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How to Pack for a Ski or Snowboard Trip

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Packing for a ski trip is a pain. Creating a ski and snowboard packing list of heavy, expensive, and awkward gear is pretty much the opposite of everything a carry on packer stands for.

But skiing is fun.

Use this comprehensive ski and snowboard packing list and pack your bags with everything you need to hit that fresh pow without breaking the bank. Winter is here, and it’s awesome.

Checked Baggage Fees, Excess & Oversized Baggage

First things first: Packing in a carry on with ski and snowboard gear is almost impossible.

Sure, you can pack clothes and rent gear, but rental gear isn’t great. It never fits right or performs as well as your own stuff. Add to that availability problems, sizing concerns, and just plain wasted time (you don’t want to rent gear on a short weekend trip) and, while still an option, the possibility of renting becomes a backup.

The only way you’ll be able to pack a carry on bag for a ski trip is if you rent. Disclaimer over.

Airline Checked Bag Rules May Vary

Now that you’ve embraced the pitfalls of checked baggage, here’s the general rule of packing your ski and snowboard gear—keep it to one bag. Most airlines count boot cases, pole bundles, helmet sleeves, and ski bags as individual separate checked oversized bags. That’s a big deal.

Depending on the airline, each regular sized bag can cost $25-$35 to check, but the price quickly jumps up once you exceed your two bag allowance or the size and weight restrictions. Delta, for example, charges $150 for the third checked bag regardless of size and weight, and anything over 80 inches (203 cm) is considered oversized luggage.

So, if you check a bag, cram as much as you can into that puppy; everything that doesn’t fit in your carry on goes in your snowboard or ski bag. You’re going to pay for that oversized snowboard, so make it worth it. Just keep your checked bag to under 50 pounds and you’ll be alright.

Airlines with Relaxed Baggage Fees

Checked bags are a bummer, but not all airlines nickel and dime you for every bag—especially on long haul or international flights. Here is a list of some of the best, most affordable airlines to fly for your next ski weekend, and a comprehensive list of airline checked baggage fees:

Delta Ski & Snowboard Baggage Fees

One ski/pole bag, or one snowboard bag and one boot bag, is accepted per person (you get to check both!), but the combined weight of the ski/snowboard bag and the boot bag can’t exceed 50 lbs, or excess weight charges will apply.

American Airlines Ski & Snowboard Baggage Fees

American checked bag policies are almost identical to Delta’s, but there’s a clever workaround—frequent flyer status or membership. Citi AAdvantage cardmembers (on domestic American Airlines operated flights), get to check their first bag for free. Boom. Other loyalty programs include:

  • AAdvantage Gold
  • Oneworld Ruby
  • Alaska Airlines MVP members

Southwest Airlines Ski & Snowboard Baggage Fees

Yeah. Southwest. I know. Southwest gets a bad rap, but if you’re flying to a domestic ski destination, take a gander at Southwest’s prices before you write them off as the budget airline from hell.

They are practically the only airline that offers not only one, but two free checked bags (and yes, that includes ski and snowboard gear). Suck it up, snob. Southwest is for real.

Hopper: Ski Destination Secret Search Engine

Searching for a deal on a ski destination is hard, because search engines like Kayak don’t prioritize ski spots—at least not in a way that’s easily searchable. Hopper provides a different way to search for flights broken down by all the destinations a chosen airline flies to (United, JetBlue, etc), and seasonal destinations, so you can snag deals on destinations that just got dumped with powder.

packing for a ski trip

A totally different way to look at booking your ski vacation, even if you don’t buy a flight on Hopper, it’ll help inform your Google Flight search.

Head to Toe Ski & Snowboard Packing List

Ok, now that you know how to find sweet ski vacation flights and deals, it’s time to pack. Here’s a head to toe breakdown of the best, affordable, carry-on-friendly ski and snowboard gear for 2017 and beyond.

packing for a ski trip

Disclaimer: This list doesn’t include any ski or snowboard recommendations, because what you ride depends on your budget, your skill, and your taste. Below you’ll find recommendations on all the ski and snowboard gear, clothing, and accessories you need to stay warm, dry, and stylish on the hill.

