What to Wear
Layers are the name of the game!
The main objective when dressing for outdoor winter activities is to keep your body warm and dry. We can stay warm and dry by wearing clothes in layers. Each layer of clothing serves a different purpose.
The purpose of the first layer, the layer right against your skin, is to wick moisture and perspiration away from your skin to keep you dry. The second layer is for insulating your body to keep you warm. The third, or outer layer, allows moisture to evaporate from your body but also blocks the wind and repels water.
If you're cross country skiing, you're most likely going to work up a sweat, so keeping your skin dry becomes very important!
Layer 1 - Base Layer
Your base layer should fit tight against your skin. The purpose is for the clothing to wick sweat off your body so that your skin stays dry. The material should be something that absorbs water but dries quickly. Materials such as polypropelene, silk, polyester, thermax, thinsulate and wool are all designed for this purpose. These fabrics all come in different weights; thinner materials wick away moisture more efficiently, while thicker layers provide a bit more insulation.
Layer 2 - Insulation
This layer is worn on top of layer 1. It fits looser on your body, but to work effectively it should be in contact with your base layer. This layer is responsible for keeping you warm as well as moving moisture away from your base layer out to your third layer so that your body can get rid of excess moisture. Materials such as fleece, polyester, down, wool, and synthetic fabrics work well for this purpose.
Layer 3 - Wind & Water Protection
This layer consists of a shell that allows moisture to escape from your body, but at the same time blocks wind and rain. Ensure the fabric for this layer is breathable. Gortex is a common material used for your outer layer. Other useful items on your third layer include zippers and ventilation areas.
There are a number of brands that make socks to keep your feet both dry and warm at the same time. The fabric pulls water from your skin but can also keep your feet warm.
Hands & Head
It is important to keep your head and fingers warm while you're engaged in outdoor winter activities. A toque should cover your head and ears, and be thick enough to keep your ears warm. Mittens are warmer than gloves, but both will keep your hands warm.
Always wear a toque and ensure your ears are covered to avoid frostbite.
No Jeans! Jeans do absorb water, BUT, then they hold it in. Every skier falls at some point, and when your jeans get wet, then hold the water and freeze solid! That's not only cold, but its uncomfortable. A good rule of thumb is to think of how long it takes your clothes to dry on a clothes line. If they dry quickly, they're good for outdoor activity.
No Cotton! Cotton absorbs water and holds it in, and takes a long time to dry.
High windchill? Cover your exposed skin with petroleum jelly! (Although its not clinically proven)
Above all, dress comfortably. If you're not comfortable, you aren't going to enjoy yourself.