The cold is here; have no fear! WIth a midlayer, you’ll have your own, private, sort of insulation system on your very own body. Think of it as a warm winter comforter that you don’t have to share with anyone else. The key to staying warm as you venture outside all winter long is layering. The midlayer is the insulation layer. It is typically the warmest piece of clothing you have on. Making the midlayer the warmest is key to comfort while doing high cardio adventure sports in the outdoors because this layer can be taken off if it starts to become too hot. Insulated outer-layers cannot be removed since this top coat is also what keeps you waterproof in the snow. Check out our top picks below.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 11 hrs of research
Top 10 Picks
1. Marmot Flashpoint
Not particularly warm
The Marmot Flashpoint is a nicely fitted fleece. The thinner fabric this jacket is made from means it a streamlined mid layer that won’t make you feel bulky.Read more
This is not the warmest midlayer on the market. It is made with a microfleece fabric that is moisture wicking and highly breathable, meaning it will keep you dry and cool.
Style & Fit
This jacket comes in blue, black, and white. It has a slim, flattering fit, and a high collar to keep your neck warm. It is only available for women and is available in sizes from XS to XL. All reviewers say that this fleece runs true to size.
This midlayer fleece has two zippered pockets in the front. It also has a zippered pocket on the left am which has a media hookup. The sleeves on this jacket have gaiters which provide extra comfort by holding the sleeves in place. Additionally, the hand pockets double as handwarmers!
This fleece is cheaper than most other options for midlayers. The reason for this could be the fact that it isn't quite as warm as some of the other options we have, but it is, undoubtedly, a great layering piece.
The Marmot Flashpoint is an economical choice for a women’s midlayer. It is not the warmest jacket, so if you need something for consistently frigid days this may not be the best choice. However, it does the job on warmer days and offers a flattering fit with some great features.
2. Helly Hansen Regulate Lightweight
Comes in many color options
Could be warmer
This Helly Hansen Regulate Lightweight midlayer jacket has a shell and a lining that is made from 100% polyester to keep you warm. It is a versatile jacket that works as a stand-alone wind protection and as a heat regulating mid layer.Read more
This jacket has an impressive warmth-to-weight ratio for a lightweight down jacket. It has the ability to change in all types of weather conditions and add an extra layer for in times of colder weather conditions.
Style & Fit
This Helly Hansen Regulate Lightweight midlayer jacket features the awarded HFlow technology as well as works with the Helly Hansen CIS system. Which makes it possible to zip together with several of our shell jackets.
This midlayer comes at a price that is much lower than other similar products. It is a great jacket for the cost.
This Helly Hansen Regulate Lightweight midlayer jacket has four front zip up pockets
and a zip up front closure to help hold all of your belongings safely. It is a great high quality jacket with wonderful reviews.
3. The North Face Thermoball
Available in many colors and patterns
Available for men and women
The North Face Thermoball is made with synthetic insulation but has the look of a down puffy. It is another lightweight option for a midlayer that will keep you warm but won’t let you overheat. It is also water resistant, and its synthetic insulation will stay warm even when wet.Read more
This is not the warmest jacket on this list, however, the synthetic insulation that it is made with does a great job of balancing heat and breathability. As a midlayer, this jacket should keep you cozy even on very chilly days.
Style & Fit
This midlayer is meant to be fitted but lacks the athletic cuts that give many fitted jackets their attractive, slim look. Because of this, it can appear a bit boxy on. Still, it is an attractive jacket overall and comes in many different style and colors. It is available for both men and women and can be purchased with or without a hood.
This jacket has two zippered hand pockets as well as an internal chest pocket that can also be zippered shut. The hem includes a synch cord, that can be tightened to keep heat in.
This jacket is priced right on par with what one should expect to pay for a midlayer jacket.
The North Face Thermoball jacket comes in many different colors, including fun patterns that can’t be found on other similar jackets. It does not have the most flattering look, but fits well and will do a great job of keeping you warm underneath your shell.
4. Arc'teryx Cerium LT
Can be packed down easily
Lightweight and breathable
Functional in light moisture
The Arc'teryx Cerium LT is a premium down jacket that is warm, especially for how lightweight it is, well-designed, and with a beautiful construction. This jacket isn't the most budget-friendly, but we assure you that it is well worth the price tag.Read more
The Cerium LT uses a hybrid insulation with high quality down fill around the core and synthetic fill under the arms, around the sleeves, and along the shoulders. This jacket has a great deal of warmth, though slightly less than the heavier down sweaters. That being said, the amount of warmth in comparison to their packability is great. The only time you might feel this jacket is lacking is in ultimate frigid and wet conditions. The jacket's insulated hand warmer pockets are a great addition.
