Mid-Layers: Patagonia vs. North Face vs. Rab

Rab also cut weight by not putting zippers on the hand pockets; instead, there’s elastic.  Without zippers, these pockets are arguably useless for holding things, but personally, I don’t like putting objects in those pockets anyway because I tend to crush whatever’s in there. I also like having my hands in the pockets with nothing else. For me, the elastic was much more comfortable and a nice change from zippers. (Having said that, Rab’s 2011/12 version of the Microlight will feature zippered pockets, so you’ll have to decide whether that’s a plus or minus).

Despite showing small feathers at the seams initially, the Microlight held up well and still hasn’t lost any significant amount of down. It should also be noted that the zipper is on the left side (European style) and has a tendency to snag. But overall, I like the Rab for its hood and greater warmth than the Nano.

Mid-Layers: Patagonia vs. North Face vs. Rab, BLISTER
The North Face Diez Jacket

The North Face Diez jacket differs from the Microlight in a number of ways: no hood, plastic zippers (zippered pockets too), and a tighter fit. Of all the jackets I tested, I’ve had this one the longest. I’ve worn it as a stand-alone puffy, a true mid-layer, and as a belay jacket. It took a beating and took it well. It didn’t show feathers out of the box, and only lost a few over months of wear.

At 11 ounces, the Diez was the lightest jacket I tested, but again, it doesn’t have a hood, so you’ll have to decide whether you need one or not. (The jacket in The North Face line that is most similar to the Diez and has a hood is the Redpoint Optimus Jacket. But it’s made with PrimaLoft, like the Nano, so you won’t get the same warmth that down provides.)

The Diez has a great, solid plastic, YKK zipper, which doesn’t snag when zipping up the jacket—a big bonus. It was also the warmest and most windproof of the three jackets. If it only had a hood, I would be sold.

All three jackets pack conveniently into chest or waist pockets, and are almost exactly the same size. The Diez is the easiest to pack down, while the Nano and the Microlight are a little more difficult to get into their pockets. All three have carabiner loops to attach to a harness or pack.

The Diez has an alpine fit, which keeps it tight to your chest and is perfect for layering. The Nano was a little more loose, but very minimal in profile, while the Microlight was the roomiest, yet still worked well when compressed under a shell.


These jackets are all great for their specific applications, and you’ll need to decide what you really want out of a mid-layer.

If you’re looking for a jacket to use on the move, get the Nano. If you need a warm mid-layer that can also double as a cold weather puffy, the Microlight is your best bet. If you’re making a summit push or spending long days in freezing weather, where you need maximum warmth with the lightest weight (and don’t need a hood), go with the Diez.

6 comments on “Mid-Layers: Patagonia vs. North Face vs. Rab”

  1. Awesome comparison of these jackets, I’ve been thinking about getting on of these mid layer jackets, and wasn’t sure which to get because they all are so close in design…thanks!

  2. hi,
    the jacket reviews are interesting … but i keep wondering how they perform when wearing a protektor jacket and a backback? i happen to have one from ‘belowzero’ which has nearly no insulation on the backside – which turned out to be great when wearing the described gear. now i’m looking for something similar, but i’m lost …

    thanks for your opinion,

  3. You bring up the issue of fit …. what do you recommend as a layer under a shell (eg North Face Enzo). Should you go for tight, firm or loose?

  4. @Chris-I’ve had no problem with backpack wear with any of these jackets. They’ve all been used extensively for biking, cragging, and walking around town and have held up great. I took the Microlight and the Diez backpacking in some cold New Mexican weather and they both worked well. One note on the Microlight, though: the zipper catches more and more the longer I have it. The teeth are simply too small and as the fabric gets more weary the zipper simply snags more. Annoying.

    @Peter-I’m personally a fan of what one could call mid-tight (note: I made that term up). I find layers that are too tight—especially if you have to use multiple—are restrictive. I still like them to fit well, just not overly tight. Being bound up in the shoulders is a serious pet peeve of mine. Out of these jackets I really like the fit of the Microlight and the Nano Puff; the Diez is a little tight for my liking. Really though, it comes down to personal preference. Hope that helps.

  5. I love the Patagonia NanoPuff. I was looking to replace an old fleece midlayer for winter backpacking the NH and NY. I’m 5’8″ about 185# and a medium nano fits perfect. I am an exceptionally sweaty individual and that has always been a challenge for me in winter hiking. Because of my propensity for profuse perspiration, down is out (I climbed Mt. Eisenhower in Jan. in a down coat and once below treeline I packed it up only to find it a disgusting ball of frozen sweaty feathers when I unpacked). The Nano is still quite warm, even when I’ve drenched it in sweat and it dries at warp speed. I also find it do be good enough to repel winds up to 40 mph at 15-below zero. It’s so versatile that it’s made my other mid-layers obsolete and it looks nice enough (in black) to wear around town.

  6. Go stand on whitby pier fishing all night in any of them jackets youl freaze your arse of, I know I’ve just taken the rab one back it’s not worth the cardboard the price is stuck on, love my rab batura mind you!! But go buy a jacket from a tackle shop designed for fishing for half the prices any of them jackets cost and youl be toasty warm.

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