There's one very big problem with winter sports and that's the winter. Winter is, by its nature, a pretty cold and wet affair and if there's two things that the human body is not a bit fan of its being cold and wet, least of all when it happens at the same time.
Naturally, you're just going to have to deal with that if you're planning on heading skiing or snowboarding but we at Pocket-lint have some pretty good ideas on how to deal with it properly and that's by choosing the very best kit with the very finest fibres that technology has brought forth. So, if you're a big fan of waterproofing, thermal insulating and merino wool, then do read on, for this is the very best skiing and snowboarding gear around right now.
POC Receptor BUG Communication helmet (£199)
The side of a mountain generally sounds pretty quiet which will grate with anyone brought-up to believe that adrenalin sports needs a Beastie Boys soundtrack. If you're in that camp, but want to play it safe, this ski helmet from POC packs in Skullcandy drivers for an instant alpine disco.
A control box on a cord gives in-line controls but the Receptor BUG Communication goes beyond mere music; as the name suggests, it's also compatible with iPhone, Blackberry and Android smartphones for the ultimate in hands-free hypothermia.
Burton Avid Grom R2-D2 youth ski helmet (£65)
“Echo Three to Echo Seven. Han, old buddy, have you seen R2?” Ah, the novelty ski helmet, which here has a resemblance to Star Wars’s diminutive droid, only comes in 'youth' sizes – and in a limited run only.
Easily adjustable and using a lightweight, in-molded, polycarbonate shell, it’s as useful for bike rides and skateboarding as for skiing.
At least, that's how your kids will sell it when they're trying to wangle the money out of you for one. As it goes, Burton Snowboards also sell limited edition Chopper snowboards – again for kids only, damn it – that bear designs paying tribute to Yoda, Darth Vader, Luke and the gang. Lovely stuff. Wasn't it?
Vaude Vanoise jacket (£227)
Pricey, yes, but you're effectively buying a jacket that can literally be taken apart at the seams when the season melts away. The Vanoise is basically two products in one - a fleece layer that zips into an all-weather jacket. The fleece section is thicker than normal and the sleeves are lined for extra warmth, complete with thumb holes and zip pockets.
The jacket, meanwhile, has a thin lining and works as a quite brilliant raincoat. The Chest pockets can be got at from the outside and in, every zip is protected by a storm flap and Velcro and it also features a zip-off hood whose peak cleverly stays in place in strong winds. The waistband can be adjusted from within the pockets too and underarm vents will suit skiers at low altitude, though there’s no snow skirt to keep it from getting up inside.
Berghaus Powder Keg 30 (£100)
Skiing demands accessories. Whether it's an emergency layer for the top of the mountain, a hastily-made sarnie from the morning's chalet buffet, or a flask of tea; life on the piste demands a pack like the Powder Keg.
Taking 30 litres, and designed as much for casual daytrippers as an overnight ski tour, the toughly-made Powder Keg’s main hull is accessed from behind the shoulder straps, with side pockets for gadgets and goggles. What we love best about this daysack is that a pair of skis can be easily and quickly strapped to its cleverly retractable loops, instantly removing the pain from the daily trudge to and from chairlifts and chalet.
YakTrax Pro (£18)
Ah, the après ski, that time when you rest your weary bones, down a few glasses of vin chaud, then sprain your ankle on the icy walk back. Avoid being home alone all week nursing an injury by strapping the YakTrax Pro to your shoes.
Much imitated, these are essentially strap-on ice grips with extra-strong coils and an over-shoe strap that keeps them in place with traction on slippery surfaces created by hundreds of tiny teeth. Yaktrax come in many flavours and the Pro are actually recommended for runners who insist on practicing their obsession on snow and ice (as used by participants in the frozen lake-based Baikal Ice Marathon but they're dependable on all icy underfoot conditions and fold up for easy packing. Nice.
Columbia Bugaglove Max Electric Glove (£350)
If you've ever had to stop for 10 minutes to pick yourself up, locate your skis from the trees and re-attach them to your boots, you'll know how freezing your fingers can get. Step forward the Bugaglove Max, which instantly brings life-restoring warmth back – though at a high cost. Don't worry, we're not talking about your little finger.
Inside each glove is a small compartment housing a removable battery pack. About an inch long, these batteries must be charged via USB (it takes about three hours to be safe), and once switched-on the warmth creeps around each finger. After about five minutes it's toasty warm, and the effect lasts for two hours on full blast, three hours on medium, or for four hours on its lowest setting. Expensive, for sure, but the Bugaglove is the glove of the future.
Transcend GPS Goggles (£299.95)
Goggles and GPS gadgets are frequent visitors to the slopes, but this is the first time we've seen them combined. As you whizz down the valley, Transcend's GPS Goggles, which themselves use SPPx polarized photochromic lenses that adjust to the light, give you in-goggle displays for speed, temperature and distance travelled using data from a GPS and an altimeter.
