Cross-country skiing is a highly aerobic activity that can generate a lot of body heat. Though the weather may be wet and cold, your clothing needs to protect you from the elements while allowing sweat to quickly ventilate away. If it doesn’t, you risk getting chilled (or even hypothermic) once you stop.

Here are REI’s recommendations on getting outfitted.

The Concept of Layering

Layering your clothing offers a time-tested system of staying warm and dry in a variety of conditions. It is also a great strategy for managing body moisture. Beyond the basics of layering discussed in our Expert Advice article, here are some specifics of dressing for cross-country skiing.

  • Several light layers provide more warmth than a single bulky layer. For example, wear a lightweight and a midweight base layer instead of a single heavyweight layer. This creates more “dead air” space between layers to retain warmth. This also allows you to shed layers as you warm up from the activity.
  • Layers must not be bulky to the point of limiting your skiing motion, so tight-fitting layers are a better choice. However, don’t go so tight as to limit blood flow or remove the dead air space between the layers.
  • Be prepared to add or subtract layers quickly. General rules: You generate more heat skiing uphill than skiing downhill. The weather is in constant fluctuation, even as you ski from morning into the afternoon or from under the trees out into an open meadow on a calm day. Add or subtract layers as needed during these changing conditions instead of waiting. Always be ready to add a layer such as a jacket when you stop for a long break.

Soft shell jacket

Clothing Tips for Cross-Country Skiing

  • Wear a soft-shell outer layer: Cross-country skiers need a shell layer with exceptional breathability. A so-called “soft shell” is a great choice for most skiing days. Soft shells are tightly woven jackets typically featuring a durable water repellent (DWR) finish. This repels the moisture of a light snow or rain while providing exceptional breathability. A soft shell, however, will not prevent heavy moisture from penetrating, so a waterproof/breathable “hard shell” layer should always be ready in your pack in case of a heavy snowfall or downpour.
  • On good weather days: An outfit of lightweight base layers and light pants is usually sufficient in mild conditions. Just be sure to always have your additional layers in your pack and ready for changes throughout the day. During a storm, all layers may need to be worn to keep comfortable.
  • Sun protection is key: You need to protect yourself from both direct sunlight and reflective sunlight off the snow—even during a cloudy day. Wearing layers with complete skin coverage prevents sunburn as well as provides warmth and moisture wicking. Remember to wear sunglasses and regularly apply sunscreen as well (see the REI Expert Advice articles on the Ten Essential Systems and Choosing and Using Sunscreen for more information).

X-C gloves

  • Protect head and hands: A significant amount of body heat can be lost from these areas if not covered. For your head, a light cap with visor works well on mild days. Add a headband to cover your ears when it gets cooler, or switch to a wool or fleece cap and/or a balaclava if it gets really cold. For your hands, use the same base layer/insulating layer/shell layer combination as you do for your body. As it gets warmer or colder, simply remove or add the layers.
  • Footwear tips: For the feet, a base layer (liner socks) and an insulating layer (wool or synthetic socks) are often used—your ski boots act as the shell layer. While thick socks can certainly be used to create more warmth, first be aware of how much space is available in your ski boots. Another smart option is to wear snow gaiters to prevent snow from sneaking down into the tops of your boots.
  • Extra layers: For extended trips, be ready with replacement layers. If your primary layers get wet from precipitation or sweat, you’ll appreciate having dry layers in your pack to change into.

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