The Best Cross-country Ski Gear of 2022

Fischer’s Adventure 62 Xtralite is one of the most versatile skis on the market—we also cover poles, boots, and apparel.

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The Best Cross-country Ski Gear of 2022

Amazon / REI / Salomon

Cross-country (or nordic) skiing manages to blend a serene, still outdoor environment with a solid cardio workout that’s easy to learn and hard to stop. Whether you’re gliding through groomed trails on a pair of traditional skis, forging into the backcountry, or getting in a serious workout on a pair of skate skis, the activity is easy on your joints and endlessly addictive—provided you have the right gear.

When selecting the best cross-country ski gear, we wanted to be sure to accommodate both skate skiing and traditional, looking at gear that would do double-duty in both sports (and that would also have applications outside of skiing). We favored versatile skis, like our top pick, the Fischer Adventure 62 Xtralite Cross-country Skis—which can handle groomed runs and the backcountry—as well as serious performance-enhancing tech like you’ll find in our top skate ski, the Atomic Redster S9 Gen S.  The apparel and accessories selected came from field tests and focused on nordic-specific features to ensure that you won’t get cold or overheat. We also consulted with Reese Brown from the Cross-country Ski Areas Association for detailed advice on what to look for in ski gear and everything you should know when you’re considering starting the sport.

This is the best cross-country ski gear of 2022:

Best Skis: Fischer Adventure 62 Xtralite Cross-country Skis

Fischer Adventure 62 Xtralite Cross-country Skis

REI

Ready to handle groomed and ungroomed trails with equal precision, the Fischer Adventure 62 Xtralite Cross-country Skis come with a progressive off-track crown pattern, which improves both grip and glide and helps you climb in a variety of pitches and snow conditions. Air channels in the wood core provide a lighter overall package that gives the ski a playful feel, while a nordic-specific rocker camber profile opens the tips up slightly to handle uneven terrain, enabling quicker turning with less effort. The skis also have steel edges running their entire length (not always a given in nordic skis), which affords traction in all conditions without sacrificing performance on groomed runs or when you’re skiing in tracks.

Price at time of publish: $300

Best Skate Skis: Atomic Redster S9 Gen S Ski with Prolink Shift-In

Atomic Redster S9 Gen S Ski

Atomic

The result of years of research, the Atomic Redster S9 Gen S Skate Skis employs an entirely new technology to help you move faster. The new sidecut design is wider at the tip and tail, which lets the ski arc forward with each stride (rather than fading away), so you can generate longer strides and more momentum without sacrificing stability or energy transfer. It also comes with the new “Racewall” design, an approach to making a sidewall that provides an even closer connection between the ski edge and the snow, which works with an updated bonded plate and binding system for direct power transmission. And all that research also found the perfect length for skate skiers of all heights, with a one-size-fits-all 183-centimeter model.

Price at time of publish: $850

Best Poles: One Way BC Vario Poles

One Way BC Vario Poles

Back Country

If your cross-country skiing ambitions are focused solely on groomed trails, a fixed-length pole works well. But if you want to grow in the sport and hope to head into the backcountry after learning the ropes on a groomed run, go with these One Way BC Vario Poles. The light, durable 7075  aluminum shaft can be quickly adjusted from 95 to 160 centimeters, a key feature for deeper snow, and the lightweight powder basket helps you navigate in heavy powder. The backcountry-specific cork grip works with multiple grip configurations, and an extended non-slip EVA grip section that lines part of the shaft below the main grip adds versatility when navigating steeper terrain. Traction is guaranteed thanks to the round, sintered carbide tip.

Price at time of publish: $71

Best Boots: Salomon Pro Combi Prolink XC Ski Boots

Salomon Pro Combi Prolink XC Ski Boots

Salomon

The uni-sex Pro Combi Prolink XC Ski Boot from Salomon is ready for nordic skiers who want to try their hand at both classical and skate skiing, with a medium overall flex as well as a medium width that should accommodate most feet. Quicklace adjustment provides a precise wrapping of the forefoot and the upper. Progressive lateral support delivers solid energy transfer without dampening the feel, while an Energyzer cuff adds ankle support for skating and a flexible sole for classic cross-country. A low-profile design adds rigidity and durability, the adjustable heel strap improves the comfort and performance of the boot, and the ankle strap is easy to tighten or loosen on the fly. That said, this boot works best on groomed terrain and excels in tracks, so it’s not ideal for the backcountry.

