering its high quality and breathability. Of course, as with all fleeces, its ability to stand up to strong wind is not the best. Nor is it warm enough to also be used as an outer layer on milder days, as is the case with others on our list.
It is, however, described by many as the “ultimate athletic fleece” due to its straight-forward design, warmth, and breathability that is extremely well-suited for people on the move. For those among you who agree that fleece is the best type of middle layer, and are happy to use a midlayer without a hood, Patagonia’s R2 Fleece
jacket is a solid contender.
Two zippered hand pockets
Zippered breast pocket
Polygiene odor control
Good balance of warmth and breathability
Significantly cheaper than Patagonia’s other synthetic jackets
Cotopaxi’s motto “Gear for Good” is an admirable one that translates into all aspects of its business. They pride themselves on good design, good supply, good deeds, good guarantee, and are involved in numerous projects promoting social good around the world.
Its Pacaya Insulated Jacket
is no exception to this overall goodness and is certainly our top pick for the best skiing midlayer!
It’s clear from the moment you put on the Pacaya that it has been designed with movement in mind. The Polartec Power Stretch underarm panels allow for excellent arm mobility and no part of the jacket feels constricting.
The whole thing also weighs only 13 ounces so you hardly even notice that you’re wearing it! Although this jacket doesn’t have a hood, it has a wonderful high collar that protects your neck from the elements and allows it to easily fit under a ski-shell.
For weather resistance, this item features a 20D nylon shell treated with a DWR finish for standing up well to light moisture. It can’t, however, withstand much rain and definitely needs to be combined with a waterproof shell if there’s any chance of actual precipitation. This said, it is extremely breathable and a good layer to sweat in without discomfort.
Its interior zippered chest pocket provides a great place to hide your valuables while out on the slopes. The zippered hand pockets furthermore guarantee essential warmth for your extremities. On the Cotopaxi website, this jacket is described as “doing a little bit of everything” and this really is the case.
With a men’s
and a women’s
version, both of which are a shell and insulating layer in one, the Pacaya is without a doubt the best ski midlayer on the market!
The Arc’teryx Covert Cardigan
is unlike any of the other midlayers on this list. It doesn’t look anything like what we would imagine when thinking of a midlayer—despite its clean lines and laid-back, casual style, the Covert Cardigan is also sneakily techy. All this, therefore, works together to earn the title of most stylish midlayer.
Arc’teryx claims that it was engineered to provide the “versatility, warmth and comfort of a technical fleece, with the elegant look of wool” and they certainly managed to do just this.
There is a reason that three of our top-thirteen midlayers are from Arc’teryx: they make such awesome gear and this cardigan is no exception.
While of course not well-suited for minimalist hiking, climbing adventures, high-intensity activities or extreme cold/wind, this piece certainly fits the bill for those looking for a jacket for mild-weather hiking, getting around town, commuting or car-camping.
The Alpenex Heathered 100% polyester does an incredible job of appearing like wool, but being much more lightweight, breathable, and better able to regulate temperature than real wool.
It has neither a hood nor thumb loops, but if used for what it is intended (less technical/intense adventures), you likely won’t be missing these features and instead will appreciate the clean look, zip-close pockets and stylish fit of the Arc’teryx Covert Cardigan
Laminated-zip sleeve pocket and laminated-zip hand pockets
While the differences between the R1 and Patagonia’s R2 Fleece Jackets described above might seem slight, they do result in significantly different products.
Perhaps most importantly, we should note that while the R2 jacket features Patagonia’s warmest fleece, the R1
(also available in women’s
) uses a lighter version that makes it much more of a classic midlayer than a jacket.
Lighter and more of a snug, slim-fit than the R2, the R1 is a layer that you would likely put on before a day of adventuring and not need to take off at any point. Its recycled and recyclable polyester makes it a layer with wonderful wicking-abilities, breathability, and warmth. This furthermore makes it versatile enough to be used both as a lightweight insulator or as a thermal base layer.
The clean-cut fit is true to its description as “athletic,” meaning no added bulk but, instead, a good design that hugs your body when you’re still and stretches when you’re moving for ski touring, climbing, hiking or more!
