Our Editors independently research, test, and rate what we feel are the best products. We use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases.
Knowing how to properly layer clothing for skiing can make the difference between being warm and feeling great on the mountain, or cold and wet! There’s a common misconception that the more layers you have, the better off you’ll be.
There are also people out there who still think a basic shirt under a ski jacket is sufficient. We’ll fill you in on the correct way to layer so you stay healthy and don’t cut your time on the slopes short because you don’t feel comfortable.
Let’s get down to basics. The most effective way to stay warm and dry for skiing is to include 3 high-quality layers. That doesn’t mean 3 t-shirts or 3 sweaters. You need a thin base layer which holds tight to your body while still flexing enough for easy movement as opposed to a base layer for cold weather.
The middle layer should be noticeably thicker than the first. If you can score a layer made of fleece, then do that. The final layer should be waterproof in the form of your ski jacket to keep out moisture and protect you from the icy wind. Make sure you’re avoiding cotton as it can absorb sweat and move warmth away from the body.
Of course helmets and googles can help you with warmth while snowboarding also, but in this article we are focusing on the clothing layers and clothing that keeps you warm head to toe. Neck warmers (or gaiters) can be excellent at sealing out the cold. Be sure they are not too constraining for mobility and visibility though.
- Base Layer: This should be nice and thin, yet body-hugging. It should optimally be stretchy enough to move with your body instead of restraining it. This layer is crucial as it will hold your body heat close while wicking away moisture.
- Mid Layer: This layer works as your main source of insulation while keeping warm air inside your jacket.
- External Layer: This layer is usually a hard shell jacket or a waterproof down jacket and serves as the main protection from the elements. It must be waterproof to properly shield you against the snow, moisture, and wind.
Let’s go a bit more in-depth as to what exactly you should look for here. As we’ve said, base layers should stay close to the body. You can purchase articles of clothing made just for this purpose. Generally speaking though, you should aim for nylon, polyester, or Merino wool. The latter is probably your best bet.
Many people, when going up on the mountain for their first time, make the mistake of only using a base layer on their upper body. You want the base layer to cover you from your neck to your toes, ideally.
Your base layer can be thicker, depending on how cold and what kind of weather temperatures you’ll be skiing in.
The fit may also vary:
Compression fit: These are as tight as they come (hence the name compression). These increase circulation and insulate very well.
Fitted: These are slightly fitted though nowhere near as tight as the former fit we just covered. This is a more relaxed feel though they don’t insulate quite as well as compression options.
Regular: These are typically those made with Merino wool and are very forgiving.
Socks: If you’ve ever bought cheap socks before, or for whatever reason decided to forgo wearing them entirely, you’ll know that it makes your feet soggy and very uncomfortable. As you’re going to be on your feet all day, packed into tight boots, this is the last thing you want to experience!
With that being said, you should always wear a pair of high-quality ski socks. We recommend not layering these as this can end up causing discomfort and even blisters! Make sure the socks come above the cuff of your boot as well, to avoid chafing. It never hurts to keep an extra pair in your pack, just in case these somehow get wet, though!
Thermal Top – Just make sure that your thermal top fits close to your body, and is long-sleeved. This will keep your body heat close to your skin, while still allowing for complete range of motion.
Thermal Leggings – Don’t forget the leggings! Again, these should be form-fitting yet breathable so you aren’t worried about being a sweaty mess. Many times, you can score a matching pair of leggings and a top so you don’t have to put too much effort into finding them separately. Make sure to tuck in the shirt into the bottoms to prevent any snow from getting in!
We don’t really this layer on our legs as our legs have large muscle groups and are doing the majority of work while skiing.
Long sleeve – As we don’t need extra layers on our feet and legs, we just need a long-sleeve mid layer. You’ll also want it to be relatively form-fitting to help trap heat. You’ll usually find these layers made of fleece, a thin down, or even another layer of Merino wool (though occasionally this can get too hot for people). When you get to the lodge for a break, you may want to easily take this layer off, so try to find one with a zipper for easy removal.
Again, just like with the base layer you have a bit of flexibility in terms of fit and thickness, depending on your personal preferences and the weather.
In colder weather below 23 degrees Fahrenheit, we recommend a thicker layer, and in weather 23 – 41 degrees we recommend a thinner one.
The outer layer is often considered to be the most important, and for good reason, too! It’s the main barrier between your skin and the harsh elements! This layer must be absolutely waterproof. If not, you’re not only risking great discomfort, but serious health risks like hypothermia.
Pants / Salopettes – Your ski pants should absolutely feature zippers on the side of the leg so you can easily cool off when your legs inevitably get hot and exhausted from working out. Some are just a shell while others come with an extra layer of insulation. If you’re unsure of which to go with, consider how hot you typically get along with the kind of temperatures you’ll be skiing or snowboarding in. If anything else, go with the pure shell snowboard pants and add a thicker base layer if you feel it necessary.
Jacket – The great thing about modern-day ski and snowboard jackets is that you can find a model with the perfect combination of insulation, mobility, and light weight. Make sure your snowboarding jacket has a high waterproof and high breathability rating. Ideally 10k+ for waterproofing and above 8kmm for breathability. In addition to that, however, you should search for a jacket with enough pockets to hold your phone, your gloves, ID, cards, snacks, etc.
Gloves – Your gloves should be able to last you at least a few seasons, so choose some that are made with quality materials and craftsmanship. Winter gloves should fit you well, without constricting your fingers. There are even some models with heated cores that will keep your hands warm for up to 8-10 hours!
Also for more extreme cold temperatures consider heated winter gloves.
Now that you know exactly how to layer for skiing, are you ready to go out and get some new clothes? Perhaps you already have a few solid articles of clothing to use on the slopes. Just make sure to follow our advice on thickness, fit, and material and you should be good to go!
No more having to worry about getting all cold and wet – you’ll be dry and warm even at the end of the day. Thanks for tuning in and we’ll see you again shortly. Most importantly, remember to have fun and our last piece of advice to to wear a ski mask and beanie for the really cold days!