Are you looking for a good ski jacket? If so, you are in the right place! Before you choose a model, you must think about the weather conditions and the type of activity you are going to practice. For example, you won’t need the same jacket for skiing the perfectly groomed slopes of a ski resort that you would for backcountry skiing in harsh weather.
You must think about whether you are going to wear a hardshell (as the outer layer of a layering system), whether you want an insulated jacket for greater thermal protection, or whether you prefer a 3-in-1 design, formed by an insulating layer that can be removed from the waterproof outer layer.
If you are not sure about what you need, don’t worry! In this article, I explain the most important characteristics to consider when choosing your ski jacket. In addition, I will review the best models of the year—for both men and women—so that you can find the one that best fits your needs.
Have a look at other guides to find the best skis for beginners, pants, goggles, helmets, poles, and ski boots.
THE BEST SKI JACKETS
OUTDOOR RESEARCH HEMISPHERES
FABRIC: 3-layer Gore-Tex
WEIGHT: 587 g – 20.7 lbs
USE: Resort / Backcountry
FEATURES: This model provides great water resistance and breathability while maintaining a high-performance, stretchy, lightweight construction that allows for a great range of movement. All these advantages make it one of the best options for both resort and backcountry use. The hood fits over a helmet. Unfortunately, it’s pretty expensive.
THE NORTH FACE THERMOBALL TRICLIMATE
TYPE: 3 in 1
FABRIC: Polyester + Primaloft Insulation
WEIGHT: 1,200 g – 2 lbs 10 oz
FEATURES: This is one of the best values for the money among 3-in-1 jackets. The detachable insulating layer provides a nice, tight fit, while the outer layer features a water repellent treatment (DWR) to improve water resistance. The Primaloft insulation system provides great thermal protection but it might not be enough for skiing on very cold days. Like many 3-in-1 models, it’s a bit heavy … you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.
ARC’TERYX ALPHA SV
View price at: REI
TYPE: Lightweight Hardshell
FABRIC: 100p 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro
WEIGHT: 520 g – 18.4 oz
USE: Resort and off-piste skiing in harsh weather
WOMEN’S MODEL: REI
FEATURES: Ergonomic design for greater freedom of movement and comfort. Optimized construction, featuring waterproof zippers and nearly invisible seams. Built with highly resistant, waterproof, breathable materials that were specially designed for extreme alpine environments. High collar design for greater storm protection. This is one of the best options for backcountry skiing in adverse weather (it performs well for resort use, too).
HELLY HANSEN ALPHA 3.0
FABRIC: 2-layer Polyester + Primaloft Insulation
WEIGHT: 1,270 g – 2.8 lb
WOMEN’S MODEL: N/A
FEATURES: This is undoubtedly one of the most popular models on the market. The reasons for its great success: 1- Super comfortable, stretchy design. 2- Fantastic waterproof resistance and ventilation. 3- Great thermal insulation. 4- Several helpful extra features such as a helmet-compatible hood, Life pocket™, powder skirt, and wrist gaiters with thumbholes. 5- It’s not cheap, but it’s not as ridiculously expensive as other high-end models.
HELLY HANSEN ALPHA LIFALOFT
FABRIC: 2-layer Polyester + Lifaloft Insulation
WEIGHT: 1,190 g – 2.6 lbs
USE: Resort in cold weather
WOMEN’S MODEL: on Amazon
FEATURES: This model is based on the previous Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0, though it is insulated with Lifaloft insulation, which makes it even warmer. Its great features and increased thermal protection make it one of the best options of the year.
BLACK DIAMOND MISSION
FABRIC: 3-layer 70D Nylon Gore-Tex
WEIGHT: 791 g – 1 lbs 12 oz
WOMEN’S MODEL: on Amazon
CHARACTERISTICS: Built with resistant materials that provide for a sturdy, durable construction. Also, it offers great water resistance. The collar provides good storm protection and is very pleasant to the touch: The interior includes a brushed microsuede fleece. It features pit zips for improved ventilation. It’s a bit heavy for off-piste use (due to the robust construction), but it’s a great resort jacket.
PATAGONIA INSULATED SNOWSHOT
FABRIC: H2No® Performance Standard shell
WEIGHT: 921 gr – 2 lbs 0.5 oz
WOMEN’S MODEL: N/A
FEATURES: Ninety percent built with recycled materials. The outer layer offers great weather resistance, while the inner layer has a soft, pleasant touch. Helmet-compatible, it features several zippered pockets and a powder skirt. Overall, it’s a great insulated jacket for downhill skiing. However, the Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0 has better features at a similar price.
