If you’re new to skiing and wondering what to wear skiing (or snowboarding) for the first time, or just haven’t been in a while, this ski gear checklist will help you know what to pack for your trip to make sure you don’t forget any snow essentials before you hit the slopes.
When I first started to ski competitively, at the age of 7, there was certainly less choice when it came to ski wear, and although ski gear has evolved dramatically since then, what you require in terms of ski outfits, accessories, and equipment has largely remained the same. So, in this ski clothing guide I’m going to share everything you need to know about what to wear skiing (and snowboarding) including how to layer for skiing, and the best ski gear available for almost all-mountain resort skiing situations.
Here’s a quick checklist of what to wear skiing and snowboarding:
- Base layers
- Ski socks
- A mid layer
- Ski jacket
- Ski pants or bibs (also known as salopettes)
- Ski gloves (or mittens)
- Neck gaiter
- Snow goggles
- Warm hat (optional)
- Backpack (optional)
Continue reading to learn what to wear snowboarding and skiing, why certain ski clothing and gear is essential, and our advice on how to choose the right ski outfit for you.
What to wear skiing and snowboarding
Buying all your skiing essentials for the first time can seem expensive – and it all adds up – but if you’re planning to go skiing often, or at least every winter, then it’s worth buying ski apparel and gear that fits you well and is of a high quality so that it lasts you for many years to come – because good ski apparel should last you years.
It’s also worth knowing that if you are a first-time skier or just want to go skiing or snowboarding without spending too much money buying all the gear in one go, then you can rent ski equipment like boots, skies, and poles, and consider buying pre-owned ski apparel, which is not only environmentally friendly but will also save you money too.
A great place to look for used ski gear is in this section of REI’s website, where you can find lots of affordable pre-owned outdoor clothing and equipment for most outdoor activities.
This guide on what to wear skiing does not include ski boots, skis/bindings, or poles (stay tuned for those buyer’s guides coming in the next week or so!) – instead, this post is more of a ski clothing guide on what to wear skiing (and snowboarding) for the first time.
Skiing Base Layers
Skiing base layers, or thermals, are warm, stretchy, close-fitting long layers worn over your underwear and designed to help you regulate your temperature by providing insulation in the cold, and being breathable and sweat-wicking to draw moisture away from your skin.
The best base layers are generally made from wool, such as Merino, which naturally has all these properties, as well as being naturally odor-resistant and a great way to also stay cool in warm weather – yes, merino wool is something of a marvel when it comes to temperature regulation.
This is particularly good to know if you’re going to be skiing for several days in a row, as you should be able to wear the same items on multiple days without them stinking!
When choosing your base layers, look for long sleeve tops, and 3/4 length leggings (because the lower part of your legs will be covered by your ski or snowboard socks), and the thicker that region gets with clothing material, the less comfortable your ski/snowboard boots will be when you adjust them to lock your feet in place.
If you don’t already have a suitable set of thermals, you can’t go wrong with Smartwool’s Intraknit Merino range, which includes this long-sleeve crew baselayer, pictured.
Having the right ski socks can make a huge difference to your comfort on the slopes, and all-day performance on the mountain. Good ski socks are long enough to pull up over your calf, are typically made from wool, and come in a range of thickness and cushioning options, with reinforced heel and toe areas, and some level of support around the arches of your feet.
A good pair of ski socks costs around $25 to $30, and we find that for a week skiing you likely need three pairs to rotate over six days on the slopes.
It can help to try ski socks on with your ski or snowboard boots, to ensure they’re a good fit. If you don’t already have boots, simply make sure you pick a pair of ski socks that are in the right size range for your feet. I personally prefer not to get socks that are too thick, as they can adversely affect the comfort of your ski boots when fastened.
Yes, I know that sounds counterintuitive but well-designed ski boots nowadays should feel comfortable even while wearing the thinnest of ski socks – the is especially so if your ski boots have been heat-molded to your feet and calves.
It’s typically best to aim for a middle level of cushioning so you have some padding for your feet and lower legs against your boots, but nothing too extreme. These are often referred to as midweight ski or snowboard socks, as opposed to lightweight or heavyweight socks.
Look for snowboard or ski socks from reputable brands such as Darn Tough, which also offer a great range of designs such as these midweight Yeti socks, pictured above. If you’re in need of some ski socks or need help choosing, head over to our ski socks buyer’s guide which includes recommendations from some of the best ski sock brands.
A skiing mid-layer is what you wear under your ski jacket and over your base layers. If it’s really cold out on the mountain (which trust me, depending on the weather front and altitude, it can be), then you could wear two mid-layers, but for most ski resorts and conditions, one good mid-layer such as a fleece or puffy down jacket will do the job in adding breathable insulation to your ski outfit. On a bluebird day, you may not need to wear a mid-layer at all as it can also get surprisingly hot on the mountain when the sun is blazing down on you, and also reflecting back up off the bright white snow.
