Buying a new ski jacket requires some important considerations. How often will you be wearing it? Where? What's the weather like? Do you think you'll ski at the resort or the backcountry more? How much money are you willing to spend? How important are color choices? It's almost like buying a car; we certainly take the decision seriously! That's why we evaluate factors like weather resistance, comfort and fit, ventilation, and style, to name a few. Hopefully, our thorough testing process can help you select the jacket of your dreams.
If you are in the 100+ day club at your resort and like to ski deep powder, you may be looking for a jacket that is durable, breathable, and high performing like the Editors' Choice Award-winning The North Face A-CAD FUTURELIGHT. For an insulated jacket that also has bomber performance (but doesn't breathe as well), check out the Patagonia Primo Puff. How warm a jacket is and how it performs depends on various factors, including your climate and the materials, breathability, and fit of the jacket — we've discussed these factors and several others to consider to help you find the perfect jacket for your needs.
Where will you be skiing in your new jacket? Some things to ask yourself about weather include: How warm or cold is it? Is it wet or dry? Is your local area prone to wet, heavy storms (and even occasional rain), or is the snow powdery and dry? For very cold (and maybe wet and damp) climates, you'll want a jacket with insulation and weather resistance. In warmer environments, you should consider trying an uninsulated jacket. These jackets have plenty of room to layer underneath; conversely, the 3-in-1 type jackets have both an insulated and a hardshell layer, which gives you the option to bundle up, or on warmer days, leave the insulating layer behind.
Do you ski somewhere with a wet maritime climate like Coastal British Columbia, or do you stick to regions with dry powder and less rain like Utah or Montana? If you are in an area with a lot of wet precipitation and warmer temperatures, you may want to consider getting a jacket with higher water resistance, such as Gore-Tex. Water resistance is slightly less critical in colder, dryer climates.
Hardshells vs. Insulated Jackets
When choosing your ski jacket, you should consider its intended use. Hardshells are lighter weight, more versatile, and more technical jackets typically used for high-output activities such as backcountry skiing and mountaineering. A hardshell is an outer layer that is waterproof, breathable, durable, and has ventilation options. It is also typically much lighter than the average insulated ski jacket. Hardshell jackets meant for resort skiing (not the ultralight hardshells out there) often include some ski-specific features like powder skirts and goggle pockets — but no insulation. This gives you the ability to tailor your layers underneath to the weather outside, making the jacket more versatile for a multitude of weather conditions. Hardshell jackets can be very expensive because they tend to incorporate higher-end membrane technologies.
Insulated ski jackets are made especially for keeping you warm while riding the lifts and going downhill. Companies have put a lot of thought into how to keep you comfortable out there on the slopes and tailor features specifically for this function. They include features like goggle pockets, pass pockets, media ports, double-cuffed sleeves, and powder skirts. These jackets (like many products in this review) come with some insulation, either down or synthetic, such as Primaloft, to keep you warm while sitting on the lift. Insulated jackets are heavier and bulkier than hardshells, which is acceptable since you're not carrying it around while hiking uphill as you would when backcountry ski touring.
Softshells should also be mentioned briefly in this section. They are made out of a stretchier, less waterproof material that tends to be more comfortable and significantly more breathable, but are intended for dryer days of use. Softshells are usually heavier than a hardshell.
Related: The Best Softshell Jackets for Women
Down vs. Synthetic Insulation
This question comes down to climate and intended use again. If you're in a dryer, colder climate, down is number one for warmth. It has a much higher warmth-to-weight ratio but loses its insulating power if it gets wet. Some jackets on the market use a combination of down and synthetic, placing the synthetic insulation strategically where it may get wet like in the sleeves and underarms. We currently do not have any jackets with combined insulation in this review.
Most ski jackets use synthetic insulation because it is slightly more versatile and less expensive than down. Synthetic insulation is a bit tougher and will keep you warm if your jacket gets wet. It is, however, heavier and bulkier than down insulation, though the weight is not as significant of a concern for a resort-specific model.
Being cold while skiing is a drag, but so is being too hot! We love jackets that give us the option of allowing some airflow. Pit zips are a great way to regulate body temperature, and we prefer them to be unlined for maximum airflow. Almost all of our testers and friends agree — they would not purchase a ski jacket that doesn't offer any ventilation.
It can be hard to determine the breathability of an insulated ski jacket since they're typically warmer than hardshells. 3-in-1 jackets are also hard to assess since the pit zips are on the outer shell, but not on the inner insulating layer. For these reasons, it is more important to assess the other ventilation possibilities of the jacket, such as how breathable the shell material is, or if an inner jacket can be removed. All of the jackets we tested in this review had some sort of ventilation features. Jackets that allow for additional airflow during times of hard exertion will be the most comfortable during a variety of circumstances.
