How to Layer for Skiing

When you're getting dressed for a day on the slopes, there's three key aspects you should keep in mind; multiple layers, breathability and protection. Understanding how to layer for skiing is key to staying comfortable on the slopes, because conditions can change quickly, and so can your body temperature. You want to be able to easily add or remove layers to stay comfortable. Breathability is your next priority when layering for skiing, because you'll be creating a lot of body heat as you carve, and you'll need to be wearing layers that allow excess moisture and heat to escape. Protection from the elements is your final task when layering for a ski day. You need something that will keep you dry and warm in harsh alpine conditions.


When you layer for skiing, you will need at least three layers. On a cold, windy day, you'll need four. Your breathable base layer and waterproof breathable outer layer are the two layers you should always wear when skiing. You can wear one, both or neither of the mid-layer and insulating layer, depending on the conditions. The colder the temperatures, the more layers you'll need.

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to layer for skiing:

1. Your first layer should be a moisture-wicking, breathable and midweight base layer made of merino wool, polyester or silk. This layer will wick moisture away from your skin and allow excess body heat to escape, as well as provide your first layer of warmth. You should have a base layer top and bottoms.

2. The second layer is a mid-layer. Depending on if you have three or four total layers, your mid-layer may change. Like the base layer, the mid-layer should be breathable and moisture-wicking. It also acts as a source of low-bulk warmth. Polyester and merino wool pullovers are both great mid-layer options for skiing. You should have a mid-layer top, but mid-layer bottoms aren't usually necessary.

3. The third layer is an insulating layer. This is the layer you can do without if you're skiing in warm, sunny conditions (think spring skiing) or are wearing an insulated ski jacket. During most of the ski season, you'll need this layer to provide warmth. If it's very cold or windy, you may still need a third layer even if your ski jacket is insulated. Fleece jackets, heavy wool sweaters, down-insulated vests and jackets are the best insulating layers. If you have insulated ski pants, you don't need insulated layer bottoms.

4. The fourth, or outer, layer acts as your shield from the elements. This final layer should be waterproof breathable, or at least highly water-resistant and breathable. You'll need this outer layer for both top and bottom. The ski jacket and ski pants may or may not be insulated. Many skiers wear a waterproof breathable, insulated ski jacket and pants or a protective shell over an insulated layer.
Comments (1)
11/21/2016 at 6:22 AM
I would hope that someone could provide some understanding on the waterproof/breathability ratings for outer layers. I understand what the ratings are supposed to mean but they never seem to make sense to me. We see ratings like 10,000/10,000 for mid-range gear and it increases or decreases usually depending on how much you want to spend. But how is it that more expensive fabrics are both more breathable AND more waterproof and the rating usually move in unison. It would seem to me that the ratings would generally move in opposite directions. On one end you have something like a fleece that is very breathable but not waterproof at all. And at the other end you have a plastic bag that is not breathable at all but very waterproof. All the tech outerwear fabrics should fall somewhere in between. But that's not what we see at all. As you spend more you see 15,000/15,000, 20,000/20,000 and so on. How is it possible that fabrics get more breathable and more waterproof and how does it happen that the ratings move in lockstep? Is this a little bit of a scam that the industry is playing on us?
  • Hey, that's a really good question! I often wonder the same thing because I know that there needs to be some space between fibers to allow for heat to escape, and that seems like it would make the fabric more penetrable. However, the super high-tech, expensive waterproof breathable laminates are manufactured to have an extremely low surface energy, and when it comes into contact with water, which has a super high surface energy, it makes the water bead up and fall off, without penetrating even the most breathable surfaces. Also, ultra-breathable waterproof garments tend to be made of superfine fabrics that allow heat to escape without creating huge "holes;" essentially, there's just MORE "holes" that act as an escape route for heat, not bigger ones that would allow water to penetrate. These garments also tend to have moisture-wicking properties in their interiors/lining, which add to their breathability. I hope that answers your question. If you are curious for even more information about how waterproof tech works, I did a blog post on it a while back:
    and we also have a waterproof guide:
    Comment made on 11/21/2016 by Emily from Colorado
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