OUTDOOR RESEARCH SKYWARD II
FABRIC: 3-layer Ascentshell
WEIGHT: 723 g – 25.5 oz
USE: Backcountry / Mountaineering
CHARACTERISTICS: Lightweight, stretchy, comfortable construction. Great protection against wind, ice, and snow. Fantastic breathability. It’s one of the best options for off-piste use and winter activities such as mountaineering and ice climbing. It features a helmet-compatible hood, several pockets, and ventilation zips.
COLUMBIA ALPINE ACTION
FABRIC: Omni-Tech™ shell
WEIGHT: 900 g – 2 lbs
FEATURES: This is the best option in the mid-range level because it has many great features at a great price: a high-quality waterproof outer layer, an Omni-Heat Reflective layer that retains heat, a Microtemp Xf insulation system for added thermal protection, a removable storm hood, sealed seams, zippered pockets, and a snow skirt.
View price at: Amazon
TYPE: Hardshell + inner fleece lining
FABRIC: 75D * 150D Polyester shell
WEIGHT: 1,200 g – 2.6 lbs
WOMEN’S MODEL: on Amazon
FEATURES: This is the cheapest option on the list, but it’s still a pretty good jacket: It offers good weather resistance (can withstand 10,000 mm of pressure), has an inner fuzzy lining that protects you from the cold, features several internal and external pockets, and has an adjustable hood. If you are looking for something affordable, this may be your best option. If you can spend a little more, I recommend that you get the Columbia Alpine, as it’s lighter and of higher overall quality.
THINGS TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT BEFORE CHOOSING YOUR MODEL
TYPES OF SKI JACKETS
This is the most popular style among skiers, especially those who ski in harsh climates. This style provides great water resistance, as it is designed for rainy, unstable weather. It keeps you dry even in heavy rain, snow, or hail.
Generally, this style is made from premium materials and includes special waterproof membranes such as Gore-Tex or eVent. Unfortunately, due to the more rigid construction, hardshell doesn’t allow for as wide a range of movement as other types do. However, it offers great durability and has a nice water resistance/breathability ratio.
Among other advantages, most hardshells are lightweight and can be packed very small. Keep in mind that hardshell models are not designed to retain heat as well as other models do (unless they feature an inner insulation layer). That’s why you should wear a mid-layer (fleece or down jacket) if the weather is cold.
As compared to hardshells, softshell models have different designs, functionalities, and performance.
They are best suited for drier weather, as they don’t provide as much wind resistance and water resistance. However, they have better insulating properties and are more breathable, helping you maintain the right body temperature. They are very comfortable to wear and stretchy, providing for a great range of movement. They can be worn as mid-layers along with a hardshell (for weather protection) or on their own (in mild weather).
These consist of two jackets that zip together to protect you from the cold, wind, and rain. These layers are removable, so you can choose whether or not to use the insulation layer, depending on the weather conditions.
The inner layer quickly evacuates excess moisture while keeping you from feeling cold. The middle layer is designed to retain heat, and it’s integrated into the outer layer. The outer layer is designed to guarantee great water resistance and wind resistance.
Sometimes, it’s freezing up in the mountains—and it gets even worse when strong winds make you feel colder. This is why thermal protection is an important feature to consider when choosing your ski jacket.
The insulation layer of a garment will keep you warm by blocking the wind from the outside while retaining the heat inside the fabric fibers. Depending on the materials, some models provide more or less thermal insulation than others, while certain models don’t provide thermal protection at all.
I recommend that you get an insulated jacket for skiing in harsh weather. Otherwise, wear a mid-layer underneath the hardshell.
When it comes to insulation, we can differentiate between:
Synthetic insulation: These models are designed to keep the air between the fabric’s fibers. Generally, they provide great thermal insulation, and they are quite popular among all kinds of skiers. Some of the most commonly used paddings are Thermolite, Active Thermolite, Thermolite Extra, Polartec, Microloft, Polyester, Thinsulate, and STR.
Down insulation: These models are padded with goose down for greater thermal protection. Recommended for people who are sensitive to cold, harsh weather, and high-altitude expeditions. These layers can be packed very small.
