What Should I Wear to Go Cross Country Skiing?

What should i wear to go cross country skiing

Who’d have thought that after mastering the best cross country skiing techniques out there, you’d still need to worry about what to wear?

 Well, you do because aside from keeping you warm, your cross country skiing outfit must accommodate several other factors if you expect to last a day out there.

Cross country skiing on both recreational and sporting levels involves intensive aerobic activities which generate a lot of sweat. The clothes you wear must keep you warm while still allowing the sweat to escape. If your outfit does not meet these standards, you risk getting your body overheated, chilled, or hypothermic.

For the best outdoor experience, we recommend several layers of lightweight materials– the layers strategy allows you to control the temperature by removing what feels too warm or adding more when it gets cooler.

Another way layering keeps you warm is by trapping deep air space within the multiple clothes to aid in warmth retention around the body.

The Basics Of Selecting Cross Country Ski Clothing

The Basics Of Selecting Cross Country Ski Clothing

The factors to consider in this case are many but we believe they all boil down to two major considerations;

  • The levels of intensity expected
  • The temperature outside

The Levels Of Intensity Expected

If you’ve been out there even once you already know how intense the activity can get. What you probably don’t know is that the different types of cross country skiing styles (classic cross country skiing and skate skiing) do not have the same effect on the skier’s body- some like backcountry cross country skiing can be a little demanding.

To align yourself with these conditions, you must ditch the low temperatures-warm clothing mindset and get lightweight layers of breathable fabric.

The most affected lot must be the alpine skiing team who bring their alpine skiing clothes to classic and skate cross country skiing trips only to realize when it’s too late that these clothes are too warm for the two sports.

If you are the type that pushes really hard, we’d advise you to switch to lighter clothes and maybe that’ll handle your sweating problem.

When getting out of the car, the weather will always feel colder but you mustn’t fall for this- if you hit the trails with too many clothes on, your body will soon heat up and force you to take the first layer off.

The Temperature Outside

It’s basic knowledge to select your outfit based on the day’s weather- nature dictates what you wear.

If the weather report predicts low temperatures, go for a relatively warmer ski jacket or add a second layer of insulation to your ordinary jacket. You can go ahead and wear a tight under your pants to retain warmth around your legs.

With that said, however, remember to maintain other skiing outfit recommendations like not wearing a tight that goes lower than a few inches past the knee- too many layers in this area are not ideal.

What Should You Expect When Going Out To Cross Country Ski

If nature decides to give you wind, respond with a lightweight windbreaker and some thick pants to keep the cold air away from your chest and thighs.

Lastly, if you are skiing in slightly warmer temperatures, you are safer wearing thin tights and breathable upper clothes. Anything heavier than this will result in overheating and excessive sweating which could chill you later.

You can bring a sleeveless vest along to add some style to the whole thing.

What Should You Expect When Going Out To Cross Country Ski?

Most first-timers get disappointed after things fail to turn out as they expected. We don’t know what you expect your first time to feel like but here are some ideas.

Your body will suddenly warm up and you’ll have sweat all over you. It gets worse if your tour starts with a climb.

If and when you stop, expect your body temperature to drop drastically followed by a chill.

Expect downhill runs to be cold, especially if you got your clothes damp from all the sweating.

What Are The Best Shoes For Cross Country Skiing?

Selecting the right ski boots should not be hard- they are all over the market. The only problem might be deciding what works for you- all you need in a ski boot is protection and convenience.

By this we mean; it should be lightweight, waterproof, and easy to strap. If it’s too heavy, it’ll wear you down and if the straps are too complex, you’ll end up with an over-tight shoe that’ll restrict blood flow around your feet.

What Are The Best Shoes For Cross Country Skiing

How Should You Dress For Cross Country Skiing?

All high-intensity winter sports employ one clothing strategy; the layering style among other less desired ones due to impracticability.

The recommended approach is putting on several moisture-wicking clothes as inner layers and covering yourself up in a wind and waterproof outer layer.

  • A base layer
  • Several mid-layers
  • An outer layer

You can select the fabric yourself provided it meets the following requirements.

It should be;

How Should You Dress For Cross Country Skiing
  • Breathable
  • Moisture wicking
  • Wind-proof
  • Warm even when soaked in sweat

The most ideal options are wool and polyester.

Fabrics Not To Wear

  • Cotton; Tends to trap moisture
  • Gore-Tex; is not as breathable as we’d want it for this kind of sport
  • Down jackets; trap too much body heat

If you ski in controlled areas or ski resorts then the outfit selection process should not stress you.

Whenever you feel underdressed, just walk up to an experienced skier at the day lodge and ask for some advice. Besides, if you make a wrong choice, you can always ski back to your car for a change or buy something from the ski shop on site.

