What to wear skiing or snowboarding? There are a lot of ski outfit options out there when it comes to downhill skiing. It is important to find a good balance of freedom of movement, comfort, staying warm, and staying dry. The secret to staying warm and dry while skiing and snowboarding is learning how to dress in layers.
Nothing is worse than either feeling like your freezing going up the chair lifts or feeling like you are wearing a big wet sponge on a spring day. Whether your skiing in Michigan or if you are going out west similar advice applies.
- What to wear skiing. The art of layering
- How much do I need to spend for my skiing outfit?
- What to wear skiing – Layering guide
- Breathability and Waterproof ratings
- Ski Socks
- Base Layers
- Mid Layers
- Outer Layer
- Ski Jackets
- Down Insulator
- Ski Pants
- Accessories. (Hat, neck warmers, etc..)
- Helmet and Goggles
- Ski Lock
- Ski backpack or other storage for extra layers
- You might also like:
- Recent Ski And Snowboard Articles
What to wear skiing. The art of layering
The key to ski clothes is layering and choosing what layers to wear that day. What works on a -10F day is not going to work on a 40F day.
Your goal is wicking material touching your skin and then breathable outer layers so that the moisture isn’t trapped inside your outfit after it’s pulled away from your skin. Wearing a wet soaking sponge will eventually overwhelm any wicking ability when the moisture has nowhere to go.
Below are a couple of tables showing what I would wear skiing if I was wearing an insulated ski jacket and insulated pants and if I was wearing a shell ski jacket and shell ski pants with no insulation.
How much do I need to spend for my skiing outfit?
There are many price points available for ski clothing and equipment. One can totally enjoy the sport on a tight budget.
Spending a lot more doesn’t get you a lot more performance. This is definitely an area where the 80 20 rule applies. You get 80% of the performance for the first 20% of cost. If you are just starting out you can find some good starter gear at low prices. Once you’re hooked on the sport, it’s a good idea to invest in better clothes and equipment that will help you advance. See my guide to beginner ski gear for more information if you are just starting out.
What to wear skiing – Layering guide
Breathability and Waterproof ratings
How many layers you wear won’t matter if you are soaking wet all day skiing. The goal of our ski clothing layers is to keep us warm and dry. To do this our clothing must keep the water out and it’s even better if it lets the sweat moisture get out also.
Mid to high range ski clothing will have a rating for breathability and waterproofing.
The breathability rating is in units of (grams) and a value of 20,000 is what most high performance clothing has. The number is how many grams of moisture can pass through a square inch of fabric in 24 hours.
For waterproofing, the units are in (mm) and a value of 20,000 is also what most high performance clothing has. The value is how tall a column of water an square inch of fabric can withstand the pressure of. A 20,000mm value means a 20,000mm tall column of water can be stacked on top of an inch of fabric without passing any water through. Material that is good at keeping water out also works good as a windproof layer to protect you from evaporative cooling.
A good explanation can be found at EVO. Breathability and Waterproof guide.
Nothing should be made from cotton. Cotton gets wet either from contact with the snow or sweat. Once cotton is wet it is cold. It’s going to stay wet and cold for the rest of the day and there is nothing you can do about it. Just avoid anything cotton from the start if it’s going to be a baselayer, mid layer, sock, hat or glove.
Nothing feels worse than falling, in the snow, in a pair of jeans and then freezing the rest of the day. Look for clothing that specifies moisture wicking, breathing, fast drying, etc… The goal of layering is to pass the moisture from our skin to the inner layer to outer layer and then outside to keep us warm and dry. Merino wool is a good material for base layers, mid layers and socks.
The first thing to consider is what is going on your feet. I prefer medium to heavy weight ski socks. I never find that my feet have any tendency to feel too hot. They do tend to feel cold sometimes.
Good socks are important. You will notice that they don’t have seems around the toes. Seems are pressure points. Pressure points cut your circulation off quickly once you clamp your boots down. Don’t go for any kind of cotton sock or any sock with a seam.
Wearing 2 pairs of socks is also not the way to go. You will inevitably get a wrinkle somewhere in the overlap that will have the same effect as a seam. The same goes for your base layers or ski pant. Any ridges or seams can cuck off circulation. Nothing goes in your ski boot but your socks. Anything that is wicking is a bonus to keep the sweat from being trapped on your feet. If you have cold toes while skiing toe warmers or heated boots can help. See my reviews of toe warmers and heated insoles for more information.
- BREATHABLE, WARM & COMFORTABLE – Made in a wide range in sizes of a Merino Wool blend that is LIGHTWEIGHT, BREATHABLE and PREVENTS build-up of SMELL. It also helps keep feet dry due to it’s moisture wicking properties.
