Two Nordic skiers skiing through snowfall near the White Pine Touring Center in Park City, UT

Nordic Clothing Design

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Nordic skiing at an elite level requires a world of technique and stamina. A professional Nordic skier will burn 20 calories per minute. And with good wax, that same skier will make it around the 5k loop at the White Pine Nordic Center in about 20 minutes—burning 440 calories per lap! For further reference, a 150-pound skier can burn 1,000 calories in an hour. And Olympic Champion Jesse Diggins jokes that she will burn off a Chipotle Burrito, or about 1300 calories, every hour (Business Insider). That’s a massive effort and and enormous aerobic burn, and it also happens in the dead of winter. The average temperature in Park City in January is 35 degrees Fahrenheit. So while a Nordic skier’s body is creating heat and sweating, it’s also subjected to freezing temperatures and blowing snow. On the flipside, if the temperature ticks up only a few degrees and the sun is out, it may as well be summer, resulting in a lot of sweating and possibly overheating.

This juxtaposition calls for unique clothing that can handle both high internal temperatures and water vapor (sweat) but must protect against winter conditions. This is a category of ski clothing that is often underrated as it has to combine insulation, variable ventilation, wind-, water-, and snow-blocking properties, and ample stretch to provide a full range of motion. Designers have been at it for decades and brands like Bjorn Dhaelie and Swix specialize in Nordic-specific clothing for pros and amateurs alike. Our How to Dress for Nordic Skiing blog explores layering techniques and Nordic gloves and sunglasses; this blog strives to explain why these pieces are made the way they are.

A skate skier on a Nordic Track on a sunny day in Park City, UT
Skating on a warm day at the White Pine Nordic Center.

Insulation and Ventilation

A conventional alpine ski jacket will usually include some insulation around the core, hood, and arms. 100+ grams is the norm with less utilized in the arms to improve range of motion. That sort of weight and bulk, while warm, doesn’t fly for Nordic skiers. Nordic skiing is a full-body workout that demands output from your arms and legs. This movement creates a lot of heat that naturally keeps your limbs warm. As a result, insulation is typically confined to the core in the from of a Nordic ski jacket or vest. And it’s lightweight and low-profile to keep your overall mass low, making it easier to maintain momentum on the track or trail.

Insulation is often paired with a wind-blocking fabric and durable water-repellent (DWR) treatment. While moving forward, the front of your core, arms, and legs are pushing through cold air. Nordic jackets and vests utilize insulations like 3M Thinsulate and is usually only about 60 grams per meter in weight, which is just enough to keep your core at a comfortable temperature but not enough to slow you down. And for those coldest days when you’re still out there, throw that puffy on when you think no amount of movement will create enough heat to keep you warm.

Despite cold temperatures, your body creates a lot of heat while Nordic skiing and ventilation is key. Most outer layers like men’s and women’s Nordic ski jackets and pants vent out the back, underarms, and side panels. Manufacturers will integrate stretch-mesh fabrics to release water vapor and heat. Some Nordic clothing, mainly pants, will have zippered vents to let out as much heat as possible. And almost every jacket and midlayer has a full-length front zipper for additional airflow. So what about when it decides to start snowing?

Wind and Weather Resistance

As much as Nordic clothing has to vent heat and water vapor, it also has to block winter’s worst elements—snow and wind. In cold temperatures, Nordic jackets and pants rely on your own body heat and light insulation to keep you warm. But to ebb the wind chill or snowfall is a different task entirely. This mostly comes down to specifically engineered face fabrics, usually tightly woven nylon or polyester and sometimes paired with a waterproof membrane.

Graphic of Gore WINDSTOPPER fabric
Image courtesy of Gore.

Additionally, these fabrics will have a durable water-repellent (DWR) treatment to shed moisture. DWR is a chemical treatment, of which there are a few different kinds, that is applied to garments in order to stop water droplets from penetrating and saturating the face fabric. According to Gore, makers of GORE-TEX, a good DWR treatment will reduce the surface tension of the fabric and allow water to roll off. DWR is applied to most Nordic jackets, pants, and gloves, but it will wear off after sustained use. DWR can be reapplied via spray-on treatments or when washed. We recommend checking out best care recommendations from the manufacturer to rehabilitate DWR.

Graphic of effective DWR fabric treatments
Image courtesy of Gore.

Winter Sport Crossover

Nordic clothing was intended for just that, Nordic skiing. However, this line of clothing is highly versatile for other winter sports and can be used for winter trail running, snowshoeing, and even casual wear in mild conditions. Nordic clothing incorporates low-profile insulation, stretch, ventilation, and a slim fit. This makes it ideal for any high-output activity, including fat biking. Plus, Nordic baselayers are very similar to alpine ski baselayers—another two birds with one stone! So, don’t hesitate to use your Nordic clothing for an afternoon snowshoe hike or a fat bike ride. The needs of the sports are similar, and the clothing delivers the same performance. 

Additional Features and Accessories

Aside from their unique makeup and design, men’s and women’s Nordic clothing come with all the bells and whistles you might find in ski clothing. Pass pockets, hoods, drawcords are standard, and most pants will have zips at the ankle for easy on and off around your Nordic boots. Chest and handwarmer pockets are standard on any vest or jacket, and your pants will have a few pockets for essentials. If your hands tend to run cold, be sure to look for jackets and pants with fleece-lined handwarmer pockets to warm up chilly fingers. Accessories like Nordic gloves, hats, and headbands are low-profile and lightweight. Many headwear pieces will have a fleece lining for a soft feel to wick moisture.

And last but not least, keep a puffy in your car for pre- and post-skiing. It is winter after all and once you stop burning off your burritos, you’re going to need something to keep you warm.

By: Paul Boyle, Production Manager,

Additional Links:

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