Jackets are often easy to shop for; just find the components you want and the degree of protection and you can usually quickly find a style you like. Shirts are the same way, there’s only so many ways to skin that cat. The middle layer, however, can prove difficult. For backpacking (or just early winter or spring) you need a middle layer that will provide you with a certain degree of warmth when you need it, but not make you sweat. In addition, it should provide an additional heat buffer underneath a jacket without rubbing. The North Face TKA 100 fleece is a great middle layer that is as versatile as it is comfortable.
The TKA 100 retails for around $50.00. At first this seemed expensive to me, until I found out how long lasting and versatile it is. I have had mine for several years now, and it has yet to tear, rip, or fade (knock on wood!). The zipper is a durable material as well, and I have never had snagging issues with it. The collar is comfortable enough to zip up to your neck, or lay down against an open zipper for warmer weather. It is extremely lightweight, and is no heavier than a flannel shirt. It fits “true,” so the sizes can be trusted. If in doubt, I would purchase a size up as it would be a quick tailor job if you needed it shortened.
As far as utility, I have used the North Face TKA 100 for running, climbing, hiking, and city wear. When running in cold conditions, I found it a great cover to a long sleeved polyester shirt. It keeps the warmth in and retains very little moisture. It also dries quickly. When I wear it under a jacket, it does a great job of providing a smooth layer for the jacket to rub against without binding. For cool sunny days it’s a great around the town sweater, and looks urban enough, even after years of washing, to wear in any casual situation.
For hiking it is snag resistant and makes a great sleeper jacket. It is light enough to keep you warm but won’t bind up like a shirt or make you sweat through the night. All in all, this is one of my favorite outerwear products, I would rate it a 10/10. Whether you’re hiking, catching a quick beer at a pub, or huddling down against a storm, this product is a great addition to your wardrobe and equipment list.