Peter Macfarlane & Fiona Russell, put some of the best fleeces and hiking midlayers to the test.
From unlikely origins in toilet seats, the best fleeces and midlayers for hiking have clearly come on leaps and bounds over the decades. Now, there’s a wide variety of mid-layer designs to choose from, from fleeces to softshell-style ‘active insulation’. The aim is to strike a balance between warmth, breathability and wicking, depending on your activity and expected weather conditions.
Here’s what to look for if you’re in the market for a new mid-layer. Fiona Russell puts four of the best women’s garments to the test, and then Peter Macfarlane looks at four for men.
Our list of the best fleeces for hillwalking
- Salewa Agner Polarlite Hooded Jacket | Not available in US | £140 (available from Salewa & Alpine Trek) – Best for Women
- Inov-8 Venturelite mid hoodie review | $140 | £110 (available from inov-8 & Sports Shoes)
- Arc’teryx Delta ½ Zip hoody $180 | £130 – available to buy from Arc’Teryx
- The North Face 100 Glacier ¼ zip fleece | $70 | £60 (available from The North Face) – Lightest tested
- Alpkit Woodsmoke | $99.99 | £89.99 (available to buy from Alpkit) – Best for Men
- Berghaus MTN Seeker ST Jacket | International shipping available | £130.00 (available to buy from Berghaus)
- Haglöfs ROC Flash Mid Hood Men | not available in the US | £110.00 (available to buy from Haglofs) – Budget option
- Fjallraven Abisko Lite Fleece Jacket | $130 | £135.00 (available from Fjallraven)
4 women’s fleeces for 2023 reviewed
How we testes the fleece jackets
Fiona tested the fleece and light mid-layers on the trails, hills and mountains of Scotland and in a range of weather conditions. She is a keen runner and Munro and Corbett bagger. She usually wears a size small or UK10, although she is fairly tall at 5ft 8in and has long arms. The products were weighed on home digital scales.
BEST BUY: Salewa Agner Polarlite Hooded Jacket
- Rating: 5/5
- Price: not available in US | £140 (available from Salewa & Alpine Trek)
- Weight: 370g (UK12)
- Likes: fabric, fit, features, quality
- Dislikes: price, sizing
Materials: Duratretch PFC-free bluesign 151g/sqm – 85% Polyamide, 15% Elastane – and Polarlite Pontetorto bluesign 225g/sqm – 94% Polyester (recycled), 6% Elastane | Hood: Yes | Front Closure: full zip | Pockets: 2 | Hem: Plain | Cuffs: Elasticated | Men’s version: Yes | Sizes: UK4 to 14
The Salewa Agner Polarlite Hooded Jacket is thoughtfully designed and feelt high quality when holding it on our test. The hybrid construction includes Polarlite to provide a fleecy and insulating inner, plus Durastretch inserts, which form soft shell areas for abrasion resistance. The jacket is also “body mapped” so that different fabrics match the needs of various parts of the body. The fabric has an added anti-odour treatment. A plus point for the environment is the fleece is made with recycled polyester and bluesign-approved fabrics.
RECOMMENDED: Inov-8 Venturelite mid hoodie review
- Rating: 4/5
- Price: $140 | £110 (available from inov-8 & Sports Shoes)
- Weight: 267g (UK10)
- Likes: fit, weight, warmth
- Dislikes: fiddly zip
Materials: 92% recycled polyester / 8% elastane | Hood: Yes | Front Closure: Full zip | Pockets: 2 | Hem: Elasticated | Cuffs: Elasticated with thumb loops | Men’s version: Yes | Sizes: UK6 to 16
The female-specific and athletic fit of the inov-8 Venturelite mid hoodie is well designed and flattering. The neat and tight hood, longer torso and arms with thumb-loops combine to offer extra insulation around the head, hips and wrists. Unfortunately, for me the sleeves are not long enough to make use of the thumb-loops without cutting off circulation. The textured hexagon inner knit fleece is lovely and soft against the skin, while the outer is a smooth polyester that keeps its look after many wears and washes.
Read more: Inov-8 Venturelite mid hoodie full review
RECOMMENDED: Arc’teryx Delta ½ Zip hoody
- Stars: 4/5
- Price: $180 | £130 – available to buy from Arc’Teryx
- Weight: 221g (small)
- Pros: lightweight, fit, technical design
- Cons: thin fabric, wind permeable
Materials: Polartec® Power Dry® fleece | Hood: yes | Front closure: half zip | Pockets: 1 | Hem: Plain | Cuffs: Elasticated with thump loops | Men’s version: No (full zip jacket version for men) | Sizes: XS to XL
The design of the Arc’teryx Delta ½ Zip hoody is trim, athletic and figure hugging. The sizing is accurate with the addition of a longer torso and longer arms, plus thumb-loops. The “ScubaHood” fits under a helmet, should you need to wear one, and has a panel that can be tucked behind the head or worn as a neck gaiter or balaclava. This is a clever detail and useful in colder conditions. Note that if you wear glasses, the neck gaiter causes them to steam up if you have it over your nose.
Read more: Arc’teryx Delta ½ Zip hoody full review
The North Face 100 Glacier ¼ zip fleece
- Rating: 3/5
- Price: $70 | £60 (available from The North Face)
- Weight: 189g (Medium)
- Pros: simple, comfortable, warm
- Cons: shapeless, few details
Materials: 100% recycled polyester fleece | Hood: No | Front Closure: quarter zip | Pockets: No | Hem: Elasticated | Cuffs: Elasticated | Men’s version: Yes | Sizes: XS-XL and plus sizes
The North Face 100 Glacier ¼ zip fleece is a simple and straightforward fleece that is easy to wear and scores a plus-point for being made of 100% recycled polyester. The medium size fits me quite neatly, so I recommend you buy a size larger than you would normally choose. The shape is a bit square and not that flattering. The micro-fleece is really soft against the skin, and it stretches with the body as you move, which made it comfortable.
