The Evolution of Dressing for the Outdoor Sports Enthusiast
Over the past 35 years, while being in the Cross Country Ski business, we at Cross Country Ski Headquarters have seen the evolution of cross country ski clothing first hand. In the early days, it was very common to see people wearing anything they had in their closets; mainly blue jeans, cotton waffle long johns, maybe wool sweaters, down vests and wool hats. We may have looked like “Nanook of the North” in some ways, but skiing was fun, even though our blue jeans would get wet and freeze. Soon things changed and the trend was to wear knickers (cotton corduroy, poplin or wool), long snowflake wool knicker socks, wool sweaters, maybe a “mountain parka” and a wool hat. This was better and skiers started to think that layering non-insulated clothing made more sense. --
-- Soon, long underwear became known as “base layer” and cotton was ruled out as the wrong fabric to wear next to the skin for cold weather sports. It became common knowledge that cotton held moisture close to the skin thus cooling the wearer down as he or she perspired during XC skiing. As soon as the skier stopped to take a break, serious chill set in and the comfort factor took a dive. Polypropylene was introduced and became the “new” miracle fabric for wicking perspiration away, keeping the wearer comfortably dry during exertion.
-- Next, stretch fabrics like tights, stretch pants and bibs (made from nylon or polyester and spandex) began to take the place of knickers. They were much more comfortable and allowed an amazing amount of freedom of movement while keeping the skier dry and warm. Clothing companies started making breathable shells and shell pants from polyester which allowed moisture vapor from perspiration to pass through the fabric, but did not allow water droplets from rain and snow to penetrate it, keeping the wearer at a more constant temperature throughout their ski tour. Removing and replacing layers while touring also helps to maintain perfect temperature.
-- Vented clothing, as well, became important as skiing for fitness became popular. Lighter fabrics, pit zips and back and front vents, on jackets, allowed the skier to regulate his or her body temperature by opening or closing the zipper vents as he or she heated up or cooled down.
-- Modern wicking polyesters, stretch fabrics, laminates and technologies have significantly altered the way we dress. We’ve seen what a huge difference dressing properly for winter activity can make from the pure enjoyment stand point. No matter what winter sport you’re involved in, layering the right clothing, from the base layer to the insulation layer and ending with the wind and weather layer, will help make winter one of your your favorite season.
-- It’s interesting and impressive to us that many outdoor fitness clothing catalogs now feature cross country skiers in their catalogs. Many of the clothes we wear for XC skiing are also perfectly suitable for hiking, biking, running, walking, snowshoeing and just relaxing, making them even more valuable. Promoting appropriate options for dressing for cold weather, while simultaneously promoting a healthy, fun sport surely helps pave the way for higher levels of enjoyment and performance!
HYBRID JACKETS AND PANTS: Advancements in temperature regulating clothing!
Never before have we been able to have such an extensive selection of "hybrid" jackets and pants for cross coountry skiing! So, what is a hybrid? Well, it's an article of clothing that is constructed using more than one fabric composition. Swix and some other apparel companies have been using this construction for some time now, with great success, but usually the products have been limited to the super lightweight jackets and pants (almost too light for some skiers in colder conditions). While we still have fantastic options in lightweight hybrid clothing, it's really nice to see the addition of some midweight selections as well.
Typically, a hybrid jacket will have it's warmest and most wind and water resistant fabric component in the core area, on the front and over the shoulders and upper back. The rest of the jacket then, would be stretchy, for supreme freedom of movement, and very breathable. This is a perfect combination for active cold weather dressing because it keeps you warm and temperature stable, while offering the most breathable sections on the sides and back, where perspiration is likely to be the most predominant.
Swix offers the Cruising Jacket, The Star XC Jacket, the Cruising Pant and the Star Advanced pant; all of which are lightweight hybrids featuring wind and water resistant micro polyester fabric fronts with wicking, stretchy sides and backs.
New from Swix this season is the Corvara Jacket and Pant. These are warmer hybrids using softshell fronts and stretch side and backs. Salomon, this season offers the SuperFast II Jacket and Pant featuring lightly fleece lined wind and weather protection on the front, plus midweight, stretchy breathable sides and backs. These fabrics are extremely soft and quiet too. Also from Salomon, in a midweight hybrid jacket is the Momentum II Softshell. This is a great combination of softshell on the front, shoulders and upper back while featuring Actitherm stretch poly knit on the sides and back. Rossignol brings us the Men's Xium Jacket and Pant and the Women's Escape Jacket and Pant. Both are midweight hybrids which should be excellent choices for moderate to cold weather weather. After all, if you're dressed comfortably, you're very likely to have more fun, ski better and stay out longer!! Be sure to check out these individual selections in the XC Ski Jacket and XC Ski Pant sections of our website.
LAYERING: THE KEY TO COLD WEATHER COMFORT!!
Most people understand the idea of layering their clothing for outdoor activity: first, the wicking layer; second, the insulation layer and third the wind and weather layer. The key to making it work for you just takes a little practice. A comment we often hear is that, once out on the trail for 10-15 minutes, people are too hot! What a great problem: to be too hot in the winter! Well, guess what? It's never been easier to lighten up your layers. Learn to layer to suit the temperature and conditions at the time you're skiing. For instance, you won't need the same layers if it's 30 degrees F. as you will when its 10 degrees F. Likewise, you will need different layers when it's -10 F than you will when it's +10 F. Since everyone has a different internal comfort thermometer, everyone has different layering requirements.
A racer who is skiing 20 K without stopping, at high speed all the way will wear only two thin layers; a recreational skier who skis 10 K, stopping to admire the scenery, have a snack, snap a photo of the kids and varying his\her speed will wear a thin wicking long underwear top, a light Microfleece zip-top or vest and maybe a light, breathable, vented shell (which could be removed when he\she gets overheated).
A recreational skier who skis for fitness will wear less and lighter layers than someone who's touring. If you're too hot or too cold, try altering your layers, by wearing thinner or thicker ones, to suit the day's conditions, and then, removing or adding a layer on the trail if necessary.
A typical rule of thumb for us is: if when you start out, you're just a bit chilly, you've probably dressed just right. After your first 10-15 minutes of activity, you'll most likely feel perfectly comfortable.
This season, we have more different options in layering that ever before. Thin to medium base layers. Thin, medium and thick insulation layers and lightweight, midweight and warmer jackets and pants.