Not sure what to buy, borrow or bring from home for your ski vacation? Here’s a lowdown of all the essentials you need to pack for ski trip. Or if you need a comprehensive packing checklist, see our Ski Trip Packing List.
Ski and Snowboard Gear
Ski gear is expensive so if you’re a first-timer then rent your skis or snowboard, ski boots and ski poles otherwise, pack it.
Nothing ruins skiing quite like getting wet so make sure you pack the right ski clothing to stay dry. Again, first-timers can rent or borrow a ski jacket but if you’re looking to get your own then there are two key things to look out for: waterproof rating and breathability. The higher the number, the more waterproof the ski jacket and drier you’ll be.
Breathability is essential as this will allow moisture/sweat to escape the ski jacket without letting water in; keeping you nice and dry.
When it comes to ski clothing, the most well-known and trusted materials used for waterproofing and breathability are Gore-Tex and eVent. This is due to the pores in the membrane of the material that are larger than a molecule of sweat but smaller than a molecule of water which allows moisture to move away from the body and prevents water from coming in. Gore-Tex has long been the best for waterproofing and breathability as well as durability thanks to the Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) membrane which prevents oils (caused by sunscreen, our bodies etc) from penetrating in. eVent also uses PTFE and is known for being more breathable than Gore-Tex as it uses an oil and water-hating chemical to vent moisture out. On the downside, its membrane isn't as well protected.
There are three main styles you will come across: 3-in-1 ski jackets, jacket shells and insulated jackets. A 3-in-1 ski jacket includes an inner shell that can range from a thin fleece to a warmer synthetic-fill. They can be worn together or separate and therefore are relatively inexpensive considering the deal you’re getting. Jacket shells that are unpadded and waterproof (that also subs as windproof) tend to be cheaper than the insulated options and therefore if you layer well enough, can be great value. Insulated jackets are less versatile and are mainly designed to keep you warm, yet not dry. Little disclaimer; if you are the type to get cold very quickly then consider an insulated jacket.
Fleece or Inner Shell
A fleece or your jackets inner shell is optional because personally, I think it is based on your level of skiing. If you’re a cruiser and like to stop at the top for a few photos and then carry on skiing, you probably need this layer. However, if you’re up for first tracks and the go-go-go type then considering ditching it as you’ll want to keep your layers minimal. (Exceptions apply on extremely cold and/or blizzard days- put your fleece on. Trust me.). If anything it doesn't hurt to pack a fleece as you can always wear it when you're not out skiing.
Your mid layer is important because it is your insulating layer. This could range from anything like a long-sleeved sweatshirt to a lightweight down jacket or even a thicker woollen sweater or jumper depending on the temperatures. I choose to pack the latter more often than not. Remember layering is key for keeping warm but if it gets hot, the mid-layer is the one I choose to ditch as it’s generally the warmest layer you’ll be wearing.
Your base layer should be a snug fitting long sleeve top that will be able to absorb sweat and keep you dry and warm during skiing. Think breathability. My personal tip when choosing a base layer is to steer clear from cotton which stays wet when you sweat and even some heavy wools. Synthetic fabrics are my go to.
Waterproofing is essential for ski pants as they get more snow on them as you fall over, sit on chairlifts or sit on the snow waiting for your friends. Pants with mild waterproofing will be between 5,000 to 10,000mm while those with very high waterproofing will be over 20,000mm. Same rules apply as ski jackets: rent or buy if it’s your first time.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; avoid cotton. It will get wet from sweat or snow and then you will get cold. Very quickly. Leggings or even yoga pants will probably suffice for a few days but if you want to guarantee comfort, opt for a good pair of thermal leggings. Again, wear wools or synthetics.
A helmet is the most important item you will wear on the mountain. If you don’t want to buy one or if you forget to pack yours, you can rent one for under $10 USD ($13 CAD) a day in most ski resorts. It could mean the difference between another lap on the slopes or a trip to the hospital. Just wear it.
You need goggles to avoid glare, increase contrast and they’re important for protection from the cold, wind or debris which is why I prefer them over sunglasses.
Goggles with interchangeable lenses are my go-to. This isn’t required or even necessary as most goggles can be considered all-rounders when it comes to their lens. Yet, if you want to be able to adapt to different conditions and enhance your “viewing experience” on the mountain, then give them a try. If you’re skiing bluebird (congrats) you will need a dark lens yet on a cloudy/low vis day, get a hold of a light coloured lens- pale green is my personal favourite - for better depth perception. They are easy to manually replace by popping out the lens with another lens- always remembering never to touch the inside of the lens.
Always bring your neck warmer or gaiter; it’ll protect you from the wind. Neck warmers are small enough to shove in your ski jacket if it gets too hot so really there’s no excuse for not packing it. Neck warmers range from a thick fleece material to a more lightweight microfiber material. Both do the job. Next!
Or mittens. Whatever floats your boat. My snowboarder friends tend to wear mittens with an inner layer (as they are more likely to be in contact with the snow) whereas skiers may prefer the maneuverability that gloves offer. Just make sure they’re waterproof and insulated.
Could be the difference between a good day or a bad day. Get a good pair of socks, either a tall woollen pair or if you’re vegan/environmentally conscious, opt for some eco socks made from Tencel that will still keep your feet warm and dry! Also, make sure you don’t let your socks bunch up under your boots- it will make your foot go numb. You’re welcome. Save space in your luggage by packing your socks and goggles in your ski boots.
If it's your first time skiing or snowboarding then you've probably been warned about how much you will fall. And you will, so be sure to pack some protective gear. Knee pads are a great starting point. Snowboarders, you'll probably be falling a lot more, especially on your bottom. Padded impact shorts can be worn internally over your thermal pants while external bum pads (which look more like cushions) can be worn externally and often come in interesting designs such as turtle shells. Both do the job. Wrist guards are also ideal as newer skiers and snowboarders put out their hands when falling (a big no-no).
Bring a small backpack. This isn’t necessary but is helpful if you do decide to ditch layers. You can also then pack some snacks, water, and camera. You can also fit in the little items that you usually fit in your ski jacket such as tissues, sunscreen, lip balm and hand warmers. Remember, everything on the mountain is pretty expensive so if you’re on a budget, a backpack is a good idea to pack things for the day.
A warm winter jacket and a few layers should suffice once you’re off the mountain. Pack a few casual tops and jumpers to mix and match along with long pants for après ski. Gloves and a warm winter hat or beanie will also help keep you warm. Ladies, dress it up with a nice scarf. Most importantly, bring waterproof non-slip shoes, boots or trail shoes for walking around the village.
Got everything on this list? Then see our Ski Trip Packing List for a comprehensive checklist.