Buying Guide for Cross Country Ski Gear
By Steve Kopitz
Cross Country Skiing is a great sport for people of all ages who are looking to get outside and enjoy the wintertime. There are many different places and terrain for people to Cross Country ski. Skiers can leisurely cruise the groomed trails, take part in a race, or break trail in the backcountry. With the proper knowledge it is very easy for you to determine what type of ski and what size of Cross Country ski you should be on.
Cross Country Skis
The sizing of Cross Country skis has the most direct correlation with your weight. This is most important when selecting Combination or Classic skis. The amount of camber a size of Cross Country Ski has effects your gliding and traction. If you weigh too much for the skis, you will get too much traction and not enough glide. If you do not weigh enough for the skis you will not get enough traction. Skating skis are typically shorter to provide you with the space you need to skate and kick at a rapid pace. Backcountry skis are also shorter to give you the maximum amount of mobility.
The first thing that you want to look at is what type of terrain and where are you going to use your new set of Cross Country skis at.
Backcountry Cross Country Skis are best used for breaking your own trail and seeking out your own adventure. Backcountry Cross Country skis are typically shorter, stiffer, stronger and wider. Having a shorter ski will allow you to have more maneuverability when cruising through the woods. A stiffer and stronger ski is required because you will be breaking your own trail, and these skis will deliver more power in the deep snow. Having extra width will provide you with more surface area to allow you to stay on top of the snow to move faster, easier and more efficiently. Skis with extra width do not typically fit in groomed tracks. Backcountry Cross Country Skis typically have metal edges as well. Metal edges will give you more support and control on short downhills, and will give you a firm grip on the snow as you traverse across a slope.
Groomed Cross Country skis that are designed best for use on the groomed tracks and have scales on the bases that provide you with traction as you glide down the track. Skis that are used for the groomed tracks are often referred to as the Classic skiing style. The Classic skiing style is done by putting one foot in front of the other to push, and using your poles to help propel you down the track. Skis used on the groomed tracks are typically narrower to aid in mobility and faster gliding. These are the most popular style of cross country skis.
Groomed/Ungroomed Cross Country Skis
are most commonly used on the groomed tracks, but do offer wider tips and wider waist widths that will offer you more support and stability on the ungroomed terrain, but are not as wide as Backcountry skis. Groomed/Ungroomed skis are still narrow enough and agile enough to glide fast and efficiently on the track.
Skating Cross Country Skis are the speed demons of the cross country world. The Skating skiing style can only be done on groomed tracks and mimics the motions that you see in ice skating or inline skating speed events. Skating skis are typically stiffer and shorter than other types of Cross Country Skis. Skating skis need to be stiffer to give you the push and propulsion that you need to move at faster speeds. These skis are also shorter to make them more maneuverable, and allow you to make longer strides. These types of skating skis usually have a high amount of camber underfoot to improve the amount of push you get with each stride. The bases of Skating skis require wax, so you can fine tune your speed to the snow conditions and temperature range.
Waxless Base Cross Country Skis are the most popular. They have scales on the bases of the skis that will provide you with traction. They require no maintenance and will be ready to go when you pull them out of your garage when there is some snow on the ground. This is a long way from the old Hickory sticks that you would need to pine tar and wax. You can still apply wax to the tips and tails to provide you with the maximum amount of glide, but it is not necessary.
Waxable Cross Country Skis are typically found in Skating or Combination skis without any scales on the bases. If you do have a waxable ski, it is important that you use a gliding wax on the tips and tails for easy gliding, but you also need to apply a grip wax on the center of the base to provide you with the traction you need. It is also very important that you match the wax to the snow temperature to have the fastest amount of gliding as possible.
Cross Country Skis typically come in two different shapes, Sidecut and Reverse Sidecut.
Sidecut Cross Country Skis are wider in the tips and tails and are most commonly found in Backcountry and Groomed/Ungroomed skis. The wider tips will keep you on top of the snow, and break trail better. Skis with sidecut are easier to turn, especially on downhill runs.
Reverse Sidecut Cross Country skis are wider at the waist than they are in the tips and tails. Reverse Sidecut skis are found in Skating or Groomed cross country skis. Having a ski that is wider at the waist gives you more stability and balance on a groomed track. When the widest point of the ski is directly underfoot it increases the amount of glide you get with each push.
Skis with Metal Edges provide you with a stronger edge hold on uneven terrain, similar to an alpine ski. Most Backcountry and some Groomed/Ungroomed skis have metal edges.
Cross Country Skis Without Metal Edges are lighter and are typically skis that are designed for skating or groomed trails only, where edge hold is not nearly as important.
There can also be Cross Country Skis that have Partial Metal Edges that can give you edge hold underfoot for grip on the snow, and no Metal Edges on the rest of the ski. These are typically found on Backcountry skis.
Cross Country Ski Bindings
Premounted Skis come with the bindings already installed on the skis and are ready to go as soon as you receive them. Just click your boots in and enjoy.
Flat (NNN) Cross Country Skis are skis that do not have a binding that is included and an NNN binding must be purchased separately, and then mounted on the ski.
NIS Cross Country Skis have a plate that is already attached to the ski that requires an NIS NNN binding that slides onto the plate. In most cases a NIS NNN binding must be purchased separately.
Bindings Included means that there is a specific binding that is included with the ski that is not already installed on the ski. In most cases this is an NIS NNN Binding.
There are four main types of binding systems. Each has their own set of compatible boots. Each has a rubber toe (in 75mm bindings only) or a single bar that kicks into the toe piece of the binding, but the plate and the sole of the boots can vary. Binding systems are only compatible with the exact same system of boots. It is strongly recommended that you purchase the boots and bindings together.