Price at time of publish: $300

Best Pants: Bjorn Daehlie Sportswear Conscious Pants

Daehlie Sportswear Conscious Pants

Back Country

You never want to have your apparel hinder your movement, which is why the Daehlie Sportswear Conscious Pants wins out. The front part comes with wind- and water-resistant soft shell materials, a mix of 80 percent Tencel and 20 percent Merino wool for warmth and weather protection. That ratio of fabrics shifts on the back of the calves to make the pants more elastic and breathable so as to not hinder movement, blending the right degree of wicking insulation. Zippers line the bottom seam and run up to the knees to make them easy to get on and off, even when you’re wearing boots, and a small hand pocket on the left side can hold smaller items like keys. The brand proclaims that the Conscious Pants are the most sustainable piece its ever made. They’re also available in women's sizes.

Price at time of publish: $200

Best Gloves: Swix AltasX Glove-mitt

Swix AltasX Glove-mitt

Amazon

Dexterity is essential when cross-country skiing, which is why mittens (which are warmer than traditional gloves) are out. But the AltasX Glove-mitt from Swix actually provides the best of both worlds. The glove itself is a mix of durable polyamide and a bit of elastane for ample stretch, which delivers that much-needed dexterity. That control is amplified with the silicone-lined palm and fingertips for an ensured grip, with synthetic leather at the palm and between the fingers. The low-profile elastic cuff works well with most jackets, and when things get really cold or wet, you can pull the windproof mitten cover out of the cuff and shield your hand from the elements.

Price at time of publish: $40

Best Upper Base Layer: Ibex Woolies Tech Long-sleeve Quarter Zip

Ibex Woolies Tech Long-sleeve Quarter Zip

Ibex

Boasting the all-natural wonders of Merino wool, including sweat-wicking and the ability to keep you warm when it's wet, Ibex’s Woolies Tech Long-sleeve Quarter Zip uses a nylon core in the weave to improve the shirt’s durability. The addition of elastane adds a bit of stretch so that it fits snugly, with a raglan sleeve configuration for unencumbered movement. The flatlock seams work with the soft-to-the-touch base fabric for a comfortable feel without chaffing, and integrated thumb holes help keep the layer in place and can be used to add more warmth at the wrist when you wear with gloves. But the real key feature remains that quarter-inch zipper, which lets you dump hot air when you start moving or turtle in the warmth when things get cold.  Yes, Merino wool layers are expensive. But unlike synthetic base layers, Merino wool won’t retain body odors. It’s also machine-wash-friendly—just be sure to air dry. Also available for men.

Price at time of publish:  $135

Best Bottom Base Layer: Smartwool Intraknit Thermal Merino Base Layer

Smartwool Intraknit Thermal Merino Base Layer

Back Country

The slim-fitting Smartwool Intraknit Thermal Merino Base Layer follows the contours of your body to maximize the benefits of Merino wool, which will wick away sweat, keep you warm when wet, and won’t retain body odors. Smartwool has added a quick-drying polyester core within the weave to improve durability, and the use of 3D mapping allows the bottoms to articulate with your movement. They’ve also integrated knit mesh vents at the sides to help regulate your temp and keep you dry and comfortable. These bottoms are also available for women.

Price at time of publish:  $130

Best Mid-layer: Patagonia Nano-air Vest

Patagonia Nano-air Vest

Back Country

Vests tend to win accolades from nordic skiers: They provide some much-needed insulation at the core but free your fast-moving arms of clutter and excess warmth. Patagonia’s Nano-air Vest is one of the best. It comes with 40-gram FullRange insulation that’s warm and stretchy, which works with the 100 percent poly plain-weave shell and lining for incredible mechanical stretch. A solid air-permeability rating lets excess heat move away from the body. Stretch binding at the armholes helps seal in heat, and a center zipper locks in the warmth. It’s also treated with a PFC-free DWR finish, so you can wear it as an outer layer on warmer days without worrying about getting wet. Two hand-warmer pockets and a chest pocket on the left allow for a bit of extra storage and are positioned on the vest to work with a pack.

