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Creating The Perfect Layering System: Choosing Mid Layers

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Finding the perfect mid-layer may seem overwhelming, but our buyer’s guide can help. Learn about different types and which activities they’re best for, then check out top-selling options from Patagonia, Black Diamond, Ibex, Icebreaker, and more.


The midlayer is a crucial element of personalized outdoor attire. It serves as an additional layer for those who are active and tend to feel warm, especially during frigid skiing days. For those who get chilly easily, it’s the essential piece they reach for whenever they venture outside.

The midlayer is an essential tool for customizing outdoor apparel. For those who are warm-blooded and enjoy intense skiing, it is a necessary addition on freezing days. For the cold-prone hiker, it is the preferred piece of clothing for any outdoor excursion.

With countless options to sift through, it can be overwhelming to find the ideal mid-layer for your needs. But don’t worry, we’re here to help you navigate the process. From understanding the various types of mid-layers and their recommended uses, to finding the perfect fit for you, our comprehensive buyer’s guide has got you covered.

We’ve also handpicked a selection of top-selling mid-layers from the top brands such as Patagonia, Black Diamond, Ibex, Icebreaker, and many more.

Women’s Wool Aire Vest in Bloodstone. Photo: Ibex.

Table of Contents:

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Three Layer System

Before diving into mid-layers, it’s important to grasp the concept of the three layer system. This method is essential for dressing appropriately for activities like skiing, sailing, and hiking. The 3-layer system consists of a base layer, mid-layer, and shell jacket. To effectively layer your clothing for outdoor activities, it’s important to understand that each layer serves a specific purpose in keeping you comfortable and protected.

The Base layer is designed to wick away moisture and provide sun protection if you choose to remove other layers. It serves as the foundation for regulating temperature and managing moisture. For a deep dive into Base Layers, see our Buyer’s Guide.

The Mid-layer adds extra warmth that can be removed during intense activities and added back when temperatures drop.

And finally, the Shell jacket acts as your outermost barrier against rain, sleet, or even waves. Don’t let the elements get the best of you; be prepared with these essential layers.

This layering system is versatile and adaptable, allowing you to tackle activities like skiing, snowboarding, sailing, hiking, or any winter adventure with confidence. Essentially, layering in cold weather means wearing multiple garments of different levels of thickness to provide warmth, regulate body temperature, and shield against harsh conditions. The main advantage is the ability to easily add or remove layers as needed during your activity.

Stio’s proven ski and snowboard styles are designed and tested in the Tetons. Photo: Stio

Available Mid-layer Materials

The middle layer of clothing is essential for retaining body heat and keeping you warm. Its main function is to trap the heat radiating from your body, making you feel warmer. The effectiveness of the insulation used determines how warm you will feel.

When it comes to middle layer materials, you have a wide selection of choices, ranging from synthetic to natural. In general, thicker or more fluffy materials provide more warmth, but the effectiveness of the insulation is also a crucial factor. Some commonly used middle layer materials are listed below, but there are other options as well, such as wool and wool blends.

For middle layers, you have a few clothing options to choose from, including polyester fleece, down-insulated jackets, and synthetic insulated jackets.

Polyester Fleece

Polyester fleece is well-known for its softness, making it a popular choice for midlayer clothing. While not as technically advanced as other options, it offers convenience and comfort similar to wearing a sweater indoors. Fleece garments are also low maintenance and come in various colors and patterns, making them versatile additions to your wardrobe. Typically made from polyester, a synthetic material, fleece provides insulation at different fabric weights. While not the lightest or warmest option available, a fleece jacket is suitable for recreational activities but may not be suitable for extreme expeditions.

Polyester fleece is available in different weights – lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight – usually marketed as 100, 200, and 300 weight. This material is great because it retains warmth even if it gets wet and dries quickly.

A specific type of fleece has a pile structure is known for its breathability, making it a popular choice for high-energy activities in cold conditions. Lumberjacks who work physically demanding jobs in the cold often prefer this type of fleece. However, it does not offer much protection from wind.

Fleece has good breathability, so you are less likely to overheat while wearing it. However, this breathability means that wind can easily pass through the fabric and steal warmth from your body. To combat this, it is important to have a shell layer on hand when using fleece as a middle layer. Alternatively, you could opt for wind fleece, which includes an inner membrane to block wind.

Here are a few of our favorite Mid Layers made with Polyester Fleece.

