Whether you’re a complete beginner or you race downhill for breakfast, one thing always remains the same – the need to stay warm and dry on the slopes. No matter who you are, if you get cold or wet skiing stops being fun. So you need to know how to correctly layer ski clothing to stay warm and dry.
When buying ski clothing it is not just the outside elements you need to keep out, but the moisture you produce which needs to escape. If your sweat does not escape your clothes will get wet. And wet clothes next to the skin is a sure fire way of getting cold, quickly. So, here’s a guide of how to layer ski clothing correctly.
The base layer
Often overlooked by beginners the base layer is the foundation for staying warm and dry. As it’s the layer that is closet to the skin – the part of the body that regulates body temperature and produces sweat – it is arguably the most important ski clothing layer. A good quality thermal base layer will cost a bit, but as anyone who as skied in a cotton t-shirt will tell you it is more than worth the money. Check out e-outdoor for a good range of base layer options with some great prices.
Base layers should be tight fitting for both insulation and ease of movement. The material it’s made from should not hold moisture but wick it away from your body. Natural fibres such as merino wool, cashmere and bamboo are used, but quality synthetic materials are also very good and often cheaper. As every polar explorer knows, if your clothes get wet take them off immediately. The same applies to your base layer, so to avoid having to strip on the slopes don’t wear anything that will hold moisture.
For skiing it is most common to use a thermal base layer to really keep the heat in. However standard base layers can be used when skiing in warmer temperatures, for me that is if the temperature will be in the positive all day, but it is different for everyone.
Base layers come in tops and bottoms, although you can also get all-in-ones. The body core is the most important area to keep warm so always wear a base layer on your top half. Personally I only wear a base layer on my bottom half when the temperature with wind chill falls below minus 20°C, but I have friends that wear them all the time. Although if wearing shell ski trousers I would recommend wearing a base layer in all but the warmest conditions.
Fleece is a popular choice for the mid layer because it’s lightweight, warm and does not hold moisture. Try and go for snug fits as baggy options are poor insulators. A short-sleeved sport t-shirt is also a good option to have as a mid layer, on warmer days it can replace the fleece and on colder days be in addition to the fleece. Becoming more popular as a mid layer are light-weight jackets. For example the KJUS FRX 3D with Polartec Alpha insulation. Being launched the 14/15 winter they have created an insulated, waterproof, windproof, breathable, ultra light-weight, soft-shell jacket that packs into it’s own pocket and is perfect as a versatile mid layer.
Multiple thin mid layers are always better than one thicker option. This is because they trap more air between the layers, which acts as an insulator. Furthermore with multiple layers you can take one off to make small adjustments to your temperature without losing the whole mid layer of your clothing. You might start with more layers in the morning and but remove them as both you and the air warm up.
The number of mid layers you should wear depends on the external temperature, how much you feel the cold, how energetic your skiing is and what kind of jacket you wear. If you wear a shell jacket then a mid-layer is mandatory unless it is really warm, but if you have an insulated jacket you may find you do not need a mid layer except when very cold. Only in exceptionally cold conditions will you need a mid layer for your legs.
It goes without saying that a waterproof and windproof outer layer is essential. However to help the self generated moisture escape your outer layer should also be breathable. Most ski jackets and trousers come with a waterproof rating of between 5,000 and 20,000mm and a breathability rating from 5,000 to 20,000g. In both cases the higher the number the better.
When it comes to the outer layer you need to make a decision of shell or insulated. A shell jacket or trousers is thin with no padding or insulation to keep you warm, but it will keep the elements at bay. Without insulation it is normally more breathable, you just wear an extra layer beneath to keep you warm. Insulated outerwear comes with varying degrees of insulation to keep you toasty, normally making them bulky, but the extra padding is so nice and cosy.
Personally I prefer shell jackets because they offer more flexibility when combined with layering, meaning you can wear the same jacket all season. Also the superior breathability is great if you like to hike backcountry or are an energetic skier or snowboarder. However I wear insulated trousers to give extra padding which is great for sitting or kneeling when snowboarding.
As both the external temperature and your internal heat changes throughout the day it is important to be able to adapt your layering to suit. This could mean removing layers, but far more convenient is to use vents. Most ski jackets and trousers have vents that can be opened as much or little as you wish in order to regulate temperature.
How to layer ski clothing: Conclusions
I can tell you how to layer ski clothing, but unfortunately there is no magic ‘what to wear’ formula for any given day. You need to know what conditions you will be skiing in, how the weather will change through the day and what kind of skiing you will be doing. Combine all that with how much you feel the cold, and how good your gear is, suddenly it’s a complex decision to make when you start getting dressed in the morning. Or is it?
If you are not sure then wear an extra layer, as being too hot is far better than too cold and it is very easy to cool down if you need to. At the end of the day what layers you wear is a personal decision that with experience will become as easy as eating your breakfast, now where is that downhill race?