Vital kit for walkers and other outdoor adventurists, a good quality mid layer keeps your core warm without making you sweat.
Mid layers come in many shapes, sizes and styles but the most important features to look for are the right levels of warmth and breathability for your intended activity, as well as how packable i.e. how small you can make it, it is.
Traditional fleece is often graded in thickness, from micro to 400-weight at the full-blown heavy-duty end of the scale. A super thick fleece isn't likely to work well for high intensity activities due to the need for good temperature regulation and breathability rather than out-and-out warmth, so most hikers should look for something between micro and 200 weight depending on intended activity level out on the hills.
The best fleece mid-layers for winter
Haglofs Astro fleece | £50 (M/F)
There's a lot to be said for a simple fleece, not least the price, which stacks up undeniably well against the rest of the kit on test. Haglofs do a range of much more technical, and of course more expensive kit but this versatile micro fleece does the job of keeping you warm and comfortable for a fraction of the price. It fits well - not too snug, not too loose - it breathes reasonably well, and it warms the upper body just enough to take the chill off. The zip helps to regulate temperature and for a tenner more there's a full zip version available. Flatlock seams throughout ensure comfort when wearing packs and at only 235g this is one that doesn't make much of a dent in your pack weight.
Verdict: A great value, simple but effective micro fleece at a great price.
Salomon Discovery LT | £50 (M)
Another bargainous fleece that proves you don't have to break the bank to get good quality kit. The lightweight microgrid pattern is cosy to wear and very breathable in use being quite thin, this also means it isn't that warm, so is more suited to layering, perhaps with the addition of an insulated mid-layer on deep winter days. Cut is close for maximum thermal efficiency, but you can still fit a base layer underneath with enough material left over for good freedom of movement. There's a half zip for easy dumping of excess heat and the high collar is both comfortable and warm with the zip done up.
Verdict: A great value option as a layering piece, either for spring days or combined with a base and insulated mid-layer for a full assault on the worst the winter can throw at you.
Helly Hansen Scout Profleece | £150 (M)
This is a strange concept but not necessarily a new one, by combining a fleece and wind breaker into one Helly Hansen hope to make the Scout Profleece more versatile. The wind breaker is featherlight and stashes into the collar of the fleece itself, we wish it detached completely as this leaves the collar looking very strange in what is otherwise a nice looking top. The idea is that you can quickly deploy the wind breaker when the weather turns, this is easily done by unzipping and unrolling. The quality and performance of both items is excellent, the fleece on its own is breathable and warm and with the windbreaker added the extra protection it gives feels like it adds a good few degrees of warmth when the wind is howling.
Verdict: A good idea that would be made better if the wind breaker was fully detachable.
Protest Jumping fleece | £60 (M)
Think of your most comfortable, homely fleece and you've imagined the Jumping from Protest, it's so cosy you won't want to take it off. Made with a classic Sherpa fleece and with a contrast chest pocket we think this fleece has got the looks but being a touch warmer than most it's perhaps more suited to using around the pub and at home than hitting it hard out on the hills. The two hand warmer pockets are luxuriously lined, and the stretch thumb loop equipped cuffs and high collar let you fully enter hibernation mode.
Verdict: It's quick drying and breathable but the great looks and high warmth make it better for apres than for getting sweaty outdoors.
Vaude Miskanti fleece | £130 (M/F)
This is a pretty tech fleece and really it should be at £130, which is the kind of money you might pay for a down jacket. The main story here is Vaude's continued commitment to sustainability and this fleece is partially made from the 100% renewable wood cellulose product Tencel. Tencel fibres are fully bio-degradable in both sea and fresh water so microfibres flushed out during washing aren't a biohazard to the environment or to sea life. The Miskanti is smooth on the outside and brushed on the inner, it feels warm but more breathable than a 100% polyester fleece. It's also super stretchy so feels great to wear hiking and the full zip and hood allow you to dump excess heat or add a touch of warmth quickly and easily.
Verdict: Comfortable to wear and a great performer, as well as leaving little environmental footprint earning it a big thumbs up from us.
Montane Chukchi Fleece | £45 (M)
Another contender for the bargain fleece crown, like the Haglofs Astra the Chukchi utilises Pontetorto as its main material rather than a better-known alternative. This clearly has a positive effect on the price (well, for the consumer at least) and in testing we think that although basic, it still fulfils its primary jobs of being warm and breathable. Just like the Astro fit is loose enough to be comfortable, tight enough to retain warmth and there's a half zip for dumping heat. The Chukchi is fairly breathable but can certainly start to get clammy (like any fleece can) when the going gets tough, and this is where perhaps a more technical fleece or insulated mid-layer comes into its own.
Verdict: You can't really argue with the price of this basic but effective mid-layer, if you like to move fast though a more technical layering piece might suit you better.
We rate the Montane Chukchi and Haglofs Astro for value but the winner of best fleece mid-layer has to be the Vaude Miskanti which pairs technical materials with a great cut and commendable eco-credentials.