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Best Mid Layer

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Best Mid Layer

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This is a gear review about the Best Mid Layer for Backpacking and Hiking. A good mid layer is an important item of clothing, particularly when backpacking and hiking in colder conditions. There are so many options available which means there is a mid layer perfect for every scenario.

How do you find your perfect Mid Layer? This handy guide has been put together to help you do that. There is a buyers’ guide giving you tips and explaining the way to find your mid layer. And a list of the top products available at the moment. Keep reading and you are bound to find the mid layer you want.

Best Mid Layer for Backpacking and Hiking 2022

The Best Mid Layer for Backpacking and Hiking in 2022 are:


Best Mid Layer 2022 – Overall

Patagonia R1 TechFace

Weight: 11.5oz / 326grams
Material: Recycled Polyester Blend Fleece
Pros:
> The dual-adjust cord-lock system at the hem to trap in heat.
> Slim fit to reduce bulk and sag
> 69% of the polyester has been recycled.
Cons:
> Due to the slim fit make sure you get the correct size.

The R1 TechFace is the next generation of their Regulator fleece with its warm, stretchy material that is exceptionally breathable. The unparalleled comfort of this fleece has had a revamp, benefiting from weather and abrasion resistance.

The overall sleek and low bulk design, complete with snag-resistant cuffs, means this mid layer will not restrict movement when worn under your outer layer. The fit of this mid layer is particularly slim to prevent bulkiness, so make sure you check the sizing guides to find your perfect fit. The dual-adjust cord-lock system at the hem can be tightened to sit snugly against the waist to trap in heat and prevents chilly wafts up the midriff. Everything has been done to ensure this jacket fit close to the body to trap warmth.

This mid layer is a good option for those who like to be environmentally conscious as 69% of the polyester it is made with has been recycled.

There are a choice of styles, there is one without a hood and half zip or full zip and hood.

Overall, this is one of the best mid layers for backpacking, casual wear and travel on the market.

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Best Ultralight Mid Layer 2022

Macpac Nitro

Weight: 4.9oz / 140grams
Material: Polartec Alpha Direct Fleece
Pros:
> Ultralight
> Fast wicking material will transfer moisture away from the skin
> The lightweight fabric is machine washable and fast drying
> Elastic thumb loops
> Best in class warmth to weight ratio
Cons:
> The hoods feels best when worn under an outer layer.
> Feels delicate (but is stronger than it looks)
> Only available in Australia and New Zealand

A Macpac Nitro mid layer is a good choice as the company works with the New Zealand Alpine Team, so you know that your mid layer is going to be the best around.

Macpac’s Nitro mid layer is perfect for hiking in the mountains. Weighing in at only 4.9 oz / 140 grams this super lightweight jacket is made with military-grade insulation that many people say, including myself, that this is the lightest, most insulated mid layer they have tried. A big statement but that is how highly I rate this hiking mid layer.

It features a small zip pocket at the chest for easy storage and thumb loops to keep the sleeves in the right place. It also features a hood that is nice when worn underneath a rain jacket or down jacket when you really need insulation from the cold.

The patented Polartec Alpha Direct fibers are so efficient that the need for a backing fabric is gone and is suitable for wear directly against the skin if you choose. But it is better to use one of the Best Lightweight Base Layers that you can afford underneath it.

The Polartec Alpha fabric is incredibly light and has the best warmth to weight ratio of any jacket other than a down jacket, but with significantly better breathability.

Overall, this is the best ultralight mid layer for backpacking. Unfortunately, this product is only available in Australia and New Zealand, but other manufacturers take note, this is what an ultralight mid layer should look like.

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Best Lightweight Mid Layer 2022

Patagonia R1 Air

Weight: 10.2oz / 289grams
Material: Hollow Core Fleece
Pros:
> Large range choice.
> 100% recycled polyester fleece.
> Lightweight
Cons:
> No pockets for hands, just a very small chest pocket

Patagonia’s prestige and superior quality guarantee them multiple spaces on the list of the best mid layers available.

The Patagonia R1 Air range is made from 100% recycled polyester, perfect for lowering your carbon footprint. It is lightweight and breathable technical fleece, perfect for high-exertion activities in colder conditions. The fleece is also quick-drying with woven binding at the hem and cuffs which gives added stretch for a superior fit.

The range extends to a full-zip hoody, a zip-neck option, and a crew neck so you are bound to find the perfect mid layer that suits your needs.

Overall, this is one of the best lightweight mid layers for backpacking.

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Best Lightweight Breathable Mid Layer 2022

Rab Alpha Flash

Weight: 9.6oz / 272grams

Material: Polartec Alpha
Pros:
> Polartec Alpha
> Odor resistant technology in the polygiene fabric
> Great warmth to weight ratio.
> Lightweight
Cons:
> This mid layer is designed to be slim to prevent bulking so check the size guide to find your perfect fit – those with an athletic build may need to size up.