The Patagonia R1
stands up very well for cardio-intense activities where you want a product that provides warmth combined with extreme breathability.
Finally, its use of “permanent odor control” material is another reason to make this your go-to product for high-intensity adventuring.
This fleece comes in women’s
models, both of which have a hood, deep side pockets, a snap-chest pocket, and come in various colors.
Despite my inclination to suggest it more for casual wear than for high-tech needs, it is extremely warm and stands up well to the elements. This weather resistance is courtesy of the wind and water resistant polyester shell along with a scuba-style hood.
What’s more, this jacket is true to size, stylish, soft, warm without being too bulky and flexible enough to allow for more layers both under and over it if needed. I feel confident saying that the Cotopaxi Cubre Full-Zip Fleece Jacket merits the title of top midlayer jacket.
My only wish is that it packed down a little smaller to make it more portable. In the long run, however, the long list of benefits far outweighs this little gripe.
Cotopaxi became known in the outdoor gear world for its unique Del Día packs that were always “crafted with purpose and passion.” Lucky for midlayer shoppers out there, Cotopaxi has since branched out into clothing design. These designs have resulted in this wonderful Cubre Full-Zip Fleece Jacket
, which has clearly been made with equal purpose and passion.
Contrasting colored zipper pocket
Women’s and men’s models available
Wind and water-resistant polyester shell
True to size
Unique color options
Doesn’t pack as small as other similar priced fleeces on the market
If you’re the type who, no matter the weather or activity, always likes to have a hoody somewhere in your layering system, then the Runbold
is the one for you. Mammut has a long history of quality products that hold up to just about anything, and this item is no exception!
The waffle structure hoody works wonders to help you stay warm when needed and cool when not. This is thanks to its lightweight build and excellent quick-drying properties that are continually working to wick moisture away from you.
This will help keep the chill away when working hard in the cold by wicking that sweat and excess moisture away from your body. When you’re out in warmer days, however, the light construction won’t roast you.
The result? A very versatile hoody that can be taken just about anywhere for anything!
I’m also particularly fond of the hidden pocket inside the front kangaroo pouch. It’s the perfect place to store valuables or anything you don’t want slipping out when you’re out completing your activity of choice. The hoody furthermore includes UPF 50+ protection for those extra sunny days.
Please note that this hoody has a very athletic cut, which is excellent for intense adventuring or activities, but it does lead to a snugger fit than you may be accustomed to. If you’re on the fence about sizing, I recommend you go up one just to be on the safe side.
Sizing aside, the Mammut Runbold
is definitely the best hoody out there, in my opinion. It’s light, athletic, and the perfect addition to any layering system!
Arc’teryx’s Cerium LT Hoody
is yet another incredibly impressive example of the thorough attention to detail that Arc’teryx gives its products. It is clear that every inch of this 10-ounce down jacket has been thought through, which easily makes it a killer choice for nearly all circumstances.
Arc’teryx uses nothing but premium materials, including lightweight but durable zippers for both the main zip and the two hand zips. It also features an easily-adjustable StormHood and a combination of insulation types (down and synthetic, depending on location on the jacket).
These work with the jacket’s clean-line construction and design, lack of loose threads and well-kept 850-fill-power white goose down stuffing.
Amazingly light, remarkably warm and tastefully elegant, this jacket is an impressive piece of construction that will help you stay warm on any but the absolute coldest or wettest days. Arc’teryx knows that the downfall of most down insulated jackets is their low ability to withstand moisture, and has responded to that with this gem.
Goose-down is used in the areas where insulation is most important (torso and core), while synthetic insulation that stands up better to moisture is used in the areas most likely to collect moisture (underarms, sleeves and along the shoulders). All of these features add up to make this item arguably the best down midlayer on the market.
The whole jacket appears seamless though and overall provides an extremely efficient combination of warmth, water-resistance, packability and elegance. With its hefty price tag, it is perhaps a bit steep to use purely as a midlayer, although relative to other down insulated midlayers on the market it is not an obscene price.
