Cross country skiing (or nordic skiing) is an excellent sport for the entire family. Whether you are looking to explore the woods behind your house, a local park, a nordic ski center or the backcountry, having the right cross country ski gear will make a huge difference in your enjoyment. Nordic skiing is a great way to explore, get exercise, and is much less expensive than downhill skiing.
In this article we will explore all the nordic ski gear you need to get out on the snow including boots, skis and poles. Staying warm and dry in the winter is also incredibly important so we’ll share some of the best cross country ski clothing for your family.
If you’re looking for general information on getting your family out skiing – check out this article on skiing with your family.
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Everything You Need: Cross Country Gear
As with every outdoor sport, there is always an up front cost of purchasing new gear that may make it difficult to get started. If you are just getting started, it’s always a good idea to rent gear from a nordic ski shop to make sure you like the sport before investing in your own cross country ski gear. Many nordic centers also rent and you can find cross country ski packages that include boots, poles, skis and a ski pass for the day.
Here is a quick list of the cross country equipment you will need for a day out on the trail:
- Cross Country Ski Boots
- Cross Country Ski Poles
- Cross Country Skis
- Cross Country Ski Pants
- Cross Country Ski Jacket
- hat or headband
- Base Layers
- Sun glasses
Depending on where you’re skiing and how long you will be out, you may need more or less gear, but these are the basics. If you are going to be out on the trail for more then an hour or two, you should also plan to bring some additional cross country ski accessories including water, a light, and a small bag – you can see more suggestions below.
Types of Cross Country Skiing
There are several types of cross country skiing and the type of gear you purchase will be different based on the type of skiing you will be doing. Here is a quick overview on the different types. Use this information to decide the best cross country ski gear for you and your family.
Classic Cross Country Skiing
This refers to the the most common type of cross country skiing where you move your skis parallel to each other in two tracks. The motion is very similar to walking with skis on your feet which makes this an easy way to start skiing. As you get more comfortable you will learn to kick your feet which increases the friction right below your foot and you are able to push forward and glide. You use either classic no-wax skis or waxed skis for classic skiing.
If you choose to use waxed skis, you will need to choose the right wax for the snow conditions.
Skate skiing is what you see when you watch a ski race. A skate skier moves faster and freer by kicking their feet out to the side in a V shape. This gives more speed and glide. In order to skate ski you need to be on groomed trails at a cross country ski center. You will need skies, boots, and poles that are specially designed for skate skiing.
Backcountry skiing is the same motion as classic skiing, where you move your skis parallel to each other. The difference is that backcountry skiers are more likely to come across a variety of conditions and since backcountry skiers are often covering more distance or carrying packs on their way to a hut, the skis are generally wider.
Wax versus Waxless Skis
One other important factor when choosing cross country ski gear is whether you will use waxable or waxless skis. Skis either come with a textured pattern in the middle that grabs the snow or you will need to apply wax to the skis based on the snow conditions. If you are new to the sport, choose waxless skis as they are easier to manage.
Cross Country Ski Bindings and Boots
Before we get into specific details about gear, it’s also important to note that there are several different types of bindings to attach the skis to the boots. These systems are NOT interchangeable, meaning that if you have one type of boots they may not fit the bindings on your skis unless they are the same system. The 4 main types of boots and binding systems are NNN Boots, NNBC Boots, 75 MM/3 Pin Boots, and SNS Boots. Our family has used all these bindings. The most important thing to know is that your boots and bindings need to match.
Cross Country Skiing Equipment: Skis, Boots and Poles
Once you know what type of skiing you will be doing, you can choose the best cross country ski gear for you and your family. The information below has some general recommendations for cross country ski gear as well as suggestions on cross country ski sizing including cross country ski gear sizing charts. There are many places to purchase cross country ski gear – you can go to a cross country ski store, your local nordic ski center (they often have used gear) or look online using the links below (REI or Backcountry both offer great options for cross country ski gear).
Best Beginner Cross Country Ski Package
Before we get into the details of different skis, boots and poles, for those looking for quick recommendation on a beginner package, below are 2 quick cross country ski package deals that are a great entry level ski packages for both adults and kids.
Classic Cross Country Ski Equipment
The suggestions below include waxless cross country skis with a textured bottom under the foot. These are the easiest skis to maintain and to get started on. Classic boots are more flexible than skate boots and are much more comfortable compared to downhill ski boots. See further down in the post for information on sizing your skis, boots, and poles.
Classic Cross Country Skis
These skis are a great intro for kids to get started cross country skiing and were the first pair of cross country skis for our youngest daughter. They are pretty narrow which makes them fast. If you want to do lots of backcountry skiing, you might want to find a slightly wider ski. See the matching boots below.
These boot are compatible with the Evo skis listed above. They are warm, comfortable and sturdy. Our 10 year old found these comfortable and she is picky!
Unlike downhill skiing, where kids usually learn to ski without poles, poles are incredibly helpful when cross country skiing. Having poles gives you more balance and if you plant them when you push forward on your ski it helps give you more glide.
These are a great, fun and waxless cross country ski. The bindings on these skis are BC, so make sure they are compatible.
