In this article we discuss how to buy a coat for skiing or snowboarding. If you are serious about winter sports a jacket purchase is more complicated than picking something you like the look of. So follow these top ski jacket tips to ensure you get a coat that suits your use of the mountains as well as the rest of your outfit.
A decent ski jacket is worth every penny – and will set you back quite a few of them. If you are a one of two week a year skier or snowboarder it should last you many years. A good quality jacket should last seasonaires a couple of winters. But how do you make sure you buy a good one?
Distinct from cozy and warm winter jackets, a ski jacket is specially designed to cope with everything from powder to wet snow and high winds to high exertion levels. It should be waterproof, windproof, breathable, warm, cooling (when you want it to be), robust and flexible in all the right places.
You’ll notice quite a few of those requirements are contradictory to each other! This is why not just any jacket will do and is the reason that lots of product development has gone into improving ski jackets over the years. It is also why top coats are so expensive!
The range of products on the market is overwhelming. There are many different fits, fabrics, features and fillings each designed to suit different mountain users and snow conditions.
Whether you’re skiing in Europe, North America, Asia or perhaps trying southern hemisphere skiing the advice is the same. So if you want to know how to buy a coat for skiing or snowboarding here’s a few pointers that will help you make a good investment.
First off, decide which kind of ski jacket suits you best.
The most common type, insulated jackets offer warmth and protection from the elements. Zip-up over a baselayer, perhaps add a fleece if it is cold and you’re ready to go. For most of the season, and for most people, insulated is the obvious choice. But if you’re skiing in the spring (or any day in positive temperatures), or you are particular active they may be too warm.
Normally shell jackets consist of a layer of waterproof fabric, lined with a breathable membrane without any insulation. Instead, layer up with as many thermals and different types of midlayers, as you wish. For this reason shells are good for all weather conditions and offer great versatility.
As the cost of shell jackets is focused on the outer layer they tend to offer greater waterproofness and breathability than a similar priced insulated jacket. Off-piste skiers and energetic types usually prefer a shell jacket due to the improved technical features and versatility. In particular if you are into ski touring or splitboarding you’ll need a shell.
For the coldest conditions you can’t beat a down jacket. These puffer-style coats are filled with goose or duck feathers, or synthetic stuffing, to provide superb warmth. They’re not suitable for warm days or for skiing or snowboarding hard as they are less breathable than other styles. Also non-synthetic down doesn’t cope well in wet conditions. Usually only worn in seriously cold conditions or by skiers that are more interested in being there than actually skiing.
Many skiers with an insulated jacket will have a second coat for spring. These are often not much more than a slightly water resistant hoodie, or thin windproof jacket that is also water resistant – not dissimilar to a shell jacket but less waterproof. The hoodie variety is often worn by park rats as they look cool, but wear one in the wrong conditions and at best you’ll be uncomfortable and at worse it could be life threatening.
Whoever said ski jackets don’t need to be as water-resistant as a rain coat was talking rubbish. One of the top ski jackets tips is to get as waterproof a coat as you can afford. Anyone who has worn an inadequate jacket in a windy white out, a day of persistent damp snowfall or has taken a spill in spring slush will know what I am talking about.
Once you get wet it is not long before you are cold, possibly dangerously so. But a decent quality waterproof will keep you dry. So unless you only hit the slopes in fair weather you should buy a coat for skiing or snowboarding that can handle the elements.
Waterproofing is measured in labs using a column of water that is held back by the material. The more water held back the more waterproof a jacket is. The measurements tend to range from around 5,000mm to 30,000mm. Typically 20,000mm or more will keep you dry even in an all day whiteout, wet snowfall and even heavy rain. Gore-Tex is around 30,000mm so you could cope with heavy rain all day if required.
Ski jackets with 5,000mm or less waterproof are only really suited for good weather skiing or snowboarding. While anything between 5,000 and 20,000 will give you varying degrees of protection against moisture. If you ski or snowboard in all but the worst conditions a top ski jacket tip is to go for 15,000 or more.
Many jackets also have Durable Water Repelling Coating (DWR), this helps water bead off your jacket. But it wears off over time and needs reapplying. Check out the Storm waterproofing products as this will not only re-waterproof your jacket but also prolong its life.