Style & Fit
This jacket is described as a trim fit. While sizes will run true to standards, the cut is more athletic than other down similar jackets. The adjustable waist cinch is a nice touch to better cater to your size. This jacket moves with you, as opposed to feeling bulky.
This mid layer jacket is expensive, but with so many wonderful features and such high-quality insulation is worth the price.
The Arc'teryx Cerium LT makes wonderfully warm mid layer underneath your shell. It comes in a few attractive colors. Coupled with its slim fit, this jacket will have you looking great while it keeps you cozy.
5. Outdoor Research Ascendant
Available for men and women
Available with hood
Hand pockets can’t be zippered shut
The Outdoor Research Ascendant is a softshell jacket that does a good job of blocking rain and wind. It is also breathable and lightweight while providing ample warmth, making it a great choice for a midlayer on chilly days.Read more
This midlayer jacket has synthetic insulation that is exposed to the inner part of the jacket. This gives it an extra cozy feel. The synthetic insulation dries quickly and provides ample breathability, making this jacket a great midlayer on days with variable weather conditions.
Style & Fit
This is a slim fitting jacket. As a midlayer is hugs your body, meaning you avoid any extra bulk. It is available in styles for men and women. It has a high collar and can be bought with or without a hood that is large enough to accommodate a helmet. It comes in a variety of attractive colors.
This jacket has three pockets, two hand pockets, and one chest pocket. The hand pockets do not zip shut while the chest pocket does. Thumb loops at the end of the arms help to keep the jacket in place. The hem on this jacket has a drawstring that allows it to be sealed off.
This midlayer comes at a price that is on par with other similar products.
The Outdoor Research Ascendant is an all-around great jacket that works especially well as a midlayer. It provides ample warmth but lets your body breath if you begin to sweat. It also happens to be one of the lightest weight jackets on the market.
6. Arc’teryx Atom LT
Available for men and women
Comes in many colors
Available with hood
Excessive as a midlayer on warmer days
The Arc’teryx Atom LT is a tried and true midlayer jacket. It has a rain and wind resistant outer shell, warm synthetic insulation, and an attractive, slim fitting look that has been perfected over the years.Read more
This jacket is warm, and with its moisture-resistant outer fabric, this jacket can work well as a stand-alone on more mild days. On cold days it fits snuggly under a shell. Lightweight fleece material under the underarm and inside of the sleeve coupled with the general breathability of this midlayer’s insulation make sure you don’t overheat though.
Style & Fit
This jacket is very slim fitting. If you are looking to place layers beneath it, going a size larger than you normally do may be a good idea. It comes in a large variety of colors, and in styles for both men and women. It has a high neck and can be ordered with a hood.
This midlayer has two hand pockets that can be zippered shut.
This jacket is quite expensive, coming at a price that is well above the average for high-quality midlayers.
The Arc’teryx Atom LT is a wonderfully warm midlayer jacket. It has a flattering look and comes in a large number of colors, which means you will be able to pick the one that fits your style just right. This jacket represents quality, and although it is pricey it is well worth it.
7. Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man
Breathable and warm
Not rain or wind resistant
The Mountain Hardware Monkey Man provides more breathability than jackets that have insulated linings, however, that also means that it lets the wind in. This makes it an excellent midlayer though, with warm and soft fleece insulation, and lightweight, thin material.Read more
This fleece jacket is soft and warm and will do a great job of keeping you cozy when worn as a midlayer. The material is thin and easily releases heat when you become hot. It also includes lightweight side panels to increase breathability and mobility.
Style & Fit
The fuzzy material that this jacket is made from hugs your body to create a slim, athletic look. It is available in many colors, and there are styles for men and women. Be aware that the women’s version is called the “Money Women”. Synched cuffs and waistband as well as a high collar help to keep you cozy in this midlayer.
This midlayer has three zippered pockets, two for your hands and a third above your left breastplate. All pockets can be zippered shut.
This jacket is inexpensive compared to the average prices for midlayers.
The Mountain Hardware Monkey Man is a wonderfully comfortable fleece that is designed to work perfectly as a midlayer. This jacket offers the right combination of warmth and breathability all at a very reasonable price.
