New To Ski

How to Layer For Skiing: Do’s & Dont’s

by Simon Naylor | Updated: October 27th, 2022
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An optimum layering system for wearing your ski clothes is going to make the difference between being warm and comfortable or wet & miserable on the slopes. In this guide, I’ll explain why more layers aren’t better or necessarily warmer and everything you need to have the perfect ski outfit.

The optimum way to layer your clothing for skiing is to have three high-quality layers: a body-hugging thin base layer.  An insulating mid-layer (thicker for colder temperatures) is typically a fleece. Followed by a waterproof outer layer which is your ski jacket and defense against the elements.

Optimum Ski Layering System

  1. Base Layer: Wicks away sweat and keeps body heat close to your skin.
  2. Mid Layer: Insulates & traps warm air.
  3. Outer Layer: Fully waterproof shell against snow and wind.

Base Layer

A base layer should be body-hugging and cover you from neck to ankle. Base layers usually come in two parts:

Base Top

The base top is essentially a long a tight sleeved t-shirt that traps your body heat and wicks away moisture to keep you warm and dry. The best materials are synthetic blends or merino wool. The base needs to be insulating, but not made from fibers that easily absorb water.

Even in cold weather you will be constantly sweating and fiber-like cotton that absorbs your sweat will make you wet, sucking away warmth and making you cold.

Base Bottom

base pant layer

Base bottoms are trousers or pants that sit below your ski trousers. For skiing look for a close fit so they sit comfortably beneath your more bulky ski trousers. Aim for a length where the bottom sits above your ankles, that way you will not have excess material sitting inside your ski boot and tucked under your ski socks.

If your base pant is too long it can make it more difficult to get a perfect-fitting ski boot.

Base Layer Thickness

Depending on how cold the weather is, base layers come in three main thicknesses which are suitable for different skiing temperatures:

  • Lightweight: The thinnest and lightest base layer, these are the same as running and jogging leggings. They provide minimal insulation and maximum breathability. The thinnest base layers wick away moisture the fastest and because of that they also dry quicker
  • Middleweight: If you’re looking for a bit warmer and planning to ski in colder temperatures then a middleweight provides a great balance between warmth and breathability.
  • Heavyweight: These are designed for pure insulation in extreme cold. Thicker, heavy, and longer to dry. Heavyweight thermals are a good choice for the coldest temperatures. source

Base Layer Fits

Base layers come in three main fits:

  • Compression fit: Tight and form-hugging compression fits are designed to squeeze the body. This is to increase blood flow to the extremities and to provide a tighter insulating layer. Compression fits are great for skiing, but individual preference may mean you prefer the feel of a more relaxed fit.
  • Fitted: These are more fitted than a regular t-shirt but are not as tight as a compression fit. This is a great fit if you want a balance between an insulating base and one that feels more relaxed.
  • Soft/regular fit: These have a more forgiving fit and are preferred by some skiers for all-day comfort. Base layers that use Merino wool are typically made in this relaxed fit. source

Primary Base Layer Materials

  • Synthetic: comfortable on the skin, wicks away moisture but needs washing regularly to get rid of odors.
  • Wool: Smartwool like Merino is lightweight, very comfortable, and warm, but is slower to dry and more expensive.
See Also:  Why Is Skiing Such An Expensive Sport? (Luxury vs Budget)

Mid Layer

ski mid layers

The middle layer sits between the base and outer layer. A mid-layer is usually a fleece designed to trap warm air and keep you warm and comfortable on the slopes.

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The mid-layer comes in a range of fits from tight to loose and depends on each skier’s preferred fit. Too tight and it may restrict your movements or feel uncomfortable. Too loose and it might not be as insulating or fit comfortably under your ski jacket.

  • In colder weather (below -5°C / 23°F) pick a thicker and warmer mid-layer.
  • In warmer weather (-5°C to 5°C / 23°F to 41°F), a thinner fleece will be more comfortable.
  • Above 5°C / 41°F on a still sunny day and you might be too hot with three layers and you can sling your fleece in your backpack. It’s always better to have it with you than not!

