How To
Layer For Skiing

You’ve been through spring, summer, and autumn, and now comes the most wonderful time of the year. Finally, you’ll get to hit the mountains, rip down the slopes and get your adrenaline fix.

If you have the hots for skiing, you know that you need to dress a certain way to make sure you don’t freeze, or even worse – ruin your skiing trip. While it may seem as simple as “just add another jacket if you’re cold” there is a whole science behind the process of layering for skiing, or for any other winter sport for that matter.

So, how do you go about properly dressing up for skiing? Keep on reading to find out..

First, we’ll explain the basic concepts of layers and their purpose, then we’ll dive deep into each layer and explain the different materials used by different brands. Our hope is that we’ll be able to help you decide which one is best for you.

What To Wear For Skiing

Staying warm while skiing begins with getting the right gear with the proper insulation, size, fit, and purpose (snowboarding and skiing jackets are not the same). Then there’s the issue of staying comfortable. The human body wasn’t made for the action-packed rides you’ll be experiencing when skiing, so comfort and impact-protection also play an important role when picking a jacket or any other piece of clothing.

The colder the mountain is, the warmer your jacket needs to be, right? The answer to this question is both yes and no. Yes, a sturdier jacket will do a good job of keeping you from freezing, but you have a better chance of staying warm if you focus on layering the right way.

Layering is best done when you divide all the gear into three layers: base, mid, and outer.

  • Base layer – the layer closest to your skin, and one that usually contains only a thermal undershirt.
  • Mid layer – the layer between the base and the outer layer, normally a fleece jacket.
  • Outer layer – A sturdy ski jacket that has a good waterproofing rating and is breathable.

This is the basic layering formula, but keep in mind that it can be different for you. For example, people who “feel” the cold more than usual might want to add an additional mid layer, whereas people who are more hot-blooded might want to hit the mountains without a mid layer or stick to a lighter outer layer jacket.

One thing to keep in mind when shopping for any of these pieces is to know what you’re looking at.

Companies have a habit of adding and changing the names to materials and technologies that make it seem as if their product is something special.

The truth is, however, that most of the tech on the market nowadays is very similar, and when brands make even the slightest change to a certain product they can market it as more developed or improved, so take this into account.

Base Layer For Skiing

The first layer is the most important. It’s the barrier between your body and the outer layers, and while the outer layers have more properties and features, this one is considered to be more crucial as it acts as a second layer of skin which will regulate your body temperature.

As we mentioned above, this layer consists of a thermal undershirt, and here we’ll explain all the different materials it can be made from alongside their properties.

Thermal undershirts can be made from a wide variety of materials, but the materials that are most used are created from synthetic materials, merino wool, and bamboo.

Synthetic Base Layers

Most undershirts nowadays are made with synthetic materials, and for a number of good reasons.

First and foremost, this type of materials are the cheapest. Why? Well, they contain materials such as polypropylene and/or polyester, which are much cheaper than merino wool or bamboo.

Synthetic based undershirts are known for being very light and having excellent wicking properties, which is perfect for skiers who sweat a lot. They are also easy to clean, as they can be washed in a machine, and dry much faster than other pieces of clothing, so you can wash them daily. But make no mistake, washing them often won’t get them to stretch out, as they are known to keep their slim-fit shape for years.

So if you’re looking for a cheap, high-wicking, and lightweight base layer, a synthetic one is a good choice for you.

But their low price comes with a fair share of downsides.

Synthetic baselayers are not antibacterial, meaning they will get smelly rather quickly and you might have to wash them after each use or every two to three days.

Then there’s the issue of skin feel, as the skin of some people doesn’t respond well to synthetics pressed against it, and this can cause irritation, redness, or even more sweating. Also, synthetics are not known for their heat-retaining properties, as most are made to keep you warm in temperatures as low as -10 degrees, but anything lower than that and you will have difficulties staying warm.

So, if you are skiing on mountains with harsher weather conditions, you might want to try merino wool or bamboo undershirts.

Merino Wool Base Layers

Merino wool undershirts are slowly becoming a standard in the world of skiing and snowboarding. Merino wool is a high-quality wool that is extracted from merino sheep, a type of wool that is considered to be among the finest ones in the world.

The merino wool fibers are known for their natural temperature regulation properties, meaning they do a great job of trapping some of the heat that is leaving the body, just enough so that you stay warm.

The thick crease in merino wool undershirts has spaces in which the excess moisture can leave the body, but get this, the fibers themselves also do a great job of wicking away moisture quickly, keeping you dry during the whole day.

