the author wearing fleece tights and a midlayer standing in a snowy grove of trees

The Best Midlayers of 2022

A midlayer is an essential piece of gear. From winter hiking and running, to skiing and snowboarding, and everyday cold-weather use, we’ve found and tested the best midlayers out there.

Whether you live somewhere that has four defined seasons (and heavy winters), or somewhere more temperate, you should have a midlayer. Midlayers are some of the most versatile layers out there, and come in all sorts of shapes and styles. If you feel that layering for the cold is tricky, or if you need an insulated jacket, our list of best midlayers is a must-read.

Before we dive into this review, it’s important to provide a definition of a midlayer. Midlayers are just what they sound like — layers that can be worn with others, over a base layer or shirt, and also under an outerwear coat or shell.

Depending on the style, midlayers can even be worn on their own. They usually have features seen in jackets, like a front zip, maybe a hood, and always provide some sort of insulation.

In essence, midlayers are the epitome of necessity and versatility when it comes to layering.

We’ve tested a slew of midlayer styles: full-zip jackets, hoodies, vests, puffies, and lightweight and ultralight midlayers as well. Below are our best midlayer picks for winter.

Anytime you may need to layer — downhill skiing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, winter hiking, or just trudging through a storm — reach for one of these and you won’t be disappointed.

Read on for the full list, or jump to a favorite below:

The Best Midlayers of 2021-2022

Best Full Zip Midlayer — Overall: Smartwool Women’s 60 & Men’s 120 Smartloft Jackets

smartwool smartloft jackets mens and womens in black and navy with merino lined sleeves and core

Fairly lightweight but also well-insulated and warm (and thanks to a merino-lined interior, odor-resistant as well), this jacket from Smartwool has a lot going for it. The men’s ($200) and women’s Smartloft jackets ($180) have 120g and 60g synthetic insulation, respectively, sewn into baffles for warmth from the top of the collar to the bottom of the core.

Aside from the insulation, the back panel and sleeves are 100% merino wool. A wind-resistant nylon shell with a DWR coating provides a final layer of comfort and insulation from the cold.

Both men’s and women’s jackets also have thumbholes at the cuffs, two zippered hand pockets, and interior pockets for stashing small items as well. The men’s jacket has an added zippered chest pocket.

Because of its materials and design, this zip-up layer works great for running, hiking, skiing, commuting, and more. The insulation and shell material on the front provide great protection — and if any more is needed, you’ll probably want a burlier or more waterproof outer shell anyway.

Specs:
  • Style: full-zip jacket
  • Material: merino wool, nylon, recycled wool
  • Insulation: 60-120g synthetic insulation
  • Weight: 11.8-13 oz.
  • Pockets: 3-5
  • Recycled components: yes, 45-50% recycled wool

Check Men’s Price at BackcountryCheck Women’s Price at REI

Best Full-Zip Midlayer — Budget: REI Flash Insulated Jackets — Men’s & Women’s

rei flash jacket

A lightweight, insulated, and eco-friendly jacket for under 150 bucks? Yes, please. REI’s Insulated Flash Jacket ($150-160) ticked all our boxes for a fantastic midlayer, with its 60g PrimaLoft insulation, recycled components, warmth level, and packable nature.

We field-tested it from about 25-55 degrees in overcast, windy, and damp weather, and the Insulated Flash performed great in all cases. This insulated jacket and versatile midlayer also happens to be the most lightweight on our list.

One note: the women’s and plus-size versions of this jacket are hooded, while the men’s version is not. (This does contribute to a slight weight difference.)

Specs:
  • Style: full-zip jacket
  • Material: 100% polyester
  • Insulation: 60g synthetic
  • Weight: 11.3 oz. (men’s), 12.7 oz.(women’s)
  • Pockets: 3
  • Recycled components: yes; 70% post-consumer recycled content insulation

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REICheck Women’s Plus Size Price at REI

Best Hoodie Midlayer — Overall: Arc’teryx Nuclei FL Hoodie — Men’s & Women’s

arc'teryx nuclei fl hoody

I’ve worn the Arc’teryx Nuclei FL Hoodie ($299) so many times across seasons, and it’s never failed me. It’s on the warmer side, which I appreciate (especially that one time when I was hiking and winds got up to 40 mph). My favorite features are the insulation, insulated hood, and this jacket’s overall powers to deter wind and cold.

