Cross-country skiing is a great outdoor activity that guarantees tons of fun and exercise. This is an excellent alternative to running the treadmill indoors or pushing yourself to the gym day after day for those cyclical aerobic or kick-boxing sessions. This is a great way to explore the outside world during the cold winter months. Skiing is classified as one of the most comprehensive forms of aerobic exercises, the world over.
When you are preparing for a day of cross-country skiing in a trail that is fairly well-developed, you need to prepare as if you are going on a hike for a day. You do not need lots of gear; however, you need to be ready for untoward incidences. You need to think about the different activities you would be engaging in throughout the day. Also, the weather and duration for which you will be out during the day are important factors. Think about the right gear, proper clothing, food, emergency kit and tools, and items related to health and hygiene.
Cross country skiing is quite akin to winter hiking; at least at an amateur level. You need to think about layers of attire as you will start feeling chilly minutes after you start skiing, but will then need to take those layers off, progressively, as the body heats up. Sweating is not ideal in winter months, so you should focus on staying dry and comfortable.
If your contemplated trip also covers or is primarily in undeveloped areas where trails aren’t properly groomed, or where avalanches might be bothering you and you have to sleep overnight, then this list will need to be expanded to include much more items.
We have compiled below a checklist of the basic gear and associated items that you will require when you hit those trails. The best way to go about it is to print this off, customize it to your specific requirements (copy this list on a word document and then add or amend items as you like), and then start working and packing it accordingly – checking off all items packed, to ensure you do not miss out on anything. The last thing you need is to find out at the trail that you forgot to bring an important piece of clothing, gear, or first-aid kit!
Once you have decided where you want to go skiing and the type of skiing you are after (classic or skate), you can then easily decide the type of skis that would work best in those circumstances and the environment.
As a lot of snowboarders would vouch, it can be hugely frustrating when you figure out you chose the incompatible bindings and boots, and it is too late to go back! Always check and re-check the size and matching before you head out.
Skis with Bindings
Bindings are meant to enhance your skiing performance and are a physical link between your boots and your skis. They provide you with safety by releasing your feet from the ski when you put pressure on them that is higher than the release settings.
Always ensure they are compatible with your boots and have them adjusted by a professional rather than doing it yourself – it isn’t worth it!
Bindings should match your skill level and the corresponding setting will be adjusted accordingly for a beginner, advanced, or junior skier.
Ski Boots are meant to be the vital link between your body and your skis. This is important in ensuring that you have a firm grip and comfort to make all those skiing maneuvers. It is for this reason that you should ensure that the size and shape of your boots are a comfortable and perfect match for your feet. Style and color may be secondary considerations when you choose a proper ski boot. Always go with comfort and fit for a great overall skiing experience that is safe too.
For any skiing gear to be complete, you need ski poles to provide you with stability and firm hold on those uneven terrains. These should be of great quality with a specific focus on the material it is made of, baskets, straps, and appropriate length. If you are looking for something sturdy and long-lasting, then opt for aluminum-based poles as opposed to composite ones.
Daypack, Waistpack, or Ski Pack
is essentially a storage bag for all your essentials and gear. Some of these bag packs are meant to be specially designed for skiing or climbing. You need to specifically request or search for one if you would need this for your ski trip. They usually have a back-panel zipper so you can easily access stored items at the bottom of the bag. They also allow you to strap your skis to them for portability. Also look out for dedicated pockets on the sides for sunglasses, tool compartment, and water bottle holders.
These daypacks also come with lash points for hooking ice axes and accommodating snowboards and skis in varying positions to suit your requirement.
Climbing Skins are strips made out of mohair and synthetic and attached to the bottom of skis with the help of a loop on the ski trip, a hook on the tail, and some adhesive substance on the base of the climbing skin. The purpose of these skins is to assist the skier with his ascent on slopes. They can be removed for skiing downhill. Always ensure that you maintain and repair them as needed so that they are ready and usable for your next trip.
Do not experiment with the clothing you would wear during skiing. Avoid wearing jeans, sweatpants, sweatshirts, and any other cotton-based fabric that can retain heat and moisture. Skiing is meant to be a rigorous exercise and you are bound to sweat. Hence, avoid clothing that retains sweat and opt for options that help you stay dry and at ease.
Dressing in layers is highly recommended. This makes it easy to control your body temperature by shedding or adding the layers, as required. A jacket that can easily be tied around the waist is a good idea, and so is a knapsack that can help you store unwanted or used clothing items.