For anyone seeking a higher-end middle layer that provides versatility for use as a stand-alone down jacket as well as a very warm midlayer, the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody
has you covered. There’s a women’s version
Insulated hand warmer pockets
Super warm for its light weight
Functional in light moisture
Waterproof synthetic insulation in areas of down most prone to moisture
Doesn’t breathe as well as 100% synthetic layers
Overkill for use purely as a midlayer
Arc’teryx Cerium LT Specs:
850 Fill White Goose-Down and Synthetic insulation, 100% Nylon Shell
It is without a doubt the cheapest midlayer on our list, but still packs a punch, and we easily consider it to be the best budget midlayer out there. Soft, comfortable, and perfect to throw on after a day out skiing, snow-boarding or doing any other fun, and cold, outdoor activity!
In terms of technicality and extra features, saying “you get what you pay for” is certainly relevant here. As a low-budget layer, the Steens Mountain Full Zip isn’t packed with extra features like other, more expensive options. That said, for its price, it’s a very solid “no-frills” layer that will do the job of keeping you warm.
I think this layer is best suited as a sweater to wear inside rather than as a go-to layer for outdoors activities. Those of you who are therefore looking for something more technical/guaranteed to keep you warm on a really cold day outdoors should probably consider splurging a bit more cash on one of the other more substantial layers we have coming up.
The North Face Ventrix Hoodie
was designed with climbers in mind, and many of its characteristics directly reflect this. It has a reasonably durable outer layer which is coated with DWR and is made to withstand light wear-and-tear.
The hoodie is furthermore protected with extra material in areas that tend to wear out the fastest when climbing, like the forearms.
It features high-tech perforations in key areas that are designed to respond to your movements by expanding/releasing heat when you move and contracting/retaining heat when still. I know you’re probably thinking that it seems far-fetched, but it works the breathability/warmth combination in this piece is impressive!
Of course, these characteristics also make it a great choice for other activities, so the Ventrix Hoodie isn’t just the best hiking midlayer. It’s also the go-to layer for many mountain biking enthusiasts, skiers and cold-weather hikers, as well as climbers.
The Ventrix Hoodie is comparable to a down jacket, except that it does much better when faced with precipitation thanks to its synthetic insulation.
What down has over synthetically insulated jackets, however, is of course, its packability and the Ventrix Hoodie is no exception. It can actually stuff into its hand warmer pocket down to the size of a football! If your main priority is to find a midlayer that packs small, a down layer definitely takes the cake over a synthetic layer like the Ventrix Hoodie any day.
There’s a reason the North Face Ventrix
earned the 2017 Editors’ Choice award from Backpacker Magazine with its considerably accessible price point, versatility in variable weather conditions, and super impressive overall comfort.
Designed for climbing and other high-intensity activities
Concealed chest and hand pockets
Unique perforations in key areas to help both retain and release body heat when needed
Good price for the quality
Can work as a standalone jacket as well as a midlayer
Pills & shows wear after relatively little use
Hood fits loose unless you’re wearing a climbing helmet
Since 1938, Columbia has gained a solid reputation for having reasonably high quality gear at accessible prices, as well as for having great customer service. The Mountainside Heavyweight Fleece
is a classic article of clothing that works really well as far as budget-midlayers go.
Its contrasting colors, available for both men and women, make it more of a flashy choice than some of the other options here. So if you’re looking for a bit of pizzazz in your midlayer, this is a great option for you!
It runs pretty roomy and can easily fit two or more layers underneath it. Functionally, it works wonderfully as a standalone outer layer for a day of adventuring, or as a midlayer when used with a solid outer shell.
While somewhat basic of a layer in comparison with some of the more expensive midlayers we’ve talked about, it is clear that Columbia paid attention to both the important things.
The fleece is very warm, soft and cozy—and it has very attractive small details such as a subtle and useful zippered breast pocket, along with awesome contrasting color highlights on the hems and seams.
It’s very much a “wear anywhere” fleece and allows you to effortlessly switch between hiking on a trail, to having a snow-ball fight, to drinking craft beers in your local brewery!
Note, however, that it’s noticeably bulkier than other more athletic cut midlayers. But all around, this is a clear choice
for the best midlayer fleece on the market!
It features a design that is unlike any other midlayer we’ve seen on the market, making it eye-catching and elegant as well as technically sufficient for serious backcountry travel.
