Last Updated on March 12, 2022

Thinking of going cross-country skiing and not sure what clothing you should wear? You are not alone in wondering. The clothing you need for cross-country skiing is different from what you should wear for downhill skiing so below I explain what you will need.

Cross country skiing clothing you will need

Cross Country Skiing vs Downhill Skiing Clothing

Both cross country and downhill (alpine) skiing do of course involve snow and tend to take place in cold climates.

Furthermore, you might also sometimes combine these two types of skiing if you are a good level skier and traveling a distance.

As a beginner though, such as if you are going on your first cross country skiing holiday or vacation, it is important to understand the differences in terms of what to wear and dress up in.

Warm Clothes that Allow Flexibility

With cross country skiing, you are having to exert a lot more physical effort than downhill skiing and thus you will heat up very quickly during the skiing, and cool down fast when taking a break (such as to eat or take a photo opportunity).

For this reason, the key thing is to put on several warm layers that you can easily take off.

You do not want to overheat when cross country skiing, so removable or adjustable layers are key.

Suggested Clothing and Items You Will Need

Cross country skier in Finland

The good news is that, for cross country skiing, you will quite likely already have several items that you will need such as a fleece or windproof jacket.

Let me explain what clothing you will wear and what other gear you will need in more detail, but first, let’s look at a list of the key items you’ll need:


  • Thermal underwear to keep the cockels and muscles warm 🙂 Wool can be the best but synthetic is also fine.
  • Long sleeved shirt
  • Thermal Long johns
  • Fleece (wool is ideal)
  • Warm jacket (i.e., Goretex or another decent quality one. Try to get one that is breathable, is waterproof and windproof, and that has a hood)
  • Ski trousers (or pants as they are known in American English. Windproof and breathable ones ideally)
  • Two pairs of gloves (so that you have a dry set spare)
  • Socks (woolly ones can be the best and you’ll want a few pairs. Synthetic is also okay if you prefer. Different thickness ones can also be an idea so that you can find the best match with your ski boots)
  • *Small backpack/rucksack (this is extremely useful as you can put any layers you take off if you get too hot, into your backpack. You can also use it to carry drinking water and a spare pair of gloves and socks. These spares will be useful if the items you are wearing get damp. You might want also to have a mini-flask in your rucksack for a hot drink)
  • Sunglasses (it can get suprisingly sunny on the mountains)
  • Hat (nice warm one, i.e. a wolly one)

Extras (Optional)

  • Mittens (You might want to have a pair of these over your gloves and waterproof ones are best)
  • Balaclava (i.e. woolly one for extra warmth around the neck)
  • Buff (a buff is a fabric you can wear around your neck)
  • Sun protection
  • A few plastic bags (or alternative dry bag) that folds up and can be kept in your small backpack and used in case you need to put any damp items into a bag)

Ski Equipment (but which you might be able to hire)

  • Ski boots (as a beginner you can normally hire these)
  • Cross country skis
  • Ski poles

Layers Explained

Cross country skiing gear and kit

You will hear these terms in reference to cross-country skiing when you shop for gear so let me explain the layer types:

  • Base Layer – this is the layer touching your skin, i.e. the inner most layer you will wear. Wool or synthetic materials work well for the base layer because they help the layer to dry quickly, especially when you sweat. (You want to avoid damp clothing to avoid then getting cold).
  • Middle Layer – this a layer for keeping warm so a fleece, for example, is good
  • Outer Layer – in this layer, windproof and waterproof are important

Let’s take a look at each of these layers in a little more detail.

Base Layer

This layer of clothing should not be too tight or restrictive so that you can easily and freely move (especially important in cross-country skiing).

It will include your underwear and you could then wear thermal wear such as long-johns, yoga pants, or running tights.

In terms of material, avoid cotton (as it absorbs liquid) and go for a merino wool base layer, or polyester.

Middle Layer

For the middle layer, you will want either one or two items to act as an insulation layer.

It will depend on the temperature and if you are cross-country skiing in damp or dry cold.

Furthermore, the level to which you sweat easily or not and how prone you are to feel the cold or not will dictate if you use one or two clothing items for the mid-layer.

As long as you have a small backpack (or your partner does) then you can easily decide as you ski whether to wear one or two middle layers.

The chances are that you already own clothing that is suitable to use as a base layer. Items can include a:

  • thin woolly jumper (you might already own)
  • fleece to,p i.e. a fleece pullover (another item you might already have)
  • an insulated vest
  • smart wool top

Outer Layer

For the outside layer, you want a jacket but not a big bulky one like you would otherwise wear if doing downhill skiing.

You need flexibility in the arms and body to work much harder physically (as you have to push yourself).

Try and get a jacket that is not bulky and that is waterproof and windproof. The jacket should also be breathable, meaning it lets the sweat out.

In essence, a soft shell jacket is what you want.

Likewise, the outer trousers (pants in American English) should also be breathable and waterproof.

Key Points: Cross-Country Skiing Gear

So to re-iterate the key points, when it comes to cross-skiing gear you will wear, the key is:

  • Layers that you can easily take off or put on is the key
  • A backpack to put the layers you are not using in.
  • Avoid a really big thick jacket like what you would wear for downhill skiing.

Getting Physically Fit for a Cross Country Skiing Holiday

I highly recommend also making an effort before you go on your cross country skiing holiday to try and prepare yourself physically for the trip.

You will get so much more out of the experience if you are better able to physically enjoy cross-country skiing.

cross country skiing

Some quick tips

  • Practice standing on one leg every day, to improve your balance. Do 1 minute on each leg every day.
  • You do not need to use a gym as anything at all that improves fitness helps. Is there a hill locally so you can do a 15 minutes three times a week and at least build up your cardio and legs a little bit?
  • If you are happy to go to the local gym then a cross trainer three times a week can be great to prepeare for cross-country skiing. Some gyms also have cross-country skiing style machines. Perfect!
  • Can you go running once a week 5km (just build up very gradually, for example, you can use the Couch to 5K app)