Winter Clothing For Outdoor Sports

Be sure you have the latest cold weather gear to perform your best

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When you participate in winter sports, it is important to dress appropriately. This is not only to help you feel comfortable and avoid catching a cold.

Dressing appropriately for the weather might prevent you from losing a few fingers or toes and could save your life. Thankfully, there is now a wide range of specialist winter clothing for outdoor sports that mean you can stay safe and comfortable while performing at your best.

The key to dressing for winter outdoor activities is layers. You must wear enough layers of clothing to insulate your body and maintain a healthy core temperature. You must also protect your extremities.

Choice of Layers

Your choice of layers also depends upon three factors:

  • Activity level
  • Temperature and weather
  • Personal choice

Activity level

Generally, winter sports and activities are either high-intensity or low-intensity. High-intensity sports, such as cross-country skiing or speed skating, generate body heat and cause you to sweat.

This means you must wear breathable clothing made from moisture-wicking materials. We’re talking about light base-layers, versatile mid-layers, and softshell outerwear.

Low-intensity winter sports, such as casual snowshoeing or downhill skiing, require clothes that offer more protection from the elements and insulation. This means heavier base-layers, heavy down or synthetic mid-layers, and waterproof outerwear.

Temperature and weather

While your activity level provides a baseline for dressing in layers, the outside temperatures and current weather conditions are also important factors.

If it is super cold, you may require a heavier base-layer and more insulated mid-layer even when enjoying high-intensity sports. And if the weather is throwing snow at you, you may require a hardshell outer layer.

Personal choice

As an individual, you may have a preference for specific brands or materials. For example, if you’re a vegan, you won’t want to wear genuine down jackets. Also, every person runs at a different temperature. Some people feel the cold more than others.

They will feel more comfortable with thicker base-layers and more insulated mid-layers. You know what makes you feel comfortable, and this will influence your choices.


Your base-layers must have moisture-wicking and insulating properties. Typically, they are wool or synthetic. Wool is comfortable, naturally antimicrobial, wicks well, and is warmer than synthetic fabrics. On the other hand, synthetics are more affordable, durable, and dry quickly.

Based on these qualities, synthetic base-layers are better for high-intensity sports. Wool base-layers are better for extremely low temperatures or low-intensity winter sports.

However, both wool and synthetic base-layers come in different weights so that you can choose a lightweight base-layer of either kind of material for high-intensity activities if you prefer.


The mid-layer is the core of your layering system providing the main part of the insulation. In dry conditions, such as back at the resort, mid-layers can often double as outerwear. Mid-layers are manufactured using down, synthetic materials, or fleece.

Down jackets

Down jackets are the best insulators you can buy. They are lightweight and warm. However, they are more expensive than synthetic mid-layers, not as durable, and damp can hinder their performance. Down layers are best for extremely cold conditions when the weather is dry, such as Alpine skiing.

Synthetic jackets

Synthetic jackets don’t offer as much insulation as down jackets and cannot be compressed so easily when packing, but they are more durable.

They are also cheaper than down and will work while wet. Synthetic mid-layers are perfect for back-country cross-country skiing over several days because they won’t be affected by the build-up of damp or rough treatment.

Fleece jackets

Fleece jackets provide excellent insulation, are not affected by damp, and dry quickly. They can be worn as outerwear in good weather conditions. Fleece mid-layers are ideal for high-intensity winter sports.


Your outerwear protects your insulating mid-layers from harsh winter winds and snow. Outerwear is divided into hardshell, softshell, and insulated.

Hardshell outerwear is durable and water-resistant. Modern hardshell jackets use special breathable yet waterproof fabrics. You will require hardshell outerwear in extreme environments where you may have to deal with rocks, branches, ice, high winds, or snowy weather. They are perfect for cross-country skiing.

Softshell outerwear is more comfortable and designed for use in mild winter weather conditions. Softshell jackets are breathable, water-resistant, and wind-resistant. However, they are not as durable as hardshell jackets. They are ideal for fat biking and ice climbing.

Insulated outerwear offers great insulation and so is a good choice when the weather is cold and you are engaged in low-intensity activities.

If you are a spectator at a winter sports event or snowshoeing in mild weather conditions, insulated jackets are fine. However, they do not offer as much protection against the weather as hardshell or softshell jackets.


Your legs can also get cold, so the right pants are essential. To protect your legs, you’ll need a base-layer and an outer-layer. Hardshell pants are the most durable and offer the best protection against harsh weather conditions and extreme environments. They are great for snowshoeing along back-country trails.

Softshell pants are ideal for high-intensity winter sports as they are the most breathable. When cross-country skiing in really cold weather, you might want to wear hardshell pants over softshell pants to combine durability, weather protection, and insulation.

Extremities Warmth

Don’t forget to protect your head, hands, and feet! All these are more likely than your body’s core to suffer from the effects of extremely low temperatures.

Winter hats

When skiing, you should be wearing a ski helmet to protect you from falls and collisions. Your helmet will also help keep your head warm. However, the gap between your helmet and ski jacket needs extra protection from a neck warmer or gaiter. If you’re not wearing a helmet, you’ll need a winter hat. A beanie hat provides top-notch insulation and is ideal for preventing “brain freeze”.

Winter gloves and socks

Thick winter gloves keep your hands warm, but sometimes mittens offer more flexibility. A pair of glove liners provide another layer of insulation. Thick winter socks help keep your toes toasty warm. Electrically heated gloves and socks offer even more protection without adding much to the weight around your feet.

Waterproof boots

Good-quality waterproof boots are essential to provide the traction you need and protection against the cold for coping with icy trails and sidewalks during winter. If you’re planning a winter fishing trip, invest in some good ice fishing boots.

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Richard Moore

Richard is a co-founder of and major contributor to Outside Pursuits. He has trekking and survival experience throughout Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Richard contributes his extensive travel and outdoor experience to the editorial topics and content on Outside Pursuits including outdoor gear, motorcycle accessories, auto/4x4 accessories, and tools. In 1998, he survived in the wilderness for over a week without food or specialist equipment. He was stranded on the northern coast of Honduras following Category 5 Hurricane Mitch.

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