The Rab Alpha Flash is made with Polartec Alpha fabric. I’m a big fan of this fabric.

It is made from lofted knit fibers which are connected to a solid mesh core – the lofted knit fibers provide unparalleled warmth while the mesh core offers durability and protection from the elements. It is exceptionally breathable and quickly wicks away moisture, guaranteeing you will feel warm and dry no matter your exertion.

The low bulk construction of this mid layer and flat-locked seams allow all-day comfort under any outer layer. The half hem drawcord also ensures the perfect fit around the waist for comfort and warmth retention.

It is made using Odor resistant technology in the polygiene fabric ensures prolonged freshness, reducing the number of times this mid layer needs to be washed which will prolong the life of the product.

It comes with a small chest pocket just big enough for your essentials and no hand pockets. The full zip is great but adds to the weight making this much heavier than the best in class Macpac Nitro.

Overall, this is one of the best lightweight breathable mid layer for backpacking.

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More Mid Layers for Backpacking

Arc’teryx Kyanite AR Hoody

Weight: 13.4oz / 380grams
Material: Polartec Power Stretch Pro
Pros:
> Great comfort and mobility.
> Two hand pockets with zippers

> Stretchy fleece fabric
Cons:
> Slim fit but check sizing.

The Arc’teryx Kyanite Hoody offers stretch fleece with enough insulation to make it perfect to use as a layering piece during cold conditions, or as a standalone piece when the climate is milder.

The breathable and lightweight design is incredibly soft, meaning it can be worn next to the skin. But like most mid layers it is best to be used over a quality backpacking base layer.

With enhanced moisture wicking properties and stretch technology for ergonomic freedom, you are guaranteed all-day comfort with this mid layer.

Comfort is also a given with the chin guard to stop chin and neck zipper chafing, as well as a low-profile hood to limit bulking under your outer layer. There are also two hand pockets with zippers are secure enough to store all small essentials or are perfect for warming up chilly fingers.

Overall, this is another awesome mid layer for hiking and backpacking. If you are a fan of Arc’teryx, you will love this jacket.

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Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody

Weight: 6.9oz / 195grams
Material: Merino Wool and Capilene Polyester Blend
Pros:
> Responsible Wool Standard certified material
> The high collar and seamless hood with its shape that mirrors the contours of the head to ensure warmth.
> Knit with elastic at the cuffs and hem make for comfortable extended use and recovery.
Cons:
> Not best suited for milder climates.

Patagonia’s prestige is such that they are featured again on the list of mid layers, this time with a hoody which would be a perfect mid layer for cold climates or would make a good stand alone layer.

The three-dimensional knit structure of the Capilene Air Hoody gives incredible comfort range and amazing warmth. Its seamless design offers supreme comfort and minimal bulking under any outer layer.

The merino wool used in the jacket is sourced from Responsible Wool Standard certified farms, ensuring the protection of the animal and the land they graze and making this mid layer the perfect sustainable purchase.

The fabric is made from a mix of merino wool and recycled polyester and wicks moisture, but it is quick drying properties mean you are bound to remain odor free. The material is also soft against the skin and stretches for all day comfort.

Overall, this is a great mid layer that is light in weight and warmer than it looks and lives up to Patagonia’s ethos on responsibly sourced materials and commitment to sustainability.

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North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Full Zip Jacket

Weight: 10oz / 283grams
Material: Recycled Polyester Fleece
Pros:
> The wide range of sizes
> Elastic around the cuffs

> Two zippered hand pockets
Cons:
> The new TKA fabric is very lightweight and perfect for warmer days but is not so ideal for very cold hikes unless paired with additional insulated outer and base layers.

The Glacier Fleece is designed with hiking specifically in mind, offering lightweight and breathable warmth which is perfect for long days trekking in the cold.

The TKA (thermal kinetic advancement) polyester fabric was created by North Face for superior insulation and repels moisture and dries quickly for prolonged warmth.

Overall, this is a reasonable lightweight mid layer for hiking and backpacking.

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Buyers Guide

Wearing multiple layers is incredibly important for dressing for hikes. While the importance of a synthetic material base layer and waterproof outer layer are repeated regularly, buyers are less aware of the importance of wearing a good mid layer.

Mid Layer

The mid layer is worn between the base layer and outer layer and is the layer that provides any actual warmth. The warmth provided by your mid layer depends on the ‘loft’ which is an indication of the layer’s ability to trap warm air.

As such, the importance of picking a good mid layer cannot be overstated. Preferences will vary depending on the activity and buyer, making finding your perfect layer a daunting task, but there are some key things to bear in mind.