Cross-Country Ski Jacket or Fleece or Soft-Shell Jacket – Wool or Fleece (3rd Layer)
Cross-Country Ski Jacket or Fleece or Soft-Shell Jacket – Wool or Fleece (3rd Layer) – This is the outer layer or outermost jacket that you need to wear. These jackets are meant to be well insulated, water-resistant and breathable in fabric (such as soft shell jackets), as they form the first barrier against the cold dry wind or even wet weather conditions if it starts to snow or rain. Thicker and bulkier jackets that a skier would wear for downhill skiing may also work (in certain cases) well with cross-country skiing purposes too. The body needs to retain its heat and regulate and maintain its temperature at different intervals during the skiing activity.
These jackets need to be resistant to strong winds and allow the moisture to pass through – ensuring your comfort and dryness levels remain neutral. The outer layer will slightly be oversized and you need to try it on with additional layers or at least keeping in mind that you will be wearing additional layers within it. Hence, size is important.
Cross-Country Ski Pants or Fleece Pants or Soft-Shell Pants
These pants need to be wind resistant but at the same time soft shell quality so it allows the moisture to pass through. A lot of people also opt for something light-weight (yoga pants or non-cotton stretchy pants) that allow them to move freely and comfortably with a wide range of motion. It all depends on the weather conditions and what time of the year it is. These pants can be worn as standalone or on top of a base layer. You will have to assess the conditions and your personal preference and decide accordingly. These pants are generally designed to have a windproof material on its front and stretchy and breathable fabric at the back for optimum comfort and maneuvering during skiing.
Socks – Wool or Synthetic. Two or Three Pairs
Your feet need to stay warm. Always keep a few extra pairs in case you get them wet and need to change. A base layer or liner socks is used by skiers and then topped up with an additional insulating layer of thin wool or synthetic based socks. The ski boots will act as the outer layer of these socks. The thickness of your socks is important. Always try them out with the actual boots to see how much space they take and how well they fit with your boots.
Moisture-Wicking Base Layer
Moisture-Wicking Base Layer is the first layer of clothing that every skier must wear. This is the first piece of cloth on your body and is meant to provide you with the basic warmth and comfort. It is usually made out of synthetic or wool material as these materials can dry up quickly, and also assists with sweat management by absorbing moisture, keeping you dry and comfortable inside. These should be a perfect fit and not too loose or tight to ensure that you have a comfortable outing at all times.
Gloves or Mittens
You can lose a lot of body heat through your hands and head region if you do not insulate or cover them properly. This is more relevant in the case of winter sports activities such as cross-country skiing.
As with your upper and lower body, you also need the layering of gloves or mittens to cover your hands properly. These can be done with the help of glove liners, gloves, and mittens that are windproof and waterproof too (ideally). Again, the layering helps you maintain the temperature by removing or adding the layers as appropriate.
Warm Hat or Balaclava
To protect your head from strong wind or very wet conditions, use a headband to cover your ears, as the wind can have a severe impact on them. You can also use a hat that is made out of fleece or wool to keep you warm. When the weather gets rough and unbearable to an extent, you need to pull out the balaclavas that will cover your entire head, face, and neck but leave the eyes open for visibility.
For milder winter days, a light cap with a visor should do the trick.
Insulated Jacket or Vest
If you have plans to ski or snowboard during cold and severe winter conditions, and you do it regularly, then we would suggest you consider an insulated jacket or vests. Synthetic insulation works best as snow outerwear, is durable, and relatively inexpensive. It continues to provide you protection when it gets wet outside. These jackets are ideal for areas that experience cold, humid, and rainy conditions routinely.
Gaiters & Neck Gaiter
An alternative to socks is to put on over-the-ankle gaiters. These are meant to protect the skier from snow getting into their boots or, in case of neck gaiters to protect their chest from getting wet with snow.
These neck gaiters provide ample warmth and protection to the skier to continue skiing comfortably. They are also easy to carry or store in a pocket or hung as a clip to your drink belt.
Rain Jacket and Rain Pants
A skier must be aware and anticipate the type of weather he will encounter. Part of that anticipation includes wearing the right jacket and pants if it rains or snows. A softshell jacket in such a scenario will not work and you will be left ‘high and wet’! For such weather conditions, you must always opt for a waterproof/breathable hard-shell jacket. Alternatively, the windbreaker or wind-resistant jackets that are also breathable and can also be appropriate choices. These are the same jackets that you wear whilst running, walking, or cycling during the winter months.
Tools & Other Gears
If you are accessing a trail system that is new to you, or underdeveloped, then you may want to rely on your navigational tools. Those areas may or may not have appropriate signage or mapping. Regardless, it is always a good safety measure to bring your GPS or compass.
You also need to think through other items that may or may not come in handy if you plan to spend the night out, need to create a shelter, fix the gear that you have brought if it accidentally gets broken, or if it gets dark and you need some extra lighting to guide you through.