All the stats appear in front of your eyes as if they were about six feet away, while all the data collected is stored and can be uploaded to a Google Map. You're not even going skiing but you want a pair, right?
Buff Reversible Polar Buff (£24)
Scarfs and skiing just don't mix. The icy wind that gets colder every time you chance a chairlift is a pain in the neck, but scarves don't stay where they’re told and usually end-up tangled and useless. Step forward Buff’s winter warmers which keep the heat in through several wacky ways. A double-layered tube with both Polartec fleece and microfibre, the Reversible Polar Buff is easily the warmest.
As well as used as a scarf, hat, balaclava and even a sling, this particular buff is versatile to the hilt; when you don’t want/need a fleece covering your mouth (say, at lower, warmer altitudes), pinch it apart and breath only into the thinner microfibre layer. Used for days on end, it does need a wash; the odour-resistant £22 merino wool-based Wool Buff doesn't seem to, while a non-reversible version, the £23 Polar Buff, is also available, though only half as warm.
Icebreaker Oasis Crewe Gradient base layer (£69.95)
Like the tog system, layering is a complex technique that needs to be learned before venturing out in the snow and ice. How to keep warm air in and cold air out is made easy by Icebreaker, the trendiest and best brand around for merino wool wares. It's that most magic of fibres, and its thanks to those New Zealand sheep that the Oasis Crewe Gradient is just so darn warm.
It clings close to the body, so it's no looker, but its slightly tapered waist actually keeps it tucked-in if the worst happens and you take a tumble. As well as keeping snow out of your undies, the Oasis Crewe Gradient soaks-up and gets rid of sweat, somehow keeping BO at bay (we wore it for four days straight).
And it's warm. Forget loft insulation or double glazing – this is the best solution we've found yet for lowering the heating bills, and it's completely dependable for the outdoors.
Stanley Outdoor Vacuum Flask 1.05L (£20)
Swerve spending all your Euros on hot coffee with this hefty flask from Stanley. Although it'll pay for itself within a couple of days, its size makes it most suited to taking around with a party of three or four off-pisters – and it goes well with the Berghaus Powder Keg rucksack.
Weighing 780g when empty, this flask's double wall uses rugged steel while its cup has two lids, so cuts down on waiting if you're sharing. Guaranteed both leak-proof, and for a lifetime, this well-made flask proved capable of storing hot liquids for about 12 hours in our test.
Aclima Pulse Warmers (£21.95)
Designed to fill the gap between coat and glove are Aclima's Pulse Warmers. To stop your wrists from frostbite while flexing, these extensions of the sweatband idea from the 1980s are made from – you guessed it – merino wool.
Reaching roughly from where a watch would sit to the bottom of the fingers, the Pulse Warmers features a thumb hole to keep them in place and, though you might look like you're about to go 10 rounds, they're worth their weight in gold when the temperature dips. We also used them while out walking in the bitter British winter, though they're at their best when wrists are exposed by jackets riding-up.
Horizon Epic technical ski socks (£18)
Occasional skiers especially will recall painful shins from days on the slopes, and that's exactly what Horizon's Epic socks are designed to counter. As well as adding padding on the front of the sock, the Epic puts an in-turned welt at the top to stop those irritating sores from tight-fitting boots.
Aside from a reinforced heel, elsewhere, the Epic is thin and comfortable thanks to some, yep, merino wool goodness that succeeds in keeping tootsies dry and, thanks to a an extra-fine toe seem, safe from rubbing and cuts, too. Thanks again to the Kiwi sheep.
Griffin Survivor for iPhone 4S (£31.99)
Use it around the office and you might get an unwanted reputation as a TA wannabee but Griffin’s waterproof and drop-proof iPhone case (there’s also an iPad version for £49.99) is perfect for the slopes.
You've doubtless seen it before, but we still rank this inexpensive innovation one of the best wipeout-proof iPhone cases out there.
Complete with a built-in screen protector, belt clip and seals for the dock connector, headphone port, hold switch and volume controls, the Survivor’s main armoury consists of a shatter-resistant polycarbonate frame covered in silicone.
Craghoppers Miska micro fleece (£30)
Even the most carefully thought-out layering system can sometimes fail when the temperature unexpectedly drops by 10 degree. So, shoving something like Craghoppers' Miska micro fleece in your daysack is always a wise move.
Available in nine colours, this 260g polyester micro fleece features a half-zip that can can be done-up to provide extra warmth but with a looser fit giving plenty of space around the neck for adding a scarf or tube. Soft to the skin, and highly packable, this is a ski basic.
