As winter approaches, layering becomes even more important. In the past we’ve reviewed a variety of synthetic and down layers that offer lots of insulation – but when it’s cold, I often also want a additional warm layer I can wear all day over my base, both for the additional warmth but also the flexibility – so that I can remove my padded insulating jacket when working hard on an ascent without getting too cold.
The main things to consider are warmth, breathability and drying speed (both the material and venting features such as zips). Does the garment fit easily under other layers and offer good mobility, and most importantly is the price a fit for your budget? More personal to you is whether you tend to run hot or cool and what sort of winter walks you tend to tackle. Note as usual when reading our reviews that the price given here is the RRP and some of these garments are on offer at lower prices.
Rab Capacitor Pull-On
Fabric: Thermic fleece – 100% recycled polyester with 94% polyester/6% elastane side panels
Weight: 360g (Men’s L)
This well-designed all rounder is made using classic 200g/m² brushed fleece. The stretchy side panels, which extend down the arms, provide good movement and add to the breathability. The two zipped hand-warmer pockets are a useful size. The neck is high and tight enough to provide good insulation from winds, whilst a zip guard adds to comfort; there’s a drawcord adjustable hem. The fabric has proved robust so far and should last well, as well as looking smart. Women’s version not currently available.
Available in Mens S – XXL in 5 colours
Columbia Weather Sweater Half-zip
Fabric: 100% polyester
Weight: 405g (women’s S)
This is a heavier-weight pull on in hardwearing fleece fabric. The range of movement is good with low profile seams, though fabric is on the bulky side. There are no thumb loops but there’s a stretchy binding on the cuffs. The tiny pocket on sleeve is isn’t very practical. The high collar keeps your neck warm with a soft fleece lining, and the zip is long enough to provide decent venting. A good value no-frills mid-layer.
There is no direct men’s version.
Available in Women’s XS – XL in 6 colours
Inov8 Venturelite Mid Half-zip
Fabric: 92% Recycled Polyester / 8% Elastane
Weight: 240g (men’s L)
The waffle, hexagon-woven stretchy fabric traps air and is comfortable next to the skin as well as worn over a base; it offers an excellent warmth to weight ratio. There’s a small rear-facing zipped pocket on the lower side – handy for cyclists but less so for hikers. There are good thumb loops and a clever opening which functions as a watch viewer so it’s easy to check your device without having to pull your cuff up.
Available in both mens and womens versions, and also as a full-zip hoodie.
Berghaus Prism 2.0 Micro Half Zip
Fabric: 50% recycled polyester Polartec Classic
Weight: 200g (women’s 10)
The Prism has a flattering fit but is not overly slim cut, and comes in a good range of sizes. Many women won’t find the position of the zipped chest pocket comfortable or practical. No thumb loops but the sleeves are long. Durable, classic and well performing fabric makes this a good all rounder which should last well.
Available in Mens XS – XXXL in 3 colours, Women’s 8 – 20 in 4 colours
Jack Wolfskin Baiselberg Half-zip
Fabric: Power Stretch fleece (95% polyester, 5% elastane)
Weight: 335g (women’s S)
The thicker, smooth-surfaced fabric is good at keeping wind out and puts this firmly in the midlayer category. Very warm, the high neck keeps the chill out. The Baiselberg has stretchy side panels and low profile seams, but the fabric is bulky. Wearing a rucksack with it and no outer layer has resulted in some bobbling where rubbed against a hip belt. The fit is generous, there’s a good range of sizes and colours, and a reasonable price (currently on offer).
Available in Mens S – XXXL and 5 colours, Women’s XS-XXL and in 6 colours
Montane Protium Pull-On
Fabric: Thermo-grid fleece – 93% Polyester, 7% Elastane
Weight: 340g (Men’s L)
This comfortable, close-fitting, low-bulk fleece can be worn as a base or mid-layer. The fit is more athletic than relaxed although both the sleeves and the overall length are long. Good range of movement. There are no thumb loops or pockets. The grid pattern of the fabric traps air giving good warmth to weight ratio and it also wicks well. The stand up neck is fairly low profile when fully zipped, and the fabric chin guard adds to the comfort as do the flat seems and stretchiness. The smooth fabric resists abrasion and does offer a little protection against the wind. It’s also available in a full zip version (£65) and hooded full-zip (£70), both with zipped side pockets. The womens version is not available in half zip but as a round-neck sweater (£50), full zip and full zip hoodie.
Available in Mens S – XXL in 6 colours, Women’s (full zip) 8 – 16 in 6 colours.
Alpkit Kelpie Micro Fleece
Fabric: 100% polyester brushed fleece
Weight: 200g (women’s 10)
This good value, supersoft fleece does the job very well. The fabric is stretchy and reasonably breathable. The collar keeps the neck warm when zipped up and the fabric zip guard keeps things comfortable under the chin. There’s a good range of movement with side panels and flat seams adding to comfort. Women’s fit is on the generous side with plenty of length in the sleeves. Quick drying and reasonably lightweight for the warmth. No thumb loops or pockets but at the price (currently on offer) it works well.
Available in Mens S – XXL blue or green, Women’s 8 – 18 blue or red
Alpkit Milford Merino Midlayer
Fabric: Ethically-sourced merino wool (260gsm)
Weight: 360g (men’s L)
Very good warmth to weight ratio, excellent breathability when worn with a merino baselayer or as a baselayer itself. Designed to be fairly snug, it does fit over base layers and the lack of bulk is good for layering under additional padded insulation and/or your shell. The mens version tested has a button up high neck design, whilst the womens has a slightly more stylish single button cowl neck; both versions have a smarter look than many outdoor midlayers. There are no thumb loops or pockets, the arms are fairly long and movement is free.
Available in Mens S – XXL, Women’s 8 – 18, both in charcoal grey.
Patagonia R1 Air Zip-Neck
Fabric: 100% recycled polyester
Weight: 240g (women’s S)
This lightweight, very comfortable midlayer which performs really well. The waffle fabric effectively traps warm air and is soft and comfortable to wear. Women’s fit is slightly more athletic than many on test but the side panels, stretchy fabric and low bulk seams work well. Reinforced hem and cuff at the wear points. Stand up collar is not as high as some when fully zipped. Wicks and breathes well. Men’s version has a small chest pocket. Usual high Patagonia sustainability and ethical standards.
Available in Mens XS – XXL in 6 colours, Women’s XS – XXL in 5 colours