In this ski and snowboard midlayer guide I look at one of the most important, but least considered items in your ski wardrobe. Having tried and tested many options, I have put together this review of different types of midlayers. And ask which is best?
What is a midlayer?
Simply put a midlayer is what you wear between your baselayer and your outer jacket when skiing or snowboarding. In theory it can be any item of clothing that adds extra warmth.
However, if you wear something made from the wrong materials it can actually make you damp and cold. This is because the midlayer should be breathable. It needs to wick any sweat you produce away and not to soak it up like a sponge.
It can be very dangerous if you midlayer gets wet. This can happen either through sweat that doesn’t escape or from moisture coming in from the outside. When you stop being active a damp midlayer will cool you down very quickly. If caught outside it can lead to hypothermia.
So a midlayer should be warm, breathable and have good wicking properties. This is why anything made from cotton, for example a t-shirt or hoodie, is not good as a midlayer.
Of course you might not need a midlayer at all. In warm conditions, or if you have a heavily insulated jacket any extra layer could make you too hot. So you won’t always need to wear a midlayer.
Ski and snowboard midlayer guide
What to wear at different temperatures and conditions is a very personal decision. How you feel the cold, the amount of natural insulation you have, how hard you ski or snowboard, and how warm your outer and baselayers are will affect how you feel the conditions.
Because of the above I can’t tell you what to wear at a certain temperature. But I can tell you the colder it is, the less sunny and the more windy the warmer your midlayer should be.
I usually judge it based on the day before. Was I too warm, too cold or just right? Is it going to be better weather today or worse? If it is your first day of the season compare it to other times you have been in the mountains – if you can remember!
If you are not sure then wear an extra layer or go for the warmer option. It is always better to be too warm than too cold. After all you can always take a layer off or open up your vents if you get too hot.
What I wear snowboarding
Personally I usually wear a shell jacket without insulation. I find over a season this offers more flexibility than an insulated jacket. Combined with the right midlayers I have worn shell jackets at temperatures ranging from -37°C to 22°C (-35°F to 72°F).
If the temperature is going to be around zero I just wear a standard fleece over my baselayer. However, I snowboard in a very active way and generally run hot anyway.
Before discovering shell jackets I snowboarded in an insulated jacket for many years. I would wear much thinner midlayers, and if the temperature was around zero I usually wore just a T-shirt over my baselayer.
Review of different types of midlayers
For this ski and snowboard midlayer guide I have ranked the different types of midlayers in order of the coolest to the warmest. I have also given my opinion on the temperature range I would wear that midlayer with a shell or insulated jacket.
I have given my opinion of each midlayer type. Plus discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each.
The temperature examples I have given work for me. But remember the forecast temperatures range by altitude and time of day. Plus the actual temperature you feel is affected by windchill, cloud cover and whether you’ll be in the sun or shade.
During this review of different types of midlayers they were always worn over a baselayer. I find the H1 pro baselayers are particularly good, but testing was also carried out with these excellent baselayers.
Technically nothing is not a midlayer, but it is always an option. In spring conditions or exceptionally warm days I like to ride in a shell jacket with just a baselayer beneath.
- Shell jacket 10°C+ (50°F)
- Insulated jacket 0°C+(32°F)
When I first started snowboarding I would wear a normal t-shirt over the top of a baselayer with an insulated jacket. By the end of the day it would end up wet with sweat and make me feel cold.
Eventually someone suggested wearing a sports t-shirt that wicks sweat away. It was a lightbulb moment. A t-shirt is great as it only adds a little bulk. But it traps a layer of air over your core to keep you warmer.
Also with some baselayers being rather tight a T-shirt can make you feel more comfortable when not wearing your jacket. Plus of course you can choose a style you like that suits your look.
- Shell jacket 5 to 15°C (41 to 59°F)
- Insulated jacket -5 to 5°C (23 to 41°F)
Another baselayer (or long sleeved T)
Wearing a baselayer over the top of a baselayer might seem a little weird but it does a great job. In particular if you have a baggy one over the top of a skintight baselayer you get air trapped and it adds more warmth than you’d expect.
Long sleeved and usually slightly thicker than a sport t-shirt an extra baselayer is a slightly warmer option. You can also wear a long sleeve T-shirt, just make sure it is wicking.
- Shell jacket -5 to 10°C (23 to 50°F)
- Insulated jacket -15 to 0°C (5 to 32°F)
Flannel shirt (no added insulation)
Checked flannel shirts are a key part of most skier and snowboarders wardrobe. For some reason the lumberjack look is popular in ski resorts so these shirts are often worn as midlayers.
