Best Mid Layers

Best Mid Layers

Learn about our top picks for mid layers for your next hiking or backpacking adventure!

Mid layers do not mean “mid-weight” which is a common misconception. In fact, your mid layer is actually probably your thickest and most insulating piece of clothing. Your base layer is the layer next to your skin (i.e. your long underwear), and your outer layer is most likely a wind or rain protective jacket and pants. Your mid layers are what go in between the base layer and outer layer, and your “main” mid layer is your warmest of these garments.

Mid layers for most people will consist of heavy weight fleece, down-fill or synthetic-fill jackets or sweaters. We recommend sticking with the down-fill and synthetic-fill because they compress much better than thick fleece.

We invite you to read on to find out our top recommendations for the best mid layers for your next hiking or backpacking trip!

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All Around Best Mid LayerArc’teryx Atom LT Insulated Hoodie

#2 All Around Best Mid LayerPatagonia Down Sweater

Best Looking Highly Effective Mid Layer – Cotopaxi Fuego Hooded Down Jacket

Best Mid Layer for Budged Minded HikersREI Co-op 650 Down Jacket 2.0

Best Mid Layer for Warm Blooded HikersPatagonia Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie


Fabric and Insulation

Two of the main factors you’ll be looking at when choosing the right mid layer are fabric and insulation. In some cases – such as with fleece jackets – the fabric is the insulation. All of our recommendations below, however, are insulated jackets which have an outer fabric and an inner insulating material.

Outer fabric will vary significantly, from simple polyester to more technical blends that provide greater stretch and durability. We’ve picked mid layers that have what we consider high quality fabrics and insulation. The insulation is either synthetic or down. We’ve elaborated below on the pros and cons of the different insulating options. We’ve provided a synopsis of fleece, but have not included any fleece recommendations due to its weight and bulk.

Fleece pros and Cons

Fleece is an excellent fabric for outdoor adventure clothing, and when it comes to mid layers this is no different. However, we do not recommend fleece layers in our top choices for mid layers for multiple reasons. While fleece is affordable, insulating (when wet or dry), quick drying, and durable, it is quite heavy and not very compressible. Your mid layer should be your warmest layer, and if fleece it should be heavy weight. Thick fleece weighs a ton compared to synthetic-fill or down-fill, and is bulky. Its relative low cost is a significant upside, but not to a point where it offsets the downsides.

Down-Fill Pros and Cons

A down-fill jacket or sweater is an excellent choice for your mid layer. Down is durable (its insulating qualities last for years if well cared for), light and packable. A good down jacket will add very little to the weight or bulk of your backpack, yet provide a dramatic level of warmth when needed. The main drawbacks of down-fill garments are their cost (down is often quite expensive), lack of insulation when wet, slow drying, and possible ethical concerns with how the down is sourced (more on this below.)

  • The sourcing of goose down can be a brutal affair, or it can be done humanely. It’s possible to search out manufacturers and brands that source down from traceable farms that verify the ethical treatment of their animals.
  • The leading certification and best information source for ethical standards in the down industry is the Responsible Down Standard.
  • All of our down-fill recommendations below source their down from farms that verify the ethical treatment of the animals.
Synthetic-Fill Pros and Cons

Synthetic-fill mid layers will feel very similar to their cousins in the down category, however they are actually quite different. Synthetic fill is slightly heavier, less compressible, less durable and a little bit less insulating than down, but more insulating than fleece. Two major benefits of synthetic fill are its cost compared to down (less) and the fact that it insulates when wet. It is also quicker drying than down. All in all, synthetic-fill jackets make for excellent mid layers, and we have some listed below amongst our top picks.

Arc’teryx Atom LT Insulated Hoodie

#1 All Around Mid Layer

MSRP: $259.00

INSULATION: 60g Coreloft Compact synthetic fibers


WEIGHT: 11-13 ounces

FABRIC: 94% polyester/6% elastane


PROS: Versatility, water resistant, insulates when wet, well-designed hood, lightweight, durable, quick drying

CONS: Expensive

STRAIGHT TALK: Arc’teryx’s Atom LT Insulated Hoodie is our top pick for best mid layers because of its excellent, sleek design; light weight; versatility as either a mid layer or an outer layer in wind, light rain or snow; and durability. The hood can fit over a ski or climbing helmet, which also adds to this jacket’s versatility in terms of multi-sport. It’s fabric will stand up to the abrasions and friction when used as an outer layer, but when used as a mid layer it breathes and releases warmth efficiently. The only downside in our opinion is the price. You can definitely find less expensive mid layers (below), but if you’re interested in a high performing option and don’t mind paying more for it, this one is an excellent choice.

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Patagonia Down Sweater

#2 Overall Around Mid Layer

MSRP: $229.00

INSULATION: 800-fill Traceable Down goose down


WEIGHT: 11-13 ounces

FABRIC: Recycled ripstop polyester


PROS: very light weight, very packable, warm, sustainable production, durability

CONS: does not insulate when wet, slow drying, lack of hood, cost

STRAIGHT TALK: Patagonia’s Down Sweater is one of the most legendary mid layers in the outdoor adventure world. It’s been a top choice for hikers, backpackers, climbers, skiers and others for many years. Aside from its reputation, what makes this jacket great is its very high quality down, which is sourced based on the highest ethics standards. With 800-power-fill down (an ounce of this down at its maximum loft creates 800 cubic inches; 900 is the highest quality down available), its warmth to weight/bulk ratio is nearly as good as it gets. However, Patagonia has erred on the side of weight with this jacket versus warmth, and some people will find it not quite as warm as they would like. The outer fabric, sourced from recycled materials, is ripstop and we’ve found it to be one of the most durable. Down lasts nearly forever if well cared for, which further increases the durability. This jacket, like all items from Patagonia, has a relatively high cost. Another potential downside is its lack of a hood.