Arc’teryx describes it as a fast and light layer for alpine and climbing pursuits, but it works for plenty of other activities outside as well. It has a 10-denier exterior shell, synthetic insulation, and helmet-compatible hood and pockets (and the hood adjusts to find the right fit).

The exterior fabric is fairly durable, and it’s amazingly light and packable. It comes with a small stuff sack (which you can keep stashed in the internal pocket) for easy packing.

Specs:
  • Style: hoodie jacket
  • Material: 10-denier ripstop 100% nylon shell
  • Insulation: 65g synthetic Coreloft
  • Weight: 10-11 oz./285 g
  • Pockets: 3
  • Recycled components: none

Check Men’s Price at Arc’teryxCheck Women’s Price at Arc’teryx

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Best Hoodie Midlayer — Budget: Patagonia R1 TechFace Hoody — Men’s & Women’s 

patagonia r1 techface hoody

This technical fleece hoodie ($179) from Patagonia is one of the most popular on the market and a staff favorite. We think that’s mainly due to its lightweight and soft yet insulating fleece construction — plus a DWR treatment for light rain, damp, and cold. Like the Patagonia Nano Puff and Arc’teryx AR hoodie, it also works great as a midlayer or standalone jacket.

The grid fleece is double-weave Fair Trade-sewn, Bluesign-approved fabric. Two hand pockets with zip closures and an internal chest pocket with a zipper and fleece hood round out this layer.

If you want something durable but on the lighter side and aren’t looking for tons of insulation, this fleece hoodie is a great midlayer choice.

Specs:
  • Style: hoodie jacket
  • Material: polyester and spandex with DWR
  • Insulation: N/A, grid fleece
  • Weight: 11.9-13.7 oz./337-390 g
  • Pockets: 3 (all zippered)
  • Recycled components: yes, 69% recycled

Check Men’s Price at BackcountryCheck Women’s Price at Patagonia

Best Puffy Midlayer — Overall: Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket — Men’s & Women’s

Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket

Over the years, this puffy jacket has garnered nothing but praise. The size, style, and color options are varied, the insulation is warm, and the jacket itself is packable and lightweight. And unlike with down puffy jackets, you won’t be leaving feathers in your wake.

There’s a reason the Patagonia Nano Puff ($199) has been in stores since 2010. And while it’s always been a bestseller and a staple in our wardrobe, there have been improvements such as the new 100% post-consumer recycled insulation. Like a good cheese, you could say the Nano Puff only gets better with age.

The lightweight and synthetic-insulated Nano Puff is windproof, and water-repellent, boasts a standard 60g insulation, adjusts at the hem to seal in warmth, and has two zippered hand pockets. It’s a great midlayer, whether you’re walking to the store or hiking up a mountain.

Specs:
  • Style: puffy jacket
  • Material: 100% recycled polyester with DWR
  • Insulation: 60g PrimaLoft Gold Eco
  • Weight: 11.9 oz./337 g
  • Pockets: 3
  • Recycled components: yes, 100% recycled

Check Men’s Price at BackcountryCheck Women’s Price at evo

Best Puffy Midlayer — Budget: Helly Hansen LifaLoft Insulator Jacket — Men’s 

HH lifaloft insulator puffy jacket mens

This hybrid puffy midlayer ($200) offers a great balance of light weight, good breathability, and warmth. It has a puffy-style, synthetic LifaLoft insulation-filled core, stretchy fleece paneling in the sides and arms, and a PFC-free DWR coating.

And while the actual fill weight of the insulation in this midlayer is unknown, it does keep you fairly warm and does the job for active pursuits.

