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Since 2014, our expert team has bought and tested 65+ unique ski jackets. Our current review covers 17 of the best models available via side-by-side comparison. We put insulated jackets, shells, and 3-in-1 models to the test at the resort and in the backcountry. Ex-pros and mountain guides fill up our team's roster that took these models to ski hills during storms and bluebird days. It's hard to judge warmth, weather resistance, comfort, ventilation, and more from the specs and marketing claims on a screen, so we do the work for you. Our assessments and recommendations will lead you to the right product for your needs and wallet.
Editor's Note: We updated this review for Men's Ski Jackets on March 6, 2022, to include more information about our in-depth testing process and a new section highlighting products we would recommend to a friend (that means you!)
Main fabric: 2-layer stretch polyester | Pockets: 7
REASONS TO BUY
Warm and waterproof
Fair price considering top performance
REASONS TO AVOID
A snug fit isn't for everyone
The Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft is the top-performing all-around resort jacket on the market and has been a favorite of our testers for the last three years. It is warm enough for the coldest days and keeps all kinds of winter weather at bay while remaining extremely comfortable and easy to wear. The cut and fit are exceptional and unmatched in the ski jacket market. It also has a thoughtful array of useful features and a classy style. Plus, it uses synthetic insulation and a proprietary waterproof/breathable membrane to help keep the cost of this jacket relatively approachable.
The Alpha LifaLoft doesn't provide as much warmth as the down-insulated Arc'teryx Macai, nor does it protect from the elements and other jackets that use a Gore-Tex membrane. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. While a super warm jacket is at home only in sub-zero temps, the Helly Hansen performed well in various temperatures and exertion levels and is absolutely winter storm-worthy. The result is a more versatile jacket at nearly half the price. For this applicability to a wide range of conditions and skiers, the Alpha LifaLoft takes the crown.
Shell-only resort ski jackets have become increasingly popular, and if you ski in a warmer climate or on the most advanced slopes, you might see more shell jackets than insulated jackets. With the right layering system underneath, a shell jacket provides more versatility than an insulated jacket, allowing for use in a greater range of temperatures. The Arc'teryx Sabre AR Jacket is our favorite shell because of its best-in-review weather resistance and excellent ventilation and comfort, all reasons why skiers might opt for a shell jacket instead of an insulated one. This jacket kept us dry and sheltered from the wind every time we took it out, including during big storms. It brings a loose, freeride cut and laid-back style to a field otherwise dominated by traditional jacket designs.
As with any shell, warmth comes from the insulating layers worn underneath. If you are looking for a jacket that will keep you warm on the slopes without further thought, choose an insulated jacket. If you are intrigued by the idea of versatility and want to invest in various layers to wear under this shell jacket, the Sabre AR Jacket is the best that money can buy. Expect to pay a lot for it, but not much more than other high-end Gore-Tex Pro shell jackets.
Main Fabric: DryVent 2-Layer | Pockets: Shell=6, liner=2
REASONS TO BUY
Solid weather protection
Price is right
REASONS TO AVOID
Bulky and weighty
Doesn't ventilate that well
The North Face ThermoBall ECO Snow Triclimate is the best 3-in-1 ski jacket on the market. The insulated mid-layer and mesh-lined shell layer provide plenty of warmth for cold days on the slopes. Thanks to a full-coverage hood, a waterproof/breathable membrane, waterproof zippers, and sealed seams, it also has excellent weather resistance. Despite its bulk, we found it comfortable to wear and relatively stylish as well. The North Face packs this jacket with useful features like plenty of pockets, a goggle wipe, and a powder skirt. Best of all, its overall performance hangs just below some of our favorite jackets with much higher price tags.
Despite its heavyweight, the Thermoball ECO Snow Triclimate is our recommendation for a frequent skier looking to balance price and performance. The added weight results from the additional features of the 3-in-1 design, like an extra zipper and redundant pockets, a common flaw in this subset of jackets. Otherwise, we love its long and "freeride" cut, clean lines, and easy-going style. We also appreciate its reasonable price tag.
