Choosing The Best Ski or Snowboard Jacket

Skiing and snowboarding are extreme sports with an extreme venue – the great outdoors!  Whether you’re new to snow sports or an enthusiast looking to upgrade your outerwear, choosing the right jacket is very important!  It can mean the difference between a successful time on the slopes (as you are warm and dry), or a cruddy time (because you’re cold, wet, and miserable).

There are so many types of jackets on the market. Whether you’re looking for men’s ski jackets or something with a ladies’ custom fit, chances are that your perfect jacket is out there. Technology is changing all the time, and there always seems to be something bigger and better with jacket design and construction. Generally, there are a handful of jacket varieties – each one of these varieties offers different technologies, at varying price points too. Women’s ski jackets, in particular, often have a slimmer fit. The features in jackets and pants differ in every brand and every style within that brand, however the different features should help you decide what jacket you want to pick up for your next trip.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the four most common forms of ski/snowboard jacket – simple shells, insulated jackets, puffy jackets, 3-in-1 jackets, and soft shells – with an aim toward helping you choose what’s right for you. Not sure what all the technical terms mean while choosing the best jacket for you? See our guide to technical outerwear.

Types Of Ski and Snowboard Jackets

Simple Shell Jacket

This is your first outer layer of protection against the snow, wind and rain. There is no insulation, but you have substantial versatility, and weight savings. Typically constructed from single, double or triple layer material. Waterproof membranes (i.e. Goretex); water-repellant coatings (DWR); and windproof technology (i.e. Windstopper), protect you from the elements.

This is a very simple garment, with minimal technical and comfort features. This means you can layer as you please, to suit all seasons. In the warmer months, a shell can be worn over your base layer. During the colder months, wear your toasty warm mid-layers (ie. fleece) underneath. Find out more about how to choose the best insulation garments in our guide.

Insulated Jackets

These jackets are an all-rounder. Light to heavy volumes of insulation built into the construction of the jacket. These jackets generally feature all the bells and whistles (see list below). You have the ability to layer more under the jacket (fleeces etc, for your mid-layers), but you can’t actually remove any layers or insulation from this style. It is an all-in-one kind of design. Certainly the most popular kind of jacket you’ll see on the slopes.

Puffy Down Jackets

These jackets will get you very warm, very quickly, however, they are better suited for travel and Apres wear in cold and dry conditions (not so much snow sports).  They are incredibly easy to pack down for storage. Down jackets are far less waterproof than other snow jackets, and that is because of the down. Once the down filling gets wet, it loses just about all of its warmth abilities.  These jackets come in a variety of different weights – suitable for the coldest of days (heavy fill and super lofty), or a lightweight type (less fill, and not as lofty). Any down jacket needs to be properly and carefully washed and dried. A recent blog of ours discusses the best ways to care for your down jacket.

3-in-1 Jackets

The 3-in-1 jacket is super versatile. A combination of a shell outer jacket with a removable fleece jacket inside (acting as the insulation). This jacket is designed to keep you comfortable all year long. You can wear the outer shell by itself – waterproof and suitable for warmer months, where you still need protection from snow and possibly rain. Or wear the fleece by itself, as everyday wear.  Or, for a third option, wear them zipped together for a combination jacket that is warm, waterproof, and breathable, during the coldest of moments on the slopes.

The fleece part of this jacket is incredibly lightweight and warm.  This type of material maintains its warmth when damp, so it’s particularly useful during most activities, in any season.  It’s perfect to be worn as an outer layer while you’re in cold and dry conditions – walking around town for example. Or you could wear as a mid-layer fleece, beneath a shell or even an insulated jacket for even great warmth.

Soft Shells

A super versatile garment! The softshell provides a balance between wind and cold protection – soft and comfy enough to wear as a mid-layer during the colder climates.  Or lightweight, yet waterproof and breathable enough to wear as an outerwear garment during for wet/windy conditions.

The soft shell has a soft and flexible body and includes some features we all love. Pockets, front zip closure, some have ventilation zips.  Because they are so lightweight, they are fantastic for Apres wear.  Think camping, hiking trips, day trips to theme parks, your child’s soccer game practice, a footy grand final… pretty much anywhere, all year round!  

Waterproof

Insulated or not, outerwear designed for snow sports should feature a degree of water resistance. Obviously, this is to protect you from the snowy and/or rainy elements. Simply put, the more extreme the weather, the more waterproof your gear needs to be. See our post on waterproofing and breathability for more details.

A jacket can only be called waterproof if it had been constructed with waterproof fabric and taped seams. Waterproof fabric is rated in millimetres. So basically, the higher the rating, the more waterproof the fabric.  