8. Black Diamond First Light
Available for men and women
Available with a hood
Excessive as a midlayer on warmer days
The Black Diamond First Light is a warm midlayer that offers more protection from the wind and rain than other jackets on this list. However, it remains breathable, although the tougher outer material of this jacket makes it a bit excessive under a shell on more mild days.Read more
This jacket is lined with warm, synthetic insulation. The outer fabric is a soft-shell that repels water and dirt but is not waterproof.
Style & Fit
This jacket has a simple, flattering look. It is designed in styles for both men and women, with the women’s version having a slightly more unique look. It comes in a variety of very attractive colors. All versions of this jacket have a high collar, and some include a hood that can snuggly fit a climbing helmet beneath it.
This jacket has hidden hand pockets that can be zipped shut. It also has an inner mesh pocket that doubles as a stuff sack.
This midlayer jacket is expensive compared to many similar products.
The Black Diamond First Light jacket is a versatile choice for a midlayer. Because it has some waterproof capabilities it can also work well as an outer layer in somewhat severe weather. It is breathable and warm, making it perfect as a midlayer on chilly days.
9. Patagonia Nano-Air
Warm yet breathable insulation
Available for men and women<
The Patagonia Nano-Air is a truly top of the line midlayer. This jacket regulates body heat like nothing else while also providing sufficient warmth on days when the temperatures dip into the teens or lower.Read more
This jacket is made with Patagonia’s brand new FullRange insulation that allows for greater breathability without losing any of its warmth. This means that this midlayer simultaneously traps heat but won’t let you get too hot when you start working up a sweat.
Style & Fit
This midlayer jacket is available with or without a hood. It can also be purchased in a style tailored to men or women. It has a high neck for increased warmth and purposeful paneling that increases the quality of fit and makes it more durable.
This midlayer jacket has three pockets, two for your hands and one on the chest, all of which can be zippered shut. It also has an adjustable drawstring hem that allows you to seal in warmth.
This jacket comes at a premium price point. However, with the quality guarantees and lifetime warranty that come are included with the Patagonia brand, it is worth the price.
The Patagonia Nano-Air is a fabulous, versatile midlayer that will keep you warm when you need it to but will also never let you overheat. Although it is very expensive, this jacket represents the top of the line and deserves its premium price.
10. Smartwool Corbet 120
Strategically placed insulation
Styles for men and women
The Smartwool Corbet 120 has a versatile design that concentrates insulation where you need warmth the most – on your chest. The fabric used on the back and arms is a stretchy knit that is still warm but allows for easier movement.Read more
This midlayer uses a 3 to 1 blend of Merino wool and polyester to insulate your chest. The back and arms are made with a stretchy knit fabric that is lined with Marino wool as well. This makes for a jacket that is warm but also very breathable, which is important in a midlayer.
Style & Fit
This jacket uses two types of fabric that together create a unique and stylish look. The chest and high neck are insulated, while the back and arms are knit. In most styles of this midlayer the two types of fabric are different, contrasting colors. This jacket is available for both men and women in a wide variety of colors.
This midlayer jacket has three pockets, two for your hands and one inside which is compatible with a media player. All pockets can be zippered shut. The sleeves on this jacket include thumb holes.
This jacket is not cheap, however, it is not that much more expensive than the average price for a high-quality midlayer.
The Smartwool Corbet 120 is one of the nicest midlayers on the market. It is highly breathable, yet its strategically placed insulation will keep you very warm. It also has a unique and stylish look that will ensure you turn heads everywhere you wear it.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
Some jackets have extra features that greatly add to their utility. One of the most crucial to look for is hand gaiters. These are a small hole that can be found at the end of each sleeve that is supposed to be worn around your thumb. This feature extends the sleeve down, over your hand and has two purposes. The first is to provide your hands with extra warmth. These gaiters basically act like fingerless gloves, keeping the lower half of your hand covered if you have to take your gloves off for any reason. They also keep your sleeve in place and make the process of layering up much simpler.
Although almost all midlayer jackets have two hand pockets, there are some extra bells and whistles that your pockets can have that you should watch out for. The first are zippers, which is an almost ubiquitous feature at this point. Zippers add a level of security to your pockets that is important while adventuring in the backcountry. An extra pocket, typically located on the outside or inside of the chest, can also be extremely helpful. Finally, if you like to listen to music as you exercise, look for a media port located in one of your jacket’s pockets. This helpful hole allows you to thread your headphones through the inside of your coat while keeping all your pockets tightly shut.
