Warm up to the very best mid-layers

Don’t settle for less than the max in mid-layer comfort.

Think of a whale’s blubber. Or bear fur. For humans, mid-layer apparel—including vests, fleece tops, and zip-up turtlenecks—are the prime insulating ingredients in a wintertime suit. Temps plunge. The wind whips. But mid-layers trap body heat and keep you warm.

As the name says, mid-layers go in the middle. “Layering” in outdoorsman-speak is the principle of wearing multiple articles of clothing instead of one thick coat. Common layering technique positions tight-fitting base layers (long underwear) against the skin. See reviews of base layers from our November-December 2009 issue, available on scoutingmagazine.org.

Mid-layers are next up. They’re made to extract moisture (sweat), insulate, and breathe. Then on top, for additional warmth and weather protection, you pull on a parka or a shell jacket that repels wind, sleet, and snow.

The choices here are diverse, from a classic vest to a technical fleece. Most do double duty as a mid-layer and a stand-alone piece for temperate winter days.

Pull one on, put a shell jacket over the top, and the mid-layers will do their best to take the bite out of the cold.

Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of GearJunkie.com.

$99, woolrich.com
Old school and proud of it, the Spencer was inspired by one of the earliest garments ever produced by Woolrich decades back. The vest is made of 100 percent wool—warm as well as tough. A low collar and front-side pockets complete the traditional look but add performance touches still relevant today.


$185, mountainhardwear.com
Employing the same kind of insulation used in its sleeping bags, Mountain Hardwear’s Zonal is a toasty mid-layer that also functions alone as a jacket. The Zonal, which has body-mapped “zones,” dishes insulation out in varying amounts—more where you need it (for the core) and less where you don’t (under the arms and sides).


$70, columbia.com
Tried and true, the Silver Ridge’s polyester grid fleece material is super soft and warm. It serves as a hot mid-layer piece but has Columbia’s Omni-Dry evaporation system for dryness and comfort. A zippered pocket on the chest holds your essential stuff.


$129, firstascent.com
Made for use as a mid-layer insulator or as lightweight outerwear, this hybrid hoodie has textured fleece with a water-repellent treatment added on. The sides and elbows are a polyester/Spandex blend made to stretch. An off-center zip and a close-fitting hood cinch up the top for maximum heat.


$180, icebreaker.com
Luxurious and high-performing Merino wool tops are a big trend in the outdoors world. If you can afford it, a mid-layer like the Aspen Zip will last for years and serve faithfully as an insulating top—trip after trip outside. Icebreaker’s wool is soft, non-itchy, durable, natural, and among the best-breathing materials ever made.


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