Even though going out on an adventure when it is freezing outside doesn’t sound very enticing, doing so can be an exhilarating experience.
While going to a tropical place during winters and basking in the sun on a warm beach is a lot of people’s idea of a fun vacation, hiking, snow sledding, skiing, snowboarding and other winter activities can equally be fun to do.
Benefits of going on outdoor adventures during winters
While there is an overhead of bundling up in layers of clothes and waddling around like under all that extra weight feels like an overhead, there are some good benefits of going out on an adventure cold day.
Gives you a good amount of physical activity
In a bid to keep warm, our bodies burn a lot of calories during winter. Add a healthy dose of activity like walking, jumping, skiing etc. to the mix, and the body literally turns into a furnace. You can get fit and burn fat while having fun!
Connect and bond with family and friends, especially young kids
Who doesn’t like an adult who can become a child in the company of the children? A morning of building snowmen, making body imprints on the snow, having a snowball fight are things that create memories. As a bonus, the kids are tired and will settle down soon after the activity, leaving you with quite some time to relax and unwind after all that hard work.
Cure winter blues and depression by going out
The cold weather can get to you, and the lack of sunshine can make you depressed. Staying cooped up indoors can only make the matters worse. Beat the blues by going out and enjoying a day walking in the city, hiking down a familiar trail or simply shopping for groceries. Doing so will provide exercise to the body and help you beat the blues.
Precautions to take when going out in the cold
While heading out or going on an adventure in warm weather does not require a lot of planning in terms of clothing, going out when it is cold offers no such luxury. It is important to layer your clothing properly when you are heading out when the temperatures have gone south.
- Make sure that the body extremities like fingertips are protected with waterproof gloves, and you are wearing warm socks (layering 2 or 3 socks really helps) and a pair of sturdy boots that offer good grip and keep you from slipping.
- Covering your ears with earmuffs and wearing a woolly hat can work to protect your ears and prevent you from catching a cold.
- Layer your clothes properly to make sure your body is warm. A stole or a winter scarf can add additional warmth and complete your gear.
How to Layer your clothing during outdoor activities in cold weather?
Normally, you would wear three layers of clothes when going on an outdoor adventure in the cold.
This is the thinnest and innermost layer. Normally, you would use synthetic, wool or silk layers that wick properly and keep your skin dry and comfortable.
This is an insulating layer. Jackets made of fleece or down are worn over the base layers. The main function of the middle layer is to keep the body heat in and not allow it to escape. However, they should repel moisture and should be able to expel the sweat that is wicked away from the body by the base layer.
This is the weather-resistant layer. Typically, this is a waterproof layer that helps to protect from wind, snow, and rain.
Characteristics of Middle-Layers
The most important characteristic of a base layer is the wicking capability, which means, the base layer is only as good as its capacity to keep moisture away from your body.
Similarly, these are the characteristics of a good middle-layer –
This tells us how warm a material can keep you in comparison to the weight of the garment. For outdoor activities like hiking, it is important that the middle layer has a good warmth-to-weight ratio so that the middle layers do not turn out to be very bulky.
Compressibility is the capability of the material to be folded and compressed, so that it fits a small space, without compromising on the insulation and warmth-to-weight ratio. This means that a middle-layer should be able to easily fit into a backpack while being capable enough to support well in very cold weather conditions.
A good middle-layer should dry very quickly, provide excellent wicking capability, should have very low capacity to absorb moisture, and should repel water. This becomes extremely important when using the middle-layer in cold weather conditions. This is because if the middle and the base layers hold on to moisture, it can lead to serious conditions like hypothermia.
Materials used for Middle-Layer
The most common materials used for middle-layer are –
Fleece is a warm, soft and fuzzy material made from polyester. It comes in different densities, ranging from 100g/m2 to 300g/m2.
Polyester fleece is excellent at keeping dry and wicking away the moisture from the body. However, it does not work too well for insulation at very cold temperatures. It is highly water repellent and dries very fast, making it an excellent choice for use in hiking and other outdoor activities in which there is a need for materials that wick very fast.
The warmth-to-weight ratio of polyester fleece, however, is very low. This means that to use it is not very useful in very cold weather conditions.
Polyester Fleece is the most economical of the materials that are used for middle-layers. Manufacturers are experimenting with different textures of polyester fleece to improve the insulation capability of the material.
