I’m not ashamed to say it – I love winter. I love the snow, I love the cold, but most importantly, I love skiing. Why wouldn’t you love the feeling of racing down an icy hill at 20mph, wind in your face, feeling like you’re floating on a cloud, with a spray of powder trailing behind you?
It’s one of the reasons I loved growing up in Montana, with all its great local hills, and it’s one of the reasons I was excited to move to New England after college (admittedly, the snow was not as powdery there).
Skiing requires a lot of gear though, which can make it a bit intimidating to get into, and it’s also a notoriously expensive hobby. But this post breaks down what’s worth spending more on, and there are also some tips for getting your ski trip essentials on a budget down at the bottom.
You’ll obviously need the basics of skis, poles, and boots (or a board and boots, but I’m a lifelong skier, so I’m going to keep saying skis), but if you’re new to the sport, the best choice is to rent them at the hill. But this skiing packing list has everything you’ll want to bring with you: some specific clothing for skiing, key toiletries, and a few other accessories for hitting the slopes.
What to Wear Skiing
The ideal skiing outfit is made up of three layers, each with a specific purpose. The base layer (a top and leggings) wicks moisture away, while the mid layer (a jacket or sweatshirt) provides insulation, and the outer layer (a jacket and snow pants) is wind- and waterproof.
However, depending on the conditions, you might not need to wear all three layers. I frequently skip the mid layer if it’s warm or ditch the outer layer if it’s not too wet or windy.
Duckworth Men’s Wool Shirt and Leggings & Under Armour Women’s Synthetic Top and Leggings
Your base layer will consist of a top made of thin fabric and a pair of leggings.
Extra fabric just gets in the way, so the more fitted this layer is, the more comfortable you’ll be. This is easily the most important layer since it’s what will keep you dry; dry skin is warm skin.
Whether you’re talking about clothes for skiing, hiking, or any other outdoor adventures, there’s always a debate between wool and synthetic fabrics. In general, wool smells better and is a little warmer, but synthetics often feel drier.
Jen has been skiing in the same synthetic Under Armour leggings for years (they’re incredibly durable!), but I usually lean towards wool or a wool blend. Quite a few companies make great clothing out of wool, but I love that Duckworth is based in my old home of Bozeman, MT.
Women’s Patagonia Down Sweater & Men’s Marmot Zeus Down Jacket
This is where the heat comes from…okay, the heat comes from inside you, but this is the layer that prevents that valuable warmth from leaving your body. I’m a fan of natural down jackets because they’re incredibly lightweight and pack down to almost nothing.
Jen and I both wear our down jackets off the ski hill, so they’re not a bad investment. This is also one place where it can be worth it to spend a little more. Jackets with a higher fill number (700 or above) are more expensive, but they keep you warmer while being less bulky.
Of course, if you don’t want to buy a down jacket or you’re going skiing in warmer temperatures, a sweatshirt or fleece will also make a good mid layer. Maybe this is a good reason to keep hanging on to that comfy old college hoodie?
Wantdo Mountain Waterproof Ski Jacket
The outer jacket will protect you against wind and moisture, keeping those more absorbent inner layers dry. This layer is especially important if the conditions are windy, there’s wet snow falling, or you’re skiing terrain that’s challenging for you (and you’re likely to take some spills). I normally only ever wear this jacket on the ski hill, so I don’t see any reason for it to be too fancy.
Columbia Men’s Snow Gun Snow Pants & Columbia Women’s Modern Mountain 2.0 Snow Pants
A pair of snow pants will keep you dry no matter how many tumbles you take, and also prevent your butt from freezing on the chairlift. Unless you’re a diehard skier, I don’t recommend getting too fancy with your snow pants, since you probably won’t wear them except when you’re on the ski hill.
Darn Tough Merino Wool Socks
With your feet locked in a pair of rigid boots, you might not think too hard about the kinds of socks you’re wearing, but it matters immensely.
Just like the rest of your base layer, ski socks should be made of moisture-wicking wool or synthetic fabric – no cotton gym socks allowed. Your feet will sweat throughout a day of skiing, so you need socks that will keep them dry. This will help prevent blisters from forming and stop smelly bacterial and fungal growth.