Helly Hansen Panorama Printed Pile Jacket

Helly Hansen has been creating high-quality gear in Norway for over 140 years. It began in 1877 when Captain Helly Juell Hansen discovered a better way to stay protected from the elements. He and his wife Margrethe launched a business producing oilskin jackets, trousers, sou’westers, and tarpaulins – and the legend was born!

The Men’s Panorama Pile Jacket, designed by Helly Hansen, is a cozy and plush jacket perfect for the fall season. It also serves as a practical midlayer option to wear under a shell on those chilly winter days. The updated version now comes in a printed style and boasts recycled polyester material, a full-length zip, and a high neckline for added protection against the elements.

The Panorama Pile Jacket comes in two colorways, including 658 Hickory Woo (shown below) and 452 Bright Moss.

The Panorama Pile Jacket in 658 Hickory Woo. Photo: Helly Hansen

Cotopaxi Teca Fleece Full-Zip Jacket

Cotopaxi’s mission is fueled by adventure and a desire to make the world a better place. By creating gear that enhances outdoor experiences, they also fuel positive global change. As part of their mission, they commit at least 1% of their revenue to nonprofit organizations that support communities struggling with poverty.

The Teca Fleece from Cotopaxi is great as a stand-alone jacket or midlayer. Each fleece is made from best-in-class, 100% recycled polyester fleece (255gsm) that would otherwise end up in the landfill.

The Men’s Teca Fleece comes in six colorways, including Bodyboard (shown below), Turnip Up, Headwinds, Turn A Leaf, Rooted and Night Walk.

Also available in Women’s.

Teca fleece in Bodyboard. Photo: Cotopaxi

Merino Wool Jackets and Vests

Forget the uncomfortable wool clothing of the past. Merino wool, with its incredibly soft and fine fibers, has taken over as the preferred material in place of traditional wool. It can also be blended with other fabrics, such as spandex, to improve both fit and flexibility.

Merino sheep are well-suited for nomadic pasturing in semiarid climates. Their wool can absorb 30% of its dry weight in moisture, making it ideal for nomadic humans as well. Whether you’re a herdsman or just wandering the hallways of your apartment building, merino wool keeps you comfortable anywhere. It’s versatile and suitable for all seasons, perfect for various activities from the gym to hiking up a mountain.

Merino sheep on a farm in New Zealand.

Merino wool has a variety of characteristics that make it a popular fabric choice: It effectively wicks away moisture, although some may still be retained in the core of the fibers. This can provide some comfort in colder temperatures, but it may take longer to dry when wet.

Additionally, merino wool releases this moisture when exposed to warmer temperatures, providing a cooling effect in hot weather. While moderately durable when worn under other layers, it may not withstand constant rubbing from heavy pack straps.

Take a look at these top picks of Mid Layers featuring Merino Wool.

Ibex Shak Merino Wool Jacket

Ibex is a brand that makes merino wool performance apparel, named after the agile and active Ibex goat. Just like the migratory Ibex goat, the brand was created for those who transition from the office to the mountains and everywhere in between, combining fashion and function.

Ibex goats in a nature reserve the Swiss Alps.

The fabric used in Ibex’s Ponti fabric is a blend of Austrailan merino wool, serving as both a mid layer and outer layer (100% Merino; Weight(s): 300 gsm (Lite), 345 gsm (Classic); Merino Fiber Width: 19.5 microns). This double-knitted fabric provides exceptional insulation by taking advantage of the natural elasticity of merino. Whether you’re skinning up a mountain or reaching for the final edge, this interlocking structure allows for ease of movement.

The Shak collection, inspired by the legendary explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, relies on this durable and versatile fabric for any expedition you may embark on. The collection has a variety of options for both men and women, including jackets, vests, and hoodies in classic and lite fabric weights.

Our favorite is the Shak Jacket from Ibex ($260), a must-have addition to your wardrobe. Made of high-quality merino wool (thickness: 19 microns, fabric weight: 375 gsm), this jacket not only provides reliable warmth but also looks professional and stylish. The dense merino material offers exceptional performance and natural stretch, while the full front zip, chest pocket, and zippered hand pockets add functionality. Its soft texture is gentle on your skin but still provides excellent insulation for all your adventures.

