The Gear Loop is supported by its readers. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

(The Gear Loop) - The days of bulky, insulated ski kit are fading. With the advent of ever-lighter materials, the growing popularity of ski touring and freeskiing, as well as the realisation that we can make this hard-wearing, long-lasting kit work for us both on and off the mountain, layering systems seem the more logical choice. 

When done properly, air is trapped between layers, creating warmth and insulation at the same time as giving flexibility for changes in temperature throughout the day - and season. 


An insulated jacket and pants is generally too heavy an option for spring skiing, whereas a shell jacket and pants is too light for mid-winter. By picking items carefully you can reduce bulk and ensure that whatever extra layers you carry will pack down small into a backpack.

Start at the base

Breathability and comfort are key. It’s expensive, but merino underwear is well worth the price, simultaneously warm and cooling when needed, breathable and moisture wicking. 

Always wear ski- or snowboard-specific socks, and for no more than two days at a time, so hand wash if necessary!

CastelliA guide to layering photo 5

Whether you go for natural fibres (for example, merino or bamboo) or artificial, ski-specific base-layers should be breathable, moisture-wicking and quick-drying (cotton is a no no – it stays damp). 

A half-zip neck on the top helps keep the cold out and removes the need for a thick and bulky neck gaiter, too.


There are several options to build in here - fleece, down or both, depending on whether your outer layer has any insulation, as well as the outside temperature and how cold you get 

It’s a good idea to travel with both - a rule of thumb on the slopes is that it’s better to be too hot than too cold. 

SQIA guide to layering photo 3

The first layer above base-layers should be a fleece or merino wool jumper. It’s personal choice but consider weight and packability - for both backpack and airplane luggage.

Even with a fleece mid-layer, a down jacket will be essential beneath a simple shell jacket and pants. The insulation in the down traps pockets of warm air giving this layer an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio. 

Natural down (feathers) will stay damp longer than synthetic insulating fibres - though some down now has hydrophobic properties, so repels water.

PatagoniaA guide to layering photo 2

This is a great layer to use all year round - whether walking the dog or heading to the pub - so choose the best quality you can afford, considering warmth-to-weight ratio as well as features like pockets and hood.

Throwing a down gilet into the mix might sound like overkill, but believe us when we say that sometimes you’ll be grateful of that extra layer and, like a down jacket, a gilet will come in handy all year round. Fleece gilets add a good layer, too, but will be heavier and not quite so warm.

Shell jacket and pants

The outer layer of the whole system needs to be lightweight, waterproof, windproof, breathable and have none of its own insulation.

SQIA guide to layering photo 4

 Like the rest of your new layering kit, the more money you can throw at this layer, the better, but the outer layer must be ski-specific with features including a snow skirt, ski-appropriate pockets as well as a helmet-compatible hood. 

Despite looking simple, a good shell outer layer will have stretchy material, contoured around the knees and elbows for sitting on lifts, movement on the slopes and hauling skis around. Pants (or bib) should also have reinforced material round ankle, where they should also be wider bottoms to fit over your ski boots. 

Writing by Abigail Butcher. Editing by Leon Poultney.