Packing is hard. Especially when the destination might involve giant mosquitoes or Instagram-worthy hiking trails. What do frequent travelers to these spots — the ones who best know how to prepare for the conditions — put in their suitcases? We’ll be tackling this in our series, the Trip List.
You can find dedicated ski bums on snow-covered mountains all year-round (when it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, they’ll just head south to Chile or Argentina), but right now it’s the most popular season for casual skiers (and snowboarders) to join them at resorts. And if you’re one of the latter — or a first-timer on the slopes — figuring out all the gear you need can be overwhelming. Here, we consulted with travel agents who specialize in snowy getaways, ski photographers, and several other people who have been skiing since they were old enough to walk, to find out what are the must-haves to pack for a wintry vacation. While we didn’t ask them about equipment itself (which most casual skiers or snowboarders will likely just rent), their picks include everything else you’ll need for both hitting the slope and après adventures whether you’re headed to Vermont, Vail, or the Swiss Alps.
Base layer tops
Worn closest to the body, base layers lock in heat while pulling sweat away from the skin. Lots of experienced skiers we spoke with agreed that wool is the perfect choice for a base layer material. It’s warm, dries quickly, and doesn’t hold on to odor, so you can get several days’ use out of a single piece. “Icebreaker offers some of the best quality merino wool on the market,” says Backcountry Gearhead Matt Schroer. Sarah Plaskitt, founding director of the ski trip planning agency Scout, also wears Icebreaker base layers and likes the option of choosing between different weight pieces depending on the weather conditions. If the 200-level ones featured here are too warm for you, try out the 150-weight pieces that are slightly lighter. Lyndell Keating, a co-director of ski travel agency Powderhounds, is also an Icebreaker fan. She loves that their base layers are “really lightweight and offer lots of warmth, yet breathe really well.”
If you don’t like the feel of wool, synthetic materials (like the moisture-wicking blends used in activewear) will also keep you warm and dry on the slopes. Business consultant and blogger Kelli Marks has been skiing since she was 2-years-old, and says she’s been wearing this Under Armour top for the last few ski seasons. She tells us, “it has a high neck which I like to help avoid any gaps for cold air to sneak in.”
Base layer bottoms
Like Icebreaker tops, the brand’s wool base layer bottoms are a favorite among skiers. “They perform very well in terms of temperature regulation,” says travel writer Veruska Anconitano. Compared to full-length leggings, these cropped ones won’t end up stuffed in your boots with your socks, which can limit circulation and cause cold feet. “My legs tend to warm up more than my upper body when skiing, so I prefer the legless bottoms to avoid overheating on a run,” says Schroer.
Made from the same material as the Under Armour top, this bottom base layer is Marks’ top pick for staying warm on the mountain. When she’s done on the slopes, she’ll shed her ski pants but keep these on for an après ski drink since they’re thick enough to wear on their own.
Women will likely want to wear a sports bra underneath their base layer tops, but for both genders, wearing underwear with base layer bottoms is optional, according to the folks we spoke with. You’re better off going without it than wearing cotton pairs that can chafe or hold onto moisture. If you do want the extra layer, choose a pair that’s also made of wool or synthetics. We’ve written about wearing the Icebreaker women’s underwear for running in cold weather, and they’d work for skiing or snowboarding, too. For men, the brand’s temperature-regulating merino wool boxer briefs are a worthy equivalent.
A midlayer in between your base layer and jacket adds warmth when you need it. “On crazy cold days, I will add a Patagonia puffy jacket under my [ski jacket],” says Daryl Morrison, a former alpine racer and ski expert for the gear recommendation and shopping site Curated. Plaskitt also relies on a Patagonia puffer when the temperature drops, as does ski photographer Mattias Fredriksson.
Legs get cold too, so Morrison wears these fleece Patagonia pants as an additional layer when it’s seriously freezing. Marks and ski photographer Lee Cohen also like wearing loose-fitting fleece pants under snow pants because, as Cohen says, they “create an air pocket” for locking in body heat.
Skiers who are active on the mountain, or like hiking up to tougher terrain, might want an uninsulated shell jacket that keeps snow and wind out but doesn’t get too warm. “It gives you more flexibility with what you’re wearing and the conditions,” says Plaskitt, who likes Stio shells because they’re durable and come in a variety of fun colors. She’ll pair hers with heavier base and midlayers on colder days, and lighter ones when it’s warmer or she knows she’ll be working up a sweat.
Patagonia’s Powder Bowl jacket comes highly recommended by Schroer. “The jacket is sized perfectly to accommodate an insulating layer underneath on the coldest of days,” he says, adding that the Gore-Tex exterior offers “ultimate protection from the elements.” This jacket is a shell, which is slightly less restrictive to allow for more movement. But if you run cold or aren’t skiing as physically demanding trails, it also comes in an insulated version for both men and women that’ll feel warmer. Pete Kovacevic, who handles operations for ski travel agency Alpine Adventures, wears Patagonia jackets, too, and says all of the brand’s ski clothes are very high quality. “Whatever you buy from Patagonia, it lasts for a long time,” he says.
“With so many skiers out on the mountain, you want an outfit that will stand out so your ski buddies can spot you easily,” says Marks. She has a bright pink jacket from Orage, which makes durable jackets (hers is actually a hand-me-down from her sister that’s still going strong) in unique color combinations.
Marks and Schroer both recommend Patagonia ski pants. Like the Powder Bowl Jacket, the Powder Bowl pants are available in both an insulated version, and as a thinner shell. Marks calls the insulated pants “warm and durable,” and she appreciates that they have vents for warmer days and an adjustable waistband for a customizable fit.
Along with Stio, Peak Performance is one of Plaskitt’s favorite brands for ski pants and jackets (both of which she prefers to be uninsulated). “I wear quite thick Icebreaker woolen leggings underneath and I tend to be fine for all conditions,” she says. Of course, if you run cold or won’t be as active on the mountain, choose an insulated pair.
Some skiers may prefer overall-style “bib” pants that don’t leave a gap between your pants and jacket where snow can get in. Morrison especially likes these Dakine pants because they have “a drop waist [the bottom half unzips] so you don’t have to take them all the way off to use the restroom.”
One of the most important pieces of skiing gear is a well-fitting helmet (it should feel comfortably snug and not bounce around when you move) to protect your head. “You want to like the look of your helmet because you have to put it on every time,” says Plaskitt. “You don’t want it to be something so hideously ugly that you cringe every time you put it on.” She likes the fit and feel of Pret helmets, and this one has adjustable vents and removable ear covers so you won’t overheat on warmer days.
“The most important part about a helmet is that it fits,” says Marks. She finds that Giro helmets work especially well for her smaller head. “Even if you’re a safe skier you never know about the others on the mountain,” she says, stressing that it’s crucial to always wear a helmet and replace yours every 3–5 years (or after a crash, when it may have sustained damage).
“Being able to see is important, so investing in a good pair of goggles is pretty crucial,” says Plaskitt. Goggles also protect your eyes from wind, snow, and sunlight on the slopes. While some skiers will use different pairs in different weather conditions, Plaskitt likes that this Oakley pair offers excellent visibility whether it’s bright and sunny or dark and gloomy. Kovacevic agrees that Oakley makes reliable goggles.