This piece of clothing is incredibly versatile. I wear it to work every day during the winter, with just a t-shirt underneath, and it still looks professional and put together in the office environment. It’s also perfect for alpine skiing, providing both warmth and flexibility. When I travel for work, this is my go-to outfit. The Shak jackets are top quality; I’ve never had one pill or develop holes like many cheaper wool sweaters do. They may be a bit pricier, but in my opinion, they are definitely worth the cost. I highly recommend the Shak jackets for their versatility and durability.

The Men’s Shak Jacket comes in five colorways, including Sitka, Dried Tobacco, Choccy (shown below), Charcoal, Copper, and Olive.

Also available in Women’s.

The Shak Jacket. Photo: Ibex

Ibex Wool Aire Vest

The Wool Aire Vest by Ibex ($235) combines everyday style with comfort and performance. Made with a unique merino wool insulation, this lightweight puffy vest helps regulate your body temperature for optimal performance. It features an athletic fit with an elasticized hem and secure zip pockets to protect your valuables. Additionally, the Bluesign® certified face fabric ensures both wind and water resistance.

The Wool Aire Vest comes in three colorways, including Oxy Fire (shown below), Deep Ocean Orange and Black.

Also available in Women’s.

The Wool Aire Vest in Oxy Fire. Photo: Ibex

Down Insulated Jackets and Vests

With its high compressibility, down insulated jackets are perfect for packing and provide superior warmth compared to other insulating materials. The fill power of down, ranging from 450 to 900, determines its efficiency. Additionally, the shell material of down jackets offers some protection against water and wind. However, it’s important to note that down loses its ability to insulate when exposed to moisture.

Check out these top picks for mid layer jackets and vests, all insulated with down. They’re our favorites!

Black Diamond Approach Down Hoody

Black Diamond is dedicated to mountain sports. They share your excitement for adventure on rock, ice, and snow, which motivates them to create top-quality equipment and apparel for the global community. Their passion for innovation started with basic tools and has led to groundbreaking gear like the first wire gate carabiner and the iconic Camalots.

A down layering piece for chilly fall belays, breezy ridgelines and serious expeditions alike, the Approach Down Hoody ($380) packs down to nothing and is ready in an instant for dependable alpine-worthy warmth.

The Approach Down Hoody is perfect for layering on multi-pitch rock routes or under a shell. It features an ultralight nylon ripstop shell with Green Theme International’s environmentally friendly, durable DWR technology. The premium 800-fill HyperDRY™ goose down insulation offers warmth and weather resistance. When it’s time to move, the jacket easily stuffs into its own pocket and can be clipped to a harness. For 2023, the fit and sizing have been updated.

The Approach Down Hoody comes in four colorways, including Drifter Blue (shown below), Pewter, Tundra and Black.

The Approach Down Hoodie in Drifter Blue. Photo: Black Diamond.

Stio Pinion Down Sweater

Stio connects people with the outdoors through functional, mountain-inspired products. Based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, they find inspiration from their daily adventures on rivers, trails, and summits. Every piece of apparel is designed for technical performance and versatility in both epic alpine pursuits and everyday mountain life.

Unexpected chills can strike as easily on the bike ride to the pub as in the mountains, and the lightweight Pinion Down Sweater by Stio prepares you for both. In keeping with their passion for protecting the places where they play and being accountable stewards of these places, Stio has shifted this flagship, mid-layer insulator to 100% recycled nylon.

Wearable year-round insulator and with sleek, modern style, the Pinion features a lightweight and abrasion-resistant Pertex Quantum ripstop shell that blocks wind and light precip. Responsibly sourced, 800-fill HyperDRY water-repellent down stays warm and lofty through mixed alpine conditions. The Pinion offers low-bulk comfort under a harness or over a button-up, and a self-stuffing pocket makes it a packable no-brainer in any season.

The Pinion Down Sweater comes in five colorways, including Tender Shoot (shown below), Red Elderberry, Blue Heron, Mountain Shadow and Magnet.

Also available in Women’s.

The Pinion Down Sweater in Tender Shoot. Photo: Stio

Patagonia Down Sweater

With a mission to protect our planet, Patagonia is more than just an outdoor apparel company. Yvon Chouinard established the company in 1973 with this goal in mind. Based in Ventura, California, Patagonia is certified as a B Corporation and is one of the founding members of 1% for the Planet.