Now, the speed at which merino wool wicks away moisture might not seem like much, but the key to regulating sweating lies in two components – temperature regulation and breathability. Wicking moisture away quickly means that the skin will breathe much more, thus reducing the amount of sweat it produces.

Skiing in high places where the sun blasts you? Merino wool provides UV protection too. If you are one of those people who sweat a lot during vigorous activities, don’t worry about getting cold or having a smell after you’re done.

Merino wool retains its thermal properties even when it’s wet, and it’s naturally antibacterial, so you can wear it for quite a few days before you wash it. And the best of all? Merino wool feels amazing! It’s very soft and it will make you feel very comfortable even with the added layers.

Merino wool is all nice, but it does have some shortcomings. For example, it’s pricier than both the synthetic and bamboo undershirts, and the wicking ability can sometimes vary from one model to another, as different undershirt brands have different percentages of merino wool in them. That different percentage can also determine if you can wash the undershirt in a washing machine or not.

For example, 90%-100% of merino wool undershirts shouldn’t be washed in a washing machine as this can make them shrink. And while comfortable and soft to the skin, some people with more sensitive skin might find merino wool undershirts to be uncomfortable and to cause itchiness and redness.

Bamboo Base Layers

A relatively new material, bamboo has been used extensively in recent years, thanks to its softness and the gentle effect it has on the skin. Underwear made with bamboo is a perfect choice for all who find synthetics and merino wool undershirts to be too itchy. In fact, bamboo is widely considered to be even more comfortable than cotton!

Bamboo underwear is also much more durable than merino wool and synthetics, meaning it will not show signs of wear for quite a few years, and just like with the other two materials on this list, it dries very easily.

It has antibacterial properties too, so you won’t have to worry about leaving a trail of stink when you ride down the trails. Add on to this the fact that it’s an eco-friendly option, you’d expect it to cost a fortune, right? Well, this isn’t the case because bamboo underwear costs less than merino wool, so all these cool properties won’t force you to empty out your wallet when shopping for one.

Bamboo undershirts seem perfect, right? Well, there are two problems with them.

One, they are not widely available, and two, the quality and properties can vary a lot from brand to brand, which means that you need to be careful before swiping your card. Also, make sure you check the content, as sometimes bamboo is mixed with polyester, lycra, and even merino wool, which can strongly affect the quality and efficiency of the underwear.

Bamboo Mix Base Layers

Underwear made from a mixture of bamboo + other synthetics or merino wool doesn’t have a fixed set of properties, so a good way to tell how something will feel or perform is to see the percentage of said material. For example, bamboo underwear that has more merino wool will be better for skiing in harsher conditions, while the one mixed with synthetics will be perfect for milder conditions.

All great, but make sure you read up on the underwear you’re interested in, check customer reviews and all that, or ensure you have a refund option so that you can take it back if you don’t like it.

Mid Layer For Skiing

While the base layer helps regulate body temperature and keeps you from getting too cold or too warm, the mid-layer is there to help trap the heat that is leaving your body, providing a sort of an insulation layer that also helps wick away moisture so your skin can breathe.

Truth is, people rarely pay any attention to mid layers, and as such, their role in keeping you warm and comfortable is often undervalued. The simplest way to describe the mid layer is “a balancing layer which makes the difference between being too warm or too cold”.

More often than not, it’s a fleece that has great wicking ability, is stain-resistant, and is very easy to wash and dry. Adding them to your gear will not only provide a solid insulation layer, but it will give you space to change up if you get too warm or too cold.

Picture this, you’re all nicely layered up, you hit the slopes and all of a sudden you feel too warm and start sweating profusely. What do you do?

Just take off your mid layer and you are all set to go again without much fuss. Now, if you don’t have a mid layer, it means that you can only take off your skiing jacket and ski in your thermal undershirt. We don’t need to tell you that this is a very bad idea, so consider getting a mid layer for your own good.

There is a wide variety of mid layers out there, and the simplest way to divide them is in two groups:, polar fleece and down insulation.

They are both simple and widely available and should be your first choice if you haven’t tried them already. Of course, there are other more technical and more sophisticated mid-layer garments out there, but they don’t necessarily do a better job than the ones we mentioned, so give these a try and only if you’re not satisfied, move on to the more advanced ones.

Now, let’s get into the specifics of polar fleece and down insulation mid layers.

Polar Fleece

Polar fleece mid layers are made of synthetic polyester which makes them lightweight, highly breathable, quick-drying, and they also maintain insulation even when they get wet.

