How to Layer for Skiing – A COMPLETE Guide

How to Layer for Skiing

When it comes to skiing, many people think the more layers, the better. However, this isn’t always the case. 

Having lots of clothing layers for your ski outfit doesn’t necessarily mean that you will stay dry, warm, and comfortable throughout the sport. 

In fact, an overly layered ski outfit without the appropriate types of clothes can make you miserable and uneasy on the slopes. 

So, it’s important to know the relevant type of clothing to wear in your ski outfit. This will ensure that you stay comfortable and safe from the weather elements. 

In this guide, I will show you everything you need to know about how to layer for skiing to help you enjoy a rewarding experience on the slopes. 

How to Layer for Skiing

How to Layer for Skiing (2)

Staying warm and comfortable on the slopes is a blend of art and science. You need to strike a balance between being flexible enough and having adequate warmness. 

Now, if you want to remain comfortable, warm and flexible when skiing, there are three essential layers you need to have in your ski outfit. This includes the base layer, mid layer, and outer layer. 

Let’s have a deeper look at each type of layer to help you understand the layering system better: 

The Base Layer

The Base Layer

This is the innermost layer, and its main purpose is to wick away any sweat and keep enough warmth close to your body.

It’s the piece of clothing that you wear all day when ski touring since it keeps your skin dry and warm enough. 

The best way to wear the base layer is to ensure that it hugs the body snugly and covers you from the neck to the ankle. It’s usually composed of two main parts, including the base top and the base bottom. 

Base Top

The base top is a long-sleeved shirt that fits your body tightly. Its purpose is to wick away sweat and moisture. 

It also traps your body heat so that it’s not released into the environment, which would otherwise leave you freezing. 

The long-sleeved shirt should be made of insulating materials that wick away sweat without absorbing water or excess moisture. 

Keep in mind that you will probably sweat constantly as you ski, and having a material that absorbs the moisture will leave you cold and wet. 

In this case, merino wool and synthetic blends work great, as they don’t easily absorb water. Personally, I prefer merino wool to synthetic base layers since it has a soft feel and provides unmatched comfort. 

However, merino wool can be a bit expensive compared to synthetic fabrics, but it’s definitely worth investing in, given its top-notch performance. 

Base Bottom

This is the pair of pants or trousers worn beneath the ski trousers. As with the base top, the base bottom requires ideal materials that wick away sweat and keep you warm on a ski day. 

If you want to ski comfortably and remain flexible, you need to look for base bottoms that sit well beneath your bulkier ski pants. 

For the best experience, find a pair of warm pants with a length that covers the legs snugly but doesn’t go beyond the ankles. 

You don’t want to have excess material sitting in your ski boots and tucked unattractively under your ski socks. It might even make it difficult for your ski boots to fit properly. 

How Thick Should Base Layers Be?

Base layers feature three thicknesses, which are appropriate for different skiing weathers and temperatures. 

These include lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight base layers. The best type of thickness for you depends on how cold the weather is. 

The lightweight base layer is the lightest and thinnest. It’s simply the same as leggings that joggers and runners wear in their sports. 

Such layers offer less insulation and high breathability. They wick away sweat and moisture easily since they dry within a short time. 

Middleweight base layers a quite warmer than lightweight layers, and they are great for wicking away sweat. 

If you want a base layer for skiing in colder temperatures, the middleweight base layer will give you a perfect balance between warmth and wicking.  

Heavyweight base layers are designed to provide maximum insulation when skiing in extremely cold temperatures. These layers are quite thicker and heavier than the previous base layers.

How Thick Should Base Layers Be

Types of Base Layer Fits

Base layers have three types of fits, including the compression fit, fitted, and soft or regular fit. 

The compression fit is tight and hugs the body snugly to increase blood flow and ensure perfect insulation. 

It’s a great type of fit for skiing, though some skiers may need to be more relaxed and free. 

The fitted fit provides a tight-fitting compared to a regular t-shirt but doesn’t squeeze the body as much as the compression fit. 

This is a great option if you are looking to strike a balance between insulation and relaxation. It will trap warm air and ensure that you feel free and relaxed as you ski. 

The soft or regular fit uses base layers that are a bit loose and comfortable. It’s the type of fit you get when you wear merino wool base layers. 

Pros and Cons of Primary Base Layer Materials 

As mentioned earlier, the best materials for the base layer include merino wool and synthetic blends. Here are the pros and cons of each material:

Merino Wool


  • Lightweight
  • Provides unmatched comfort
  • Wicks away sweat effectively
  • Very warm
  • Naturally antibacterial to prevent odors


  • More expensive than synthetic materials
  • It takes longer to dry

Synthetic Blends


  • Provides essential comfort to the skin
  • Super lightweight and flexible
  • Keeps you dry
  • Affordable compared to merino wool


  • It needs regular washing to maintain effectiveness
  • Can sustain odors 

Mid Layer

Mid Layer

The layer is the type of ski clothing worn between the base layer and outer layer. 

It is usually a clothing lined with a soft wooly fabric to trap hot air and ensure that you stay warm on the slopes. 

Skiers normally skip the mid layer on the legs and use it only on the upper body. This is because legs can naturally stay warm since they do a lot of hard work when skiing. 

What is the Best Fit for Mid Layers?

Mid layers come in a variety of fits, ranging from too tight to loose. Depending on your skiing temperatures, the best fitting should not be too tight or too loose. 

