Best Women’s Ski Gear: How to Gear Up For Skiing
If you’re just getting into skiing, or just need a gear refresh, you’re probably overwhelmed by information. But most of it is aimed at men.
Maybe you googled “best women’s ski gear” and found a lot of brightly colored, patterned jackets. But how do you tell if they actually work? What do you actually need?
Sure, we want to look good. Color options are important — and something more than teal and pink would be great (hint hint manufacturers, women also like earth tones, neutrals, and bright colors). Sometimes you do want to feel feminine when you’re covered head to toe in Gore-tex. Sometimes, you just want to blend in with the boys. There’s no right answer to what women’s gear looks like.
But more importantly, when you’re floating through steep powder or carving down a groomer, you want to feel good. You want to feel like the freakin badass you are, and your gear needs to support that.
You need ski pants that actually fit your thighs — because if you ski or snowboard, you probably have thighs! And your jacket needs to be warm, but not too warm, and breathe well, AND keep you dry.
And don’t even get me started on hard gear (boots, skis, etc). There’s such a lack of high-quality ski reviews for women that when I started skiing I had no idea where to turn. So I just started looking at men’s gear instead.
Skiing is already a hard sport to get into. There’s a huge learning curve, the gear is expensive, the lift tickets are expensive, gas to drive to the mountains is expensive. But getting shut down at the research stage is just unacceptable.
In this blog, I’m going to attempt to give a comprehensive look at how to gear up for skiing for women. I’m not going to tell you what the best women’s ski jacket is, I’m going to tell you how to find the best one for you. I’ll talk about how to layer and what is worth splurging for (and what’s not worth it).
What Do You Need For Skiing?When heading out skiing, obviously you need skis and boots, as well as clothes to wear on the slopes. It can be overwhelming to take in all the options. So here I break down the types of gear you’ll need to head out.
Soft Gear: Layers, Layers, Layers
The best way to dress for skiing is by layering. This way if you get too hot, there’s always something to take off, or put on. If you spend time outside already, many of your current outdoor clothes will translate well to skiing.
If you’re new to the outdoors and have no idea the difference between gore-tex and merino and just want to know if you can wear what you already have, (“can you wear leggings under ski pants?” — the answer is yes, as long as they’re not cotton!) read on to learn more about what gear is the most important to buy in the beginning.
We’ll start from the bottom layer, and work out from there.
Base LayersBase layers, your new best friend. A high quality base layer top and bottom will keep you warm when you start to sweat, and helps insulate from the ground up. Basically, anything that isn't made of cotton will do to start out. You want your base layers to fit snugly, to allow for layering on top.
Although I love my merino wool base layers, if that's just not in the budget right now, don’t worry about it. Synthetic materials tend to be more durable and more affordable. If you have any synthetic long sleeved workout shirts sitting in your closet, those would work great as a base layer to get started. Base layers are also a great thing to find used, I’ve found a variety of high quality wool base layers at used gear shops online and in person.
For your legs, any sort of legging that is not made out of cotton will work perfectly. I wore fleece lined leggings from American Eagle for years before getting “real” base layers. What you wear on your legs also depends on whether you wear insulated ski pants or non insulated ski pants, and your comfort level with cold temperatures.
The next layers you want to think about are mid layers. You can easily wear fleeces, puffy jackets, or softshells for this, don’t worry too much about it being waterproof, because you will want to add an outer layer on top, especially on powder days!
If you have an all in one ski jacket that is insulated and waterproof, that works also. But, at least for me, I like my clothes to be multi-purpose. I wear the same puffy jackets around town that I do when I go skiing and they are the same layers that I take ice climbing, hiking, and more.
My layering system usually looks like: base layer, thin fleece (I use a Patagonia R1), breathable synthetic jacket (my favorite is the Arcteryx Atom AR). Sometimes I’ll add a puffy jacket on top of that if it's really cold.
The best women’s ski jacket is whatever keeps you warm, dry, comfortable, and allows you to shred for as long as you want. You don’t want to feel so bulky you can’t move, but warmth is also important.
Synthetic materials such as Primaloft are going to serve you better than down in most scenarios in the snow, since there’s always a likelihood that you could get wet. However, if a down jacket is what you have, and it's a bluebird day, you’ll probably be fine.
For your legs, if you have insulated ski pants, you probably won’t need lower mid layers. However, if you’re someone who tends to get cold easily, or your ski pants are just a shell, some fleece pants or (non cotton) sweatpants would work well as a mid layer for your legs.
Outer LayersNext up, we have our outer layers. Now this might be what people think of when they think of “ski clothes”. And unlike the first two clothing sections, you may actually have to go out and get something special for this, as opposed to using what you have.
But, the bottom line is that you want your outermost layers to be waterproof. If this means wearing some rain pants and a rain jacket over fleece pants and a puffy jacket, all the power to you.
But if you’re committed to skiing or snowboarding, you’ll want to find something a bit more technical, for your ski jacket and ski pants, mostly because you will be more comfortable that way.
If you’re only going to be skiing in a resort, insulated pants and jacket could be a good idea. If you plan on backcountry skiing, the best women’s ski touring pants will probably be only a shell, with plenty of vents, because it can get very sweaty on the uphill.
Look for ski pants that have vents, because even if you’re riding the lift up, you’ll get hot on the way down. You can also choose between bibs vs pants, if you want the style and full coverage of bibs — just make sure to get a style that has either a drop seat or a full side zipper for easy bathroom access.