The final feature you should look for is the ability to synch shut the bottom of your jacket. This is done using a drawstring cord that will be located within the hem. This feature is great because it helps to keep your body heat in on cold days. It can also be useful for keeping your jacket in place.
None of these features make or break a jacket, however, they can be important for ensuring that you are the most comfortable that you can be. Think about how you will be using your midlayer jacket, and if any of these features are important to you decide that right away. This will help you weed out jackets, and simplify the entire process.
Most midlayer jackets are styled with a slim, athletically cut fit. This fit is ideal for a midlayer because it hugs the body, making it easy to fit your jacket under a larger shell. If you want to put more than a thin base layer beneath your midlayer though, the tight fit can be problematic. If that is the goal sizing up for your midlayer is probably a good idea, and as long as you have a spacious shell this shouldn’t make it harder to fit your midlayer beneath it.
Despite offering a slim fit, midlayer jackets should still provide ample movement. If you feel that your jacket is constricting in any way than it is probably too small. If it isn’t too small, try out a different jacket since it’s possible that it just doesn’t work for your needs. If you need extra mobility, look for midlayers that have lighter, stretchy fabric underneath the arms and along the sides, since these are the areas that move the most while you exercise.
Before choosing a midlayer jacket you want to be sure that it comes in the style that you are looking for. Some jackets are only available for men or women, while others can be bought in a style designed for either gender. The shape of a jacket varies greatly depending on which gender it is designed for, so make sure to buy the correct one.
Another important style consideration is whether or not a midlayer jacket has a hood. This is strictly a matter of preference, and almost all jackets that don’t have hoods still have collars to provide extra warmth to your neck. Many hooded jackets are also available in a style that doesn’t have one and visa-versa. This means that if you find the perfect jacket, but it isn’t styled quite right, look around – there may actually be another version on the market.
Fleece jackets stand alone in terms of insulation. They don’t have any inner insulation, but rather utilize the fleece material that they are made of for warmth. The thicker the fleece the warmer it is. The number you want to look for is weight in grams per square yard, with the higher weights representing thicker fleece. The thickest fleece jackets are very warm but do not breath well. If this is the type of midlayer you want, go for something that weighted at 200grams or less.
Other midlayer jackets are lined with one of three insulation types: synthetic, down, or Marino wool. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Synthetic insulation is more breathable than the others and retains its heat after becoming wet. However, it is also heavier and not as warm. Down insulation, which utilizes the under feathers of geese and ducks, is much warmer, extremely lightweight, and can be compressed more than the others. This insulation falls short in terms of breathability though and ceases to be warm if it becomes wet. Merino wool, which is the least common type of insulation on this list, which is surprising because in many ways it combines the best of what the other insulation types have to offer. It is more breathable than down and continues to provide warmth after becoming wet. It is also warmer than synthetic insulation. Jackets made with synthetic and wool insulation use the same method as fleece to measure their warmth. Down jackets use fill power, which denotes how much space in cubic inches one ounce of down fills up – higher numbers mean more warmth.
For use as a midlayer, fleece, synthetic, and wool insulated jackets are your best bet. This is because they provide ample warmth, but also release heat more readily ensuring that you won’t overheat. However, if you are looking for a midlayer jacket that will keep you warm in subzero temperatures, down may actually be a better choice.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
The right midlayer jacket can be the cornerstone around which you design your wintertime active wear. This jacket must be warm, yet breathable so that it keeps you comfortable in a variety of temperatures and as you work up a sweat. Picking a jacket that has some type of water and wind resistance adds to its versatility, and allows you to wear your midlayer as an outer layer as well. Clearly, this piece of apparel is integral to staying comfortable in all sorts of weather, so take your time when deciding which jacket is right for you. Midlayer jackets are not cheap. The top jackets on the market will cost you well over $200, while average prices fall somewhere between $150 and $200. Cheaper jackets can be found, but often the lower price is a sign of lower quality material and an unflattering fit. However, if you are determined to get your jacket at a lower price, good deals are out there.