Darn Tough, a Vermont-based business specializing in wool socks, has long been one of our favorite companies. We both own several pairs of their socks (Jen’s are decidedly more festive than my own) and almost always wear them for skiing. Not only are their socks comfortable and well made, they’re guaranteed for life!
Bolle Synergy Ski Helmet
Just like with riding a bike, helmets are an absolute necessity while skiing. One collision with a tree can be fatal, or at the very least, cause severe brain damage. Any kind of helmet that’s designed for skiing or snowboarding will protect your noggin, so don’t worry too much about brand or style. Just make sure it fits comfortably.
Most ski hills also rent helmets, but, well, you might not want to wear the same one a thousand other people have worn before you.
Minus 33 Merino Wool Beanie
You definitely want to keep your head warm while you’re on the ski hill, and a wool hat is something you can wear anytime it’s cold outside. Wool is great for hats since it’ll help keep your head and hair dry when you sweat. Since the hat needs to fit underneath your helmet, which will provide some warmth anyway, go with a thinner style.
Bonus: a hat will also protect you from any grossness (real or imagined) of a rental helmet. Minus33 is another one of our favorite small companies, making all kinds of high-quality wool clothing.
Rab Baltaro Gloves
Gloves are possibly the most important clothing for skiing because, without them, your hands are much more likely to get frostbite. A good pair of gloves will be wind- and waterproof and provide plenty of insulation to keep your fingers toasty.
If you have bad circulation or just have trouble staying warm, choose mittens over gloves; your fingers will stay warmer when they’re together.
Minus 33 Merino Wool Balaclava
Some people like to wear a gaiter or buff to keep their neck warm, but if you ask me, a balaclava is much more versatile. It’s a hat, it’s a buff, and it’s a full head covering if chilly weather requires it. Plus, if you wear it as a full mask, you won’t need to worry about it slipping down the way many neck gaiters and buffs do.
Smith Optics Goggles
Goggles are another key item for your ski trip packing list. They cut down on glare, making it possible to see when you’re looking at a mountain of blinding white snow.
Some skiers and snowboarders just wear sunglasses, and yes they do look cooler, but they also have the disadvantage of channeling wind into your eyeballs and drying them out, which is super unpleasant. They’re also likely to fly off on the hill, especially if you take a fall.
There’s no reason to drop a ton of money on goggles, though. Unless you care about having a certain brand name on the side, any pair that’s comfortable will work reasonably well.
More Ski Trip Essentials
Your skiing outfit is probably the most important thing you’ll need for a day on the slopes, but having a few other items will keep you much more comfortable. These are the other things we swear by on most any ski trip.
Boot and Ski Bag
Athletico Ski and Boot Bag Combo
If you have your own boots and skis, you’ll need a bag for them. Sure, you could carry your skis over your shoulder like a champion from an ’80s sports movie, but it’s a lot easier to throw them in a bag. The same goes for boots, which are always awkward to carry by that little rope handle on them.
Dakine Heli Pro Backpack
Most beginners won’t need a whole lot of pack, just something to carry a few handwarmers, a small First-Aid kit, a water bottle, some snacks, and maybe a sandwich if you don’t feel like leaving the slopes for lunch. Just make sure it’s easy to open with those bulky gloves on.
Merill Men’s Thermo Shiver Snow Boots & Sorel Women’s Winter Carnival Snow Boots
Don’t forget about what you’ll wear going to and from the ski hill. It’s probably going to be cold and you’ll likely be walking through snow and ice, so opt for appropriate footwear. Sneakers or hiking shoes will probably suffice in less extreme conditions, but snow boots are a better bet.
Badger Balm SPF 35 Mineral Sunscreen
Lower temperatures don’t mean fewer cancer- and sunburn-causing UV rays, so it’s still very important to wear sunscreen in the winter. Fortunately, most of your body is covered while skiing, so you mainly just need to be concerned about your face.
Even though there’s no fragile coral to be concerned about, mineral sunscreen is a better bet even on the ski hill. It’s not loaded with dangerous chemicals like oxybenzone, and it stays on even if you do a big header into a snowdrift.
Hempz Herbal Body Moisturizer
Cold temperatures, high altitudes, and blustery winds blowing against your face all add up to flaky, dry skin. Applying some lotion will go a long way toward keeping you feeling fresher and smoother. A goggle tan is a source of street cred; a chapped face is not.
