Aside from perhaps having a pair of comfortable boots, owning quality outerwear is of the utmost importance when calibrating your winter kit. Your skis might be awesome, your snowboard might be top-of-the-line, but if you’re stuck wearing outerwear that fails to keep you warm and dry, chances are you won’t stay out past lunch. Subpar outerwear will soak through in wet snow and fail to keep you warm in the cold — not to mention, it might also look like a hand-me-down from a Day-Glow-loving aunt.
Active Junky’s been on the hunt for stylish and functional outerwear that you’ll be stoked to wear all winter long. Read through this snow outerwear buyer’s guide for the best ski and ride jackets, pants, and bibs from top brands like Holden, Burton, Patagonia, Helly Hansen, Stio and more.
Brands Active Junky Evaluated
- 686 Quantum
- Helly Hansen
How We Tested
Active Junky picked stylish and functional outerwear from top ski and ride brands, and then tested out jackets and pants in Colorado in early winter. Ranging from insulated resort kits to more backcountry-primed shell options, the gear included in this buyer’s guide runs the gambit of prices and activities. Dig in — you’re sure to find something in the mix that speaks to you.
How to Pick Ski Jackets and Pants:
There are several key aspects to keep in mind when choosing your winter outerwear — and we’re not just talking about making sure you’re fully color-coordinated.
Waterproof and Breathability: Understanding the Numbers
While you certainly can shred in a Canadian tuxedo, at Active Junky, we’re big fans of staying the proper temperature and staying dry. Ski and snowboard outerwear should be both waterproof and breathable — but unfortunately that’s not always a given. Fabrics are generally rated with two key numbers that, while they seem complicated, are worth understanding. These numbers tend to look like 5000/10000, 10000/10000, 20000/20000, etc.
The first number is all about the waterproofness of the jacket — on a basic level, it represents how much water (in millimeters) can hit the exterior of the fabric before it soaks through. A 5K jacket, for example, might soak through in a light rainstorm, while you can pretty much take a shower in a Gore-Tex 3-layer jacket and emerge dry.
On the other side of the spectrum is the second number (measured in grams), which describes breathability and measures how much moisture can escape through from the inside of the fabric to the outside. A bit more complicated to understand than the first number, the second number is a calculation of how much vapor (think sweat) in grams can escape from inside a square meter of said fabric to the outside in 24 hours. You don’t want your perspiration to stick around on the interior of your jacket and get clammy, so a jacket with a high breathability rating is preferred by those skiers and riders who are no stranger to sweat.
If that was too complicated, all you really need to know is this: the higher the rating, the more waterproof and/or breathable the outerwear. For example, a 5K jacket, while cheaper than a 20K jacket, is less waterproof and breathable.
If you want to dive deeper into the science behind these waterproof and breathability ratings, Active Junky’s partner site EVO has an awesome guide here that breaks down Gore-Tex, eVent, DWR, and other outerwear tech
Should I Go Insulated or Should I Get a Shell?
There are several types of jackets and pants to choose from, but the main choice you have to make is whether you want to go the insulated route or choose a shell.
Shells range from minimalist technical jackets and pants designed for mountaineering and backcountry skiing, to heavier, more resort-friendly jackets and pants that have ancillary features. Shells are defined by a lack of insulation, so they’re best used for layering. In a day of skiing, it might be frigid in the morning, requiring an insulated midlayer underneath your shell, but as the sun comes up, you’ll want to ditch a layer or two. This is where shells are prime. Essentially, it’s a waterproof and breathable outer layer that allows you to customize your kit to the conditions at hand.
Pros: Lightweight, packable, great for layering, versatile
Cons: Not insulated, not warm on its own, expensive
Insulated Jackets and Pants
Insulated jackets and pants are less versatile than their shell counterparts. Where you can layer underneath a shell, insulated jackets and pants have insulation built in to the design, making it tough to react to changing weather patterns. Insulated jackets are usually cheaper, and they’re warmer too, making them ideal for those who strictly ride at the resort and don’t venture into the backcountry.
Pros: Warmer, cheaper, more features
Cons: Less versatile, bad for layering, bulky
Each of the ski and ride jackets, pants and bibs included in this buyer’s guide were evaluated based on these attributes, with the highest-scoring attribute picked as a key attribute listed in each review below.
What extra features does the outerwear possess, and do those features add to the overall usability and experience?
How waterproof is the outerwear? Does the fabric live up to its rating?
How breathable is the outerwear? Would our perspiration-prone testers consider purchasing this piece?
Does the outerwear leave room for layers? Can it be worn in multiple scenarios?
How insulated is the outerwear? Is it comfortable in cold weather?