These boots are what we bought our teenager and they fit comfortably if a bit snug. They are flexible enough to ski all day. These boots have an NNN system for binding.
Use the cross country ski pole sizing chart below to find the best size for your poles based on your height.
Skate Ski Equipment
Cross Country Skate Ski Boots
Skate Ski boots are much stiffer than classis cross country ski boots. This is important as you are kicking out to the side. You can see the ankle support in these boots.
Skate ski poles are longer than classic ski poles and are lightweight with a small basket. See the cross country ski size charts below for information on sizing poles.
Backcountry Ski Equipment
These are great backcountry boots and are stiff enough to provide support for uphill and downhill. Since you will be breaking track in the backcountry these are high enough to keep out the snow and waterproof as well.
A good set of backcountry ski poles will have a big basket to keep the pole from going down into the snow. Backcountry ski poles are often telescoping so you can adjust them depending on the conditions.
Sizing Cross Country Ski Gear
Deciding how to size cross country skis, poles, or the best cross country ski boot sizing is important when purchasing your gear – especially if you are purchasing these items online. Below you will find a cross country ski sizing chart as well as other useful charts for finding the perfect size cross country ski gear.
Cross Country Ski Sizing Chart – cross country skis have gotten shorter over the years. Use this chart to find the best size for your cross country skis. Skis are mostly sized based on skier weight since it is the weight that compresses the ski when you press down, causing it to make contact with the snow. For backcountry skiing, you can add 5-15 cm to the classic ski length. Many brands of cross country skies come in sizes marked S, M, L, etc. You should look at the cross country ski sizing chart to see how these sizes line up with the cm sizes listed below.
Cross Country Ski Boots Sizing Chart – the chart below shows the sizing for boots. Many cross country ski boots are sold in the European sizes. If you can – always try on your boots, but this is a general sizing chart.
Cross Country Ski Pole Sizing Chart – the chart below shows general sizing for cross country ski poles based on the type of cross country skiing. It’s always a good idea to use the sizing charts provided by the specific brand, but this pole size is slightly more forgiving than other cross country ski sizing
Cross Country Ski Clothing
You can definitely use your other outdoor and winter gear when you are cross country skiing, but purchasing cross country ski clothing and accessories will make your time on the trail more enjoyable. The most important consideration when choosing your clothes is to dress in layers that wick away moisture as you will likely work up a good sweat. Having wind proof yet breathable layers is best as you may have areas that are cold and windy and then get hot when you head uphill. Below are some of my favorite items we’ve used as a family cross country skiing.
Cross Country Ski Pants – you can always use normal snow pants, but having a lighter weight pair of cross country ski pants makes a huge difference. If you are going to invest in one item of cross country ski gear besides skis, poles and boots, you should consider starting with a good pair of nordic ski pants.
Daehlie Cross Country Ski Pants
These are great since they are lightweight and flexible making them great for cross country skiing and warm enough for a full day out in the snow and cold. You can also use these pants for winter hiking, snowshoeing or even walking.
If you’re looking for options for kids, older kids can try the small sizes of the pants above and younger kids do well in more standard snow pants.
Cross Country Ski Gloves – You can use gloves or mittens, although gloves will make it easier to handle the poles. If it is warm out, you may want to bring a small bag if you get hot and want to remove your gloves. It’s important to keep your gloves lightweight.
Cross Country Ski Jacket – Like cross country ski pants, you want to choose a nordic ski jacket that is lightweight, flexible, and breathable. Another option is to simply to dress is layers and wear a wind layer on the top.
Cross Country Ski Accessories – below are several other items that I typically take when I cross country ski. If you are planning to backcountry ski, especially if you are going out for the whole day or overnight, you will also need additional items. Don’t forget to pack snacks and water when you head out on the trail.
Learning to Cross Country Ski
Learning how to cross country ski is relatively easy compared to downhill skiing. Start with classic or backcountry cross country skiing. If you are able to visit a nordic ski center sign up for a one hour lesson just to get started with a few tips. If you can’t get a lesson, you can put on your ski gear by clipping your boots into the skis. Start by just walking in the skis and planting your poles opposite to your feet. As you become comfortable, you can try to kick when you push forward to try to glide on your skis.
You will want to take care when you go uphill and downhill. Going uphill, you can side step or walk in a V shape, and going downhill you can snowplow by keeping your ski tips together.
Where to Cross Country Ski
One of the best parts of cross country skiing is that if you live where there is snow, you can simply walk out of your backdoor and head out on the nearest trail with backcountry skies. Another way to find cross country ski trails is to look on All Trails and select ‘skiing’ under the activities options or search for ‘cross country ski trails near me’. Occasionally these trails will be groomed, but more often than not you will be skiing on a hiking trail and if you’re lucky following someone else’s tracks.
If you are looking for groomed trails and a full ski center, google ‘nordic ski centers’ and find one close to your home. The trails at these centers are ranked just like downhill mountains and you can choose your length and your difficulty. No matter where you go, having the best cross country ski gear will make your family ski trip amazing.
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