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What to Wear for Cross-country Skiing: The Complete Guide


September 29, 2022


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What to Wear for Cross-country Skiing: The Complete Guide

Feeling too hot even when the outside temperature is well below zero may sound like an impossibility, but it happens all too often to anyone taking up a new high-intensity winter cardio sport such as cross-country skiing. Finding the right balance between making sure you dress up warm enough and allowing for the rise in your body temperature isn’t easy – and getting it wrong means heading back and cutting short your outing. So what should you wear for cross-country skiing? After all, having to factor in so many variables such as the outside temperature, the wind exposure, the route you’ll take and the intensity of your training means it’s quite easy to get it wrong. Fortunately, SAIL Buyer and apparel expert Karyne Langlais is here to help you choose the best gear to wear on your cross-country skiing adventures.

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Most people who venture out during the winter will already know that the best way to stay warm without sweating too much is to wear layers. But what does this entail exactly? Here are more details on the best way to layer up your cross-country skiing apparel, starting with base layers.

In this article, you will learn more about:

  1. Base layers and how to use them
  2. The best midlayers for cross-country skiing
  3. Outer layers
  4. Other accessories to wear for cross-country skiing
  5. A few pro tips on what to wear for cross-country skiing

Base layers and how to use them

The purpose of base layers is to provide a first layer of warmth, while also wicking sweat and moisture away from your body so that you don’t get cold. Karyne recommends wearing a form-fitting long-sleeve top and some tights, both made of natural fibres such as merino wool. There are various thickness levels to choose from depending on the weather, so consider whether you are likely to head out in extremely cold conditions, in which case heavyweight merino wool products may be useful. Have a look at brands like Icebreaker or SmartWool for some great base layers for the upcoming winter.

The best midlayers for cross-country skiing

Here, it’s important to note that a midlayer is optional, and whether you wear one or not will depend on the outside temperature. On most winter days, you may be comfortable enough with just a base layer and a light jacket. However, a good midlayer allows you to go out even when outside temperatures are at their lowest. This could be anything such as a long-sleeved wool sweater, a lightweight fleece or a vest, so long as it is not so bulky that it restricts your movements. Karyne mentions that you could opt for something made of merino wool or synthetic fabrics. “Just avoid cotton,” she adds. “It retains moisture and you’ll end up being cold.” Look for features that let the heat escape, such as full or neck zips. You could wear something you already use for other sports such as running or cycling, but if you need to purchase a good midlayer, have a look at the range offered by Craft and Louis Garneau.

Outer layers

The main purpose of an outer layer is to protect you from the wind and snow. Karyne’s top tip? Go for something breathable and water resistant, such as a light soft-shell jacket. Avoid waterproof gear as it’s not breathable enough, unless it is raining or snowing heavily. Brand Swix has a good range of cross-country skiing outer layers. Should your cross-country skiing jacket be insulated? On most winter days, this will not be needed, but should the temperature drop quite a bit below zero, you could wear a puffy jacket. However, if you don’t want to invest in a second outer layer, just double up on midlayers.

For your legs, you could wear a soft shell that protects your thighs from the wind. Some skiers even choose snow pants with mesh panels on the back (such as those worn for running) so that body heat can escape, but this is optional. As a rule you shouldn’t need anything insulated on your legs, but on very cold days, add a pair of tights to your usual base layer and snow pants combo.

Other accessories to wear for cross-country skiing


Your head can easily get warm, so cross-country skiing is not the time to showcase your fun woolly pom pom hat! A thin tuque is usually best, and you could also consider wearing a headband on warmer days. Don’t forget to bring a neck gaiter as well. A thin fabric will usually be enough, but you could opt for a warmer, thicker model if needed and just remove it if you get too warm.


Gloves? Mittens? A hybrid of both? Here, it very much comes down to personal preferences. Gloves allow for better dexterity, which can be useful when handling poles and pole straps, while mittens give the opportunity to add a merino liner on very cold days. But for something more versatile, try the glove-mittens, gloves with deployable mittens that add an extra layer of insulation, such as those designed by brand Craft.


Not to sound like a broken record, but again, merino wool and other natural fibres are best when it comes to socks. The recommended thickness of your socks will vary depending on whether or not your cross-country boots are insulated (see our selection of cross-country ski boots here), but remember that while it may seem very cold outside, your feet will sweat quite a lot. Don’t go overboard with hugely warm socks. You could also wear a thin sock liner underneath your warmer socks if the temperature calls for it.

Sun protection

It’s actually quite easy to get sunburnt in the winter as snow and ice reflect most of the sun’s rays, which are otherwise absorbed by the ground the rest of the year. As such, make sure you always wear a good pair of wrap-around sunglasses as well as sunscreen on any exposed skin, such as your face and hands.

A few pro tips on what to wear for cross-country skiing

  • Always look at the weather forecast and plan your route ahead of time, so you know the kind of weather you’re likely to face.
  • You may want to add a hydration belt to your kit. On longer outings, you could carry a backpack with a few snacks or extra layers, but choose a small, lightweight model that doesn’t restrict your movements.
  • You don’t have to buy a whole new set of clothes for cross-country skiing. If you already run, snowshoe, hike or do any other high-intensity cardio sport in the winter, you could use your existing gear and gradually add to your kit.
  • For more tips on how to get started with cross-country skiing, head for the SAIL blog here!


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