Gear editor Phil Turner writes, “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.”
Following on from Phil’s review of men’s midlayers, Helen takes a look at a range of fleecy midlayers designed for women.
Keela Micro Pulse TopRRP £24.95
Scottish company Keela regularly produces well-designed, good quality clothing at a reasonable price and this top is no exception. Made from Zetland 100 Microfleece it has very good warmth to weight ratio, flat locked seams (which I feel could have been even less bulky but raglan sleeve design meant there was no seam chafing), good length neck zip for ventilation and ease of taking off. Nice added touches include slightly bowed longer back and fleece baffle and top cover for the zip. Fit is slim, making it very suitable as a base layer in colder weather, if you intend to use it mainly as a mid layer or prefer a looser fit best to order a size up. Good arm movement and no bobbling or wear after a good number of outings and washing cycles. Fabric feels lovely next to the skin and is actually a bit fleecier than the stock photos in the catalogues which make the fabric appear smoother. Available in sizes 8 – 20 and in 3 colourways: Turquoise, White or Raspberry all trimmed with Grey. A firm favourite for cooler days already.
Fabric: Zetland 100 Microfleece Weight: 180g (size 10)
Craghoppers Miska MicrofleeceRRP £30
Setting aside my thoughts on the practicalities of an off-white fleece on the hill (other more practical colours are available) this really is a super soft luxurious feeling fabric. Often available at considerable less than the RRP its a good value, long lasting item, which apart from the fabric and useful quarter zip has no outstanding features but does the job. Seams are not flat locked but not overly bulky either. Fit is relaxed so perfect for wearing over a base layer but will be a little shapeless for some people. Not as lightweight as some and weighing 40g more in our test than the manufacturers stated weight, but still drys well and good warmth to weight ratio. Sizes 8 – 20.
Material: Polyester fleece Weight: 240g (size 12)
Arc’teryx Delta LT ZipRRP £60
I really like this as a base layer, very warm for its weight, and the grid fleece with flat lock seams is very comfortable and packs down to the smallest bulk of any tested here. Features like the raglan sleeve with underarm gusset and, longer than most, neck zip means its moves easily with plenty of ventilation. Slim fitting so ideal as a base layer but you might need to go up a size to use as a mid layer. Longer length meant there was no riding up with a pack and the snug collar and cuffs provide warmth in colder conditions. It would be an absolute firm favourite – other items from the Canadian company have proved very long lasting and well made, but this top has started to bobble where its been rubbed by rucksack hip belt after about 6 wears so I’m not totally convinced it will retain its good looks over time – for this price you want everything to be perfect. Available in sizes XS, S, M, L, XL and colours Black, Turquoise Blue, Yellow and Pink
Fabric: Polartec Classic 100 Micro Velour small grid Weight 180g (size S)
Jack Wolfskin GeckoRRP £45
At 175g this came in very light and has one of the best warmth to weight ratios of the fleeces tested, packs down very compact as well. Baby soft fleece makes this a good option as a base layer, the general slim fit and fairly tight fitting arms means a larger size might be needed if using as a mid layer. Good breathability and wicking qualities. Whilst most fleece dries quickly this was almost wearable straight from the washing machine and there’s no sign of wear and tear or losing shape after a number of washes. Well worth seeking out especially if an offer brings it nearer to the price of others. Available in sizes XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL and 12 colourways so you’re not restricted to the rather girly baby blue shown on the test sample.
Fabric: Technopile 100 grade microfleece Weight: 175g (size S)
Berghaus Micro Stretch JacketRRP £49.99
If you’re looking for a full zip micro fleece this flattering design from Berghaus provide a flexible option – good as a mid layer for cooler weather or outer jacket in summer it has a number of features missing from some of the half zip fleeces. Zipped mesh hand warmer pockets (generous but not big enough for a map), stretch material on the underarm side panels and raglan sleeves aid movement, zip baffle, quality branded zip, elasticated hem and cuffs. Good breathability and wicking. Some slight wear on the cuffs after several days wear and washes means it may not always look so good in the pub afterwards but the flatlock seams and the fleece fabric itself appears robust with no pilling. Some bargains on this one available at the moment. Available in sizes 8 – 16 and two colourways, purple or black.
Fabric: AT-Micro fleece Weight: 305g (Size 10)
Salomon XR Half Zip FleeceRRP £65
Originally known for its quality snow sports clothing, Salomon has gained a reputation for footwear and also running gear. This top will be more suited to active days and aerobic sports but shouldn’t be overlooked by those aiming to go at a more gentle pace as it packs a lot of warmth for its weight and has a luxurious feel next to the skin as well as being super stretchy. I would choose to wear it as a base layer but the generous cut does mean it could be worn with a baselayer in your usual size and it packs up very small as well. Small amount of reflective branding means it will appeal to winter runners although most road runners would want more on dark evenings. Mesh underarms, very good breathability, good length zip for ventilation and the thumb loops and elasticated hem and cuffs were a nice touch. A longer fit at the back meant no riding up under a rucksack. No sign of wear and tear after several outings and sadly no indication that the migraine-inducing magenta and bright yellow colour scheme might fade. It is available in 5 other more muted colours and in sizes XS to XL.
Fabric: ActiTherm Weight 265g (Size M)
Result La Femme Micro FleeceRRP £15
Worth considering due to the low price and quality, warm fabric. Fairly slim fit, some may find the arms a little short, bulkier than all the others on test, it provided good warmth. Would have preferred the front pockets to be made from mesh rather than fleece to cut down on weight and bulk, and the zips are a bit on the clunky side. Washed well with no sign of pilling after several trips. Thick material makes it more suitable as a top garment than a mid-layer.
Available in sizes XS – XL and in Red, Grey, Navy or Black.
Fabric: OkeoTex Standard 280g/m² Polyester Microfleece Weight: 450g (Size S)
Odlo AspectRRP £75
This is a really lovely product, very good warmth to weight ratio, good breathability, wicking and movement. The fit it slim but not so fitted that you can’t wear a thin base layer with it. The zip is tiny but robust and the two front pockets well positioned and in low bulk mesh. Elasticated cuffs and hem, full length fleece zip baffle and chin guard, short double thickness colour. Flatlock seams are unobtrusive and there’s plenty of movement in the stretchy fabric and in the design. The second lighest of all the fleeces on test weighing in at a mere 220g, the only stumbling block is the price although there may be some bargains to be sought out there. Available in XS to XXL and three different colours.
Fabric: 100% polyester micro fleece Weight: 220g (Size M)