A Complete Guide To Cross Country Ski Equipment

XC ski gear

Getting ready to hit the cross country ski trails but not sure what gear to buy?

Whether you ski classic or skate, if you ski for leisure of performance, this article will cover everything you need know from skis, bindings, accessories and what clothes to wear, so that you get inspired and ready for the cross-country ski season.

What type of cross-country skiing do you want to get into? This is the first question that needs answering before heading to your nearest cross country ski shop.

Different styles of cross country skiing

There are two main styles of cross country skiing, classic skiing and skate skiing. It’s important to know which type of cross country skiing you want to do before you go shopping for your gear.

Classic cross country skiing involves moving your skis parallel to one another similar to walking on skis. It is most commonly done inside groomed rails that will keep your skis straight and guide you around turns. Classic cross country skiing is easier and requires less effort than skate skiing – it is recommended for beginners.

This style can also be performed outside of groomed trails, this usually involves wider skis and is called backcountry skiing – also a lot of fun but requires a bit more effort.

Skate skiing, as its name implies, is very similar to ice skating. This style requires well groomed and wider trails. It requires more physical effort and advanced techniques and is suited to the more athletic and seasoned skier, but with practice a beginner can soon achieve an effortless glide. You will also need specialized skate skis.

If you are looking for real freedom and adventure, you might want to look into backcountry skiing. This style is very similar to classic cross country skiing, with the kick and glide method while keeping you skis parallel. However this style is best performed in off the tracks in fresh snow. You will need specialized backcountry cross country skis with metal edges for this type of skiing.

The selection of bindings, boots and poles are equally important when choosing your gear and will also depend on the style of cross country skiing you decide to do.

Looking for ways to improve your fitness for the cross country ski season? Check out Off Season XC Ski Training

Choosing The Right Cross Country Ski Gear

If you are new to nordic skiing, I would recommend you start by a finding a cross country ski rental shop near you and renting your cross country ski gear for your first season.

This will help you get to get a feel for what works best for you. This is especially important when it comes to choosing between classic and skate skiing, as both techniques are very different and require completely different types of equipment.

Classic Cross Country Skis

The main difference between classic and skate skis is the base. The classic ski’s base is split into two zones, the kick zone and the glide zone. The kick zone comes in different variations: waxable skis or waxless skis; waxless skis also comes in different versions: fishscales, or skins.

The main deciding factor for this type of ski is based on your height and weight. When you kick back the kick zone of your ski should collapse under your weight and bite the snow, this is especially useful when going uphill. While gliding along the trails you want your kick zone to be gliding above the snow.

The classic cross country skis are also slightly wider, more souple and longer than skate skis.

As a beginner, you might prefer to start with slightly shorter skis, as they will make it easier to turn and control when you are outside of the rails.

Best classic cross country skis for beginners: Rossignol Evo

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The Rossignol EVO are excellent classic skis for beginners. These cross country skis have a waxless base, are lightweight and short, making them easy to control no matter the conditions – so can be used on groomed tracks or ungroomed terrain.

These skis come pre-mounted with the Tour Step-In bindings that are compatible with NNN, Prolink and Turnmatic Ski Boot Soles.

Best classic cross country ski for advanced skiers: Rossignol Delta Comp

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If you are a more advanced skier and looking for more speed go for a classic cross country ski with a stiffer flex like Rossignol Delta Comp.

The Delta Comp R-Skin is a high performing mohair ski that’s been designed for those who want to be the best.

It features advanced materials and construction, as well as race ready certification from one of Europe’s most trusted brands – so you know it will deliver performance on demand no matter what terrain or snow conditions come your way this season.

Keep in mind that this type of classic cross country ski will be less forgiving and require better technique.

Classic Ski Boot Options

The classic cross country ski boots for beginners are designed to give you support for your ankles and heels, the focus here is to keep your feet warm and these boots will generally have a thicker lining.

Our recommended classic cross country ski boots for beginners: Fischer XC Pro

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The Fischer XC Pro is the perfect choice for beginner skiers who want to have a comfortable and easy skiing experience. The lace cover keeps snow out, while an internal molded heel cap helps prevent blisters with its extra control.

Classic ski boots for more advanced skiers will generally be designed with a thinner and lighter lining, they will also have a stiffer heel to allow for more power to be generated when kicking off.

Our recommended classic style ski boots for advanced skiers: Rossignol X-8 Classic

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The Rossignol X8 is a great choice for experienced cross country skiers. It’s Mobile Cuff enables users to make consistent and locked-in strides while also providing them torsional rigidity to keep on track. This classic ski boot features a lace system that makes putting these boots very quickly.

Skate Cross Country Skis

Skate skis do not have any kick zone, they only have a glide zone from tip to tail. They are generally 10 cm shorter than classic skis, the exact ski length you choose will depend on your height and body weight.

More advanced skiers will tend to go for stiffer and lighter skis which will provide a sportier feel. Beginners should be looking at a more flexible ski which will be more forgiving when the technique is not quite perfected.

