Primaloft. Synchilla. Down. DWR coating. Sleeves. No sleeves. There are a thousand things that need to be thought about when it comes to midlayers. Honestly, until I started wearing a shell jacket instead of a fully insulated number, I didn’t really get what the big deal was.
I always kind of thought that if you needed to be warm, you wore more layers, and that was all that mattered. Obviously, these days I’ve got a few more opinions about what will and won’t work for me on the mountain. If you’re anything like I was though, you probably don’t entirely know what you want out of your midlayer.
So, since I’m not doing anything else, I figured I’d break down the three main categories.
A fleece can be anything from a thin layer worn under a nice, thick down jacket on the cold slopes of Eastern Canada, to the Synchilla fleeces that are so synonymous with 1990s Patagonia or Colombia gear. Fleece dries quickly, it’s naturally fairly waterproof, and although it’s not as warm as either synthetic or down layers, it’s very versatile. As someone who very rarely goes on hut to hut ski treks, fleece is my personal go-to.
Both Patagonia and Arc’Teryx do a great line in lightweight synthetic puffys. These are a superb choice for ski touring expeditions, where the light, packable nature means you can fit in more food and extra layers. Plus, the breathability is perfect for the sweaty uphill portions of the day. The Arc’Teryx Atom comes as a full jacket and a sleeveless layer to help regulate your core temperature.
If you’re looking for something that will work for a midlayer and as an outer layer when you’re on the uphill portions of your day touring, the full jacket is your best bet.
Seriously, you only want to be using these when it’s minus thirty. Down is the warmest option on the menu, and underneath a hard shell it’ll keep you toasty in even the least friendly conditions. Anything too wet, or too sweaty though, and you’ll quickly find yourself getting familiar with the downside. Unfortunately, it’s just not all that waterproof.
Down layers are great to have on hand when you need them, but they’re not exactly an everyday option in any weather.