Ski & Snowboard Helmet

Best Option: K2 Diversion Helmet ($150)

packing for a ski trip

Avoid the “gaper gap” and protect your dome with a stylish, lightweight, affordable helmet that has it all.

Lightweight (1.8 pounds), featuring custom fit (360 fit dial), and a built in Level 3 Baseline Audio speaker system that syncs with your phone for music control on the go (it even has a mic for skipping songs and accessing playlists hands free!). Matrix venting, washable lining, and sturdy construction all round out the features for a great helmet at a reasonable price. Solid pick.

Backcountry Option: Scott Symbol MIPS Helmet ($175)

packing for a ski trip

Anything you dish out, this helmet can take.  The polycarbonate shell is insanely light (1.1 pounds), but comes with impact foam, padding, and a full-on multi-directional impact protection system (MIPS) that will keep your noggin safe from even the worst backcountry wipeout.

Oh, and it has integrated headphones, 20 vents, and all the plush features you’d expect from a modern helmet.

Budget Option: Smith Holt Helmet ($70)

packing for a ski trip
This is the best helmet under $100. Without all the bells and whistles of higher priced helmets,  it’s a quality piece of ski gear.

With 14 vents, a great fit (with elastic adjustment band), and the clean, simple, functional design (without looking dorky), this helmet is a home run. Keep your brain and your bank account safe at the same time.

Wool Hat

Toque, beanie, cap—whatever you call it, you’re going to want a quality wool cap for the slopes and the apres ski (that’s French for “getting drunk in the snow”).

Best Option: Howlin’ Out of the Blue Hat ($29)

packing for a ski tripThis Scottish made 100% wool winter cap is perfect for wowing the crowds on and off the slopes. Natural fibers like wool, alpaca, merino, mohair, and cashmere are worth the extra couple of bucks for warmth, durability, and longevity.

A quality hat is something you’ll wear all season long. Splurge.

Budget Option: Carhart Ribbed Watch Hat ($9)

The acrylic fabric isn’t as comfy as the Howlin’ wool cap, or some of the more expensive natural fiber hats, but it’s Carhartt. This hat is going to take a beating and keep coming back for more. And at $10, you can’t ask for more than that.

Budget, Budget Option: Every Gas Station Hat Ever ($2)

Literally every gas station in America has a wide array of $2 caps. If you forgot yours and you’re reading this on the drive up to the mountain, go into the next gas station you stop at, take a pee, buy a Slim Jim, and pick up a cheap neon orange hat. You’ll look fresh to death in that hi-vis style.

Ski Goggles

Back in the day a quality pair of goggles meant a decent field of view, some minor tint, and goggles that wouldn’t fog up. The game has changed. All those features are a given now.

Interchangeable lenses are the future of ski goggles, with easy to swap lenses for variable conditions. If you want to take your game to the next level, avoid the “gaper gap” with stylish quality goggles that you can change to adapt to whatever’s out there. Plus, they won’t break when you face-plant because you “almost totally landed that super sweet 180.” We’ve all been there.

Best Option: Smith I/O ChromaPop Goggles ($210)

packing for a ski trip

The suite of interchangeable lenses is top of the line with options for stormy days, bright sunshine, and flat light. Spend less time squinting and more time skiing.

The panoramic field of view is nice, triple layer foam means it fits like a comfy glove (and won’t fly off when you beef it), and the wavelength filtering for shadow reduction in low light is b-a-n-a-n-a-s. Seriously, these goggles are a stone’s throw away from x-ray vision. Get ’em. Oh yeah… and they have a lifetime warranty.

Budget Option: Smith Scope Goggles ($70)

packing for a ski trip

There really isn’t a budget option that can hold a candle to the multi-lens kits, high quality materials, spherical lenses, and innovation of top-tier goggles, but the Smith Scope is a great entry level goggle.