Specs:
  • Style: full-zip jacket
  • Material: 100% polyamide shell
  • Insulation: PrimaLoft LifaLoft insulation (polyester and polypropylene blend)
  • Weight: 12 oz./340 g
  • Pockets: 2
  • Recycled components: none

Check Price at REICheck Price at Helly Hansen

Best Fleece Midlayer — Overall: Norrona Falketind Alpha120 — Men’s & Women’s

Norrona Falketind Alpha120

If you’re searching for an ultralight, breathable hybrid fleece, the Norrona Falketind Alpha120 ($189) is a great one. The full-zip design is paneled with Polartec Alpha fleece, which acts as an air-permeable layer, provides insulation for warmth, and offers next-to-skin comfort. It has Polartec’s PowerGrid mapped on the hood, sides, underarms, hem, and cuffs.

The combination of two materials, designed for warmth and breathability, means this midlayer jacket is the ultimate choice for higher-output activities. Also, the feel and fit of this fleece are amazing. (Don’t believe us? This jacket is a two-time Best Fleece Jacket winner — read the full review.)

Norrona says this breathable fleece midlayer is great for ski touring, mountaineering, hiking and backpacking, climbing, and general outdoor activities. We tested it backpacking, hiking, climbing, snowshoeing, and more.

Specs:
  • Style: fleece hoodie
  • Material: Polartec Alpha grid fleece
  • Insulation: N/A, grid fleece
  • Weight: 8.6 oz./244 g
  • Pockets: 3
  • Recycled components: yes; 50% recycled contents

Check Men’s Price at NorronaCheck Women’s Price at Campsaver

Best Fleece Midlayer — Budget: Montane Protium Fleece Jacket — Men’s & Women’s

montane protium fleece jacket

Featuring a brushed grid-back construction, the Montane Protium Fleece Jacket ($75) regulates heat, wicks away moisture, and does a great job adapting to changing weather. It falls right between light and heavy (also known as midweight), is soft and, even without any weatherproofing on the exterior fabric, is pretty durable too.

Montane uses its THERMO GRID fleece with a brushed back for a softer feel. A full-length YKK front zipper can be good for both venting and ease of layering.

But what we loved most about this fleece jacket was its simplicity — for just $75, it provides warmth, coziness, and a bit of breathability, too. Plus, it has two zippered hand pockets and a high collar.

Specs:
  • Style: fleece
  • Material: brushed grid fleece
  • Insulation: N/A, grid fleece
  • Weight: 380 g
  • Pockets: 2
  • Recycled components: none

Check Men’s Price at MontaneCheck Women’s Price at Montane

Best Vest Midlayer — Men’s: Odlo S-Thermic Vest

odlo vest

While a bit pricey for a vest, the Odlo S-Thermic Vest ($180) will get the job done. Under Odlo’s “why we made it” explanation, they only offered three words: “Cross Country Skiing.” That’s it — an active-fit, stretchy-yet-warm layer that’s perfect for when you’re on the move.

The main polyamide shell fabric is a ripstop fabric, which ups the vest’s durability. And the zippered side pockets and reflective details make this one of the best midlayers on this whole list for early evening to nighttime activities outside (think running or walking the dog). Odlo finished up this layer with laser-cut ventilation and an adjustable hem.

Specs:
  • Style: full-zip vest
  • Material: recycled polyamide and elastane
  • Insulation: G-loft insulation
  • Weight: unknown
  • Pockets: 2
  • Recycled components: recycled main fabric and insulation

Check Men’s Price at Odlo

Best Vest Midlayer — Women’s: The North Face ThermoBall Eco Vest 2.0

women's north face thermoball puffy vest in glossy black

Ah, the wonderful world of vests. Versatile, packable, and with a great warmth-to-weight ratio, The North Face’s ThermoBall Eco Vest ($149) is warm enough and durable enough that it made the top of our list for vests for layering.

The ThermoBall Eco Vest, as the name implies, is made with 100% recycled fabrics and insulation. And it packs down small into its pocket. The vest has a quilted pattern and zippered hand pockets, and it’s 100% recommended by reviewers online.

While not the lightest midlayer on our list, it’s still a great option and is packable enough for those who like to travel light.

