Midlayer Deathmatch

Here’s something I’ve never done on here, a group test. I’ve constantly rotated all the test kit below, some have been on the go for 18 months or more, I’ve worn them, carried them, slept in them, spilled cuppas on them, sweated in them and even washed them. They’re all pretty different, materials, price, fit, but in any contest there has to be a winner. It’s time I nailed my colours to the mast.

Chocolate Fish TeMata

Weight: 344g
UK Price: £67.95
Main Fabric: 260gsm fine Merino
Made in: New Zealand

This has been around a bit now, been worn and washed countless times. The sample’s charcoal colour and slightly relaxed cut has meant it’s seen as many days out as it has hill days. But on a hill is it’s home, and it’s strength comes from that fabric and its simple design. As I’ve mentioned before, a light merino base layer with a heavier merino layer over it makes for a very odd microclimate in cold weather, never too hot or too chilly, wind resistant but still airy feeling. When layered-up the comfort remains, although drying time when you’ve soaked it on a steep climb will always be slower than a synthetic. But it fights back by being stink-free when you pull it on in the tent next morning. Length is great on the body and arms, the zip is a decent length and the collar is a good height and nice fit on my neck too, I can later under it and over it and still put the zip right up without any trouble.
Now here’s the thing, there’s no holes in this where my belt/rucksack buckle is despite my not tucking it in, so this merino isn’t fragile at all which has surprised me. It’s a little heavier than some, but I still pick it regularly over lighter kit because of that fabric.

Crux Halo

Weight: 232g
UK Price: £100
Main Fabric: Nylon/800fill down
Made in: China

A down midlayer, that very fact plus the fancy quilted construction had me emailing Crux as soon as I saw it. I liked it initially, but it blew down out of the stitching line every time I moved and I got fed up with that and stashed it for a while.
But, I’ve been carrying and wearing it a lot this summer, including on the bike as it’s so small packing and is so bloody warm. The down loss has slowed which is a good thing, and it’s got a great long/slim fit which is enough for over a couple of light layers but works under a shell as well, where in cold weather you forget it’s a down jacket. It does get damp when you layer it, but the quilting holds the down in place so it doesn’t clump and dries surprisingly well. I’m happy taking this on camps instead of a regular midlayer.
The fabric is a good one, good spray resistance, so in some ways this is almost a softshell/lined pertex affair. QAs long as you vierw it as an integral piece or summer insulation it makes sense, in winter it needs a little help.

Haglöfs Lizard Top

Weight: 358g
UK Price: £100
Main Fabric: Flaxable softshell
Made in: Vietnam

I’ve worn this a lot, sun, rain, snow, cafe, camp and Kilpatricks. It turns out that there was a gap in the market and the Lizard walked right into it and stuck its middle finger up at us. It’s a genuine all-season top, I just change what I wear under it and I’m quite happy. It’s thin enough not to roast me when it’s warm, it’s wind and water resistant enough to keep my shell in my pack until it really craps out and the slim cut and great articulation mean it’s pretty much invisible when it’s on.
The high collar and longish zip are great, the pocket is handy and the soft cuffs are comfy. The cuff stitching could be stretchier so I could pull the sleeves up further, but that’s the single niggle I’ve found.
There are other softshell pull-one, but this is softer, it feels like it was designed to be active in rather than trudging through the gloom. Frankly, it’s vital kit.

Marmot Power Stretch Half Zip

Weight: 294g
UK Price: £75
Main Fabric: Polartec Powerstretch
Made in: China I think

Powerstretch is made by fairies, they weave it under a toadstool at the bottom of Polartec’s garden and we are glad.
There’s lots of different grades of course and Marmot have chosen a soft, plush version here which has attracted a bit of wear and tear on the outside, but nothing to frighten the horses.
This is a killer winter layer, the fabric keeps you dry, sucking the sweat away and never letting it back through that smooth outer surface, and after hours under a shell, that’s just perfect. Unusually I’m a medium in this, the large was bigger-cut that the size large shell they sent me, so careful with those online purchases folks.
There’s a high collar where the fabric is reversed at the edge, meaning the furry inside surface is what you get against your neck, and there’s a similar thing at the cuff giving you a furry nose or brow-wire patch.
There’s just enough detailing to give it a nice look, the ubiquitous chest pocket is handy enough and the weight is good too. Powerstretch jumpers: every home should have one.