Want more warmth? Patagonia also makes a Nano-Air Hoodie with long sleeves. It also comes in a men’s cut.

Price at time of publish: $139

Best Jacket: Swix Evolution GTX Infinium Jacket

Swix Evolution GTX Infinium Jacket

Amazon

Designed specifically for cross-country skiing, the Swix Evolution GTX Infinium Jacket is the perfect outer layer for the high-octane sport. You get weatherproof protection where you need it—at the front, over the shoulders, and on the top of the sleeves—via Gore-Tex’s Infinium windproof/water-resistant breathable laminate, while wind-resistant microfiber (a breathable, lightweight material) lines the under-arms and side and back panels to help regulate your temperature. The elastic mesh lining holds the air as it heats up to improve insulation, while a CAD-knitted stretch back panel frees you to move as aggressively as you need. Double front pockets provide ample storage, stretch cuffs ensure that there won’t be a gap between the sleeves and your gloves, and the full-length zip comes up to a high collar for added protection and warmth.

Price at time of publish: $250

Best Socks: CEP Ski Thermo Merino Tall Compression Socks

CEP Ski Thermo Merino Tall Compression Socks

Amazon

CEP used a blend of natural Merino wool and synthetic fibers to ensure your feet stay warm and dry while wearing the Thermo Merino Tall Compression Socks. Padding at the shin and ankle bones provide a bit of extra cushioning against your ski boots, and the graduated compression helps reduce swelling so that you can perform at your best for hours on end. A touch of spandex helps retain the sock’s shape for a seamless, tight fit, and an antibacterial silver treatment helps fend off foul odors. A women’s version is also available.

Price at time of publish: $50

Best Hat: Pistil Rail Beanie

Pistil Rail Beanie

Amazon

Heat escapes from your head in cold climates, which is why the right hat is essential. For nordic skiing, you want one that’ll keep you warm but also breathes so you don’t overheat. Witness the Rail Beanie from Pistil. A soft fabric blend, a mix of acrylic, nylon, wool, and alpaca, provides the right degree of insulation, with a fine ribbed design that adds a bit of style to its functionality. And there’s a band of fleece wrapped around the inside to add a bit of extra insulation for your ears.

Price at time of publish: $32

Best Sunglasses: Smith Optics Guide's Choice Sunglasses

Smith Optics Ignitor Sunglasses

Smith Optics

A number of nordic-specific sunglasses lean heavily into oversized wrap-around frameless models with crazy tints that can make you look like a character in a sci-fi B-movie. Smith’s Guide’s Choice goes the other direction with a more traditional overall aesthetic that still delivers the goods. Wide temples cut down on peripheral glare, and the aggressive wrap-around style provides serious light protection. Clarity is ensured thanks to the use of ChromaPop tech with polarized glass that cuts glare, enhances contrast, and amps the natural colors. The scratch-resistant lenses come with 100-percent UV protection and an anti-glare coating to reduce eye strain, while the spring hinges self-adjust to fit your face comfortably. Pads at the nose and temple also resist slipping when you start to sweat. The sunglasses, which are available in 15 different lens/frame color combos, come with a removable leash, hard case, and a microfiber bag that you can use to clean the lenses.

Price at time of publish: $228

Tips for Cross-country Skiing

Take advantage of the lower cost

Compared to alpine (or downhill resort) skiing, cross-country skiing is a steal, with lower rental fees and less expensive day passes to access established ski resorts, which oversee networks of groomed trails. Some locales like Crested Butte, CO, even maintain public-access trails, so all you’d need is a pair of boots, skis, and poles. The apparel you need for cross-country skiing is basically the same that you’d wear for other cardio activities in the cold, like running or hiking, so outfitting your kit shouldn’t be as cost-prohibitive as (and is certainly more versatile than) alpine skiing. And even the skis themselves are less expensive than alpine models.

