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The layering basics every cross-country skier should know
Simplicity, precision and planning are all that’s needed to start warm and stay warm no matter what the day brings.
From classics laps on your local trails to taking your sticks onto freshly snow-covered trails for the first time, like all winter activities, the importance of proper layering can’t be exaggerated. Like the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.”
To the seasoned nordic skier, it’s a saying that’s well-known and a ritual, well-rehearsed. A look outside the window, a quick glance at a weather app. When it comes to snow and cold days, these skiers know all about choosing the right clothes so that the freedom of movement needed for cross-country skiing is not restricted. For the rest of us, getting prepped requires more thought.
What layers are best for warmer days? Fast-changing weather? What about low-light or even darkness with headlamp? How do you manage moisture on hillier tracks when climbing and descending are constant?
Be it in ODLO or otherwise, basic layering follows a simple principle: the application of a base, mid and outer layer as a foundation to keep out cold and keep you comfortable. By finding what works, you’ll start your own ritual and be moving confidently (and comfortably) on snow in no time.
Skis waxed. Coffee done. It’s time to get dressed and make tracks. Where to begin? Most believe it all starts with a solid base (layer) – a next-to-skin top and bottom to manage sweat and retain heat, where needed.
Broadly speaking, base layers fall into one of three categories: synthetics (for high heart rate, high sweat activities, perfect for Nordic skiing); blends (a mix of synthetic and natural fibers (great for endurance and keeping warm); finally, naturals (typically wool, warm and perfect for repeated use when laundry day is nowhere in sight.)
Base layers are inspired by autonomy, performance and elegance. Done right, you should barely feel it on. It’s a technical, snug fitting layer, yes, and whichever works for you, wearing it is the most critical element for layering well.
Warmth, weight and wicking: mid layers
For ski days long and short, mid layers are key for supporting range of movement, cutting down on unnecessary bulk and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Depending on where and what time of year you’re skiing, it could also double as an outer layer for a couple fast laps before dusk.
Crudely defined, mid layers are worn overtop your base and under your shell. Nordic-specific ones are streamlined, functional and equally at home on a cold run or hike in the high mountains. Material types (like base layers) vary widely. Quarter and full zips (to adapt to temperatures) and stash pockets – good for keys, AirPods and lip balm – are features we’d recommend.
Across categories and types, mid layers range in fit and functionality. The best are lightweight and able to perform when skating hard or in the drops.
Softshell or hardshell?
Shells in both these categories are a critical layer for combating a range of weather types and the last step in a three-tiered layering system upon which many enthusiasts rely.
Both softshells and hardshells are created to shield you from bad weather. But a distinction must be made here: whereas softshells are made from lighter-weight fabrics and offer greater range of mobility, hardshells are the stuff of serious efforts. Unless the weather really requires it, a softshell is better suited to Nordics. You’ll reap the benefits of breathability while still getting plenty of protection and warmth when it’s time to stop.
Last minute details
Pants, hats and gloves. Yes, you’ll need those to layer properly, too. Like everything snow-sport, keeping the head and hands warm is key, as is a good pair of lightweight, performance-specific pants to layer overtop your base. A windproof and breathable pant are features to look out for, as are the same basic principles of freedom of movement in whichever outer shell fabric you choose.
Now, basic layers done. Time to enjoy.
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