Winter Clothing Guide
How to Dress for Skiing or Snowboarding
"What should I wear to go skiing?" is a question we get a lot, so we've put together this handy guide to help you layer it on for the slopes. In this guide we will cover the key principles of layers, the main components of a skiing or snowboarding outfit, and some of the key features to look out for when shopping for ski and snowboard clothing.
A base layer is the piece of clothing you wear next to your skin. This layer serves two primary purposes: light insulation and moisture control. Base layers are made from moisture-wicking materials that will transport sweat off your skin to keep you dry. They also tend to be made of microfiber or natural fiber materials that provide warmth without much bulk.
A mid layer is worn between your moisture-wicking base layer and your waterproof outerwear. It serves as your primary insulation and needs to be breathable to allow moisture to escape. These layers are typically either made from a fleece or a light puffy insulation, depending on the weather. In very warm weather, it is common to forgo the mid layer entirely, but it is a good idea to keep one handy just in case.
Your outerwear will primarily protect you from water and wind while also providing some insulation. Outerwear is typically made of tough, abrasion-resistant fabric that is treated to be water- and wind-resistant. You may opt for outerwear that includes insulation if you tend to be cold a lot. But to maximize versatility, you may want to get a "shell" for water and wind protection while relying on your base and mid layers to keep you warm.
Ski & Snowboard Clothing Features
As you shop for the basic components of a ski or snowboard outfit, look for certain features that will ensure you stay warm and dry on the mountain. Many of the features you'll need will depend on the conditions you're willing to brave and your expected level of physical activity.
Ski design and construction terms you should know
Now that you know the different types of skis that are available, here are all the terms that help describe their characteristics:
The waterproof rating of a piece of clothing is usually measured in "mm of water/24 hours," indicating the amount of rainfall an item of clothing can withstand in a single day. In general, 5,000mm or less is considered minimally waterproof and appropriate for relatively dry conditions. 5,000mm to 10,000mm of waterproofing is pretty standard for basic, entry-level ski outerwear. 10,000mm to 20,000mm is good for most snowy conditions. Over 20,000mm is appropriate for heavy-use ski gear or for rain gear.
The breathability of a piece of clothing describes how well it will keep sweat from collecting inside and making you damp. The breathability is generally measured in grams of water that can be passed per meter per hour. Breathability below 10,000g is common in lower-end ski clothing but is totally fine for many people who will be taking regular breaks or not skiing too hard. 10,000-15,000g is mid-range and recommended for people who tend to ski hard and work up a sweat. The 20,000g range and above is appropriate for backcountry skiers who will be working very hard on ascents and need to ensure they stay completely dry.
When selecting outerwear, you will need to decide if you want an insulated jacket and pants or a shell with layers underneath. In either case, you will need to determine what kind of insulation you want. For mid layers, it is common to use a fleece or a light puffy. There are various weights of fleece available. If you go for a puffy mid layer, you can get either synthetic fill or down. Down fill tends to weigh less and be more compactable than synthetics for a given warmth level. On the other hand, synthetics can be easier to wash and still insulate when they are damp (down does not).
Both down and synthetic fill insulation is rated for warmth versus weight. In general, a higher number in the rating indicates a better warmth-to-weight ratio. For a synthetic fill garment, this is measured in grams per square meter and ranges from about 50 to about 120 grams per square meter. Down insulation is rated by the "fill power," with higher numbers indicationg a higher percentage of down to feathers (down is warmer and lighter than feathers). In general, with either insulation you choose, a higher rating will indicate more efficient warming properties.
Base layers and some mid layers will feature fabric designed to transport moisture from your ski to the outer layers for evaporation. It is important to consider the moisture wicking capabilities of your clothing so you don't get sweaty and damp as this can cause you to get cold, especially on chairlifts. Wool is naturally moisture wicking and is common in high-end base layers. Microfibers also work and are the most common material you will find in base layers. You should generally avoid cotton as it tends to trap moisture rather than wick it away.
There are two main ways a piece of outerwear can be made waterproof and breathable: a coating or a membrane. A coating is less expensive but offers less breathability and durability. Many low-end ski jackets and pants will use a coating rather than a membrane to save cost. Higher-end ski clothing will have a membrane like Gore-Tex, which makes them more expensive but greatly increases the breathability.
Water Repellency (DWR)
Pretty much all outerwear designed for skiing will come with a durable water repellency coating (DWR) that will cause water to bead up and run off the garment rather than soaking through to the waterproof coating or membrane inside the outer fabric. The benefit of a DWR is that it prevents the fabric from "wetting out," which can cause the wearer to get cold even if the water is not making it all the way to the skin. If your DWR starts to be less effective over the life of your garment, try washing it with mild detergent or using a product like Nikwax to replenish the DWR.
There are a variety of other weather-protecting features that may be included in your ski or snowboard outerwear. When selecting your ski clothing, consider the following features:
Waterproof Zippers: Keep water and wind out.
Taped Seams: Prevent water getting through seams.
Powder Skirt: Prevents snow going up your jacket.
Wrist Gaiters: Prevent snow going up your sleeves.
Boot Gaiters: Prevent snow going up your pant legs.
Zippered Vents: Extra ventilation in armpits or legs.
Helmet-compatible Hood: Can fit over your helmet.