Anti-fogging tech makes sure you can ski all day, the fit is great for almost all helmets (and head shapes), airflow keeps your vision clear, and the tint is enough for most conditions. A great starter pair of goggles.

Budget, Budget Option: Bolle Mojo Snow Goggles ($18)

packing for a ski trip

You get what you pay for, but these aren’t the worst. Venting, double layer lenses, and scratch resistant coating make sure these goggles won’t fog up, or break your first time out. And that’s about all you can ask for from a pair of goggles under $20 bucks. Perfect for a very casual skier.

Neck Warmer or Gaiter

Never heard of a gaiter? Don’t feel bad—it’s a weird word.

Patagonia Micro D Fleece Gaiter ($29)

packing for a ski trip
Fleece gaiters are an oft overlooked, but veteran piece of gear. They really seal in the warmth that you might otherwise lose from even the best winter jacket, while being cozy as heck.

The Patagonia Micro D is soft, effective, and a hit with die-hard skiers.

Bonus: A gaiter will give you something to bury your face into on the lift if when it gets stuck. Be prepared to snuggle.

Ski & Snowboard Jackets

Now for the big stuff—the make or break gear. Your ski jacket needs to perform, which means it’s gonna cost you a few bucks to get the right fit and features to satisfy your particular style of riding. Backcountry is different than your local resort, and exposed alpine ridges pack a bigger punch than groomed blue diamonds. You have to get the right coat for the environment.

Best Hard Shell Ski Jacket: Helly Hansen Alpha 2.0 Jacket ($450)

packing for a ski trip

This hard shell jacket threads the needle of insulation, protection, and ventilation. With 4-way stretch material throughout, the design allows for great movement, and the insulation in the sleeves and extremities means you’ll be warm on the lift, but not toasty on a bit of a hike.

Underarm vents counterbalance the sealed seams, and features like a zipout powder skirt make it more jacket than you’re ever likely to need.

Budget Option: Patagonia Rubicon ($299)

packing for a ski trip

It might not seem like that much of discount from the Helly Hansen price tag, but trust me, both of these jackets are on the low end of the price spectrum—especially considering their performance.

The Rubicon features more insulation than typical hard shells (for anyone out there that can’t handle the chill) with decent waterproofing specs.

Bottom line: If you get cold easily, this is the ski jacket for you.

Budget Option: Columbia Bugaboo Interchange Jacket ($119)

This 3-in1 interchange jacket is a workhorse at a budget price. The nylon shell is waterproof yet breathable, the polyester fleece is light but warm, and the lining, zippers, and hardware (like the removable hood) are all practical features for a variety of conditions. The best part is that you can leave some of the bulk and just don the shell for warmer trips. A bonus for carry on packing.

Snow Pants

Unless you’re a backcountry enthusiast that spends hours on your butt in the snow, all you really need from a pair of snow pants is to keep you warm and dry. Luckily, there are a ton of affordable ski and snowboard pants that fit the bill.

Best Option: Patagonia Reconnaissance Pants ($329)

packing for a ski trip

The lightweight, waterproof, breathable soft shell (with side vents for long hikes) is a solid choice for backcountry and resort skiers. Low-profile (super cool looking), with a number of zippered pockets and adjustable cuffs make it versatile and comfortable for just about every style of rider.

Budget Option: North Face Seymore Snow Pants ($99)

No bells and whistles for snowboard pants under $100, but they’re waterproof, seam-sealed, durable, and feature a few sealed zipper pockets for your stuff.

Best Base Layer

packing for a ski trip
A great ski jacket is only as good as your base layer. Don’t skimp on the material that will literally keep you alive on the hill. Merino or polypropylene fabric is worth every penny.

Helly Hansen HH Dry Striped Crew Base Layer ($40)

Wicking, wicking wicking. This layer will keep you warm and dry, and that’s all you can ask. The lightweight, non-itchy feel is just a bonus.

Helly Hansen Base Layer Pants ($37)

Finish off the look with the super affordable matched pants. They don’t look awesome, but they’ll keep your butt warm and dry.

