What to Wear and How to Layer for Skiing

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Knowing what to wear skiing and how to layer effectively is essential for your comfort during long days on the mountain. The proper ski attire is the same whether it is your first time skiing or you are an expert. Skiing and snowboarding is an active sport being done in a cold environment, which can be a bit tricky to plan for.

How do you make sure you are warm in the cold temperatures, but not so warm that being active makes you start to sweat through your clothes? Read more to find the right clothes to wear and how to strike a balance for optimal temperature regulation.

In This Post

Essential Ski Wear and Layers

Ski or Snowboard Socks

Your feet and hands are the primary cold spots for most skiers because the blood flow in your extremities is not as good as elsewhere on the body. Invest a pair of good quality, moisture wicking ski socks like these Smartwool or Darn Tough socks. Do NOT wear multiple pairs of socks or really thick socks. A good pair of ski socks should wick moisture, be long enough to be above your boot line, and maybe even have some additional padding on the shins for comfort when you flex forward in your boot.

Base Layer (aka Long Underwear)

Base layers are critical for your warmth and comfort. They are the front line defense if your body starts to sweat, so proper base layers MUST be moisture wicking. Merino wool or synthetic materials are usually what good base layers should be made out of. From there you can choose from a variety of weights – lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight, depending on the climate you often ski in.

It is also good to keep in mind that base layers should fit fairly snug to your body (without restricting movement). Remember, you still have a few more layers to go, so more form fitting base layers help save space for your bulkier mid and outer layers. 

For long sleeve thermal tops, I like ones that run pretty long so that you can tuck them into your leggings without the risk of them coming out. This ensures your keeping that body warmth in and that no snow gets in when you take a tumble. Also, look for tops with hand/thumb holes. Not only do they help keep your hands toasty, but they keep your sleeves taught and in position instead of scrunching up inside your jacket sleeves

Mid-layer

Your mid layer goes over your base layers and under your outer shell. This layer is typically where much of your warmth comes from and is the layer you need to pay the most attention to as conditions vary. What to wear skiing in 40 degree temperatures is much different than what to wear when its 10 degrees out. On warmer days, a vest, light fleece, or nothing at all would be adequate. When the temperatures start to drop, go with something heavier like a warmer fleece or a down/puffy jacket

Outer Layer

Your outer layer goes over everything and is the item that everyone sees (so, if you care about how you look on the slopes, this is the layer you want to pay attention to). Your outer layer is a shell jacket meant to protect from the outside elements like wind and snow. These layers are built from a variety of high tech materials like Gore-Tex to give maximum element protection while being as breathable as possible.

Look for a shell with adequate pocket storage and zippers to help dump warmth in the event you are getting too hot. You will also want a jacket with waterproofing that matches your type of skiing and climate — read more in our article about how to choose your ski jacket

Ski or Snowboard Pants

Your ski pants are essentially your outer shell for your legs. You probably don’t need a “midlayer” for your legs as they will be doing plenty of work. However, make sure these are waterproof since you will be frequently sitting on a cold and snowy chair lift

Gloves or Mittens

As stated previously, hands are a cold spot for most people. You want to make sure your hands are nice and cozy, or else you will have a pretty miserable day. Don’t forget gloves. Read our detailed comparison of gloves vs mittens and other tips on how to keep your hands warm.

Glove liners: Wearing liners underneath your gloves or mittens can help keep your hands warm on colder days. Make sure to pack two pairs if your hands tend to get sweaty, this way you can switch them out halfway through the day.

Neck Gaiter

Keeping your face and neck warm and protected from windchill is important while skiing and riding the chairlift. Make sure to pull your gaiter or mask over your mouth and nose on extra cold or snowy days.

Helmet

A helmet obviously keeps your head safe in case of collision, but also does an excellent job keeping your head warm. Some helmets have adjustable vents to adjust airflow depending on the conditions.

Goggles

Snow goggles to wear over your helmet allow you to see clearly, protect your eyes from harmful rays, and keeps the wind out so your eyes don’t water up when flying down the mountain.

Accessories for Skiing

Backpack / Daypack

A 10-20 liter backpack is a useful add-on to wear skiing. As temperatures change, you may want to shed a layer, or bring a second pair of gloves if you have sweaty hands. Having a small pack to hold these items, along with some small snacks and water, is very beneficial.

Beanie or Winter Hat

Bringing a winter hat along with you is never a bad idea. Some people actually wear a beanie underneath their helmet (or if they dont wear a helmet at all). It’s also nice to have some headwear for apres ski so your ears dont get cold while sipping on your post-ski beer.

FAQ and Other Tips on Ski Wear

What should you not wear skiing?

Avoid cotton or any material that will absorb moisture. If you do, sweating will make it feel like you jumped in a pool. When you are in freezing temperatures, being wet is a very bad idea. Generally, you wouldn’t wear “normal” clothes skiing like jeans, cotton shirts, or anything similar. Look for moisture wicking synthetic or merino wool materials.

What do you wear under ski pants?

Normally just your base layer bottoms go under your ski pants. For men, you don’t need to wear your boxers/briefs underneath your base layers. Just your base layer bottoms and ski pants are all you need.

Can you wear leggings skiing?

Some women may wonder if their normal leggings work as baselayers so they can avoid buying a separate pair of “ski leggings”. The answer is YES, you can wear typical leggings in place of ski-specific base bottoms, so long as they are not made of cotton or other moisture absorbing materials.

How many layers should you wear skiing?

You should never have more than 3 layers (base, mid, and outer layers). Many skiers think the more layers the better, but this is wrong. Additional layers add bulk, reduce mobility, and often end up being way too warm. Its best to dress for the temperatures by selecting the correct base, mid, and outer layers. 

What shoes do you wear skiing (what shoes to bring on a ski trip)?

A pair of normal winter boots with rubber soles are helpful to bring with you. You can stash them in your car or in a locker and use them for walking around or apres. Obviously for the slopes, you will need your ski or snowboard specific boots.

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