Without knowing very much, ski touring might seem very simple – ski uphill with skins on, get to the tip, rip skins off and then ski downhill. In its essence, this is what touring is and why people love the sport, but there are plenty of unknown variables involved, like avalanche concerns and weather. One thing you can control is your body temperature with layers. The art of layering can make or break your day ski touring.
Here is our guide to efficiently layering for a ski tour.
Let’s start with the first layer, undies! Yes, these can make a difference in your comfort levels. Don’t wear cotton undies if you don’t want “monkey butt”; wool or synthetics are the way to go. For bras, again: wool or synthetics. Wool breathes. After skinning uphill, there is nothing worse than a sweaty, wet bra. I personally almost exclusively wear wool bras. I am rather obsessed with Icebreaker’s Cool Lite Meld Zone Sports Bra. For those who can’t wear wool for whatever reason, I recommend Patagonia’s Cross Beta Sports Bra and those who have fuller chests, Under Armour has a great selection. Wacool makes two great bras for larger cups with wire and without.
Next on will be your baselayer: again, I am all about the wool. When it comes to bottoms, for temperatures at freezing and above, I will wear a lighter-weight wool, like Kari Traa’s Svala pant. For colder, well-below freezing temps, I will go with a thicker weight, like a 260 weight pant – Icebreaker makes some great options. Patagonia offers a 51-percent merino wool blend called Capilene Air, which has the same properties as wool.
For those who can’t wear any wool, poly-jersey blends with Polygiene like Rab’s Flux Pants offer another option. Most people then wear a waterproof shell pant on top of their baselayers. I prefer pants like the Arc’teryx Sentinel pant or Shashka pant because of the pocket locations, articulation and their minimal weight. It is good to have a waterproof hardshell for ski touring in the winter, especially if you are expecting to ski powder. Soft shells are fine for lighter, drier or warmer days.
For baselayer tops, the same colder-weather, heavier-weight ratio applies. I prefer ¼ zips tops like Smartwool’s, because they allow me to regulate my heat a bit better. Again, if you can’t wear wool, there are plenty of synthetic baselayers that have ¼ zips, and certainly crew necks are great; it’s just a matter of personal preference. Knowing if you typically run cold or hot helps with putting together the proper layer combination.
I typically run cold, so for my next layer, I will wear something like the Icebreaker Quantum Long Sleeve Zip Hoodie or as a non-wool option, the R1 fleece by Patagonia. This is when I typically put my beacon on. Always have your beacon under a layer of clothing – it helps prolong battery life.
Midlayers and Shells
For my next layer, if it is around freezing or a few degrees below, I will put on a thin wind shell like Rab’s Borealis jacket and begin skinning. It is important to start cold so you can acclimatize and save energy by not having to change (you should be cold standing still.) If temps are well below freezing, I will add a highly breathable midlayer like the Arc’teryx Proton LT or a Nano Air from Patagonia. Midlayers like these breathe: They’re air permeable, and can help you stay warm without over-heating.
Whether you are having a tea, a bite, making terrain assessment or taking your skins off before you ski/ride down, it is important to retain your heat when you aren’t moving. If I am pulling skins, I’ll throw on a hardshell first – like the Arc’teryx Shashka jacket. Then I put on a warm, packable puffy. I will stash my skins inside my midlayer. This helps keeps them warm and the the glue sticky. Just before I ski, I will take off my puffy and ski down with all my touring layers plus a hardshell.
Lastly, accessories – which are just as important as your other layers. Ski socks like Smartwool’s PhD line are great starters. For your hands, choose lighter gloves for skinning and heavier gloves for skiing down. I’ll typically bring three pairs: A light pair like the Mammut Astro Glove, a slightly heavier glove like the Mammut Alvier Glove, and for skiing, I am a huge fan of the Hestra Heli Ski GLove with the first finger free. They are very dexterous, a cross between a mitten and a glove.
I almost always wear a trucker hat and buff combo while skinning, and a helmet skiing down. I find that trucker hats actually regulate heat well and keep the sun off my face. I use Buffs to add warmth by either putting on my hat, or over my ears. Sometimes if it is cold enough I will add a beanie over the top. Bigtruck’s Original Hats are supple and don’t lose their shape. I also wear sunglasses with reactive lenses like Julbo Monterosa, which have larger bands that are streamlined and stay on my hat when I am not wearing them.
Even though I wear hats, I always wear sunscreen. I try to use natural sunscreens because they are better for the world, my skin and they won’t sting in my eyes when I get moving and sweating. My favorite is Manda, which works really and a feels more like a paste/moisturizer and never runs.
Ultimately, you will have to do at least a handful of ski tours in varying weather to figure what works best for you. In the beginning, it is better to bring too many layers than too little. Happy touring!
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