In previous reviews we’ve looked at baselayers and waterproof jackets, so it’s time to look at the next item in the standard hillwalking layering system – midlayers. Generally taking the form of a light fleece pullover with a half-zip I find the combination of baselayer, microfleece and a windproof capable of dealing with most of my non-winter hillwalking. The beauty of the microfleece pullover – my preferred option – is the simplicity; a half zip for venting and a high neck for cosiness. Fleece is generally make from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which is thermally efficient and hydrophobic and retains insulative properties when wet – ideal for a cold and wet Scottish environment. Like PET bottles fleece is also recyclable and some manufacturers offer a recycling scheme. The fabric wicks and breaths well but isn’t particularly windproof. Ignore fleeces that incorporate a membrane to provide enhanced weatherproofing – these simply add weight, bulk, cost and reduce breathability.
Not all fleece fabrics are created equal – brand names generally come with improved performance such as greater warmth per weight and longevity, but fit and weight is also important. In this review – and the companion female midlayer review by Helen – we’ll be looking at midlayers from basic budget options to more advanced and expensive models.
Berghaus Spectrum Micro Grid Half Zip PulloverRRP £45
This is my preferred microfleece style with a couple of nice additional features. The main body of the garment is proprietary AT Micro fabric with a cosy velour finish on the inner face and a standard piled outer. Beneath the arms the thinner AT Optic fabric is used which has a grid pattern to improve ventilation in this warm area. The half-zip is deep and easy to operate with an internal flap, and the small chest pocket mesh-lined but somewhat superfluous unless you like that kind of thing. The good high collar is double-thickness for improved cosiness and has a little house for the zip pull to prevent beard entanglement. The bottom hem and sleeves are finished with a stretchy hem that prevents draughts but permits above-elbow rolling. As you’d expect the shoulder seams are off the shoulder to prevent problems when carrying a pack. The fit is reasonably close to permit easy layering and reduce dead space. A good balance of price and performance.
Fabric: AT Micro & AT Optic Weight: 346g (size L)
Craghoppers Corey II MicrofleeceRRP £30
Despite the already modest RRP I’ve never seen this fleece for sale at £30 – savvy shoppers should be able to find the Corey II for much less. But even at £30 this is a great buy, and if we did a ‘Best Value’ award this would certainly win it despite the lack of features found on more expensive options. The fabric is a generic fleece that isn’t particularly windproof but does the job, and the fit is relaxed without being boxy. All hems are simply finished but the fabric has enough inherent stretch to allow the sleeves to be rolled up. The half zip is basic – no inner flap or beard guard here – but the collar is double thickness with a line of contrast stitching around the top matching the embroidered logo on the chest. The raglan sleeves places the shoulder seam out of the way of pack straps. There’s nothing else to say – a basic fleece with no unnecessary features (and therefore a low weight) at a good price.
Fabric: 100% polyester microfleece Weight: 305g (size L)
Jack Wolfskin GeckoRRP £40
The Gecko has been around for a while and it’s clear to see why. With the incredible low weight of 237g for my size L and great stripped-down performance it’s hard to justify carrying anything more complicated in my pack. Like the heavier Craghoppers Corey II the Gecko features are limited to a half zip and double-thickness collar – no unnecessary features to add weight and bulk. The fabric is lightweight but warm and breathable and the fit standard and non-restrictive, layering well beneath a shell and over a baselayer. It’s worth noting that the shoulder seams run right across the shoulder – an odd decision that I expected to cause rubbing when carrying a pack – but in use my concerns were unfounded. The neck zip is deep enough to offer venting options with a tape zip pull to accommodate cold fingers and gloves. No pocket and no niceties such as a beard guard, just superb warmth and wicking performance from the proprietary Tecnopile Micro fleece fabric which shows no signs of piling after several washes.
Material: Tecnopile Micro Weight: 237g (size L)
Keela Pulse MicrofleeceRRP £25
Showing that reduced price doesn’t necessarily mean reduced features, the Pulse microfleece from Glenrothes-based Keela has a lot going on. Keela’s own Zetland fabric is lightweight, breathable and thermally efficient, criss-crossed with quite a few flatlocked seams to generate the two-tone styling. In contrast to the Berghaus Spectrum the underarm panels don’t seem to offer any practical function – they appear to be the same fabric so it must be simply an aesthetic choice. The reversed neck zip is unnecessarily chunky with an internal flap and beard guard. I must ask Helen if this feature is present on the female version… I like the feel of the collar – it’s slightly higher than on other models and particularly pleasant to wear. The seams are simply finished but the fabric doesn’t appear to stretch as much as other garments, and whilst it’s possible to push the sleeves up there is consequently a bit of wizard sleeve effect. A good weight and price, but a slightly overcomplicated design.
