Whatchya Wearing: Nordic touring

Through the years I’ve learned that many readers enjoy one quick snapshot of what to take, buy or check off on a list.

Gear lists, in particular, seem to be asked for the various trips I’ve taken.

After my hut trip this past weekend it occurred to me that most of my well used,  if practical and functional gear, really is keyed in for Nordic touring more so than more technical AT/Tele or lift-served skiing.

Hiking on skis is what I love to do as more than one person observed.

On the move and traveling over the terrain from A to B.

With that in mind,  here’s a snapshot of what I use for Nordic touring regarding clothing.

The Basic Kit

This list below is the clothing and equipment I have as my primary layers. Occasionally I will tweak, try something new or swap in something. But I invariably go back to this same basic setup year after year. Why? Because the kit works for me.

If the conditions are calm, relatively warm (say above 15F or so) and that quintessential bluebird sky day for winter here’s what I will wear.




  • Fleece beanie – Simple, light and dries quickly. I used to use a wool beanie, but wool does collect moisture more so than the beanie that dries quickly. My preference in any case. Just a hat in the end. 🙂

  • C9 running pants Relatively new for me. I use Champion winter running pants from Costco or Target. The lighter ones for warmer weather; the thicker fleece lined ones for colder weather. Functionally the same as real ski pants for much less money.  I used to use wool pants. For REALLY cold and windy days, I just may yet again. But since I’ve been skiing above treeline in single-digit temps, and below treeline in negative temps, they just may be retired.
  • Liner gloves and shell glove combo –  I may experiment from time to time, but I always seem to fall back to this straightforward and reliable setup. The wool liners and nylon mitt combo has served me very well as my basic kit over many seasons. Some nitrile or similar gloves serve as VBL gloves if I absolutely need them. Though if is particularly cold out, I may use some boiled wool mittens with a liner instead.

Clothing for adjusting to different conditions

If the weather is warmer, sunnier, colder or windier, I will change my gear and clothing as needed.  This equipment tends to live in my pack unless there is a call for this gear. The exception is the sunglasses. They are either on top of my head or adorning my mug.

  • Boonie Hat – for sunnier and warmer conditions, I wear my trusty boonie hat. Even in winter I still wear a bandanna under it as it works to keep me cooler. If I am wearing a wide-brimmed hat while skiing, it is of course warmer. If it is cold and I need sun protection, my balaclava fits under it rather well.  I tend to wear more sunscreen in winter as I do not always wear my boonie hat.
  • Balaclava – another all season mainstay for me. When it is cold or windy, the balaclava adds just enough warmth. It is also very versatile serving as a neck warmer, light hat, and fuller face protection.
  • Sunglasses –  Key for sunnier or even windier conditions. I will use contractor safety glasses. I tend to use lighter-colored gray ones in winter. Why? Because I am not using sunglasses just for sunny conditions. When the weather is overcast but windy, sunglasses are critical as well.

I am talking with my hands again. Shocking! PCO of Shanna L. F.

  • Windbreaker pants –Much like the windbreaker anorak above, windbreaker pants are just a slightly heavier version of wind pants found in popular outdoor stores. Mine are oversized C9 pants from Target with zippers on the ankle for easy on and off even with my boots.  Again, the fluffy snow of Colorado is conducive to wearing these type of pants. I get too warm with hard shell pants I find when Nordic touring.

A 0F ski +/- one early morning. For winter backpacking, I’ll bring an additional and heavier balaclava. But that’s next week’s article. 🙂 PCO Andrew Skurka

And if the weather is really nasty? 

IF the weather is not necessarily cold, but very wet snow or very windy and exposed? I’ll grab these items that are rarely used. But I always have stowed.

December 2005. Similar to what I use now. Very windy on the Mt. Audubon summit that day. Same shell! 🙂
  • Ski goggles – I get away with sunglasses more than most even above treeline. But I still have gogles in my pack.
  • Neoprene Mask – Another item I do not use too often but thankful when I have it!  With my balaclava and beanie, I have gone through some nasty conditions in relative comfort.
  • Mountaineering shell – Like most of my outer layers, the shell is oversized. A so-called “waterproof breathable layer,” I only wear this garment when still or when the weather is very nasty (wet, sloppy snow when cold). I pump out a lot of heat when moving, so the conditions have to be particularly challenging on a day trip for me to use this layer. Or stopped for a prolonged time such as in camp. My shell is an old Campmor special I’ve had for years. The shell has pit-zips, a stiff brim, deep pockets and fits over my puffy when in camp.  Not too expensive, reasonably light and functional. Alas, no longer available.  If I recall, Red Ledge used to make the shells for Campmor. Red Ledge still sells offerings that are similar. 

On breaks, hanging out in camp or supplementing my sleeping system?

  • Winter-worthy puffy  – As discussed earlier, most puffies people wear for winter have a mere 3oz of down fill. Not really winter-worthy.  This past late summer/early fall, I splurged a bit on a “portable sleeping bag”:  A Montbell Frost Line Parka.   With 7 oz of down fill and box (sleeping bag style) construction, it is very warm.   On the recent hut trip, quite a few people borrowed it for bathroom runs. 🙂  A new piece of gear, but even I need to purchase gear once in a while. This puffy should last quite a few seasons!  Six ounces heavier than my older Bitterroot, but quite a bit warmer I find.    I suspect the Bitterroot will be taken for quick tours and shoulder-season backpacking trips. Naturally, I never wear a puffy when moving  Note: Montbell replaced this parka with the very similar Alpine Down Park in 2020.

Dorky Santa hat is strictly optional. PCO Mark T.

For basic gear always in the kit:

Additionally, I always have packed:



This kit has been tweaked, experimented with and successfully used over many seasons. I’ve used it successfully while moving in   -12F with very high winds.  This system works well for my particular use. Though I have not snowshoed in quite some time, I would use this clothing then as well. Obviously, I’d have to change out my footwear.

Next week I’ll list out my overnight clothing choices when winter backpacking.

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