The Best Ski Jackets of 2019
|Price||$759.20 at Backcountry|
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|$454.35 at Backcountry|
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|$436.93 at REI|
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|$246.99 at MooseJaw|
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|$315.00 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Impeccable quality, clean lines, very warm, excellent weather protection||Down insulation, generous fit, great weather protection||Comfortable, burly fabric, impeccable design||Reasonably priced, 3-in-1 versatility, warm, good weather protection||Close fitting, warm, synthetic insulation, tons of ski features|
|Cons||Super expensive, too warm for some applications||Boxy cut, drafty construction unless well cinched down||Ventilation could be better, expensive||Slightly boxy fit, heavier weight||Less stylish body hugging fit|
|Bottom Line||Arc'teryx’s top of the line ski jacket and the winner of our Editor's Choice Award. This is the best insulated ski jacket money can buy, if can afford it.||A top of the line insulated ski jacket with down stuffing wrapped in a Gore-Tex hardshell.||An excellent ski shell for the discerning, long-term skier.||This reasonably priced and versatile 3-in-1 jacket is a great option for frequent resort skiers.||A comprehensive, modern ski jacket with a body-hugging fit.|
|Rating Categories||Arc'teryx Macai||Primo Down||Sabre Jacket||ThermoBall Snow Triclimate||Alpha 3.0|
|Weather Resistance (20%)|
|Specs||Arc'teryx Macai||Primo Down||Sabre Jacket||ThermoBall Snow Triclimate||Alpha 3.0|
|Main Fabric||N40p-X GORE-TEX||Polyester||N80p-X GORE-TEX||100% Polyester||2-layer Helly Tech Professional|
|Insulation||Coreloft 100, Coreloft Compact, and 750 fill goose down||850 fill power down||Light flannel backer||124 G/M² PrimaLoft® ThermoBall™ Synthetic||Primaloft Gold & Black|
|Pockets||2 handwarmer, 1 sleeve, 1 chest, 1 internal mesh, 1 internal chest||4 external, 2 internal||2 hand, 1 sleeve, 1 internal||2 hand, 2 chest, 1 internal goggle, 1 wrist pocket||2 handwarmer, 2 external chest, 1internal chest, 1 internal mesh drop-in, one sleeve|
Best Overall Insulated Ski Jacket
After a survey of the current market, the Arc'teryx Macai jacket maintains its top spot as the Editors' Choice insulated ski jacket winner. The one qualifier we'll add in is that we have also added an Editors' Choice shell-only jacket. Our community has informed us that those assembling ski outfits from layering pieces are a significant part of the market. The granting of an Editors' Choice Award to the Arc'teryx Sabre should not diminish the honor bestowed on the Macai. The Macai is high performing in all categories, putting a large margin on the competition in warmth-to-weight, weather resistance, and durability. The lightest insulated piece tested and nearly the warmest, it mainly features down insulation (while many other contenders have synthetic). The Macai's waterproof Gore-Tex shell and synthetically filled underarms protect and insulate even in very wet conditions.
In past testing, we found that the Macai does have a higher propensity to stain, with one model picking up permanent marks in normal usage. (Newer versions in another color have not had this problem.) The Macai is a solid performer across the board, and its fit, style, and insulation durability tip the balance solidly in its favor.
Read review: Arc'teryx Macai
Best Overall Shell Ski Jacket
Arc'teryx Sabre Jacket
Some people just like a layered resort skiing outfit. For a long time, we discounted that. We now recognize our mistake and are making up for lost time. To get layering aficionados an Editors' Choice, we hammered through a couple of months of early season skiing in the Sabre and a few other shell contenders. The Arc'teryx Sabre Jacket is the clear winner. If you prefer to assemble your clothing system and separate insulation from protection, the Sabre is the best way to top off that layering combo. It is as protective as a shell jacket gets. The long-term partnership between Arc'teryx and Gore-Tex shows, with excellent optimization of technology and design. For protection from wet, wind, and snow, nothing beats the Sabre.
While we love the fit and weather protection the Sabre offers, it comes at a premium. There are less expensive shell jackets models on the market, the Flylow Lab Coat for example, that offer a similar fit and level of protection and cost less. The Sabre is the best shell jacket in the test, however, but you pay for this level of performance.
