The primary purpose of a mid layer is to provide warmth. Fleece jackets, soft shells and down jackets are all considered mid layers. It’s basically any garment which provides insulation and is worn between a base layer and outer layer.
The Ultimate Kilimanjaro® gear list includes the following items:
2 – Soft Jacket, fleece or soft shell
You will need two mid layer jackets for your Kilimanjaro climb.
Soft Shell vs. Fleece Jackets
It is easy to get soft shell jackets and fleece jackets confused. That’s because there is a lot of intersection between these two types of jackets, making distinctions pretty vague.
A soft shell jacket is a water resistant, wind resistant, stretchy and breathable jacket. Usually they are made of polyester and nylon 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. Unlike waterproof shells, a soft shell’s water resistance comes from the fabric itself, not a membrane.
A fleece jacket is warm, breathable, hydrophobic jacket made of fine polyester (synthetic) fibers that mimicks the function of wool. Most people are familiar with fleece jackets as these are very common and worn by the general public. Fleece jackets come in a variety of weights that will determine their level of warmth. There are three difference types of fleece fabric: microfleece, midweight, and heavyweight fleece.
Generally speaking, a soft shell jacket is made with weather protection as the primary function. A fleece jacket is made for warmth as its primary function. However, both soft shells and fleece provide some protection from weather and warmth.
The easiest way to tell what is a soft shell and what is a fleece jacket is by touching the outer fabric. If the jacket has a shell-like, stiffer texture it is probably a soft shell. If it is soft to the touch, it is probably fleece. However, as mentioned above, there are many products that combine properties of weather protection and warmth, making the line between a soft shell and fleece jacket blurry.
We recommend getting jackets with a full zippers. Quarter zips and half zips can make putting on taking off the jacket a pain, especially on the trail. Also, having a full zip allows you to ventilate better by giving you the option of having the jacket entirely open or closed.
A hood to protect the head from wind, rain, sun and snow makes good sense but not absolutely necessary as your rain jacket and down jacket will have a hood. It’s also nice to have some zippered hand pockets, a chest pocket, as well as some elastic wrist cuffs.
Generic fleece jackets that are not made for hiking and backpacking are poor choices. Don’t bring these as they are not ideal. They are often substandard in quality, let too much air through, and are too loose fitting.
Standard midweight and heavyweight fleece is a bit bulky for use on Kilimanjaro. We prefer lightweight, technical microfleece that is tightly woven to provide a better barrier from the weather. It should have some stretch and be snug to the body without inhibiting your range of motion or feel too stiff.
The images shown above are recommended Kilimanjaro jackets. Below are some additional options.
Remember that you will need two of these jackets, so make sure you can layer one on top of another.
Mountain Hardwear Keele Ascent Hoody
The Mountain Hardwear Keele Ascent Hoody is an athletic fit, lightweight, water repellent fleece jacket. It is constructed of gridded polyester fleece and has high zippered side pockets but no chest pocket. This jacket retails for $175.
The North Face Canyonlands Hoodie
The North Face Canyonlands Hoodie is a hooded, stretchy fleece jacket made of a polyester, Elastane blend. It is a durable, midweight fleece with a standard fit, chest pocket, elastic cuffs and zippered side pockets. This jacket retails for $90.
The North Face Borod Full Zip Hoodie
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.
Mountain Hardwear Monkey Fleece Grid Hooded Jacket
The Mountain Hardwear Monkey Fleece Grid Hooded Jacket is warm, soft and super comfy. Made with lightweight Polartec fleece throughout the body and stretch fleece on the side panels for better movement. It has zippered hand pockets and a chest pocket. This jacket retails for $200.
You can find all your outdoor gear at these preferred retailers: