Cross-Country Ski Clothing: Tips
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.
Be sure to add or subtract layers as needed during changing conditions instead of waiting. Always be ready to add a layer such as a jacket when you stop for a long break.
Outer Layers for Cross-Country Skiing
Soft shell jacket: Cross-country skiers need a shell layer with exceptional breathability. A 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 light snow or rain while providing exceptional breathability.
Hard shell jacket: 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.
Base Layers for Cross-Country Skiing
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.
Avoid bulk when layering: 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.
Keep layers snug-fitting: 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.
Bring backup 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.
Hats and Gloves for Cross-Country Skiing
A significant amount of body heat can be lost from your head and hands 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.
Socks and Gaiters for Cross-Country Skiing
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.
Sun Protection for Cross-Country Skiing
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 Essentials and Choosing and Using Sunscreen for more information).
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