Simply said, slim jackets that you can put on if you go out for a drink or a walk in the cold. Great insulation, high wicking, breathable – all the qualities a mid layer should have.

Now, they provide a good insulation for mild and medium weather conditions, but you might want to go for down insulation if you want to ski in colder and windier areas.

Down Insulation

Down insulation jackets are thicker than polar fleece, mainly because they are filled up with geese or duck feathers, which make them a much better insulator and great for harsh weather conditions.

There are different types of down insulation jackets, and they are usually divided by the amount of insulation fill they have in them. For example, a jacket with more feathers is thicker and has a better heat-retention rating but is also heavier, while a jacket with less feathers will not retain as much heat but will be more comfortable to wear.

While all warm and snuggly, down insulation jackets have a few downsides. For example, they require special cleaning, lose their insulation capabilities when they get wet, need a lot of time to dry, and are generally more expensive than polar fleece jackets.

Outer Layer For Skiing

Now, let’s focus on the first line of defense. While it’s not the most important, it can be a dealbreaker if you get it wrong. The outer layer is your ski jacket, plain and simple. Now, there are a few important factors you need to take into consideration when picking a jacket and these include waterproofing ability, breathability, and insulation.

Waterproofing

It’s simple – the higher the waterproofing rating of a jacket, the better the job it does at keeping you dry. Look for a jacket that has a 10,000 waterproofing rating or up.

If it’s between 10,000 to 15,000, it means that it’s good for light, powder snow. A jacket with a rating ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 is good for moderate and wet snow, and anything above 20,000 will do great in heavy and watery snow.

If you’re planning on skiing in areas where the snow gets really watery, you should consider going for a jacket that contains Gore-Tex, which is the best waterproofing material with a rating of approximately 28,000.

Insulation

The insulation of ski jackets is similar to that of down insulation mid-layer jackets, but with more density and added insulators. For example, there are different materials and technologies used to add insulation to ski jackets, and these include Primaloft, 3M Thinsulate, down insulation, and synthetic insulators.

Down Insulation

The down insulation used in ski jackets is a bit different, as it’s denser and provides more insulation. It provides more insulation in weight compared to other materials, but at the same time it requires special care and loses a lot of the insulation capability when it gets wet.

Primaloft

If you’re looking for an alternative for down insulation, look no further – PrimaLoft is the best synthetic-made insulation that mimics the effect of down insulation with a slight but very good twist – it wicks away moisture much better and retains its insulation capabilities when it gets wet.

But PrimaLoft has the same problem as other synthetic insulators, such as getting smelly pretty fast and being heavier than other options on this list. 3M’s Thinsulate is very similar to the Primaloft, the main difference being that Thinsulate is made from recyclable materials. Pretty much all the synthetic insulators have the same or similar properties.

Other Insulators

There are mixtures of synthetic and down insulators, and they are generally light, highly compressible, more water-resistant and all-round cheaper than down alone. The degree to which any of these properties is dominant depends on the down/synthetic proportion.

Skiing Pants

Now let’s move on to the lower half of your body. When it comes to skiing pants, you’re free to follow the same rule for layering as you do for your upper body, but people generally go for two layers – a base and an outer layer. They do this because of a few reasons:

  • It’s more important for you to stay warm at your core (your torso).
  • Your legs are far more active, which means they have better circulation and you won’t feel as cold.
  • Too many layers can actually affect your ability to maneuver your skis and restrict movement.

Of course, the decision to go for two or three layers is entirely up to you. If your legs don’t respond too well to two layers, upgrade to three.

Footwear For Skiing

Almost every piece of footwear for winter sports comes with insulation, and ski boots are no exception. Most companies nowadays add synthetic materials to the liners, with the goal of increasing comfort and heat-retention. Yes, synthetics are known for losing their insulation capabilities when they get wet, which is why the outer boot is made with waterproof materials and fabric.

As for socks, you should look for ones that have similar properties like your undershirt. Just keep in mind that your feet will be in a much tighter space, so make sure the socks you get are extra comfortable and are made from either merino wool or bamboo/merino wool mixture.

Conclusion

Your skiing extravaganza is not all about skills and tricks – you also need to prepare. By following our guide you can maximize the time you can spend on the slopes, without getting all sweaty or freezing.

Layer up properly, get the right garments and every other piece of clothing you might need, and you’re all set to get your adrenaline fix for the season.

Article by:
Natalie Waters
Content Writer at Bluehouse
Last Updated September 2020

Check Out Our Other
Ski Tips & Tricks