As for taped seams, manufacturers usually seal the seams of their products to ensure there aren’t any holes from the sewing process. If a garment has critically taped seams, this generally means the most exposed areas of the garment, such as the shoulders, arms and side seams on jackets (and for pants, the butt and outer seams, but that’s another blog for another day!). Fully taped seams, however, typically offer the greatest amount of protection from the weather.

Waterproof Rating (mm)Resistance providedWhat it can withstand
0-5,000 mmNo resistance to some resistance to moistureLight rain, dry snow, no pressure
6,000-10,000 mmRainproof and waterproof under light pressureLight rain, average snow, light pressure
11,000-15,000 mmRainproof and waterproof except under high pressureModerate rain, average snow, light pressure
16,000-20,000 mmRainproof and waterproof under high pressureHeavy rain, wet snow, some pressure
20,000 mm+Rainproof and waterproof under very high pressureHeavy rain, wet snow, high pressure

What do the number ratings mean?

Let’s say we’re testing a 10,000mm waterproof fabric.  A tube with inner dimensions of 1” x 1” is positioned over that fabric and is filled with water to a height of 10,000mm (10m/32.8 feet). This is the rating the fabric will take before water begins to leak through.

How much waterproofing do I need?

This is very tricky to answer. Weather and snow conditions are quite unpredictable. This is pretty much the case for wherever you’re travelling to.  

Generally speaking, a minimum of 5,000mm waterproof is recommended. If you’re in crisp, cool conditions, and taking regular breaks off the snow, this level of protection would be fine. But you do risk getting cold and wet if the weather turns. Apparel rated between 5,000-10,000mm is a good starting point – generally suited for most weather conditions. At this level of protection, if it started to rain lightly, you’d be OK for a little while.  For those travelling to wetter climates, or backcountry enthusiasts, we recommend using garments with both waterproof and breathable ratings in the 10,000-20,000mm range.  As you might expect, higher ratings in both categories will usually mean higher prices, but you are getting far greater quality and protection.

Breathability

Breathability ratings are usually teamed with waterproofing ratings. This is to guide you with the garment’s level of protection (and therefore comfort), depending on the weather conditions you may encounter.     

A garment’s breathability is simply referred to in grams (i.e. 10,000g).  But what that really means, is that the unit is g/24hrs/m² – the number of grams of moisture that can pass through a square meter of the fabric over the course of 24 hours.

When you exercise and work hard, you lose moisture through sweat. This moisture (sweat and condensation), can form inside a garment, turning to water vapour.  If this moisture doesn’t leave your clothing, it will pass through the tiny pores, and soon you’ll become cold and wet – not what you want to have happen when you’re in freezing conditions. So basically, the higher the breathability rating, the less humidity will form inside of your snow apparel.

Windproof

The day ahead may look beautiful and clear, but as we all know, weather conditions can change quickly. Wind chill can drastically influence the temperature on the slopes, especially if it’s at high speeds across the mountainside.

Windproof jackets are made from tighter weaved fabrics, preventing wind from penetrating the fabric and reaching you.

We recommend investing in a jacket that offers all-round protection – waterproof, breathable, and windproof, so you can stay warm and dry while spending as much time on the snow as possible.

Features Of Snow Jackets

blue ski jacketSo many features and so many functions!  It can be overwhelming trying to work out what you actually need. Below is a list of features most jackets will have, and their function.  It’s up to you if you believe a particular is a must-have or something you can live without.

Articulated Elbows

If you want free range of motion, then look for garments with articulated sections of curved/angled fabric. These are built into ‘joint’ areas, such as elbows (and for pants, knees). They are basically a seam that has been sewn into the pant, that
offers a natural bend to that area.

Cuffs

This part of a jacket is the section that wraps around your wrist (or ankles, for pants).  Typically designed to prevent snow and/or rain entering your sleeve (or pant leg).  These are usually a Velcro closure or cinch. Internal cuffs/gaiters are made from stretch lycra and may also have thumbholes – this ensures the cuff is in place all the time. Designed to cover and protect any exposed skin by restricting the snow or wind from finding its way in.

Durable Water Repellant (DWR) Coating

This is applied as a primary or secondary shield for water resistance.  It improves the waterproofness of an item, generally without affecting the breathability.

Fleece lining

Ooooh! Fleece linings are so soft and warm. These linings are important to insulate against the climate.  Some linings are microfleece, polar fleece, or even teddy fleece.  Either way, you’ll be comfortable.

Gaiters

Gaiters (internal cuffs) are generally made from stretch lycra and may also have thumbholes – this ensures the cuff is in place all the time. Designed to cover and protect any exposed skin by restricting the snow or wind from finding its way in.

