For effective, versatile layering during cold weather, or even as standalone warmth during mild summer days, a good fleece will go a long, long way
The dependable fleece. Able to join you on lofty summits, whilst being tucked under shell and insulating layers, yet still something that wouldn’t look out of place during a post-hike evening around the fondue pot, or when out and around town.
We’ve all got a favourite fleece in our wardrobe that can tackle all conditions – something that has been going strong for about 10 years of hard use. But with modern fabric developments, modern fleeces are now able to offer a whole lot more than the fleeces of a few years ago. These days, they don’t just offer something for warmth alone, you can also find something that’s unrestrictive, breathable, able to regulate your temperature, dry quickly, wick sweat and not weigh you down either.
When the mercury begins to rise again, many of the fleeces included in this roundup can also be used as a standalone layer. None of these fleeces will be fully wind or waterproof, but they’ll keep light rain and wind at bay whilst you’re keeping active through the mountains.
Best Midlayer Fleeces
I’ve been pretty lucky this past few months, with a host of separate skiing and hiking trips taking place. These have included two ski touring trips to the French Alps, with both single and multi-day hut-to-hut ski tours. There was also a hiking trip to Iceland which gave some great testing conditions, from driving rain and snow, to clear and dry conditions. These fleeces have been through the lot.
Berghaus Spitzer Hooded Fleece Jacket
The Spitzer Hooded Fleece Jacket from Berghaus bridges the gap between a traditional fleece and something slightly more technical. With this, Berghaus claim that they’ve made a midlayer that’s designed for the coolest climates. Whilst we wouldn’t agree that this is the warmest in this roundup, Berghaus has certainly achieved an impressive amount of warmth for its weight.
The outer of the Spitzer consists of a tighter and denser weave compared to many of the other more lightweight offerings in this roundup. This not only gives the fleece a simple, traditional look, but also slightly improves wind resistance.
You’ve got a pair of handwarmer pockets on the Spitzer, which are nicely lined with a soft material to warm your digits whilst you’re keeping them tucked away from the elements. There’s also a basic hood that will fit comfortably underneath a helmet.
Berghaus’s description that this fleece is ‘cut for comfort’ is spot on. I found the Spitzer offered a much roomier fit than some of the other fleeces in the roundup. That’s not to say it’s too baggy, and it’s by no means a complaint. I sometimes appreciate having a fleece that doesn’t feel like some sort of lycra catsuit, particularly when popping down to the pub for the post climb/walk beers.
S – XXL / two neat hand pockets /close-fitting hood / 90% bluesign approved fabrics / under helmet hood.
Arc’teryx Proton FL Hoody
Price: £190 Weight: 320g
All new from Arc’teryx for 2019. This midlayer admittedly blurs the line between fleece and fill insulation with the use of Arc’teryx’s extremely lightweight and breathable Octa Loft fill. Still, we’ve included the Proton into this fleece round-up rather than our best insulator round-up due to the amazing levels of breathability it offers. I felt like I was able to keep consistently moving fast through the mountains whilst this kept shifting moisture away from my body when worn next to a baselayer.
Arc’teryx have managed to achieve this impressive amount of breathability by pairing the insulation with a highly porous, yet lightly wind resistant Fortius Air outer fabric. This outer shell is also DWR treated, so as long as you care for the fabric, it will keep off light rain/snow showers.
The Proton reminds me of a lighter weight and more technical version of my old Rab Vapour-Rise Jacket, a jacket that I practically lived in during the years I spent skiing and climbing in Scotland. That was a good midlayer, and this one is even better.
A notable moment using the Proton was whilst I was ski touring in the Alps at a fairly high pace (around 70% heart rate range) over a constant period. I stopped at the top of a hill and realised that I hadn’t felt the need to unzip it to let any hot air escape at any point during the ascent.
All of this breathability and wind-proofing is paired with a fairly athletic fit and a slightly dropped back, with a low profile hood that will fit under a helmet. Whilst this jacket has been stripped down on weight, it still boasts four great outer pockets; two on the chest and two on the hip.
S – XXL / The Fortius Air 20 fabric / Octa Loft breathable insulation / low profile, fitted, adjustable under helmet hood / two zippered chest pockets / two zippered hand warmer pockets.
You can certainly tell Columbia’s American heritage with this fleece – ‘roomy’ is the best description regarding the fit. However, if you size the fleece correctly, based on the generous fit, you’ve got a great fleece that can do it all. It’s comfortable, breathable and warm and simply does its job well. Smaller details include a single chest pocket, handwarmer pockets, and elasticated cuffs on the sleeves and hood. There’s also a nice, smooth weave used for the outer material which, while feeling nice to the touch, also helps with the overall aesthetic – it’s another one of those ‘on-and-off-the-hill’ midlayers.
Overall, we felt that the Drammen Point Fleece was a worthwhile contender in this round-up mainly due to its low price and decent warmth-to-weight ratio.
S – XXL /front zip / zippered chest pocket / zippered hand pockets / under helmet hood.