Read review: Arc'teryx Sabre Jacket
Best Bang for the Buck
Columbia Whirlibird III Interchange
The Columbia Whirlibird III Interchange returns to our ski jacket test this year and regains its position as our overall Best Buy Award winner. As usual, Columbia brings exceptional value to the table in a versatile 3-in-1 ski jacket. Being of the modular 3-in-1 design, there is immediate value in the fact that you get two jackets, and three ways to wear them, for the price of one. The Whirlibird III tops the charts with its exceptional warmth, but otherwise, it provides a decidedly average performance across the board. Considering the price of admission we can't really complain because it gets the job done, and it does so admirably. In addition to its warmth, the Whirlibird III fends off the elements well with an Omni-Tech waterproof membrane, and adjustable hood, and a powder skirt. It's light on ski features, but it has the basics covered for the occasional resort skier.
Our biggest gripes with the Whirlibird III are minor. It has a loose and boxy fit, it's bulky, and its style leaves a bit to be desired. This jacket is best suited to occasional skiers; hardcore skiers will be better off looking at higher quality and higher performance options. That said, we were pleasantly surprised by the overall performance of this versatile 3-in-1 jacket system, especially for the price.
Read review: Columbia Whirlibird III Interchange
Best Buy Shell Jacket
Flylow Gear Lab Coat
Our competition includes four shell-only ski jackets, and the Flylow Gear Lab Coat proved to be the second highest rated of those models. Testers found that it offers a similar level of weather protection and all-around performance as its more expensive competitors, and for this reason, we award it with our Best Buy Shell Jacket Award. This highly weather-resistant model is great for skiers who prefer a do-it-yourself layering system, and it wards off the harshest of weather to keep you warm and dry. Testers love the large helmet compatible hood and the removable powder skirt that snaps onto compatible Flylow pants for stormy or deep powder days. It has excellent ventilation in the form of large open underarm vents and highly breathable eVent fabric, and the pocket layout is user-friendly and designed to not conflict with backpack straps should you take it backcountry skiing.
The Lab Coat has limited ski specific features; those seeking bells and whistles will be better off looking elsewhere. As a shell jacket, the Lab Coat provides little warmth to the user other than protection from the elements. That said, we feel that this is an excellent model to top off your resort or backcountry skiing layering system. It also boasts clean lines, an athletic fit, and a tech-casual style for much less than the shell-only competition in this review.
Read review: Flylow Gear Lab Coat
Top Pick 3-in-1 Jacket
The North Face ThermoBall Snow Triclimate
The North Face Thermoball Snow Triclimate impressed our testers and takes home our Top Pick Award for a 3-in-1 ski jacket. The modular design of this style of jacket won't be for everyone, but there is no denying the intrinsic value and versatility offered by them. We tested four models of 3-in-1 jackets in this go 'round, and the Thermoball Snow emerged as our tester's favorite. It offers plenty of warmth when worn in its full configuration, plus the ability to adjust the way you combine its components to the current conditions. We found it to be very weather resistant, with a 2-layer DryVent construction, an excellent attached adjustable hood, and a powder skirt to help keep out the elements. It also comes with some nice features like a pass pocket and an attached goggle wipe.
Our gripes with the Thermoball Snow are few, but testers found it to feel a bit heavy. This is a result of the 3-in-1 design, common amongst this subset of jackets. Otherwise, the jacket has a long and somewhat roomy cut, clean lines, and an easy-going style. We loved the Thermoball Snow and we think this is the best 3-in-1 model we tested. Plus, it's offered at a reasonable price.