Not enough breathability and ventilation for ski touring
The REI Co-op First Chair GTX jacket provides nearly all of the benefits of a high-performance ski shell at an affordable price. It keeps the weather out with sturdy shell fabric, a Gore-Tex membrane, and a helmet-compatible hood. It fits over internal layers with ease, is relatively stylish for advanced skiers, and has a full set of features for resort skiing and riding. The powder skirt isn't removable, but it tucks away nicely when not in use. Only the most discerning users will wish to pay more for a high-end ski shell, as this jacket does it all.
One important downside is that the shell includes a hanging inner lining fabric that adds noticeable warmth and reduces the jacket's breathability. While we usually value warmth in a ski jacket, many users might also like our shell jackets to leave the warmth up to the mid-layers worn underneath. Usually, if we wear a shell, we expect to ski and hike aerobically, and we don't always want our ski jacket to be super warm. However, if you're looking for an affordable shell for resort use, this is our top recommendation.
The Columbia Whirlibird IV Interchange remains the best bargain in a fully-featured ski jacket. As usual, Columbia brings exceptional affordability to the table in this versatile 3-in-1 ski jacket. The modular design has immediate value because you get two jackets (and three ways to wear them) for the price of one. This jacket provides decent weather protection and warmth at a fraction of the price of other models in the review. Otherwise, there is nothing special about this jacket, but it gets the job done with a waterproof membrane, adjustable hood, powder skirt, and plenty of pockets.
Our biggest gripes with the Whirlibird IV are more noticeable to the experienced snow sports crowd. Its lack of heavy-duty weather resistance relegates this model to use nicer weather. It has a loose, boxy, and bulky fit, and its style leaves a bit to be desired. It's also not the best of its class, which goes to the 3-in-1 The North Face Thermoball ECO Snow Triclimate. 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 this versatile 3-in-1 jacket system's overall performance, especially considering the price.
With the explosion of backcountry skiing, many garment manufacturers make touring-specific ski shells. Skiers can generally wear these jackets inbounds and out-of-bounds, but they may trim some useful resort features in favor of lightweight, streamlined performance. Jumping into the fray is the excellent Arc'teryx Rush jacket, fully weather-resistant, lightweight, well-tailored, and very stylish. It has plenty of features for a day in the backcountry, like well-placed pockets and a helmet-compatible hood, and also includes a few favorite features of resort skiers, like a powder skirt and a pass pocket. This jacket is lightweight, bomber, and keeps users dry and comfortable in the backcountry, period.
Some users will avoid this jacket because of its high price tag. It performs well in every way a shell jacket should. Still, this level of weather resistance comes with a price, as Gore-Tex fabric is expensive to use, and waterproof zippers and sealed seams increase the cost of production over a less weather-resistant shell. Frequent users and skiers who ski multiple times a week will appreciate the design and performance of this jacket. Those who only go backcountry skiing occasionally can make performance compromises and get away with a less expensive jacket. If you spend most of your time in the backcountry or sidecountry and want a jacket that can perform well on the occasional resort day, this jacket is for you.
Our test team is led by Exum Ski Guide, IFMGA Mountain Guide, and OutdoorGearLab Contributor Jeff Dobronyi. Jeff lives, skis, and guides in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and leads ski trips worldwide, from Colorado and Wyoming to Alaska, Europe, and South America. Logging upwards of 125 days per year on skis, Jeff gets intimate with his ski gear and puts it through the wringer in various climates, in both the resort and the backcountry. Jeff is joined by skier and author Jeremy Benson. Jeremy has been a sponsored ski athlete for nearly two decades and has skied around the world from Argentina and Chamonix to his backyard playground of the Sierra Nevada.
We spend several days researching the current jacket offerings before selecting the most promising jackets for hands-on testing to produce this review. Then, we purchase them at retail price and hit the slopes from Colorado to Lake Tahoe to Jackson Hole. Our testing of men's ski jackets breaks down into six rating metrics:
Warmth (20% of overall score rating)
Weather Resistance (20% of overall score rating)
Comfort and Fit (20% of overall score rating)
Ventilation (15% of overall score rating)
Style (15% of overall score rating)
Features (10% of overall score rating)
From snowy and windy days in the Sierra to the brutally cold and clear days in the Tetons, our testers have put these jackets through more than 100 individual tests – we ski lap after lap in each of these garments. To better compare products, we take single ski runs in each jacket and change in the lodge between runs to get a real-time comparison in similar conditions and note the differences between jackets. And finally, we run each jacket through a shower test, wearing the jacket in a shower for 5 minutes and taking note of water resistance. Over the past nine years, our team of experts has tested more than 65 of the best ski jackets and has designed this comprehensive review to help you find the best options based on value and performance.