A two-thirds length zipper is rare to find in mid-layers but works well on this somewhat tight-fitting piece both to increase ventilation and ease the process of taking it on and off.
Its athletic cut and high-quality polyester work in tandem for a non-bulky, easily packable item with a great warmth-to-weight ratio. Meaning this lightweight design does not compromise warmth, which is an ideal feature to look out for when shopping for a midlayer!
I’m also very pleased that the Respirator
has a hood (that’s slim enough to fit under a ski-helmet), perfectly placed thumbholes, and a uniquely placed front pocket – which the whole jacket can pack in to.
While we appreciate the unique cut its front provides, with the diagonal lines and two-thirds zip, some might find it a bit strange. For some, this cut may result in a more boxy-look than a flattering one, depending on body type.
This said, as far as mid-range priced midlayers go, this is definitely the best option for women that we’ve looked at, and is an awesome choice for any woman seeking a layer that is designed specifically for females.
Two-thirds front zip
Pack-friendly chest pocket
Stretch grid-fleece body for faster cool-down
Stretch double weave in spots that tend to be weak for improved durability
Fits somewhat small
The two-thirds front zip could be annoying depending on what you’re using it for
The North Face Women’s Respirator ¾ Zip Mid Layer Specs:
Odlo’s Alagna Midlayer Full-Zip Jacket
is a suitable midlayer to consider if you are seeking a lightweight boost to what is already a pretty warm set-up. It works well on a relatively warm day, or when combined with another thinner base layer for cooler days.
Which, together, make it the ideal midlayer for summer days.
It is not well-suited, however, as a standalone outer layer. This layering piece definitely loves company, which is as you’d expect from a midlayer. As with all of Odlo’s products, the Alagna Midlayer is Fair-Wear certified (guaranteeing that it is made by people working under fair labor conditions).
It also bears the “Confidence in Textiles” label from Oeko-Tex, promising that its materials are non-carcinogenic, don’t contain formaldehyde, are free of allergy-causing dyes, and feature a skin-friendly pH value.
The midlayer also has good moisture management for sweating and considerable wicking properties for light dampness. However, it is not DWR coated and doesn’t stand up too well to actual precipitation or wind.
With its athletic cut and extremely light weight, it is a good option for everyday layering. However, its thinness makes us admit that we don’t recommend relying on this one as your most reliable go-to midlayer for each and every occasion. It’s available in women’s too
Provides great freedom of movement due to the jersey stretch
For those of you who haven’t heard of Kari Traa, it is the fastest-growing sports brand in Europe, started by the Norwegian champion freestyle skier of the same name.
Kari’s goal with her clothing company was to create sports clothes “for girls, by girls” and she has managed to do just that, with huge success.
Her Rothe Midlayer Fleece Jacket
is a wonderful example of the cute, funky style she brings to her designs, as well as the ability her team has to combine usefulness with unique fashion.
This is certainly a wonderful layering piece designed to provide cozy comfort and warmth when worn underneath a ski jacket on a chilly day. But its usefulness doesn’t stop there as it also has a serious potential to turn heads after skiing when you’re enjoying your post-run drinks.
Although it doesn’t have a hood (likely because it was designed to be worn along with a hooded ski-jacket), it still has some very useful features.
This fleece boasts a high collar with a chin guard, and has three generous sized zip-pockets: two for the hands and one for the chest.
While it doesn’t hold up well as a rain jacket or to strong wind, it does work extremely well when combined with a good shell.
It fits true to size, has funky sleeve cuffs and comes in several great color combinations.
Bright, stylish colors
Designed by and for women so its stylish and well-suited to women’s needs
Odlo once again makes this list with their Orsino half-zip
. Light but comfy fleece combined with excellent wicking properties and a guaranteed ‘Fair Wear Foundation’ construction, and you have an ideal active midlayer.
The lightweight fleece used here is flexible to keep you on the move, but dense enough to keep you nice and warm when the temperatures start to drop.
But if you’re working so hard that body heat starts to build up, then easily dump some warmth with the half-zip design.
Now I do wish that this came with a hood to seal the deal for colder weather use. But as we’re missing that, and this is a more lightweight construction than other items on our list, I have to recommend it as a standalone three-season active option.
