Essential Gear

Outside magazine, Travel Guide 1997-1998

Essential Gear
By Stuart Craig


Skiing is fun. Being sweaty and wet and cold while skiing, on the other hand, isn't. Layering is the standard weapon in the skier's war against misery, but not all layering components are created equal. The aim is versatility, because rarely do you find yourself skiing only on sunny days. Herewith, our top choices for the layering game:

The latest buzzwords in long underwear are "bi-component fabrics," which use both smooth, polyester filament yarns to channel moisture away from the skin and fuzzier, more densely spun polyester yarns to spread moisture out, allowing it to evaporate faster. Sharing a similar bi-component construction are Patagonia's Midweight Capilene Tortoise Top ($49), Marmot's men's and women's DriClime Zip T ($45 for lightweight, $49 for midweight), and The North Face's Micronamics Alpine Crew Neck ($40). An alternative approach is the use of microfibers, or very small-denier threads, which increase the effective surface area of the fabric, allowing moisture to spread out more efficiently. I prefer Nike's DRI-F.I.T. Base Layer Crew ($34), which is incredibly soft against the skin. Duofold's Performance Expedition Weight 2-Layer Stretch zip-neck top for women ($55), made from ThermaStat, provides a similar microfiber feel, but in a heavier weight.

My all-time favorite middle piece is Marmot's DriClime Windshirt ($119), with its wind-resistant Pertex shell and fuzzy DriClime lining. I've even used it as an outer layer. The North Face's Zion WindStopper Top ($195), another wind-blocking piece, has Gore WindStopper laminate and fleece, so it works well as both insulation and outerwear. For highly unpredictable weather, Pearl Izumi's Summit Top ($90), made of Kodiak Ultrasensor fabric, deals with sweat better than most fleece pieces. Ideal for the coldest part of season is Lowe Alpine's Aleutian Tweed Sweater ($109), with its voluminous neck. For the warmer months, go with a lighter-weight piece such as Wyoming Wear's Sage Creek Pullover ($70), made of Malden Mills' Polartec 100.

High-tech fabrics do not hold the monopoly on versatile insulation. Devold's 100-percent wool Traditional sweater ($158-$196) is not only functional on the slopes, but looks great on the street; the Snohetta is available with a windproof Sympatex laminate windliner ($248 with windliner, $150 without). For days when a vest is appropriate, the best I've found is the Ortovox Sella wool vest ($175), because I can almost pull my head, tortoiselike, into its warm, thick, high collar.

In many clothing lines, "women's" models are simply resized men's jackets. Not so with Sierra Designs' Cleo Parka ($375) and Schoffel's Bernina ($398), which are women-only pieces and which offer Gore-Tex fabric and technical details, like the Core Vent-ilation system on the Cleo and zip-in fleece in the Bernina. The Solstice Selkirk ($250) is made with the company's trademarked Microshed fabric and has details serious skiers will appreciate: underarm zippers, a stowaway hood, and a baffled goggle pocket on the chest. Available only in unisex sizing, Patagonia's Back Bowl Anorak ($199), made of the company's proprietary H2No Plus fabric, is great for less severe weather.

This layer gets all the attention because it's the one everyone sees. Both Arnell by MLY's Epic Shorty Jacket ($245), made with Dermizax, and Marmot's Zero G ($349) are endowed with waterproof-breathable laminates designed to become more breathable as the wearer gets hotter. The Zero G, made of Marmot's MemBrain, has nifty Turbo Vents on the chest for superb ventilation. Fila's three-ply Gore-Tex Mont Blanc Jacket ($425) was originally designed for mountain guides, but it's perfect for skiing, and its stretch Gore-Tex cuffs seal out moisture much more effectively than traditional cuff treatments. Also in the traditional mountain-jacket vein, Helly Hansen's El Cap Jacket ($260) is simple, lightweight, and durable. If you like pullover styles, both Gerry's Zander pullover ($190), and UltraNectar's Anorak ($190) offer great value; the anorak has a slightly shorter, boxier profile. Lowe Alpine's Triple Point Ceramic Vertikal ($269) is the best pullover jacket I've used, with its many ventilation possibilities, superb hood, and the double sliders on the pocket zippers — possibly the greatest invention since zippers themselves.