Analysis and Test Results
Skiing is an expensive sport. Everyone has different needs from their ski jacket, depending on how much they ski, the climate in which they ski, and what kind of skiing they prefer, so keep your own needs in mind as you consider our scores and weighting.
Ski jacket prices range from relatively affordable to astronomic. Most budget options provide nearly as much warmth, weather resistance, and other important performance attributes as the most expensive jackets. Still, the top-of-the-line offerings generally refined comfort, fit, tailoring, and style. We found that price does not always correlate with performance, which is great news for skiers looking for a good deal on a jacket. For example, any jacket that uses a Gore-Tex brand waterproof/breathable membrane will perform well in wet weather. Still, jackets that use a different proprietary membrane might perform just as well as a Gore-Tex jacket with significant cost savings.
On the budget side of things, the Columbia Whirlibird IV Interchange is affordable to anyone who can purchase a day ticket and provides good performance and durability for the occasional skier. It also performs well as a general winter jacket and has 3-in-1 versatility for good value. The North Face ThermoBall ECO Snow Triclimate provides the same 3-in-1 value with much higher performance but costs a bit more, though it would likely be money well-spent for more regular skiers. The top-rated Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft is reasonably priced compared to the premium Arc'teryx Macai jacket, which costs nearly twice as much. The Macai justifies the high price with long-lasting down insulation and durable construction, but it's likely out of reach for many skiers. At the bottom of the price list, the Columbia Last Tracks and REI Co-op Powderbound Insulated are bare-bones ski jackets at a great value, but we find them too thin to provide enough warmth on many ski days.
Among shell jackets at good values, we recommend the budget-friendly REI Co-op First Chair GTX for resort use, which uses Gore-Tex fabric to provide stellar weather protection in a comfortable and well-fitting jacket. It performs nearly as well as the other shells in the review that cost up to twice as much. The Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell performs almost as high as the best shells on the market, but it does so at a much lower price due to a proprietary waterproof/breathable membrane instead of Gore-Tex. In our opinion, only the most hardcore users need the performance of the most expensive shells in the review, like the Arc'teryx Sabre AR and Arc'teryx Rush. Consumers who invest in a premium shell will enjoy higher levels of performance and durability for years down the road.
Skiing is a cold-weather sport. Our jackets need to keep us warm to take advantage of the best days on the hill. However, skiing is also an aerobic sport that produces heat, and the better we get, the more aerobic it becomes. So, a jacket too warm for the given weather and activity level can be a bummer in certain situations. Furthermore, skiers often wear layers underneath their jackets to fine-tune their warmth levels. We gave higher scores to the warmer jackets, but keep in mind the average temperatures where you ski most and your usual exertion level.
To test each jacket for warmth, we wore them in the cold early winter seasons in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the Colorado Rockies, where temperatures reach into the single digits when the slopes open in November. We tested each jacket on the ski slopes, windy chairlift rides, and chilly nights out on the town to refine our ratings.
Our review includes jackets with down insulation, synthetic insulation, mesh, fleece insulation, and no insulation. The scores in the warmth category generally follow that order. Down provides the greatest warmth-to-weight ratio, and the Arc'teryx Macai proves this to be true with incredible warmth at no increase in weight. However, synthetic insulation maintains its warmth when wet — a distinct advantage over down — typically bulkier and less insulating. However, technology is improving, and jackets like the Helly Hansen Alpha Lifaloft prove that synthetic insulation can be almost as warm as down. Budget shoppers sitting on cold chair lifts will appreciate that the Columbia Whirlibird IV kept our testers plenty warm every first-chair morning when wearing all layers together.