Outer Layer

Perhaps the most important layer, the ski jacket, and ski trousers are the final barrier between you and the outside elements. Wear ski (snowboard clothing is also fine) specific jackets and trousers. Look for ski jackets and trousers that have a high waterproof rating (above 10k mm) and a high breathability rating (above 8k mm).

outer layer

Waterproofing protects you from getting soaking wet under a snowfall or when falling onto the snow. Without a good waterproof rating, your outer shell will only be good in dry conditions and with small amounts of snow contact.

See Also:  How Fast Do Slalom Skiers Really Go?

Breathability is measured by how long it takes the fabric to dry. It’s important that your ski jacket and trousers can wick away internal moisture from sweat and not lock it in – otherwise you will feel damp and clammy. The best way to stay warm on the slopes is to stay dry!

The Problem With Too Many Layers

Many people think that adding more and more layers makes you warmer. It does in the very short term, but layering for the sake of layering can actually make you colder. If you trap in sweat and moisture, you’ll quickly get wet & heavy. You’ll either feel very clammy or a strong gust of wind will come and suck your warmth out.

Layers of high-quality technical ski gear with a specific purpose are a great idea to stay warm and comfortable. Layering by chucking on t-shirts, shirts, and multiple winter coats is NOT.

The Do’s of Layering

  • Do wear a base layer, a mid-layer, and an outer layer.
  • Do wear a thicker base layer or mid-layer in colder temperate.
  • Do wear an outer shell with high. breathability and waterproofing.
  • Do wear a thick insulated ski jacket for extreme weather.
  • Do air out your ski clothes each day.
  • Do wear dry clothing.

The Don’ts of Layering

  • Don’t wear more than 3 layers.
  • Don’t wear wet clothes.
  • Don’t wear normal clothes to ski
  • Avoid cotton or materials that absorb sweat

How to Stay Warm While Skiing?

Layering correctly is just one way to stay warm on the slopes.

  • Wear 3 layers. (no more or less)
  • Wear dry clothing
  • Fuel up throughout the day
  • Wear thin ski socks
  • Don’t clench your toes
  • Wear Gore-tex or Thinsulate gloves.
  • Wear a neck warmer, ski goggles & helmet.
  • No exposed skin, seal your edges and tighten your cuffs
  • Bring a flask of hot drink to warm your core and hands

layering is just one way to stay warm on the slopes: read my free Skiers Guide to Staying Warm.

How to Keep Your Hands Warm?

Hands tend to be one of the last parts of the body to stay warm. Use these tips to get warm fingers.

  • Wear quality waterproof ski gloves
  • Put gloves on the inside and don’t take them off
  • Consider mittens or glove liners
  • Don’t hold your poles too tight (lowers circulation)
  • Use rechargeable hand warmers
  • Keep your core warm with thermal flasks

Want to know more? Read the 11 incredible ways I use to keep my hands warm.

How to Keep Your Feet Warm?

Feet have their own microclimate and many skiers struggle with keeping their toes toasty. Follow these techniques to keep your feet warm throughout the day.

  • Wear thin ski socks
  • Don’t overtighten your lower buckles
  • Unbuckles at lunchtime to release pressure
  • Don’t clench your toes
  • Always wear dry socks

For more detail read my free in-depth guide Keep Your Feet Warm While Skiing

How Much Do Ski Clothes Cost?

It’s better to pay more and have equipment that lasts for decades than buy cheaper clothes that won’t be as warm and only last a season or two.

  • For thermals expect to pay around $75 / £58 / €65 for quality thermals, top and bottoms.
  • For a warm fleece, mid-layer expect to pay upwards of $65 / £50 / €55
  • For a ski jacket and trousers and other ski accessories:
Jacket & Trousers$200+€200+

For a full cost breakdown and the difference between hiring vs buying read: How much does it cost to ski? 

About Us is where over 1 million people a year come to learn more about skiing. I share everything I wish someone had told me when I was learning to ski. My name is Simon & I've been skiing since 2005. This winter, our family is taking a 3-month camper ski trip across the Alps. If you enjoy our articles, please join the free email club. We'd love to have you.
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