How to Layer for Skiing

You might be working up a sweat on the mountain, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t properly layer for skiing. Besides keeping you comfortable and dry, the clothes you wear on the slopes are designed to help you warm no matter the weather conditions.

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You don’t necessarily have to wear fewer layers to be more comfortable: it is about being smarter with your layers that will make the biggest difference to your comfort and warmth while skiing and snowboarding.

What Are the Best Layers for Skiing?

Skiing, mountaineering, and winter sports experts and professionals will tell you that the best way to layer for skiing is to adopt a three-layer system: a body-hugging base layer; a mid-layer for warmth; and, a waterproof and windproof outer layer.

All three layers work together to form an insulated, warm defense for your body against the cold outdoors. Skipping one layer won’t help to keep you warm nor comfortable after a short spell outside on the slopes. That’s why finding the best clothing for each layer will ensure you’re always warm, comfortable, and protected from the elements without feeling overdressed and bulky.

Things to Consider on How Best to Layer for Skiing

1. Thickness of Base Layers

Your base layer is designed to wick away moisture from your skin to keep you as dry as possible.

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Depending on how cold it is, you can choose the thickness of your base layer clothing from lightweight (thinnest available for maximum insulation and maximum breathability for outdoor activities like running, skiing, and snowboarding), to middleweight (provides more warmth for colder temperatures but isn’t as fast-drying and breathable as lightweight items), and heavyweight (for total insulation in extremely cold weather conditions).

For leisure skiing, you’ll want your body to be as free to move about as possible and most skiers wear lightweight base layers.

2. Insulation in the Mid-Layer

For the mid-layer, trapping warmth is essential. The most popular material is fleece fabrics such as jerseys, fleece long-sleeved tops, and fleece-lined jackets.

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While this layer is intended to keep you warm, these clothes should still be breathable and offer ventilation for added breathability and comfort. Anti-sweat fabrics help to wick away moisture in your base layer and your mid-layer items should also sport similar fabrics to help keep you as comfortable as possible.

Whereas base layers are usually body-hugging in fit, mid-layers can be body-hugging or loose-fitting: it depends on your personal preference on what you find most comfortable wearing when skiing.

3. Outer Layers can Save your Life

Your outer layer forms a shield by trapping the heat inside your inner clothing layers and prevents cold air, water, snow, and ice from penetrating through to your mid-layer and base.

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Your ski trousers and ski jacket are vitally important to get right. Buy outer layer clothing with high waterproof ratings and high breathability ratings to make sure you stay dry when falling in the snow while the high breathability of the jacket and trousers will make sure that the materials dry quickly.

4. Gloves, Helmet, and Socks Add to your Layers

Don’t forget that your body loses heat fastest through your feet, hands, and head. It is important to keep those areas as warm and dry as possible. With ski boots, which are insulated and waterproof, you don’t need thick socks: all you need are thin ski-specific socks to help with moisture-wicking, breathability, and comfort.

Gloves, Helmet, and Socks

To protect your hands, think of the same principles for gloves as with your three clothing layers: you need gloves that trap heat and that also insulate your hands by keeping them dry. For that, ski gloves are essential.

Keeping your head warm while skiing is important: most ski helmets have linings in them to keep your head comfortable, wick away your sweat, and keep your head area dry from water.

5. Don’t Add More Layers for more Warmth

If your three layers don’t keep you warm enough, most people will add more layers to their clothing. That’s a mistake. Rather buy the appropriate base layer thickness. Adding more layers will only trap sweat and moisture and will make you feel uncomfortable, colder, and heavy.

6. Additional Clothing Items to Pack in when Skiing

While you shouldn’t add more layers to your three existing layers, you can add a few more clothing items to keep you more comfortable when the temperature drops even further below freezing. Extra gloves are always handy: each time you take a fall into the snow or use your hand for support on the snow, your gloves do become wetter.

An extra pair might be that one item that helps you to stay comfortable on the slopes. Others might use a thin base layer glove under their gloves for that extra warmth yet are far less cumbersome to use when checking your smartphone, holding a cup of coffee, or fiddling with your ski jackets’ zips and pockets.

Another tip would be to wear a buff to keep your neck and face warm on the ski slopes. Varying in thickness and materials, these aren’t meant to offer the same protection and warmth as your jacket but are designed to keep the chill off your face to make playing in the snow that bit more comfortable.

If you’re not used to the cold in the mountains, you might want to also keep a down jacket in your bag to add that to your ski jacket for added warmth – but this shouldn’t be used when skiing. Down jackets are usually lightweight and loose-fitting, but don’t leave them on for skiing: use them when you’re resting and relaxing in the mountains or when back at the lodge or hotel.

7. Quality Sometimes is Worth the Cost

As layering for skiing can be expensive, it is worth bearing in mind that the quality of your layers can keep you alive and safe in the mountains, while ill-chosen and poorly-suited layers can cause you to actually get colder and wetter on the slopes.

Buy choosing the appropriate clothes – and ones that are rated as high-quality (while not the most expensive) – can be worn for several winters and skiing holidays without needing to be replaced. Your comfort and safety while skiing in the mountains are of utmost priority.


Getting the right layering for skiing takes time to find what works best for you, but starting with the right ingredients of which layers to focus on and the types of clothing items, you’ll be able to find your perfect layering much quicker.