In summary, fleece jackets are very cheap, have excellent wicking capability, are good for use in moderately cold weather conditions, and dry very quickly.
Goose down is made from the soft and fuzzy layer under the goose’s feathers. It provides extremely good warmth and compressibility. Goode down has a lot of air pockets in it, which works very well to provide good insulation under cold conditions as well.
However, the biggest disadvantage of down is its ability to absorb water. It does not wick very well. Also, when it gets wet, the warmth factor goes down by a huge margin. The air pockets that is the reason for the amazing insulation gets saturated with moisture, and hence it cannot keep you warm when it is wet.
Goose down dries very slowly, which is another reason why it is not suitable for conditions where there is a lot of moisture. It cannot wick the moisture quick enough, which means that you end up feeling quite cold.
A lot of manufacturers are trying to mitigate this issue by coating goose down with a layer of chemicals that help to repel water. However, even after this coating, the performance does not improve by much.
Goose down jackets as middle layer work very well for less strenuous outdoor activities that do not have to deal with a lot of body sweat and in dry conditions.
Goose down jackets has the highest compressibility factor, given that there are a lot of air pockets in the material. It is easy to fold it down into a small package that can easily fit into a backpack.
Goose down is the most expensive of all materials used for middle-layer.
Synthetic Fill is made of polyester material, and the structure of the material is very much like goose down. The fabric is made with a lot of air pockets, which offers superior insulation, just like goose down.
The warmth-to-weight ratio of synthetic fill jackets is not as much as goose down, but it still better, as compared to polyester fleece. The added advantage of a synthetic fill jacket is that it repels moisture very well, and it is a great substitute for goose down under cold, wet and humid conditions.
Synthetic fill jackets have a good wicking capacity, and they dry very fast too.
Owing to a large number of air pockets, synthetic fill jackets have a high compressibility factor. You can fold it down to a tiny package which is easy to carry around in a backpack or a bag.
Since synthetic fill jackets do not absorb moisture, it offers superior warmth, even when it is wet.
Synthetic fill jackets can be a little less or as expensive as a goose down jacket, depending on the manufacturer.
In addition to these materials, Merino Wool clothing can also be used as a middle-layer insulation. It offers good warmth, anti-odor properties, and moisture-wicking capabilities. However, it can bulky when it gets wet.
A lot of manufacturers blend Merino Wool with Synthetic material to improve the thermal capacity. However, Merino Wool middle-layers can get extremely expensive to purchase.
Merino wool garments have extremely low compressibility factor, which makes it difficult to carry around.
Comparison between different middle-layer materials
|Characteristic/Fabric||Polyester Fleece||Goose Down||Synthetic Fill|
|Warmth-to-weight ratio||Moderate||Very High||High|
|Water Absorption Performance||Very High||Moderate||Very High|
|Warmth when wet||High||Very Low||High|
|Moisture-Wicking Performance||Very High||Moderate||Moderate|
|Drying Time||Very Low||Very High||Moderate|
|Price||Very Low||Very High||Very Low|
How should you choose a middle layer?
A middle layer should be chosen according to the following criteria –
- Activity to be performed.
- Weather conditions.
For activities that involve a lot of exercises, such as hiking, mountaineering, skiing, biking etc, it is always prudent to choose a middle layer that is light, has good wicking capability and dries quickly. A fleece or synthetic fill may be appropriate for these kinds of activities.
It is also more appropriate to use fleece or synthetic middle layers when the weather is wet or humid, owing to their quick drying capabilities.
A goose down jacket is more appropriate for camping, where the activity levels are low, and resting periods are high. There is no need for a lot of moisture-wicking capacity when you are camping. Also, you are protected from the weather by a shelter such as a tent. Therefore, insulation capacity is not much of a concern, since you don’t tend to get too wet.
A synthetic fill is appropriate both for high-intensity and low-intensity activities. It has the good thermal capacity as well as moisture wicking capability.
As far as the economy goes, a combination of a fleece jacket with a good base layer and an outer shell is the most economical of all. However, under extremely cold conditions, a fleece jacket may not suffice. In this case, adding more layers would make sense, or using a base and an outer layer that also offer some thermal insulation can be the way to go, if you do not have the budget for a goose down or synthetic fill jacket.
Choosing the right fit for your middle layers
A middle layer should fit you snugly to retain body warmth. However, it should also be loose enough to allow you to wear a base layer, without feeling suffocated.