Speaking of glorious sunshine, make sure you take a high SPF sunscreen with you on your ski trip; the UV index is much higher at altitude and as such you will need to protect your skin from harmful UV rays when skiing on those beautiful sunny days. The sunscreen we use for all outdoor activities including skiing, trail running, hiking, and even water sports is Zealios Sun Barrier which has SPF 45 protection and is also water-resistant. It’s the only sunscreen I’ve found that doesn’t seem to give me a mild fash rash when worn all day. For a list of essentials that you should take with you skiing, click here.
If you already have a fleece and/or a down (or synthetic fill) puffy jacket, then you don’t need to get one specifically designed for skiing.
That being said, it helps to ensure that the clothing you wear as your snowsport midlayer has a full zip rather than half zip, and no hood, so it’s easy to wear and get on and take off when you’re wearing other gear such as a ski helmet and a snow jacket over the top.
If you don’t have a suitable jacket to use as a snowsport midlayer, then choose a versatile option like this popular Patagonia down sweater jacket that you can wear for lots of other activities in addition to snowsports. To learn more about how to layer for skiing click here.
At the minimum, a good ski jacket needs to fit you over your base and mid-layers, be made from a waterproof, breathable material, and have several pockets, including one on the arm for your lift pass, and an inside zippered pocket to keep your phone and other valuables safe.
Other features to look for in a good ski jacket are:
- A high collar
- A hood that will fit over your helmet
- Adjustable cuffs and optional ‘snow skirt’, which goes around your waist and stops snow getting up under the jacket
- Underarm zippers for ventilation
- A bright color that will enable you to be seen in lower visibility conditions (generally it’s best to avoid grey or white ski jackets for this reason).
Ski Pants and Bibs
Good ski pants also need to be made from waterproof, breathable material. The most waterproof ski pants have features such as taped seams to keep water out, and hidden zippers to allow better airflow on those warmer ski days.
It’s also important that they fit you properly and provide plenty of flex for movement when you’re skiing or snowboarding, as well as doing things such as sitting down on the slopes while clipping into your snowboard or bending over to adjust your ski boots/bindings. Make sure you don’t choose pants that are too long or large, though, as that can lead to tripping if you catch your boot in the loose material of your opposite leg when walking, or more annoyingly getting the material caught in your binding when you kick into your skis.
Other features to look for when choosing a pair of ski or snowboard pants are:
- Zippered gaiters to allow an easier fit over shoes and ski boots and keep snow out
- Pockets for essentials including sunscreen, lift pass, smartphone, wallet.
- Reinforced seat and knees – important for snowboarders who spend more time sitting and kneeling, when learning to snowboard
- Zippered vents on the inner thigh
- Some level of insulation – some ski pants have little or no insulation, and will definitely need to be paired with thermal base layer leggings for warmth.
Ski Gloves or Mittens
To keep your hands warm and protect them when skiing or snowboarding, you can choose between mittens, which tend to be warmer, and ski gloves, which provide more dexterity. Mittens tend to be more popular with snowboarders, who do not need to carry ski poles like skiers do.
You can also find ‘three-finger gloves’, which are ski glove-mitten hybrids that keep the index finger separate from your other three fingers. This can be a good compromise if keeping your fingers warm is a priority but you don’t want the restriction of having your index finger in a mitten with the other three!
Lots of great outdoor brands offer great ski gloves.
My personal favorite ski gloves right now are these Hestra Fall Line gloves – they’re my go-to for resort skiing as well as ski touring in the backcountry, with a great balance of warmth, comfort, and protection.
They’re also available in mitten and three-finger glove versions, in a range of colors.
A warm neck gaiter such as this neck warmer from Skida will keep the chill and snow out of your neck area – I also like to pull my neck gaiter up over my mouth when skiing at speed in cold conditions, or when there’s intense cold wind bling in as this helps keep my lips freezing, or getting chapped. You can also pick up neck gaiters from other brands such as Buff and Smartwool, for example.
Like other warm skiing clothes, neck gaiters are generally made out of either Merino wool or polyester fleece material.
As well as wearing it around your neck, you can also pull your neck gaiter up over your chin and mouth when it gets really cold, such as on those blustery chairlift rides up the mountain.
Plus – if you have two, you can even wear one as a hat underneath your snow helmet if you feel you need that extra layer to keep your head warm on those very cold days slopeside.
Good snow goggles are definitely skiing and snowboarding essential gear – they will protect your eyes and give you vastly improved visibility, especially on bright or poor visibility days.
If you need to buy a new pair of ski goggles and aren’t sure which to choose, head over to our buyer’s guide which includes our list of the best goggles currently available, as well as how to choose the best pair for you.
