Everything you need to know about packing for a ski trip

Dec 30, 2019

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Editor’s note: We have updated this piece with new clothing suggestions. This post was originally published Dec. 19, 2018.

With snow flying and lifts spinning across the country, skiers and snowboarders nationwide are all thinking about the same thing: traveling for steep slopes and deep powder. But when it comes to packing for a ski trip, things can get stressful.

First, there’s your gear to consider. Unless you plan on renting equipment upon arrival, be sure to pack your boots and bindings, skis (or snowboard) and poles in a single bag, when possible, to avoid accruing extra fees — though many airlines won’t charge extra for a separate boot bag.

Related: Best credit cards to use on ski trips

Also, carefully consider what airline you choose to reach your ski town of choice. Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and United won’t charge an extra fee on top of the checked bag fee for ski equipment, so long as it’s packed according to the airline’s specifications. (Hawaiian, Spirit and Allegiant, on the other hand, have hefty charges for ski and snowboard equipment, in addition to checked bag fees.)

Of course, you need more than gear for a perfect ski vacation. To help you avoid dragging around bulky luggage that contains everything but the things you actually need, we compiled a list to help you pack only the necessities for your ski trip this winter.

In This Post

The right layers

Many people overlook the importance of layering and venting while on the ski hill. Air temperatures can fluctuate depending on the day, time and elevation. Body temperature can fluctuate depending on how hard you’re skiing. Wearing multiple layers makes it easy to regulate body heat throughout the day. When heading out for an active adventure in cold conditions, try to avoid cotton, which absorbs moisture and takes time to dry. Instead, opt for synthetic materials, wool or fleece.

Base layers

Not only do base layers provide extra insulation, but they are also designed to wick sweat away from the body, keeping you warm and dry. Depending on the duration of the trip, one to two sets should be enough. Patagonia makes breathable bottom and top layers in a variety of weights for men, women and children. Even better, they come in a variety of colors and patterns.

Photo courtesy of Patagonia.

Mid layers

The mid layer’s main purpose is to provide insulation. However, during warmer spring skiing days, a mid layer may not be necessary at all (or you can opt for something lightweight). Coalatree’s Camper hooded jacket is a midweight layer designed to keep you warm even when wet, and it’s stylish enough to wear around town. If your price point is a bit higher, Patagonia’s Micro Puff hoodie provides a great warmth-to-weight ratio, keeping you surprisingly warm with minimal bulk.

Outer layers

Outer layers are the main protection against heat loss through convection. To put it simply, a good outer layer will keep you dry when it’s wet and warm when it’s windy. While some may opt for a heavier insulated ski jacket, using a waterproof shell for an outer layer has its benefits. Waterproof shells provide breathable protection from the wind and allow you to wear as few or as many layers underneath as necessary.

The Skyward II Jacket, made by Outdoor Research, is waterproof, breathable and lightweight, and comes in both men’s and women’s styles. Patagonia’s Powder Bowl is a great option for shell pants, and comes in styles for men and women. Best of all, a shell is going to take up way less space in your suitcase.

Gloves or mittens

The quickest way to get cold hands is to wear gloves that make you sweat, so choose your gloves based on the forecasted temperatures during your trip. During the coldest days, consider the Mt. Baker Modular Mitts by Outdoor Research. If you prefer gloves over mittens, the Arc’teryx Anertia Glove will provide the warmth and breathability you need. When spring arrives and you’re ready for balmy days filled with soft corn snow, bring Black Diamond’s lightweight softshell glove along.

The Mount Baker Modular Mits. (Images via Outdoor Research)
The Mt. Baker Modular Mits. (Images via Outdoor Research)

A lightweight helmet

Your brain is the most important part of your body, so protect it. Bern has a nice array of stylish and warm helmets, perfect for a day (or hundreds of days) on the slopes. They have a number of different snow-specific helmets, many of which are thin and have a low profile — keeping the weight to a minimum. They also have adjustable vent systems, which allow for full control of ventilation based on conditions and preferences.

Polarized goggles

No one likes flying down the slopes at full speed, only to realize that the thick fog they just skied into is actually inside their goggles. When choosing a pair, be sure to pick a product with good ventilation and a dual lens to help prevent fogging. Revo’s Wordsmith goggle is polarized and manages the full spectrum of light, making it a great choice for most conditions.

Neck gaiter

Scarves can be great for a cold evening around town, but they can be a serious hassle on the ski hill. Keep it simple by using a neck gaiter (such as the Merino 250 by Smartwool) to keep your neck warm on a cold day. On the most frigid days, the Outdoor Research Helmet Balaclava may be the difference between spending the day shredding the slopes and seeing how many hot chocolates you can drink back at the lodge.

Smartwool’s Merino 250 Neck Gaiter. (Images via Smartwool)

Ski socks

With a single pair of high-quality, knee-high synthetic or wool ski socks, your feet will stay warm and dry all day without having to fill your suitcase with bulky bundles of socks. Darn Tough has an assortment of light and heavy ski socks which are some of the best on the market. Be sure to pack a few pairs, but because they dry fast, you can use them more than once on a single ski trip.

Winter hat

Since you’ll be wearing your helmet on the slopes, you won’t need a hat to keep your ears warm. But when it comes time to walk through the village to grab a bite to eat for dinner, hopefully you won’t still be using your helmet for warmth. Mountain Hardwear’s Micro Dome beanie is made of a soft polyester fleece and is lightweight and cozy. You may not need it on the mountain, but you won’t lose sleep about packing it, either.

Waterproof winter boots

While you’re on the slopes, your ski or snowboard boots will be your footwear of choice. But chances are, if it’s cold enough to ski, it’s cold enough to need warm boots when off the slopes. Unless you plan on wearing your ski boots out to dinner, you may want to bring a pair of L.L. Bean’s classic shearling-lined Bean Boots along for the trip. Great for men, women and kids, these boots are waterproof and stylish, so you don’t have to pile multiple pairs of shoes into your suitcase.

Old reliable: L.L. Bean
Old reliable: L.L. Bean’s classic Bean Boot with a shearling lining. (Images via L.L. Bean)

Lip balm

Chapped lips are something all of us have dealt with at some point in our lives. When the temperatures drop, the wind picks up, and the air dries out, it’s not a matter of “if” you will need it, but “when.” Keep a stick of Burt’s Bees lip balm with SPF in your pocket and you’ll have nothing to worry about.


Lastly, don’t forget the sunscreen. It’d be a shame to end up back at the lodge with a nasty sunburn. Thinksport makes an SPF 50+ sunscreen that will help keep those UVA and UVB rays off your face (and wherever else you may need to apply it).

Featured image by S_Photo/Shutterstock.

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