We all get excited when it’s time to buy new gear for our winter adventures, and this includes a new jacket for skiing of course. A good jacket gives you optimal protection (snow, wind, cold), and an increased level of functionality compared to regular jackets. Many of the best ski jackets come with specific features that both improve the protection level and allow you enough freedom of movement to fully enjoy yourself.
Since these are designed to be used on the snow and generally not so pleasant weather, they need to be waterproof, breathable and comfortable. And they are, just not to the same extent. It all comes down to how you plan to use it, and how much money are you willing to spend – and we’re going to help you choose. Keep in mind that you don’t need to get the most expensive jacket, but you do need to make sure to find the right one.
Before you buy, you must take a little bit of time to think about how and where you’re going to use it. Basically, three different jacket types are available – hardshells, softshells, and 3-in-1 ski jackets. Additionally, there are other important aspects that need considering before buying – materials used, type of insulation, water and wind resistance, and the features you get (among other things). In our guide, we will break down all of these to give you all the insight you need to pick the perfect jacket for skiing.
How To Choose A Ski Jacket – Buying Guide
As we mentioned earlier, there are some specifics to buying the best ski jacket (compared to an ordinary one). Because of this, you need to pay closer attention to some details – otherwise you’ll be disappointed when you hit the track (or even worse, get cold and wet). The jacket you pick needs to be waterproof, breathable and comfortable above everything else. When it comes to warmth, not all of them are going to do that, as this depends on the type of jacket you pick.
On the other hand, resort skiing is often an intense activity and you will get sweaty even if the outside temperature is freezing. Because of this, a jacket needs to allow moisture to escape so you don’t end up soaked in your own sweat. As you can see, it needs to have the right balance between these two. This is usually determined by the materials used to make the jacket, and unfortunately it has a strong correlation with the price too.
The most important thing for you is that the jacket gives you the level of functionality and protection you need for your favorite type of snow activity. This is not the same for everybody, so we can’t give universal answers. We can, however, take you through everything step by step and give you some valuable pointers so you know what to look for.
The material used is one of the things that determine how a jacket performs on the snow, so it’s important to look into it before you buy your jacket. Most of the products we reviewed are made of either nylon or polyester. They can both be great, but have their ups and downs obviously. Nylon is really tough and usually has excellent waterproofing. However, it sometimes falls short in terms of breathability.
On the other hand, polyester is strong and can be very breathable, but often less water resistant than nylon. Most jackets are made of a combination of materials, so you get the best out of everything. This also includes liners, which we’ll discuss later when we talk about insulation. In addition, many models are made of several layers of material which can significantly improve the performance.
As you probably know, some jackets are made from sophisticated materials like Gore-Tex or eVent. These block out all the water and wind from coming inside, while the pores on the inside allow water vapor to escape and keep you completely dry. Even though this is obviously the best solution, many people choose to buy more “common” materials because jackets made from these can be pretty expensive (and not necessary for everybody).
Bottom line, you need to find the jacket that’s going to work with you. If you expect to be in the snow/rain and on the ground often, then you should focus on water resistance. However, ski jackets for people who go cross-country skiing are often those that can “breathe” and allow them to be dry and comfy while enjoying their activity.
Depending on the jacket, you may get one with or without added insulation. For example, shell jackets are designed to protect you from the elements, but usually won’t give you much warmth. Some people prefer this type, so they can wear multiple layers underneath it and take some layer off if they become too warm. Others like an insulated ski jacket because it’s often more convenient. You need to be smart about insulation because the mountain climate can be harsh and you can find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation if you’re not warm enough.
Some jackets have insulation in the form of a thin liner on the inner side, while others have removable insulation (separate jacket) which is zippered on the inside. This is often a fleece jacket, which is incredibly convenient since it keeps you warm under the shell, but you can also wear it on its own if you want. However, it’s not only the question of whether the jacket has some sort of insulation or not, but it’s also about the materials used for making it. The options you usually have are either synthetics (fleece) or down, and both have advantages and disadvantages.
Synthetic insulation is cheaper than down, which is very important to many people. Other than that, it continues working even when it’s wet, feels very nice to the touch and often has odor control. On the other hand, it also weighs significantly more than down, it’s bulkier (a problem when packing), and it isn’t as warm. The technology is making progress and synthetic materials are getting better, but they still have some shortcomings.