Other Factors to Consider
The breathability of a jacket is determined by two main factor. Firstly, is the density of the fabric. Lighter weight fleece is more breathable than thick fleece, and for insulated jackets, a softshell will keep you warm while also allowing excess heat to escape. The second factor is the addition of lighter weight fabrics in strategic areas, such as along your sides, in your underarm, or on your back. These are the areas that are less crucial for keeping but the heat in, but also tend to overheat first. A midlayer is there to provide extra warmth and insulation on super cold days. However, you also want your midlayer jacket to be able to breathe if you start to get hot. The more adaptable a jacket is to both the temperature outside and your body temperature, the more comfortable it will be on your wintertime adventures. This adaptability comes from several factors including the type of insulation used, the density of the outer fabric, and strategically placed lighter fabrics that allow the release of excess heat.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: What are some of the best brands to look at for finding a midlayer jacket?
A few brands stand out above the rest when it comes to performance jackets. The uncontested king is Patagonia. Not only does this brand have some of the best midlayers on the market (I’m looking at you nano-air), but they have incredible customer service and a lifetime warranty on all their products. If your Patagonia clothing rips you can send it in and they will repair it free of charge. it doesn’t matter how long you’ve owned it, or even where you bought it.
Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, Mountain Hardware, Smart Wool, and Outdoor Research are a few other brands that also offer incredible quality. Of course, all of these brands are super expensive. If you are looking for a jacket at a better price, Columbia can be a good choice, although the lower price often does mean shoddier material and fit.
Over the brand names, we think that which website you search on is almost more important. With websites such as Zappos, they offer free shipping and free returns. As an added bonus, they ship their items out insanely quickly. We prefer to buy on sites like the ones we have linked here because they are full of honest reviews from people just like you. So, even if you’re shopping on a budget, you will still be able to find something for you and read honest reviews.
q: What are common buyer’s mistakes?
The most common mistake that people make when buying a midlayer jacket is to get something that is the wrong size. Whether too large or too small, keep in mind that this jacket will be work as a layer and therefore must be able to accommodate other clothing above and below it. Think about how you like to layer so that you can purchase something that fits perfectly. If you are going to deviate from your normal size, sizing up is usually the better choice.
The other common mistake is to buy a jacket that is to warm and lacks breathability. Thinking about your jacket abstractly you may believe that you need as much warmth as possible. Warmth is important of course, but this jacket is meant for active use, making breathability more integral for comfort.
q: How does layering with a midlayer work?
The most common way to layer for wintertime activities uses three different pieces of clothing. At the bottom is a moisture wicking base layer. This can be a tank top, short sleeved t-shirt, or long sleeved t-shirt depending on preference and the weather. Above that comes the insulated midlayer. Finally, the outer layer should be some type of shell jacket. Hardshells provide more protection from the elements, while softshells are more breathable.
The importance of a midlayer is twofold. Firstly, this is the layer that provides the most insulation and is therefore what keeps you warm. Secondly, the midlayer can be removed if it becomes too hot, while the outer layer, which provides protection from the elements, cannot be removed. This second reason is why it is crucial to keep your insulating layer and protective layer separate – if your outer layer is providing cover from water and wind as well as warmth, you have less versatility in terms of how hot your outfit it. This lack of versatility makes it more likely that you will sweat, which can wet your clothes and becomes dangerous as you begin to cool down again.
q: What types of activities require layering with a midlayer?
Midlayers are important when doing high cardio activities during the winter. Backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, alpine climbing, and fat tire biking are all examples of sports where wearing a midlayer is crucial. Activities that are less intensive in terms of cardio, but put you outside in the cold for long periods of time are also good times to wear a midlayer. In resort skiing and snowboarding, and dogsledding are examples of these types of activities.
q: How does one wash a midlayer jacket?
How to properly wash a midlayer jacket depends on what type of insulation it uses. Most fleeces are machine compatible. They are ok in cold or warm water but use a gentle cycle. Also, turn them inside out to prevent pilling. Hang drying a fleece will be easier on the fabric, but placing them in the dryer won’t ruin the material. Again, use the gentlest setting and remove the fleece from the dyer as soon as it is done. Jackets with synthetic insulation can be washed similar to fleece, except always wash them in cold water and use dry powder, unscented detergent.
Down jackets require more special consideration when washing than other types of insulation. Like synthetic jackets, use a mild detergent. Don’t wash your down jackets in a top loading machine, since the center agitator can damage the jacket. Make sure to wash your down in cold water on the gentlest cycle possible. Drying your down jacket should be done in the dryer. Air drying may actually cause the jacket more harm since it increases the potential that the down feathers will clump. Tumble dry your jacket at low heat, and add tennis balls to the drier. The balls will fluff the down insulation as it dries. Make sure the jacket is completely dry before putting it back in your closet.
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