Cross-Country Ski Clothing
Think layering and freedom of movement. Overdressing causes excessive perspiration and inhibits movement. Underdressing is uncomfortably cold. Finding the combination of clothing that works might take a few adjustments and some experimentation.
Cross-country skiing generates body warmth and perspiration. The clothing needs to pull moisture away from the skin to evaporate in the air, while allowing freedom of movement. This is best accomplished through layers of non-cotton fabrics. The clothing goal is breathability (moisture wicking), warmth (temperature control), water/wind resistance, and range of motion.
Base Layer: (long underwear next to skin) Use fabrics like polypropylene, silk, Coolmax, Thermax, Thermastat, the base layer needs to be able to transport moisture away from the body. Wind briefs with a windproof panel offer a good measure of comfort. Outside temperature and wind speed will dictate the thickness of the base layer. Sometimes a base layer, especially bottoms, is not needed and a heavier ski tight will suffice. How the base layer is worn depends on how vigorous the skier skis and the weather conditions.
Insulation Layer: (one or more layers for warmth) These can be layers of polyester, thin wool blends, acrylic, polartek fleece, lycra, spandex etc. The layers need to allow freedom of movement and should have some stretch to them. They should be easy to remove to allow for temperature adjustment. Vests allow arm movement and keep the core of the body warm.
Outer Layer: (moisture and wind resistance) This layer needs to keep moisture from getting in and should be windproof. Use fabrics like water-resistant, nylon and polyester, Goretex. The amount of waterproofing needed is dictated by the weather conditions. It needs to be thin and light enough to allow full range of motion. Outer layer pants should be easily removable for temperature control. The outer layer should be able to pass moisture from the body to the outside air.
Feet: Socks (not cotton) that are moisture wicking and insulating are best. For cross-country skiing a thin liner non-cotton sock with a heavier sock over top is ideal. The inner sock should pass moisture out to the outer sock. A thin polypropylene liner sock with a wool-blend outer sock is a good combination. There are many synthetic blends of socks. Generally, the higher priced socks are better and worth the money.
Ears and Head: A good hat is needed for sub-freezing weather. The hat should be able cover the ears when needed. Use a hat that is functional, light , warm, and water resistant. Sometimes all that is needed is an ear band. The ear band keeps the ears warm but allows the heat to escape from the top of the head. When the temperature is well below freezing and the wind is howling, a warm hat can provide maximum comfort. An outer layer garment with a hood can come in handy when the temperatures are brutal as the hat and hood can provide two layers of protection. A balaclava completely covering the head and protecting the face can also be worn for those rare sub-zero F ski days.
Hands: Cross-country ski gloves need to be thin enough to work with the poles and warm enough for the outdoor temperature. Gloves that are too bulky will not work well and interfere with poling. Again, materials that wick moisture away from the skin work best. Having an extra pair of gloves along is a good idea. Some ski tourists prefer mittens or a combination of gloves and mittens.
Safety Measure: An extra lightweight jacket, gloves, socks, or hot hands in your gear bag can come in handy if you become stranded on a ski tour. Having a way to make a fire in an emergency can save your life. When heading out on a tour think, could I survive the night if I had to stay outdoors. Moisture is probably the biggest problem because controlling how wet one gets from sweating is difficult. When the body suddenly stops moving and stops generating heat the moisture created enhances cooling. This can become a dangerous situation for a skier as the body suddenly cools.
Remember: Moisture and cold temperatures are not a good combination. Clothing made from cotton will hold moisture and will make the person wearing it feel cold. Avoid cotton and use a layering system to be able to control warmth. Uphill skiing will generate body heat. Downhill skiing will take away heat. The right kind of clothing will allow a skier to compensate for temperature changes.
End of the Day: For added comfort have dry clothing to change into in the car. The ability to shed the wet clothes for dry ones will make the car ride home pleasurable. Simply having a thick sweater and a change of socks works wonders. Drink something warm and have something to eat. These measures will enhance the experience of ski touring.