Ideal for any activity, the Down Sweater from Patagonia ($280) is a lightweight and windproof option. It features a shell made of NetPlus® 100% recycled nylon ripstop, created from discarded fishing nets to help combat ocean plastic pollution. The jacket is insulated with 800-fill-power down that is certified by Control Union (CU 880272) as being sourced responsibly and in adherence with animal welfare standards. By purchasing products with the Responsible Down Standard certification, consumers show their support for ethical practices within the down and feather industry.

The Down Sweater is available in nine colorways, including Moose Brown, Carmine Red, Black, Cosmic Gold, Passage Blue (shown below), Nouveau Green, Obsidian Plum, Basin Green, and New Navy.

Also, available in Women’s.

Photo: Patagonia

Synthetic Insulated Jackets and Vests

In the world of insulated jackets, synthetic options have been striving to match the efficiency of down for years. While they may not compress as well, synthetics are a popular choice in wet environments because they still provide insulation when damp. Just like down, synthetic insulation is always encased in a shell that adds water and wind protection.

Check out our top picks for Synthetic Insulated Jackets and Vests that make the perfect Mid Layers.

Outdoor Research SuperStrand LT Insulated Jacket

Ron Gregg, founder of Outdoor Research, was a nuclear physicist who loved exploring the wilderness. He brought his research approach to outdoor problem solving and this ethos still guides the company today.

Ideal for effortless layering, the Outdoor Research SuperStrand LT jacket for men is both warm and incredibly lightweight, making it the perfect companion for any high altitude or cold-weather excursion.

The SuperStrand LT Jacket shares its name with the innovative VerticalX™ SuperStrand technology. This jacket is designed to mimic the lightness and fluffiness of 700-800 fill down while also providing exceptional warmth when wet. Made from ripstop nylon, it can withstand abrasions and protect against wind and light rain.

The unique quilting pattern reduces stitching and allows for continuous warmth distribution. What’s more, this jacket can be easily packed into a compact size of only 10 oz. It compresses down to fit in the palm of your hand. With its impressive warmth-to-weight ratio, the SuperStrand LT Jacket is perfect for layering over base layers and under hard shells to handle any type of weather or temperature.

The SuperStrand LT Jacket comes in five colorways, including Naval Blue (shown below), Verdant, Space Jam, Topaz and Black.

The SuperStrand LT Jacket in Topaz. Photo: Outdoor Research

Black Diamond First Light Hybrid Hoody

A versatile and well-insulated mid layer, the First Light Hybrid Hoody from Black Diamond combines the benefits of their First Light insulation with strategically placed merino wool to enhance breathability. Designed for activities like pre-dawn starts and night-time descents, this dynamic hoody adapts to your movements and keeps you warm. With PrimaLoft Gold Active Insulation in key areas like the hood, chest, and arms, and a blend of merino wool for increased ventilation and range of motion. The lightweight 20D stretch nylon ripstop shell is coated in a PFC-free DWR for unexpected weather protection. Zippered chest pockets provide storage for small essentials.

Primaloft, a polyester-based insulation material, is created by weaving together ultra-fine strands and binding them with a synthetic agent. Primaloft Gold is considered one of the top synthetic insulators on the market, offering exceptional warmth and moisture-wicking properties for active individuals in harsh conditions. Lightweight, water-resistant, and quick-drying, it is a popular choice for extreme environments.

The First Light Hybrid Hoody comes in four colorways, including Tundra (shown below), Octane, Drifter Blue and Black.

Photo: Black Diamond

Should You Opt For A Hood?

Deciding on a midlayer with a hood comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. For some, it may not be their preferred style. However, the added protection and warmth for the head and neck in harsh conditions make it worthwhile. It can also serve as an extra insulating layer when worn under an outer shell. Know that having a hood on your midlayer may limit movement and obstruct peripheral vision, while also adding bulkiness and making layering more difficult. Alternatively, you may opt for separate headgear like a beanie or balaclava. Ultimately, the choice to go for a hooded midlayer depends on your personal preference, planned activity, and the weather forecast.

Skyblue Featured Video: Black Diamond Solution Wool—A Superior Merino Wool Baselayer

Featuring innovative patented NuYarn stretch Merino wool, which utilizes Merino wool’s natural performance properties, we have engineered this fabric to be stronger, warmer, and dry faster than other Merino wool fabrics on the market by utilizing the technology of wrapping a nylon core with extra-fine Merino fiber—the Solution 150 Baselayer offers superior thermoregulation and moisture management and is naturally odor-resistant.

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