What to Wear Under Ski Pants: Tips and Recommendations
A surprisingly common question I hear is “What should I wear under my ski pants?” It makes sense that it is not obvious to many, especially those who aren’t cold weather fans or who only ski on occasion.
The good news is that there are a few right answers to the question. I am going to give you my perspective, based on 35 years of skiing in pretty much every condition imaginable. I will also outline what you should think about when trying to dress for a ski day or pack for a ski trip.
What I Wear Under My Ski Pants
I’ve skied in most US state and 5 countries, in subzero winter weather and 55 degree spring days. I know the importance of wearing the right gear on the slopes. When it comes to what to wear under my ski pants, I have a few go-to options depending on the temperature and conditions. I should note that I also wear some good active briefs or underwear beneath the tights, base layer, or thermal layer.
When it is above 20 degrees: Lite Tights
When the weather is milder and the temperature is above 20 degrees, I prefer to wear lightweight tights under my ski pants. These can be compression tights, or they can simply be a very lite layer that gives you some level of buffer between your skin and the pants. These tights are made from breathable materials that wick away moisture, keeping me dry and comfortable throughout the day.
The liter the better. The last thing you want is to have the base layer double-up under your tights.
I opt for tights that have a snug fit without being too tight, allowing for a full range of motion on the slopes. I also look for tights with flatlock seams to prevent chafing and irritation.
You will be surprised how warm you stay even with very lite tights underneath your ski pants.
When it is below 20 degrees: Thermal Layer
When the temperature drops below 20 degrees, I switch to a thermal layer under my ski pants. I need the extra warmth. I want to dress for the worst case scenario, like getting stuck on a chairlift with a stiff cross-wind.
I like a comfortable thermal base layer made from merino wool or synthetic materials that trap heat and wick away moisture, like good old long underwear. During cold ski trips, I alternate between two sets of thermal long underwear.
In very extreme conditions, like when it is -5 or lower, I might go with both the tights and thermal layer. However, I try not to do this as my ski pants provide quite a bit of warmth themselves.
When it comes to choosing what to wear under ski pants and to use as your base layer, material considerations are everything. The right material can keep you warm, dry, and comfortable throughout your skiing adventure. Over the years, I’ve learned a few rules to keep in mind.
Breathability is a critical factor when it comes to choosing what to wear under ski pants. The last thing you want is for your base layer to actually cause you to sweat. That creates a double whammy of discomfort and moisture against your skin, which can cause a clammy feeling. You want breathability, which is to be expected in most higher-end base layer products these days.
In addition to breathability, you also want to make sure that your base layers are waterproof. This is especially important if you plan on skiing in wet or snowy conditions. Look for materials that are designed to be waterproof, or at least moisture-wicking. Keep in mind that merino wool can absorb some moisture while keeping your skin feeling dry.
Here is where you need to decide how warm you need to be. Hint: probably not as warm as you think. Your body will provide its own heat while you are skiing. Still, you want to make sure that your base layers can keep you warm and comfortable, even in the coldest temperatures. Look for materials that are designed to be insulating, with thermal properties.
Keeping in mind that layering is a critical part of winter wear, it is good to get a quick refresher on how layering works. Here are a few of my tried-and-true tips from too many years of trial-and-error.
The base layer is the layer closest to your skin. It needs to be comfortable! It should also be made of a moisture-wicking material, such as merino wool or synthetic fabrics like polyester or nylon. This will help keep you dry by wicking sweat away from your skin. Avoid cotton, as it retains moisture and can leave you feeling damp and cold.
Many days, the base layer will be all that you need.
The mid layer provides insulation and should be thicker than the base layer. It may also be directly against your skin, on colder days. Look for materials that have thermal qualities, and are a slightly heavier weight than a thin base layer. This layer can be good old thermal underwear, as long as it is suited for active sports.
Avoid Itchy Fabrics
Itchy fabrics like cheaper wool or certain synthetic materials can be uncomfortable and distracting while skiing. Itching on the slopes can really be a buzzkill to what should be a nice day of skiing, specially for kids. Stick to materials that are soft and comfortable against your skin.
Avoid Layers That Stay Wet
Materials like cotton and some synthetic fabrics can retain moisture and stay wet, which can leave you feeling cold and uncomfortable. Stick to materials that are quick-drying and moisture-wicking, like merino wool and synthetic fabrics.
Be especially cognizant of this when dressing your child for skiing. They might not speak up when their thermal layers get wet.
Specific Suggestions for Under Your Snowpants
Lite Tights: 2XU Core Compression Tights
My go-to leggings on warmer winter days are the 2XU Core Compression Tights. These tights are made with a blend of nylon and elastane, which provides a snug fit that supports your muscles during intense physical activity. The compression technology also helps to increase blood flow which I think keeps my legs warmer, and seems to reduce my quad burn too. The lightweight fabric is perfect for wearing under ski pants without adding bulk. They also provide some proper coverage if I decide to take my ski pants off inside a chalet or break area.
Thermal Layer: LL Bean Heavyweight Base Layer Pant
When temps drop a bit and I need a thermal layer under my ski pants, I’ve really grown to love the LL Bean Base Layer. It comes in a few weights, and I like the Heavyweight option because I’m good with my other leggings on warmer days. I love the comfort of LL Bean products, too. They prioritize fabrics that feel good against the skin and it shows.
Socks: Thorlos Ski Socks
When it comes to ski socks, I love the Thorlos Ski Socks. These socks are made with a blend of acrylic, nylon, and spandex, which provides both warmth and comfort. The cushioned sole helps to absorb shock and reduce foot fatigue, while the moisture-wicking fabric keeps your feet dry and comfortable. The over-the-calf length ensures that your socks won’t slip down during the day, keeping your feet warm and protected from the cold.
The socks are thin enough so they do not interfere with the fit of my ski boot, too.
Finally, you will want to wear your normal active underwear underneath your base or thermal layer. My go-to on the slopes is the Ex-Officio Give-and-Go underwear, because it is super thin, doesn’t double-up, and rarely gets or stays wet.
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.