Material: Zetland 100 Micro Fleece Weight: 264g (size L)
Montane Fury Jacket RRP £90
This is what happens when you use branded fabrics and a technical, engineered approach to outdoor garment design. The Fury is firmly aimed at mountaineers, with a snug performance-oriented cut. The main body is made from Polartec Micro – a fabulous fleece which is the fabric that others aspire to be. The underarm panels and hood are Polartec Power Dry which offers great freedom of movement whilst insulating and wicking well. The hood is a clear nod to mountaineers who desire a hood that’ll layer underneath both shell jackets and helmets – it’s very well implemented though of course offers little weather protection when worn alone. The smooth-running full zip is supplemented with an internal flap, as well as a curious V-shape lining of Pertex Microlight stretching from chin to mid-chest (the stitching is visible to the left of the logo in the photo). This has been included to allow users to partially open the front zip of a shell jacket for venting without letting wind cut through the fleece. A nice idea. Harness-friendly pockets and a cord and toggle hem adjustment keep things snug, though the length really isn’t generous. Whilst it’s undoubtedly a high-quality midlayer the Fury is clearly aimed at mountaineers and the price, close fit and features are probably overkill for most hillwalkers.
Material: Polartec Classic Micro & Polartec Power Dry Weight: 348g (size L)
Paramo Summit Hoodie RRP £117.50
I’m alternately delighted and dismayed by Paramo’s insistence on producing high-performance kit that totally ignore aesthetics. Paramo’s flagship jackets are effectively a permanent combination of midlayer and windproof shell and I’ve often desired a more modular approach. This is it – the closest you can get to a Paramo pump-liner without the outer shell. Designed to combine with the Fuera Ascent windproof the fit is almost uncharacteristically close for Paramo, with a short length to ensure it doesn’t poke out from the bottom of the Fuera. The long pit zips – almost elbow to navel – line up with those of the Fuera for venting, necessary if wore outside of winter due to the high level of insulation the fabric provides. The Analogy Fleece is more like velour, with a smooth inner face and strokable outer, and as you’d expect the fabric actively sucks the moisture from inner to outer for onward transmission through the outer layer. Treated with Nikwax TX Direct it repels water pretty well too, and after a rain shower looks similar to animal fur. It’s thick though, and you’ll notice the sagging fabric at the sleeves which are elasticated but don’t seem to take in the excessive fabric. It’s an expensive midlayer, and unless superb moisture-management is required I’d look elsewhere.
Material: Nikwax Analogy Fleece Weight: 612g (size L)
Patagonia R1 Pullover RRP £95
The R1 Pullover has a cult following amongst the climbing community, but it’s certainly not a cheap option at £95 RRP. Suitable for use as either a winter baselayer or non-winter midlayer the inner face comprises a fleece grid pattern which traps air to improve insulation, aids wicking and reduces bulk, with a smooth outer surface which appears durable as well as aiding layering. There are few features so the high price relates to the efficiency of the fabric – as it’s a refined version of the already great Polartec Power Dry it performs superbly – wicking moisture away from the skin, stretching and drying quickly when wet. The fit is ‘athletic’ so quite snug to aid the mechanics of moisture movement, but there shouldn’t be a need to size up to layer over a non-winter baselayer. The grid pattern extends over the top of the high collar which is a nice touch, the half zip is deep enough to effectively vent, and the small chest pocket has a brushed mesh lining to avoid any impact on the functioning of the fabric. Simple but effective, if this can be found at a reduced price snap it up. It’s a firm favourite.
Material: Regulator Insulation (Polartec Power Dry) Weight: 349g (size L)
Result R114X Micron FleeceRRP £12
Result are better known for their workwear rather than hillwalking and outdoor wear, so the cut is aimed squarely at this market with a relaxed, baggy fit and full length reversed zip. The fleece fabric is pretty good given the RRP – it compresses well, insulates as it should and doesn’t feel particularly cheap. The zip on the other hand does, but it hasn’t failed yet and perhaps I’m being unkind. The side seams incorporate two simple handwarmer pockets – totally obscured by a rucksack hipbelt – and the shoulder seams are well off the shoulder to prevent rubbing. The hems are all simply finished and the non-elasticated sleeves pull over the elbow easily. A perfectly acceptable budget midlayer, particularly if a full length zip is required.
Material: Polyester Thermal layer 200gms Micron Fleece Weight: 331g (size L)