“Hang on.” I said, as was introduced to the Smartwool TML hoodie “Is this really wool?”
It sure doesn’t feel like wool; it’s stretchy and bouncy like a softshell jacket rather than other woolen garments, even those from Smartwool. And it transpires that this soft feel comes from a mixture of two-thirds wool and one-third nylon.
Smartwool call it a TML (Thermal Mid-layer) and that it is ‘MID’ in their own weight scale of materials. What that means in numbers is 325-375g, or in practice again about as thick as a softshell jacket.
The styling is unique. It’s a snug-fitting jacket with long arms, a very high chin (covers my mouth entirely) and a close-fitting hood. It’s designed to fit over a base-layer and under a ski-jacket, or waterproof jacket. If you wear it on its own, it has a distinct look of the futuristic, like something you’d see at a fashion show rather than on the hills. But, that said, I quite like it. It’s bold and functional, and isn’t shy about being that way. I have the yellow (ochre) version, but the black version looks very James Bond indeed.
The long arms are coupled with soft thumb-holes, which keeps your knuckles warm and makes sure the jacket doesn’t ride up as you don a coat. I found that these took the chill out of an October morning really well indeed, and although the jacket isn’t completely wind-proof, it keeps you warm and happy when there’s a light breeze.
You get a set of three pockets – two for keeping hands warm, and a chest pocket with an internal outlet for headphones. If you want to accompany your outdoor life with tunes, then it keeps you free of trailing wires.
The hood is stretchy and whilst it’s comfortably snug, it moves around with you easily. The main zip is offset, so it doesn’t rub on your chin, which is a neat touch, and it’s finished with a little baffle so the zip pull doesn’t flap around annoyingly. The hood, being snug, means you can wear it under a helmet with ease.
It’s not cut extremely long, sitting naturally at my waist. It might be a little short for cycling, but is ample for hiking and everyday wear.
So, is the TML zip hoodie a valid alternative to a fleece midlayer?
Yes. Although it’s an expensive alternative. You get a very breathable, very warm top, which would keep you warm(ish) if it got wet and fits really well under other layers. For the money you’d be looking at a top-notch, probably wind-proof microfleece as a competitor, but it would be less breathable than the Smartwool layer when you were doing something sweaty and active.
Wearing the TML is a joy during every day activities. I wore it solidly for a couple of weeks, doing everything from working in an office to hacking through woodland and it felt natural and comfortable. The full-length zip helps you moderate the temperature (it’s very warm) and the hood is perfect for keeping windchill off your ears.
SUMMARY: The Smartwool TML full-zip hoodie is a genuine alternative to a fleece, in terms of warmth. It’s brilliant underneath any sort of outer layer, as it’s so form-fitting and sculpted. As an outer layer it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it. It is expensive though, which has to affect the rating.
Price: £129 rrp