Up in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve been asked time and time again about what I wear under my shell. Within minutes, the weather can change between sleet, rain, wet snow, dry snow and hard snow. Most of us invest in a nice waterproof, breathable shell. These can range from softshells to hardshells, and even to down. This is usually where the big bucks are spent — and rightfully so. However, lower price tags shouldn’t translate to lesser importance. Too little attention is paid to the cost effective garments underneath.
Midlayers are arguably the most important piece of clothing in the layering system. At some point, you will get wet and cold. If you were to walk through a car wash, there would be a high likelihood that you would get soaked. Outershells could only do so much. Midlayers are the true barriers between the extreme conditions outside and your body. So what do I like? I’ll tell you what I don’t like: fleece. It is so 1997. If you’re a true alpinist, fleece is an enemy in your pack. It’s bulky and technically inefficient. Where fleece has failed, bomber fabrics combined with solid engineering and design have produced a bevy of options that will work for your needs.
RAB XENON JACKET
Rab was founded by climber, Rab Carrington, 30 years ago with the vision of making high quality sleeping bags and apparel for high altitude mountaineering. Rab focuses specifically on insulation. The company has built a reputation for its detail and design, paying close attention to what functions are necessary for serious mountaineers. One product I love is the Rab Xenon Jacket. At 12 ounces, it is light and highly compressible for a synthetic insulated jacket. Thanks to 60g of Primaloft in the sleeves, hood and body, the jacket holds a ton of heat for cold alpine or rock routes. The Xenon Jacket is simple. It doesn’t have (or need) zippers all over, saving weight. The Lycra bound hood is meant to be worn underneath the helmet. It has two hand warmer pockets and can stuff into its chest pocket for easy stowing. The Xenon comes in three colors: Blue, Juicy and Dark Shark and retails at $225.
MARMOT DRICLIME WINDSHIRT
If If you’re an outdoorsman and a value operator like myself, the Marmot DriClime Windshirt should be in your closet. Marmot debuted this classic jacket 15 years ago and very little has been changed to its design since. The DriClime is a versatile jacket that is water repellant, wind resistant and highly breathable. For midlayers, breathability is extremely important to prevent moisture from building up in cold conditions while you’re resting. Marmot’s patented DriClime Bi-Component wicking liner transfers moisture out of the jacket while simultaneously trapping heat during rigorous activity. The jacket features mesh pit vents, a lined collar and chin guard for comfort. A front windflap protects your body against bitter drafts as well. At 15 ounces, the jacket still warrants space in your pack for outdoor excursions. I’ve personally used this jacket as a midlayer for alpine rock climbing and skiing and as an outerlayer on warmer days. Best of all, you can’t beat the $90 retail sticker price. I have two.
MONT-BELL EX LIGHT DOWN JACKET
If you’re a minimalist, not the kind that lives like Henry Thoreau on Walden Pond, but the kind that cuts their toothbrush in half and measures every ounce of gear in their pack, then the Mont-Bell Ex Light Down Jacket may be your answer. At 5.7 ounces, you barely feel like you’re wearing an insulating layer. Th Ex Light is a single-quilt constructed jacket stuffed with premium 900 Fill goose down. The shell is made of a 7 denier Ballistic Airlight calendered nylon. Mont-Bell centered the design on minimalism — no pockets, side zippers or frills. The jacket compresses to an impressive 4 x 6 inch area. I love the simplicity. It’s my primary midlayer while skiing. The 900 Fill down keeps me warm, but as soon as temperatures rise, I can stuff the jacket into my cargo pocket on my pants. The Ex Light sells for $165 and is well worth it. The quality and thought that has gone into this jacket is a great investment for any hardcore mountaineer.
These jackets offer three unique and diverse designs to suit your essential midlayer needs. Whether you’re into Primaloft, down or patented technical fabrics, you can’t go wrong with either one of these must haves.