Our expert team has bought and tested 60+ unique ski jackets over 8 years. Always updating, we review 12 of the best models available in 2021 for 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 your computer screen, so we did the work for you. Our assessments and recommendations will lead you to the right product for your needs and your wallet.Related: Best Ski Jackets for Women of 2021
Best Ski Jackets for Men of 2021
|Price||$412.50 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Excellent performance in every category, durable||Impeccable quality, clean lines, very warm, excellent weather protection||Completely weather resistant, good ventilation, freeride style||Weather-proof, stylish, comfortable fit||Excellent weather resistance, lightweight, breathable|
|Cons||More snug fit than other options||Super expensive, too warm for some applications||Expensive, too heavy and warm for most backcountry use||Expensive, crinkly fabric||Lacks warmth, style could be better, light on features|
|Bottom Line||This excellent resort ski jacket nails all performance aspects to deserve a spot at the top of your wish list||This top of the line ski jacket keeps you warm, dry, and comfortable, for a small fortune||A durable, weatherproof jacket that wins our favor among downhill ski shells on the market||This excellent, lightweight ski shell packs the high performance and features you need for a day in the backcountry||A lightweight Gore-Tex shell that ventilates exceptionally well for venturing outside the resort|
|Rating Categories||Helly Hansen Alpha...||Arc'teryx Macai||Arc'teryx Sabre AR...||Arc'teryx Rush||Outdoor Research He...|
|Weather Resistance (20%)|
|Comfort And Fit (20%)|
|Specs||Helly Hansen Alpha...||Arc'teryx Macai||Arc'teryx Sabre AR...||Arc'teryx Rush||Outdoor Research He...|
|Main Fabric||2-layer stretch polyester||N40p-X Gore-Tex||N80p-X Gore-Tex||3L Gore-Tex Pro||Gore-Tex C-Knit 3L|
|Insulation||LifaLoft synthetic||Coreloft 100, Coreloft Compact, and 750 fill goose down||Thin flannel backer||None||None|
|Pockets||2 handwarmer, 2 chest, 1 internal chest, 1 internal mesh, 1 sleeve||2 handwarmer, 1 sleeve, 1 chest, 1 internal mesh, 1 internal chest||2 hand, 1 sleeve, 1 internal||2 zippered hand, 1 sleeve, 1 internal zippered stash, 1 internal mesh dump||2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest, 1 internal chest, 2 Shove-It|
|Weight (pounds)||2.56 lbs||2.64 lbs||1.66 lbs||1.30 lbs||1.29 lbs|
|Waterproofing||Helly Tech Professional||3L Gore-Tex Pro Shell||Gore-Tex||Gore-Tex||Gore-Tex|
|Hood Option?||Adjustable and removable||Adjustabe and Removable||Adjustable||Adjustable||Adjustable|
|Cuff construction||Interior stretchy wrist gaiters and external velcro cuffs||Velcro||Velcro||Velcro||Velco|
|Powder skirt?||Yes||Yes, removable||Yes||Yes||No|
Best Overall Ski Jacket
Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft
The Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft is our favorite ski jacket for the second year in a row. It provides plenty of warmth and weather resistance for all types of climates and takes home top honors for comfort, style, and ski features. This jacket excels in every metric that we test. By using synthetic insulation and a proprietary waterproof/breathable membrane, Helly Hansen keeps the cost of this jacket comparatively low while maintaining its warmth and weather resistance. Its well-designed fit, excellent features, and svelte Scandinavian style and color options help this jacket rise above the rest of the competition.
The Alpha LifaLoft doesn't provide as much warmth as the down-insulated Arc'teryx Macai, nor does it protect from the elements as well as 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 a variety of temperatures and exertion levels and is absolutely winter storm-worthy. The result is a more versatile jacket at nearly half the price. For this, the Alpha LifaLoft takes the crown.
Read review: Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft
Best Resort Shell Ski Jacket
Arc'teryx Sabre AR Jacket
Shell-only ski jackets have become increasingly popular, and if you ski in a warmer climate, you might see more shell jackets on the slopes 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 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 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 any further thought, choose an insulated jacket instead. If you are intrigued by the idea of versatility and are willing to invest in a variety of layers to wear under this shell jacket, the Sabre AR is the best that money can buy. Expect to pay a lot for it, but not any more than other high-end Gore-Tex Pro shell jackets.
Read review: Arc'teryx Sabre Jacket
Best Bang for the Buck
Columbia Whirlibird IV Interchange
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 refinement relegates this model to best use in nicer weather and green and blue runs. It has a loose, boxy, and bulky fit, 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 this versatile 3-in-1 jacket system's overall performance, especially for the price.
