Figuring out what to wear skiing isn’t about fashion. It’s all about mobility, warmth, and protection.
The key to success is dressing in layers that keep you warm and dry. No matter how cold the air temperature is, you’ll sweat while you’re skiing down the slopes. Your clothes need to be breathable and wicking to keep you dry and warm.
Clothes also need to be comfortable and flexible so you can easily move your body. Being warm doesn’t matter if your body is so stiff you can’t move it.
Just like you don’t have to buy your own skis, you also don’t have to buy a whole new wardrobe for the slopes. Many of the clothes you already own will work for the different ski layers. Scope out your closet to see what you already own that fits the different layer requirements.
Read these tips for ski clothes so you’re ready to hit the slopes.
Base Wicking Layer
Whether you’re downhill skiing or cross country skiing, you want a comfortable, breathable base layer. This layer helps insulate you against the cold.
Wicking fabrics help keep your body temperature in check by pulling sweat away from your skin. As the moisture moves through the fabric, it can evaporate to reduce dampness. Keeping your skin dry helps you stay warm.
Wicking materials are also more comfortable to wear. When traditional fabrics absorb moisture, they get heavier. Wicking fabrics don’t absorb the sweat and moisture, which makes them feel lighter.
Long underwear are common for this base layer. They’re thin enough to fit well under other clothes, and they’re designed for warmth.
Synthetic materials designed for wicking away sweat work well for skiing. They’re usually the most breathable, and they dry quickly. Some skiers prefer a wool base layer.
Cotton is a poor choice for your layers. Instead of pulling sweat and moisture away from your skin, it holds it against your body, which can make you colder. Cotton also takes longer to dry than synthetic materials.
Your base layer should be form-fitting without being too tight. This helps it wick the moisture away and fit well under your other layers.
Middle Insulating Layer
Your middle layer adds extra insulation to keep you warm. The number of middle layers you need depends on the temperature where you’re skiing. You might start with more middle layers and shed them as you warm up throughout the day.
Wool and fleece are two materials that work well in this insulating layer. Wool has natural wicking properties to keep you dry and warm. Fleece dries quickly and keeps you insulated even if it gets wet.
Clothes in this layer are usually light to medium weight. You can get specially designed fleece gear made for skiing. But you can also wear long-sleeved shirts you already own.
When choosing your middle layers, consider what feels comfortable and warm. Ensure you can move freely in the clothes. Several thin layers help you stay warm, but they make it difficult to move easily.
Outer Upper Layer
You’ll enjoy your time on the slopes more if your outer layer is waterproof. A quality ski jacket shields you from the wind and snow.
If you’re a first-time skier, expect to fall down at least a few times. Lying in the snow will make your clothes very wet if you don’t have waterproof exterior.
Your clothes can also get wet if you ski while it snows. So even if you stay on your feet, you want a waterproof outer.
You also want a jacket that’s breathable to keep you comfortable. Finding a balance between being waterproof and breathable is key to your comfort. Some ski jackets have zippers in the armpits to let in air when you need it.
Outer layer jackets can be a simple shell or an insulated winter jacket. Insulated ski jackets typically have either polyester or down layered inside the waterproof outer layer. Shells are just the outer layer that offers protection against wind and moisture.
You can also get a combination jacket. These jackets have zip-out liners that let you control the warmth. You can wear them together as an insulated jacket, or zip them apart to wear either the shell or the liner separately.
Since shells don’t have insulation, they won’t add much warmth. They’ll just give you that waterproof outer protection.
But shells do give you more flexibility in your layering. You can add a few extra layers underneath or keep it to the base and single mid layer when it’s warmer. This is useful if you sometimes choose warmer skiing locations or if you plan to ski in the spring.
If your ski plans involve only cold climates, buying an insulated ski jacket is usually your best bet. It gives you warmth without adding several clothing layers.
When trying on ski jackets, move your arms and torso to make sure the jacket moves with you. Raise your arms up and put them to your sides to make sure you can move freely.
Note the length of the jacket. A longer coat helps keep snow out and gives you more protection against the cold.
Outer Lower Layer
Don’t hit the slopes without a pair of water-resistant or waterproof ski pants. Without them, your pants will end up soaked and you’ll feel cold.
Like your outerwear top, you want your snow pants to offer insulation and protection from wetness. They should be long enough to go down over your ski boots to help keep snow out. Elastic cuffs along the bottom also help prevent snow from reaching your legs.
Always try on ski pants before buying them to check the fit. You want something that’s comfortable, warm, and flexible enough to make it easy to ski. Make sure you leave room inside the ski pants for your lower layers.
You want the waistband to be snug enough to keep the pants in place without digging into your body. Make sure the knee and hip area is loose enough for those body parts to easily bend as you move down the slopes.