Down, on the other hand, is incredibly warm, even in a thin layer. It’s also incredibly lightweight and compressible. It’s made of either duck or goose down, and has different fill ratings. A higher fill rating is better because it shows you that down is more efficient in keeping you warm.
A downside is that down loses its insulation abilities when it gets wet, which can be a problem. Also, unlike synthetics, you can wash it in a machine. Some manufacturers create ski jackets that use a mix of these two – down for the areas where you need the most warmth, and synthetics for the areas where you have the largest chance of getting wet.
Keeping you dry is probably the most important task for any jacket for skiing. As we said at the beginning, not every jacket performs the same in this aspect. There are different levels of waterproofing, and while some will only keep you dry in light rain, others are able to resist a whole day of rolling around in the snow. When choosing your jacket, make sure that the label says it’s waterproof, and not just water-resistant. There are big differences between what these two terms represent, and you can learn more about it here.
Now that we’ve established that you need a waterproof jacket for your ski adventures, we want to say that there is a scale that shows how waterproof a material (or in this case a jacket) is. Manufacturers are going to give you a number (in millimeters) to show how much water the jacket can resist. This number represents how many millimeters of water (in a cylinder, over a square inch) a material can resist before it starts leaking. However, some ski jackets (often the cheaper ones) haven’t undergone this testing, so when they claim they are waterproof you can’t really be sure how much they can take.
When they do specify the number, it ranges from under 5,000mm for some ski jackets, to over 20,000mm for sophisticated waterproof jackets. Top-rated ski jackets have a high waterproof rating while still allowing moisture to escape from inside the jacket, as we’ll discuss later. Rain jackets, for example, have a very high waterproof rating but don’t let anything escape from them, which really isn’t a good idea for skiing.
How much a jacket can withstand depends on the fabric itself but also on whether it has additional protective layers on top or not. Many jackets add a DWR on the surface to improve their water resistance. This is often used to compensate for a material with a lower waterproof rating, which would otherwise leak and make you wet. This layer behaves similarly to when you apply a waterproofing spray to a fabric surface – water forms into droplets when it comes to contact and rolls off, instead of soaking into the material itself.
Finally, we also want to mention the seams, which have a big role to play when discussing how waterproof a jacket really is. There’s no use in having a leak-proof material if the water is able to penetrate through the seams. This is why standard stitches are avoided, or at least covered with tape. Taped and sealed seams block water from potentially finding a way in. Some higher-quality jackets have all their seams fully sealed, while others have taped seams only in high-risk areas of the jacket (in the shoulder area for example).
As you had the chance to see, it’s very important that your jacket is able to “breathe” too. Since skiing can be an intense physical activity, you’re going to get sweaty at some point. Instead of feeling like you’re cooking inside a sauna, your jacket should allow the moisture to escape so you remain dry. Otherwise, the sweat will cool down when you stop and you will get really cold really quickly.
Because of this, winter ski jackets also have a specified breathability rating (at least the expensive ones do). As things usually go, it’s very difficult to have both high breathability rating and high waterproof rating. Usually, the jacket is better at keeping water out but also doesn’t allow vapor to escape, or it’s very breathable but it also gets wet much quicker. Only a few select materials (like the previously mentioned Gore-Tex) have the ability to do both at a very high level, but you need to pay more for that.
Now we come to the rating itself. As with waterproofing, a higher number means it performs better, or in this case, allows more air to circulate. Some of the top-rated ski jackets have this rating over 10,000 (grams per square meter per day). We’re aware that all these numbers may seem complicated, but they may be important to those of you who are looking for top-level performance in a jacket. On this note, breathability is more important in backcountry ski jackets rather than then piste skiing ones.
Also, breathability isn’t determined solely by the jacket you wear, but also the layers you have underneath. This is why it’s important that the under layers have these same properties. Base layers should be efficient in wicking sweat away from your body, while the midlayers (used to keep you warm) should also allow the vapor to go through and escape.
Several different factors contribute to the overall warmth your new jacket is going to give you. First and foremost, the warmth factor is a combination of materials used to make the shell, and whether or not the jacket has insulation (and which kind). If you choose to get a wind-resistant jacket with high-quality insulation, you’ll certainly feel warm throughout the whole day.
However, this is not the best choice for every skier. Some people enjoy being toasty and warm, while others feel much more comfortable if their body can breathe. This is why your personal preference plays a big role when choosing the type of jacket you’re going to get. In addition, always think about whether you’re going to engage in cross-country skiing (mostly flat terrain where you’ll be active the whole time), or you’ll be going down the slopes and spend a good amount of time sitting still on a ski lift (a warm jacket is very useful here).