Read review: Columbia Whirlibird IV Interchange
Best Bargain for a Resort Shell Jacket
REI Co-op First Chair GTX
The REI 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 burly Gore-Tex 2-layer fabric and a helmet-compatible hood, fits with ease over internal layers, 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 that they paid more for a high-end ski shell, as this jacket does it all. REI's excellent warranty program makes this garment an even better value.
One important downside is that the shell includes an inner lining fabric that adds noticeable warmth and reduces the jacket's breathability. While we usually value warmth in a ski jacket, and many users might as well, we like our shell jackets to leave the warmth up to the user to choose mid-layers to be worn underneath. Usually, if we wear a shell, it is because we expect to be skiing and hiking aerobically, and we don't always want our ski jacket to be super warm. Also, the jacket comes in only two colors, which limits style choices. However, if you're looking for an affordable shell for resort use, this is our top recommendation.
Read review: REI First Chair GTX
Best for Backcountry Skiing
With the explosion of backcountry skiing, many garment manufacturers are making touring-specific ski shells. These can generally be worn both inbounds and out of bounds, but they may trim some useful resort features in favor of lightweight, streamlined performance. Arc'teryx enters the fray with their excellent Rush jacket, which is 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.
One major downside of this piece is its high price tag. Sure, it performs well, but many users won't ski enough days in the backcountry to fully appreciate this jacket's benefits compared to more affordable options. It does everything that other lightweight ski shells do, but it does them in an elevated fashion. If you spend most of your time in the backcountry or sidecountry but also want a jacket that can perform well on the occasional resort day, this jacket is for you.
Read review: Arc'teryx Rush Jacket
Best 3-in-1 Jacket
The North Face ThermoBall ECO Snow Triclimate
The North Face Thermoball ECO Snow Triclimate is our favorite 3-in-1 ski jacket. It offers plenty of warmth when worn in its full configuration, and its modular design provides a layering system to fit the current conditions. We found it very weather-resistant, with a 2-layer waterproof and breathable shell construction, an excellent adjustable hood, and a powder skirt to help keep out the elements on the deepest powder days. It also comes with some nice features like a pass pocket and an attached goggle wipe.
One of the few gripes we have with the Thermoball ECO Snow Triclimate is that it is heavy. The added weight results from the 3-in-1 design, a common flaw among this subset of jackets. Otherwise, we love its long and somewhat roomy cut, clean lines, and easy-going style. We also appreciate its reasonable price tag.
Read review: The North Face Thermoball ECO Snow Triclimate
Why You Should Trust Us
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 Canada, 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 a variety of climates, in both the resort to the backcountry. Jeff is joined by skier and author Jeremy Benson and internationally certified mountain guide Jed Porter. 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. Jed's adventures take him from his home in the Tetons to the Chugach of Alaska and all points between, with an impressive and growing climbing and skiing resume.
We spent weeks researching the current jacket offerings before selecting the most promising jackets for hands-on testing to produce this review. Then, we hit the slopes from Mammoth to Lake Tahoe to Jackson Hole. This allowed us to see how each jacket performs in various winter climates, from snowy and windy days in the Sierra to the brutally cold and clear days in the Tetons. We took them to British Columbia, too, to see how they fared in warm, wet conditions. To better compare products, we took single ski runs in each jacket, changed in the lodge between runs to get a real-time comparison in similar conditions, and noted the differences between jackets. And finally, we ran each jacket through the notorious shower test, wearing the jacket in a shower for 5 minutes and taking note of water resistance.
Related: How We Tested Ski Jackets
Analysis and Test Results
To compare our selection of ski jackets, we scored each product across six categories. A good ski jacket must keep us warm, keep us dry, and be very comfortable, so we weighed these categories heavily. In addition, it's nice if the jacket has adequate ventilation, great style, and makes our lives easier on the hill with useful features. Of course, everybody needs something different, so keep your preferences in mind as you read through the performance categories.
Related: Buying Advice for Ski Jackets
Ski jackets cover a wide price range, which offers different levels of quality and performance. Overall, we found that price does not correlate with performance, which is great news for skiers seeking a good deal on a good jacket. On one side of the spectrum, the Columbia Whirlibird IV is very affordable 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 exceptional value. The North Face Thermoball ECO Snow Triclimate provides the same 3-in-1 value with much higher performance for a little more money. The top-rated Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft is reasonably priced, compared to the second place Arc'teryx Macai, 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 skiers on tighter budgets. At the bottom of the price list, the Columbia Last Tracks is a bare-bones ski jacket at a great value, but we found it too thin to provide enough warmth on many ski days.