Slightly warmer than an extra baselayer, not quite as warm as a jumper they are a great option. Personally I find the cuffs a little annoying under my jacket and gloves. That said the HH Flannel Shirt looked much better in apres than a fleece.
- Shell jacket -10 to 5°C (14 to 41°F)
- Insulated jacket -20 to -5°C (-4 to 23°F)
Of the different types of midlayers worn by skiers and snowboarders a fleece is the most common. They are soft, lightweight, breathable and have a high degree of insulation – because the material itself holds air.
I prefer a fleece with a full length zip as you can undo it if you get too warm. This review is based on a standard thickness fleece, wearing a thicker one I’d move the temperature range down by 5 to 10°C.
This winter I have been riding in the excellent Daybreaker Fleece by Helly Hansen. It has a nice cut, is sleek looking and has become one of my favourite tops. The range of temperatures a fleece works for is its strength.
- Shell jacket -15 to 5°C (5 to 32°F)
- Insulated jacket -25 to -5°C (-13 to 23°F)
A favourite of snowboarders and freeskiers, a hoodie is as much a fashion statement as it is a midlayer. Unfortunately most hoodies are made from cotton so will hold moisture and eventually cool you down rather than add warmth.
However there are sport hoodies made from other materials that wick moisture away. A hoodie looks cooler than a fleece but is bulkier and heavier but no warmer. Also it is not as breathable, so not so good in warmer temperatures.
- Shell jacket -15 to 0°C (5 to 41°F)
- Insulated jacket -25 to -10°C (-13 to 14°F)
For this ski and snowboard midlayer guide it is worth talking about woolie jumpers. The outside of wool is hydrophobic so repels water, however the the interior is hygroscopic (water absorbing). This is not ideal as it doesn’t aid wicking moisture away from the skin.
However merino wool (and some treated wools) are excellent at wicking, have good breathability, are anti-bacterial and odour resistant. I tested wearing the Hod Knit Sweater during this review of different types of midlayers. I found it good in the colder range offered by a fleece.
- Shell jacket -15 to -5°C (5 to 23°F)
- Insulated jacket -25 to -15°C (-13 to 5°F)
An insulated jacket without arms has always been a bit of a mystery to me. The idea is it keeps your core warm while giving you freedom of movement for your arms.
Personally, I find if it is cold enough to be adding proper insulation then I want insulation on my arms as well. But many people like them and they are a warmer option than a fleece (except for your arms!).
- Shell jacket -20 to -5°C (-4 to 23°F)
- Insulated jacket -30 to -15°C (-22 to 5°F)
There are almost as many insulator jackets as there are types of midlayers. They vary from thin offering minimal extra insulation to thick down filled puffer jackets that are designed for the arctic. In terms of warmth they are one of the best midlayers.
When doing the research for this ski and snowboard midlayer guide I tested the LIFALOFT™ Hooded Stretch Insulator Jacket by Helly Hansen. It is lightweight, stretchy and highly breathable, but still adds great insulation.
- Shell jacket -25 to -5°C (-13 to 23°F)
- Insulated jacket -35 to -15°C (-31 to 5°F)
Essentially the same as an insulator jacket except the outer layer of a technical midlayer is wind and water resistant. They are great for adaptability as they can be worn without an outer layer as a jacket on its own.
This is helpful in a layering system. For example, if hiking uphill you can take off your outer layer and still be protected from the elements. I reviewed the Sogn Insulator jacket a couple of years ago which is a great example of a technical midlayer.
- Shell jacket -25 to -5°C (-13 to 23°F)
- Insulated jacket -35 to -15°C (-31 to 5°F)
There is nothing stopping you wearing more than one midlayer. You can mix and match however works for you. Personally if the temperature is going to be colder than -25°C I will wear a fleece and a technical midlayer, as it gets even colder I then add extra baselayers.
What type of midlayer is best?
In my opinion the best midlayer is the one that works in the widest range of temperatures. During the research for this ski and snowboard midlayer guide I found that fleece, insulator jacket and technical midlayer all work over a temperature range of 20 degrees.
As a fleece is significantly cheaper than either of the other two I would say it makes the best midlayer. There is a reason fleece is such a stalwart in the outdoor industry. It not only offers a great insulation to weight and bulk ratio but it is breathable and wicking.
Personally I always take an extra baselayer, a fleece and a technical midlayer away on a snowboarding trip. I then choose which to wear based on the conditions. However, it is the fleece that gets worn by far the most often. And the best thing is a fleece is not expensive.