Knife or Multi-Tool
This can be a tool kit that can have glue, tapes, knives of different sizes and lengths, and associated tools to help you fix items or create things when required, such as sharpening wood barks or creating shelter for example.
Repair Supplies – Screwdriver, Duct Tape…
These tools are required for fixing gear items or any other supply that you have brought along that may require repair. This overlaps in purpose and utility with a multi-tool kit.
Headlamp is critical for operating efficiently at night. Besides providing you with the light in the dark, these are also critical in ensuring that you have ‘hands-free’ access to light, allowing you to multi-task at night.
Glide Wax (optional)
Glide Wax (optional) is a form of ski wax that is usually applied to the bottom of snow runners, or skis, snowboards, and toboggans. This is meant to enhance the overall skiing experience and efficiency by reducing under changing snow conditions. This isn’t an essential gear for skiing and you may want to keep it, depending on your personal preference.
Crampons and Ice Ax
Crampons and Ice Ax are crucial for any skier (especially in heavy snow conditions). This will give you the required traction and grip to move forward, and as such, are important pieces of gear for any skier. Make sure you get the right size for your crampons by trying them out and the ice ax should have a reasonable height (or adjustable height) and comfortable grip as per your palm size for a comfortable and efficient skiing experience overall.
Compass can be basic or advanced, depends on your usage and skill level. They can be a good back-up option to a GPS and/or a map.
Topo Map or topographic maps of the Ski Mountains or regions can be super helpful, particularly when you are new to the sports or region generally. It gives you a good sense of the region where you are so you can move around with the required knowledge and peace of mind.
GPS is now a necessity and works well together with a topo map and a compass. This can be a lifesaver if you are stuck somewhere without any guidance or lost in the wilderness after a long day. Skiers divide up in smaller groups during the trip, and it is best if every skier (or group at least) relies on a GPS to get them back home safely and in time or explore new trails. No skiing trip should start without a GPS in a gear bag.
First Aid & Emergency Gear
Nobody takes up cross-country skiing to end up in an emergency scenario. You take up this sport to enjoy yourself, stay fit, and have fun in the outdoors. Having said that, you cannot predict every eventuality and contingency when you are out in the open.
A prudent skier will always anticipate and foresee worst-case scenarios, and plan the gear accordingly, to incorporate emergency and first-aid items. This is more so when you plan to stay the night out, and when you anticipate dicey weather conditions throughout the day or overnight.
First-Aid Kit needs to be compatible with the wilderness environment. It should include items such as Coban wrap, tweezers, irrigation syringe, latex gloves, ace bandage, lighter, athletic tape, Tylenol, Benadryl, Aspirin, Advil, alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer, gauze, antibiotic ointment, duct tape, moleskin, and first aid booklet for self-help.
Whistle can be an important piece of your gear if you are lost or generally need to attract someone’s attention. It can also come in handy if you are stuck somewhere and require assistance.
Lighter/ Matches should be in every skier’s bag. Lighter or a matchbox is equivalent to fire. You need a fire to survive the night, cook food, attract someone’s attention if you are in a dire situation, or just for recreational activity such as a bonfire or camping at night.
Fire Starter can serve as a back up to a lighter or matchbox. It is an essential survival tool kit and can be a lifesaver when you need to kindle a flame.
Emergency Shelter may be required if you plan to spend the night outside. If you have planned well, you will have a portable shelter with you (like a camp or a collapsible hut). If not, you will have to have tools to make something of your own from scratch, which can be daunting and difficult, if you do not have the required materials to construct it.
Health & Hygiene
Some skiers may underestimate the importance and utility of personal health and hygiene items which is not a good or safe practice. These have benefits and purpose by protecting you during the trip as well as in the long run.
It does not matter that it is winter. Even during these cold months, the sun can shine brightly, and the UV rays may be very high. Moreover, when the sun rays reflect from the snowy surface, it can hurt your eyes and chin even more. These are a must and should never be underestimated.
Sunscreen (either in the form of lotion or spray) lets you enjoy the sun with the peace of mind that the harmful and prolonged exposure to UV rays will not burn your face. You should make it a habit to apply it over the exposed parts of your body, to stay protected for the entire duration of your outdoor trip (whether skiing or not).
The wind in winters can be dry and uncomfortable. Even the heat from the sun can make your lips chapped and dry. For such scenarios, lip balms are small sticks or boxes of relief that you may need to apply now and then. Go for ones with SPF 15 minimum.
We hope you found this checklist helpful and fairly comprehensive. No list is complete without the skier personalizing the required list to suit their trip and personal circumstances. Always try to be conservative with your packing, and err on the side of caution. This will ensure that you do not miss out on an essential item that may either be a necessity for skiing or a life-saver in a critical situation, that you didn’t contemplate.
Have a safe and fun trip and happy skiing!