NNN Bindings stands for New Nordic Norm bindings. NNN bindings have a toe bar on the sole of the boot, with two smaller grooves on the sole of the boot that allow it to sit flush on the binding when standing flat. These are the best bindings to have when replacing an older binding, just make sure that you replace your boots with an NNN boot as well. NNN Bindings are best used for the Classic style.
NNN BC Bindings have two smaller grooves on the soles of the boots, but they require an NNN BC boot that has a beefier toe bar and wider grooves on the sole of the boots to provide you with more stability and control for breaking trail in the backcountry. NNN BC Bindings also have a wider footprint on the ski.
75mm Bindings offer you the least amount of control and are a relatively old and outdated system. 75mm bindings are very simple and easy to use. All that you need to do is push the toe in and flip the lever down.
SNS Bindings are best used for classic skiing on the groomed tracks. SNS Bindings have a single toe bar that locks into the toe piece of the binding, but with a larger single groove that fits into the sole of the boot to allow it to sit flush on the ski when standing flat.
NIS Binding Systems are called Nordic Integrated Systems. They have plates on the skis that allow the ski to have a more even and deeper flex over the ski that is beneficial if you will encounter lots of small rolling hills on the trial. Skis that have a NIS Plate already attached to the ski require a NIS binding that is sometimes included with the ski. If the binding is not included with the ski you must make sure that the binding is NIS compatible. NIS bindings require you to simply slide the binding on to the plate and they lock into place.
Cross Country Ski Boots
There are a few key factors that will provide you with comfort and performance on the trails. Having the correct boot that matches your binding system is essential. The next thing that is important is the size.
Cross Country Ski Boot Sizing
Cross Country Ski Boots are measured in European sizes that do not have exact conversions into US shoe sizing. Euro sizing includes fractions in their sizes that do not correlate into typical XC sizes. If you fall into one of those sizes you can round up to the next whole number for the appropriate size. A Cross Country Ski boot should fit sung with your toes slightly touching the front of the boot. The liners are very soft and will break in after just a few times on the trails. Your heel must stay locked down while you glide or kick. If your heel slips or moves around while on the trial you will get blisters that can be painful or uncomfortable. Take a look at the cross country ski boots size chart.
Compatible Binding Systems
Having the correct boot and binding combination is paramount. Boots are only compatible with the same binding system. It is strongly suggested that you are absolutely positive that you know what boot is compatible with what binding, or that you simply purchase them together.
NNN Boots stands for New Nordic Norm bindings. NNN bindings have a toe bar on the toe on the sole of the boot, but with two smaller grooves on the sole of the boot that allow it to sit flush on the binding when standing flat. These are the best bindings to have when replacing an older binding, just make sure that you replace your boots with an NNN boot as well. NNN Bindings are best used for the Classic style.
NNN BC Boots have two smaller grooves on the soles of the boots, but they require an NNN BC boot that has a beefier toe bar and wider grooves on the sole of the boots to provide you with more stability and control for breaking trail in the backcountry. NNN BC Bindings also have a wider footprint on the ski to provide you with more control.
75mm/ 3 Pin Boots offer you the least amount of control and are a fairly old and system that offers less support and control. 75mm bindings are very simple and easy to use. All that you need to do is push the toe in and flip the lever down.
SNS Boots are best used for classic skiing on the groomed tracks. SNS Boots have a single toe bar that locks into the toe piece of the binding, but with a larger single grove that fits into the sole of the boot to allow it to sit flush on the ski when standing flat.
Women’s Specific Cross Country Boots are typically narrower in the forefoot and narrower in the heel to provide a more contoured and snug fit to keep your foot and heel securely locked into place without any movement, slipping or blisters.
External Frames are a nice option, but not a necessity. External frames are beefed up plastic components on the heels of the boots that provide you with a stronger heel hold, especially if you are going to be pushing, gliding and kicking harder. External Frames also have a Velcro strap that you can tighten up for a more secure fit.
Covered Laces are a good option, especially in a BC boot or for someone who worries about getting cold fee. In boots with covered laces a neoprene bladder is zipped up to add a little extra protection to keep warmth in and snow out.
On Trail Recreational Boots offer you padding and a light amount of support for the occasional or newer skier looking for comfort, with a light amount of padding and cushion across the toes and heels.
On Trail Performance Boots typically have an external support made from plastic over the heels that will give you more support when gliding at faster speeds and a higher amount of energy transfer that will allow you to achieve faster speeds.
Off Trail Performance Boots have a more rigid sole, with a wide interface with the bindings, and a stronger toe bar that will be more stable, and offer you more control over ungroomed terrain.
Covered Laces-Cross Country Boots can have a system that covers that covers the laces. There is no increase in performance on if the laces are covered or not. Cross Country Boots with Covered Laces have a zipper that will seal up the laces to help prevent water from entering the boot, and adding additional warmth.
Cross Country Boots Without Covered Laces have a traditional lacing system that you would lace up just like you would a hiking boot.
Cross Country Ski Poles
Cross Country Ski Poles help propel you, help you glide, and skate with speed. The shafts are typically made up of two different materials.
Aluminum Shafts are stronger, more durable and provide you with a stronger push as you glide down the trials.
Composite Shafts are lighter and more flexible and are best suited for experienced skiers with strong technique.
Cross Country Ski Pole Sizing: The proper length for Classic and Combination Cross Country skiing is to have your poles come directly up to your arm pit. Skating skiers prefer to have a longer pole that will give you more leverage as you push to allow you to skate faster. Backcountry or Touring skiers have a slightly shorter pole to allow for maximum mobility.
Please take a look at our XC Pole Sizing Chart here
Congratulations, you are now educated in the wonderful world of Cross Country Skis, boots, binding systems and poles! We think you're ready to shop cross country gear