How to Layer for Skiing

Skiing is extremely fun. That is, as long as you don’t get cold. While a little bit of chill here and there is inevitable while zipping around a snowy mountain, getting too cold can lead to a lot of issues that may ruin your day. That is why layering, or the act of putting on your clothing in a specific way, is so important.

You may own warm ski clothes, but you’ll never get full insulation unless you understand how they all interact. Putting on clothes may seem like a simple process, but there are many steps that go into putting together a proper ensemble.

The article will cover such topics by explaining each layer and breaking down how you get the most from each one.

The Basics

There are three different ski gear layers: base, mid, and outer. As their name suggests, the different sections go on the base, middle, and top of your outfit. Each works in its own way and adds a certain amount of warmth and comfort to the entire ensemble.

Though there are many nuances to each layer, there are three basic principles you should follow.

Base layers need to focus on keeping your skin dry by wicking away moisture, mid-layers prevent your body heat from escaping into the environment, and outer layers work to protect you from the elements.

If you follow that general blueprint, finding the right layers will be much easier.

1. The Base Layer

Your base layer needs to keep you dry. That is its primary function, which is why this layer is often made of breathable synthetic materials that take very little time to dry. Always pay attention to ventilation here.

This layer is made up of thermal underwear (also known as long johns) and a thermal top. Both should be soft, light, and breathable. However, there are heavier options out there for when the weather gets extremely cold. Just be sure to never get something that’s too heavy, or it might cause you discomfort.

When getting a thermal top, ensure it’s long-sleeved, form-fitting, and flexible. That combination gives you a great way to ensure you can stay warm without any extra restrictions.

Your thermal underwear should be just like your thermal top. Light materials go a long way, and you need something that won’t get soaked through with sweat on long days.

If you want, you can double up on your leg base layer. While this is not recommended for your upper body due to the mid-layer (as covered below) it is something to think about if you need more support.

It should also be noted that your feet do not need a base layer. While you might try to double up, most of the time you just need one pair of quality socks to make it out on the slopes. Doing anything more typically leads to blisters.

2. Mid-Layers

The mid-layer is all about insulation, which is why it typically focuses on your torso. While your legs can get cold, a solid base layer under premium pants is typically more than enough to keep you warm. In contrast, your upper body tends to need extra protection.

For the mid-layer, you want a long-sleeve option that works to keep your heat trapped close to your body. Flexibility and ventilation are both important here, but the base layer should be much sturdier than your base layer. There are a few ways you can make that happen.

Fleece is a popular material that ensures you stay nice and warm at all times of the day. If that isn’t your style, you can also wear a merino wool sweater or throw on a thin-down jacket.

If you do get a jacket, a zipped one is the best way to go. Just make sure it’s warm enough for the weather you ski in.

3. Outer Layers

The final layer you need is the outer, which needs to be the toughest and most durable. While the two interior layers help keep your body warm and comfortable, the outer layer is what gets hit by the elements.

Your goal here is to get a jacket or shell that can easily stand up to the ice, rain, and snow. That means one with strong, water-proof construction.

Several materials work towards that end, but Gore-Tex is the most popular on the current market. You should also look for jackets that completely cover your body in a way that isn’t too loose or too tight.

Your outer layer must be strong, but that does not mean it has to be heavy. There are many great water-proof jacket shells that get the job done without weighing you down. That’s especially true if they’re backed up by a solid mid and base layer.

Strong gloves are another important part of a good outer layer. Wet hands lead to a bad time, which is why you need something that can keep the cold out for hours. Well-made mittens do a good job of that, as do premium or heated gloves.


Skiing can be an involved process, but layering is absolutely worth it. No matter how much you enjoy the sport, it doesn’t take long for a bit of cold to ruin the fun. If you don’t have the right layers, or if they aren’t on in the right away, you can freeze quite quickly.

Following the basic outline listed in this guide will help you avoid such issues. However, note that the three layers are not a strict blueprint. Rather, they are a place where you can start.

Once you have the basics down and know what to own, you can either take off or put on different clothing items to match the weather. Don’t be afraid to switch it up.

What type of layers do you wear? Do you have your own system? Let me know in the comments below!

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