On this note, shell jackets don’t give you any warmth, but they do protect from rain, snow, and wind, so you can say they indirectly help in keeping you warm. Think about getting a good midlayer to complement with your jacket (if one is not included) so you are covered once you get on the snow. Finally, we must add that jacket design is making constant progress, so you can find models which are able to trap the heat of your body inside the insulated jacket more efficiently (highly adjustable cuffs and hems for example) and keep you warm for a longer time.
Related Review: Insulated Jacket
Depending on the type of skiing you engage in, weight is more or less of a factor. Generally speaking, most ski jackets are light enough that you won’t feel like they’re weighing you down. Any jacket up to 3lbs of weight shouldn’t be a problem for most skiers. This being said, some people prefer and spend extra money on ultra-light jackets that weigh under 1lb.
The reason for this is that heavy jackets can be somewhat constrictive, and a lighter jacket gives you better freedom of movement, which can be very important for people who are skiing off-piste. In any case, manufacturers are constantly working on making the jackets lighter while keeping them functional, and this is not an easy task.
As we said earlier, high-quality materials are lighter but they cost more money. As you go down the price range, you’ll find jackets that require thicker materials (or more layers of it), so they can achieve the same performance as the better ones. Logically, this leads to these jackets being significantly heavier.
Another thing that influences weight is whether or not a jacket comes with a removable liner. We mentioned that 3-in-1 jackets are incredibly convenient, but they are also generally heavier than shell jackets. Furthermore, some jackets have reinforcements in some high-impact areas (shoulders, elbows) to increase durability, but it also adds some weight. Luckily, all of this isn’t really a great concern for most people, so you probably shouldn’t worry about it.
Ski jackets are specific in a way that they have many additional features to make them more usable on the snow. Some of these improve the jackets performance, while others (like well-placed pockets) you’re going to find very useful. Some of these features are zippered pockets, adjustable cuffs, strategically placed vents, adjustable hood, or a snow skirt for example.
Pockets are essential on any jacket, not just on those designed for skiing. You will usually get two zippered hand pockets, and it’s a plus if they have a waterproof zipper and a flap cover over them so the content can remain dry. Just in case, you can consider getting a waterproof phone case if you’re worried your phone might get wet. Other than these, many jackets have a pocket on the chest or in the sleeve for your ski pass, a pocket for your goggles, and an internal pocket which you can use to keep your mp3 player, a wallet, or some valuables.
Some people who go cross-country skiing choose to take a waterproof backpack with them, so in that case pockets are not that important. We advise that you pay attention to this anyway, since it significantly improves the usability of the jacket.
Next thing worth mentioning is the hood. Most ski jackets come with a hood, but the design can be very different. A storm hood is necessary to give you some additional protection in bad weather, and it’s a huge plus if it fits over your helmet. Furthermore, hood edges shouldn’t block your field of view when you put it on, or impact your head movement. A big advantage is if the hood can be detached, or at least packed and tucked away inside the collar. You won’t always need to have it on you, so it adds to the versatility of the jacket if you can take it off (pack it) so it isn’t in the way.
Adjustable cuffs are something that adds to the functionality of the jacket, by preventing snow or cold air from going up your sleeve. Depending on the jacket model, the cuffs are usually made of elastic materials and can often be tightened with a Velcro strap. A great addition to the cuffs are thumb loops, and many jackets have them. They prevent the sleeve from moving up your hand, and also help in blocking out snow and air.
While we’re discussing the ways a jacket blocks snow from coming in, we also must mention the snow skirt (powder skirt, waist gaiter). This added elastic skirt in the jacket sits tightly around your waist and prevents snow from riding up your jacket if you fall and tumble on the ground. It also blocks cold air from getting inside the jacket, and your body heat from leaving. The skirt can often be attached to your ski pants, which is even better. However, many people are annoyed with snow skirts, so it’s useful if these can be removed when you don’t need them.
Since we’ve explained how certain features help keep warmth in, we must now discuss the ways you can let it out. You can unzip the jacket of course, but it’s much faster and more convenient if your jacket comes with zippered vents. These are usually located in the armpit area and allow you to quickly cool yourself down by simply unzipping them and letting the heat out through the mesh panel. These are really more than useful if you’re very active, or if you’re skiing on a clear blue day and get too warm in the sun.