Read more: The North Face 100 Glacier ¼ zip fleece
4 men’s fleeces for 2023 reviewed
How we tested the fleece jackets
Peter began testing these samples on the Munros last winter and they’ve been in constant use through to the summer of this year on hill days, low level tracks and trails, general outdoor exploring and also as regular everyday wear. Peter’s role as a Woodland Trust ranger is important to him for judging the performance and the durability of gear with regular traverses of the Kilpatrick Hills in all weathers and at any time of day or night.
BEST BUY: Alpkit Woodsmoke
Price: $99.99 | £89.99 (available to buy from Alpkit)
Weight: 386g size L
Likes: fit, comfort, fabric
Dislikes: no lower pockets, poppers won’t suit everyone
Materials: 95% Thermocore polyester/ 5% spandex fabric, metal poppers | Hood: No | Front Closure: metal poppers | Pockets: two high chest, flapped and poppered | Hem: plain | Cuffs: shirt style, popper adjustable | Sizes: XS to XXL | Women version: Yes
The Alpkit Woodsmoke comes in a light and stretchy polyester fabric with a brushed surface which feels very pleasant against the skin. The Thermocore fabric is described as having hollow core fibres which trap air for insulation and there is good warmth here despite the noticeably thin fabric. during testing I wore the Woodsmoke over short and long-sleeved base layers and often it’s been layered under a shell or windshirt. The insulation level for layering is useable outside of winter temperatures. I’ve found the moisture management very good too. While I can wet out the back area under a pack, it does dry quickly.
Read more: Alpkit Woodsmoke full review
RECOMMENDED: Berghaus MTN Seeker ST Jacket
- Stars: 5/5
- Price: International shipping available | £130.00 (available to buy from Berghaus)
- Weight: 384g (size L)
- Pros: comfort, fabric and fit
- Cons: nothing
Materials: Polartec Power Stretch Pro | Hood: No | Front Closure: full zip | Pockets: two zipped mid height | Hem: stretch binding | Cuffs: stretch binding with elastic thumb loops | Sizes: XS to 2XL | Women’s version: Yes
The Berghaus MTN Seeker ST Jacket is part of Berghaus’ Extrem range which is their top end mountain specific collection so I was looking for simple, practical and durable during testing. The fit is close with long arms and long body which is excellent under other layers. The articulation is perfect with no hem movement at all with both of my arms raised over my head.
Read more: Berghaus MTN Seeker ST Jacket
RECOMMENDED: Haglöfs ROC Flash Mid Hood Men
Price: not available in the US | £110.00 (available to buy from Haglofs)
Weight: 372g size L
Pros: fit, fabric, comfort and hood
Cons: pocket design
Materials: recycled polyester grid backed fleece | Hood: Yes | Front Closure: full zip | Pockets: two zipped mid height | Hem: plain | Cuffs: plain | Sizes: S to XXL | Women’s version: yes
The Haglöfs ROC Flash Mid Hood is the only top reviewed this time that has a hood, which proved to be excellent. It has a sculpted, close-fitting shape that moved with my head without restricting the movement or obstructing my view. The warmth was enough to replace a beanie or Buff, plus there’s the added convenience of it always being there. The light fabric means that the hood doesn’t bunch up annoyingly when rolled down under a shell. It also acts well as a collar when the zip is pulled up to the top, where there is welcome chin protection detailing.
Read more: Haglofs ROC Flash Mid Hood Men
Fjallraven Abisko Lite Fleece Jacket
- Stars: 3/5
- Price: $130 | £135.00 (available from Fjallraven)
- Weight: 348g (size L)
- Pros: fabric and comfort
- Cons: nonadjustable hem
Materials: recycled polyester grid backed fleece | Hood: No | Front Closure: two way full zip | Pockets: zipped handwarmers, zipped chest | Hem: plain | Cuffs: plain with thumb loops | Sizes: XS to XXL | Women’s version: Yes
The Fjallraven Abisko Lite Fleece Jacket layout feels the most like a traditional fleece jacket in my selection, with its slightly relaxed fit and multiple pockets. The pockets are all zipped and the lower two are set above a pack hipbelt although the internal mesh pocket ‘bags’ do extend below the hipbelt. These pockets are huge – I can fill them with stuff and still have room to get my hands in to warm them. There’s a single high set napoleon pocket for right-handed people, also a very usable size.
What to look for in the best fleeces on the market
Here’s what to look for when buying a new fleece for hillwalking. There’s plenty to consider but below is what you should definitely keep an eye on when making a purchase.
Napoleon or bicep pockets are good for smaller items. Torso pockets are larger but all can interfere with harnesses and rucksack straps so check fit. Zips keep things safe inside.
Provides extra warmth on cold days, but can be a faff under other layers.
Full length or not… You decide! Some are sold as “interactive” zips that combine with a waterproof to make a padded 2-in-1 jacket. The downside to this system is a cold spot down the front where the zips meet.
Close fitting stretchy fleeces are good for layering underneath other garments. Length helps keep vital organs warm and prevents riding up.
Some have a hook and loop tab or thumb loops to deal with drafts.
Stretchy edge finishing or a drawcord help to keep drafts out and prevent riding up, but check the drawcord/toggle wont chafe under your rucksack.