How to dress for a winter stay in Switzerland
You’ll need waterproof and windproof clothing for snow activities. Additional gear is required for winter sports like skiing. For sightseeing, regular warm clothing is sufficient. If you don’t have your own clothes and gear, you can buy or rent them from many stores.
What to wear for a winter city break
If you visit Swiss cities in winter, regular warm winter clothes will do. Temperatures will often be mild in larger cities, as they’re at low altitude. But it can get cold as well.
Dress in several thin layers. Fleece is a good material as it’s thin and warm. If you get cold quickly, thermal underwear is comfortable. Use a thick warm jacket. Wear comfortable, solid shoes.
Also bring along a scarf, hat, (leather) gloves and sunglasses.
What to wear for mountain visits and snow activities
Dress in layers if you get out in the Swiss snow or if you visit high mountains. Layers isolate your body warmth. They allow you to adapt to different temperatures throughout the day. Wear a thin layer on your body (e.g. thermal underwear), then a thicker layer (e.g. a fleece sweater) and a warm, waterproof jacket on top.
This is a packing list for winter hiking:
- thermal underwear or other thin, warm layers
- warm socks, for example ski socks
- waterproof, solid hiking boots with good tread
- warm pants
- a warm, waterproof and windproof jacket
- a scarf or neck warmer
- a hat or headband
- optionally: hiking poles
For snow activities such as sledging and snowtubing, and for long periods in the outdoors, also pack these items:
- snow boots
- waterproof snow pants
Which outfit to use for skiing or snowboarding
You need special equipment for skiing and snowboarding. Use warm, breathable, flexible jackets and pants on top of thinner layers. The jacket and pants should keep out water, snow and wind. Bright colors are safe, as they’ll make you visible against the white snow.
You need these items when skiing or snowboarding:
- warm, thin clothes for under your ski gear. Thermal underwear and fleece sweaters are recommended.
- a ski jacket. Ski jackets have a snug fit, which is best for agility. They’re also flexible, breathable, waterproof and windproof.
- ski pants. They have a tight fit with elastic bands that fit around the ski boots. For snowboarders, a loose fit is usually better.
- ski socks. They’re thick and long, so they cover your ankles and calves. Ski socks have extra cushioning at the shin and toes for a comfortable fit in ski boots.
- ski gloves
- a neck warmer
- ski sunglasses or ski goggles. Ski goggles are different from sunglasses: they’re thicker, larger and held in place with a strap. This helps to protect your eyes and upper face.
- skis, ski boots and poles, or a snowboard and snowboard boots
- a helmet
Protection against sunlight in the snow
It’s important to protect yourself from harmful UV rays in the snow. The white surface of the snow reflects the sunlight and makes it extra bright.
UV rays are more powerful at higher altitude. The atmosphere is thinner in the mountains and absorbs less UV radiation.
Always wear sunglasses. Moisturizing eye drops can help if you have sensitive eyes. Use high-factor sunscreen every two hours. Lip balm with UV protection is recommended too.
Sunglasses suitable for snow
Wear sunglasses that are suitable for snow and bright sunlight. Use a large model that blocks sunlight from all angles, including the top and the sides of your eyes.
Sunglasses often come in categories ranging from 0 to 4. The lower the number, the lighter the lens tint and the more light will reach your eyes. Higher numbers indicate dark lenses that transmit less light and UV rays. Category 3 is good for a snow holiday.
Sunglasses prevent dry eyes, irritation and vision damage. They reduce glare caused by UV rays that are scattered around by snow. Sunglasses also protect against wind and dust.
Shoes, socks and snowboots
Wear sturdy hiking shoes. Sneakers are not sufficient. Your shoes should be warm and provide good grip. You can use thermo soles or wool insoles for extra warmth.
Use warm, long socks that cover your ankles and calves. Thin thermo socks along with regular socks are fine too.
Hiking shoes shouldn’t be moisture permeable. There are sprays and creams to make your shoes’ material waterproof.
For activities like sledging, snowtubing and playing in the snow, snow boots are more comfortable. These are waterproof mid-calf boots, often with a warm lining. Snowboots have wide soles with profiles that offer extra grip in the snow.
Don’t accidentally buy or rent ski boots. These are hard boots with a fixed, angled position to fit on skis.
For additional grip on slippery surfaces, you can attach snowsteps or snowspikes to your shoes or boots.
Winter coats and jackets
Winter jackets for a stay at high altitude and for snow activities should be warm, waterproof and windproof.
They should also be large enough, allowing you to add multiple layers of clothes underneath. Make sure that the sleeves are long enough, so that there’s no gap between the sleeve and your glove. Also check if the jacket sufficiently covers your neck and throat.
Ski jackets or down jackets are good options for a winter stay in the Swiss Alps.
