Cross-country skiing is an aerobic exercise that can be used as a means of transportation over snow-covered terrain or as an enjoyable winter activity. It requires no chairlifts or snowmobiles and can be practiced nearly anywhere whether the terrain is flat or undulating, as long as the athlete is capable.
Because cross-country skiing is a highly aerobic activity and people produce a lot of body heat, the proper apparel is essential. If you’re layering system is not effective and perspiration stays on your skin, you may end up catching a chill and are at risk of catching hypothermia which would end your day. Be smart and make sure that you’re dressed and ready for cross-country skiing adventures this winter season.
Layers: Base Layer, Mid Layer, Outer Layer
An effective layering system will regulate your body temperature for the duration of an outdoor activity. The idea is to remove and add layers throughout the day as conditions change in order to keep your body heat balanced.
Dressing for cross-country skiing, you want to choose snug, fitted clothing and opt for multiple light layers rather than one or two bulky layers. The empty air between your layers is where your body heat is trapped so the more layers you have, the more pockets of trapped body heat there are which makes your body nice and cozy warm.
Your base layer is the first layer that you put on. It is the layer that is next to your skin and will be the essential piece for moisture-wicking should you start to perspire. Because of this, the base layer should be a garment made of merino wool like the Icebreaker Women’s Oasis Long Sleeve Crew or a quick-drying and moisture-wicking synthetic material like the Patagonia Men’s Capilene Thermal Weight Crew which is made with Polartec® Power Grid™ fabric. It is best to avoid cotton garments as your base layer because once they get wet, they stay wet as they are not quick-trying or moisture-wicking.
Your mid layer is your insulation layer and is meant to insulate your body by trapping your body heat. This layer can be anything from a softshell jacket like the Salomon Men’s Pulse Softshell Jacket to a pack-able hoodie like the TNF Men’s Thermoball Full Zip Jacket. Once again, you want more of a fitted fit although not so fitted that it effects your mobility. Your base layer should fit comfortably under your mid layer with room to accommodate another id needed.
Your outer layer is your shell layer and the layer which protects you from the elements. It is the final layer in your layering system and is important to how effective the others are. You want to pick a shell that is waterproof and breatheable. A pair of winter tights like the Pearl Izumi Pursuit Softshell Tight paired with the Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket so that you stay dry when the weather is wet outside and perspiration is present on the inside. If the weather is more mild, you can opt for a lightweight jacket such as the Louis Garneau Modesto Jacket 2. Most shells will have ventilation zips or pockets which can be opened in order to enhance the breathability of the garment.
When picking your outer layer, ensure that it is not too tight and restricting with the other layers underneath. Cross-country skiing requires a lot of aerobic movements so you need to be comfortable and feel you have a wide, free-range of motion with your arms, torso and your legs.
There should always be a few extra layers in your pack so that if ever you feel cold you can add more. Think lightweight and think multiple. If you are wearing too many bulky layers your mobility will be restricted. The same goes for layers that are too tight. You want them to fit snug but not so snug that you sound like you inhaled some helium every time you speak.
Bulky ski or snowboard pants and jackets are an unnecessary amount of bulk and will end up making you too warm. Leave the downhill and freeride mountain gear at home and stick to lighter layers. For bottoms, if the temperatures are mild, you can wear a single pair of base layers on the bottom. If the weather is more moderate to extreme, you can look for an insulated, winter tight and pair it with a light, waterproof pant.
*For more information on layers check out our how to layer for outdoor activities blog.
Accessories To Keep You Warm
Body heat is often lost from our head and extremities before the rest of the body. Because of this, it is important to keep your head, ears and extremities covered and warm during activities.
Head & Ears
When the weather is mild, a light, thin toque like the Craft Winter Hat or a cap with a visor like the Ciele Unisex FASTCap Century can be worn. If you choose a hat that doesn’t cover your ears, a headband or ear warmers can be worn underneath to ensure your ears are warm also.
In milder weather, glove liners can be worn to keep your hands covered and warm. If the weather is more severe, glove liners can be paired with an insulated glove or mitt and a shell can be added if the weather is wet or very frigid.
The same layering system applies to your hands and feet as it does to the rest of your body. Start with a moisture-wicking layer, then an insulation layer and finish with a weather-proof shell.
For your feet and toes, warm, winter socks are ideal. A pair of socks made of merino wool is the best choice because of the moitsure-wicking and odor-managing properties. Because cross-country skiing is an aerobic activity that will leave most perspiring, it is best to wear a sock liner with some warm, wool socks. The sock liner will absorb the moisture from your foot leaving it dry. For colder temperatures, an additional wool sock can be worn over top of the first but be cautious of the size of your ski boot.
If your ski boot feels tight because you have too thick of socks on, your foot will be cold. Air needs space to circulate in order to make it warm so if your feet are squished into too tight boots, there is no space for air to circulate and create warmth. Test your sock combinations with your ski boot on before you settle on a pair to ensure that you will be comfortable and your feet will not be squished.
For your feet, your ski boot will play the role of your outer layer or shell. If the weather is wet or you are skiing on slushy, wet terrain, you can use a gaiter for extra protection to ensure your foot stays nice and dry.
Keep Moisturized & Protected
Although there may be no sun shining in the sky or just a slight yellow hint poking through the clouds, sunscreen and lip balm are essential.
When the sun is shining, the reflection on the white snow can be very strong and produce a hefty sunburn. And when the sun isn’t as prominent, it’s still there or you can get a windburn so lather up in some moisturizing sunscreen. Your skin will thank you!
Lip balm is a must have when you’re playing outside in the winter time. I carry a stick with me whenever I’m skiing because I find my lips are constantly getting dry and cracked from the cold, dry weather. Some lip balms will be equipped with SPF protection and even have a hint of aloe vera so don’t cheap out. Get the good stuff and you’ll be smiling all day on the hill.
Blue bird days can be hard on your eyes with the intense glare of the sun reflecting on the snow and even grey days can be surprisingly bright. Keep your eyes protected and shielded from the sun with a polarized pair of sunglasses. This little shield would keep your eyes from straining all day and even protect them from the cold if there is a winter breeze blowing.
If you have one, use a security strap for your sunglasses. This will avoid any scrambles in the snow if the sunglasses happen to fall off from your face when you’re getting too radical on the skis.
You’re Ready For Some Aerobic Action!
Now you’ve got all the do’s and don’ts of dressing for cross-country skiing! If the snow is falling but the ski lifts haven’t opened around your home this winter season, grab some cross-country gear and hit the snow for an adventure. It’s fun and healthy so you can skip the gym and enjoy some fresh air outside instead.