One of the most important factors to consider is the material that your mid layer is made of as not all materials are suitable for all conditions.

Down

Goose and duck down, for example, is the best insulating material by weight available for mid layers but only works when dry so is unsuitable for any wet conditions. Unless you are going into extremely cold areas I don’t recommend down as a mid layer. It works best as the layer to use over the top of the mid layer or as the outer layer unless it is raining.

Fleece

Fleece is a common choice as it is incredibly soft, comfortable, lightweight, and insulating. Fleece is a unique fabric in that it keeps its insulating properties even when wet but is also unable to absorb moisture.

It is machine washable for easy care and is breathable for all day comfort. The only possible downside is that fleece can clump together in unattractive pills which eventually affects insulation.

Fleece and all it’s latest upgrades such as polartec alpha are leading the way in lightweight insulating mid layers. I believe these are the best mid layer materials.

And fleece is generally made from recycled plastic water bottles, it’s good to recycle and reuse.

Merino Wool

Merino wool is another popular option for mid layering pieces and can be used for good base layers too.

Merino wool has antimicrobial properties which will limit unpleasant odors, as will its breathability, and is considered to be more sustainable as it is a natural fiber. But the down side is that it is quite heavy for the weight and can be fragile unless used as a blend.

If you are purchasing your mid layer pieces for more intense activities involving unpredictable weather, a softshell jacket may be for you.

Softshell

A softshell is usually woven from polyester and is worn between a waterproof outer layer and a fleece on an inner layer.

When worn as part of a layering system, a softshell will prevent any moisture that is penetrating waterproof outer layers from hitting your skin and lowering your temperature.

They are more durable and offer better protection from the elements than just fleece or merino wool alone, hence their popularity amongst those partaking in intense outdoor activities. 

Softshells generally are not the best materials for mid layers but they can be used as an outer layer in winter.

Mid Layer for Cold

If you’re purchasing a mid layer for extremely cold days, opt for an insulated jacket. They are the warmest and most insulating mid layers available and work by trapping air between fibers.

These fibers are either down or synthetic, with synthetic being the better option for wet environments or if you intend on wearing your mid layer during intense activity due to the fibers’ moisture resistance.

Fit

The fit of your mid layer is important as improper sizing will not give you the benefits of wearing the piece. Ideally, a mid layer is worn tight enough that body heat is retained but is loose enough that you are still able to wear base layers underneath. 

Weight

As part of a layering system, mid layers need to be light enough that they are not adding unnecessary bulk as this will limit your freedom of movement.

Look for mid layer pieces that have polyester, Lycra, or Spandex as part of their composition for additional flexibility.

Breathability

Breathability is also important to consider here as a mid layer with low breathability will make you feel uncomfortable throughout the day and keep any perspiration close to the skin which should be avoided.

At the opposite end, a mid layer with low absorption will block any water penetrating the outer layer from hitting your body.

Frequently Asked Questions

How should my mid layer fit?

Mid layers are generally not designed to fit in the same as standard, everyday wear which can make sizing difficult.
For the best fit, make use of the brand’s sizing guidelines to find the perfect piece to give complete coverage and protection from the elements.
It is important to find mid layering pieces that do not bulk up, particularly for the bottoms, to ensure comfort and movement. 

Do I need a mid layer?

If you are going out into a high temperature or will be engaging in intense sustained exercise, you may not need a mid layer.
It is, however, a good idea to pack a lightweight layer with you in case you stop or the weather changes to prevent yourself from getting too cold.
As legs stay warm due to exertion, especially with skiing, a mid layer on the bottom half can be skipped even in colder conditions as long as the weather is not too extreme.
For extremely cold or glacial conditions you absolutely need a mid layer. This can be a tricky balancing act as you need to find a layer that will insulate enough that you do not get cold, but not so much that you get too hot and begin to sweat.
When wet, some of the insulating properties of a mid layer are lost and you will quickly feel the cold.

Final Thoughts

When hunting for the perfect mid layer, remember to keep in mind the conditions you will be wearing your mid layer in. For very cold temperatures, look for thicker insulation but opt for more lightweight fabrics if you are hiking in warmer areas.

Don’t forget to consider your activity level – more exertion means you will be warmer and the less insulation you will need.

Above all else, comfort is important. Your ideal mid layer should never be uncomfortable but should instead fit snugly. An irritating fit on your mid layer will be surprisingly distracting and will detract from your hiking experience. 

Overall the overall mid layer is the Patagonia R1 Air. With the best Ultralight Mid Layer being the Macpac Nitro and the best full zip lightweight mid layer is the Rab Alpha Flash.

Another one of the Best Hiking Gear Reviews from BikeHikeSafari.


Best Mid Layer

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About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Chile.

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