How to Layer for Skiing and Snowboarding (With Examples)

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When you’re out for a long day at the slopes, the right layering is the key to keeping yourself comfortable and ready to charge.

In this article, we’ll give you some key pointers on how to set up base layers, with a mid-layer, and finally with an outer layer like a ski jacket.

Starting with Base layers

Let’s start closest to the body. A base layer is what you wear that is in direct contact with your skin. You want this layer to be a material that feels comfortable and also wicks away moisture.

Synthetic bases, for instance, are usually designed to dry quickly and to wick away moisture from the body.

This wicking is important because you’ll experience different temperatures throughout the day. You’ll also find your body heat will rise and fall depending on what activity you’re doing.

If you are hiking into a bowl, you’ll obviously be warmer than if you’re sitting still on a windy chairlift.

People opt for base layers with all types of fit – compression, straight, and loose. It will really depend on what makes you feel more comfortable. The key is comfort and moisture control.

Base layer thickness

The thickness of a base layer will vary depending on your needs and comfort levels. Thin layers are all about moisture control and feeling lightweight.

On the other side of the spectrum, heavyweight base layers are designed for those really cold days where you might find yourself sitting on cold windy lifts a lot.

The middleweight layers provide a great balance between warmth and breathability. It’s good to travel with multiple base layers so you can have options in case the weather looks different than it does in the forecast.

Layer for Skiing and Snowboarding

Moving on to Mid-Layers

Middle layers are removable layers between the base layer and the outer layer. The main goal of the middle layer is to maintain thermal insulation. In other words, this layer is what is keeping you warm.

You’ll want to choose this layer based on the anticipated temperature for the day, and how active you think you’ll be.

I tend to dress in a way where I’m a little cold on the first lift of the day, so I can use my body heat to warm me up.

Great choices for the middle layer include a quality fleece that traps in heat but also allows for breathability. Many artificial fleeces are manufactured in a way to both trap in heat, but also enhance breathability. As you look at the tags and adds for different fleeces, be sure to check for these features.

Something like a cotton hoodie, usually is not a great option, as they tend to absorb moisture and become heavier throughout the day.

Other Mid Layer Options

Many mid-layers these days also come with zipper vents. These vents allow you to stay warm in the morning and you are just getting started, and then open up vents to allow the mid-layer to cool down as you warm up. If you couple this kind of mid-layer with a ski jacket that has vents, it can be a great combination.

Many mid-layers these days, are also designed to be slightly windproof on the outside. This option can be super helpful on a day with great weather conditions, where you may not even need a waterproof ski jacket.

What are outer layers?

The main role of the outer layer is to be waterproof/water-resistant, breathable and windproof. Ski jackets these days come ratings that tell consumers how waterproof, and how breathable they are.

We have a full article on these ratings here. In this article, we’ll just give you a quick rundown.

You want an outer layer or shell that repels moisture but is also breathable. This breathability will allow the moisture from your body to leave your core, while also preventing cold wind and water from getting into your core.

Generally waterproof ratings go from 5000mm – 20,000mm+. The higher the better for a shell. At the lower end of the scale, 5,000mm, these are ski jackets that may help in a small drizzle, but barely be classified as waterproof.

At the high end of the scale, 20,000mm+, these jackets can withstand quite a bit of water and still keep you dry. This would be the highest level of a jacket that is considered waterproof.

The breathability rankings also go from 5,000 g/m2 – 20,000+ g/m2. At the lower end of the scale, these jackets have minimum breathability, but if you start sweating and heating up, you’ll find yourself feeling quite clammy.

The jackets on the other end of the scale, at 20,000+ g/m2 will keep you nice and cool as they will allow the heat to vent away from your body.

Other Outer Layer Features

As with mid-layers, outer layers can also come with zippable vents that allow you to make adjustments along with the temperature conditions and how warm your body feels. They will help to keep you warm and dry when it’s wet and windy outside, and then allow you to vent out if it’s sunny and you’re hiking.

It can also be great to have outer layers that have powder skirts, to keep your core warm and dry on a nice powder day.

Many jackets come with specialized zipper sections to hold things like a ski pass, headphones, or a wallet/phone.

This outer shell is often the most expensive part of the layer system but can come with some pretty amazing features.

How do I keep my feet warm?

Your extremities like your hands and feet are the farthest from your body’s core. They are also the first parts of your body that it will naturally “sacrifice” to keep your core temperature warm.

The key to keeping your feet warm is keeping your core warm (but not too hot), and allowing for good blood flow. This means that the fit of your boot and the type of socks you wear are very important.

If your boot is constrictive of the blood, or your socks are too thick, chances are your feet will not receive adequate blood flow and you’ll start to feel them getting cold.

If you buy a pair of quality ski socks, they are typically thin around the ankle, a little padded at the shin, and a little thicker around the toes. Pay attention to how they fit when you put your boots on, to make sure they are not constrictive.

Pay attention, too, to your core temperature. You want to be warm, but not sweaty. In this way, your body will be signaled to send nice warm blood to your extremities.

Layering Ski Socks

A good pair of ski socks are all that is needed to keep your feet warm. Do not layer ski socks as that will often constrict the blood flow, and allow for more frictional movement inside the boot that can cause blisters.

How do I keep my hands warm?

As part of your extremities, your hands can also easily become cold while skiing. The key to keeping your hands warm is to wear the appropriate gloves/mittens for the temperature, to manage moisture, and to watch your core temperature.

A good pair of gloves or mittens will be waterproof or water-resistant, be breathable, and may have layers. Water is the enemy of comfort while skiing. It can come from the outside snow, and it can also become trapped inside your gloves from sweat. Good gloves will wick away moisture, provide warmth, and create an impermeable layer for the outside snow.

Other tips to keep your hands warm

  • Take off your gloves in between runs and let them air out.
  • Wear gloves with liners, so you can take the outer shell off when needed.
  • On cold days, wear mittens. Since mittens keep your fingers together, they provide a warmer environment for your hands.

Keep Your Head Warm

Your head is one of the key places your body uses to regulate its temperature. More heat escapes from the head than any other part of your body.

Wearing the right kind of helmet will help you regulate your temperature during the day. Many helmets these days also come with vents, so that you can make adjustments during the day.

How to layer for skiing in cold weather

For cold weather, you want to opt for thicker, but still breathable base layer that wicks away moisture. Also, shoot for a thicker mid-layer that is good at trapping in heat. You’ll want a big shell that has its vents fully closed and ready to roll.

On especially cold days, you’ll really need to pay a lot of attention to having the right gloves/mittens, and head protection. Keep moving and stay warm!

How to layer for skiing in spring

For spring skiing, you want to go to the opposite end of the spectrum. You want a thin, highly breathable, moisture-wicking base layer. I sometimes just go from that layer to the shell straight away if it’s warm enough. If you do opt for a mid-layer, you want it thin and breathable.

An outer shell with good vents will be really helpful, especially as the sun comes out and your body warms up from skiing.

You’ll want thinner ski gloves that you’ll likely have to take off during the lift lines, and a helmet with some great venting.

You will want to wear thin ski socks that wick away moisture while skiing.

Layer for Skiing and Snowboarding

Wrapping It Up

We hope this article was helpful for you as you make plans for your time out on the slopes.

Stay comfortable out there so you can focus on the slopes and spending time with your peoples!

Jesse Blaine
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