If you’re getting ready to hit the slopes for the first time, or if you want to take your skiing or snowboarding experience beyond an afternoon with rented gear, it’s important to have the right clothing. But what should you wear skiing or snowboarding?
How To Choose Snow Sports Clothing
The clothes you choose for skiing or snowboarding need to keep you warm and dry, but also need to be breathable and moisture-wicking, so that the sweat you generate moves away from your body and evaporates. As with hiking, snow sports clothing works best in layers.
The first layer of clothes you put on sits closest to your skin, so it will be the layer that directly interacts with sweat. This gives it great importance when regulating your body temperature. A good base layer has several key properties to consider.
Opt for synthetic or merino wool fabrics, as they offer excellent moisture-wicking properties. Synthetic materials like polyester are often quite affordable, and you may already have a nice long-sleeved synthetic t-shirt that could be a good top for your base layer.
Merino wool is also great material for this layer, since it is softer than other types of wool, retains its insulating properties even when it gets wet, and is lightweight and thin enough to fit comfortably under other layers.
Do not wear cotton as a base layer. No cotton socks, no cotton leggings, no cotton, period. Cotton absorbs moisture but does not wick it away, and can lead to hypothermia in summer. In cold weather, cotton is even more dangerous. Save your cotton sweaters for the chalet.
Even in winter, moisture wicking is important. Look for a base layer that effectively wicks moisture away from your skin, allowing it to evaporate quickly. This helps keep you dry and prevents the buildup of sweat, which can lead to hypothermia.
A breathable base layer allows air to circulate and helps regulate your body temperature. This prevents overheating during active periods and provides insulation when you’re stationary.
Consider the insulation properties of the base layer based on the weather conditions you’ll be skiing or snowboarding in. There’s a huge difference between a sunny, 10º day and a windy -10º day! Thicker base layers provide more warmth, while lighter options are suitable for milder weather or high-intensity activities.
However, you can always add layers– but you can only take away so much insulation. If it’s going to be really cold, you might want to think about adding extra middle layers instead of going for the most insulating base layer you can find. Depending on your activity level, you can overheat on even a really cold day.
Look for a base layer that fits snugly against your skin without restricting your movement. It should have a comfortable, non-restrictive design that allows for easy layering with additional clothing.
So what type of garment makes the best base layer? Long underwear is a great all-in-one solution. You can also use long-sleeved athletic tops and moisture-wicking tights or leggings. You can buy base layers designed for snow sports, but these are often more expensive than long underwear. If you’re just starting out, invest in a quality, but basic base layer– you don’t need to break the bank!
Your mid layer is there to add warmth, and not much more. You honestly don’t need to think about these as much as your base and outer layers. Synthetic fleece is the perfect material for mid-layers, since it’s lightweight but insulating and breathable. Choose a light wool or fleece top to help trap heat. You can bring an extra layer or two if it’s extremely cold and you think you’ll need it.
The odds are good that you already have clothes you can use for mid layer pieces. In addition to long-sleeved wool and fleece shirts, here are some other great mid layer options.
- Down insulated jackets and vests
- Synthetic insulated jackets and vests (look for Thinsulate and other lightweight synthetic insulation types)
- Down insulated vests
- Microfleece or polar fleece vests
- Lightweight soft shell jackets
- Puffer vests
The outer layer, or shell, is the insulated and waterproof garments that you’re wearing over your snow clothes. Your outer layer consists of two parts: your coat or jacket and your snow pants or bib.
This video from Helly Hansen does a great job of explaining this layering system as well:
Coats and Jackets
You will need to choose whether or not you want to use a hardshell or soft shell jacket. We have an in-depth guide to the characteristics of these jacket types, but here are the key differences between the two types.
|Cost||More expensive||Less expensive|
|Durability||Durable but stiff||Holds up to abrasion but overall less durable than a hardshell|
|Breathability||Not breathable; the point is that they do not allow air to move in or out when the vents are closed. However, they do have built-in vents, so you can manage body heat.||Breathable, which means they do not perform as well in high wind situations|
|Weather Protection||Extremely weather resistant and windproof||Good for mild to moderate wind and snow|
|Weight||Lightweight||May weigh more with added insulation|
Regardless of the type of jacket you pick, it must be water resistant. Many of the best ski coats have a durable water repellent coating that helps repel moisture and keep you dry in snowy or wet conditions.
Additionally, the coat should be breathable, allowing moisture and excess heat to escape, preventing you from becoming sweaty and uncomfortable. Check for ventilation, like underarm vents or mesh-lined zips, which will let you regulate your body temperature by releasing excess heat when needed.
Insulation is also important on very cold days. Some ski jackets are just shells without insulation, while others do have insulation. The type of insulation can vary; both synthetic and down insulation are great for ski jackets. Your jacket should fit you comfortably and allow a full range of motion while skiing. Look for coats that let your arms and shoulders move freely.
Ski Bibs and Snow Pants
Ski pants are worn over your base layer and provide protection and warmth while on the slopes. These pants need to be both waterproof and breathable, and are designed to allow freedom of movement and flexibility on the slopes.
The type of snow pants used for skiing are not the bulky, stiff pants that are part of a snowsuit. They are typically slightly relaxed or loose-fitting to accommodate layering underneath. You can even get pants with articulated knees and pre-shaped legs for even better mobility during skiing or snowboarding tricks.
