Can You Recommend a Mid Layer for Climbing Kilimanjaro? Soft Shells and Down Jackets

What mid layers do I need for Kilimanjaro?

The primary purpose of a mid layer is to provide warmth. Fleece jackets, wool soft shells, and puffy down jackets are all considered mid layers. They can be hooded jackets, vests, full zips, or pullovers. It’s basically any garment which provides insulation and is worn between a base layer and outer layer.

These are the mid layers shown on our gear list:

1 – Soft Jacket, fleece or soft shell
1 – Insulated Jacket, synthetic or down, warm

You will need one lighter mid layer for cool temperatures and a heavy mid layer for cold to extreme weather.

Soft Shells

A soft shell is a water resistant, wind resistant, stretchy and breathable jacket that provides warmth. Usually they are made of fleece or wool and have a light interior lining. Though soft shells insulate, they also allow some heat to escape as they are designed to be worn during active pursuits. They should not inhibit your range of motion or feel too stiff.

Soft shells come in a variety of weights that will determine their level of warmth. Standard midweight and heavyweight fleece is a bit bulky. So look for gridded fleece or other types of compressible fleece that trap warm air without adding bulk. We recommend getting a jacket with a full zipper and a hood. Quarter and half zips can be a pain to put on and take off on the go. A hood to protect the head from wind, rain, sun and snow makes good sense.

The North Face Borod Full Zip Hoodie is made from 200-weight gridded, stretch fleece for lightweight insulation. It has a slim fit with a chest pocket, elastic cuffs and an attached hood. This jacket retails for $100.

Down Jackets

When it comes to serious insulation, the top choice to battle the extreme cold is a down jacket, otherwise known as a puffy coat. With a superb warmth to weight ratio, there is no better insulator than down.

Down is a cluster of fine feathers found on a bird under the more robust exterior feathers, usually from a goose or duck. Down clusters lie beneath, on a bird’s belly, and is light and fluffy.

How it works is that down clusters trap pockets of air, which in turn trap warmth from your body, providing insulation.

The term fill power refers to the loft of the down. The more loft the clusters have, the more air that is trapped and the more insulation that is achieved. So the higher the fill power number, the warmer the wearer can be, all things being equal.

We recommend a fill power of 650 or more for serious conditions. Note that down “sweaters” which are made to be ultralight are not warm enough. Anything that weigh under 16 oz. is probably too light for Kilimanjaro.

Synthetic down mimics the qualities of down by also trapping air in pockets. However, it is generally bulkier and heavier than natural down because its polyester fibers have a lower warmth-weight ratio. In other words, to achieve the same warmth as natural down, synthetic down needs to be slightly heavier. But it does have an advantage in that synthetic down is much more moisture resistant. If it gets wet it will dry faster and retain its loft, staying warm when wet. It’s also more budget friendly.

The Marmot Guides Down Hoody is a 700-fill-power down treated with a water-resistant coating. It is made of a ripstop polyester exterior and features a chest pocket, interior pocket and elastic drawcord hem. It weighs about 1 lb. 9 ounces and retails for $250.

The North Face Sierra Peak Pro Hoodie is an excellent, lightweight, standard fit down jacket. Its 800-fill provides exceptional mid layer warmth while the outer overlay is made of a water repellent finish. It weighs 19 ounces and retails for $350.

You can find all your outdoor gear at these preferred retailers:

REI, Backcountry, Moosejaw


See What Should I Wear to Climb Kilimanjaro?

See How Do I Dress for Summit Night on Kilimanjaro?

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