Falke SK2 ski socks (£17.50)
Distinctive anatomical designs for both the left and right feet – ostensibly to stop the socks from moving and giving you blisters – are what Falke's SK2 socks are all about, though they also feature a comfortable combination of padding and thinner areas.
Warm and cosy in freezing temperatures, the SK2 socks have cushioning on the heels, instep, toes, ankle and shin to banish bruising. They also use a completely pressure-free cuff to prevent tight boots from inflicting injuries to the upper shins. When you're hitting the slopes hard, it’s the little things that matter.
Eider Alagna jacket & La Molina salopettes (£280 & £99)
With clean lines and a heavy weave, the Eider Alagna doesn't look like a ski jacket. However, the insides say otherwise. With adjustable Velcro straps on the sleeves clamping around built-in pulse warmers with looped thumbholes, this partly fleece-lined jacket is noticeably warmer than most. A single waterproof inside pocket is joined by a huge goggles compartment, although the jacket is a tad too fitted to make the latter a comfortable experience.
There’s a zip-off snow skirt, and though it’s missing a ski pass pocket on the sleeve – a huge faux pas on the piste – it does include two tiny diagonal zipped chest pockets designed for a phone and keys. The matching salopets in Eider’s range are La Molina which are unusually stretchy though well-fitted with noticeable movement around the knees. A couple of deep, waterproof hip pockets and an adjustable waist add to the appeal but the legs’ elasticated snow protectors are a struggle to get over a pair of ski boots – they lack side-zips.
Falke Athletic Fit Ski base layers (£50 each)
Another figure-hugging choice comes from Falke, this time including both tops and bottoms. Using man-made fibres and a touch of elastane to keep them clinging, Falke's long-sleeve tops and tights offer the same push/pull wicking tech for coping with moisture.
Those climate zones consist of two layers and have a more athletic feel than Icebreaker's effort. The kind of thing you might expect to see a (particularly committed) runner wearing on a winter's morning, the top has open mesh under each arm and a seamless construction. The tights – it's the only way to describe them – follows suit, and adds anti-slip Silicon strips at the knees and elbows to keep it in place. They feel a bit odd but seem to work.
Billabong Zaza snowboarding salopets (£110)
It’s something old hands forget, but learning to snowboard can involve a few tears – and nothing is more upsetting than underpants full of snow. The cause, of course, is a jacket that rides-up when you skid across the slush, which is what Billabong’s Zaza jacket (for women) avoids with its snow skirt that zips onto the brand’s salopets.
Available in black, spearmint green and orange, that skirt is removable should you wish to mix and match gear and some Velcro waistband tags make the Zaza’s unusually adjustable. Fleece-lined down to the knee, these are aimed at snowboarders, so are baggier around the ankle and don’t zip all the way up. Relatively easy to slip in and off, they have ventilation zips in the inside legs, and pockets aplenty.
Superfeet hotRED & hotPINK (£45.95)
You love skiing but the chances are that your feet do not. In fact, it’s probably the worst six days of the year for your hence red-raw, blistered, and icy extremities. Step forward some special winter versions of Superfeet which are essentially anchored soles that keep your feet in one place.
They're said to offer shock absorption, power transmission and edge control by using special foam but it’s the stabiliser cap that keeps heels in one place that’s the real trick. The extra stability stops feet from sliding about, especially in strange ski boots that can often prove to be too big, and helps prevent blisters. The men’s version are called hotRED with hotPINK available for women.
Gerber's Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Kit (£49.95)
OK, so you’re a danger mouse on the slopes and won’t be sticking to the piste. So what? Off-piste is basically ski-speak for 'middle of nowhere', and if you do get injured, lost, or break a ski while a long way from home, some survivalling might be in order – and we know just the man for the job.
Built for hostile environments and covering all the bases, the completely water-tight Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Kit is made by knife specialist Gerber but designed by the ex-SAS man and current UK Chief Scout. Despite its tiny size the kit contains gems like a Gerber Mini-Paraframe Knife, whistle, fire-starter, snare wire (for catching an alpine goat?), tweezers, signalling mirror, survival blanket and, best of all, a pocket guide of survival tips with land-to-air rescue instructions printed on the outside of the kit.
Point6 Women’s Ski Medium Snowflake socks (£19.99)
Blistered, soaked in sweat and with frozen toes; your feet can get in a right state while skiing. Tight-fitting ski boots demand sweat-defying socks, which is what Point6 has tried to develop in its Snowflake.
Fitting over the calf and made from tightly spun wool of the high wicking merino variety, these socks not only kept our feet dry, but don’t rip or pill when plucked from ski boots. They also have a pretty name which sounds a lot nicer than the reality of Point6 Women's Ski Medium foot non-disfiguring socks.
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