How to Choose a Ski Jacket: A Detailed Buying Guide

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Your ski jacket defines your on-mountain style and is crucial for staying comfortable. It’s also one of the most expensive pieces of ski apparel, so it’s worth doing your homework. But what should you be looking for? Don’t worry, we have broken down the most crucial aspects of how to choose a ski jacket.

In This Post

Types of Ski Jackets

When deciding how to choose a ski jacket, it’s important to know the differences between the main jacket types available. Determine what type of jacket will suit you best based on the conditions you’ll be skiing in the most. Balancing versatility, bulk, and price is what makes this decision difficult. Here’s a breakdown of the most common types of jackets to help inform your decision.

Hard Shell

A hard shell jacket typically refers to a protective outer layer designed to protect you from the elements, like wind and snow. Most hard shells are not insulated and require a separate layer for warmth. For example, you may need to wear a down or fleece jacket underneath your hard shell in colder weather. On the bright side, shell jackets are lighter and provide more mobility. Skiers can add or remove layers for warmth as they see fit.

Soft Shell

A soft shell jacket can be worn either as a mid-layer or outer layer. Soft shell jackets are usually made of soft and stretchy materials but aren’t waterproof like hard shells. These are a good choice on warm and dry days at the ski resort, but should not be the outer layer if skiing in heavy snow or in the backcountry.

Insulated

Jackets that have a weatherproof outer layer and built in insulation are called insulated jackets. Insulated jackets are great because they provide waterproofing and warmth without being too bulky and heavy. However, since the insulation can’t be removed, it is less versatile. With other forms of ski jackets, you can shed layers if you start to get hot, but that is not the case with an insulated jacket. So, if you prefer to ski on sunny, warm days or are planning a spring ski trip, an insulated jacket may be too warm for you.

3-in-1 Style

Jackets consisting of a shell with an internal, removable insulation layer are referred to as 3-in-1 ski jackets. The internal jacket, usually a down or fleece mid-layer, can be easily zipped or buttoned into the outer shell. These two pieces can be worn together for a very warm and weatherproof combination. If you start to work up a sweat, remove the inner layer and just sport the waterproof shell. Alternatively, if it’s a warm spring day, just wear the inner layer and be ready to go for après at the end of the day. Having your choice of these three layer combinations is why they are called 3-in-1 jackets. This is the most versatile jacket but at the expense of being bulkier and heavier than pure insulated jackets.

Skier in blue ski jacket with GoPro

Fit & Style

Let’s face it – we all want to look good while we’re on the mountain. Your ski jacket is often your biggest fashion statement. Your style will largely be determined by your jacket’s fit. Ski jackets typically come in three different shapes, or sizes.

  • Slim: A form fitting style, slim jackets tend to be tighter around the shoulders, body, and waist. You need to be careful that the tighter fit doesn’t constrict mobility too much or fail to leave enough room for additional layers on cold days.
  • Regular: The happy medium, regular jackets aren’t too tight or too loose. These are the most common fit.
  • Loose/Relaxed: Roomier and providing more mobility, relaxed fit jackets are popular amongst freestyle skiers and snowboarders. Although this fit is more comfortable, the extra material and bagginess can feel cumbersome.

What to Look for in a Ski Jacket

So, what’s next after figuring out the type of jacket you want and the fit? There are three other major factors to consider to ensure you choose a ski jacket that works for you. Finding the right balance of warmth, waterproofing and breathability is imperative to stay warm and comfortable on the mountain.

Warmth

Ultimately, knowing how to correctly layer to the conditions you’ll be skiing in is the most important aspect of warmth. If you tend to get cold easily, wear several layers – you can always remove one if it becomes too toasty. For example, wearing a hard shell with a down mid-layer, a light fleece, and base layers will likely be warmer than only wearing an insulated jacket with base layers. Being warm on the mountain is all about choosing the appropriate layers and ski jacket type.

Waterproofing

Ski jackets will have a waterproof rating on them to designate how resistant they are to water and moisture. Waterproof ratings are stated in terms of millimeters (mm). The higher the number, the more water resistant the jacket is. The average ski jacket is usually rated around 10,000mm and is suitable for most resort conditions. However, skiers who spend time in more severe conditions or in really wet locations, such as the Pacific Northwest, should consider jackets with a higher waterproof rating. Refer to the chart below.