Arc’teryx Delta LT Zip

Weight: 255g
UK Price: £60
Main Fabric: Polartec Classic 100 Micro Velour Small Grid
Made in: Thailand

I initially chose this to test because of the LT tag, it was the lightweight version, as I didn’t know the Arc’teryx range at all. Luckily it was a good call as it turned out to be pure function in brown Polartec. It’s very plain to look at, clean lines, understated fossil logo, and that’s possibly whey Tiso had racks of them in their sale earlier in the year. I hope we all bought one, because it’s a killer bit of kit.
At 255g you don’t feel it in your pack or when you’re wearing it, which is helped  by a great active cut and a fitted but not overly-slim cut. The length is good too and on a driech day last winter I remember tucking this into my waterproof pants and pulling the cuffs down into my gloves as I trudged into the frozen murk. The grid pattern fabric is great to layer, a good balance between insulation and low absorbency to keep you dry under a shell. Over a baselayer on a good day there’s good warmth and high breathability which has meant keeping it on and regulating my warmth with the zip and the sleeves which roll up pretty well.
Very underrated bit of kit.

X Bionic Humdinger

Weight: 293g
UK Price: £112.50
Main Fabric: Nylon/Elastane
Made in: “Imported Product”

X Bionic kit is always just different. The Humdinger is no exception, it’s got the little zones you come to expect on the back and on the chest to draw out the sweat and suck in the goodness, and that patterning extends here to the collar which is vertically ribbed inside, something you might think would be uncomfortable, but is actually rather nice to wear.
The fabric is fine, very soft and even though the cut is very slim, there’s no real feeling of compression here. It’s a midlayer, designed to work with the the X Bionic base layers, but I’ve been wearing it with merino and been quite happy. You could quite happily wear it on its own as well as a cool weather base, something I’ll need to remember to try, but as a layer under and over other layers it’s been outstanding. It’s first real test was on a minging wet ascent in Kintail where it was perfect with Paclite over it and merino under it. I’ve never known such an equilibrium like that, “just right” through all the various temperatures and conditions from car park to sleeping bag 900 metres and a couple of hours later. I stayed dry as well, as with all the synthetic on this page, it wasn’t quite as lemon fresh on day two, but it was bone dry after being stuffed into a pocket of the tent. It’s comfy, the understated looks make it more accessible that some of the X Bionic gear, and it’s bloody good. Good choice for winter biking too.

Berghaus Spectrum Micro Half Zip

Weight: 326g
UK Price: £35
Main Fabric: AWL 100 Microfleece
Made in: Indonesia

When the original batch of Berghaus kit arrived I was the least enthusiastic about the Spectrum, but actually it’s become my most-worn bit of outdoor kit.
It’s a little boxy in shape, which works well with jeans, but as it turns out it’s fine with a rucksack, doesn’t feel all frumpy and fill out above the hip-belt like you’ve wearing an inflatable ring under it. The fabric’s okay, it’s not as fast-operating as the top-end stuff, but it’s comfy, it’s wearing well (I wear it to work almost very day) and it’s got a nice set of features: tall collar and decent zip, handy wee pocket, a proper drop-tail and it has good long arms and body. The articulation around the arms isn’t the best, it’s not really cut for climbing trees or hanging from a helicopter, but none of this matters. It’s a bit of outdoor gear that just works away, it doesn’t ask anything of the wearer, it’s just a genuine all-rounder, looks nice and it should be something like this that’s the first port of call for anyone getting into gear or looking for a go-to jumper.
Aye, not everything you wear has to look like it’s going at 100mph.