Great ski conditions often coincide with stormy winter weather. Good ski jackets need to keep the user dry and protected during snow, sleet, wind, and rain on the lower mountain because braving those elements allows us to ski when conditions are best. Our weekends and vacations might overlap with storms, and if your ski jacket isn't weather-resistant, you might find yourself watching from the lodge instead of enjoying the slopes. And even on the most memorable days, if snow and wind are getting into your jacket through the hood, sleeves, and hem, you won't be having fun.
We wore each jacket in a range of weather conditions and inspected each jacket's important features like well-fitting and adjustable hoods, waterproof zippers, and secure cuff closures. Waterproof garments with thick outer shells to prevent wind penetration scored highly. To cover our bases, each jacket underwent our "shower test"—5 minutes in the shower—to verify the manufacturer's waterproof claims.
Three jackets received optimal scores for weather resistance. They are all shell-only jackets, and they all employ Gore-Tex Pro membranes: the Arc'teryx Sabre AR, the Arc'teryx Rush, and the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell. These jackets will repel all precipitation in our experience, from liquid water to snow, and block all attempts by the wind to penetrate your inner peace on cold, windy chairlift rides where your chin is tucked deep into your neck. The Arc'teryx Macai and its burly Gore-Tex lost a point for using down insulation, which loses its warmth when wet, which can happen when skiing due to external water or internal perspiration.
Most of the jackets use waterproof fabrics and synthetic insulation, such as The North Face Thermoball ECO Snow Triclimate, Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot, and Patagonia Insulated Powder Bowl. This design is a classic combination of weather-resistant ski clothing. Most jackets score relatively well in this category as a result. Plus, synthetic insulation is cheaper to produce than down and helps keep jackets affordable while also maintaining its insulation properties when wet (unlike down insulation).
Comfort and Fit
Skiing and snowboarding are active sports, and our ski clothing needs to improve our performance without limiting our movement. And, since we spend a lot of time in the cold, our jacket's materials need to be comfortable and cozy. A good ski jacket fits our bodies closely, eliminating unnecessary material and bulk, but also allows for movement through a wide range of motion. It also has soft external and internal fabrics, comfortable cuff closures, neck and chin guards, and fleece-lined pockets. The fit varies from one person to another, so pay attention to our descriptions, not just the scores. It is worth noting that our primary testing was done by thin, athletic men who wear sizes Medium and Large.
We wear each jacket while out on the slopes and pay particular attention to how each model moves with our bodies. Some jackets have a baggy fit, like the Arc'teryx Sabre AR, which allows for unrestricted motion and portrays a certain style, but the extra material can be uncomfortable, depending on your taste. Some jackets have a "boxy" fit, which does not contour to the body's curves and can feel loose, bulky, and uncomfortable for skinny people. The Columbia Whirlibird IV, Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot, and Columbia Last Tracks all felt boxy and untailored to our test team.
The Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft features a slim torso design that contours to our bodies without inhibiting motion. The soft fabrics and stretchy cuff openings also contribute to this jacket's top score for comfort. The stretchy softshell fabric of the Arc'teryx Procline helps this jacket achieve a high mark in this category.
A day of skiing can be filled with dramatic temperature swings. Skiers might encounter a frigid morning starting the car, a hot and stuffy experience herding the kids into ski school, cold and windy chairlift rides to the top of the mountain, aerobic downhill skiing, and a sunny and warm afternoon of slush skiing in the spring. Ski jackets provide warmth by trapping air inside the jacket, which is then warmed by the body's natural heat. A well-ventilated ski jacket gives the user options to keep this warm air heat inside the jacket or let it escape through zippered vents, through the shell fabric itself, or via other specific features.
After warming up through mogul skiing and inbounds hiking, we assess each model's ventilation by fully opening any vents and noting how long it takes to feel the heat escape. We also continue to ski hard and generate heat while leaving the vents open, determining whether or not the open vents are sufficient to prevent additional heat buildup.
Like the OR Skytour AscentShell, some jackets feature highly breathable fabrics that slow the internal heat buildup. Other jackets have huge vents that allow the user to open up to the outside environment in a flash, like the Backcountry Notchtop Gore-Tex Active, while some feature vents that are not helpful at all. Jackets with insulation hold heat in the body of the jacket, even when vents are open, thus reducing ventilation potential. Shell jackets will dump all their heat when the vents are opened up.