Some people consider wearing a helmet when skiing to be optional, but wearing one is the safest and sensible choice. You never really know how deep the snow is beneath you on certain parts of the mountain, and this is especially so if you venture off-piste – wearing a helmet also means you can take more risks when learning to perfect your carving technique on the slopes! 🙂
Even if you’re a careful and proficient skier, accidents happen, and you can’t control what the other people on the slopes are doing, especially at the busier resorts and pistes. Unfortunately, it’s not unheard of for out-of-control (or overly fast) skiers or snowboarders to knock into other people.
A good snow helmet will protect your head, and also help keep your head warm instead of wearing a hat when you go skiing.
Choose one with MIPS technology for a high standard of protection, like this all-mountain Giro Jackson MIPS ski and snowboard helmet, which is available in a range of colors, has good venting, padding, and removable ear pads.
When it comes to choosing a beanie hat to wear for apres-ski and generally around a ski town or resort, you’re spoiled for choice.
Generally speaking, a regular beanie hat without a bobble is going to be more comfortable (and look better) when worn under a hood, and of course, if you plan to wear a warm hat under your ski helmet, it helps to wear a hat that is made from thin material, such as Merino wool, so that your helmet still fits on your head!
Carrying a thin knit beanie hat when you’re skiing or snowboarding also has the advantage of packing down small so you can easily stash it inside a pocket in your jacket or pants if you’re not taking a backpack with you slopeside.
The Icebreaker Pocket Merino Beanie Hat pictured above is a great versatile beanie for skiing and apres-ski for those very reasons.
If you plan to carry items such as snacks, a bottle of water, sunscreen, action camera, and layers of clothing when you go skiing or boarding, then you’ll need to take a backpack with you as these won’t all fit in your jacket and pants pockets.
Assuming you’re not heading into the backcountry (and won’t need to carry backcountry avalanche safety essentials such as a probe, transponder, and compact shovel, then a small backpack that attaches securely to your back is what you’re after. You may already own one for hiking or other sports, so you don’t necessarily need a skiing-specific backpack.
That said, if you do want a specific backpack for skiing, make sure it’s one that can attach across your body and can be cinched down to prevent the contents from moving around and throwing you off balance as you ski. It’s also important to ensure it has minimal straps and attachments to flap around and catch on chairlifts and trees (because no one wants to be that person hanging from the chairlift by their backpack, haha).
Brands such as Dakine and Ortovox make snowsport-specific backpacks that are ideal for slopeside adventures, such as this Ortovox Cross Rider Pack which also features helmet storage and straps for attaching your skis or snowboard for ease of carrying back to your chalet or apres-ski venue.
What’s the difference between ski and snowboard clothing
In short, there isn’t much of a difference. It used to be the case that snowboard jackets and pants were looser-fitting, to allow for the more freestyle movement of snowboarding (and time spent sitting down), whereas ski gear was closer-fitting and more aerodynamic to allow greater downhill speeds.
However, with the crossover of freestyle skiing and general trends in ski and snowboard apparel, the two are interchangeable.
What’s the difference between men’s and women’s ski gear
There’s very little (if any) difference technically between men’s and women’s versions of ski apparel such as jackets, pants, gloves, and socks. The main difference between men’s and women’s ski apparel and gear, in general, is sizing. Women’s ski gear is sized to fit women’s figures and generally smaller stature. Some women may prefer to wear men’s apparel, either because it fits better or you prefer the style. If it works for you, then it works!
The main piece of ski gear to ensure is fitted perfectly for your body shape and size is your ski boots. Ski boots need to have a snug, precise, responsive, and comfortable fit for you to be comfortable skiing safely.
How to layer for skiing
Like many other outdoor activities such as running and hiking, layering with breathable, insulating clothes is the key to maintaining a comfortable body temperature and staying warm in freezing temperatures.
As a minimum, your ski outfit needs to include a thermal baselayer to wear under your jacket, and for colder weather, packing a thermal baselayer pair of leggings to wear under your ski pants is also a good idea.
For colder temperatures, especially when you’re at a high altitude or in overcast, windier conditions, layer up even more with a midlayer between your thermal baselayer and your ski jacket and pants.
In addition to coverage for your core and legs, covering your neck, face, head, and hands is important, so essential ski gear should also include a pair of ski gloves (or mitts), a neck gaiter, and a helmet, hat, or both.
If you have already spent time being active outdoors, then for your first time skiing, you may be able to use your existing gear. For example, sweat-wicking, breathable, technical hiking and running gear, and the fleece layer you wear for cold nights camping will serve you well for your first ski trip, or until you feel committed enough to get specific skiing gear.
What to take with you skiing
As well as the ski apparel and accessories described above, plus, of course, your skis, poles, and boots, these are the other items we generally carry with us for skiing and wearing for apres-ski:
- Lift pass
- Piste map – take a paper one as well as copies on your phone, as phone batteries have a tendency to fail in the extreme cold
- Sunglasses – to wear for apres-ski
- Lip balm / chap stick
If you have plenty of pockets in your ski jacket and pants then you shouldn’t need to carry a separate bag, but otherwise taking a small backpack to carry your ski and apres-ski essentials is a good idea.