What to Wear Skiing

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Proper ski (or snowboard) attire will not only keep you warm and comfortable, but it will also directly impact how enjoyable your day is out on the slopes. Being uncomfortable (read: cold and/or wet) can ruin an otherwise great time on the mountain.

Knowing what to wear skiing isn’t all that difficult, but there are some things to consider before investing in all the necessary ski clothes and snow gear. Because, let’s face it, it’s not exactly cheap. The good news is that it will last you a long time, and there are a few secrets to buying cheap ski clothes (scroll down for those helpful hints).

Here’s everything you’ll need for a day of skiing or snowboarding—from the top down:

  • Helmet
  • Googles
  • Balaclava/buff (neck gaiter/warmer)
  • Ski jacket
  • Long-sleeved base layer (one or two)
  • Gloves or mittens
  • Long underwear
  • Ski pants (or bib)
  • Ski socks
  • Hand warmers / foot warmers (optional)

Now, let’s get into the specifics of each item—why you need it, what to look for when shopping, and some suggestions on the best gear for beginners. 

Helmet: Smith Altus MIPS Snow Helmet

While it’s a personal choice, it’s one we recommend, and nearly every person on the mountain agrees with. A helmet will give you more confidence and make you more comfortable while skiing. It also keeps your head much warmer than just a beanie. This model has MIPS protection on all sides to reduce rotational motion that can cause brain injuries and removable earpads for added comfort and warmth. It also has air vents and is adjustable so you can add a beanie if you want.

Goggles: Smith 4D MAG ChromaPop Snow Goggles

Googles are pretty much essential to help keep wind and snow out of your eyes. They also help with glare and some models, like this one, have interchangeable lenses depending on the light conditions. They’re easy to swap on the fly with magnetic fixtures snapping the lenses into place. Typically you want to stick with the same brand as your helmet so they fit seamlessly and don’t create a gap in the forehead (which lets wind in).

Buff: REI Power Wool Balaclava

Pandemic and face coverings aside, when it’s cold out, a buff is clutch so you can pull it up over your face when you’re skiing to keep warm. Depending on how much warmth you need, there are fleece models that are super cozy, and balaclavas (pictured here) that cover your head so you don’t have to worry about pulling it back up and keeping it in place throughout the day.

Ski jacket: REI First Chair GTX Jacket

Not your typical puffy coat, a proper ski jacket should be waterproof or water resistant (for when it’s snowing and/or you’re falling), and be well insulated. You can get by with other jackets, but ski jackets also feature lots of convenient pockets to carry water bladders, easy access to your ski pass, etc. They usually also have armpit vents to help regulate your body temperature, and some have extra liners and zippers around the waist to keep snow out.

Top base layer: Smartwool

Under your jacket, layer up with a long-sleeved base layer (or two). Wool or synthetic materials are best for wicking away moisture, so that should be your bottom layer (against your skin). Fleece is a great insulator if you need a second layer. Depending on the temperatures, choose a lightweight or midweight option.

Gloves or mittens: Burton GORE-TEX Mittens

Gloves vs mittens is a personal choice, and most people choose mittens because they tend to keep your hands warmer, but they are also more restrictive. Some ski and snowboard gloves come with small pockets, built-in wipers for your googles, wrist straps so you can take them off and they stay attached to you, and longer cuffs to cover your wrist/forearm and keep snow out.

Bottom base layer: Odlo Long Underwear

Just like the top layer, a synthetic bottom layer will keep you warm and dry. If it will be very cold, fleece lined pants can also be added. While this might not be something you want to sport to apres ski festivities, feel free to pack an extra pair of pants to change into.

Ski pants: Obermeyer Force Snow Pants

Ski pants (or a bib) should be well insulated with ventilation zippers and water resistant, just like the jacket. Bibs keep snow out of better but are harder to get out of when it’s time to use the bathroom.

Ski socks: Smartwool PhD

Ski socks typically have extra padding in the shin, where you’re applying pressure, and are knee-high. Like all outdoor attire, avoid cotton (it doesn’t dry well or insulate) and stick with wool or synthetic materials.

How to dress for skiing

  • Layer up. Your body temperature will fluctuate throughout the day (skiing vs standing, on the lift vs in the lodge). Make yourself comfortable by being able to remove layers as needed. It’s easier to take things off than go back to the car to add more layers, and being cold can turn a fun day into a miserable experience. 
  • Dress for the weather. If it’s going to rain or snow, make sure all of your layers are waterproof, and don’t forget the goggles. While you can get by with sunglasses on a dry day, airtight goggles will save the day. 
  • Buy as you go. If you can get by with some of the gear/clothes you already own, go for it. Ski clothes are expensive, so take your time building your closet. Renting can also be another great option if you’re only heading out for a weekend trip.
  • Can I wear leggings to ski? Yes, you sure can. Most leggings are made with synthetic fabrics that wick away moisture. That said, they may not keep you as warm as you’d like, so if needed, pair them with something else/thicker. I usually wear leggings under my ski pants and it’s a perfectly acceptable bottom base layer. 
  • What do wear if I don’t have snow pants? Honestly, anything that protects from water/snow and wind, so rain pants are perfectly fine, as are old-school wind breaker pants. These lighter options may not have the same insulation, but pair it with long underwear or fleece lined pants underneath, and you’re good to go. 

Where to buy cheap ski clothes

Used gear websites

There are a lot of options for buying high-quality, gently-used, such as Patagonia Worn Wear and REI Good & Used

Patagonia goes the extra mile to repair its gear to keep customers outfitted for as long as possible. For a company that makes money selling clothes and gear, they’re even more committed to recycling and reusing, urging customers to repair their gear instead of buying new stuff. The Worn Wear shop lets you shop used gear and offer up your own gear for trade-in credit.

REI started Good & Used during the pandemic in lieu of its popular garage sales, which sold used gear at heavily discounted prices. If you’re an REI member, you can take advantage of its new online platform for buying and trading in used gear. 

Buy during the off-season or end-of-season sales

Another great life hack is to buy off-season. If you’re planning to ski a lot next winter, invest in some gear while it’s discounted in the summer. End of season sales are also pretty amazing, so keep your eyes peeled in late spring. 

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