Take everything you love about snowshoeing but make it a little quicker and a little less awkward and, boom, cross-country skiing. Another check mark in the Pro column of your T-chart? Cross-country skiing (or Nordic skiing or XC skiing) tends to be much more accessible and affordable than downhill skiing at a resort. (To get started, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Cross-Country Skiing article.)
Convinced yet? Then it’s time to gear up and take the skinny skis for a spin. Whether you’re building out your cross-country ski kit or looking to upgrade an element here or there, reference our roundup below. Inside, we’ve included our editors’ and staffers’ favorite hard- and softgoods for the activity, including tights, a breathable jacket, layers and accessories, as well as skis, boots, poles and more.
It’s time to make miles beyond the corduroy.
Built with a waxless base and a unique profile, these Salomon skis perform superbly on groomed trails, and can be used for an occasional off-track outing. The Snowscape 7s are a bit shorter than usual and feature a clever S-shape for more maneuverability and edge contact when turning. Still, the Posigrip bases provide enough friction for flats, and camber (meaning the skis are down-turned like a frowny face) underfoot allows for more contact when kicking. Even with the included bindings, these versatile skinny skis are relatively light in weight and cost. $220
Three things worth considering when shopping for cross-country skiing poles: shaft material, basket design and strap adjustability. For these reasons, the Swix Elite Off-Track poles prove to be a worthy companion for skiers interested in tackling both groomed and ungroomed terrain. They’re made of aluminum and fixed length—the strongest design available. Weight them, fall on them pack them a bit haphazardly, and they should be up to the task. Next, the 10-cenimeter diameter baskets promise good purchase when you’re forging your own path. And last, but not least, the straps cinch down to fit bare hands in warmer weather and expand to accommodate bulkier gloves when the mercury drops. $69.95
Each product in this list channels Goldilocks, and these Rossis are no different. The X-5 OTs are stiff enough to control skinny skis on ungroomed terrain, but not so much that you’ll be dreaming of après before you even start. The Thinsulate liners are warm and heat-moldable, and adjustable gaiters seal snow and precip out. These boots are compatible with most cross-country ski bindings—including the Prolink on the Salomons above. $159.95
In general, any socks will do, as long as they’re not cotton. We like these woolies from REI Co-op, which have reinforcements on the toe and heel, plus a stretchy bit on the instep that prevents bunching and chafing inside a ski boot. The tall cuff sits above a boot, too. $19.95
For an aerobic activity like cross-country skiing, you want a breathable softshell that will block wind as easily as it dumps heat. Enter: the Lillehammer tights from Swix. Wind-resistant polyester paneling on the front protects from weather, while more breathable polyester behind the knees lets sweat vapor escape. An elastic waistband with a traditional fly is comfortable over or beneath layers, and zippers at the cuffs let you snug the trousers over ski boots. $120
REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Long-Sleeve Crew Top (Women’s, Women’s Plus, Men’s and Men’s Tall)
When choosing a base layer for cross-country skiing, reach for a wool or synthetic top that’s classified as “light-” or “midweight.” These sorts of shirts will wick sweat best while adding a touch of warmth before you get moving. We like the Lightweight Base Layer Long-Sleeve crew top from REI Co-op, a no-frills polyester shirt with a touch of elastic for mobility. Flat seams are comfy under bulkier layers, and a lower back hem stays tucked when you reach for a pole plant. Nice touch: Maximum 50+ UPF sun protection means you can skate in only this shirt on bright, mild days without fear of burning. $39.95
You don’t want bulky clothing weighing you down or restricting your movement when cross-country skiing. That’s where a softshell like the TLT Dynastretch from Dynafit comes into play. This stretchy softie has a slim, streamlined cut that preserves mobility. More robust material on the front of the arms and torso blocks wind and light precip, while microperforations let sweat vapor sneak out. It’s also lightweight and packable, so you can stuff it away when Mother Nature allows for it. $199.95
When it comes to gloves, warmth tends to come at the expense of dexterity, which is why we love the Ventas from Arc’teryx. They’re sleek without gauntlet-style cuffs—more like liner gloves with articulated fingers for hanging onto poles. But lofty fleece on the inside traps heat, while treated material on the outside and a waterproof membrane repel wind and seal moisture out. They’re also touchscreen compatible. $69
Gone are the days of earmuffs. This balaclava from Smartwool covers your noggin, ears and exposed bits of your face and neck to keep you toasty when you’re traversing frosty landscapes. The merino wool makes it more breathable than a stocking hat, and a clever design preserves peripheral vision. $40
Say no to snow blindness. When you travel across snowy landscapes, you’re inherently exposing your eyeballs to more UV radiation—from the sun and reflected off the snow. But goggles would just fog up when you sweat—hence glacier goggles. The same tool of the trade fancied by mountaineers, glacier goggles like these from Julbo, offer the sun protection (and style, of course) of sunglasses with the protection of goggles. The side shields are removable, so you can look a little less techy for après, and the lenses are curved for better optics on descents and faster-moving sections. $150
Some (cough *points down* cough) would argue fanny packs never really went out of style. But for all the haters, consider that their utility on the trail is virtually unmatched. This 5-liter model from REI Co-op is big enough for snacks, sunblock, a first-aid kit, a tool and an unused layer, and stretchy side pockets fit a couple of 1-liter bottles. It keeps your back unencumbered and free to the cool air without getting in the way of swinging arms. An assemblage of pockets are useful for Type-A packers. $49.95
Interested in more staff picks and kits? Find more Trail Mix collections here.