Smartwool TML Mid Full-Zip Hoody
Typical price: £130
Weight: 640g (men’s medium)
Material: 64 per cent merino wool; 36 per cent nylon
Country of manufacture: Vietnam

The Smartwool TML Mid Full-Zip Hoody

The Smartwool TML Mid Full-Zip Hoody

More than 30 years ago, the development of fleece, made from polyethylene terephthalate, revolutionised outdoor clothing, offering a lightweight, warm and quick-drying material ideal for active enthusiasts on the hills and mountains of the world.

Could it be that, ironically, wool – the product of real sheep’s fleece – provides a better alternative to the ubiquitous synthetic fleece, used by so many as part of a layering system to keep warm in everything the British climate throws at the walker and outdoor enthusiast?

Smartwool, the American brand which is part of the Timberland group, has combined merino wool with a nylon shell in this garment, with claimed advantages including the lack of odour for which synthetic materials are notorious; better temperature regulation with a more even body temperature maintained; and moisture management, with sweat absorbed and evaporated more efficiently.

The Smartwool hoody is much less bulky than the equivalent fleece

The Smartwool hoody is much less bulky than the equivalent fleece

So how does the TML Mid Full-Zip Hoody shape up? The first notable quality is its lack of bulk. Compared to a fleece, the hoody takes up about half the space, so is not going to occupy as much space in the rucksack. But it is no lightweight: at 640g for the men’s in a medium size, it is fairly comparable to Polartec 300 jackets.

The TML – which stands for Thermal Mid-Layer – is designed to wear over a base layer and is not waterproof, so a shell jacket is necessary in the rain, just as with a fleece.

In mild weather, the TML Mid Full-Zip Hoody performed well and, whereas we would have been stopping to take off a comparable fleece, the expected overheating was much less while pushing hard uphill.

In cooler weather the hoody was good too and has good wind-blocking qualities; not up to the standard of a jacket with a membrane, but surprisingly able to keep the wind out. On a cool, damp day on the Lakeland fells, the TML Hoody was enough, along with a microfleece, to maintain an adequate body temperature.

And the Lakes excursion proved one of the merino wool garment’s nicest qualities: the lack of whiffiness. While the synthetic microfleece gave off its familiar anti-social atmosphere after a two-day hillwalking round involving 2,000m of ascent, the TML Hoody remained odour free. In fact, apart from the feint smell of wet sheep before its first wash, the hoody has stubbornly refused to pong in five weeks’ use.

Speaking of washing, the label warns there may be a slight shrinkage when first washed, so if it feels a little baggier than desired when tried on, expect it to tighten up a little – not enough to take it down anything like a full size, but something to bear in mind when settling on the right size.

It is fully machine washable at 30C, with Smartwool advising you turn it inside out for best results.

The ochre TML Mid Full-Zip Hoody felt and looked well finished, and the HyFi shell is unlikely to suffer from fleece’s biggest bugbear: pilling, the ‘bobbling up’ of fibre with wear.

A discreet logo on the cuff is the only external branding on the top

A discreet logo on the cuff is the only external branding on the top

It is surprisingly devoid of boastful logos and lettering, its only hint of the manufacturer a discreet little logo on its left cuff. It has ‘engineered’ thumb loops, which necessitate the sleeves being quite long. On a hill day cool enough to chill the hands but not too cold to necessitate gloves, the thumbholes enable the sleeves to cover the hands but leave fingers free to fiddle with gear, camera, compass etc.

British men may find the left-handed American-style zip odd to deal with at first, but will get used to it. A Mountain Hardwear jacket I used to have was the same.

The chin guard is high, and the zip is offset diagonally to the right at the top, to take it away from the mouth. The hood is useful for cool days, when it can be slipped up or down to help regulate heat and keep the breeze at bay. There are no drawstrings though, so the hood is unlikely to stay up in a strong headwind.

The garment’s fabric is quite stretchy and the jacket has two zipped side pockets and a small breast pocket, also with a zip, not big enough for a map, but it will take a mobile phone or hand-held GPS unit. This pocket also has a small circular hole, presumably so you can thread your earphones through to listen while you walk.

The hood is useful for keeping off the chill

The hood is useful for keeping off the chill

The hoody also has two big inside pockets, voluminous to take folded maps.

Smartwool recommends the TML Mid Full-Zip Hoody for cool to cold weather and for aerobic and stop and go activity.

It is probably not warm enough for full-on winter conditions, though would form part of a layering system if enough layers were available in the snow and ice, but in cool, damp, autumn conditions in the Pennines, Yorkshire Dales and Lake District, I found myself warming to the hoody, if you’ll pardon the awful pun. I had to spend less time stopping and starting to de-layer, and it was just warm enough, with a microfleece, to do for a full two days’ worth wander round the high fells.

On a backpacking trip where rucksack space was at a premium the Smartwool TML Mid Full-Zip Hoody proved a boon.

It is also sleek enough and cool, in more than one way, to qualify as urban wear.

On the whole, I think the TML hoody will find its way into my pack on more and more trips into the hills. Its lack of bulk and lack of smell are definite plus points, along with its stretchy feel.

Likes: odour-free, lack of bulk, style and quality.
Dislikes: weight, pricier than equivalent fleece.

  • The TML Mid Full-Zip Hoody was provided without charge to grough by Smartwool for this test.