The Outdoor Research Hemispheres Jacket features vents that can be zipped open from the top of the rib cage to the bottom hem of the jacket. This design provides incredible ventilation potential. The Columbia Whirlibird IV has pit zips, but the vent does not continue through the inner layer (like all 3-in-1 jackets we've tested), which inhibits ventilation from the warmest chamber of the jacket.
Skiing is an aesthetic sport, and style is becoming more prevalent than ever before. Fortunately, style is different for everyone. The one consistency is the better we look, the better we feel, and the more fun we have. A good ski jacket has great style while retaining its performance. Style is the most subjective characteristic of outerwear, and our ratings in this category might be completely different than how you would rank them, depending on your style. Also, you might weigh style more heavily than we do, and many people rank style as the most important characteristic of their ski jacket.
Ski jacket styles range from slouchy, "core" styling that evokes the ski bum lifestyle (and expert abilities) to tight-fitting alpine racer looks that would feel at home on the World Cup podium. Some jackets are neutral in their styling, which can look good if well-tailored, but bad if left uncontoured. We took our jackets to the slopes and asked around for opinions and around town for aprés in the ski bars of Jackson, Wyoming. We pair this anecdotal information with the available color options of each model.
The Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft is the style king. Its svelte, Euro styling still hints at a core look, implying that the wearer is here to ski hard and look good. Among shells, the Arc'teryx Rush looks the best with a tailored cut, clean lines, and bold color schemes. The Arc'teryx Macai is neutral and classy, but the color options are much more muted and earthy. The Flylow Lab Coat and Arc'teryx Sabre AR fall on the "core" side of the spectrum, which we like, but you might not. On the other hand, the Columbia Whirlibird IV is styled to fit in with the crowd on the gentler slopes.
Good ski jackets incorporate features that make your day on the slopes easier. We're talking about big pockets that hold lots of snacks, removable hoods that allow for versatile use, and sleeve pass pockets to make RFID ticket turnstiles a breeze to navigate. Ski-specific features are less important than our other metrics, but they can augment a jacket that is already good.
Features seek to improve your experience with the product and activity. For example, a ski pass pocket allows you to store your RFID pass and simply wave your arm at the full-body scanner to avoid any dance moves, rummaging, and the dreaded lift-line holdup. Well-fitting hoods are a must for stormy days, and powder skirts can help keep the snow out as well, though our testers don't often use our powder skirts. We like jackets that include a RECCO reflector, which can aid in locating an individual in the case of an in-bounds avalanche.
The most heavily featured jacket in our review is the Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft, which boasts seven pockets, RECCO, a high visibility hood brim that folds away, a powder skirt, removable hood, and a back vent. Patagonia's Insulated Powder Bowl comes close to matching the Alpha LifaLoft, with four external pockets, three internal pockets, RECCO, a removable hood, and a powder skirt. The 3-in-1 jackets score well in the features category since you'll take home two separate jackets with all the individual features of each, plus the ability to integrate the layers seamlessly. The North Face Thermoball ECO Snow Triclimate is the most feature-laden of these types of jackets, including a goggle wipe in the left sleeve's RFID pass pocket.
Many of the shell jackets in the review are light on features, like the Norrona Lofoten Pro Shell, Outdoor Research Hemispheres, and Backcountry Notchtop, reflecting their backcountry-leaning design. The Arc'teryx Rush, though, has everything you need for a day in the backcountry and also includes a powder skirt and an RFID pass pocket for inbounds versatility while still keeping its weight to a minimum.
We put the best ski jackets available through our rigorous testing process, and the result is the most comprehensive, unbiased, and up-to-date review in the world. There's something here for everyone, from budget options that swing above their weight class to refined and expensive high-end options for discerning and expert skiers. We know that it can be hard to sort through all of the options and select the best jacket for your needs, so we've taken the time to distinguish between the options for you. So relax and have fun finding your next perfect ski jacket. We'll see you on the slopes.
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