A nice addition to many ski (and winter) jackets is a Recco reflector. This is a passive unit that is built into your clothing with the intention to help the search and rescue team find you if you get buried under the snow. It doesn’t use any batteries, but it’s able to bounce back the signal from the Recco detector used by many search crews, so they can locate you faster. It’s not a necessity, but can be very useful especially to those of you who like to venture off-track.
Choosing the right fit for your jacket has to do with your own preference and needs to be adapted to your activity on the snow. Generally speaking, jackets are split into three types when it comes to fit – slim, regular, and loose. Most people choose regular fit since it gives the most comfort, freedom of movement, and possibilities of layering underneath without the jacket feeling too baggy. Always consider the number of layers you’re going to need when choosing fit and size of a jacket.
A slim jacket is a better choice if you don’t plan to wear any midlayers underneath. This way it sits tightly against your body and prevents cold air from getting inside. These are a popular choice among backcountry skiers since they don’t have any unnecessary bulk and allow them quick and easy movement.
Looser (baggy) jackets are popular among snowboarders and freestyle skiers, because they don’t constrict movement in any way, and you don’t really care if it’s a bit heavier or not. But, as we said, ordinary skiers are advised to get a regular-fit jacket since it offers the most versatility.
While on this topic, we also must mention jacket length too. Ski wear jackets are often a bit longer than your regular jackets, to give you added lower back protection. Some people even choose to get a ski parka so they aren’t cold when sitting on a lift or on the ground. In any case, it’s important that the jacket isn’t too short – a few inches below the hip is going to give you the best coverage.
The main purpose of a jacket for skiing is to give you proper protection and allow you to focus on enjoying yourself. Unlike the casual jacket you wear every day, a jacket needs to completely block water (snow or rain) from coming in. Being wet in a cold environment can be really bad for you, so it’s really important that the jacket works as it should. Be sure to check the waterproof rating we mentioned (if it’s available) so you aren’t unpleasantly surprised afterward.
Additionally, a good jacket should protect you from the wind too, and function similarly to a windbreaker jacket. This way you won’t get chill in your bones and it will be easier to retain your body heat inside the jacket. This is even easier if the jacket comes with some sort of liner or insulation, and extra layers underneath the jacket can additionally help.
Overall protection has plenty to do with the choice of materials used in production. Lightweight jackets that give you full water and wind protection are usually very pricey, and most people are not willing to spend that kind of money on a piece of equipment they are going to use only a handful of times during the year. This is why you’ll often have to make some sort of compromise when buying, which is why it’s so important to know exactly what you need.
We have mentioned here and there throughout the text the three different types of ski jackets that exist, but now we are going to go into closer detail and give you more information about each one. In case you missed it, the three types of jackets are hardshell, softshell, and a 3-in-1 jacket. Picking out the right type is going to depend on which jacket properties you are going to need and how much are you willing to pay for it.
A hardshell is a type of jacket made to give you the best protection in different circumstances. It’s waterproof and windproof, and often very lightweight. Additionally, it often comes with a hood. While the waterproof rating of hardshells is usually excellent, breathability depends on the material – cheaper shells are thicker and less breathable. Still, this is a very popular option not just for winter sports, but also for other activities such as hiking. And if you feel cold, you simply wear an additional layer underneath.
Softshell jackets offer fantastic breathability and usually feel incredibly comfortable to wear. Unfortunately, softshells are not waterproof (often just water-resistant with a DWR coating), so you’re bound to get wet after a while. When comparing a hardshell and a softshell, the latter is much better at wicking sweat away from your body and keeping you dry. These are some of the best ski coats for high-intensity activities where you don’t expect heavy snow or rainfall.
Finally, we have the universal 3-in-1 jackets that are often the best solution for most skiers. They are made of two different jackets – a shell on the outside with a zippered insulation layer (liner) on the inside, often made of synthetic fleece. The advantage of buying this one is that you save some money because you get both weather protection and warmth from the same product.
Of course, a huge plus is that you can wear them separately. The shell can give you full rain and snow protection, while the liner (midlayer) is a great piece of clothing to wear casually on cold but dry days. One of the downsides of this type of jacket is that it can feel bulky, heavy, and have reduced breathability.
Related Review: Womens Ski Jackets
Last but not least, you need to think about how you plan on using your insulated jacket, as we earlier suggested. Only this way can you get the best possible option for your skiing adventure. As you well know, some people prefer resort skiing, while others like backcountry skiing and going out on unmarked territory and explore areas without that many people around them.
