You can select specialized cross country equipment that's right for the type of skiing you'll be doing. The gear described below is designed primarily for use on machine-groomed trails, either with tracks for classic skiing or with a smooth, packed surface for skate skiing. (Equipment for backcountry skiing is not addressed here.)
Before buying equipment, it's best to decide what you'll be doing most often with your equipment. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Do you plan to ski mostly on machine-prepared trails at a nordic center; will you mostly break your own trail in the woods, over fields, and on golf courses; or will you follow in the tracks of other skiers breaking trail?
Will you generally use a snowmobile trail that's packed but not specifically tracked for skiing?
Do you prefer to classic ski (also called diagonal stride) or to skate ski?
You may want to rent gear for the first few outings and try different kinds and brands before buying. Most cross country centers rent equipment, and many of them carry state-of-the-art demo gear from a variety of manufacturers. As your skills improve, you'll come to know the type of skiing you prefer, and buying equipment becomes easier.
Generally speaking, you'll select from skate skis, or waxable or waxless classic skis. A knowledgeable salesperson at a specialty shop can help you select the correct length. A wider model usually provides more stability, while a shorter ski is easier to maneuver. Most recreational skiers use waxless skis and appreciate their convenience. People concerned with speed and performance may prefer waxable skis, as they go faster, glide farther, and are quieter sliding over the snow.
Boots that feel like a comfortable snug shoe are probably your most important purchase. If you plan to primarily skate ski, choose a stiffer skate model. Otherwise, select from classic models that fit most like a walking shoe. The boot you choose will determine the binding system for your skis. We recommend wearing seamless socks made of blended material; a good ski shop can suggest appropriate socks.
Poles are made of different materials. Usually the lighter the pole, the higher the price. (Only elite athletes are likely to notice performance based just on pole weight.) Choose a pole that's the right length for your height and type of skiing (classic or skating). It's best to consult with a professional for a proper fit.
For recreational skiers, waxing isn't a complex process. There are simple wax systems that allow you to select from three waxes based on temperature. Wax is applied to the ski surface by hand or heated iron, and then buffed in. Racers, however, take waxing to a whole different level - for them, it becomes a science of creating just the right mix of waxes to make skis go faster.
Select snowshoes for the type of snow conditions you're most likely to encounter (deep powder, groomed trails, crust, etc.), and choose a model with a binding that you're comfortable using. Get familiar with the binding and its adjustment in the warmth of indoors before your first snowshoe outing. Snowshoe cleats will give you stability going both uphill and down.