Remember that when you are going on an outdoor activity, you will be wearing a minimum of two layers, and you need to allow room for the base layer when you buy a middle layer.
The best way to go about it is to carry or wear the base layer when you go shopping. Try out the whole layering system before you purchase a middle-layer.
While the middle layer should offer enough room to accommodate a base layer, it should not be too loose as well. Wearing a middle layer that is too roomy can cause you to lose precious body heat. The air gap pulls away from the warmth from your body and transfers it to the outer layer, which is then passed on to the surroundings, leaving you cold and shivering.
Striking a good balance between wearing snug fit, while allowing enough space for the base layer and unrestricted movement is the key to buying middle layers.
It is always recommended that you try on the whole system before you purchase, especially if you are buying an expensive middle layer, like goose down or synthetic fill.
The “Piling” phenomena in middle-layer fabric
When the middle layers are washed, the fabric tends to pile. What this means is that the fibers of the fabric all bunch up together, spoiling the structure, and reducing its thermal capacity, since the number of air pockets reduces when the fabric gets bunched up.
Piling reduces the effectivity of the middle layers. Therefore, you must be careful when cleaning your middle layers to preserve them for longer.
Caring for your middle layers
Caring for your middle layers is important so that they can last longer. Once you are back from an outdoor adventure, make sure that all your clothing is cleaned well before you store them.
The best way you can care for your middle layers is by following the manufacturer’s instructions. The following tips can help you to care for any kind of middle layers –
- Always wash the middle layers with a very mild detergent. There are special detergents that are available for washing delicate clothes. Use these to clean your middle layers, so that the special fabric fiber is not damaged.
- Keep the wash temperature as low as possible. Cold water is the best to wash the middle layers. Cold water prevents damage to the fabric structure. When combined with a mild detergent, it should be sufficient to pull out any dirt, odor, and stains from the fabric.
- Wash the middle-layers after closing all the zippers. This is to make sure that there is no damage done either to the zippers or the washing machine.
- Turn the fabric inside out to prevent piling and for a more effective cleaning.
- Avoid spinning the garments at a very high speed. Wringing ruins the fabric structure, and it is best to keep the spinning and the drying to a minimum.
Air dry your middle layers to preserve shape and the thermal capacity of your middle layers.
- Shake out the garment properly to align it correctly before hanging it to dry.
- Air-dry the garment on a hanger after turning the fabric inside out. The inner layers need to dry more than the outer layer. Thus, drying it inside out allows it to dry properly and prevent odor and mould formation.
- Allow enough time for it to dry properly. Don’t be in a hurry to store middle layers. Improper drying of the middle layers can cause odor, mould and mildew formation because of the moisture.
- If you collect stains during the trip, try and spot clean them immediately. The fabric can retain stains easily if not cleaned quickly. The best way to clean it is to blot it with water and rub the stain gently with a very mild detergent and rinse it with water. This should be done on the small area where it has stained.
Categories of Fleece Jackets
Fleece jackets come in a wide variety of styles which make it a good choice both for heavy outdoor activity, as well as for casual wear.
Based on this, fleece jackets can be –
These are light-weight jackets, which are suitable for wearing in mildly cold weather. They are best suited for wearing when you are going to be indoors. They are a good fashion choice and are built practically for easy wear and removal, a lot of pockets and stylish designs.
Casual fleece jackets can still make a great layering option under mild weather conditions.
Performance jackets are built for heavy outdoor activity and offer superior thermal protection
Choosing the Best Fleece Jacket for Outdoor activities
With all the background information on the middle-layers outlined, fleece remains a popular choice among outdoor enthusiasts. The advantages of fleece over the other kind of middle layer remains –
- Wind Resistance
- Wicking Capability
- Quick Drying
- Water Resistance
Here are some of the best fleece jackets for outdoor activities.
1. Arc’teryx Fortrez Hoody
The Fortrez Hoody performs as a cold-weather layering piece and as a standalone on cool, drier days. The abrasion-resistant fleece, Polartec® Power Stretch® with Hardface® Technology, provides warmth, stretch, sheds moisture, and layers easily. The streamlined ScubaHood™ fits comfortably under a helmet, and an integrated Phasic™ AR panel serves as a neck gaiter. Articulated patterning improves mobility, and the long hem rides comfortably under a harness and has a trim fit to help seal out drafts.