- OVER CALF DESIGN (OTC) – High calf design & elasticity for the ULTIMATE COMFORTABLE FIT. Perfect for skiing, snowboarding and other snow sports.
- STAYS UP – Equipped with NON-SLIP CUFF that ensures that the sock stays up. Socks slipping down in the boots is a thing of the past!
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Base layers are the same as long underwear or thermal underwear. Similar to socks, I tend to go medium to heavyweight here. You can always remove mid and outer layers when you’re getting warm on a warmer day. On a cooler day, a lighter base layer isn’t a lot of good.
You can double or triple up on baselayers but again one medium to heavyweight will work just fine. Definitely go for something that has good wicking properties to go with insulation value so that your skin stays dry.
Gear Recommendation – Base Layer
- Moisture-wicking – With their moisture transport system, long johns women wick away sweat fast to keep you dry and light
- Comfortable and chafe-free fit – these women thermal underwear fits smoothly and soft against your skin.
- Flexibility and full mobility – These set’s flexible design won’t hold you back when it comes to body movement.
- MATERIAL WARMTH – LAPASA thermals are made with a polyester spandex micro-fleece fabric to provide the ultimate warmth to weight ratio when the temperature begins to drop.
- LAYER OF COMFORT – These thermals are designed to be thin but effective at insulating body heat. The light material is not just able to retain body heat but simultaneously wick away moisture to maintain a comfortable temperature.
- FLEX FIT – The elastic polyester spandex used has 4-way stretch to give you flexibility to move with you and keep you warm without sacrificing your range of motion or comfort.
For this layer, I recommend something that is a bit heavier than the base layer but also synthetic with wicking properties. This becomes an optional layer anytime the temperature goes about the mid 30’s.
This is the spot for the traditional ski sweater or fleece. Spyer makes some really excellent ski sweaters that are fleece lined. Make sure this layer as good breathability. A big heavy cotton sweater or sweatshirt will turn into a big full body sponge. For your bottom half, fleece pants work well for this layer.
- SOFT FABRIC – This Columbia Women’s Benton Springs Full Zip fleece is crafted of soft 100% polyester MTR filament fleece for ultimate warmth.
- HANDY FEATURES – This Columbia women’s fleece jacket features two side zippered security pockets to keep your small items secure.
- ULTIMATE COMFORT – With a collared neck and zippered closure, this Columbia women’s fleece jacket is designed to give you ultimate comfort during cold winter days.
There tend to be 3 categories here. Insulated jackets and non-insulated shells and 3 in 1 jackets that are a combination of the 2. After trying out a good 3L shell jacket I am convinced they are the much better way to go than insulated jackets.
A few things should be considered. 3L material such as Goretex and Dry Q have much better breathability and waterproofing than what comes in the construction of an insulated jacket.
3L shells tend to have much better construction and hardware such as zippers. The first thing to fail on every ski jacket I’ve ever owned has been the front zipper wearing out. Inevitably it happens while out skiing and leaves you with a run down the mountain with an unzipped jacket on a cold day.
The visual tell for the zipper type is whether there is a flap covering the zipper. Waterproof zippers don’t need it. If the jacket has a flap (usually has snaps on it) to cover the sipper it’s not waterproof. It will be the first thing to wear out on that jacket.
The combination of 3L shell and a down insulator (we’ll get to this item in a later section) tends to feel more freely moving, lighter weight and just as warm as a jacket with built in insulation. When your on your ski trip spring skiing, a shell feels way better than a sweat soaked heavy insulated jacket. It just gives you more options at the ski resort.
The next best thing is the “3 in 1” style jackets. These feature a shell with a zip in insulator that is usually a fairly heavy fleece jacket. I find these preferable to a jacket with built in insulation because on the warmer days you can’t take the insulation out and then your just sweaty and hot all day.
- OMNI-HEAT – Our patented Heat Reflective garments are the ultimate body heat management system for outdoor performance.
- OMNI-TECH – This proprietary technology provides air-permeable protection that’s waterproof and breathable
- CLASSIC THREE-IN-ONE DESIGN – This men’s winter coat is the classic 3-in-1 solution
- Waterproof Windproof Snow Ski Jacket, also can fights bad rainy or misty weather, Keep your body always dry and comfortable when you are outside.
- Adjustable cuffs help to seal and keep warm, and the inner wear-resistant soft shell is highly wind-resistant.
- Professional water repellent coated, fluff lining and durable fabric guarantees the best heat retention, Relaxed-fit style with quick-dry material.
