This winter I had the opportunity to try out some of my favourite backpacking clothing layers on the ski hill!
Finding the perfect balance for your clothes is important in any outdoor activity. I am constantly trying to improve upon my layering system to find that balance and be able to adjust to various temperature ranges and activity levels.
I figure that the following breakdown on how I dress for skiing can also be applied to backpacking layers in similar temperature ranges.
In previous years of skiing I wore a standard insulated polyester ski jacket; however, this year I wanted to put some of my new more technical layers to the test:
a. to see how they fared in the cold weather/high activity balance of alpine skiing;
and, b. to reduce the number of heavy jackets I bring in my luggage, as my softshell and down layers can double as semi-dressy coats. (multi-use gear!)
Here’s a head-to-toe breakdown of what I was wearing while skiing in the Rockies at Sunshine Village and Lake Louise with temperatures between -5°C to -15°C (23°F to 5°F for our friends to the south).
On the noggin:
Base Layer: Outdoor Research Wind Pro Balaclava
– it fit well under my ski helmet and did a good job of blocking chilly winds. A balaclava is versatile because it can act as a toque, neck gaiter, or both as required for your comfort.
– I demoed this helmet from my Mom, decidedly I like skiing with a helmet, it adds warmth, is handy for holding your goggles on, and as an added bonus it protects your brain.
– goggles are essential for skiing, I’ve been happy with these, they keep out glaring sun and biting wind.
Base Layer: Icebreaker 200 Merino Wool
– a base layer should wick sweat away from the body to avoid chills once the physical activity stops. They can be synthetic, but I’m a big fan of merino wool for its soft-feel and excellent wicking. Cotton should be avoided for a base layer as once it gets damp it stays damp and cool.
Mid-Layer: Temperatures above -5°C (23°F) Arc’teryx Gamma MX (Read Review)
– light/mid weight Polartec soft-shell equal to a 100 weight fleece. A light fleece layer adds some insulation and can be used with or without heavier layers when needed.
Temperatures from -5°C to -10°C (23°F to 14°F) The North Face Thunder Jacket
– 800 fill weight down jacket. Like wearing a sleeping bag mmm… I was quite happy with my down jacket for skiing and did not find that it was too warm or lacked breathability. A mid-weight fleece could also be used for a second insulating layer.
Temperatures below -10°C (14°F) Soft shell + Down jacket
– with this combo I was comfortable stationary down to -15°C and would probably be ok down to -20°C with light activity, although I was unable to test it down to that temperature as luckily it did not get that cold.
– this Gore-tex shell did a good blocking the wind and protected my delicate down jacket. I was happy with the amount of breathability it provided and never felt too hot even while skiing hard.
Liner Glove: Ibex Merino Wool Liner
- I used these with my outer glove when temperatures were below -10°C / 14°F.
Glove: Outdoor Research Extravert
– these wool-lined soft shell gloves were surprisingly warm given their relative thinness. They are my new go-to ski/winter glove. I usually suffer from cold finger tips while skiing, but even at the coldest temperatures these were sufficient with the light liner glove.
Underwear: ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Brief
– these are currently my favourite boxers, they wick well and so far do the best job at not bunching up. I prefer not to wear cotton while doing physical activity as it doesn’t work well for drawing sweat away from the body. As you’ll find out from this blog I’m very picky about what I wear “down there”.
Base Layer: SmartWool Lightweight Long Underwear
– more comfy merino wool.
Mid-Layer: Ripzone Sweatpants
– cotton/polyester blend, adds some warmth and padding.
Shell: The North Face HyVent Pant
– they keep my butt dry and have full length zips to make the on/off over ski boots easy. These are an unlined, waterproof pant, which means they do need some extra insulation underneath, but it is nice to be able to adjust your insulation for exactly the warmth level that you need.
Socks: Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew
– I use these as a cool weather hiking sock, but they also worked well in the ski boots and my toes never got cold.
I’ve never been so comfy on the ski hill before!
Keeping these notes helps me remember what I was wearing in what conditions and helps me learn and improve on what to wear for layers the next time I’m enjoying the outdoors.
With multiple layers you can add more if it’s cold, take away if you’re warm, and ventilate as required.
I’ll be adding detailed reviews for most of the clothing above so check back for more info.
What do you use for ski layering? Feel free to comment and let me know what you do differently.
Now get outside and go skiing!