I love to play in the snow, but dealing with all the necessary gear can be a huge hassle. That’s why I’ve dedicated lots of time to dialing in the perfect layering system that’s versatile enough to keep me warm in the most frigid conditions but also breathable enough for the skin track. Here’s what I wear.
Next to Skin
If you ski, you’ll need a thin, ski-specific sock like these from Fits. But for winter hikes, building snowmen, and shoveling the driveway, I recommend a thick, cushioned merino sock like the Darn Tough Mountaineering Over the Calf, which I like because they add lots of warmth and don’t squeeze my foot or calf, and the fabric fights stink. They’re pricey at $27, but the company backs them up with a lifetime warranty.
Base Layer (Bottom)
I’ve tested hundreds of base layers for Outside’s Buyer’s Guide but always find myself going back to Patagonia’s Capilene Lightweight tights. The recycled polyester wicks moisture almost immediately, they provide plenty of warmth under my ski pants when temps are above zero, and, thanks to a Polygiene silver treatment, they don’t stink until the fifth straight use.
Base Layer (Top)
The NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody, made in Oregon, is beautifully simple and built with Polartec High Efficiency Power Dry fabric, which is about as good as it gets when you’re talking moisture management. You sweat, and the fabric makes it disappear. I also like the balaclava hood, which I can pull up when a regular beanie isn’t cutting it.
I like a subdued beanie like Coal’s Scout. There’s no pom-pom on top or any fancy tech inside. Made from synthetic materials, it’s warm enough to ski in and doesn’t look goofy at the bar.
I keep two of these buffs in my jacket at all times, just in case a friend needs one. I like to pull it below my chin and over my ears, and I wear it under a trucker hat on the skin track and under my helmet for the descent. It’s also great for sun protection.
My favorite midlayer is Mountain Hardwear Men’s Monkey Man. The hairlike Polartec High Loft fabric doesn’t add a lot of weight—the entire jacket weighs just 14 ounces—but traps lots of heat. The fabric wicks moisture once you start moving.
I run hot, so I use a shell to stay dry only when the weather is puking or when it’s windy and the chilly air is cutting through my midlayer. You can spend a month’s rent on a high-end shell that you would use for mountaineering or backcountry skiing, but for general winter use, you can get away with something like Columbia’s Watertight II Jacket, which is waterproof and breathable but costs less than $100.
On the coldest days or when you’re not in constant motion, you’ll need a down jacket like Marmot’s Guides Down Hoody. The 700-fill down is plenty for most of us. I also like that the down has a hydrophobic treatment, meaning it’s water resistant and won’t wet out immediately.
Don’t be the guy wearing tennis shoes while trying to get his car out of a snowbank. Invest in a good pair of winter boots like Sorel’s 1964 Premium Wool. You’ll understand why you need winter footwear the first time you wear these heavily insulated, waterproof, good-looking boots.
There’s no better all-around winter glove than the Four Season Give’r. The leather is tough as shit and great for chopping wood. They’re soft and pliable, so you retain lots of dexterity for things like putting on chains. They’re also insulated, so you can use them skiing.