The best quality jackets have fully taped and/or fully sealed seams. This is to prevent water and wind passing through the stitching and also adds some longevity. So a top ski jacket tip is to check the product description to see if they are taped and/or sealed, if it does not mention it then assume they aren’t.
Arguably just as important as being waterproof your jacket also needs to be breathable. Allowing sweat to escape is vital, if it is trapped in the jacket it will condense and make you damp. Once wet you will soon be cold and it can ruin your day.
Breathability is a measurement of the volume of water a fabric can transport from its inner surface to outer in a 24 hour period. Just like waterproof the figure are in the thousands and the higher the number the better. Typically 20,000 or higher is good for very active skiers or snowboarders.
Anything below 5,000 will not let much moisture escape, so unless you don’t exert yourself a great deal – eg spend more time in bars than on the slopes – this is to be avoided. The 10,000 to 15,000 level of breathability is suitable for most skiers and snowboarders. But if you ski-tour, hike for lines, lap the park or ride hard then you will want higher.
Vents work in tandem with breathability and are a great way to manage your temperature and let moisture escape. So one of the top ski jacket tips is to look for underarm or side ventilation zips. To be honest when I buy a coat for skiing or snowboarding I would avoid any that don’t have vents.
When you’re buying ski jacket give the hood plenty of attention. Can you adjust it easily? Will it stay in place in high winds? Will it keep the snow out without cutting into your skin? Does it fit over your helmet? Is it comfortable when worn over a hat? For the best test, take your helmet and hat along.
One of the top ski jacket tips is to make sure you can easily fit your cuffs over your gloves – or under if you prefer that route – and to check how well they seal. Also have a go at adjusting your cuffs whilst wearing gloves. Some jackets also come with wrist gaiters that help stop snow going up your sleeves.
Snow inside your jacket quickly turns to cold water which is never nice. To avoid this an elasticated snow skirt offers extra protection particularly during wipe-outs or in powder. Some people find that a decent draw cord at the hips is enough, but a snow skirt takes this to the next level. Check if the snow skirt can be clipped onto your ski pants as this provides even more protection.
Unless I am going off-piste I tend not to take a backpack with me. So Phone, wallet, tissues, piste map, lift pass, small bottle of water, emergency Mars Bar, sunnies, beanie, multi-tool, ski lock, sun cream and ibuprofen are all often found in my pockets. This mean you need plenty of varied pocket space across your jacket and pants.
You want to look out for waterproof zips, and pockets that are easy to access while wearing gloves. A dedicated lift pass pocket on the left arm is highly recommended as it makes the lifts much easier. Also an inside pocket accessed from the outside or a insulated pocket, like on the HH Garibaldi Jacket, helps your phone battery last longer.
A soft to touch jacket is lovely but no good if you will be subjecting it to rough treatment. So when you buy a coat for skiing or snowboarding make sure you get one that suits your riding. If you are a fair weather, take it easy, kind of skier then you will require a less robust jacket than a freestyler or backcountry freerider.
For a long lasting jacket look for reinforced cuffs and hems as this is where they will start to go first. Articulated elbows allow greater freedom of movement and some jackets have a little stretch in the material. These features make ski jackets less restrictive and more comfortable and are particularly useful for those chucking big tricks or getting creative in the backcountry.
If you buy a ski jacket the suits all the above but is too small or too large and you will have wasted your money. Pay attention to the length of the arms, how tight it is under the arms and whether you can easily do the collar all the way up and not feel suffocated. When you try it on do a few ski movements to see how it feels.
Traditionally ski jackets were fairly tight, then snowboarders came along and wore extremely baggy outfits. These days you will find most people wear something between the two (far more sensible!) but the full range is still available. Each brand is different but most will have a slim/fitted, regular and loose/baggy options. You can also get short, regular or long cut jackets.
When you buy a coat for skiing or snowboarding how it matches the rest of your outfit should be your last concern. Think about all of the above first, then start thinking about whether it will go with your pants! Most jackets come in a variety of colours so you can normally choose something you like.
But remember no one really cares. When you are out on the slopes you’ll see everything from coordinated to contrasting, old to new and retro to fancy dress. All that really matters is that your ski jackets keeps you warm, dry and comfortable leaving you to enjoy the mountains.
We hope you found these top ski jacket tips useful. If you are going to buy any winter sports clothing check out our numerous and highly detailed ski gear reviews. And when you are ready to book a winter sports trip head to our skiing holidays page.