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Cotopaxi Fuego Hooded Down Jacket

Best looking HIGHLY EFFECTIVE Mid Layer

MSRP: $250.00

INSULATION: 800-fill-power goose down


WEIGHT: 12-14 ounces

FABRIC : 20-denier ripstop nylon


PROS: Versatility, water resistant, lightweight, durability, great appearance

CONS: Expensive, does not insulate when wet

STRAIGHT TALK: Cotopaxi’s Fuego Hooded Down Jacket is our top pick for great looking mid layers. It’s also an extremely effective and well designed jacket. With 800-power-fill down, it has nearly top of the line insulation (an ounce of this down at its maximum loft creates 800 cubic inches; 900 is the highest quality down available). One of the things we like most about this layer though is its versatility – its fabric and down is water resistant, so it will insulate in damp weather which makes it an effective outer layer for some conditions. Its outer fabric is durable and well constructed, and down-fill insulation is inherently long-lasting if well cared for. The biggest downsides to this jacket are its high cost and the fact that if down gets wet it does not insulate.

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REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket 2.0

Best Mid Layer for the Budget-Minded Hiker

MSRP: $99.95

INSULATION: 650-fill-power down


WEIGHT: 10.8-11 ounces

FABRIC: Recycled nylon taffeta


PROS: light weight, packable, warm, affordable, sustainable production, durability

CONS: does not insulate when wet, slow drying, lack of hood

STRAIGHT TALK: REI’s 650 Down Jacket 2.0 is an excellent mid layer for hiking and backpacking trips, particularly considering its very affordable price. 650-fill down is not the highest quality down on the market (an ounce of this down at its maximum loft creates 650 cubic inches; 900 is the highest quality down), but it’s still very good. This moderate-high quality down means great insulation for its weight and packability. This jacket can pack down very small and adds only 11 ounces of weight to your pack. If well cared for it will last years or possibly even decades, as down is durable and long-lasting. Bottom line is if you are ok with good, but not the very best, performance and budget is your larger priority, this jacket is an excellent choice.

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Patagonia Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie

Best Mid Layer for warm blooded hikers

MSRP: $249.00

INSULATION: 60-g PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco polyester (55% post-consumer recycled content)


WEIGHT: 11-13 ounces

FABRIC: Recycled polyester with DWR (durable water repellent) finish


PROS: Lightweight, packable, durable, sustainable production, insulates when wet, water resistant, moderate warmth, breathable

CONS: Expensive, not for cold blooded people

STRAIGHT TALK: Patagonia’s Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie is our top pick for people who naturally stay warm and want a versatile, moderately insulating mid layer. Patagonia erred on the side of light weight vs. warmth with this one, thus why we recommend it for warmer blooded hikers and backpackers. This jacket is water resistant so can be used as an outer layer, which makes it versatile. It’s very breathable and packable. Like all Patagonia products, it’s manufactured with recycled and sustainably sourced materials. Downsides are cost, non-adjustable hood and lack of warmth if you’re more cold blooded.

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More Information About Mid Layers

Fill Power of Down

When looking at down products, you will notice a number associated with the fill of the down – 400, 500, 650, 800, 900…etc. It can be helpful to understand this measurement when selecting your mid layer or other down-fill item.

“Fill power” is the most common factor used to measure the quality of down in jackets, sleeping bags…etc. It denotes the amount of loft of the goose and/or duck down fibers. “Maximum loft” is measured when the down fibers are fully and naturally expanded. Fill power is how many cubic inches an ounce of down expands to at its maximum loft. A rating of 800, for instance, means that one ounce of down expands to 800 cubic inches or more.

Fill power can vary from below 300 to a maximum of 900. Many common down jackets and sleeping bags are 400 to 500 fill down. These are poor quality, however, as they are sourced from immature birds. A high quality down product will have a power-fill rating of 600 or more.


Why Trust Us?

Choosing the right outdoor gear and apparel can be difficult. At Wildland Trekking, we live and work with gear on a day to day basis. It’s an integral part of what we do, and we understand better than anyone how important it is to have the right equipment. Some of the reasons to trust us include:

  • Independence – our recommendations are not influenced by partnerships or sponsorships with outdoor gear and apparel manufacturers.
  • Experience – as one of America’s top guide companies, we take 8,000-10,000 people on hiking and backpacking tours annually. Since our inception in 2005, we have guided more than 75,000 people into the wilderness.
  • Cutting Edge Knowledge – we regularly attend trade shows and are always paying close attention to the leading edge of new developments.
  • Up To Date Recommendations – we update our recommendations regularly as new products are developed and released.
  • Dedication to our Readers – we know that the gear we select as our top picks will end up in the field with our readers, and we take that responsibility very seriously. We view our readers as guests on our guided trips, just without the guides. We are committed to helping you be as well-outfitted and prepared as possible for your adventures.

On our Wildland Gear Guide pages we utilize some affiliate links. Wildland Trekking receives a small commission for sales that come from these links. This affiliate system comes at no cost to our guests and supports our conservation and sustainability initiatives. Our reputation as a premier adventure tour company and top resource for hiking and backpacking information is our most valuable commodity, and all recommendations we provide are authentic and unbiased.

More Gear Recommendations

Check out our Wildland Gear Guide for more recommendations about hiking, trekking, camping and outdoor gear. We are always adding new products to help our guests and readers make the best choices to outfit their adventures.