Essential Cross-Country Skiing Equipment

By Susan Miller , last updated December 13, 2011

Cross country skiing is a favorite outdoor exercise for the winter months for those who live in the northern half of the United States and in Canada, so before you plan your first cross country ski outing, you will need to make sure you have the essential cross country skiing equipment and the right clothing. The essential equipment includes properly fitting skis that are suited to the type of cross country skiing you will be doing, poles that fit you properly, boots that fit both you and the skis, and, of course, warm clothing so you can enjoy yourself while indulging in this great sport.

Cross country skiing is particularly suited to those who live in the flatlands, such as the Midwest and prairie states. There are essentially two different kinds of cross country skiing these days. One is classic cross country skiing, which is when the skis remain parallel and the skiing is done in a gliding motion with the assistance of two poles. The other type is the skating motion, which is done with the skis turned out diagonally and looks like in-line skating. This motion can be done with or without poles. The equipment for each style is a little bit different, but clothing needs are the same for both.
If this is your first time to go cross country skiing, experts recommend learning the classic cross country skiing techniques and movements until you become steady and proficient, then move on to the skating movements. There are also two types of classic cross country skiing, which requires different types of equipment for each. The first type is cross country skiing done on golf courses, in parks or on groomed trails. For this type, you need light to light touring weight skis. For back country cross country skiing, you need touring to back country, mountaineering and ski backpacking skis. The experts recommend you start out on the groomed trails and take a professional lesson until you get used to handling the equipment. Then move to the back country classic cross country skiing. First timers should begin learning on general purpose recreational touring skis.
Skis come in all sizes, but, in general, the length of the classic cross country skis you buy should be your height converted to inches, multiplied by 2.6 plus 15. Convert this number to centimeters and this will be the ski length you should buy. The weight and other features of the skis will vary with the type of classic cross country skiing you will be doing.
For skating skis, the general rule of thumb is your height converted to inches, multiplied by 2.6 plus 5. Convert this number to centimeters and this will be the length of skating skis you should buy. With the skating skis and the classic skis, you may decide you can better handle a shorter or longer length, which is why you should rent equipment several times to make certain you purchase the right sizes of skis.
Ski manufacturers have tables that match the size and weights of skiers to their equipment, but trying them before you buy is still the best idea, and trying more than one brand is also important. Work with sales people who are knowledgeable and are experienced cross country skiers, if at all possible. Bindings should come with the skis. If they do not, then ask why, and find out what kind you should buy for your skis.
Poles for the classic cross country skis should fit comfortably under your armpits when you are standing on the ground. Poles for the skating type of cross country skiing, if they are used, should go right up to the cleft of the chin. If your poles leave your muscles strained for either type of skiing, then you need to try a different height of pole.
You will need to wear boots for both types of skis, and the type of ski will dictate the boot. Generally, however, they should be well-fitting and should feel lightweight like a running shoe. Make sure you wear good socks with the boots. Try on the socks you intend to wear with them when you are buying the boots.
Dress in layers, but avoid bulky or heavy clothes because they will get heavy and overheat your body while you are skiing. If it is snowing or raining, wear an outer layer that will keep your inner layers dry, but it must be lightweight to prevent you from getting overly warm.
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