How to Layer Properly for Skiing or Snowboarding

Posted January 20, 2014 @ 3:40pm | by Alex Whitney

Frigid Cold Air United States

Those who grow up in the North learn how to layer for winter, or fail out of kindergarten by way of habitual truancy. As inhabitants of the northern latitudes, we can all distinctly recall waiting for the school bus during the temperature troth of January, goofy name tag strung around the neck, and the wind whipping snow up and down the backs of our jackets.

The anticipated bliss of boarding the bus would come to a chilling halt the moment we felt that first trickle of snowmelt down the crease of our backs. When your body heat begins to melt snow, the hypothermic end is in sight. The fundamental principles applied to clothing selection for an Everest summit attempt are exactly the same as those which should be employed by commuters waiting at outdoor bus stops throughout the North Country. As a five year old New Englander I made every mistake an outdoorsman can make in the process of learning how to dress for cold weather. It is from these mistakes that we as northerners figure out how to layer for cold weather, in order to extend our enjoyment of outdoor recreation (not to mention make it possible to sustain an acceptable attendance record in Mrs. Martha’s kindergarten class).

The Wool/Polyester Base Layer (Shop Men's Base Layers) & (Shop Women's Base Layers)

Best Base Layers for Skiing and Snowboarding

In deciding how to dress for skiing or snowboarding, you’ve got to start from the inside out. If you sweat, you get wet and if you stay wet, you get cold. Sweating is inevitable when we are skiing or riding aggressively, so the question becomes… How to allow this moisture to dissipate most rapidly? Material, texture, and fit are the three factors which should be taken into consideration when choosing a base layer.


Wool is the best base layer material. Wool is fast drying and maintains its warming properties when wet. Merino Wool fibers are so fine, they wear like an organic cotton t-shirt against your skin. If even the thought of wool against your skin makes you itchy, you need to get in contact with Merino Wool. For those who are allergic to wool, technology offers a solution in synthetic material.

Synthetics like nylon and polyester are a close second to wool, and are closing the gap as technology progresses. Polyester allows moisture to dissipate, but won’t perform when it’s wet the way wool will, while in contact with the skin.


Waffle Texture Base Layer for wicking

Manufacturers all agree. The more it looks like a waffle, the better. MMM waffles… a great pre ski feed. It is this texture which allows synthetics to keep you warm when wet. The more texture your base layer has, the more highly migratory the liquids and gasses (sweat and air) between your skin and first layer will be. The migration of moisture results in evaporation. It’s good to be dry. 


When you pick out your base layer, downsize. No matter what space age fabric you are rocking, if it isn’t in contact with your skin then it isn’t doing you much good. Base layers are, in every sense of the phrase, function over fashion. Accept it, onward.

The Down Mid Layer (Shop Men's Mid Layers) & (Shop Women's Mid Layers)

Best Down Mid Layers

Now that you’re giving your sweat a chance at drying, it’s time to trap some warm dry air. Like with base layers, synthetic mid layers have yet to catch up to the natural stuff in terms of breathability. The down insulated mid layer is the new wool sweater. Hydrophobic down is most likely to keep you warm, and least likely to cause overheating. Overheating can quickly become a problem in the absence of breathability, one minute you’re too hot, the next you are too wet with sweat to recover. There are many companies manufacturing proprietary insulants, all of which trap heat in, but none of which allow excess heat to escape the way down feathers do. On the coldest days, a hooded down mid layer will serve as a proper heat gasket for your shell jacket. On an average winter day, going without a hood allows for superior freedom of movement.

The Water Proof Breathable Shell (Shop Men's Jackets) & (Shop Women's Jackets)

Water Proof Breathable Shell, Best Layering Techniques

The outermost layer is the shell. You may now take style into consideration. The shell is the only layer which must be waterproof. The best shells run between $400 and $750 depending on the manufacturer, but they are worth the investment. In the fight to stay warm and dry during variable weather conditions, this is the most functional weapon in your arsenal. A question that we hear a lot around the shop, when steering customers in the direction of a water proof/breathable shell is, will this jacket keep me warm? The simple answer is yes. Water proof/breathable shells come with varying degrees of insulation, and are the most dynamic piece of outerwear you can own. When employed in conjunction with an effective layering system, there is no better way to stay warm and dry. The uninsulated water proof/breathable shell is a 12 month jacket, effectively breathable at high activity levels, or in warm weather.

 In preparing to venture out into the elements, we should layer with three goals in mind. They are simple but vital.

1. The layer in contact with the skin must allow moisture to dissipate and evaporate rapidly. Textured wool and polyester do this most effectively.

2. The second layer must trap heat while allowing moisture to escape at low humidity. There is a reason why geese are always sporting the latest in water repellent down insulation.

3. Storage is not a place in which your shell layer should ever be located. Whether it’s wind, rain, snow, or cold, the waterproof shell layer has you covered.

Best Layering Techniques for Skiing and Snowboarding

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