So where does that leave me? Nowhere really, putting these together like this showed me that there is no winner. There has been be a day in which every one of the above tops was perfect, but most of the time they’re all just shades of good, no duffers in there at all. Fabric, design, price all played a part, but not necessarily to the degree or in the positive/negative direction that you’d expect.
That’s the joy of testing varied kit like this, you get to see the positives and the little shortcomings and find out that it’s all about how you work with it, how it fits you, what you wear with it, how hot you run and what you’re doing.
So, if you like it, then it’s good. Don’t let no forum stupid tell you otherwise.

26 thoughts on “Midlayer Deathmatch”

  1. Nice one, i’d just caught up on all the blogs i missed while i was away and then you go and post this ;op

    i have to admit my fave midlayer at the moment is the berghaus smoulder hoody…you know the one with the ninja hood? i’ve found it great for wearing under a lightweight shell like the haglods lim or even my old montane featherlite.

    i took it on the c2c with me but was fortunate not to have to wear it ;op

  2. Like Moggy, I’ve been away for a while and lots to catch up with. Glad you sorted that Holly scare, phew, when I scanned all the older posts got a bit of a fright there for a moment.

    Anyway, to stick to the topic: very topical post indeed for me as I’m on the lookout for a midlayer to go underneath a Haglofs Colouir jacket for the worst of winter days. The Lizard sounds good, but would it be something you wear a shell over or would it instead be a top you swap for a shell when the going gets tough?

    Not really sure which of the options you list would be the one to do the job. I’m thinking something closer to the 450g mark would be better for cr*p weather, something like the Haglofs Zone Jacket you gave us a glimpse of in your preview but no-one in the UK seems to stock it (or intend to stock it). D*rn.

    Anyway, here’s to another fine winter! And glad to find you on top form as usual.

  3. Always various thermal pro fleeces from Pattaguicci (and others of course) to keep you mega warm :)

    I did hole both my temata’s early on with a very chunky belt buckle but they darned well and they’ve not noticed the subsequent heavy use as all round jumpers. Very comfortable for that.
    (Overkill maybe but they fit me properly so I’ve got an excuse ;))

  4. Moggy, not wearing your jumper all that way? Jammie bugger!

    Andy, the wee yin is well, definitely back to her crazy self :o)
    The Lizard layers well, done it a few times. Spent most of yesterday in the rain with a synthetic t-shirt, the Lizard and the Rab eVent Demand over the top. Great combo, and I stayed dry.
    Midlayer options are infinite, but these days I don’t wear anything above 100weight microfleece or Powerstretch, I seem to be quite happy in that most times. A few times I’ve been on the limit when the wind’s got up, but I stay drier. It’s always a balancing act.

    DNF I was suspiscious of these mini baffles when they firts stated appearing, but it does seem to work.
    After a quick bit of improvisation, the Crux will fit into a Nalgene widemouth 1L bottle. Every day’s a schoolday!

    Martin, it is a cracking throw-on bit of kit. I’ve been surprised mine hasn’t holed yet, all my base layers and mosty of the midlayers have buckle wear to one degree or another.
    Patagonia hate me, so no jumpers from them :o)

  5. yeah…i even manged to get a sun tan…the there were only 2 1/2 days where i really needed waterproofs so as you can imagine i was over the moon!

  6. Same as you Pete microfleece or powerstretch. In winter tend to use the powerstretch as a base, superb material and loved it since it first appeared. Is it true that you have Scotlands biggest wardrobe?

  7. Moggy, if you fell in the river you’d come out with a salmon in your pocket.

    coops, it’s medium sized, just very densely packed…

  8. Gives an amusing perspective on some of the trail group tests actually – imagine trying to rationally describe this bunch in a handful of bullet points and marks from 0-5!

  9. An interesting collection of garments and it made me realise how a true midlayer has become a largely neglected and almost redundant part of my clothing systems these last few years. I think the last true midlayers I bought were some TNF Expedition Pullovers, about 8 years, ago because they were the lightest Polartec 100 pullovers with flat seams I could find to take hut touring.

    For so much of the year I’m fine with baselayer + windproof or baselayer + shell, or even all three. And then in winter it’s lightweight Smartwool and Paramo, or Powerstretch and Paramo ‘light’, especially if I’ve also got the Cioch salopettes providing a bit more core warmth.