Regular pants with thermal underwear can be sufficient if you’ll only be hiking in the snow.
If you’ll be playing in the snow, use waterproof and windproof snowpants or ski overalls. They have elastic bands to put around your boots or your ankles. This design retains warmth. It also makes sure that no snow can come in at the edges of your shoes or boots.
Wear thick, waterproof and windproof gloves when playing in the snow. Thinsulate can be useful. This microfibre material retains warmth and is breathable and washable.
Ski gloves are extra thick. They’re great if you expect very cold circumstances, but they’re not flexible.
Ski mittens provide even better comfort and warmth, but they’re less handy if you want to grab things. It’s comfortable to wear an underlayer of thin thermo gloves. These will still protect your fingers from the cold if you take off your mittens.
If you plan to take many pictures, you may prefer thin gloves. They allow you to control your camera more easily. There are gloves for operating mobile devices too. The thumb and index finger contain material to which touchscreens respond.
Scarves and neck warmers
Most winter coats don’t perfectly fit around your neck and throat. A warm, flexible scarf can cover the open space.
A neck warmer or buff is even easier. This is a kind of bandana, to be put around your neck. You can also pull it up over your chin or ears, or even around your entire face. There are thin versions suitable for summer, and winter versions with fleece or thermo material for winter.
Winter hats and earbands
It’s important to protect your ears against the cold. Wear a winter hat or earbands. Fleece, (merino) wool and thinsulate are good materials.
Snowshoes for snowshoe hiking
Some winter trails in Switzerland are not suitable for regular hiking, but only for snowshoe hiking. Snowshoes are large, flat, oval shaped soles. You attach them under your own shoes or boots. The broad surface distributes your weight, so that you won’t sink into the snow.
Snowshoes are mostly made of light-weight materials such as aluminum or plastic. You’ll use them combined with trekking poles.
Clothing with RECCO reflectors
Some clothes contain RECCO reflectors. They can be useful if you plan skiing or hiking tours in remote areas. Such reflectors help you to get traced in case you get caught by an avalanche or get lost in the outdoors.
- Reflectors are small, light-weight transponders. They’re based on radar technology. The reflectors help rescue workers to track your position.
- Reflectors can be integrated in jackets, helmets and other (winter) equipment. Gear with a reflector can often be recognized by a RECCO label.
- Avalanche transceivers, also called beacons, are different from avalanche reflectors. Avalanche transceivers are larger and more powerful devices, meant for companion rescue. They run on batteries and emit a pulsed radio signal. They are not required for average snow holidays in Switzerland.
Buying winter clothes and ski gear in Switzerland
It’s easy to buy winter clothes and ski gear in Switzerland. There are many stores. The ones in snow resorts often sell winter gear all year long. Stores in other areas usually offer winter clothes from October to February or March.
Examples of large Swiss chains selling winter clothes are:
- Intersport. Intersport has about 200 shops in Switzerland. Many are located in tourist towns and ski resorts, such as St. Moritz, Davos and Grindelwald. A few Intersport shops can also be found at the valley stations of cable cars.
- Decathlon. Decahlon is a relatively affordable brand. It has stores throughout Switzerland. They’re usually not in main cities and not in ski resorts. Instead, Decathlon stores can be found in smaller towns close to large tourist towns.
- Migros SportXX. These stores can be found in and near many larger towns. Examples are Geneva, Basel and Zurich. There are no shops in ski resorts. Use these stores if you enter Switzerland from a large city, before you travel to the mountains.
- Ochsner Sport. Ochsner Sport has stores in and near larger towns. They’re not in all ski resorts, but they’re often in a nearby town. An example is Brig near the ski towns Zermatt and Saas-Fee.
Apart from chain stores, you’ll find lots of other shops and boutiques with winter clothing.
Renting winter clothes and ski gear in Switzerland
It can be useful to rent winter clothes or winter gear in Switzerland. You can best rent items:
- that you don’t want to buy, because you’ll only use them during your Switzerland holidays.
- that are large and require a lot of packing space. Examples are skis, snowboards and thick jackets.
- that are for special snow activities you’ll only do once or a few times. Examples are snowshoes and sledges.
You can rent ski gear in many stores in Swiss snow resorts. Some stores also offer winter clothing for rent. Find sample rental prices here.
Intersport is the recommended company to rent winter gear in Switzerland. They cater to tourists from abroad and have lots of stores in ski resorts. You can rent skis and snowboards, sportswear, winter clothes and accessories. You can book your gear online, or pick your items in one of the stores.
Other Swiss chain stores with rental are available in many towns, but not always in ski resorts. They mainly offer ski gear, not winter clothes. Examples are:
Apart from these chain stores, there are many more stores with rental options in ski resorts.
You can rent gear at the valley stations of some popular cable cars and mountain trains as well.