The best women’s ski pants stretch, and provide enough room for you to move. If they’re skin tight, they better have plenty of stretch. The best women’s ski pants for curvy ladies is not going to be the same pair that fits your stick shaped friend. It's hard to find ski gear for plus sized people, although some companies like Columbia and Outdoor Research are making an effort to bring plus sizes to their lineups.
Gore-tex is great, but many companies make high quality waterproof membranes in house, at a lower price. Look for products that feature a 3 layer waterproof membrane, and you’ll pretty much be getting Gore-tex.
Another way to tell how waterproof or breathable a ski jacket or pants is is by their waterproof rating. Waterproof ratings are measured in millimeters and technically describe how much water could theoretically pool on the fabric before it soaks through. For a fully waterproof material, you want something that is at least 10,000mm although 20k+ is better. Breathability is the ability of fabric to let sweat (moisture) out, and is measured in grams/meter². Again, 10,000g/m² is a good breathability, while 20k+ is better.
Hard Gear: Skis, Boots, Poles, Etc
SkisIf you’re just getting started, buying affordable, used gear is a great place to start. When you’re learning, having skis that are easy to control is key. Once you have more mileage under your feet, demoing different skis is a great way to find out what feels the best for you. There’s a few things to look at when choosing skis, including size, weight, and turn radius.
SizeThere are two ways to look at ski size: length and width. Length is measured in centimeters, goes from a ~130 to ~190 in standard sized skis. 130 would be child/very small adult sized, and 190 would be for a very tall person. When starting out, a good rule of thumb is that your skis will be smaller than you are, potentially around chin height. If you are more experienced, they might be closer to your height, or maybe a tiny bit taller.
Width, which is measured at the waist (middle) of your skis, influences how easy it is to turn the skis and how well they handle in variable terrain or powder. The standard rule of thumb is the wider the skis, the better for deep, loose snow. If you’re only planning on skiing groomed runs, you probably don’t need anything wider than 85mm. If you live in a place with lots of deep powder, you may want something closer to 110mm. An all mountain ski designed for all conditions would typically be between 90-105mm.
WeightWeight isn’t a huge concert when learning to ski, but it is something to consider. Generally, heavier skis are more stable, especially in choppy conditions.
The only time you would want to think specifically about getting a lighter weight ski is for backcountry ski touring, where you are going uphill under your own power. Then a heavy ski will hold you back and tire you out.
Turn RadiusEspecially if you are newer or less confident at skiing, turn radius is going to play a big role in how your skis and turns feel. It is measured by comparing the tip, waist, and tail width. The wider the tips and tails are in comparison to the waist, the shorter the turn radius. The shorter the turn radius the quicker the turns you will make, while a longer turn radius is more stable at high speeds and makes slower turns.
BindingsThe biggest thing to consider with ski bindings is DIN, which influences how easily your boot will pop out of your skis. If you are a beginner skier, you want your boot to pop out fairly easily, because if it does not pop out, you are more likely to injure yourself. On the other hand, if you’re a very aggressive skier, you might want a higher DIN so that your bindings do not release as easily. DIN is also adjusted based on weight.
Its important to consider, because not all bindings have the highest DIN settings. If you weigh less than 170lbs, having a max DIN of 11 is probably fine. If you weigh between 160 - 250lbs, you probably want a DIN of 12-14.
The other thing to consider with bindings is the brake size. You need to make sure the brakes on your bindings fit the waist of your skis. Make sure your brakes are no more than 12mm wider than your skis, and ideally you want it to be as close as possible to your ski width underfoot.
Also if you plan on ski touring, you will need bindings that are compatible with uphill travel. Learn more about backcountry skiing including the gear you need to get into it, here.
BootsBoots are one of the most important parts of feeling confident in your skiing, and unfortunately there’s not a great way to do it well and cheaply. That being said, if you’re just getting started, buying an affordable pair of used boots will be fine. Typically, buying the same size as your street shoe size will work when starting out.
You want your boots to be snug, with your toes touching the front of the boot while standing up straight, and pulling back a bit when you bend your knees into a skiing stance.
Another thing to consider when shopping for boots is flex. The higher the flex number, the stiffer the boot. Lighter weight and more beginner skiers tend to prefer a softer boot, whereas heavier and more aggressive skier tend to prefer a stiffer boot.
If you are an intermediate or advance skier, getting fitted for ski boots by a professional boot fitter at a shop is the way to go. They can make sure you’re wearing the right size and width for your feet, which is something that is hard to tell on your own. You can also heat mold your linings to better fit weirdly shaped feet.
PolesChoose your ski poles based on your height. Check out this chart to choose the right ski pole height for you. You could also use collapsible poles or trekking poles, especially when getting started, however if you’ll be skiing in soft or deep snow, you may want powder baskets. Also, beware skiing aggressively on collapsible poles, as they are much easier to break compared to non-collapsible poles.
ConclusionSkiing is for everyone. Whether ilou’re brand new, or have been skiing for years, whatever your gender or skin color or cultural background. If you feel a desire to slide down snow and be in the mountains, you belong there.
But it can be complicated to peel back the layers of technical terms and slang to figure out what is the best women’s ski gear out there. Or do you even need the best? What is the most sufficient ski gear out there? What is the bare minimum that you need to just try it out?
Hopefully this blog answered some of those questions, and you are able to get outside and go skiing this winter season!