One of the most common questions we get is “I’m going (insert location or event here), what should I pack to wear?” It’s a more complicated question than you might think. There are multiple variables involved in staying comfortable on the ski hill including temperature, wind, precipitation, activity level, athletic ability, gender, etc., etc., etc. The long and short of it is that everyone’s perfect combination of clothing is going to be different but there’s still a basic formula to use when packing for a trip.

Up Top: The 5 Layer System

The basic formula revolves around 5 layers that are to be worn interchangeably depending upon the temperature and activity that you’re taking part in.

The Base Layer

Base layers are designed to be worn next to the skin. They can vary in thickness but should always be non-cotton material. They’re designed for minimal warmth but maximum wicking capabilities keeping your skin as dry as possible.

The Mid Layer

The mid layer will provide basic warmth. It can also vary in thickness and will often have a ¼ or ½ zip neck collar for ventilation and thumb holes for warmer hands. The Mid Layer is the perfect layer to wear when engaged in high-motion activities like skinning, snowshoeing, or running.

The Vest

The Vest is the perfect layer, and one of the most underrated. Vests provide direct heat to the core of the body which, in-tern actually keeps the rest of your extremities warm. It’s perfect for adding just the right amount of heat during a quick skin up the mountain or keeping you extra cold on a bitter winter day.

The Insulator

Your main insulation layer should be your main source of warmth. Air-loft insulation is what you’re after, usually provided by Down Fill or Synthetic insulation. These jackets do not need to be waterproof and don’t need a hood (although that’s often preferred). They should also be packable and lightweight so you can easily store in a daypack when you’re overheated.

The Shell

The shell is your outermost layer and your main line of defense against the wind, water and the rest of winter. The most versatile shell layer will be just a shell with no insulation so you can wear it spring skiing or in the dead of winter.

Down Below: The 3.5 Layer System

When you’re skiing or otherwise active in the outdoors, it’s usually your legs that are doing most of the work. They produce a little more heat and require better mobility so we slim down the formula to a basic 3.5 layer system.

The Baselayer

Similar to up to, you want your bottom base layers to be thin, next to skin and non-cotton. Personally, I prefer wool or silk, but everyone has their preference. Keep in mind you want these to fit snug, almost spandex like as you’ll be layering over and around them. Excessive bunching can be uncomfortable or cause chaffing.

The Mid Layer

Your mid layer bottoms have a little more room to them. They’re going to provide the bulk of the warmth you have but don’t need to be super warm. Again, your legs produce a tremendous amount of heat. For this layer, I prefer something packable and lightweight (similar to the Insulator layer up top). If you can find a lightweight synthetic insulated pant those are definitely ideal. As you start to produce body heat you might want to toss them in your pack.

The .5 Layer

The .5 layer is a non-waterproof, exterior pant like a wind pant or a softshell pant. This isn’t really for the skiing side of things but is an awesome addition to the quiver for snowshoeing, running, or hiking. Pair these with a pair of gaiters to keep the snow out of your boots when engaged in a high-motion activity.

The Shell

Just like up top your shell pants should not include insulation for maximum versatility. They should be water and windproof and if you can swing something with built in gaiters that’s a plus too. Make sure these have some durability to them. Ski edges, tree branches, rocks, and snow will all do their damnedest to tear these.