Read review: The North Face Thermoball Snow Triclimate
Why You Should Trust Us
Our test team is headed up by skier and author Jeremy Benson. A sponsored ski athlete for nearly 2 decades, Benson has skied at resorts and in the backcountry from Argentina and Chamonix to his backyard playground of the Sierra Nevada. During his ski career, Jeremy tested gear extensively as a 9-year veteran of Skiing Magazine's ski test and has worked with various sponsors closely on design and testing of products. He is also the author of Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Routes: California, published by Mountaineers Books. Benson is joined by Jediah Porter, an internationally certified AMGA professional climbing and skiing guide. From summer to winter for work or just for fun, Porter's adventures take him from his home range of California's High Sierra to the Chugach of Alaska and all points between with an impressive and growing climbing and skiing resume. Jed takes pride in always having the best gear for the job and is very critical of the equipment he uses for both work and play.In addition to the many hours spent researching our jacket selection, countless hours were spent skiing in each model over the course of several months. Our testing took place in the iconic western ski destinations of Mammoth Mountain, Jackson Hole, and Lake Tahoe, both in-bounds at the resorts and earning turns in the bountiful surrounding backcountry terrain. Our on-mountain testing featured the full spectrum of weather conditions, and we took our weather resistance testing to the controlled environment of our shower for good measure.
Related: How We Tested Ski Jackets
Analysis and Test Results
Choose the right ski jacket, and foul weather conditions will fade into the background, allowing you to focus and enjoy the task at hand. Of course, these will protect in milder weather as well. All are comfortable enough for all-day wear, and our selection represents a cross-section of fashion tastes. From youthful cuts and baggy styles to the subdued and neutral, there is an option here for you. Navigating the jargon-filled outerwear market can be a challenge, however, and it is important to recognize your needs as a skier as you search for your next ski jacket.
Related: Buying Advice for Ski Jackets
Testing involved careful indoor inspection of each model we purchased, assessing crafstmanship, features, and fit under the warmth of a roof. Then, we happily sped over to our local ski hills and backcountry laps to find out where each model excelled or fell back. We ranked each jacket on six predetermined metrics: Warmth, Weather Resistance, Fit and Comfort, Ventilation, Style, and Features. Each metric is weighted relative to its importance in performance and your overall experience. We combined the scores from these rating metrics to determine the overall scores and our award winners.
People with varying levels of disposable income come to the ski hill, and the market reflects that. Aside from fundamental differences in construction (i.e., 3-in-1, shell, insulated shell), there's a variety of options offered at different price points to suit a wide range of budgets. This is good news for those of us on tighter budgets and those who are willing and able to buy the highest end products.
At the high end, Arc'teryx makes a strong presence and takes our Editors' Choice award for both insulated shell and shell categories with the Macai and Sabre, respectively. But these won't work for everyone's budget. Lower priced options with functional but lower performance, such as the Best Buy Columbia Whirlibird III Interchange or the Armada Carson Insulated, cost hundreds less and still get the job done.
Skiing and snowboarding generally take place in cold environments. An insulated jacket built specifically for resort riding is the first line of defense against that cold. Many of the jackets we tested are insulated. Most have synthetic insulation sewn in. (For more information about synthetic insulation, consult our insulated jacket buying advice.) In these jackets, a three-dimensional matrix of human-made fibers creates dead air that protects against convective and radiative cooling.
On other jackets, including the most expensive, durable, and highly rated products tested, insulation comes in the form of goose down. Goose down is highly insulating and lasts a long time but it is more expensive. Synthetic fill also insulates better when wet than down. Uninsulated shell jackets provide little warmth to the wearer. What they do, however, is protect the wearer's inner insulating layers from the adverse effects of wind and wetness. In this way, shell jackets are integral to a layered skier's warmth, but less directly.
Wearing each of our tested products back-to-back in stormy and cold weather across the continent allowed us to make assessments of their warmth. The affordable Columbia Whirlibird III takes top honors for warmth with the Patagonia Primo Down and Arc'teryx Macai tied just behind. The Patagonia Snowshot 3-in-1, the North Face Thermoball Snow Triclimate, and the Marmot KT Component all come in close behind the warmest competitors. The Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0 and Spyder Leader have high insulating values virtually indistinguishable from one another while noticeably lower than those above. The Armada Carson Insulated is better thought of like a lightly insulated shell than as a competitor with the warmest jackets.
