What to Wear Skiing: Head-to-Toe Guide on Ski Clothing
I’ve skied in every ski weather condition imaginable, and dressed my kids for every condition imaginable. Knowing what to wear while skiing or snowboarding is one of those things that you learn gradually, thanks to some really cold-weather or snowy days on the slopes.
When it comes to skiing, layering is key. Wearing multiple layers allows skiers to adjust their clothing as needed to maintain a comfortable body temperature. The base layer should be made of moisture-wicking material to keep sweat away from the skin and prevent chills. The middle layer should provide insulation to keep the body warm, while the outer layer should be waterproof and wind-resistant to protect against the elements.
It’s also important to note that while most people immediately think about getting too cold while skiing, an equally challenging issue is getting too warm. There is nothing worse than overdressing for a day of skiing and becoming uncomfortably sweaty and warm. That is where the all-important layering comes in.
What to Wear Skiing: Cheatsheet Guide
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Layering: The Key to Ski Comfort
When it comes to skiing, layering is the secret weapon for staying comfortable and warm on the mountain. The key is to wear multiple layers that can be easily added or removed depending on the temperature and weather conditions.
The first layer should be a moisture-wicking base layer made from materials like merino wool or synthetic fabrics. This layer will help keep sweat away from the skin, preventing the wearer from getting cold and clammy. It also shields your skin from what might be a slightly less-comfortable second layer.
The second layer should be an insulating layer that provides warmth. Fleece or wool layers are great for this, and depending on the conditions, you might want to have two of these layers if you are skiing in brutally cold conditions. You want to especially keep your core warm, so a thin vest can be useful.
The final layer should be a waterproof and windproof outer layer. This layer will protect the wearer from the elements and keep them dry. Gore-Tex or other waterproof fabrics are great options for this layer. This can be an insulated ski jacket, or it can simply be what amounts to a rain shell.
It’s important to remember that layering is not just about adding more clothing. It’s about finding the right balance between warmth and breathability. Too many layers can lead to overheating and sweating, while too few layers can leave the wearer cold and uncomfortable. I’ve day days when I start with lots of layers, and by noon I am desperately wanting to strip them off.
What to Wear Skiing, from Head to Toe
A ski helmet is an essential piece of equipment for anyone planning to hit the slopes. Not only does it provide protection in case of falls or collisions, but it can also keep your head warm. Most days, I only have my helmet on my head for warmth, with no extra hat or covering.
Obviously, be sure the helmet fits just right – this is a huge priority. A helmet that is too loose or too tight can be uncomfortable and may not provide adequate protection in the event of an accident. A loose helmet will also not keep you as warm as you may need. Many helmets come with adjustable straps and padding to help ensure a snug and comfortable fit.
Another important factor to consider when choosing a ski helmet is ventilation. While a warm head is important, you don’t want to overheat while skiing. Look for a helmet with adjustable vents that can be opened or closed depending on the temperature and your level of exertion.
Finally, think about how the helmet works with your ski goggles. You want a nice, gap-less fit between the helmet and goggles. That is why I often advise that people use the same brand of helmet and goggles – they will generally work very well together.
Ski goggles are what most skiers use 80% of the time. The other 20%, on warmer bright days, they might be able to use sunglasses.
The best ski goggles will not only protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays but also from wind, snow, and other debris that can fly into your eyes while skiing, while not hindering your field-of-vision.
Goggles come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some goggles are designed specifically for low light conditions, while others are designed for bright, sunny days. It’s important to choose a pair of goggles that are appropriate for the conditions you’ll be skiing in. Most avid skiers have more than one lens for their goggles.
One of the other obvious benefits of ski goggles is that they help keep your face warm. Goggles provide an extra layer of insulation around your eyes and nose, which can make a big difference on cold, windy days.
Next, lets talk about ski jackets. Here is where it really becomes personal preference, and important to think about your entire ski attire combo and layering, not just the jacket itself.
There are 3 main types of ski jackets on the market today:
Insulated jackets are filled with some type of insulation like down, and puffier. They can be perfect for cold weather conditions. They are designed to keep you warm and dry by trapping heat inside the jacket. They are usually made of synthetic materials that are lightweight and breathable. Insulated jackets are great for beginners or those who get cold easily.
The only problem with an insulation jacket is that on those warmer days, the level of warmth they provide might be overkill, and there is no good way to reduce it.
This is what I use. Shell jackets are lightweight and waterproof. They are designed to keep you dry in wet conditions. They do not provide much insulation, but they are great for layering. They are also very breathable, which makes them perfect for high-intensity activities like skiing. Shell jackets are great for intermediate and advanced skiers.
I use my shell jacket every day I ski, and then layer-up or layer-down beneath it based on the day’s conditions.
