One of the most common questions we get from new skiers and snowboarders revolves around proper ski clothing. While there is a wide variety of gear styles - we believe the framework outlined below is the optimal gear set up for most days on the mountain. There will obviously be exceptions to the rule, but the list below should be a good jumping off point for an 'average' ski or snowboard day.
The key word today is layers. Layering allows you to adjust and adapt to changing conditions and levels of activity. By having the appropriate layering set up, you can be prepared for 95% of conditions you might encounter on the mountain.
What to wear skiing
- A merino wool or similar material set of base layer tops and bottoms are the foundation of every good ski clothing ensemble. These layers act as insulating layers next to the skin and absorb moisture to keep you dry. You can experiment with a few different weights and cuts, but the most important aspect here is moisture wicking ability. We definitely recommend going with a merino wool over synthetic material, as merino wool will regulate your temperature better than anything else.
- You can get a little creative here with the variety of mid-layer options. Your mid-layer is usually the workhorse in terms of keeping you warm and comfortable so we recommend choosing wisely - the name of the game here is maximizing warmth while minimizing weight. Down, and fleece are the two most widely used options in this category. Definitely avoid anything made out of cotton here. While conditions will likely dictate your choice in mid-layer, our down jackets were designed specifically as an 'everyday' mid-layer to be worn on your average ski day (not too hot, not too cold) in conjunction with an outer shell.
- Your shell will be the main barrier between you and the wind and snow. For these reasons, you want to look for something lightweight, breathable, and waterproof (water resistant will work as well). Where you ski should dictate the kind of jacket you are looking for - typically Pacific Northwest and California skiers encounter a good amount of wetness so a waterproof shell is needed. Skiers in the Rockies and Utah can probably get away with a soft shell, and New Englanders might want to look for something insulated for an extra layer of warmth.
- Waterproof and lightweight ski pants are a necessity. You can go for the traditional pant, or follow the recent trend and check out a pair of bibs. We're partial to bibs as they tend to keep you a bit warmer and dryer, but unless you are regularly snorkeling through 16 inches of powder it's unlikely you'll notice a significant difference between the two.
- An essential piece of the puzzle, you'll definitely want to look at a variety of lens options for your ski goggles and pick the one that best suits your needs. Fair weather skier? Check out our everyday lenses. Often in snowy or cloudy conditions? You'll want a low light lens. Need something to tackle a little bit of everything? A photochromatic lens is probably the best option for you.
- If you don't need a helmet, you aren't skiing hard enough. If you're looking for top of the line head protection look for a helmet with the MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) certification. We won't go into detail here, but the gist of it is that this system helps prevent concussions better than a standard helmet thanks to the slip-plane tech built into the helmet. These tend to be a bit pricier, so don't worry if you settle on a more standard helmet.
- The two biggest factors to consider here are warmth and comfort. Ski socks come in a huge variety of weights (warmth) and cushion (comfort) levels. If you're skiing in colder weather a thicker weight is advisable, otherwise a mid-weight, moderately cushioned sock should get the job done. If you struggle with shin bang you should look for socks with extra cushion (and more importantly, tighten your boots), but we wary that these socks can often run hot thanks to the added material. Also, and this should go without saying, find something made of merino or similar material and avoid cotton at all costs.
- You have three separate configuration options with your glove set up: glove, mitten, and lobster claw. Mittens will be the warmest, but you will sacrifice a bit of dexterity for that added warmth. Lobster claw gloves are usually a good middle ground - we also recommend pairing a set of gloves with some warm liners as this way you're prepared for pretty much any temperature conditions you might encounter. Remember, layering!
- Not 100% necessary, but if it is especially cold out or you're out on the hill for long period of time, we recommend going with some sort of buff or neck warmer to fill the gaps between your jacket, helmet, and goggles.
Planning a ski trip? Check out our ski trip packing list for a comprehensive overview of the essential gear you'll need to bring.