This is a key part if you are going for a shell type jacket without insulation. Find something with a high fill count and down that is treated to be water resistant. Without it, this layer can quickly turn into a sweat sponge on a warm day.
Some good examples are available from Mountain Hardwear and Arcteryx. Some insulators have a feature where they can be stuffed inside one of their main pockets. This makes it very easy for stuffing inside your pockets when taking it off or bringing it with you in a backpack or other jacket pocket.
- Shell: 100% Nylon; Lining: 100% Nylon; Fill: 100% Polyester
- Cold-weather style is easy with this versatile water-resistant lightweight puffer jacket featuring a full-zip front and stand-up collar
- With a stand-up collar, zip pockets and elasticized cuffs; packs neatly into included carrying bag with drawstring closure
There are many options for ski pants. The best option for comfort on the mountain is bib types. They have so many advantages.
There is only one real disadvantage which is when it comes time to go to the bathroom, you have more things to remove if you’ve got to take a seat. Sitting down with ski boots on is already unpleasant enough so an extra 30 seconds of time taking off your bibs isn’t really making things any worse.
Because of the extra overlap with your jacket, it removes the path where cold air blows up your back while you’re sitting on the chair lift. For snowboarders, it doesn’t leave your butt hanging out while your sitting on the ground to buckle up your bindings every run.
The second consideration for ski or snowboard pants is to go with insulated ski trousers or a shell pant. My personal preference is a shell without insulation for both snow pants and ski jackets. 3L shell material such as Goretex or Mountain Hardwear Dry Q Elite has much better waterproofing and breathability than you will get from the shell material with built-in insulation.
The quality of zippers and other hardware on a pair of ski pants or ski jacket always seems to be much better on 3L shell jackets and pants. 3L shells tend to have waterproof zippers rather than using a layer or overlapping fabric to cover the zippers.
- THERMALOCK – durable coating that offers a higher resistant to outdoor elements including Wind, Water and Snow. Also provides resistant to impact and abrasion damage.
- THERMATECH – engineered synthetic 85g insulation that offers high degree of warmth. Technology that removes the bulk and weight of the insulation which helps with mobility.
- REINFORCED – 600 Denier Ballistic reinforced ankle, scuff and hem guards holds up against the daily wear and tear.
The goal is keeping your hands warm. Mittens work better in this regard then gloves. I personally prefer gloves or mittens that have large enough sleaves to go over my ski jacket cuffs. Other people prefer the opposite. See my article on Mittens vs Gloves for skiing if you need some help deciding which is better for you.
I find that gloves outside of sleaves prevents snow from going down your sleeves when you fall and also keep air from blowing up your sleeves keeping your warmer. A lot of people like going the other way. I look for gloves with large sleeves that go over my sleeves. Some like Swany have zipper vents that help on hot days and also give you a place to put hand warmers inside.
- 3M THINSULATE INSULATION – The high-performance 3M thinsulate is soft, warm, breathable and also moisture-resistant. The inner surface offers asoft and comforting touch.
- WATERPROOF – The outer layer of polyester is water-repellent to prevent rain and snow from penetrating the fabric, and it also dries quickly.
- ERGONOMIC DESIGN – The three-dimensional curve is researched and designed according to ergonomics to fit the fingers in their most relaxed and natural state.
- TOUCH SCREEN DESIGN – High sensitivity touch screen design allows you to use your phone with the gloves on.
- PERFECT FOR WINTER ACTIVITIES – The gloves are not only suitable for skiing, but also for other outdoor activities like fishing, biking, snowboarding and other outdoor tasks.
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See our complete review of the OutdoorMaster Ski Gloves here.
Accessories. (Hat, neck warmers, etc..)
I personally always wear a hat while skiing. Some people find that the ski helmet is enough insulation on its own. The earmuffs built into helmets give me headaches from pressure on my ears so I always have to remove them. I have tried several helmets and always get them.
For a hat, it is important to choose something that works under a helmet. This means no big fluff balls or other features. The hat needs to be tight fitting and I prefer it covers my ears.
A neck gaiter or warmer make a good barrier to keep rain and snow from going down the neck of your jacket. They also give some padding from your helmet strap. They just make things generally more comfortable.
When it’s cold out a balaclava can be nice to have also. Some people prefer them over a hat neck warmer combination. This is one area where personal preference really comes into play and you need to experiment to see what works for you on which days.
- Be Ready For Anything: Be ready for anything this spring, fall and winter. With our daily beanie, your noggin’ will be warm, cozy and stylish. Bring it.
- Serious Style: Whether you wear red plaid flannel and chop wood, or yell at anyone who gets in your way (New Yorkers, we’re looking at you), this beanie is for you.
