Though cold temps, bitter wind, and blustery snow don’t necessarily seem like welcoming elements, I’m here to tell you that even the most anti-winter person can enjoy getting outside—as long as they find the right activity.
Since January, I’ve made it my mission to embrace winter to the best of my ability—in addition to jumping on a few walking paths here and there, I’ve also explored cross country skiing and snowboarding. These are definitely my winter fun activities.
After discovering what adventures are compatible, the next step is finding the right gear. From a novice perspective, this can be difficult—there are so many different items and brands and options out there, and it can feel overwhelming to know where to start.
Well, I started. And I’ve almost finished, too. In an attempt to be helpful for those of you who are also navigating all that winter has to offer, here is a roundup of my winter gear picks so far.
Here’s what you need, above all else, when you start spending more time outside during the cold months: clothes to keep you warm.
You’ll hear this from every clothing list ever: layers are key. What that means, is that you want to wear things that can easily be added and taken off. Because when you do activity, you sweat, and that sweat can be super cold on your body. So, it’s important to shed your initial layers when you start feeling yourself heating up, and then have them on-hand to re-apply or build further when it gets colder.
TLDR; layers are key.
What You Need
As a general rule, here are the essentials for your winter activity layers. Keep in mind, sometimes these vary, depending on the activity and your own body’s needs.
- Long-sleeve base layer top
- Base layer tights, leggings, or long underwear
- Warm socks; wool comes highly recommended
- An intermediate top layer, such as a light fleece jacket or a sweatshirt
- Snow pants
- A top-layer jacket, usually hard-shell, waterproof, and warm
- Shoes that are waterproof and appropriate for the activity
- A hat, gloves (or mittens), and neck gaiter
- Don’t forget sunscreen and sunglasses or goggles, as well!
When choosing your clothing, be sure to do your own due diligence. When I look into products, I start by searching retail sites—I’ll sort by price (low to high, of course, lol), read all the descriptions, and take any user reviews into consideration.
My Favorite Retail Sites
I’m going to mention websites, because I’m primarily an online shopper. However, keep in mind that though theses are trusted stores, I will always advocate shopping locally and supporting your area’s brick-and-mortar sporting goods stores.
Here are my go-to retailers:
- Steep and Cheep. Such good deals on high-end brands that are normally expensive! I always check here first.
- REI. REI carries so many different brands and products. Though on the pricey side, I’ve found some great products. Plus, they have an option to buy used items! I love that environmentally friendly option.
- Backcountry. This is a great resource for anyone trying to research products for all seasons.
- Amazon. You can get great deals on Amazon, as long as you find high-quality items. I usually find specific items elsewhere, and then search the name in Amazon to see if I can get a slightly better deal.
My Top Picks
- HFX fleece long-sleeve base layer
- Eddie Bauer trail tight (for that base layer)
- Smartwool socks
- Benboy women’s ski pants
- Stoic Aspen Fleece Jacket
- Columbia Softshell Jacket
- Carhartt hat
- Andorra gloves
- Sorel Whitney Short Lace Snow Boots
Nordic Ski Gear
If you are looking to get into cross country skiing, you have a nice option of either renting or buying your gear.
I highly recommend renting your gear for your first outing, just to get a feel for the equipment and see if you actually like Nordic skiing. It’s affordable and a professional will size you easily.
What You Need
Cross country skiing specifically requires all of the cold weather clothing I mentioned before (base layers, light jackets, warm socks, snow pants, a hat, gloves, sunglasses or goggles), but is very exercise-oriented. So, it’s likely that you’ll want to shed your layers throughout; a heavy ski jacket is less important and can likely just wait in the car. I also opt for snow pants that have more mobility and are less clunky.
Otherwise, here’s what you need:
- Nordic skis
- Nordic boots
- Ski poles
- Water bottle
Note: there are three different cross country binding systems, which need the corresponding boots. If you rent, don’t worry about this. If you are looking to own, this is a good resource: rei.com/learn/expert-advice/crosscountry-ski-touring-gear.
My Favorite Retail Options
When you’re ready to buy, look into your commitment level. If you are expecting to jump into racing and back-country use, maybe invest in quality skis and boots from your local ski shop. I encourage these skiers to shop locally first.
However, for beginners, I recommend going with second-hand gear stores, garage sales, and Facebook Marketplace. That’s what we did, and it has been perfect for my needs.
My Top Picks
- Smith Optics Goggles
- Second-hand, vintage 3-pin skis, boots, and poles—brands unknown. From what I’ve learned, Rossignol is a top brand.
- Thule Stir 18L Hiking Backpack
- Vapur Flexible Water Bottle
Though I’m a snowboarder, all of these apply to downhill skiers as well. Keep in mind that all the clothing remains the same, though they definitely make some items like socks specific to skiing and snowboarding.
Again, I’m a huge advocate of renting from local businesses first, and only buying if you want to become a regular skier and want to save some money in the long run.
Note: growing up, I took weekly snowboarding lessons. Since I was still growing, my parents decided to rent my gear for the entire season from a local ski shop (rather than buy and have to replace next year). Most places have these kind of deals in place, and it’s so nice!
What You Need
- Snowboard (or skis), with bindings, a leash, and a stomp pad
- Snowboard boots
And it’s the same thing as Nordic boots/skis: some snowboards have specific bindings that require a specific type of boots. If you’re renting, you don’t need to worry about it. If buying, here’s more info:
Since it’s a little hard to navigate, here are some sizing resources:
- Snowboard sizing
- Ski sizing
- Snowboard boot sizing
- Ski boot sizing
My Favorite Retail Options
Just like with Nordic skiing, always shop local first if you can. However, this can be spendy, so I suggest surfing your Facebook Martketplace, Craigslist (if you’re careful), and E-Bay, if you can handle the shipping prices.
Used gear is my preferred way to go (except for helmets), though you get what you pay for. Any snowboard gear is an investment, so go as big as you feel necessary to have a good time. Just know that it can get very expensive, very quickly.