A mid layer that is too tight can make you feel uncomfortable and hinder your movements on the slopes. 

Similarly, a very loose mid-layer will not provide the required insulation, leaving you cold when skiing. It can also make it quite hard for your ski jacket or outer layer to fit properly. 

In colder weather conditions below -5°C, I recommend that you choose thicker and wooly mid-layers. 

When skiing in warmer weather above -5°C to 5°C, you’ll be comfortable and warm enough with a thinner fleece for your mid-layer. 

For high temperatures above 5°C, you may not need to wear the mid layer. However, remember to keep your middle layer in your backpack in case the weather changes. 

Outer Layer

Outer Layer

The outer layer may not be responsible for preserving heat, but it’s perhaps the most crucial layer that you must get right for comfortable skiing. 

Outer layers feature the ski jacket and a pair of ski trousers, which are very important since they are the final barriers protecting you from external elements. 

When wearing the outer layer, you need to ensure that you have ski pants and a ski jacket designed specifically for skiing or snowboarding. 

The reason is that such ski jackets and pants have a high waterproof rating and excellent breathability. 

Waterproofing is vital for skiing since it prevents you and your inner layers from getting wet when you fall on the snow. 

If your outer layer doesn’t have proper waterproofing properties, your outfit will soak wet only after a small contact with the snow. 

The breathability of the outer layer is determined by the amount of time it takes to dry off. The ski jacket should be breathable enough to ensure it doesn’t lock in sweat and internal moisture. 

Apart from a pair of waterproof pants and a jacket, you also need waterproof gloves or mittens to keep your hands warm and dry. You can also bring a pair of extra gloves in your ski gear backpack for extra safety. 

While some skiers choose to wear thin gloves under the waterproof ones, this is entirely a personal preference since neither method is necessarily warmer. 

All you have to do is ensure that your gloves provide optimal warmth during the entire day. 

Many skiers opt to add a buff to their outer layers to keep their neck warm and maintain a good body temperature. 

Why You Don’t Need too Many Layers for Skiing

Why You Don’t Need too Many Layers for Skiing

While you might think you’ll stay warm when you have more layering in your outfit, this may not provide a long-term benefit. 

Layering your outfit without considering the warmth and breathability of the layers added can actually make you feel cold in extreme weather. 

For example, if you choose clothes that trap moisture, the layering will not regulate body temperature since you will quickly become wet and heavy. 

More and more warmth will be lost to the environment, leaving you cold and clammy. 

On the other hand, you can stay warm with only a few layers of high-quality clothing. All you have to do is ensure that you add layers that can perform double duty. 

For instance, you can wear a ski jacket that is both waterproof and breathable. This will not only prevent you from soaking wet but will also ensure quick drying in the cold weather. 

Having a layering that is too thick may also not be your best bet since it will restrict your movements and make you feel uncomfortable despite the adequate warmth. 

Essential Tips for Layering for Backcountry Skiing

Essential Tips for Layering for Backcountry Skiing

If you are planning to spend several weekends enjoying backcountry skiing rather than splitboarding in the winter season, you’ll need to find effective ways to stay warm during your adventures. 

Here are a few tips to help you have the most protective layering for backcountry skiing:

  • Don’t use more than three layers in your outfit to ensure maximum comfort and flexibility.
  • Use a thicker base or middle layer in colder weather conditions.
  • Use an insulated jacket that is waterproof and highly breathable for your outer layering.
  • Make sure that your ski clothes are dry and aired out before wearing.
  • Don’t use cotton-made outfits as they absorb water. 
  • Wear thin socks for a perfect fit on your ski boots.
  • Use a breathable buff to keep your neck warmer. 



Q: Can You Wear Two Base Layers Skiing?

A: Yes, you can wear two base layers when skiing. However, having an extra clothing on your base layer isn’t always ideal as it may restrict your full range of movement. 

So, I recommend having one base layer for maximum flexibility. But you need to ensure that you use clothing that is warm and breathable enough. 

If you decide to use two base layers when skiing in extremely low temperatures, you can always remove one as you warm up for optimal flexibility and comfort. 

Q: Do Ski Socks Go Over or Under Thermals? 

A: Many skiers wear their ski socks under thermals. Wearing ski socks under thermals can help prevent creasing of the base layer and ensure comfort when skiing. 

However, some skiers prefer to wear socks over the thermals to keep the snow out of the base layer. Each method is totally fine for you as long as your ski socks fit snugly on the feet.

Q: How Do You Keep Your Hands Warm When Skiing?

A: You can wear waterproof gloves or mittens to keep your hands warm when skiing. You should also avoid holding your ski poles too tightly as this may hinder blood circulation in your hands. 

Q: How Do You Keep Your Feet Warm When Skiing?

A: To keep your feet warm when skiing, you can wear thin socks and loosen the lower buckles to enhance circulation. 

Unbuckling your ski boots at lunchtime will also help release any trapped moisture and relieve pressure on your feet. 

Final Thoughts 

Final Thoughts 

Skiing is fun, especially if you are comfortable and warm while out there. Always keep in mind that moisture and cold are your worst enemies when skiing on the snow, and customize your outfit. 

And while skiers have different views on layering, it is important to dress according to what your backcountry skiing weather requires. 

Feel free to use the layering tips provided in this article for a perfect experience and comfort when skiing. 

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Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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