Since these activities are very different from each other, your equipment must be adequate. A jacket for piste skiers must be water and wind resistant above everything else, including breathability. It should also allow you to layer your clothing properly under it. The reason behind this is that you’re probably going to spend a lot of time being static (on the lift, or waiting in line to get on it) and you could really use the added protection.
Additional jacket insulation may prove to be a plus if the conditions are really cold. This type of jacket is also preferred for other activities like using sled legs or traditional sledding since you can expect to spend a lot of time rolling in the snow.
On the other hand, ski outfits for backcountry skiers are very breathable and lightweight. They allow more comfort since you’re going to get sweaty. Softshell jackets are often a good choice here (if you don’t want to dent your budget as we said). An added bonus is that you can use this jacket for other activities during cold weather and even for winter camping if you decide to try it.
Q: Are Ski Jackets Supposed To Be Heavy?
No, not really. It’s better if the jacket doesn’t weigh you down, and every skier is going to tell you they prefer a lightweight jacket. The reason being is that heavy jackets can become tiring to wear all day and take away your energy.
However, as you had the chance to learn in the weight section of our guide, most jackets won’t give you any problems in this aspect. This is especially true for hardshell jackets, which were designed to cut down weight as much as possible.
The only potential problem would be if a jacket was getting soaked in water – this would lead to a dramatical increase in weight along with other problems. Luckily, repelling water is where most ski jackets excel, so you have nothing to worry about.
Q: How To Size A Ski Jacket?
It all comes down to what type of activity you engage in, as well as your personal preferences with clothing. Many people go with a size up than they would with a regular jacket, the reason being that it allows wearing several layers of other clothing under it. It’s also important that neither the hem nor the sleeves are too short if you want the jacket to give you full protection.
Top-rated ski jackets are the ones that have these two things covered, which is more than enough for most skiers. Luckily, many manufacturers provide you with size charts when buying, so you know exactly what you’re going to get and what you can expect.
Q: How To Clean A Ski Jacket?
This mainly depends on the type of jacket you own, as well as the materials it’s made of. The main advice we can give you is to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when it comes to cleaning – two hard shells from different brands can require a completely different cleaning process. This being said, most jackets are safe to go into a washing machine in cold water (up to 30 degrees Celsius). When it comes to tumbling drying or ironing, you need to pay more attention to the label.
We also want to add that synthetic liners can and should be washed in a machine, while down-filled jackets shouldn’t. Furthermore, some skiing jackets can only be hand-washed, because the machine could damage the surface. This mostly goes for those that have DWR to repel water, and it may lose it’s properties if washed in a machine.
Q: What Is The Difference Between A Regular And Ski Jacket?
Ski jackets are designed to give you extra protection from snow and wind, unlike most regular jackets that are not that efficient in this area. Depending on the type, having the best insulated ski jacket can also be helpful to keep you warm in freezing weather.
Furthermore, ski jackets also have plenty of features that regular jackets don’t which makes using them more convenient on the snow. The coolest ski jackets also have a beautiful and unusual design with bright colors and interesting patterns. This not only makes you look great on the snow but also makes you more visible to other skiers when coming down the track. Additionally, some high-end ski jackets use modern technology to keep you warm, dry and protected.
Q: What Are The Common Features Of A Ski Jacket?
Some of the most common features you’re going to find on a jacket for skiing are helmet-compatible hoods, adjustable cuffs with thumb loops, snow skirts, inner and outer waterproof pockets, flap covers on zippers, or even underarm vents. All this really improve the functionality of the jacket.
We already discussed all these features in our guide, so we don’t need to repeat ourselves. All you should know is that these are really handy to have, and you should always go with a jacket that has these if you have the chance.
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When equipping for a ski trip, a good jacket is an essential part. The best ski coats protect you and allow you to enjoy yourself on the snow without thinking about them. We won’t say that choosing a jacket is difficult (because it isn’t), but you should still pay attention to the pointers we gave you so you end up satisfied with your choice.
As you had the chance to see, there is no universal jacket that is going to be the best for everyone – it depends on the type of skiing, but also on your budget. We tried our best to give you different options to choose from in our ski jackets reviews – cheap or expensive, lightweight or with added insulation. Take your time, make your pick, and have fun on the snow!
More Snow Reviews:
- Winter Boots For Women
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- Thermal Underwear
- Snowboard Goggles
- Snowboard Bindings
- Ski Backpack
- Snowboard Helmet
- Base Layer
- Ski Socks