This is a gear review about the Best Mid Layers for Hiking and Backpacking for 2022.
Good mid layers are an important item of clothing, particularly when backpacking and hiking in colder conditions. There are so many options available which mean there are hiking mid-layers that are perfect for every scenario. Keep reading to find which one is right for you.
Best Mid Layers for Hiking and Backpacking 2022
The Best Mid Layers for Backpacking and Hiking in 2022 are:
Best Mid Layer 2022 – Overall
Weight: 11.5oz / 326grams
Material: Recycled Polyester Blend Fleece
> The dual-adjust cord-lock system at the hem to trap heat.
> Slim fit to reduce bulk and sag
> 69% of the polyester has been recycled.
> Due to the slim fit make sure you get the correct size.
The Patagonia 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 hiking midlayer will not restrict movement when worn under your outer layer. The fit of this backpacking 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 fleece 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 is 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.
Best Synthetic Mid Layer 2022
Weight: 12.8 oz / 363 grams
> Good pockets
> Good use of recycled materials
> Would be good if it was a bit lighter
The Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody Jacket is one of the best windproof mid-layers made with quality synthetic material.
The Patagonia Nano Puff uses Primaloft Gold Eco insulation which is made from 100% recycled synthetic material. I think this is the best synthetic insulation material for insulation on market at the moment. Add to that the good windproof polyester shell which is also made from 100% recycled material. It also comes with two zippered hand pockets which are well situated.
It comes in a hoody and non-hooded version and also a vest so you can choose whatever suits you best. I prefer the hooded version.
Overall, the Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody synthetic mid-layer jacket is very popular and one of the best backpacking jackets in this review. You will see hikers in this jacket in all the corners of the world.
Best Down Mid Layer 2022
Weight: 309g / 10.9oz
> Ultra lightweight.
> 850 fill down.
> More fragile material than some other jackets reviewed.
> Hydrophobic down would make this the best down jacket.
The Arc’teryx Cerium LT is a super lightweight down jacket that is much warmer than it looks.
Although the Arc’teryx Cerium LT 850 fill-down jacket does not use hydrophobic down, it does have a water-resistant outer with DWR Treatment. Some of the high moisture areas use synthetic insulation instead of down. This leads to a good level of water resistance but the lack of hydrophobic down will keep this jacket from being a favorite wet environment.
The outer material of the jacket is a very lightweight fabric that is windproof and strong enough to withstand mild abuse. But it is a bit more fragile and care is needed to make sure it is not destroyed by sharp sticks on the trail. Hiking on trails is perfect. Bashing your way through an unmarked trail with sharp sticks in the middle of nowhere, maybe not.
Overall, this lightweight down jacket uses high fill power non-hydrophobic down and is one of the better down jackets. It is ultra-light and warm enough for thru-hiking all but the wettest of trails.
Best Lightweight Mid Layer 2022
Weight: 10.2oz / 289grams
Material: Hollow Core Fleece
> Large range choice.
> 100% recycled polyester fleece.
> 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 a 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 best fleece mid layers that suit your needs.
Overall, this is one of the best lightweight mid-layers for backpacking.
Best Ultralight Mid Layer 2022
Weight: 4.9oz / 140grams
Material: Polartec Alpha Direct Fleece
> 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
> Only available in Australia and New Zealand
> The hood feels best when worn under an outer layer.
> Feels delicate (but is stronger than it looks)
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, is the lightest, most insulated fleece layer they have tried. A big statement but that is how highly I rate this hiking fleece jacket.
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 all ultralight mid layers should look like.
Best Lightweight Breathable Mid Layer 2022
Weight: 9.6oz / 272grams
Material: Polartec Alpha
> Polartec Alpha
> Odor-resistant technology in the polygiene fabric
> Great warmth to weight ratio.
> 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 that 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 these fleece mid-layers and flat-locked seams allow all-day comfort under any outer shell. 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 ensure prolonged freshness, reducing the number of times the mid layers 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 light weight breathable mid-layers for backpacking.