In the one-piece world, Mountain Hardwear's unisex Ethereal FTX Suit ($725) is about as high-end as you can get: three-ply Gore-Tex fabric, internal suspenders, a hood that moves with your head, and a lot more — if this suit doesn't have it, you don't need it. Slightly less space-age is Marmot's Tower 3 suit for men ($499), which has an excellent zipper system and uses that same great MemBrain laminate found on the Zero G jacket. Schoffel's Kearnville for women ($498) zips together at the waist for maximum versatility, and is lightly insulated.

Great suits are not limited to the outer layer. Teamed with a long-underwear top, Mountain Hardwear's Power Stretch Suit ($145) is all the middle-layer insulation you'll need on most days, and the stretchy Malden Mills Polartec Bipolar fabric is the warmest, most comfortable fleece I've tried.

To bib or not to bib is the big question in pants. The North Face's Mountain Bib ($355) is the epitome of bibdom, with full side zips, internal gaiters, and a bombproof suspender arrangement. In the best-value category, both the Boulder Gear Ute Pant for women ($140) and the Pacific Trail Lookout Ridge for men ($150) offer traditional ski-pant styling at a great price. The Randonn‰e Shell Pant ($349) from Marmot, in a modified-bib style, are the best ski pants I've found, period. In deep powder or on backcountry trips, these pants are utterly dependable, and the removable knee pads/warmers are lifesavers.

For spring skiing, The North Face's Pamir WindStopper Glove ($47) has become my standard. When these gloves get wet, I just wring them out, and presto, they feel remarkably dry. For more serious conditions, the Outdoor Research Fall Line Glove ($120) and Fall Line Gauntlet Glove ($134) offer full Gore-Tex protection, Keprotec palm, Cordura-reinforced thumb and fingertips, and removable liners.

If, after a day of skiing, your feet have been as battered by your boots as your body by the bumps, the ultimate balm lies in Aussie Dogs' Short Boot ($144 with Sno-Sole, $130 with EVA sole) with a plush shearling interior. If you need something more stout, Salomon's Exit Neigh High ($119) has a sole that rivals studded snow tires.

Most of today's goggles in the $60 to $100 range offer the 100-percent UV protection and glare-cutting optics skiers require. Beyond that, it comes down to what color lens you want, the ventilation system, and how the frame fits your face. Adidas's Robin goggle ($70) has an extremely flexible plastic frame for face-hugging comfort and one of the largest lens areas of any goggle. Uvex's X01 ($75), on the other hand, has a narrow profile but a surprisingly big vision area and a great de-fogging ventilation system. Boll‰'s Futur ($50-$90) is a simple, classic goggle with good ventilation, large lens size, and lots of lens choices, from the darker, mirrored Flash lenses to the low-light-busting Vermillon. If unsurpassed optics are what you seek, and money is no object, try the Revo goggle. For $250, you get the most astounding clarity I've seen in goggles, especially in harsh light. Smith's V3 Regulator ($70-$90) has become my standard goggle, because I have yet to find a shape that gives me more vision or fits my face better; the Gold lens is the best compromise for all light conditions.

In the realm of sunglasses, Zeal's Moez and Moez II (both $140) sport neo-retro styling and sturdy, well-made polycarbonate lenses. Revo's sunglasses are legendary, and both the Extreme Wrap and Pro Wrap models (both $195) feature high-quality glass lens optics in a nylon frame with spring hinges at the temples for a secure fit.

Wet feet are unhappy feet, and SmartWool's Ski Light Cushion Socks ($16.50) with their 90 percent SmartWool/10 percent nylon blend keep your feet warm in the coldest or the wettest conditions. Outdoor Research's Fall Line Gaiter ($43) will give you double protection; three straps provide ample adjustablility, and the Gore-Tex front panel keeps the moisture out. To make sure you stay hydrated on the slopes, CamelBak's Zoid, in either the 40- or 70-ounce size ($37 and $47, respectively), fits under your jacket, and the patented bite valve means instant access to agua.

For protection's sake, take along Da Kine's Cool Tool ($10). Its five bits, including a ten-millimeter wrench, and its ratcheting action allow you to make most minor repairs on the hill, eliminating that frustrating hike out to the shop. Zardoz Notwax ($15) is easily applied to your boards, and it's the only stuff that allows decent sliding on that dirty, sticky spring stuff.

Photographs by Clay Ellis

More Gear