Ever since I was young, I’ve always thought playing in the snow was an absolute blast, but I never put much thought into what I wore. Well, little did I know I wasn’t doing myself any favors in terms of staying warm or dry, and I learned this when I first started working with apparel at DSG Outerwear (formerly Divas SnowGear). Back when I was young, I would put on a pair of jeans and a cheap pair of snow pants that I had bought at a big box store. Now, I know that this is a huge no-no—jeans just don’t breathe at all! Now that I know how to properly layer and dress for snowmobiling or any other winter activity, I wonder how I suffered through all of the years of just throwing on jeans or sweatpants to stay warm.
So what should you look for when buying outerwear and base layers for snowmobiling or other winter sports? Here are six steps to help you better enjoy your time outdoors in colder temperatures.
Step 1: Determine your specific activity. Will you be trail riding snowmobiles in a Midwestern state like Wisconsin, Michigan or Minnesota? Or an East Coast state like New York? Or will you be trail riding only in Western states, like Wyoming, Idaho, Montana or Alaska? In that case, you’ll need insulated gear for warmth because your overall activity level is not as high as states with harsher climates.
Will you ride snowmobiles strictly in the backcountry, boon docking in the trees and deep powdered snow, in places like Togwotee, Wyoming, Revelstoke (BC), or the U.P. in Michigan? If so, you’ll want to wear a more technical shell without insulation because your activity level is going to be much greater. With more activity and more work while backcountry riding (also known as boon docking), you start to sweat. And when you start to sweat, you need to have chosen the proper moisture-wicking clothing, so sweat escapes and doesn’t get trapped in your clothes. If it does, you’ll become even colder!
Step 2: Do your research on snowmobile apparel brands that specialize in making products for all riding conditions and work to understand what all those hangtags and catchy terms mean. The best place to do this is retail websites that are not biased to one brand and sell multiple brands in one place. Look for an easy way to filter your results to compare all side by side. Two of the leading places to visit for snowmobile-specific apparel are www.upnorthsports.com and www.firstplaceparts.com.
Other things to look for while buying snowmobile apparel online, in person, or at a snowmobile dealership or snowmobile show, are the hangtags attached to each piece of clothing you’re considering. The more hangtags on a garment, the more quality or branded materials went into building that piece. For example, look at the following picture showcasing multiple hangtags on a snowmobile jacket.
Each hangtag correlates with a material that went into building the garment and is a perfect way to distinguish quality products versus generic ones. This particular jacket was made using Thinsulate Insulation, which is a famous brand from 3M known for consistent, high-quality insulation for apparel products. 3M and Thinsulate have large laboratories that have quality tested the insulation to make sure it will keep you warm. There are other brands of insulation that are great as well, such as PrimaLoft® and Thermal Flex™.
Next, you’ll see a tag for Reissa, which is the brand name for the coated membrane on the back of the jacket material that makes the product waterproof. Reissa is a trademarked name that signifies quality material. Some manufacturers will come up with their own catchy terms to represent certain materials, even though they’re using a generic version from the factory producing the garment. That’s why it’s extremely important to look for individual hangtags with brand names, instead of a manufacturer’s hangtag that lists features in bullet points.
There are other hangtags on this jacket that represent specialized materials, such as YKK zippers and Scotchlite reflective material (another 3M brand). The main point to take away from this step is that you need to determine what branded materials are used to make the clothing, and what materials are generic from a factory (which may not be up to the quality standards of materials with a brand name backing them). Price usually coordinates with better quality since each material used to build the clothing has to be purchased from the corresponding brand. If a jacket has few hangtags and costs less, it most likely includes materials that are not high quality in comparison to more expensive snowmobile clothing with multiple, branded hangtags.
Step 3: Now that you know your snowmobile riding discipline and have a basic understanding of what to look for in snowmobile apparel, you can make an educated decision on what clothing to purchase for your needs. Let’s start with a base layer, as this applies to both disciplines of riding. The following infographic breaks down the different base layers and the importance of each:
The base layer is important for both disciplines and should be worn next to the skin. Important things to look for in base layers are terms such as:
- Moisture-wicking, which transfers moisture/sweat from the inside of the material to the outside, leaving your skin warm and dry
- Merino wool, which is naturally moisture-wicking
- Breathable, which assists with moisture wicking
- Antimicrobial, which provides a protective layer against odor-causing bacteria
- Stretch fabric or 4-way stretch, which translates into a better, more comfortable fit
Finally, the base layers should be made of materials like polyester blended with Spandex, Merino wool or micro fleece. These materials are far superior to jeans and sweatpants made of thick cotton that doesn’t breathe at all.
Step 4: Determine if a mid-layer is needed. Most of the time, trail riders forgo mid layers since they’re buying a heavier insulated jacket and need the insulation to endure day-long cold temperatures. Mountain or backcountry active riders are sure to have a mid-layer with them at all times. This is important because when you start in the morning or riding the trail to get to the best backcountry location, you need additional insulation to stay warm. Once you get to the backcountry and start riding lines in the trees and climbing hills in the deep powder, you become way more active and start to sweat. By layering properly, you can shed the mid-layer by stowing it away in your sled and wear just a base and outer shell. This means you’re perfectly prepared for all conditions and the changing weather patterns throughout your day of riding. Mid layers use a lot of the same materials as base layers, but are thicker and usually have a zipper for easy removal.
Step 5: Choose the proper outer shell or jacket to coordinate with your base layers. I’ve already talked about what hangtags mean and how to determine what level of insulation you need in your pieces. Technical shell jackets for active riding use highly technical material for construction and typically do not have any insulation or a removable liner with insulation (like a 3-in-1 jacket). The most popular high-end fabrics for snowmobiling-are Sympatex®, GORE-TEX®, eVent®, Hydraguard Pro and HydrX Pro™.
Insulated winter jackets for women range anywhere from 70 grams to 300 grams, with the most popular and sufficient warmth for very cold conditions at 200 grams. With a proper next-to-skin base layer and a 200 gram insulated jacket and pants, you’ll stay warm and dry while trail riding. When looking for an insulated jacket, remember the terms and tags we discussed above to make your educated decision.
Step 6: Enjoy your new snowmobile apparel purchase and ride in comfort in all the winter weather conditions you come across!
Ready to choose your gear? Check out DSG’s selection of quality women’s snow apparel today.