More Mid Layers for Backpacking
Weight: 13.4oz / 380grams
Material: Polartec Power Stretch Pro
> Great comfort and mobility.
> Two hand pockets with zippers
> Stretchy fleece fabric
> Slim fit so 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 fleece 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 shell layer. There are also two hand pockets with zippers that are secure enough to store all small essentials or are perfect for warming up chilly fingers.
Overall, this is another awesome fleece mid-layer for hiking and backpacking. If you are a fan of Arc’teryx, you will love this jacket.
Weight: 6.9oz / 195grams
Material: Merino Wool and Capilene Polyester Blend
> 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 to make for comfortable extended use and recovery.
> 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 Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody gives incredible comfort range and amazing warmth. Its seamless design offers supreme comfort and minimal bulking under any outer shell 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.
Weight: 10oz / 283grams
Material: Recycled Polyester Fleece
> The wide range of sizes
> Elastic around the cuffs
> Two zippered hand pockets
> 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 fleece mid-layer for hiking and backpacking.
Total Weight – 249g / 8.8oz
> very small pack size
> Perfect for the ultralight thru-hiker
> No hydrophobic down
> No adjustments in the hood
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 is one of the most popular Lightweight Down Jackets among the ultralight thru-hikers of the world. A brilliant combination of some of the lightest fabrics and no-frills designs combine to make this one of the top picks.
The updated Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer 2 down jacket does not use hydrophobic down as it had done previously. In my opinion, this is a move backward but it has bought the price down a little which is positive.
Despite the lack of hydrophobic down, it does have a good DWR finish but overall this jacket does not fare well in damp conditions.
Another thing used to keep the weight down is the elastic on the hood rather than an elastic draw chord. This helps keep the overall weight. Overall the jacket works well and is a top pick for the ultra-light thru-hiker.
I would love to see the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 return to using hydrophobic down as was the case on the previous model before this update.
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 is one of the best ultralight down jackets for backpacking in 2022. It is also one of the most packable as it stuffs into its own pocket.
Weight: 428g / 15.1oz
> Reasonably priced considering it is Patagonia
> Environmentally friendly
> Not the lightest down jacket
> Bulky pack size
The Patagonia Down Sweater is one of the most popular down jackets in the world. A combination of environmentally friendly design and manufacturing, combined with a good lightweight fit makes for a great down jacket.
As you would expect with Patagonia, they use a recycled nylon face fabric coated with a DWR. The down is ethically sourced 800 loft.
The combination of the quality down, good face fabric, functional fit and a good set of hand pockets and chest pocket make for a good down jacket. With the exception of the environmentally friendly heritage, there is nothing special about this jacket. And that is what makes it great. No frills, no marketing hype. It just works.
Overall, this is one of the best down mid-layers without the frills and marketing hype. It just works. If you are heading off on the trails or traveling the world, this is one of the best backpacking down jackets on the market in 2022.
Weight: 13.2 oz / 375 grams
> Good side stretch panels
> Wind resistant
> Looks stylish
> A bit heavy
The recently updated Arc’teryx Atom LT now has a better level of insulation and the outer face fabric is a bit better than the previous model.
While it is not as warm as a down mid-layer it has a good wind-resistant fabric and enough insulation for most conditions. It looks quite nice and is one of the most stylish jackets in this review. The Arc’teryx Atom LT would be a good choice for heading out in damp cool weather and while it will not be as warm as a down layer it will keep you warm. The side stretch panel helps with movement when active.
Overall, the Arc’teryx Atom LT is one of the best synthetic mid layers in this review and well suited for use backpacking, hiking, skiing, traveling, or around town on those cool days.
Weight: 11.2 oz / 318 grams
> Good Stretch
> Nice Pockets
> Wind-resistant outer shell
> Not as warm as some of the fleece or Down Jackets
The Patagonia Nano Air is a good jacket in almost every respect but doesn’t reach perfection in any area. And the fact that it is good at everything is one of the best things about the jacket, there is not much to fault.
