Comfort and Warmth: Your Guide to Hiking Midlayer Selection

Hiking Midlayers: Hiker on a hill during sunset wearing a midlayer

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Getting ready for your next hike? Don’t forget the secret to staying warm and comfy: midlayers. When you’re out and the weather is chilly, midlayers are your best friend.

In this post, we’ll unravel the magic of midlayers and how they keep you cozy while exploring.

Interested? Let’s get started.

Key Takeaways

  • Midlayers provide warmth and breathability between base and outer layers.
  • Look for features like hoods, zippers, secure pockets, and moisture wicking abilities based on weather conditions.
  • Choose thin fleece for summer, merino wool or softshells for transitional weather, and insulated jackets for winter. Have multiple midlayer options for versatility.

What Are Hiking Midlayers?

Think of midlayers as the snug layers sandwiched between your base layer (the one closest to your skin) and your outer layer (the one facing the elements). When the weather is mild, midlayers can also work as your outer layer.

Midlayers are essential because they provide that much-needed warmth without making you feel like you’re trapped in a sauna. Here’s why they’re a big deal:

  • Warmth: Midlayers lock in your body heat, keeping you cozy in cold weather.
  • Breathability: They let moisture (like sweat) escape, so you stay dry and comfy.
  • Versatility: You can adjust them based on how cold it is or what you’re doing.

Types of Hiking Midlayers

Now that we understand what midlayers are all about, let’s explore the different types available:

1. Fleeces

Hiking Midlayers: The North Face Canyonlands Fleece Hoodie

Fleeces are the Swiss Army knives of hiking midlayers, with varying thicknesses for versatility:

  • Thin ones excel in active cold-weather activities, drying fast and allowing breathability while repelling water and retaining heat.
  • Thicker fleeces are ideal for stationary cold situations, such as sitting at your campsite.

If you are interested in the lightest midlayer fleeces, check out our TOP 5 guides for men and women.

2. Merino Wool

Hiking Midlayers: Icebreaker RealFleece High-Pile Long-Sleeve Zip Jacket

Merino wool is a standout in outdoor clothing—it’s like the superstar of fabrics, especially as a hiking midlayer. This natural fiber not only keeps you warm but also helps keep odors away. Plus, it’s eco-friendly and breathable, making it a smart choice for various activities.

However, merino wool midlayers can be two to four times pricier than alternative choices.

3. Softshell Jackets

Hikin Midlayers: Patagonia soft-shell

Softshell jackets are like the middle ground between waterproof outer shells and fleeces. They’re tough, comfy, and perfect for intense activities in unpredictable weather.

While not as wind and water-resistant as hardshell jackets, they can serve as your outer layer in many conditions. The soft, fleecy lining adds to your comfort.

4. Insulated Jackets:

Hiking Midlayers: Montbell U.L Thermawrap Jacket

Your cold-weather saviors, insulated jackets, capture warmth between synthetic polyester or down fibers, offering the highest warmth-to-weight ratio. They’re easily packable too. The choice between down and synthetic insulation hinges on your adventure’s conditions:

  • For wet conditions, opt for the synthetic option.
  • For dry conditions, opt for the down option. Remember, some down jackets come with hydrophobic down to enhance their effectiveness in wet conditions; however, it’s still a debated area.

Also, remember that if you think a full-sized jacket is too much, there are vests available—a nice in-between option.

Because we aim to travel as lightly as possible, we consistently choose down options whenever we can. Insulated jackets tend to be around 2 times heavier than the other options listed here.

If you are interested in finding the lightest insulated jackets, check out our TOP 5 guides for men and women.

What Features to Look For

Hiking Midlayers: Hiker on a scenic mountain trail wearing a midlayer

When it comes to your midlayers, it’s not just about the material; features matters too. Let’s dive into what you need to think about:

  1. Hoods for Extra Warmth: Some midlayers come with hoods, and they can be a real game-changer. Hoods keep your head and neck extra toasty, which is awesome when it’s freezing out. However, if your outer shell also has a hood, it might get a bit crowded. So, consider how a hood fits into your overall layering setup.
  2. Zippers for Temperature Control: Have you ever been out on an adventure and suddenly felt too warm? Midlayers with zippers, whether full or half, are your friends in those moments. You can open them up to let out some heat without taking off the entire layer. It’s super convenient.
  3. Secure Pockets: We all love pockets, right? When you’re changing jackets, it’s easy to forget your keys or phone. Zippered pockets keep your stuff safe. Make sure they’re easy to reach, even if you have your outer shell over the midlayer.
  4. Versatile Materials: Every manufacturer typically explains what their products can do, regardless of the type of midlayer. Look for breathability, water and wind resistance, and flexibility to find a versatile option. Make sure the product you’re considering promises to do the most crucial job—wicking moisture away from your skin while providing warmth.

How to Choose a Hiking Midlayer

Everyone’s different, and so are their layering needs. What works best for you might not be the same for someone else. So how should you choose a hiking midlayer?

After considering the features in the previous paragraph, you know what to look for, but you’re not sure about the type of midlayer you should get.

If you are planning to hike or backpack, your selection depends on the conditions you’re facing:

  • Good weather during summer: thin fleece.
  • Bad weather during summer: merino wool, thick fleece, or a soft shell.
  • Good weather during spring or autumn: thick fleece or a soft shell.
  • Bad weather during spring or autumn: insulated jacket.
  • In winter, opt for a merino wool option and top it off with a solid outer shell.

Note that these are our opinions and not set in stone. If you plan to be more stationary (i.e., camping), opt for the thicker version, as you may get cold when not moving. Additionally, having a variety of hiking midlayers in your gear closet can be a smart move.


In this post, we’ve dived into the realm of hiking midlayers. We’ve looked at why they’re important, checked out the various kinds, and thought about the important things to look for when picking the right one.

Finally, remember that the ideal midlayer depends on what you like and the activities you have in mind. If possible, consider having different options to suit both warmer and colder adventures. Happy hiking!


What is the best mid layer material for hiking?

The best mid-layer material for hiking depends on your needs. Merino wool offers warmth, breathability, and odor resistance, suitable for versatile hiking. Synthetic fleece is versatile, dries quickly, and is budget-friendly, ideal for high-output activities and moisture control. Consider weather and activity level for a comfortable hike.

What is the 3-layer rule for hiking?

The 3-layer rule for hiking involves wearing three essential clothing layers: a base layer to manage moisture, a mid-layer for insulation, and an outer layer for protection from the elements. This system keeps you comfortable and adaptable in varying weather conditions during your hike.

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At Hikinglite, we're all about helping you hit the trails with lightweight and ultralight outdoor gear that won't weigh you down. Our crew of content creators? Real outdoor enthusiasts who've logged countless miles on the trails.

Leading the pack is our editor-in-chief, Alex Jardine – an ultralight evangelist who's hiked over 10,000 trail miles across the globe. He's basically a walking outdoor encyclopedia. This dude loves testing out the latest and greatest products, so you can trust his recommendations are always well-informed and reliable.

We treat all our suggestions like advice from close trail buddies. No fluff, just real insights from folks who live and breathe the outdoor life.

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