At 6’0″ and 150 pounds after a big dinner, I’m someone that tends to run cold when I’m playing outdoors. In the summer it’s nice that I don’t sweat as much as others, but in the winter, a poor layering decision can turn a fun day of skiing into a fight to stay warm. As such, I take my warmth pretty seriously when playing in the snow, whether I’m on the resort or in the backcountry. Here are some items I consider to be essential to my warmth for a day of skiing.
Good layers make all the difference. Unless you’re spring skiing, a jacket and a t-shirt is not going to cut it. I normally end up with three main layers: my base layer, a mid-weight layer like a thin puffy jacket, and my waterproof shell. As far as bottoms go, I normally stick with just a base layer and my snow pants, sometimes a pair of athletic shorts just to have another layer of fabric on my thighs, especially for stormy chairlift rides.
A super cool base layer option I’ve been wearing recently are the Seirus Heatwave Base Layer. They’re made with reflective material that traps your body heat and (supposedly) keeps you four to five degrees warmer. If that futuristic thermal tech isn’t your jam, it’s hard to go wrong with Patagonia’s line of Capilene Baselayers. They come in a few different thicknesses (I usually go with the lightest option). They’re super comfortable, and last forever.
When it comes to my mid-weight layer, I normally have a few options in my car. Unless I really need the warmth, I stay away from fleeces as they’re harder to pack down if I want to stash it in my pack. I generally switch between two puffy jackets, a synthetic liner from Mountain Hardwear, and my Patagonia Down Sweater for when I need extra warmth.
For your outer shell, waterproof is by far the most important aspect. There are a ton of great options out there, like the Patagonia Snowdrifter Jacket. Pants-wise I like snow bibs for added heat retention and snow protection, just make sure they’ve got some good ventilation, especially if you plan on wearing bibs in the backcountry.
The Right Socks
Having good socks can make a huge difference in the snow, and as you might know, the thickest, chunkiest socks you can get your hands on are actually not the best socks for snow activities like skiing or snowboarding. Blood flow is actually pretty important too when it comes to staying warm. I’m a huge fan of Darn Tough socks for a couple of reasons. First of all, they make great socks for a wide variety of applications, and secondly, they have an actual lifetime guarantee. Their Function 5 Ski and Snowboard Socks are some of the best ski socks I’ve ever owned, a mid-weight sock that keeps my feet warm while still allowing wiggle room, and with extra padding in high-friction areas.
Extra Face Buffs
Nothing gets wet quicker than a buff while skiing. Along with an extra pair of glove liners, I usually pack an extra buff or two as well. My current heavy option is the TurtleFur Shellaclava. The fur is excellent, and it helps to have a thin liner to keep my ears warm. My lighter option is a regular old ski buff, perfect for cutting windchill without doing too much more.
Keep Your Hands Warm
A pair of gloves are a bit too much of a no-brainer to list here, but a pair of glove liners are often overlooked. Halfway through the day as my body starts to get tired and my fingers get cold, adding an extra layer of warmth under your gloves or mittens can be a digit-saver, and a pair of liners take up almost no space in your pockets or backpack. When I’m in the backcountry, I’ll often bring two pairs of glove liners as they make a great lightweight glove for skinning up the mountain, and if I get that first pair wet while doing so I can change for a fresh pair to go under my larger gloves or mittens for the way back down. I love the Dakine Storm Liner gloves, which actually come included with most of their waterproof glove options, and for a thinner pair I go with the Burton Screen Grab Glove Liner that comes with their Gore Tex Mittens.
Extra Hand Warmth
All that being said about glove liners, sometimes they’re just not enough. This is where I end up cheating a little bit with some manufactured warmth. Grabber and HotHands are cheap and they work great, but they’re also disposable. A couple of cool reusable options from Zippo I’ve been playing around with are the Zippo 12-Hour Hand Warmer, and the Zippo Heatbank 9s. The 12-Hour Hand Warmer runs off of burning kerosene – it’s completely safe and can’t be beaten for all-day warmth, but even so the concept of putting something actively burning in your pocket can be daunting. The HeatBank 9s puts out a bit less heat for not quite as long, but it feels a lot safer and doubles as a power bank for your phone. I recently got my hands (pun intended) on one of these, and have been using it for a whole lot more than skiing.
Keep Your Body Fueled
On the colder days when the powder is coming down and I need a little burst of energy and warmth to go for one more run instead of heading back down to the cars, a quick snack can make all the difference, my favorite option being chocolate. Chocolate contains caffeine, which ups your metabolism causing your body to produce more warmth. Whether or not a bite or two of chocolate is going to make that much of a difference, the pick me up I get from letting a little chocolate melt on my tongue while out in the snow is well worth the few ounces a bar of chocolate adds to my backpack. Hot tea or cocoa is a good, albeit bulky, addition to anyone’s pack, but thinner thermoses like Klean Kanteen’s TKWide can minimize the bulk while keeping beverages hot all day.
Keep Things Dry
If you’re on a multi-day expedition, whether you’re staying in a cabin or are camping in the woods, keeping your gear dry is essential to staying warm. Wet gear saps heat like none other, another big reason why I often carry extra glove liners and buffs to keep my extremities warm and dry. When you get back to your car, cabin, or campsite, drying things out should be high up there on the list of priorities.
Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.