Our worry lies with the adventurous lot who ski in remote areas with little contact with others; choose your ski clothes wisely and be sure to pack everything you’ll need.

Under Wear

skiing underwear girl

We’ll say it again, avoid anything cotton. For a better feel, you can get wind-stopper underwear. They serve pretty well in cold areas but may feel uncomfortable under the hot sun.

Base Layer

As the base layer has direct contact with the skin, it must be breathable and not trap moisture. To reduce the amount of air circulating under your clothes, the base layer should be close-fitting.

Comfort is a major consideration so, be sure to get something that feels good to be in and is still warm enough for snowy weather. Typical suggestions include; polyester, wool, or a blend of the two.

Base layers come in all sizes and thicknesses to serve the different temperatures out there.

Middle Layer

This is the layer that sits between the base layer and the outer layer on very cold days. It’s optional so, don’t be surprised when your colleague says they don’t wear mid-layers.

To manage sweating and body heat generation, the mid-layer should also be made of breathable materials and moisture-wicking.  For the fabric, we’ll vouch for anything that offers good insulation and is not too heavy; merino wool will do just fine.

You can get a fleece jacket but know this; the material is only ideal for short tours because of its bulkiness.

With the increased awareness of cross country skiing, manufacturers have flooded the market with an array of mid-layers to choose from. Most seasoned skiers wear cross country skiing full zip jackets for this layer because it’s easy to put on and take off but you can also get a vest or a half zip jacket.

Middle Layer

Mid layers don’t normally extend to the legs but if your legs tend to get cold, you can go for long underwear, cross country ski tights, and ski pants combination- this’ll give your more warmth. Your first tour should help you decide whether to wear the mid-layer or not.

Outer Layers

Cross country ski jackets and pants come with improved features that regular winter jackets do not. The list is not long but it’s better than anything else;

They’re Built From Stretchy Materials

Cross country skiing requires you to moves your arms and legs a lot . To effect the various techniques, you’ll need clothes that are not cumbersome or restricting.

They’re Breathable And Wick Moisture

Cross country skiing is an energy-intensive sport so even in extreme cold, sweating is to be expected. To work around this, your clothes especially those on the upper body will need to be breathable and sweat-wicking.

We advise against hard-shell jackets and down jackets unless on extremely cold days.

They Come With Wind Proof Front Sides

Cross country skiing, especially at downhill runs generates some pretty strong winds. To protect yourself from the incoming winds, your clothes must have insulating layers on the front side.

Well, you won’t need to add the wind stoppers yourself as most cross country ski clothes are usually windproof.

Can You Wear Normal Winter Clothes To A Cross Country Skiing Tour?

Can You Wear Normal Winter Clothes To A Cross Country Skiing Tour

We insist on cross country ski clothing but yes, you can use an outfit from another highly intensive winter sport.

Are you a winter cyclist or runner? If yes then you won’t need to buy a new sporting outfit because the one you already have should work just fine.

Don’t misunderstand it though, everyday clothes like tights and leggings are not ideal because of their poor wind protection and sweat handling. The only time they might serve is maybe on a mild day or when worn under a protective pair of pants.

For downhill skiers, you can use your base layers on cross country ski trips. Downhill ski jackets however are not so welcome; they are usually very heavy and will not serve well in such an intensive sport.

If you like to style yourself up when hitting the ski trails, good for you because ski gear brands have come up with well-designed lower-body ski clothes that you’ll surely like; they include winter shorts, winter dresses, and branded tights.

What To Wear When Racing

What To Wear When Racing

Aside from the conventional three layers, some competitive cross country skiers add an extra layer of heavy gauge lycra tops and bottoms just over the base layer.

This combination has become very popular among professionals; some even train with the lycra tops on.

Accessories You May Need

To complete your outfit, you can bring some of these along;

  • A neck gaiter; can be wool or fleece depending on personal preference. They come in heavy and lightweight options so if it’s too cold, you can always switch.
  • Something for your head; this can be anything from a hat to a headband, whatever works for you. The type won’t matter much so don’t stress over getting a nordic skiing-specific hat. The fabric does matter though, you want something that’ll keep the wind and cold out without overheating you.
  • Gloves; For gloves, wear cross country skiing-specific brands as they come with an enhanced grip to accommodate poles.
  • Goggles; You might not need ski goggles very often but it’s still good to have a pair in hand just in case the sun shines too bright.

Do You Need A Backpack When Cross Country Skiing?

Do You Need A Backpack When Cross Country Skiing

Most professionals will tell you to ditch the backpack for a waist pack or cross country ski belt bag unless you have to carry a lot of stuff.