Softshell jackets are a combination of insulated and shell jackets. They are made of soft, stretchy materials that are both waterproof and breathable. They provide more insulation than shell jackets but are not as warm as insulated jackets. Softshell jackets are great for skiers who need a jacket that can handle a variety of weather conditions. Snowboarders often prefer softshell jackets as well.
Ski pants are essential for staying warm and dry while skiing. like jackets, they come in two main types: insulated pants and shell pants.
Just like insulated jackets, insulated pants are designed to keep you warm in cold temperatures. They are typically made with synthetic insulation or down and have a waterproof and breathable outer layer. The downside of these pants is that they can be a little bulkier to wear.
Thinner shell pants are designed to be more versatile and can be worn in a variety of weather conditions. They are typically made with a waterproof and breathable outer layer but do not have any insulation. These pants are great for skiing in milder weather or for those who tend to run hot. You can always use some good thermal underwear underneath a shell pant.
Next, let’s move on to your hands. You need some built-for-skiing gloves or mittens to cover your hands. These should not be general all-purpose gloves, but something designed for skiing or boarding.
Ski Gloves Vs. Ski Mittens
Ski gloves and mittens are both suitable for skiing, but each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Ski gloves are the most popular choice for skiers. They provide better dexterity and grip than mittens, making it easier to handle ski poles and adjust equipment. They are also more versatile, as they come in a range of styles and materials, from lightweight gloves for spring skiing to heavily insulated gloves for cold winter days.
Ski mittens are warmer than gloves because they keep fingers together, which traps more heat. They are a good choice for those who get cold hands easily or for extremely cold weather. However, they offer less dexterity and grip than gloves, which can make it harder to handle equipment and adjust gear.
Many younger skiers prefer mittens. They are also easier to put a handwarmer in, if it is a cold day.
Finally, let’s get to perhaps the most important part: The base layer!
The base layer will make all the other stuff we talked about — your jacket, pants, etc. — work together as a cohesive system. Base layers are the first layer of clothing that goes on your skin and help regulate your body temperature while you’re on the slopes. The base layer should be made of wool or synthetic materials, as they are both great at wicking away moisture and keeping you warm.
The amount of base layer you wear will directly depend on the temperature and conditions. If it’s a warm day, you may only need a light base layer, while on a colder day, you may need a heavier one or even multiple base layers. I’ve had many cold days where I have 2-3 layers under my ski jacket.
Most experienced skiers gravitate to using long underwear or some type of compression wear as their base layer, and then they layer-on other items based on how much thermal properties they need, based on the temps.
Skiers need to wear socks made specifically for skiing, rather than just any old sock. Ski socks are designed to fit well within the tight confines of a ski boot, while keeping the feet warm and dry in cold and wet conditions. They are usually made of a blend of synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester, and spandex, and sometimes include natural fibers such as merino wool.
Ski socks are typically thinner than regular socks but can also provide additional cushioning and support, especially in high-pressure areas such as the shins and ankles. They also have a seamless construction to prevent rubbing and blisters.
For super cold days, you can layer two skis socks on your foot. This is better, in my experience, than going out and using a thick sock that won’t fit well inside your boot.
Next, of course, are your ski boots. I won’t go into details here on your ski boots because it is such an involved, technical topic. But this article would not be complete without acknowledging that your ski boots are really what will finish your typical skiing or snowboarding wardrobe.
You can rent or buy ski boots. If you don’t ski often, you are usually better off renting a good pair of boots than buying a cheap pair of boots. If you plan to ski alot, though, buy some boots. They will shape to your foot and be way more comfortable than a rental.
While a good helmet, goggles, jacket, pants, base layer, socks, and gloves are essential, you might find yourself looking for some other items depending on the weather you encounter on the slopes.
I love neck gaiters. In fact, I use them on my colder-weather bike rides, runs, A neck gaiter is a tube of fabric that you can wear around your neck to keep it warm and protected from the wind. It can also be pulled up over your nose and mouth to protect your face from the cold air. Neck gaiters come in a variety of materials, including fleece, wool, and synthetic fabrics.
They are easy to pack and take up almost no space in your suitcase. You might as well pack a couple gaiters because they are so versatile.
A balaclava is a type of ski mask that covers your head, neck, and face. Think of what a bank robber might wear!
If you see the weather forecast and note that it is going to be colder than usual, consider a balaclava. They can be a good way to be sure you have no exposed skin on your head and neck.
Hand and Foot Warmers
Another item that falls in the category of “it’s easy to pack so you might as well have some along” is a hand or foot warmer. These are small packets that, when squeezed and activated, can keep your hands or feet warm for hours. They are surprisingly effective and long-lasting.
Especially if you are skiing with kids, I advise you to have some hand or foot warmers along.
Paul Miller is the Founder of Family Skier. He is an advanced skier and has extensive experience with family travel and ski schools. An accomplished skier, he has skied in 15 states and provinces and 6 countries. In addition to FamilySkier, his writing can be found on many ski-related websites, and as curriculum for many ski clubs in North America.