    Over-layering for stops, with either down or synthetic ‘belay’-type garments has also reduced the need for something specific to fit under a shell. So anything I do ever use as a midlayer is more likely to be something that I’ve brought with another purpose in mind and just happen to press into service – my windproof or a lined windproof such as Rab Vapourise, a Primaloft pullover (I don’t generally consider down for on-the-move warmth) or maybe just the ridiculously light Jack Wolfskin Geko(?) fleece (150g size Large) I’m sometimes carrying for hut, restaurant and airport use.

    Shame – there are some nice pieces there, I’m just not sure that they fit into my proven system :(

  10. Martin, the marks out of five thing is a nightmare, the first one I did for Trail I sent in my first version with in with something like half the kit on 1/5 and the other half with 4/5.
    And as you say Matt, it’s all down to personal preference found through experience, that’s kinda why I did a grouptest of dissimilar items. I get on with them all and I fancied putting them together just to see what it looked like. It’s all about options, the concept of a best-in-test in a world where we’re all different worries me slightly.

  11. Yeah, I’m not dissing mid-layers, this just prompted me to realise that fairly unconsciously I’ve ended up with a clothing approach that works for me and where they hardly figure…

    It is very individual though – MoS is typically one layer colder than me in all situations, so her set-up would almost always feature a recognisable mid-layer, most often one of those reversible Paramo Mountain Pull-Ons.

    You didn’t have one of those in your test! ;O)

  12. You know, I had that reversible thing on last week to update myself in case I wanted to put it in this. But, and that sound you can hear is a can of worms being opened, I’m going to put it in my next bric-a-brac grouptest of softshells instead :o)

  13. I am entirely with Matt on this one. Chocolate fish base and windproof or chocolate fish base and Cioch Glamaig. All year. With a Montane verso to chuck on during stops.

    It works well for me.

    Only consideration is whether to get a Patagonia nano puff to use instead of the Verso for the warmer months.

  14. Well its your blog :) You’d certainly struggle to produce a less unified group of soft shells than some recent magazine tests!

    At least the recent Trail thing had enough space to try and explain the differences (with some very relevant measurements), but to then have to pick a ‘winner’?!

  15. Talking of alternative layereing, this winter I’ll use the Montane Extreme Smock more on the colder days, I was annoyed that I didn’t use it as much as I’d planned last year (this winter it won’t have elsatic in the cuffs either…).

    I’m going to introduce a new test score system. Marks out of five for…
    Size of logo
    Adaptation of another manufactureres ideas
    The lowest percentage of a branded material used in the grament that still has the material manufacturers logo printed on the garment. Oh aye…

  16. I think it was on the wishlist!
    But, it’s nice to get stuff in that I wouldn’t normally pick.
    One thing I’ve noticed about the post above is the colours, I always say to send me bright versions of everything if available as they photograph better and look nicer of screen, and the dull parade above kinda proves my point!

  17. I guess that Marmot is similar to the Rab Power stretch fleece? (I’ve got the latter in “pebble” colour which is only available in one shop in wales :P )

  18. Similar aye, from memory the Marmot’s got a higher collar and a softer fabric, the Rab has thumbloops and a more athletic cut I think?
    Powerstretch kicks ass.

  19. I also wear the Spectrum daily to work, I’m rather fond of it actually :) GoOutdoors are flogging these off just now for £17.50 a pop!

  20. Nice write-up Pete!

    I got my hands on a Lizard top a few weeks ago, just before a wee trip to Torridon last week, and have to say that it is such an impressive bit of kit – love that sort of diversity in clothing.

    I wore the Lizard with both an Arc’teryx Rho Lt Zip and a really battered Haglöfs Single Top, then squished a Rab Microlight down jacket under it as the sun went down and things started to get a bit cooler.

    Unfortunately I didn’t end up doing much in Torridon other than sitting around the free campsite there in nice outdoors clothes. This was due to the energy sapping effect of a fecking wisdom tooth barging its way through my gums making my face look like I was breaking in a new jaw bone for Michael Schumacher! Grrrrr

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