Skip to main content

What To Wear Cross Country Skiing

Author: Bert Hinkley, nordic expert at Webcyclery & Webskis

Updated: October 2022

Once you’ve got most of the gear you need to start skiing, let's go over another important piece of the puzzle. What you wear out in the snow can be just as important to your performance and comfort as what you’re skiing on.

Read this guide on what to wear cross country skiing so you stay warm, dry, and comfortable this winter.

women dressed for cross country skiing in hat, sunglasses, and layers

Don't dress for alpine skiing

With downhill skiing you may dress up in thick layers for cold rides up the lift, but cross country skiing is a much more active sport. If you wear too many layers of the wrong material, you could end up sweating too much, which in turn can chill you to the bone once the sweat starts to evaporate.

man and woman dressed for cross country skiing

It's all about the right layers and material

Because nordic skiing is such an aerobic exercise, think of it like running. If you dress in a down jacket and hard shell pants, you’ll certainly be sweating buckets in no time. 

The idea is to dress in a few slim layers that keep you warm while allowing your body to breathe. How you dress is also dependent on what kind of skiing you’ll be doing and the weather conditions. For instance, a racer’s wardrobe will need to be lighter than someone out for some casual exercise.

Here's what to wear cross country skiing

cross country ski jacket

Upper body layers

For your torso, you’ll typically want 3 layers to make sure you stay warm and dry.

1. Lightweight moisture-wicking base layer

For the layer that touches your body, go for a lightweight base layer made of wool or synthetic fabric that wicks away moisture. The goal with this layer is to prevent sweat build up, not to add warmth.

2. Warm middle layer

The middle layer is where you add the warmth. Trap in heat with something like a fleece pullover, but make sure this layer isn't overly bulky. 

3. Lightweight, breathable cross country ski jacket

Finally, tie it all together with a lightweight, breathable outer layer that will keep the wind and snow getting to you. Water and wind resistance, breathability, and light weight are all key.

Shop Cross Country Ski Jackets & Tops

cross country ski pants

Lower body layers

You can adhere to the same 3-layer principle for your lower body on cold days, or stick with two on warmer days that hover around freezing. For the two layer system, just make sure your undergarment is both warm and made of a moisture-wicking material.

1. Lightweight, moisture-wicking undergarment

Just like with your upper body, choose a lightweight undergarment made of wool or synthetic fabric for the layer that's closet to your body in order to wick away moisture.

2. Warm middle layer

Next, go for a warmer middle layer to trap in heat. Long underwear made of wool is a great choice.

3. Lightweight, breathable cross country ski pants

Over top of your long underwear, choose a lightweight outer layer to provide wind and water resistance. Softshell cross country ski pants are great, but spandex also works.

Shop Cross Country Ski Pants & Tights

cross country ski socks

Cross country ski socks

Don’t use overly thick, fully wool socks; they will make your feet sweat and can cause blisters. Go for a synthetic material and make sure they come up over your ankles to help ensure that snow doesn't get into your boots. Your feet will stay warm because you're moving your legs and feet constantly.

Shop Cross Country Ski Socks

cross country ski gloves

Cross country ski gloves

Choose gloves over mittens so you can get a better grip on your poles. You won't need massive alpine ski gloves either, as the workout you'll be getting will make your hands sweat if your gloves don't breathe well. Cross country ski gloves are designed to provide warmth, breathability, and good grip. It's best to own a pair of lighter weight gloves for sunnier days as well as some warmer insulated gloves for cold, windy weather.

Shop Cross Country Ski Gloves

cross country ski hat

Cross country ski hats

Go for a hat or headband instead of a ski helmet. Cross country skiing is less dangerous than alpine skiing, so helmets aren't necessary. You'll be much more comfortable in a ski hat that's warm, breathable, and wicks moisture from your head.

Shop Cross Country Ski Hats

cross country ski neck gaiter

Neck gaiters

Neck gaiters are a great way to keep the chill from getting into your jacket. If you're not already a neck gaiter fan, you'll be surprised at how much warmer you'll feel by keeping your neck warm. This is a must on extra cold days.

Shop Cross Country Headgear

cross country ski sunglasses

Sunglasses

Wear sunglasses instead of goggles. Unless you're out in a blizzard, athletic sunglasses are the way to go, as they are lighter and less obtrusive to the movements of nordic skiing.

Now that you’ve got an idea of how you need to dress for cross country skiing, check out the clothing we sell here at WebCyclery and WebSkis.

Want to check out more helpful cross country skiing guides?

Cross Country Skiing Buyer's Guide

Cross Country Ski Guide

Cross Country Ski Boot Guide

Cross Country Ski Pole Guide

Cross Country Ski Wax Guide