The synthetic puffy jacket gives a good level of warmth and breathability. Add to that the windproof outer material and it keeps the warmth in when needed. But it will not compete with any of the down jackets for warmth or any of the Polartec Alpha jackets for breathability.
It has nice accessible pockets, and full-length zip, and comes in a hooded jacket option.
Overall, the Patagonia Nano Air Jacket is one of the best windproof layers with good breathability and performance in bad weather.
More Mid Layers to Consider
Here are more mid-layers for hiking that I am in the middle of reviewing.
- REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket 2.0 – The REI Co-op 650 down jacket 2.0 is one of the best budget insulation jackets thanks to the lower fill power but if you can spend just a little more then you can get much better.
- The North Face Thermoball Eco: The North Face Thermoball Eco is in the process of being reviewed and will be added soon.
Wearing multiple layers is incredibly important for dressing for hikes. While the importance of a synthetic material base layer and the waterproof outer layer is repeated regularly, buyers are less aware of the importance of wearing a good mid layer.
Hiking Mid Layer
Mid layers are worn between the base layer and outer layer and are the layer that provides any actual warmth. The warmth provided by your hiking 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.
Types of Fabrics
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.
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 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 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 its latest upgrades such as Polartec Alpha are leading the way in lightweight insulating 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 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 downside 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.
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.
Synthetic Insulation is generally a little warmer than many fleece jackets and performs better in damp weather than down. As yet synthetic insulation is unable to provide the warmth weight of down, nor is it as packable as down. But it is only a matter of time before technology will produce something to rival down insulation. They are also very breathable which is great when hiking and backpacking.
Feature of The Best Mid Layers
There are several features of mid layers that you should take into consideration.
Almost all the jackets in this review come in several versions and almost all offer a hooded version.
Chest pockets, hand pockets, or no pockets. Those are the usual choices.
Chest pockets are usually quite small and not that practical. Most are small and not even big enough for a smartphone, but they will fit keys or small things.
Hand pockets are good on these middle layers but if your goal is to be an ultralight hiker then you will look for something without pockets.
Some of the ultralight layers have no zips to reduce weight but most have either a full zip or half zip. If opting for a zippered jacket it is usually better to have a full zip for more versatility when it comes to venting heat when needed.
Mid Layer for Cold
If you’re purchasing mid-layers 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.
The fit of your jacket is important as improper sizing will not give you the benefits of wearing the piece. Ideally, mid layers are worn tight enough that body heat is retained but are loose enough that you are still able to wear base layers underneath.
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.
Mid layers that have polyester, Lycra, or Spandex as part of their composition for additional flexibility.
Breathability is also important to consider here as mid layers 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, mid layers with low absorption will block any water penetrating the outer layer from hitting your body.
While most of the gear in this review will last you a very long time it should be noted that some will last longer than others. Fleece will slowly shed its fibers over time until eventually there is not much left. If you manage to look after your fleece jacket and get 10-15 years out of it you will see there is not much left. And they are prone to getting holes as the fabric is not the strongest.
Polartec Alpha is a delicate fabric and for those who are tough on their clothing, you may want to choose something else. If you are wearing this as an outer layer and hiking off trail Polartec Alpha will get holes quite easily.
Down jackets and Synthetic insuation jackets tend to have a delicate outer fabric that is not the most durable if hiking off-trail.
Overall, when hiking on trails all the fabrics are quite durable but when off trail and exposed to sharp rocks or tree branches your gear might suffer.
One of the good things about using a middle layer for hiking is the price. They are certainly not the most expensive clothing item. But the price comes with value as most of these layers will not only serve the purpose of layering when backpacking and hiking but can be used skiing, traveling, or around town.
The best hiking mid layers for 2022 are:
Frequently Asked Questions
Mid layers are generally not designed to fit in the same as the 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.
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.