Specs:
  • Style: full-zip vest
  • Material: 100% recycled nylon
  • Insulation: 11 g/ft. recycled polyester ThermoBall Eco
  • Weight: 14.6 oz./416 g
  • Pockets: 2
  • Recycled components: yes, 100% recycled polyester, 100% recycled insulation

Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at REI

Most Sustainable: Picture Lixi Tech Sweater

picture sweater1

With a unique design and great versatility, this insulated sweater midlayer already has a lot going for it. But the Picture Lixi Tech Sweater ($110) also has 50% recycled content and uses recycled PrimaLoft Eco insulation. In fact, it’s one of the warmest midlayers on our list — with 100g PrimaLoft Black Eco synthetic fill.

The front is baffled and insulated, the back is brushed bonded fleece (also for warmth), and the clever, long side zipper allows you to vent as needed.

Part insulated puffy, part pullover, part jacket, the Picture Lixi Tech Sweater does give off some pretty techy outdoor vibes. Need a layer to throw on to shovel the pavement? How about driving up the mountain? Or hiking? Or ski touring? This Picture Tech Sweater can do it all.

Specs:
  • Style: pullover
  • Material: 50% recycled polyester, 50% polyester, 100% recycled insulation
  • Insulation: 100g PrimaLoft Eco
  • Weight: 11.2 oz./320 g
  • Pockets: 1
  • Recycled components: yes; 75% recycled

Check Price at Picture

Best of the Rest

Arc’teryx Atom AR Hoodie — Men’s & Women’s

Arc'teryx Atom AR Hoody

Slightly thicker and more durable than our other Arc’teryx hoodie pick, the Atom AR Hoodie ($299) is still another great midlayer choice that can also work as a standalone jacket. While it can work in any environment, it shines in single-digit cold and at higher elevations.

First, the Atom AR has a good and durable DWR coating. Add to that plenty of insulation, articulated sleeves, and elastic cuffs with good stretch, and we’ve got a winner.

The insulation in this hoodie is also body mapped on the jacket in different weights, which keeps you warm but the layer light. It has 120g Coreloft insulation in the core, 80g Coreloft in the arms and underarm gusset panels, and 60g Coreloft in the insulated hood.

And as one of our editors noted in our full review, the 1-pound (men’s medium) Atom AR compresses to the size of a volleyball. In short, if you want something more durable, more insulated, and with a bit more coverage, the Atom AR Hoodie should be high on your list.

Specs:
  • Style: hoodie jacket
  • Material: 100% polyester with DWR
  • Insulation: 60-120g polyester synthetic insulation
  • Pockets: 2
  • Weight: 14 oz.
  • Recycled components: none

Check Men’s Price at AmazonCheck Women’s Price at Amazon

Icebreaker Helix Hooded Jacket — Men’s

icebreaker insulated helix hooded jacket

Similar to one of our favorite insulated layers, the Helly Hansen LifaLoft Insulator, is this DWR-treated synthetic hoodie from Icebreaker. And just like other Icebreaker apparel, it uses merino wool for both warmth and to wick away moisture.

The Helix Hooded Jacket ($300) has a paneled design with zoned quilting, 70g merino insulation, a 100% polyester shell, zippered hand pockets, and a snug hood (not helmet-compatible).

For activities like cross-country or downhill skiing where you maybe want extra wicking powers, this merino-insulated midlayer jacket is worth consideration.

Specs:
  • Style: hoodie jacket
  • Material: 100% polyester shell with DWR, nylon
  • Insulation: 70g merino wool
  • Weight: unknown
  • Pockets: 2
  • Recycled components: none

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Backcountry

Stio Skycrest Insulated Snap Shirt — Men’s & Women’s

stio snap shirt insulated midlayer

We’ve been testing this new insulated snap shirt (really, it’s a jacket) for over a month now and absolutely love it. You can layer with a T-shirt and wear it open, or you can snap it up when the temp drops. Or, you can wear it all the way closed over a base layer and under a shell while hiking, commuting, and more.