Hoods

Hoods can be adjustable by using a cinching cord or Velcro straps. Some hoods can be detached or can be stashed away in a pocket. Some jackets also feature a helmet-compatible hood.  It’s important to have a well-fitting hood – ensuring it covers the whole of the top of your head and reaches your forehead. This adds extra protections from the elements, especially when it’s snowing and blowing a gale.

Media Pocket

A handy feature if you enjoy listening to your favourite playlist – perfect for the long chair lift rides back up the mountain. This internal pocket stores your device, keeping it safe from the cold and wet. Most jackets have an extra feature of a headphone (or earphones) port/channel so you can feed the wires through safely.

Pass Pockets

Electronic pass scanners are now used to quickly get people through the chair lift lines.  Store your mountain pass in the clear-windowed pocket (usually at the end of a sleeve) so it can be scanned with ease. D-rings serve a similar purpose, providing you with a handy place on your jacket to attach a lift ticket.

Pockets

Who doesn’t love a lot of pockets? Somewhere to stash everything you need while on the mountain. I’m talking about your MP3, phone (and maybe a camera too?), goggles, maps, lift tickets, wallet, keys, chapstick, sunscreen, knitted gloves… am I forgetting something? Oh yeah, the kitchen sink!  The majority of jackets these days feature a multitude of pockets (internally and externally). To save yourself from carrying excess bulk, it’s probably a good idea to be discerning about what you will actually need while on the mountain. Instead of taking your whole wallet, maybe just bring some money. Some products house both sunscreen and chapstick in the one handy item. Easy peasy.

Powder Skirts

These work like an internal gaiter, but for your waist/hips. It prevents snow from entering up from the hem of your jacket, as well as entering down from the top of your pants. Especially handy when you’ve taken a tumble down the hill. The last thing you want is cold snow in your nether-regions. Some snow skirts can be fixed or detachable, and some feature an integrated system to attach your pants and jacket together. Super functional for extra assurance in keeping the cold snow out of your pants, when you’re in powder snow or on the slopes during a cold windy day.

RECCO® Reflectors

This is an advanced rescue technology that enables a rescue team to search and pinpoint a person should be caught in an avalanche or other mountain danger. It is a small electronic device that is sewn into the fabric.

Reinforced Elbows and Hem

This is a durable piece of tough fabric sometimes sewn onto the elbows or jacket hem.  Adding protection from the elements, but also handy to protect your jacket from any scuffs or rips/tears that may occur during a fall (from your ski or snowboard edges).

Storm Flaps

This is a piece of jacket material that covers the outside of the front zipper. They are usually kept closed by Velcro or magnetic buttons. Sometimes jackets have a double storm flap (covering both the inside and outside of the front zipper). It’s designed to keep the snow, rain, and wind from breaking through small openings (think, the space between each zip tooth).

Venting

The vent zips add extra airflow to your garment. Most jackets will come with ‘pit zips’ (venting in the underarm area), and some have them on the chest or across the back.  These openings are often lined with mesh, to keep the snow out, while allowing the air flow. If you’re on the snow during a warmer day, unzip these to allow full breathability and venting when you need to cool down. You can keep these fully opened, totally closed; or left partially open for adjustable venting.

Zippers

Robust and technical zips are used and designed to secure your snow clothing properly, to protect you from the weather conditions. Some zips are even waterproof.  One thing to look for is the size of the zipper pull tab.  Is it large and easy for you to grip onto while wearing gloves/mitts?

 

Price Points

Snow outerwear can be costly, but it doesn’t always have to be.  It’s important to understand that the more extreme weather conditions you are headed to, means you will be needing more technical outerwear, so it’s best to expect a higher price for that higher quality and protection, and therefore comfort. If you can skip the added features like the convenience of a detachable hood, powder skirt or audio channels, then you can save a few dollars there. The brand you choose can also affect the price. Now that you’ve made a pricey investment, don’t forget to learn how to wash your ski gear.

What’s The Difference Between Ski and Snowboard Jackets?

Both ski and snowboard jackets are similar, with a few key differences. Speed is the main focus in skiing, so expect ski jackets to fit close to the body. Snowboard jackets, on the other hand, are looser for snowboarding as snowboarders keep their balance with their arms. They are also longer in order to help keep snowboarders warm while sitting.

Ultimately, choosing a jacket suitable for you and the snow is only part of the puzzle!  You still need to find appropriately matched pants and mid-layers to keep you warm, dry and safe from the unpredictable elements. Our friendly staff at Snowcentral can help you find everything you need.