But, as with any midlayer, they’re designed for layering! So, when those colder temperatures roll in, put this layering piece under a solid outer shell, and you’ll be good to go!
For those of you always on the move, adventuring, or exercising, this can undoubtedly be your new go-to midlayer! Light, warm, stretchy, and stylish to boot, the Orsino
is a natural choice for active use.
When you’re on the move, need excellent moisture wicking, want your skin to breathe, and prefer to limit your environmental footprint – then the Undy Alpha
is made especially for you!
This garment is designed and constructed with the environment in mind, utilizing organic, environmentally friendly, and often recycled materials. However, don’t let that trick you into thinking that this can’t hold its own against other items on the list!
The Undy Alpha’s construction and durability are absolutely top-notch! Excellent moisture wicking and breathability are the name of the game, making this midlayer your best friend for high intensity activities. Ski touring, hiking or climbing, it’ll have your back – especially with its PFC-free water resistance.
While its insulation powers are limited, the Undy Alpha
does embody some impressive wind resistance to keep that chill at bay! The temperature regulation, moisture wicking, and wind resistance therefore all work together to bring together a solid performance oriented midlayer, that’s environmentally friendly to boot! Certainly one of the best on the market for you green minded adventurers out there!
So, you’ve read through our recommendations, but I know you’re still thinking of one big question. Just how do I pick the right midlayer for me? The answer to this question rests solely one what you need out of the midlayer.
Are you looking for a super lightweight layer that is easy to pack with little added weight to your bag? Are you adventuring into the super cold and need something that will keep you warm no matter how low the temperatures go? Is your main priority to look stylish once your adventuring comes to an end?
Depending on your needs, here’s what you need to look out for:
The majority of the midlayers we’ve written about here are either fleece or down. The main things to consider when making the decision regarding your midlayer’s material are packability and water-resistance.
Real down packs super small and offers incredible warmth, but doesn’t stand up well at all when faced with moisture or precipitation.
Fleece, while usually bulkier and harder to pack than down, can have a relatively good level of water-resistance/wicking, especially when boosted by a DWR treatment.
As is the case with any adventure gear, there is always a fine balance between breathability and warmth. In a very simplified sense, the more breathable an article of clothing is, the less ability it will have to keep you warm.
And then, of course, the opposite also tends to be true: the warmer an article is, the less breathable it will be.
Luckily, gear technology is always evolving and many companies out there have found ways to create materials that can adapt well to both conditions, managing to keep you warm when still but also allowing you to breathe while sweating.
All this said, when reading the review of a product, keep in mind whether you personally prioritize breathability (probably the case if you plan on doing cardio-intense activities in your midlayer) or warmth (likely the case if you foresee using your midlayer in cold conditions). And look out for which one the product is better at providing, because it is usually tipped towards one side of the warmth-breathability scale.
If you’re curious on how to probably balance your warmth and breathability for an entire layering system, check out this post on what to wear hiking.
This one probably goes without saying, since any of us looking to buy a new product will almost certainly be keeping their bank account in mind. That said, do remember that when buying gear, it is almost always worth spending at least a little bit more than the absolute minimum.
While spending over $100 on a midlayer may seem excessive, all of the brands we have reviewed here are very well reputed for quality and most have life-time guarantees should something go wrong with your item.
Obviously, we are all buying within our means, but don’t automatically disregard anything that has more than a “$” rating, even if you are traveling on a shoestring! We’re strong believers in buying gear for life.
The way we see it, whatever gear you buy should last ten years or more. So, when you break down a $200 purchase, that’s only $20 per year—or less!
To be honest, all of the products reviewed here are impressively light, especially when you think about the gear that was available 10 to 25 years ago! Depending on your needs, though, those extra ounces can add up—and it’s certainly worth keeping the weight of your product in mind if your main priority is to travel light.
Of course, weight usually needs to be balanced against warmth in the same way that breathability does, so, once again, keep in mind when you’re browsing products whether you want to prioritize weight or warmth when making your purchase.
There you go, folks! We’ve covered it all, from down to fleece, hooded to collared and practical to fancy so you can find the right one for your adventures!
So pick out your midlayer, gear up and go adventure!