Snowboarding pants are similar to ski pants, but usually have a slightly baggier fit. There’s no rules that say you can’t wear your snowboarding pants for skiing, and vice versa.
Another option is a ski bib. Ski bibs are similar to ski pants, but are essentially overalls. They have shoulder straps and extend higher up on the torso, offering better protection– so they might be a better choice when you’re skiing in deep snow conditions. The higher front also helps keep your core warmer.
The downside of ski bibs is that they offer a little less mobility than ski pants due to their greater coverage. They may feel more restrictive, especially if you have a large chest.
Regardless of the style you choose, your outer bottoms usually do not get tucked into your boots. Ideally, the elastic cuffs keep snow out. However, some styles of ski pants do tuck into your boots. These are usually tighter-fitting and streamline for alpine racing, and not something that you would wear for most styles of skiing.
Both bibs and pants should have good ventilation and be water resistant. This means that your pants should have vents that can be closed to keep snow out and opened for heat management. Just like with coats, you can look for a durable water repellent coating for the best odds of staying dry.
If you’re renting your ski equipment, then you likely don’t need to worry about boots– they’ll be available and are often included with ski rental. But you will want to bring your own socks!
Ski boots are not like regular hiking boots, tennis shoes, or really any other kind of shoe. They are made from plastic or composite materials and are designed to be stiff to protect your ankles. The shell is rigid and designed to provide stability and transmit your movements effectively to the skis.
The inner liner, usually made of foam, provides cushioning, insulation, and a snug fit around your foot and lower leg. Ski boots work with ski bindings or snowboard bindings to keep your feet attached to your equipment
When you’re picking out ski boots, it is important to choose boots that work with your equipment and have an appropriate flex rating. Your ski boots’ flex rating indicates their stiffness. Boots with a higher flex rating are stiffer and more suitable for advanced skiers who prefer aggressive skiing, while lower flex ratings are more forgiving and suitable for beginners or those who prefer a more relaxed skiing style.
Your socks are another part of your base layer. The socks you wear shouldn’t be too thick, although they should be warm. Thick socks can make your boots too tight, which is uncomfortable. You want to support circulation, not cut it off!
As with the other elements of your base layer, merino wool is a perfect choice. Bring an extra pair just in case yours get soaked– even though wool can keep you warm while it’s wet, that doesn’t mean that wet merino socks are comfortable.
Look for boot socks that are slightly taller than your ski or snowboarding boots. Socks designed for skiing and snowboarding often have a little extra shin padding to keep you comfortable, but you don’t necessarily need socks designed for sports. Any tall sports socks made from moisture-wicking fabric will do.
Gloves or mittens are important for keeping your hands warm. Look for insulated, waterproof gloves. Thinsulate and other extra-thin, synthetic insulation gloves are great– you won’t have to sacrifice dexterity for comfort.
Some winter gloves come with features that can make your snow day easier. These include:
- Goggle squeegee, a raised rubber strip that works like a wiper blade for your goggles
- Heat-pack pockets for slipping in a hand warmer
- Long cuffs for better snow protection
- Removable glove liners for extra dexterity on the fly
- Thumb wipes, soft fabric areas that let you wipe your goggles easily
- Touch-screen compatibility
To avoid chapped skin, especially on windy days, you may want to use a balaclava or neck gaiter. Ski goggles are a great idea in inclement weather, and if you aren’t wearing goggles, you should be wearing sunglasses to protect yourself from UV and the glare off of the snow. Eye protection is not a choice, and in nearly all conditions we would consider goggles required, not just sunglasses.
You should also wear either a helmet or a warm hat (while it is your choice, we do strongly encourage wearing a helmet at all times). A beanie may fit under your helmet. Helmets protect your head, so they’re really recommended not just for beginners, but for anyone, regardless of the difficulty of terrain. This is a piece of equipment you can almost always rent at a ski resort, so if you’re new to skiing or snowboarding, this isn’t something you need to invest in right away.
Also, sunscreen isn’t clothing, but it is necessary. Any exposed skin should have sunscreen. Even your lips should have some SPF lip balm! Snow makes UV more intense– in fact, fresh snow is more reflective of UV radiation than water. It is very easy to get burned while skiing.
Dressing for the Weather
A major advantage to packing layers is that they are modular– you don’t have to wear the whole getup all of the time, depending on the weather. If it’s warm, you can leave out pieces from your middle layer. If it isn’t snowing and the snow isn’t deep, you might not necessarily need your jacket. The point is that you bring the layers you might need, so that if the weather is very cold and snowy, you’ll have the insulation and protection you need.
Also consider the climate you’re skiing in. For example, winters in the Pacific Northwest are wet and humid, so if you’re skiing in the Cascades, you might want better waterproofing. Winters in the Rockies are colder and drier, so you might want better insulation. It all depends on where you are.
No matter what kind of skiing or snowboarding you plan to do, whether that’s zipping down the slopes at your local resort or cutting your own trail while ski touring, being appropriately dressed for the journey is very important! If you’re putting together a skiing or snowboarding outfit for the first time, be sure to use this guide as a checklist to ensure that you’ve got everything you need.
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about