Heavy blankets, good books, exciting adventure tales: There are some things our parents and grandparents pass on that are invaluable and mainstays of our cold-weather traditions. When it comes to layering, though, we’d like to reserve the right to pick and choose. While they might have had important and nuanced opinions that laid the foundation for our skiing and snowshoeing clothing options now, we’re happy to leave bulky wool socks and less-than-waterproof outerwear relegated to the back of the nostalgia closet.
There’s nothing novel about the fact that there have been impressive advancements in textile technology in the past decade—the versatility and durability of astoundingly light layers is unprecedented. Now “more” is certainly not synonymous with “better.” No matter the situation—even when you’re headed out for a warm weather excursion—your layering system will always take on the same general form (though extreme weather will change the game a bit).
As the closest layer to your body, the base layer’s main job is to wick away sweat so you don’t feel chilled or hypothermic. There is a wide array of options to choose from, including synthetics like polyester or nylon and more natural fibers like merino wool. Thanks to advancements in textile technology, there’s really no wrong choice when you’re deciding on a performance base layer. While there’s certainly a warmth spectrum (from ultralight to expedition), remember that the primary function of a base layer is keeping you dry; leave the heat retention to the insulating layer.
Depending on the conditions, you might want to pack more than one insulating layer, though during a moderately chilly day in the snow this might just be a puffy jacket. On days that your temperature might be fluctuating quite a bit or you’re expecting to be working hard, ensure that an extra layer added below your puffy also moves moisture away from your skin, just like your base layer. Here, most people opt into fleece.
As arguably the most important layer, your outerwear protects from precipitation and wind. Though many companies are hard at work to invent different outerwear fabrics, GORE-TEX is by far the standout. It’s generally more expensive, but we maintain that on a wet day on the East Coast or a frigid, windy day in the Rocky Mountain alpine, GORE-TEX is imperative.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the layering systems below are catered to the median person in the group; the one whose body temperature runs neither particularly warm nor cold.
Though layering for a day at the ski resort seems far more straightforward than layering for a wintry hike or day touring, we’d recommend you bring along the same layers for all three activities and plan on shedding/adding layers throughout your hiking day while generally leaving them in place at the resort.
Base layers: Over the past few years, we’ve seen a real game changer in base layering: ninja suits (also known as union suits). While one piece base layer suits are not super novel, seeing carefully constructed fleece and merino wool one pieces are—for the skier who has ever felt snow slide over their lower back—a real godsend.
Insulating layers: In the insulating layers domain, the puffy jacket reigns supreme. As more companies sprout up and take on the task of designing a lower-profile, more lightweight, warmer puffy jacket, your options diversify—we’ve listed our favorites below. As the temperature plummets, an extra fleece layer can make all the difference. We’ve included our top picks for those as well. And finally, for hiking days, it can make a huge difference in your comfort (and safety!) to carry an extra, higher-fill puffy to throw on when you’re stopped for a snack break or a changeover.
Outerwear: There are nearly as many options for outerwear as there are snowflakes on the mountain…not really, but you get the idea. Truth is, if you’re searching for GORE-TEX, it’s hard to go wrong. Whether you prefer a jacket with a long cut, roomy fit, a plethora of pockets, or onesie, there’s a good-quality, hardworking option out there for you. Likewise, whether you’ve got the funds for bibs or you’re sticking with pants, you can hardly go wrong. Below are a few diverse options we prefer around here. A quick note: We prefer un-insulated hardshell jackets and pants. While the extra warmth of insulation might be nice for some, we’d prefer to modify our layering systems as opposed to depending on our outerwear to provide warmth.