In assessing more and more shell-only jackets, we have to make particular note of their warmth. A shell-only jacket is simply not insulated. Those that prefer this style of ski clothing get most of their warmth from a different layer or layers. Sure, the waterproof and windproof shell of the Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Sabre and the like minimize heat loss due to convection and evaporation. However, it is actual insulation, in the form of an inner fleece or puffy jacket, that protects against heat loss due to radiation and conduction. There are slight differences in the warmth of the different shell jackets. The fleecy "flannel" lining of the Sabre, for example, is slightly more insulating than the smooth lining of the Norrona Lofoten.
Weather resistance is a combination of several things, waterproof materials, quality construction, and good design. When these elements come together, you get a jacket that not only repels water and blocks wind but also seals up around the waist, wrists, collar, and hood. Additionally, waterproof fabrics are treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish which helps make water bead up, as opposed to soaking into, the face fabric. The best DWR's are expensive, and therefore the most expensive jackets are the least likely to "wet-out," or soak up water on the outside, which reduces a membrane's breathability and function. We tested each jacket's weather resistance during real-world use while skiing, and also in a simulated rainstorm in the shower.
Without boring you to death with the details of waterproof breathable membranes, they are the heart of a waterproof jacket's construction. There are a variety of waterproof materials on the market and used in the construction of the jackets in this review. Perhaps the best known is Gore-Tex, and there are others like eVent, DryVent, and Omni-Tech that all perform roughly the same way. In addition to the jacket being waterproof, we also consider other protection from the elements like the collar, hood, powder skirt, wrist cuffs, zippers, and DWR. When all of these elements come together you get weather resistance perfection. Insulated models like the Arc'teryx Macai and the Patagonia Primo Down are some of the best; it feels like you're sealing yourself into a waterproof mummy sleeping bag. Shell models, like the Flylow Lab Coat, Arc'teryx Sabre, and Norrona Lofoten offer the same level of protection from the elements, minus the insulation, and therefore score just as high.
Despite having a soft looking exterior, the Helly Hanson Alpha 3.0 surprised all of our testers with its weather resistance, with no wet-out and an excellent design to hunker down on stormy days. As the price of the jackets decreases, so does the quality of the DWRs and wet out becomes more of an issue. All of the jackets we tested kept us dry on the inside, but when a jacket becomes wet on the outside it is less comfortable and it just plain looks bad. The Whirlibird III, the Thermoball Snow, and the Skyward II all absorbed some water into their face fabrics. The 3-in-1 style jackets we tested have another consideration, and that is the function of their powder skirts. When the liner jacket is zipped into the outer shell of all these jackets, it conflicts with the use of the powder skirt, making them unusable or very awkward at best. Therefore, all of the 3-in-1 models scored slightly lower as a result.
Fit and Comfort
Fit is king. We go to the mountains to feel good. We want to feel good in our clothes. Fit and comfort, like weather resistance, are functions of materials and construction. Carefully constructed garments fit better. However, fit varies from one person to another. Second only to style, fit and comfort is subjective. What fits one person may or may not fit the next. To address this, we tested on a variety of body shapes and in each review we rate overall fit as a single number but elaborate on what was different from one piece to another. It is worth noting that primary testing was done by thin, size medium and large men.
When we say a jacket like the Patagonia Primo is "boxy and loose" (and we do say that, from our first hand, comparative experience), we mean that everyone will have this same experience, relative to the other jackets tested. A barrel-chested man may appreciate this boxier cut. The Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0 earned high scores in fit and comfort. The Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0 is constructed with what seems like 15 different soft and flexible fabrics. Virtually every part stretches and hugs the body. Visible bulk mainly comes from the insulation.
The Spyder Leader is looser in fit, with a brilliant collar and sleeve design that virtually disappears on the wearer. The Macai feels similar to the Helly Hansen - close and cozy - but accomplishes this with careful tailoring instead of the stretchy fabrics of the Alpha. The Sabre shell jacket is constructed of a stiff material that feels protective but confining. The lightweight Lofoten has a thin fabric that moves with you. The Patagonia Snowshot and the Columbia Whirlibird III are the most confining and bulky, attributable to the extra layers of fabric involved in their construction.