- Very agile.
- Suitable for activities like climbing, hiking, skiing.
- Hood that fits snugly.
- Not really suitable for daily wear because of the design and style.
2. Black Diamond Coefficient Hoody
A mid-layer for anything from ski tours to alpine ascents, the CoEfficient Hoody features Polartec® Power Dry® fleece with a gridded interior for increased wicking performance and added breathability. The under-the-helmet hood and full-length zipper let you regulate temperature on the go, so you don’t find yourself overheating a half hour into the day. A slim cut helps the CoEfficient Hoody fit comfortably under your shell, and with a re-designed, trim fit, this layer takes up little space in your pack.
- Good fit.
- Good moisture-wicking.
- Good warmth when worn as a middle layer, combined with a base layer and an outer shell.
- Suitable for high-intensity activities.
- Does not provide sufficient warmth when worn only over a base layer.
3. Arc’teryx Delta LT
The Delta LT Jacket is a true essential. One of the most versatile fleece jackets Arc’teryx has ever designed, it layers easily under a hard shell and delivers effective warmth for little weight. Made from Polartec® Classic 100 micro velour small grid, the Delta LT is highly air permeable, dries quickly and packs small. As a standalone, the jacket adds light insulation most suitable for higher output in cool conditions or to cut a summer evening temperature drop. Under a shell, it works as a lightweight mid-layer.
- Can be used both for high-intensity outdoor activities, as well as casually.
- Good finish.
- Good moisture wicking capacity.
- Good breathability.
- Provides good warmth.
- Expensive for a lightweight jacket.
4. Patagonia R2 Jacket
The R2 Jacket was exceptionally warm, directionally knit Polartec® Thermal Pro® fabric is breathable, compressible, wicks moisture and dries quickly. Polartec® Power Grid® on side panels, sleeves and cuffs improves fit, breathability and abrasion resistance.
Technical fit, underarm gussets and raglan sleeves increase mobility and comfort under outerwear and packs. All zippers have Sonic/Stitch seam construction to reduce bulk and improve suppleness; soft kissing-welt zipper garage at chin for next-to-skin comfort. Spiral-seam construction at cuff allows sleeves to push up easily without constricting forearms. One left chest pocket and two high handwarmer pockets have slim zip installs, clean-finished zipper garages and are harness- and pack-compatible; two interior drop-in mesh pockets.
- Allows free movement.
- Good warmth.
- High Compressibility factor.
- High wind and water resistance.
- Low Compressibility factor.
- Low wind and water resistance.
5. Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man
Known for its comfort and warmth, the Monkey Man™ is made from Polartec® High Loft™ fleece. We’ve now reimagined it in a sleeker, all-mountain silhouette. One of our most popular styles, we retained its lightweight thermal efficiency and super-soft hand while dialing down the loft for easier layering, less weight, and a more streamlined look. Strategically-zoned side panels maximize stretch and breathability where you need it most; they also wick moisture away and make the jacket easier to pack.
- Very soft and cozy.
- Allows unrestricted movement.
- Fleece is not durable. It sheds and thins out over time.
- Not too warm.
6. Outdoor Research Deviator
The lightly insulated Deviator Hoody provides the perfect amount of air permeability and warmth for active pursuits. Polartec® Alpha® insulation stays dry and circulates airflow for incredible breathability, and Polartec® Power Grid™ in the hood, sleeves and back panel wicks moisture and keeps you comfortable.
- Good Warmth and Protection.
- High Compressibility.
- High Breathability.
- Not durable.
- Not too cozy because of the synthetic insulation layers.
Here are an overall price and weight comparison of the jackets –
Final Verdict on the Best Mid-Layer Fleece jacket
While all the jackets listed here make the grade as good outdoor mid-layer fleece jackets, we recommend Patagonia R2 Jacket as the best mid-layer fleece jacket. It offers good thermal protection, wicking capability, style, compressibility, and breathability when compared to other jackets.
Priced at $169, Patagonia R2 Jacket offers a good value for money with great features and performance.
Finding a good mid-layer for outdoor activity is important, as it may either make your day filled with fun or make it miserable. Use our tips to understand how the mid-layer works and how to select a good one.
Sam Hardy is an outdoor enthusiast with a penchant for survival skills. He writes about the great outdoors and his favorite equipment here.