Mammut Aconcagua Pro
The Aconcagua fleece from Swiss manufacturer Mammut utilises two fleece materials strategically designed to help your body manage its climate effectively. In short, the name of the game here is top-level temperature regulation.
It uses Polartec’s now classic Power Stretch Pro fabric, an ingredient that has become a mainstay in the midlayer market. Work hard and this stuff breathes with you. That’s especially thanks to the added bonus of having Pontetorto Technostretch panels on the sides and on the back – those places where your body is going to be trying to expel air the most.
The Aconcagua has also been designed with a classically European slim fit. I found this to be the closest fitting of all the fleeces that I tested in this roundup, so I’d suggest to size up if you usually prefer a more traditional fit.
S – XXL / YKK Vislon front zip / elastic Pontetorto Tecnostretch on back, under arms, hips and hood / Pontetorto Tecnostretch waffle structure on inside / Polartec Power Stretch Pro / under helmet hood.
Rab Alpha Flash Jacket
The first thing that you’ll notice when you pick the Flash Jacket up, is the weight (or lack of). At just 273g and packing a fair bit of warmth, Rab have introduced a few nifty features and fabrics to the classic fleece design.
First and foremost, they’ve used Polartec’s Alpha Direct fabric. If you’re not yet familiar with this, it’s rather extraordinary stuff. It has a very traditional feel, almost like pile fleece, but there’s way more to it than that. The temperature regulation it provides is truly excellent, and then there’s the warmth-to-weight. If you hold this up to a light, you can really see how thin the Polartec Alpha Direct fabric is, but then there’s also that lovely warm and cosy feel to it.
Stretch panels flank the sides of the fleece to further improve breathability and ensure there’s no restriction of you’re movement when you’re reaching upwards for a hold or at full stride while running. There’s also that useful zipped pocket for stashing away, say, your phone or GPS.
The one slight niggle that I had with the Alpha Flash Jacket was that it seemed to have excess fabric around the wrists, just before the cuff elastic pulls it all in. That’s it though.
S – XXL / Polartec Alpha 178g m² / Polartec Alpha Direct 120 insulation / Polygiene Stays Fresh Technology / slim fit / Half hem drawcord.
Another extremely lightweight fleece, the Griffon by Alpkit utilises a similar (but lower bulk) grid design to Polartec’s Power Air. This pattern creates pockets of warmth while also expelling any sweat vapour through small channels.
Alpkit have designed the Griffon with a close-to-skin fit, which means that it can also be used as a warm base layer, if you don’t mind the feeling of a full length zip next to your skin.
At only 250g and with a £40 price tag, this is a hard to beat fleece with great value for money. Whilst it’s never going to be as warm as many of the other fleeces in this roundup, it will make a great summertime companion.
S – XXL / Alpkit’s 3 year alpine bond / full length Vislon zip / snug fitting lycra bound hood / external chest zip for valuables / two-tone smooth face.
Adidas Terrex Polartec Power Air
When you first take a look at the Adidas Terrex Polartec Power Air, you may think that it’s just a stripped down, basic midlayer. However, during use, I was surprised to find out that it has some handy features to make life in the mountains that little bit more comfortable.
The first thing worth noting about this is that Adidas splits each size (S, M, L etc) into two separate chest measurements. This is actually really handy when it comes to your overall layering system as it gives you the choice of either having something loose enough that you can wear over other layers or something close enough to fit underneath a layer or two.
The new Polartec Power Air fabric is an evolution of their previous Power Grid fabric that was used, for example, in the Patagonia R1. It features the same waffle-like grid pattern of fleece with hundreds of little pockets that trap warm air while expelling any moisture-heavy vapour, but now it’s much, much hardier and no longer sheds any of its microfibres.
In an aesthetic sense that’s good of course, but it’s also pretty important if you’re thinking about longevity. Essentially, this new development means the fabric will last much longer.
Two handwarmer pockets are included, but I wish Terrex had added in a single chest pocket as I always like storing my phone there so that my body heat will help to preserve the battery. Still, there’s a very small left arm pocket, which looks likely to be designed to carry lift passes for ski or alpine walking/climbing use.
I loved taking out and using this fleece. I found that although the size I tried had a fairly close fit all-round, it was able to stretch and move with me when ski touring and hiking and it offered fantastic breathability. It’s going to become a great partner for me to take on climbing trips, where the long sleeves and elastic cuffs will avoid any cold spots forming when reaching high.
XS – XL, with S/M options within each size / zip sleeve pocket / side zip pockets / full length zip / visor on hood / Polartec Power Air / high neckline / long sleeves.
Houdini Power Air Houdi
Houdini are known for creating clean looking, sustainable clothing and the Swedish company continue this trend with their Powder Air Houdi.
At 706g, this is another heavyweight fleece that, like the Adidas Terrex fleece above, utilises Polartec’s new Power Air fabric. If you haven’t already, just read that review to hear about the benefits of this material.
As well as using the same Polartec fabric as the Terrex jacket, it’s also designed in a remarkably similar way. You have to get up close to the two fleeces to see the differences. The use of a two-way zipper on the full length zip, thumb loops and a hidden draw cord mark the differences between the two.
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