What Should You Wear on Your First Ski Trip?

Before my first ski trip, I was pretty terrified. I had visions of wrapping myself around a tree, and I didn’t know what to pack. (It seems like the former should’ve scared me more than the latter, but honestly, they were about even.)

All the blogs I found about this seemed geared toward people who ski a lot, and I had questions they didn’t answer, like “Do you really need a special ski jacket?” “What’s the difference between ski clothes and snowboarding clothes?” And “Do I wear my regular pants to the slopes and change there?” (Believe it or not, that question took up a lot of mental real estate for me.)

Turns out, you can buy “ski” versions of everything, but you don’t have to. Snowboarding and ski clothing is mostly interchangeable (except for boots), and you can buy men’s or women’s: the difference is mostly the style, the same way it is with normal clothes. (On every trip, I’ve worn a men’s ski bib I borrowed from a friend.) Oh, and you can leave your regular pants at home and wear your ski pants or bib to the slopes, which is awesome because a smooshy, comfy ski bib is probably my favorite article of clothing in the world.

So here’s my list of must-haves for a day of skiing, plus a few things that are just nice to take with you. I’ve also included whether you should rent, borrow or buy (or, in a few cases, wear something you might already own).

If you want to know more about what to do when you’re actually skiing (like how to navigate a chair lift and what the color code system means), here’s my Clumsy Beginner’s Guide to Skiing with all the ski slope advice I wish I’d had before I started.

The Beginner’s Guide to Ski Gear

Ski Pants or Bib

Carrie Says: Rent or Borrow

You’ll probably be falling a lot, and ski pants, a ski bib (the ones that look like overalls) or snowboard pants, are designed not to rip, to repel the water even when you’re sitting in the snow for a few minutes trying to get up, and to not let snow find its way under the waistband of your pants. I prefer a bib because I think overalls are fun! But it’s a matter of preference. (A pro for a ski bib is that snow is less likely to get under the waistband if you fall. A pro for pants is you don’t have to completely disrobe to use the bathroom.)

Skis and Poles

Carrie Says: Rent

Some resorts may have poles you just grab at the base of the mountain; at other places, you’ll rent them with your skis. Ask the place where you rent your skis which is which.

Ski Boots

Carrie Says: Rent

Your ski boot is your shoe size, but size down if you’re between sizes, because they’re supposed to fit snuggly. My mother-in-law, who’s a welder who hunts and fishes, described trying to get a ski boot on as trying to get out of a bear trap, and that seemed like the perfect description to me, so here’s some advice that will hopefully make it easier:

Tips for Putting on Ski Boots

The biggest tip I have is to ask the person renting you boots to show you how to put them on. But if you forget (like I did at first), here’s what to do:

  1. First, relax. It’s harder and more frustrating if you’re in a hurry, so just breathe a little bit.
  2. Loosen the buckles of the boot and pull the tongue out as much as you can.
  3. Stand up to get your foot in — using gravity can actually help a lot.
  4. Readjust the tongues so they’re inside the boot. (It’s pretty easy to walk around in unbuckled boots, so if you need a break now, you can walk around a bit.)
  5. Now, to buckle: If your boots have a velcro strap at the top, use this to tighten each boot first.
  6. After that, tighten the toe buckles first, and then tighten the buckles closer to the top. You want your boots to be tight when you’re skiing, but just get them on at first, and you can tighten them up a bit more after they’re on if you need to.

Your feet will swell as you ski, so you might want to loosen the buckles later in the day. If your feet are in pain because they’re swollen, take some ibuprofen and unbuckle your boots when you’re at lunch — it actually doesn’t take long for the swelling to go down. I had an instructor say it’s surprising how much your feet will recover in just a short time if you unbuckle, and he was right! If you’re really hurting during the day, take a 15-minute break to just unbuckle your boots, prop up your feet, and drink some water. It makes a big difference.


Carrie Says: Rent, Borrow or Wear Your Regular Coat

The first time we skied in a temperate climate, and I wore my regular old REI puffer jacket and was perfectly happy. When we went to Telluride, it was a colder climate, so I bought a snowboard jacket on clearance. You want a jacket that resists water, is designed for activity (like hiking), is appropriate for the weather where you’re going, and is comfortable to move around in. A ski jacket will probably be bigger, have a really good hood, have a lot of pockets and have a place to attach your lift ticket on the outside.

Ski jackets have different levels of warmth, just like regular jackets. Mine is medium-level warmth, which is nice because I can wear it in warmer climates (like North Carolina), but in colder climates (like Telluride), I can add another warm layer underneath. If that’s your plan, remember to get a jacket with a little extra room so you can add a layer underneath.

