When heading out on the hill, it's more of a layering 'system' than simply throwing on a couple of items of clothing. Get it wrong, and you'll either be freezing and shivering or sweating profusely every time you turn. So, we've put together a handy guide to help keep you at the best temperature. Of course, everyone is different, so don't follow this guide to a tee and under-layer if you're someone who always feels the cold no matter what.
So, what does a typical layering system involve and why is it so important? Well layering your breathable clothing can make sure that you stay warm, dry and comfortable on the mountain, and in varying conditions. It obviously depends on temperature and conditions, but the basic checklist features:
• Base Layer Top
• Base Layer Bottoms
• Fleece Layer/ Hoodie Layer, (if heading into colder temperatures)
• Down Puffer, (if colder temperatures)
• Snow Jacket, (either shell or insulated)
• Snow Pants, (either shell or insulated)
• Ski Socks
• Liner Gloves, (if colder temperatures)
• Gloves/ Mitts
• Balaclava/ Neck Gaiter
• Snow Boots
So what exactly is a thermal base layer and why do we need them? Simply put, a base layer is a thermal, insulating layer worn next to your skin. They are able to wick sweat and moisture away from your skin and help regulate your body's temperature.
By moving perspiration away from your skin, base layers help in allowing you to keep dry and warm. Many are designed to contour to your body, with a tight fit, while others may be slightly baggy and loose for layering. Base Layers are available in three different weights:
Lightweight layers are a thin first layer, designed to sit next to your skin. In order to achieve successful moisture management, these layers are often designed to fit tighter, with room for layering on top. Without additional layering, these layers can be won in mild to cool conditions, and for activities such as cross-country skiing, climbing, etc.
A midweight layer can be worn over your lightweight, next-to-skin base layer, or as a warmer first layer on its own.
Heavyweight base layers are designed specifically for cold conditions. These are typically worn over a lighter weight layer, and with a looser fit. These layers are thicker because of their higher loft for insulation.
Your base layer may be crafted from either natural materials, such as Merino wool, or synthetic materials like Polypropylene. Whichever construction, both materials effectively transport moisture away from the skin, as well as being quick-drying.
A hoodie or fleece layer is a handy layer when in colder temperatures. While the base layers will handle the job of wicking perspiration, the mid-layer can provide that added warmth. Fleece layers are often wind resistant with an anti-microbial treatment. They're designed to fit comfortably under skiwear without limiting movement. They often offer a breathable design as well, in order to allow moisture transportation from your base layer out. It's important to remember that garments with good warmth-to-weight-ratio will transport moisture better.
Garments such as a down puffer jacket provide the perfect insulation layer in extremely cold temperatures and heavy snow. The insulation layer may be a light down jacket and crafted with PrimaLoft or Polartec insulation. All of these insulations are very packable with a high warmth-to-weight ratio. The insulation provides that much needed additional warmth when heading out into the backcountry or facing sub-zero temperatures.
Snow Jackets and Snow Pants provide the outer layer of your snow outfit. They provide a reliable waterproof and breathable construction. Check out our [Snow Jacket buying guide] (/guides/snow-jackets) for more information.
Another alpine essential, check out our handy [guide to Snow Pants here] (/guides/snow-pants).
As well as wicking away moisture and keeping you warm, socks can also prevent blisters and provide that much needed support to ride all day. Check out our [Ski Socks Buying Guide] (/guides/snowsocks).
Snow Gloves/ Mitts
Necessary for keeping your hands warm on the mountain. It's worth choosing a pair with a membrane for guaranteed waterproofing. Thinner pipe gloves are genuinely best for warm spring riding while GORE-TEX and heavier constructions are more ideal for colder temperatures. If temperatures are really cold, it's best to invest in some liner gloves for added warmth.Check out our [Snow Gloves Buying Guide] (/guides/snow-gloves) for more information.
Snow accessories such as beanies and balaclavas add extra layers of warmth. Additional head layers are also important when heading out in sub-zero temperatures as heat rises. so beanies and balaclavas can trap heat and help to regulate your body's temperature.
Neck gaiters and balaclavas also help to cool and wick sweat away from skin. A neck gaiter is a lightweight strip of material that can be pulled up to protect your whole face, or rolled down to keep your neck warm. Balaclavas cover the whole of your head, and the majority of your face. These are often worn in extreme cold weather conditions.
Essential protection when on the snow, ski helmets protect your head from impact, as well as providing added warmth. Read our [Ski and Snowboard Helmets Buying Guide] (/guides/snow-helmets) for more information.
An absolute necessity for the slopes, goggles help to protect your eyes and enhance your vision for a better performance on the mountain. Check out our [Snow Goggles Buying Guide] (/guides/snow-goggles) for more information.
Whether you're a complete beginner on the slopes, or a seasoned backcountry rider, a good pair of snowboard boots are an essential part of your alpine wardrobe. Check out our [Snowboard Boots Buying Guide] (/guides/snowboard-boots) to take you from novice to pro rider.
Weather & Clothing
First up is the kind of conditions that you might find in spring on a glacier, (we're talking super warm bluebird conditions).The baselayer wicks away perspiration that is inevitable in warmer temperatures, while the hoody/softshell layer keeps you warm. If temperatures are ridiculously hot then you might not even need to wear a base layer - a loose fit t-shirt will do! Yet, if you're riding with a hoody, it's recommended to choose one that has a DWR treatment to the exterior, (Durable Water Repellency).
For the bottom half, you don't necessarily need to wear thermals, if the temperatures are high and your snow pants have light insulation. Many snow pants and ski jackets come with zipped ventilation panels for added breathability. You can also choose a softshell snow jacket, (instead of a hoody), and soft shell snow pants, if temperatures are cooler.
If riding in sunny conditions, you may not need a jacket layer. However, if it's cold temperatures, and just above freezing, light insulation will add that much needed layer of warmth - normally a mid-weight merino thermal will do the trick under a shell jacket (without the hoody). If there's light snow, it's best to choose a jacket, and snow pants, with a waterproof rating of between 5,000 - 16,000mm, and a similar breathability rating.
If riding in colder conditions, or in damp snow, it's best to wear your baselayers, hoodie/ mid-layer and snow jackets and snow pants. It's worth noting that if you have a well-insulated jacket, you may not even need to wear a hoody (if you run hot). However, if temperatures are between -9 to -5 Degrees Celsius then a good mid-layer is necessary, (possibly an insulating down jacket if you run cold).
In these conditions, or if heading out into fresh powder in the backcountry, it's best to wear an insulated snow jacket and insulated snow pants with a waterproof and breathability rating of 20,000mm+ / 20,000g+. If temperatures are really extreme, or you're lucky enough to be riding in Japan, it's worth adding an extra insulating layer in between your baselayer and snow jacket, such as a breathable fleece or down jacket. Some jackets have a 3-in-1 design specifically for deep snow and cold conditions.
For heading out into extreme conditions, it is also worth looking for kit that has a durable GORE-TEX construction for guaranteed waterproofing and breathability.