Refresh Tears Eye Drops
A day on the hill can also dry out your eyes (especially if you disregard my advice about wearing goggles). Dry, irritated eyes are seriously uncomfortable, so pack some eye drops for a quick remedy.
Burt’s Bee Lip Balm Multipack
Your lips will get super chapped on the slopes too, and lips are also prone to sunburn. Bring some lip balm that contains SPF to solve both problems. Jen says Burt’s Bees is the obvious choice.
Kleenex Travel Tissue Packs
“Pack tissues” is not exactly the sexiest item on a ski trip checklist, but cold and windy conditions mean runny noses are just part of the package. Bring some tissues, or you’ll be wiping your nose on your gloves for the whole trip (which is both uncomfortable and gross).
KT Tape Blister Treatment Patches
You don’t need to pack a full-fledged First-Aid kit on a ski trip, but bringing a few bandages is a good idea. If you end up getting blisters from your boots and don’t have a bandage, your feet will be screaming by the end of the day.
Hot Hands Handwarmers
A good pair of gloves usually keeps my hands warm enough, but if yours tend to get cold, some hand warmers will help. A lot of gloves have little pockets that you can insert chemical hand warmers into for a few hours of extra heat. Jen has also been known to stick these on her socks to keep her toes warmer.
The disposable kind aren’t that warm though, so go for a liquid fuel handwarmer if you tend to get really cold. They’re quite a bit more powerful and will last all day, but the downside is that they smell like lighter fluid.
Primus Trailbreak Vacuum Water Bottle
Staying hydrated while skiing is just as important as during any other type of exercise – maybe even more so, since dehydration happens faster at higher altitudes. But you won’t be the most popular person in your group if there are frequent calls to step into the lodge for some water.
Depending on how cold it gets, it might be a good idea to use an insulated bottle to prevent the water from freezing. Additionally, you can store coffee in it for a caffeine boost or just hot chocolate for extra warmth.
Go Pro Hero 7 Camera
Okay, a GoPro is hardly the most critical item on a ski trip packing list, but it’s a fun thing to have if you can afford one. If you’re just starting out, you probably won’t get any amazing footage to post on YouTube (though your friends might enjoy recording your epic wipeouts).
On the other hand, it’s not too hard to make a compelling ski video; people love watching someone glide through a winter wonderland. Mount the cam to your helmet for some great POV shots. Plus, you can use it any other time you’re traveling or doing something outdoors.
Shopping for Ski Trip Essentials on a Budget
As much as I love skiing, I hate how much it costs. Pricy lift tickets, expensive equipment, overpriced food at the lodge, transportation to the hill – it all adds up. So while this is my ideal skiing packing list, you certainly don’t need to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe.
You can rent skis, boards, boots, and poles (and helmets) at any ski resort, which is what people normally do if they’re infrequent skiers or boards. Or if your friends are skiers or boarders and they’re not coming with you on an outing, see if you can borrow some gear from them.
If you want your own and you live near a ski area, see if there’s a swap meet sometime before the start of the season. Some of my favorite purchases have been at these sales – I got a whole cross-country setup of skis, poles, and boots for just $25 at one in Burlington, VT! Swap meets have lots of other accessories and clothes for skiing as well.
If you can’t make it to a swap meet, you can usually find some good deals on older gear at consignment stores, thrift stores, and pawnshops. Discount stores can be good options, too – they often have whole sections of sporting goods. You’ll find the best deals toward the end of ski season, and sporting goods stores have big sales then, too.
Bargain hunting is especially important if you don’t see yourself making it up to the hill on a regular basis. Spending a grand or more on gear you’ll only use a couple times a season is ridiculous. I hope these tips will help you get the ski trip essentials you need without blowing your budget.
What else is on your skiing packing list?
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Alice | Girl with a saddle bag says
Such a good packing list! Completely agree with you – especially about carrying a backpack. I don’t know if it’s as common in North America, but in the Alps it’s really common to carry a picnic lunch with you as there are picnic spots with benches and more near the top of may lifts. I always make sure I take a backpack big enough to get my baguette in!
Ryan Victor says
Thanks! Unfortunately there aren’t too many ski areas with benches for picnicking here in the States. However, many people will bring a sandwich to eat on the lift or will make a chair out of a snowdrift to enjoy their lunch on. The food served at our ski lodges is either overpriced or very unhealthy, so it pays to bring your own.