Warm Mid Layer

Carrie Says: Buy (or Wear One You Own Already)

Skiing takes a lot of energy, so you can get hot fast, and the weather can shift quickly and make it much colder than it was when you started out. It’s nice to be able to shed a layer when you get too warm (or put one on when you get cold). I bought a Patagonia Better Sweater for this, and I absolutely love it. It’s warm, comfortable, fits easily under my jacket, and even has zippered pockets so I can ski wearing that instead of a coat it gets really warm outside. (They are great, but expensive – a regular fleece will also work if you’re on a budget.)

Base Layer Top and Bottom

Carrie Says: Buy (or Wear a Pair You Own Already)

Choose something that’s breathable and warm. Unless you’re wearing something over it, people may see the top of your base layer when you take your coat off, so pick something you like. Most people won’t see the bottoms, so pick whatever’s cheapest. Can you wear yoga pants instead of a base layer? I think you could! But they won’t be as warm or as breathable. Remember, you’re going to be wearing waterproof pants on top of them, so they won’t be able to breathe as much as they would if you wore them to, say, yoga class.


Carrie Says: Rent

Old school skiiers will tell you no one wears a helmet, but actually most people do wear a helmet. You won’t look weird if you wear one or if you don’t wear one, but beginning skiers are really prone to falling, and there’s a decent chance you’ll fall backward and hit your head (I did), so a helmet is probably a wise choice.


Carrie Says: Rent or Borrow

These are relatively inexpensive, so you could also buy, but most rental places will have them. (You can slide the strap of your goggles into a notch into the back of your helmet.)


Carrie Says: Buy (or Wear a Pair You Own Already)

Buy, or wear what you already own. There are special ski socks, and I wear them because I found some on sale. Ski socks are like knee socks that have extra padding in the front of the calf where the ski boot buckles are. But you can also just wear thick, breathable socks and you’ll be fine. (Some blogs I read said to bring different thicknesses of socks so you can get the fit of your boot just right, but I thought the buckles were enough to get the boot fit right, and extra socks were just annoying to have around.)

Mittens or Gloves

Carrie Says: Buy (or Wear a Pair You Own Already)

Mittens are warmer than gloves, and you can buy mittens for skiing that come with an inner layer of glove, so you really have the best of both worlds. (I actually wear a pair of gloves I already had that I like under the mittens instead of the gloves they came with, and it works out just fine.) I bought mittens when we went to Telluride because we knew it would be really cold. But in North Carolina, I just wore some gloves I already had — anything that works okay for playing in the snow is going to be fine in a warmer climate.


Carrie Says: Buy, Or Wear One You Already Have

I wear a Buff Gaiter designed for cold weather. This keeps you warm, and it’s also helpful during covid, because they do allow a gaiter to serve as a mask, so you can just pull it up when you’re on or around the chair lift, where masks are required. (There’s more about what to expect from a ski resort during the pandemic on my other ski blog.)

Optional Things I Bring:


When you stop to eat or rest, you’ll want to take your helmet off — your head will probably get cold, and you’ll also have helmet hair! Just a regular knitted hat or beanie will help a lot. (You can stuff this in your pocket when you’re skiing.)


When you’re not skiing, it can be helpful to have sunglasses to combat the glare coming off of the snow.

Walking Boots/Shoes

Some people wear their ski boots all the way from the parking lot to the slopes. I find ski boots really difficult to walk in — they’re bulky, heavy and you can’t move your ankles — so I very much prefer wearing other boots to the slopes and paying for a locker to keep them in during the day. (Slipping your cozy boots on after a long day of skiing feels amazing!)

Silk Base Layer

A silk base layer is incredibly light. (It’s about the same weight as a pair of hose or tights, but much more breathable.) On very cold days, I’ve worn my silk base layer under my regular base layer and stayed very cozy.

Small Backpack

My first couple of trips, I skied without a backpack and carried everything in the pockets of my jacket and ski bib. I thought skiing with a backpack might be for experienced skiers, and not for beginners. I finally tried bringing a small sporty backpack, and I loved it! I find having the backpack a lot easier than worrying about stashing my water bottle and all other little things in the pockets of my jacket (especially because they don’t have zippers). Here’s what’s in my backpack for a day of skiing.

I pack as light as possible in my backpack — I like to leave room to stuff my mid-layer inside if it gets warm, and also, I sometimes just squish my backpack behind me on the chairlift without taking it off. (Now that I’m more used to the lifts, I’ll usually take one strap off so I can get inside it while I’m on the lift, but it’s nice to have the option to not take it off at all.)

How Do I Rent?

Use Google to find equipment rental places where you’ll be skiing, and check the website or call first to be sure they actually do rent the things I’ve listed and if you’ll need to reserve or make an appointment. If there’s a Ski Butlers where you’re going, I highly recommend doing that, because you get a lot of personal attention and don’t have to deal with lines. (This isn’t sponsored — I wish! I just really loved the experience.)

Skiing for the first time is intimidating. It’s normal to be scared, but my hope is that you can use this blog as a checklist and have a more confidence and less worry. You might still be a little terrified, and that’s okay! But at least know that you have what you need.

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