Bare minimum gear for snowsports: what you really need

A lot of beginners to snowsports will ask, what should I wear to go skiing or snowboarding? And while there are a ton of guides out there, people often want to know what do they really need and what stuff out of your closet you can already use. This guide is designed specifically to help you understand what you really need and what you can “make do” with. And if you're thinking about buying, use our calculator to figure out if the purchase is worth it.

This guide covers the 2 categories of gear: "layers for warmth" and "protective gear". There are 3 key variables for you to think about when reading this guide:

  1. How hard do you plan on shredding the slopes? The harder you go, the more protective gear you’ll want, and the less layers for warmth you’ll want
  2. How cold will it be? The colder (consider not just temperature but also wind chill factor) it will be, the more layers for warmth you’ll want
  3. Your body. You know how cold tolerant you are, how much you sweat, etc. All of those are important to consider. If you are more cold tolerant, you might need less layers. If you sweat more, then wearing clothes that keep you dry is more important.

Layers for Warmth

This section is organized in terms of a spectrum from what you should get specifically for snowsports, to what you could get specifically for snowsports or just make do with what’s in your closet, and finally to what you may or may not need, depending on the variables above.

TL;DR chart

What you SHOULD get specifically for snowsports

Gear you should definitely have for skiing or snowboarding

Outer layers (jacket & pants) & gloves - Snowsports specific jackets, pants, and gloves are designed with both performance and comfort. They are wind and water resistant*, breathable, fit larger to accommodate inner layers, and keep snow out via built-in snow skirts on the jacket, elastic gaiters on the pants, and elastic closures on the gloves. The water resistance is a key feature, because you will get snow on you even if you don’t fall (especially your lower legs), and it can be very uncomfortable if the clothes stay wet.

If you absolutely don’t want to get these, you could use rain clothes. It’s definitely not recommended to wear regular clothes for outer layers, but you can. Keep in mind though, that regular clothes made from cotton retain moisture and will leave you feeling quite cold if you sweat a lot or fall and get wet! If you must go this route, do not wear jeans, which are too tight and inflexible.

*Outer layers are water resistant but not totally waterproof (i.e., don't take them out in a hurricane), since snow makes for bad rain days.

What you COULD get specifically for snowsports or just MAKE DO with what’s in your closet

Gear you may want for skiing or snowboarding

Mid & base layers for upper & lower body) - Materials make all the difference. Layers designed for snowsports use materials that trap warmth, but allow perspiration and are lightweight. For mid layers, this means fleece. For base layers, synthetic moisture wicking materials like polyester blends.

If you’d rather make do, for both mid & base layers, regular cotton clothes work (e.g., a sweater and a t-shirt for the top, a pair of sweat pants for the bottom if you really need it), keeping in mind the point around cotton & moisture from above.

Three notes:

  • For legs, mid layers are rarely needed since the outer layer snowsports pants are already insulating
  • For the upper body, some snowsports jackets come with a built-in insulating layer, in which case you may not need a separate mid layer
  • For mid layers, down or wool could be second best materials. Both trap warmth, but down is bulky and loses insulation when wet, while wool tends to be heavy and stay wet for a long time (though it still retains warmth when wet)

Socks - Again, materials make all the difference. Snowsports socks can either be wool to keep you warm, or synthetic moisture wicking materials-based to keep you dry. Both are good depending on what you want. Regular athletic or even cotton socks work, with the same caveats as above.

What you MAY OR MAY NOT need

Optional gear for skiing or snowboarding

Head wear - beanies are common warm layers for the head and ears. Note that if you wear a helmet (and you should!), this is generally enough warmth, and most helmets have ear muffs as well

Neck wear - neck gaiters (fits snug around your neck) or scarves (ends are long and flail about a bit). Note a neck gaiter may also pull up to cover your mouth and nose.

Face wear - a ski mask, also known as a balaclava, covers your face and head, leaving only the eyes, and sometimes nose or mouth showing. Note that some of these may also cover the neck


Protective Gear

Protective gear for skiing or snowboarding

What you wear will be driven totally by circumstance. At a very minimum, I recommend goggles & helmets as mandatory gear.

Goggles - protects you from UV rays (which is also why you should definitely bring sunscreen and lip balm with sun protection) & snow blindness and the wind from blowing wet particles into your eyes, causing your eyes to water, or freezing your tears (both of which can impede vision). If you’d rather make do, sunglasses could work, but they are not recommended since they are ineffective against said wind.

Helmet - protects your noggin, ‘nuff said! FYI helmets should only be used to sustain a single impact, then replaced for safety purposes.

Wrist guard - generally used by snowboarders who tend to fall on outstretched palms, this prevents wrist injuries. Note that a wrist guard can be built into snowsports gloves.

Knee guard - self explanatory; also helps provide additional support for your knees, since carving snow is pretty intensive.

Butt guard - self explanatory.

I realize at the end of all of this you may want an example. I’ll give you myself. I’m (as of the last time I skied several years ago!) an intermediate-advanced skier who likes the speed of racing downhill. I ski most blacks & double blacks, dislike moguls, and only attempt very simple jumps. I don’t sweat a lot and am pretty cold tolerant. I wear snowsports jackets, pants, and gloves (i.e., all the outer layers). For the inner layers on top, I usually just make do with a sweater and t-shirt. For the inner layer on bottom, I have a pair of thermal pants, but cotton rather than synthetic. I wear regular cotton socks. I always wear a helmet and goggles. I may wear a scarf. I don’t wear my balaclava ever (maybe I’ll stop bringing it…) or the beanie, and I don’t even have wrist, knee, or butt guards. But again, that’s just me, think about what you need to keep yourself comfortable and performing at your best!

Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below! We're Last Minute Gear, and we'll do our best to get you ouside!


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