The narrower width of skate skis allows skiers to achieve faster speeds down the groomed trails. They also fit perfectly in the rails, which skate skiers may hop into when going downhill to go even faster.

Best skate ski for beginners: Rossignol Delta Sport Skate Skis

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The Rossignol Delta Sport Skate Skis are great entry-level skate skis, they are lightweight and stable. They perfect for kicking off and having a fun day on the groomed trails.

These cross country skate skis come pre-fitted with Race Skate Bindings that fit skate boots with NNN, Prolink and Turnamic soles.

The Rossignol Delta Sport Skate Skis are also very reasonably priced, which make them an all-round great buy.

Best skate skis for advanced skiers: Rossignol X-Ium Skating Premium

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The Rossignol X-Ium Premium S1 skis are an absolute must for any competitor out there looking to take their game up to the next level.

These skis are very responsive and strong, which allows your energy to be quickly and efficiently transferred from boot to ski, giving you the maximum performance and speed possible.

The Rossignol X-Ium S1 comes pre-fitted with the  Race Skate Bindings that fits skate boots with NNN and Prolink soles.

Skate Ski Boot Options

The skate style ski boots are considerably different from the classic style. These boots have a higher and stiffer design to support your ankles from the extra load they will be put under from the skate style technique. The sole of the skate style boots are also stiffer than classic ski boots, this will allow for a more powerful kick off of the whole sole, compared to the classic style in which you will only kick off with your front foot.

Our recommended skate style ski boots: Rossignol X-8 Skate XC Ski Boots

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The Rossignol X 8 Skate boots are designed to get your cross country skis moving in the skating style. Features like the 3D composite, soft touch and hinged cuff help you drive energy efficiently towards your skis, while their 3D heel counter add additional support to keep your heels locked. Their polyester insulation will keep your feet nice and warm during those cold wintery days.

For those of you whole enjoy practicing both classic and skate style nordic skiing, you can also look into cross country combi boots, which combine a hybrid of both designs. For these, we would recommend the Rossignol X-6 SC Race boot

Cross Country Ski Poles

When it comes to selecting your cross country ski poles, you will need to pay close attention to which height you select. Their height will vary depending on the style of cross country skiing you decide to do.

To make things simple, follow this rule of thumb:

  • For classic style cross country skiing your poles need to reach up to your chest when planted on the ground.
  • For skating style cross country skiing your poles will need to reach up to your chin.

Our recommended cross country ski poles: BARNETT XC-09

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The Barnett XC 09 is one of the best cross country ski poles available on the market. It can be used for both classic and skate cross country skiing, its carbon fabric makes it both lightweight and durable, it is suitable for both beginners and advanced skiers and it retails at a great price!

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Cross Country Ski Accessories

Cross Country Ski Strap

First of all I would recommend buying a ski strap, they are great for keeping your skis together when carrying them.

Ski Rack

Between skis, boots, poles, ski clothes, snacks for breaktime and the family dog, winter sports require a lot of gear. Even with an big SUV, transporting all that gear can be a challenge. I would strongly recommend buying car roof rack.

Our recommended premium ski roof rack: Thule SnowPack Ski Rack

Our recommended budget ski roof rack: Menabo Igloo Magnetic Ski Rack

Ski Bags

If you are traveling by plane you will need to get yourself some ski bags, one for your cross country skis and another for your boots.

Our recommended ski bag: Fischer Unisex Skicase ECO XC

Our recommended boots bag: Swix Classic Norwegian Tri Pack

Nordic Thermo Belt

Another essential accessory that I would recommend, is a Nordic Thermo Belt, this will help you to carry a water bottle, snacks and any other small essentials.

Our recommended Nordic Thermo Belt: Rossignol Nordic Thermo 1L Belt

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NNN vs SNS bindings, what the difference?

There are generally three main types of bindings that you can choose from:

  • SNS (Salomon Nordic System)
  • NNN (New Nordic Norm) and NNN BC (New Nordic Norm Backcountry)
  • 75 mm 3-pin

The most commonly used are SNS and NNN. These will also come in various forms and adaptations. Be aware that not all cross country ski boots boots are universal and the ones designed for SNS bindings will not compatible with NNN bindings and vice versa.

What are the best places to go cross country skiing?

For those looking for the best cross country ski trails, the Nordic countries (Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) are a must. France and Austria also have some excellent cross country skiing spots for sun-kissed cross country ski adventures.

The Dolomites provide great scenery with plenty of fresh air while you’re out on your cross country skis. If these mountain ranges aren’t enough then there’s always Switzerland which offers amazing views from various points around its borders.

What to wear when cross country skiing?

Avoid wearing anything that is made of cotton as this will absorb your sweat instead of moving it away from your skin.

The rule of thumb is to wear tight and flexible clothing, similar to what you would wear for running during winter. I have found that my running gear transfers pretty well to cross country skiing. I would recommend spending a little extra on getting good quality gloves to make sure your hands stay nice an warm. Think about adding an extra layer on those bitterly cold days.