Cross-country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing, is not only one of the toughest endurance sports, but also a sport that places great demands on your clothes if your goal is to perform optimally. While the garments should protect against low temperatures and cold wind, they should also ensure that the body's excess heat is efficiently ventilated. Based on our longstanding collaboration with the Swedish national cross-country ski team, this guide is designed to help you dress for success in the tracks.
By dressing optimally all the way from the inside out you will stay both warm and dry, allowing you to perform better and work out longer.
Start by putting on a pair of boxerbriefs/briefs or panties and a sports bra – all made of 100 percent polyester. Polyester does not bind moisture but transports it from the skin and out through the garment, allowing you to stay dry and warm. Unfortunately, many skiers make the mistake of using ordinary cotton underwear. Then it doesn’t matter if you wear a polyester baselayer outside the underwear – the cotton will absorb the sweat and quickly cool you down. It would then be better to skip the underwear and just wear a functional baselayer closest to the skin.
Outside the underwear, wear a baselayer made of polyester. For optimal function, the baselayer should fit tightly, even in the armpits. Otherwise, the moisture may not be transported out of the garment but instead remain on the skin where it creates a chilly “lid”. For cold and windy conditions, you can choose a baselayer with wind-protective fabric at the front. However, it’s often enough with a regular baselayer combined with a pair of underwear with wind protection across the genital area.
For those who prefer to take it a little bit slower in the tracks, baselayer with a mix of polyester and wool is a great option. Wool doesn’t provide as efficient moisture transport as polyester but has great thermal properties, making the combination of polyester and wool the perfect choice for low-intensity workouts in low temperatures.
Baselayers come in many different qualities and thicknesses, designed for various intensities and temperatures. Make sure you choose a baselayer that suits your intensity level and your needs in terms of warmth and ventilation.
The socks should also be made of polyester, or polyester and wool if you are prone to cold feet. In cooler conditions, some skiers prefer to wear two thin socks, which provides a warming layer-on-layer effect, while others choose to have a thicker wool/polyester sock. Try and see what suits you best. However, be sure that it doesn’t get too tight in the boot, which would eliminate the insulating layers of warm air between the boot, sock and foot. Another tip is to ensure that your feet are dry when putting on the socks. Then you reduce the risk of freezing since moisture transfers cold rapidly.
Outside the baselayer you add a middle layer on the upper body to keep you warm in cold conditions. The midlayer should be made of 100 percent polyester to ensure the moisture transport continues through the garment. However, for elite athletes about to compete or do tough interval training it’s usually sufficient with only a thin suit (or light jacket and tights) outside the baselayer.
A great versatile alternative is so-called hybrid garments that work both as a midlayer underneath a jacket in cold conditions and as an outer garment in milder temperatures.
As outerwear you wear a thin jacket and flexible pants or tights. There are several great jackets and pants that feature wind-resistant fabric on the front and elastic, breathable fabric at the back. As a result, the front protects against the cold wind while the back ventilates excess heat and transports moisture from the inner layer.
For cross-country skiing in really cold conditions, a good alternative is jackets and pants that combine wind protection with light insulation. This type of garment is also suitable for warming up and for the trip to and from the ski area.
For skiers who want a full Nordic ski wardrobe, we also recommend a vest in functional material. Training vests are available in thin, windproof versions as well as in warmer styles and offer a flexible way to quickly adapt the outfit to changing weather conditions and varying training intensities.
Many skiers tend to sometimes dress a little too warm. Dressing correctly will improve both your performance and overall ski experience. A good tip is to always look at the thermometer before you hit the tracks, and then test your way during the training sessions. Eventually you will learn how many layers you need at different temperatures. It’s usually preferable to wear less clothes and be a little bit cold during the first 5 to 10 minutes of the workout, because that’s when the body heats up to reach its working temperature.
To regulate the heat and transport sweat from the head and hands, your hat and gloves should have a base of polyester. If it’s really cold, you can wear two hats and two layer of gloves – one layer of polyester closest to the skin and a thicker layer on the outside. Hats with a blend of wool and polyester make a great choice in cold conditions.
Remember that it’s always better to buy thinner clothes and wear multiple layers. This creates layers of air in between the garments that provide more warmth than one thick garment. And if it gets too hot, you can easily remove a layer.
No matter how many layers you wear, it’s always important that the clothes are not too loose. Elastic garments with a tight, ergonomic fit keep you warm and increase your freedom of movement. Furthermore, tight clothes eliminate the risk for your poles to get stuck in flapping pants.
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