If you're buying a jacket specifically for skiing or snowboarding, you want it to have the features that will work best for that purpose. The main features we look for are pockets, well-fitting hoods, RECCO technology, powder skirts, and wrist gaiters.Pockets
If you are planning to spend your whole day out on the ski hill, it's important to be able to stash everything you might need in your jacket. We love large interior pockets for snacks and goggles, as well as smaller, zippered pockets for keys and cell phones. If you're into listening to tunes while shredding, look for a jacket that has a media-compatible pocket where your headphones can feed through the interior. Some manufacturers also include RFID pockets to protect your chip card's information from fraud.
We think that having a hood that can fit over your helmet is an incredibly important feature. When it gets windy, there's nothing better. We've found that some jackets lack in this department. Insulated hoods like the Primo Puff and the Stadium are super nice. We also loved the huge hood on the Patagonia Powder Bowl.
Powder skirts are a type of interior waist strap attached to your jacket that is meant to button tightly over the waistband of your pants and prevent snow from getting up your back or down your pants in the event that you take a tumble. We're not huge fans of the powder skirt. We found that most (if not all) of the powder skirts we have ever used end up riding up around our ribs and do little to keep the snow from sneaking into our layers. The most appealing quality we find in a powder skirt in the jackets we review is when it is removable. That said, if you want to stop that uncomfortable cold feeling of snow trickling down into your underpants, many manufacturers make jackets whose powder skirts are compatible with the ski pants of the same brand. For example, the Arc'teryx Sentinel and The North Face A-CAD FUTURELIGHT allow the jacket and pants to either zip or button together to stop the problem of powder skirts riding up. Some jackets powder skirts also have attachments that you can fasten to any ski pants' belt loops. Look for that function and buy both pieces together for extra snow protection.
This handy feature — also known as sleeves with thumbholes — keeps your wrists cozy and warm when you're around town or on the ski hill. When worn under your gloves, they can also keep snow from going up your sleeves. We found that some wrist gaiters are better than others. We like the sleek nylon material used on the wrist gaiters of the Orage Nina and the Armada Stadium as they fit under gloves more easily. Beware if they feel too tight, this could end up cutting off circulation and making your hands cold.
If you are skiing at a big mountain, especially in the west, in-bound avalanches can still be a concern, especially if you are out there skiing right after a big storm. The RECCO avalanche rescue technology is becoming more widely used at ski resorts across the country, and therefore is becoming a more popular feature in ski apparel. RECCO is a reflector chip that is embedded in equipment or clothing, and it does not need batteries or need to be turned on to function. Its sole purpose is to send out a signal that ski patrollers will be able to locate using a RECCO Detector if you are buried in an in-bounds avalanche.
RECCO technology typically makes jackets more expensive, so consider carefully if this is a feature that you have to have. Note that this system is not a replacement for an avalanche transceiver, which you should always utilize when traveling out of bounds.
Fit and Comfort
If your ski jacket doesn't fit you properly, it can ruin your ski day. If the jacket is too small for you, it will feel uncomfortable, and you won't be able to wear additional layers underneath. If it is too big, it will feel bulky and drafty. If you are buying your jacket online, be sure to check out the manufacturer's sizing chart and compare your measurements to them. We found that the 3-in-1 models were snug due to the inner insulating layer, while the insulated, single-piece jackets we tested all fit true to size.
Removable vs. Non-Removable Liner Jackets
For all of the 3-in-1 style jackets we tested in this review, we found that the individual pieces worked better on their own than when they were worn together. A 3-in-1 type jacket is a good value for the money and can be a versatile garment if you live in a place where the weather changes drastically from day to day. They can be very warm, or if you remove the inner layer for warmer temperatures, cooler but still wind and water resistant.
We find when wearing both the layers together, these jackets generally feel bulky and more uncomfortable than the single-layer ski jackets. But it is nice to get off the slopes, throw the outer shell in the car, and have a stylish, cozy, and warm jacket to wear for après ski activities, whether it is going for happy hour or running errands. Ultimately, we find 3-in-1s to be jackets of all trades, masters of none.
Though style is entirely subjective, we feel that skiing, in particular, presents a unique opportunity to express yourself. A jacket especially becomes your on-hill identity, and it's also how people can find you in a crowd! Remember, you will be wearing this jacket along with hats, helmets, and goggles, so people will no longer see your face or hair, but will recognize you primarily by the jacket you're wearing. Think carefully about how you want to represent yourself through your jacket — super steezy and colorful, or classy, simple and understated. Select a jacket that fits well, and that comes in a color that you love.