Know the difference between classic nordic skiing and skate skiing

Traditional cross-country skiing largely mimics the same body movements as walking as you glide forward on the skis, which then grip the snow to allow forward momentum. You use the grip zone at the center of the ski to gain traction in the snow that propels you forward, and then you glide on the smooth underside sections of the skis at the tip and tail.  It can be a very intense cardio work-out, but it has a low barrier to entry, especially if you’re skiing on a track or on groomed slopes. Skate skis is nordic skiing’s more aggressive variation. It got started in the 1980s, and its body movement mirrors the same action as in ice skating. These skis have one glide zone across the entire bottom of the ski, and you generate forward momentum by angling the ski on the snow so that edges find purchase and provide traction. These skis are typically stiffer than traditional models. Often faster (and with more glide) than traditional cross-country skiing, it also requires more work. But both activities can be had on the same groomed slopes.

Pick the optimal locations

“If you are new to cross-country skiing, I would suggest going to a formal ski area as opposed to going out your backyard,” says Brown. “A groomed and prepared surface is far easier to learn on and provides a better first-time experience. Additionally, a seasoned skier also enjoys the groomed track as it allows them to perfect their technique and ski at higher speeds. I would also suggest first time skiers take a lesson. A little professional instruction will make the learning curve quicker and more fun.” The Cross-country Ski Area Association has a directory of ski areas, which often provide rentals and lessons, as well as standard entry fees. But if you have your own kit and there’s snow on the ground, any relatively flat surface will do—nordic skiers have been spotted on the streets of Washington, DC, after a big storm. And many public lands offer groomed trails that you can access for free.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What size cross-country skis do I need?

    “There are many calculations for determining ski length and those vary by type of skiing (classic versus skate) and the ability of the skier,” says Brown. “My best suggestion would be to go to a good retailer and discuss with them.” Finding the right length is important. Measured in centimeters, your height plays a crucial part in finding the optimal length. Fischer Skis suggests this formula: Measure your height in centimeters, add 20 to 30 centimeters, and that’s your optimal ski length. Novice skiers should err on the 20-centimeter side, as it's easier to control shorter skis, while more experienced skiers can go longer. Skate skis, which don’t have the same sort of climbing zone as traditional cross-country skis because you’re propelling yourself forward on the edges, are typically shorter. Calculate the optimal length by adding 10 to 15 centimeters to your height.

  • What should I wear for cross-country skiing?

    “Clothing for cross-country skiing is very different than alpine,” explains Brown. “A cross-country skier would dress more like a walker or runner, with many layers and limited insulation, and would include a light hat and gloves. Alpine skiers sit for periods of time on the chairlift in the cold and wind. Cross-country skiers are moving continuously and therefore need less bulk.” As it’s common for nordic skiers to work up a sweat, avoid cotton, which gets cold when it gets wet and takes forever to dry. Instead, consider synthetic fabrics that wick sweat and dry quickly, or get a Merino wool base layer, which wicks sweat naturally, fends off odors, and keeps you warm even when it’s wet out. For a mid-layer, a lightly-insulated vest is a solid option, or a full (thin) Merino or synthetic layer. The jacket should be a shell, not a heavily insulated down jacket, ideally one that can block out moisture if it starts to snow, and it should have pit zips or some other way to rapidly expel hot air that might build up as you ski. Thinner waterproof gloves and a hat with ear insulation are also a good idea. In most cases, goggles are overkill; instead look for sunglasses that provide plenty of UV protection, as the sun bounces off the snow. And shades that also offer a bit of peripheral protection can be great in cutting down any side glare.

  • What about falling?

    Even pro nordic skiers can take a tumble, and if you’re skiing on groomed trails, the impact can be a bit punishing (versus, say, falling in more forgiving, cushiony powder). When possible, try to avoid sticking out your poles because you may damage your wrists. Rolling sideways is the best tactic, if you can manage it.

Why Trust Travel+Leisure

Nathan Borchelt has been rating, testing, and reviewing outdoor and travel products for decades, with a particular affection for putting cold-weather gear through its paces. After consulting a cross-country skiing expert, he also focused on skis that would have plenty of different applications, ones that would be easy for first-timers to use but that would still please a more accomplished skier. The apparel and accessories had to work with the demanding conditions of the sport, which typically has constant movement and sweat accumulation. The gear had to keep you warm and dry, breathe well, and stand up to frigid temperatures.

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