You see, a backpack is an added load on your back that your body might not be prepared for. It’ll throw you off balance from time to time and although it might not seem like a big deal, performing risky moves like turning with a load on your back can be dangerous.

If you’ll be skiing in a remote area or maybe you plan to be out there for longer than normal, you’ll need to bring extra gear. In this case, you can get a compact and lightweight backpack- carry only what you need to reduce the strain on your back as much as possible.

We’ll give an example. Take a long ski trip out in the wild maybe. It’ll have some pretty tough hills along the way which will create some good downhill skiing runs on your back. In such a scenario, we’d recommend a medium backpack where you’d put only what you need; a light jacket, a neck gaiter, a hat, and some mitts.

Once at the top, you can put the jacket over your regular winter jacket and change into the dry and clean accessories you brought. This way, you’ll glide downhill in a clean outfit and a lighter load; just what you need for a perfect downhill cross country ski.

What Should You Do About Your Cold Hands And Feet?

What Should You Do About Your Cold Hands And Feet

Many skiers struggle with cold hands and feet when they’re on the tracks for too long. You can get frozen feet and hands even when your body is warm because these two parts are most of the time exposed and thereby very vulnerable.

Here are a few tips you can use to keep your hands and feet from freezing.

For Cold Feet

  • Cover your feet in one pair of midweight and thin socks. We recommend a one layer for socks because tight and heavy socks tend to blister the skin and sometimes interfere with blood circulation
  • Due to the low amounts of oxygen running around the boot area, we don’t believe toe warmers really work; take them off your outfit.
  • When you get to the ski location and are about to slide into your boots, make sure to change into a fresh pair of socks. Your walk or drive to the tracks is enough to get your socks damp and you don’t want soaked socks in your ski boots– ensure your feet are as dry as they can be.
  • Wear an overboot that’ll add to the warmth in the boot environment. There are two types of these; tight-fitting and baggy. The baggy version is made out of Gore-tex and is the best for severely cold conditions. The tight-fitting version on the other hand is all neoprene- this makes it easier to move in but slightly less warm.

The overboot attracts a small disadvantage though; it can become an inconvenience when putting on your skis. That short walk to the starting point will be hectic as you try to keep snow from getting trapped between your boot and the overboot- the snow will cause the binding clip on the boot’s base to get clogged.

The situation is awkward but that’s the price you have to pay for warm feet.

If the overboot alone does not solve your cold-feet problem, you can take the idea a step further by adding a hand warmer to the mix. It should sit at the top of the boot and overboot. It’s a good idea but you must know; the burning effect from the hand warmer will discolor your boot.

Well, considering the dangers associated with cold feet, a new boot every once in a while shouldn’t be too much of a price- you are safer replacing your boots rather than your toes.

A few seasoned cross country skiers we talked to mentioned the many boots they’ve lost to this method but to them, the many hours of fun and exercise were worth it.

For Cold Hands

Cross country skiers need their hands, for balance and propulsion. To perform these tasks, your hands must remain exposed to the cold weather at all times. As for keeping them warm, you’ll need a pair of fitting hand gloves or mitts.

A pair of ski poles in your hands and some skill is the accepted way to propel yourself forward in cross country skiing. The poles come with harness-style straps that make it easier to grip the poles properly. (Make sure to check for harness-style straps on your ski poles before buying)

The straps make it possible to use the poles with ski gloves or mitts on.

Another thing, not every ski pole strap goes into every type of hand glove. The two items are made in different sizes and thicknesses so you might need to test them before purchasing; thicker gloves need larger straps and vice versa.

You can try hand warmers too although some skiers advise against these products because of the chemicals contained and other possible hazards.

What Should You Wear On Your First Day Cross Country Skiing?

What Should You Wear On Your First Day Cross Country Skiing

As a novice, you’re most likely to show up overdressed and end up removing layers after the first two miles. To understand how quickly your body warms up you can wear your ski outfit and run around your neighborhood or perform low intensity workouts. After a few miles, you’ll have an idea of what to expect and how to prepare.

Learn about the ski location and the temperatures in the area so you’ll know how heavy to dress. If the area is forested, you can leave the windbreaker behind- the trees will shield you from the winds.

Once at the tracks, your body’s needs and what you know about the area will dictate how many clothes you want on yourself- you’re better off starting your glide with a chilly body so you’ll warm up less quickly.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

Settling on an outfit for a cross country skiing tour can be hard especially if the ski area is unfamiliar. The weather report might offer some clues but we recommend all round preparedness.

If you are unsure, we recommend the layering strategy. It not only protects you from the cold, atmospheric water and wind but allows you to control the temperature around your body to match your level of activity at each time.

There are other tips you can employ to protect your hands, legs, and other vulnerable parts, be sure to check them out in the article above.

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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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