In the world of shell jackets, we recommend the budget-friendly REI 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. 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 often takes place in cold weather. To comfortably and enjoyably take advantage of the best days, our jackets need to keep us warm. However, skiing is also an aerobic sport that produces heat, and the better we get, the more aerobic it becomes. So, a jacket that is too warm for the given weather and activity level can actually be a bummer in certain situations. Furthermore, skiers often wear layers underneath their jackets to fine-tune their warmth levels. In general, 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 season in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where temperatures reach into the single digits by October. Once we had an idea of how they compared, we tested each jacket on the ski slopes, windy chairlift rides, and chilly nights out on the town to refine our ratings.
Our review included jackets with down insulation, synthetic insulation, mesh, and 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. Though synthetic insulation maintains its warmth when wet — a distinct advantage over down — it is also 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.
The Arc'teryx Sabre AR attempts to trap air and provide some warmth with a thin fleece liner while still keeping a shell-like feeling. The REI First Chair uses a thin nylon liner to trap some heat. The rest of the shell-only jackets include no insulating features, like the OR Hemispheres and Arc'teryx Rush, which require users to think about their layering system before hitting the slopes.
Weather Resistance is equally important as warmth. Weather resistance evaluates a jacket's ability to shelter us from the wind, snow, and rain. The best ski jackets can fend off the elements commonly associated with a great day of skiing to keep our bodies warm, dry, and content. Even on the deepest powder day of your life, if the snow keeps coming up through your waist, down through your neck, or soaking through the jacket's fabric, you're gonna have a bad time.
We wore each jacket in a range of weather conditions and inspected each jacket's important features like powder skirts, well-fitting and adjustable hoods, and secure cuff closures. Waterproof garments with thick outer shells to prevent wind penetration scored highly. To make sure we covered 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: the Arc'teryx Sabre AR, the Arc'teryx Rush, and the Norrona Lofoten. 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 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 reviewed use waterproof fabrics and synthetic insulation, such as The North Face Thermoball ECO Snow Triclimate and Patagonia Snowshot 3-in-1, which is a classic combination for weather-resistant ski clothing. Most jackets scored relatively well in this category as a result. Plus, synthetic insulation is cheaper to produce than down and helps keep jackets affordable.
Comfort and Fit
In our daily life, we require our clothes to be comfortable relative to their specific use. Ski jackets are no different. When skiing, we are continually shifting, compressing, and extending. As a result, our jacket must be well-fitting without feeling restrictive. The cut of a jacket, materials used in construction, and attention to detail can make a jacket a joy to wear every day or leave you shopping for a new garment. However, fit varies from one person to another. What fits one person may or may not fit the next. For this reason, pay attention to our descriptions, not just the scores. It is worth noting that primary testing was done by thin, athletic men who wear sizes Medium and Large.
We wore each jacket while out on the slopes and paid particular attention to how each model moved 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 Snowshot 3-in-1, and Columbia Last Tracks all felt boxy and untailored to our test team.
The Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft features a slim torso design that stays tight to our bodies without inhibiting motion. The soft fabrics and stretchy cuff openings also contribute to this jacket's top score for comfort.
A day of skiing can be filled with drastic 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. Good ski jackets allow the wearer to adjust to their conditions, often through vents and breathable fabrics.
To test ventilation, we hiked in the jackets to generate body heat and assessed how well each model allowed us to shed excess heat. Some jackets, like the Flylow Lab Coat, 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, which 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 as soon as 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 provides incredible ventilation potential. The 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 baggy, "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, as well as 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 was deemed 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 and seems more at home in a high school hallway than the Haute Montagne.
Good ski jackets incorporate features that make your day on the slopes easier. We're talking about big pockets that hold lots of snacks, extra gloves, a facemask, trail maps, tissues, etc. Ski-specific features aren't as important as our other metrics, but they can augment a jacket that is already good.
Features are meant 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 and rummaging. Well-fitting hoods are a must for stormy days, and powder skirts can help keep the snow out as well. We like jackets that include a RECCO reflector, which can aid in rescue 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. 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. Many of the shell jackets in the review are light on features, like the Norrona Lofoten and Outdoor Research Hemispheres, reflecting their backcountry-specific 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 minimal.
After thoroughly testing the best jackets on the market, we have produced the most in-depth and unbiased review of ski jackets in the world. We have something in this review for everyone, from affordable options for skiers and riders on a budget to high-performance options for more serious winter sports enthusiasts. With so many options to choose from, it can be daunting to choose one jacket to fit your needs, which is why we work so hard to make distinctions between products. So take a deep breath, and remember, gear shopping is supposed to be fun. We'll see you out on the slopes.
— Jeff Dobronyi and Jeremy Benson
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