See our complete guide to neck warmers and neck gaiters here.
Helmet and Goggles
Helmets are very popular these days. They are comfortable, warm, and provide defogging ventilation for your goggles. They are just as much for you getting run over by other skiers as they are for you crashing on your own. If you ski somewhere small and crowded you’ll quickly understand why.
It is important to get matching goggles and helmet to take advantage of the defogging features. They work really well while your skiing and have air flow through the helmet.
Several companies make really good helmets and goggles. Smith, Anon, and Giro are a few examples. I don’t recommend going cheap on the helmet and getting one that either doesn’t have good venting or will not match the shape of your goggles and leave you with a goggle gap.
Get a set of goggles that matches your helmet. Goggle lenses have similar features as sunglasses. Polarized lenses have the same benefit here as sunglasses. A mid tinted lens is fine for all purpose.
If you feel like spending more, goggles with swappable lenses usually come with a dark and light lense to cover the full spectrum from night skiing to bright sunny days.
- Toric Lens-Ultimate Field of Vision – With the latest lens shape design on the market – Toric lens, it combines the low distortion and clearer view of the cylindrical lens and the wide peripheral vision of the spherical lens
- Color-Optimization Technology – provides high definition optics by filtering part of the blue light and thus boosts the contrast and greatly improves color brightness. It has been proven to highlight irregularities with superior visibility
- Super HD Technology – Luminous Refractive Pressed lens offers the premium clarity with great contrast enhancement. It largely reduces the refraction which allows the focus to fall precisely on the retina
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- ULTIMATE PROTECTION – Equipped with MIPS (Multi-direction Impact Protection System) and REINFORCED PC SHELL & SHOCK-ABSORBING EPS CORE with in-mold construction. This ski helmet is LIGHTWEIGHT and DURABLE, built for both comfort and maximum safety.
- BEST-IN-CLASS VENTILATION – Equipped with 11 individual vents(including four that can be adjusted by a toggle switch) for next-level ventilation for HOURS OF COMFORTABLE SKIING.
- GOGGLE DEFOGGING VENTS – No more foggy goggles!
- SEAMLESS COMPATIBILITY – Ski helmet is compatible with OutdoorMaster ski goggles & helmet drop-in headphones. Listen to your favorite music while skiing
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If you are interested in skiing gear from Smith Optics or Oakley, see our review of the Smith I/O Mag goggles and Smith Mission MIPS Helmet or the Oakley Flight Deck Goggles and Oakley MOD 3 Helmet to learn more about those popular options.
This is a simple and inexpensive to carry around with you to make sure your skis don’t go skiing without you. I have experienced this. Nothing ruins a ski day more than coming out from a break and discovering your skis aren’t there anymore. Cable ski locks are small, lightweight and easy to use. They easily fit in the pocket of your jacket. They only take a minute to use.
See my review of ski locks for more information.
Ski backpack or other storage for extra layers
I like carrying a small backpack around while skiing. I use it for placing an extra layer or 2 and a balaclava if I’m not really sure what to wear that day. It’s also handy for camera equipment and a bottle of water. This is totally optional. A lot of people don’t like this.
At some resorts, the lifties will make you take it off or take one shoulder off while riding lifts. If you do choose to wear one, small is better. It makes it a lot easier to ride chairlifts with it on.
- 0.74LB！LIGHTWEIGHT – Super lightweight and you can easily fold this lightweight backpack into its own pocket for storage, and unfold it when you reach your destination
- 30L ROOMY CAPACITY – A great backpack for day or short trips. One main compartment, two zipped front pockets, two side pockets as well as external attachment points.
- VERSATILE – ZOMAKE Backpack have been tested and proved on countless epic world travel across the world by 50,000+ customers.
What to wear skiing? The answer is layering for the temperature outside. I have given you my knowledge of what I have found works. Everyone generates a different amount of heat and needs different amounts of clothes. Don’t be afraid to add more or take off clothes during the way to stay comfortable.
You might also like:
- The Best Ski Gear For Beginners – How To Gear Up Without Breaking The Bank
- What Do You Need For Skiing The First Time? 15 Essentials For Skiing
- The Best Type Of Ski For Intermediate Skiers
- The Best Neck Gaiters For Skiing Helpful Guide
- The Best Heated Ski Gloves Helpful Guide
- Mittens Vs Gloves For Skiing? How To Decide?
About the author
My name is Doug Ryan. I am an outdoors enthusiast always looking forward to my next adventure. I spend as much time skiing, biking, and paddleboarding as I can. I decided to start Endless Rush Outdoors as a way to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for all things outdoor adventures and to help other people have as much fun as me.