The Skycrest Insulated Snap Shirt ($179) has a little bit of styling that really makes a difference — things like a drop hem and double-snap pockets. This insulated shirt is great for warmth during activity but is also appropriate for wearing in and around town. We loved this layer for its bright camo color choices.

Because of its insulation and versatility, we had to include the Stio Skycrest Snap Shirt on our shortlist. That being said, our female tester found the layer can be a bit tight in the chest and shoulders — so if you’re in between sizes or want a roomier fit, be sure to size up. It’s also a bit heavier than other midlayers we tested.

Specs:
  • Style: button-up
  • Material: varies; 30-denier nylon with DWR or 50-denier polyester with DWR
  • Insulation: 60g synthetic down
  • Pockets: 4 snap pockets
  • Weight: 12-15 oz.
  • Recycled components: yes; 100% recycled polyester insulation

Check Men’s Price at StioCheck Women’s Price at Stio

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Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Midlayer

Which Midlayer Is Best: Jacket or Vest?

The first thing you should decide when browsing for a midlayer is whether you want a full jacket, hooded jacket, or an insulated vest. Some midlayers are a hybrid of both — insulated in the core, with just a face fabric for the arms (like merino).

Some are also water-repellent, and some aren’t. Our advice is to look at the big differentiators up top, and then look later at specific features.

the author adjusting the cuffs on a North Face Fleece midlayer while hiking outside
(Photo/Mary Murphy)

Midlayer Insulation

There are a few types of insulation used in midlayers, but the most common one we’ve seen is synthetic fill. Brands like PrimaLoft make different types of synthetic insulation, from high-warmth blends to eco/recycled ones. Some brands will also have their own in-house insulation technologies.

Jackets will have different amounts of insulation, too — we’ve found the sweet spot is to look for a midlayer with 60-100g insulation. Many midlayers also don’t use added insulation — instead, they use a heavier fabric, like fleece.

If you aren’t buying an insulated layer, pay attention to the warmth level of the fabrics used. For example, a midlayer hoodie with merino construction or a merino liner can still provide lots of warmth and versatility, even if it isn’t stuffed with insulation.

Features and Price

Midlayers are already versatile. But they’re extra versatile if they have added features. Things like a high collar or hood, as well as interior and exterior pockets, can help bring a midlayer from good to great.

Lastly, you’ll want to consider price. Our favorite midlayers will run $150-200.

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FAQ

puffys in a tree
A handful of midlayers we tested throughout fall.

What Makes a Good Midlayer?

You can think of a good midlayer like the Goldilocks of jackets: not too small, not too big, not too bulky, not too thin — just right in terms of fit, versatility and, above all, warmth.

Other components that make a midlayer like the ones on our list stand out from the rest include insulated hoods, zippered pockets with good placement, adjustable hems, and compatibility with other layers.

What's the Warmest Midlayer?

The warmest midlayers on this list in terms of insulation were the Arc’teryx Atom AR Hoodie and Smartwool 120 Jacket. Our other favorite midlayer that offers lots of warmth is the Arc’teryx Nuclei FL Hoodie.

What Is the Best Midlayer Material?

The best midlayers, in our opinion, are the ones with added insulation and other features that make it easy and comfortable to layer. This tends to be a synthetic fill insulation, sewn into baffles or in between two layers of fabric to provide that insulation.

Depending on the style and what activities you’ll be using the midlayer for, materials like fleece or PrimaLoft synthetic insulation are always great choices.

In testing, we found the most popular midlayers among GearJunkie staff were full-zip and hoodie styles.


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Mary Murphy
By

Mary Murphy is the Managing Editor of GearJunkie and serves as the leader of Lola Digital Media’s DEI Committee. She has been writing about hiking, running, climbing, camping, skiing, and more for seven years, and has been on staff at GearJunkie since 2019. Prior to that, Mary wrote for 5280 Magazine in Denver while working as an outdoor instructor teaching climbing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and mountain biking at Avid4Adventure. Based in Denver, Colorado, Murphy is an avid hiker, runner, backpacker, skier, yogi, and pack-paddleboarder.