Not all cold environments are created equal, and not all ski days have equal conditions. Being able to adapt to match your surroundings and exertion is key to comfort. A rider will sit for long periods. Lift lines and lift rides expose a skier to weather with little opportunity to generate body heat. And then, the polar opposite to the lift ride, the rider will drop in for a few minutes of high output activity. The day can heat up or cool down, and one day will be different from the last. Traveling to new mountain ranges is a primary driver of the passionate skier. All these changes require adaptable gear. Ventilation performance is crucial, both in the short term of one run to the next, and long-term of one day, week, season, or range to the next.
The Snowshot, Thermoball Snow Triclimate, KT Component, and the Whirlibird III offer a modular, "3-in-1" design that is well-suited to adaptation in the form of adjusting the included layers. It comes in one insulated and weatherproof package. The inner liner can be unzipped and unbuttoned to be worn alone. The shell can also be worn on its own. That gives you two parts, worn together or individually, hence the "3-in-1" descriptor. This style of jacket is highly adaptable and earns a relatively high ventilation score as a result. The option to mix and match the layers does take time, but it provides an exceptional level of climate control.
If it is crucial to you to vent or seal up in a matter of seconds, look for a jacket with long (longer than a foot or so), non-mesh-backed pit-zips with multiple zipper pulls. The absolute best vents start on the user's chest instead of inline along the underarm. Our highest rated jacket for ventilation is the Outdoor Research Skyward II with massive underarm vents that extend from the hem to the bicep. Among the insulated jackets, none have all the vent attributes we look for. The Patagonia Primo Down has long zips that open entirely without mesh, but they are hidden under the arm. The Macai has the same sort of vents as the Primo Down but they are backed with mesh.
The shell-only jackets all vent reasonably well. The Arc'teryx Sabre, Flylow Lab Coat and Norrona Lofoten all have similar size and shape vents and highly breathable materials. The Spyder Leader has mid-length zips that are backed with mesh, while the remaining insulated jackets (Helly Hansen, Armada Carson) have nothing notable regarding ventilation.
Style is subjective. Our test team of dirtbag ski bums, former fashion students, and cosmopolitan mountain towners brought a whole range of experiences and opinions to the scores. Your opinion may vary further. In our ratings, we tried to evaluate each piece in context. Of course, we considered fit, colors, and versatility. What statement does this jacket make? Can a wearer pull it off in town and on the hill? Will it look out of place in the backcountry? Out of place on a snowboard, or on skis? We also considered branding, intended use, target demographic, and resort fashion trends over time. Nonetheless, you may choose to throw our assessments of style completely out the window. And we are fine with that.
Some of the jackets we evaluated make strong visual statements. The Spyder Leader shouts "I'm a SKIER." Others such as the Primo Down, Alpha, and Sabre have more understated, neutral looks that blend in on the hill and around town. The Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell we reviewed is bright and svelte, more like an alpine climbing hardshell than a ski resort piece. The inexpensive Carson Insulated is an outlier, style-wise. It has a youthful design intended to suggest your oversized cotton hoody. It does so successfully, and this look certainly appeals to some users.
A handful of niceties augments a well-designed jacket. Throughout our tests, we looked for plentiful pockets, ski pass clips and pockets, integrated goggle wipes, and systems to join jackets and pants into an integrated package.
The top scoring jackets in this category were the Helly Hansen Alpha and the Spyder Leader, which both come loaded with conveniences. Of the shell jackets, the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell and the OR Skyward II have the fewest. The Patagonia jackets and the Flylow Lab Coat are near the middle of the pack. If you like a pocket for everything, the Helly Hansen and Spyder models will serve you well. If you don't carry much with you on ski days, venture into the backcountry often, or ski with a backpack, the features offered (especially those concerning storage space) are much less important.
Protection for Your Bottom Half
To keep your legs comfortable and warm while hitting the slopes, we recommend the Arc'teryx Sabre Pants or the more affordable Freedom Pants from TNF. Both of these pants fit well and are weather resistant.
Related: The Best Ski Pants for Men of 2019
Finding the perfect ski outerwear can be a difficult task with the immense amount of jackets out there. With the amount of time most manufacturers spend on advertising and marketing, it's tough to see through the product descriptions to understand the performance of any certain model. That's why we do what we do — to shed light on how each model functions on the mountain, not on the display rack. We hope this review helps you find the right model for your needs.
— Jediah Porter and Jeremy Benson