How to Stay Warm Enough or Cool Enough While Backcountry Skiing
If you are like me, and you get cold easily, then I am here to share with you my top tips for staying warm while backcountry adventure. As a mountain guide and wife of a professional mountain guide, I’ve spent a lot of time in the backcountry. Whether enjoying the backcountry for myself or for a guided backcountry ski trip, how to layer for skiing is important.
One tricky thing about being out in the wild you should know is this: Staying Dry! If you get wet you lose heat 5 times as fast as when you are dry. As the eskimos use to say, “To Sweat is to Die.”
Featured Article: A look back on our backcountry ski trips for 22-23 Season.
How to layer for skiing?
So, having said that, you can see how important it is to get your layers right. At the trailhead, I usually layer down just before I take off, or I will hike for 10 minutes, and then take a layer off before I get sweaty. That is the key! Layer down before you get wet! That includes your gloves and your hat.
Remember this, If you are comfortable standing there, you will be too hot in 10 minutes of hiking. I like ski pants that have ventilation zippers on the sides. I like to hike in breathable layers on the top. I only use my gortex when it is snowing or really wet out. Here’s how to layer when skiing:
What to Wear when Skiing the Backcountry
how to layer for skiing: Keep Your Head warm:
- Carry a sunhat and a warm hat and be able to change them out quickly. I like to cut a little hole in my warm hat in the back. Then I keep a carabiner on my pack. I put my sunhat on the carabiner. When I get out I trade out the hats without having to stop.
- Use a buff or face mask of sorts. I have a buff that I cut breathing holes in where the nose and mouth are so that it would not fog up my glasses or goggles. I also put a bit of extra fleece that I sowed into the nose and under the lip. With covid we are wearing more masks and this does help keep your face and lungs warmer. It is tricky not to fog up without the air holes.
- Have a hood. My baslayer has a tight fitting hood that can work as a hat if I lose mine or have it packed away. Like, when I am approaching the top of the ridge and the wind is all of a sudden in my face.
how to layer for skiing: Keep Your Feet Warm and Dry:
- Make sure your boots are not too tight! So important! Tight boots constrict the blood flow and you can get frostnip or frostbite.
- Where warm layers on your legs. Most people don’t realize that when you are losing heat out of your legs and core, the first thing to get cold is your hands and feet. That is because your body draws the blood from the periphery to heat your heart, lungs and brains which you can not survive without. I almost always wear a thick long john under my ski pants in the winter. You will have to see what works for you. I have been known to take my ski pants off on the way up and just hike in my long johns if it proves to be a warm day in the spring.
- Get a down skirt. Ok, this is generally more for the ladies, but I won’t judge you boys if you get one. I love it because it is so easy to put on over everything else. Mostly I use it when I stop to eat on a cold day to prevent the loss of heat. It is amazing how it helps keep the toes warm.
- Try some heated socks. I love my heated socks. It was my Christmas present last year and I get to feel so much gratitude for my husband every time they save my feet from the cold. The ones I have cost around $300 and are made by Lenz. They are amazing. I can turn them on with my phone and adjust the temperature. There are some cheaper ones too.
- Carry extra socks in the car. Right when I get to the car, I take my ski boots off and put on dry socks. My feet are always wet at the end of the day, and this saves me suffering all the way back home.
- Boot gloves are helpful too when it comes to how to layer. Yes, I have heated socks and boot gloves. I have tested the boot gloves by only wearing one and yes, they work. The foot without it got cold more quickly. Boot gloves run at about $30.
- Intuition liner: Most importantly, get a boot with an intuition liner. I have the Scarpa Gia’s. I really like them. I used to have some Dynafits with a thinner liner and my feet froze. I was miserable. I replaced the original liner with an Intuition liner and that helped, but the boot fit wasn’t great. So choose a boot with a warm liner if your feet get cold easily.
- Finally, don’t stand in the snow. I stay on my skis and change out one ski at a time. This way my feet are not buried in cold snow.
- Avoid Frostbite: If your feet are painfully cold, then STOP, pull one at a time out of the boot, put your sock on your belly to warm it up, gently warm your feet. Place them on a partner’s belly if they will let you. Then put them in the boot and start moving. This can save your feet.
How to layer to keep your Legs and Upper Body Warm
- Get pants that are thin and have ventilation zippers.
- Choose the right base layer for the day.
- Take off an upper body layer if your legs are hot.
- For your upper body, I take a lot of puffy jackets. Usually a thin, medium, and a thinker one. I get super lightweight down jackets. There are days when I am glad to have all three. Other days, I may only use two, but I am still happy to have the extra layer for emergencies as well.
- Take a wind layer. The wind jackets are so small and light. They definitely make a difference in warmth too if it is windy.
- I only carry Gore Tex if it is supposed to be wet. It doesn’t breathe as well, so I like the down instead.
How to layer to Keep your hands warm:
- Hand Warmers: I always keep a pair or two in my pack for emergencies and daily use. I did start to feel like there was a lot of waste using them daily which is why I went to heated gloves.
- Heated Gloves: I have the Black Diamond Solano Heated Gloves. This was another Christmas present for which I am so grateful. They work great. Just make sure you turn them off if you are doing a beacon search as they can interfere with the signal.
- Take several pairs of gloves: I take a thin liner glove for hiking up. I have my medium weight leather glove for most of the day, and a lightweight down mitt for emergencies or cold afternoons.
- Ball your hand up in a fist. Please, don’t just let your fingers get cold. Immediately pull them into a fist and warm them when they start to get cold.
- Add an extra layer on your body. This can help warm up your hands.
How to layer for skiing: Keep your Drinks warm:
- Bring a thermos with some warm tea and honey. Add some snow too cool it down if needed. Drinking cold water will make you cold.
- Take warm water in your water bladder or bottle. Then it won’t be so cold on the trail. Water bladders can have problems with freezing. Yet, if you know how to do it well you can make them work. Blow any water out after each use. If the nozzle freezes then hold it in your mouth and blow on it, or stick it down your shirt.
- Hydrate well before hitting the trail. Hydration is a key part of being warm. When you are hydrated you have an increased blood volume that can reach your hands and feet. It is better for your heart too. See my hydration plan below. I don’t take much water on the trail myself, just the thing of tea usually, as I show up super hydrated, and I take soup and fruit which both hydrate me.
- Take some tea to drink on the way up or down in the car
Keep your food warm
- Warm soup: I have a 22oz. Thermos I take with some warm veggie soup each day. It is delicious and nutritious. Excitingly, it warms me right up too!
- Fruit: I take apple sauce packets, apples, oranges (pre-peeled), and dried bananas. Apple sauce is great because I can keep it in my pocket so it is not too cold, then it hydrates me and gives my quick available glucose and nutrients to fuel me fast without requiring much digestion. The oranges give me great vitamin C and electrolytes, and the bananas have potassium, glucose, and other vitamins.