Ski Gloves

Keeping your fingers and toes dry and warm is essential on the slopes. Frostbite takes out your digits first, and nothing ruins a perfect powder day faster than wet, cold, achy fingers. Protect your hands with these quality gloves:

Luxury Option: Outdoor Research Heated Gloves ($500)

packing for a ski trip

While spending five bills on a pair of gloves might seem insane (it is), you can’t say these things aren’t awesome. An embedded lithium ion battery delivers steady heat to the metal lining that covers 70% of these gloves. That means 8 straight hours of warmth.

Of course, you could just buy a 10-pack of hand warmers for $20, but that’s just me.

Best Choice: 4 Season Give’r Gloves ($114)

These stylish, durable, comfortable, insulated, waterproof gloves can take a beating. Developed by freaking DARPA, the 4 Season Give’r gloves are the last pair of gloves you’ll ever need. You can even have them monogrammed so no one tries to steal ’em from the drying rack.

Budget Option: FlyLow Gear Ridge Leather Gloves ($45)

If you only ski or snowboard a few times a year, these are the gloves for you. Ready to go out of the box, these pigskin leather gloves (sorry vegans) will keep you warm and dry. Waterproof treated, insulated, and with an elastic cuff, these are a great entry level or casual ski glove.

Best Ski & Snowboard Socks

Ski and snowboard boots have come a long way since the ski boom of the 1980’s, which means you don’t have to wrap your feet in a metric ton of wool to stay warm and dry. Just make sure your socks cover above your boot and you’re in business. Here are a few of the better woolen ski and snowboard socks:

Best Option: Darn Tough Over the Calf (OTC) Padded Ultralight Socks ($25)

packing for a ski trip

Twenty five bucks is a steep price tag for socks, granted, but these are amazing. A padded shin, merino blend, and smooth fit mean no blisters, no swampfoot, and no banged shins. Forget about your feet and enjoy the mountain. Extra padding is available from a whole line of socks. So that’s cool.

Budget Option: Wigwam Snow Sirocco Knee-High Performance Socks ($9)

A performance blend of wool, nylon, and spandex make these no-nonsense ski socks perfect for tackling the slopes. “Stay put” weaving on the heels, toes, and shins means your socks will stay high and dry all day so you can worry about skiing.

Miscellaneous Ski & Snowboard Gear

Smartwool Anchor Line Shacket ($180)

packing for a ski trip

Part shirt, part jacket, all comfort. If done right, the thick-shirt/light-jacket hybrid known as a “shacket” should be all you need after you call it a day.

The Smartwool Anchor Line shirt is 80% merino so it’ll dry quickly, keep you warm and cozy, while looking and feeling awesome (which is important). Changing out of all your gear at the end of the day while still staying warm is awesome.

GoPro Session (with Head Mount) ($199)

Pics or it didn’t happen. Better yet, video. Catch every glorious second of air (or hilarious wipeout) with a GoPro Session and a helmet mount. This camera is waterproof, shockproof, as well as pocket-sized. Turn it on and off with a single touch of the record button, so no fumbling gloves on and off to get the shot. Seriously, GoPro mounts might look a little ridiculous, but if you’re at all interested in shooting video of your time on the mountain, a handheld camera just isn’t going to cut it.

Sunscreen

Unless you’re rocking a solid gaiter, your nose is going to get crispy. Don’t be a cool kid with skin cancer. Spread a little sunscreen on your beak and live to be 100. Snowboarding will be NUTS in a few decades. Don’t you want to live to see that?

TL;DR

Packing for a ski or snowboard trip doesn’t have to be a costly, frustrating experience. Search for affordable shoulder season flights, stuff everything into your one allotted bag, use loyalty programs and credit card membership perks for free checked bags, and pack one bitchin’ carry on full of the best gear. Have the time of your life.

  • Loyalty programs = free checked bags
  • Natural fibers (wool, merino, alpaca) are worth the extra money
  • Interchangeable ski goggles are incredible
  • GoPro head cameras are stupid, but effective
  • Search for great prices on ski flights at the right time and place with Hopper

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