Keep in mind that ski pants tend to be baggy. Look for slim-fitting pants if you don’t like the bulky look.
When choosing clothes for skiing, consider how the layers work together. If you have well-insulated ski pants, you might not need as thick or warm of long underwear. If your pants don’t have much insulation, go with a thicker, warmer base layer, or double up on your lower layers.
Socks keep your feet warm and serve as a bit of padding between your feet and your ski boots. Longer ski socks go up higher than your ski boots to keep more of your leg protected. They may even come with padding in the shins when your boots put pressure on your legs.
You don’t want your toes to freeze, but you also don’t want too much covering your feet. Layers and layers of thick socks can cut off circulation to your feet or shift to make them feel uncomfortable. You want to be able to wiggle your toes when you’re wearing your ski socks.
Skip the cotton socks. Like your clothing layers, cotton for socks isn’t good for keeping your feet warm and dry. Wool or synthetic materials, such as polyester or nylon, work well for skiing socks.
Look for socks that are breathable and wick the sweat away from your feet. This helps your feet stay warmer. Flat toe seams may feel more comfortable inside your boots.
Gloves or Mittens
Don’t skimp on your hand protection. Your fingers are more susceptible to frostbite than other body parts. Always wear warm gloves or mittens while skiing.
Mittens tend to keep your hands warmer than gloves. Your fingers stay warmer when you don’t have fabric separating them. If you’re skiing in cold temperatures, consider mittens.
Gloves give you more dexterity in your hands because of the individual fingers. This makes it easier to grab your poles, zip coats, buckle your boots, or handle other adjustments to your ski gear.
No matter what type you choose, look for hand protection with a waterproof outside. If it’s snowing or you fall down, you’ll want the protection from the wet snow. If your gloves or mittens get wet, your hands won’t stay warm.
Look for warm insulation inside the gloves for extra warmth. You can also add liners for more warmth on cold skiing days.
Down insulation is a lightweight, breathable option in gloves and mittens. However, it doesn’t insulate as well when it gets wet.
Synthetic insulation dries faster and continues to insulate well even when wet. Synthetic insulation tends to be bulkier, and it can get compressed more than down over time.
A neck gaiter is a tube-like accessory that goes on your neck. It helps keep your neck, chin, and lower face warm. This ski accessory comes in handy on really cold days.
Gaiters are versatile because you can pull them up over your face or slide them down around your neck. You can also fold them over and adjust them as needed based on the conditions.
Look for a breathable neck gaiter made of wool or synthetic materials. These materials help keep you warm and dry.
Up to 20% of ski injuries each year are head injuries. Of those head injuries, 22% cause loss of consciousness, concussion, or other severe injuries. Wearing a helmet on the slopes may help minimize the injuries if your head hits the ground, a tree, or another object.
When choosing a helmet, look for a snug helmet fit. It shouldn’t move around or have extra space, but you also don’t want the helmet to be too tight.
Some ski helmets have vents in them. They may allow for adjustment of the airflow with the vents.
Others have liners or covers for your ears for extra warmth. Removable liners let you control the warmth, and you can remove them to wash them easily.
You can wear a thin beanie over your head underneath the helmet for extra warmth. But most ski helmets offer enough warmth without any additional hats.
Ski goggles protect your eyes from the elements on the slopes. Blowing snow can be particularly difficult to handle. Properly fitting goggles keep the wind and snow out of your eyes.
Sun protection may not be the first thing you consider on the slopes, but sunlight reflects off the snow and makes things brighter than normal. A good pair of polarized ski goggles cuts down on the glare.
That makes it easier to see, which keeps you safer on the slopes. You’ve scoped out the best places to ski. Make sure you can actually see the natural beauty with quality ski goggles.
When choosing goggles, check the field of vision to make sure you can see well. Fog-free goggles keep your vision clear in different conditions. Consider how well the goggles work well with your helmet for a good fit.
Putting It Together
Now that you’ve picked out your layers, try them all together for a test run. Make sure you can comfortably layer on all of the clothes without bunching or tightness.
Check your mobility once you’re fully dressed. Can you bend, lean, and twist? Do you have full range of motion in your arms and legs?
If you live in a cold, snowy climate, head outdoors while wearing your skiing attire. Make sure you feel warm after spending some time outdoors.
Make any adjustments to your layers after you test them out together. You might need to rethink some of your pieces, add more layers, or find a better pair of gloves.
Know What to Wear Skiing
Figuring out what to wear skiing can feel overwhelming when you’re a beginner. Remembering to work in layers and choose materials that wick moisture well makes it easier.
Read more of our articles about skiing in preparation for your first time on the slopes.