No insulation: These models are much thinner. They don’t protect you from the cold, but they offer good breathability, and they work as windbreakers, too. Generally, they are recommended for ski touring or those who produce a lot of body heat.
Your choice of the right insulation will depend on your preferences, as well as the type of skiing you’d like to practice.
Breathability indicates the fabric’s ability to evacuate water vapor. When your garment doesn’t evacuate sweat properly, you could easily get cold, which is very unpleasant when you are engaging in sports activities.
In terms of breathability, RET is the measurement of the resistance to evaporative heat loss. The lower the RET, the more breathable the fabric is.
When RET < 6, the fabric is extremely breathable. When RET > 20, the fabric is not very breathable. When choosing winter-sports clothing, you should avoid a high RET.
Generally, the more waterproof the fabric is, the less breathable it will be, and vice versa. Fortunately, some models have the right balance between the two factors.
When you practice winter sports, especially snow sports, you are constantly exposed to snow powder and potential snowfall. That’s why you should look for an efficient waterproof jacket that will protect you from adverse weather conditions. Water-resistant materials don’t let water pass through the material layers. This keeps you dry.
The water resistance of winter clothing is usually indicated in millimeters. The Schmerber test measures the height of water (in columns of water) that it takes to penetrate a fabric. The higher the Schmerber value, the more waterproof the fabric is.
Finding the right water resistance will depend on the type of skiing you will be doing. If you are a resort skier, a 10,000 mm water resistance could be enough. If you are backcountry skier, you should look for models that can withstand 20,000 mm of water.
When it comes to waterproof protection, Gore-Tex is undoubtedly the market leader. Winter jackets featuring Gore-Tex membranes prevent water from passing through the material while letting sweat vapor molecules escape to the outside. That’s how they are both water-resistant and breathable.
In addition to Gore-Tex membranes, there are other waterproof membranes that perform just as well, making your snow garments highly water-resistant. If you are looking for a good ski jacket, I recommend that you get a waterproof model.
DESIGN AND SIZE
You shouldn’t choose your snow clothing based only on aesthetics. These garments feature different shapes and designs depending on the winter activity you are going to practice.
Loose-fitting models allow you to wear mid-layers underneath them if the weather is too cold. They are also quite popular among freestylers, freeriders, and snowboarders because they allow for a greater freedom of movement.
You might prefer a tight model if you don’t want to wear bulky layers underneath. Your jacket should always provide a good fit and be comfortable to wear.
As you may have noticed, many models are available in both women’s and men’s versions, as they are designed to fit the different body shapes.
Many mid-range and top-end models feature several ventilation zips that improve airflow and overall ventilation. These zippers, usually known as pit zips, are located in the underarms. You can open and close them as you like, depending on the weather.
Some zippers feature inner mesh that prevents snow from getting into the jacket. Unfortunately, not all jackets have ventilation zips (budget models rarely include pit zips).
Most ski jackets feature helmet-compatible hoods, whether detachable or fixed. Sometimes, they can be stored in the collar zipper. Although hoods can be very important for protecting you from harsh weather conditions, some people are not big fans of them. Some skiers just don’t like hoods because they can reduce peripheral vision. I recommend that you get a hooded model and then see whether or not you use it.
When you are skiing in a resort, you might need to carry a few important things, such as a pair of sunglasses, your wallet (so you can have a coffee or well-deserved beer), your ski pass, etc. Make sure your jacket features at least a few pockets (or many, depending on your preferences).
Located at the bottom of the garment, a powder skirt is a piece of stretchy material that prevents snow and cold wind from blowing underneath your jacket. Many of today’s models include snow skirts, but not all of them do. This feature can be really helpful when you are skiing in fluffy snow, so make sure your model has one if that’s your case.
Recco is an electronic system that was created to find people who get buried by an avalanche or get lost in hard-to-reach areas. A Recco reflector is a small electronic transponder that responds to signals from a detector. It is usually built into the jacket.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT SIZE
I recommend that you measure your shoulders, chest, waist, and hips, and then compare those measurements to the manufacturer’s size chart. If you are going to buy at REI or Amazon, you’ll have the option of exchanging your garment if you get the wrong size.
Hi, I’m Miguel; Adventure traveler, scuba diver and hiking lover. I have been traveling the world for the last 12 years and I hope my experiences, photos and hiking routes inspire you to travel the world too.
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