Waterproof Rating (mm) Water Resistance Provided Recommended Conditions
0 - 5,000 Little to no resistance to moisture Lightest rain, dryer snow
6,000 - 10,000 Waterproof under light pressure Light rain, moderate snow
11,000 - 15,000 Waterproof except under high pressure Moderate rain, moderate snow
16,000 - 20,000 Waterproof under high pressure Heavy rain, wet but moderate snow
20,000+ Waterproof under very high pressure Heavy rain, wet and heavy snow

Why aren't ski jackets completely waterproof?

Materials that wouldn’t allow any moisture whatsoever to pass through would be extremely hot. Think of wearing a complete rubber suit while working out. You would likely start sweating and overheat within minutes. Being wet from your own perspiration only makes you feel colder. Therefore, ski gear is made from fabric designed to balance this. Ski jackets are extremely water resistant while still allowing your body to breathe.

Breathability

Breathability refers to the ability for your ski jacket to release interior water vapor, often created by sweat. Retaining moisture inside your jacket can cause your body to become damp and actually intensify cold temperatures. Breathability becomes especially important for people who sweat easily or enjoy backcountry skiing, which requires skinning uphill. While waterproofness is rated in millimeters, breathability is rated in grams. The higher the number, the more breathable the jacket is. See the chart below.

Breathability Rating (g/m) Breathability Provided Recommended Activities
0 - 5,000 Low breathability, best for light activity Beginner skiing, traversing
6,000 - 10,000 Mild breathability, best for moderate activity Recreational skiing, light hiking
11,000 - 15,000 Average breathability, best for high activity Intermediate to advanced skiing, moderate hiking
16,000 - 20,000 High breathability provided, best for sustained periods of high activity Backcountry skiing, difficult hiking
20,000+ Extreme breathability, best for intense activity Expert skiing, mountaineering

Why not just get a jacket with the highest waterproof and breathability ratings?

You certainly can. However, as with any other kind of gear, you pay a price for the better technology. The higher the ratings, the higher the price tends to be. Therefore, finding a jacket with waterproofing and breathability that matches your skiing endeavors and conditions will be the most cost effective thing to do.

Skier in bright blue ski jacket

Ski Jacket Features

Over time, improvements have been made to improve the design of ski jackets. Make sure to check out the available features when figuring out how to choose a ski jacket that’s right for you. Here we have highlighted the most important features to look for in your search.

  • Sealed Seams
    Along the stitching and seams, some ski jackets have tape cleanly applied to seal up any vulnerabilities. Some jackets will have all of the seams sealed (fully taped seams), while others may only seal the seams in vulnerable areas, like the shoulder and neck (critically taped seams). Sealed seams are critical for skiers who are frequently in extreme or very wet conditions.
  • Vents
    Jackets with vents allow you to cool off by releasing hot air from inside your jacket. Vents are usually long zippers located in the underarm and chest areas. They often have a mesh lining to keep snow out while providing an open airway to cool off.
  • Powder Skirt
    Essentially an elastic waistband, powder skirts are designed to keep snow from going up your back or into your jacket if you fall. Some have buttons or snaps to keep the skirt securely in place while you ski. This is especially useful when skiing in deep snow or on a powder day. Some powder skirts are removable to cut down bulk on non-snowy days.
  • Hood
    Most jackets have a hood. You will want to make sure the hood is compatible with your helmet so that you don’t struggle to put your hood on when you actually need it on the slopes. Similar to powder skirts, some hoods are also removable.
  • Thumb Loops/Wrist Gaiters
    Ski jacket sleeves sometimes have built in gaiters or thumb loops to put your hands through. This keeps your sleeves taught and covering your wrists at all times, while also providing a barrier from snow going down your sleeve. Without thumb loops, the jacket sleeve can ride up above your gloves and create a small gap of exposed skin.
  • Pockets
    Ski jackets have a variety of pockets for different purposes. How many pockets you want is a personal preference. Specific pockets to look for include those convenient to hold your ski pass or audio devices.
  • RECCO
     Built into some jackets, RECCO is an avalanche transponder. It is not the same as a beacon used by backcountry skiers, but many resorts have specific RECCO detectors that can help find you in the unlikely event that you get buried by snow in an avalanche or other situation. The transponder is sewn into the jacket somewhere and is usually very small and unnoticeable, which makes it a worthwhile feature.
  • Cinch Cords
    Cinches around your wrists or waist can help close off any open gaps in your jacket to avoid wind or snow from creeping in. Sometimes this comes in the form of velcro for your wrists. It’s a useful feature to dial in your fit.

Other Ski Jacket Buying Tips

Pick a Bright Color

Skier in a bright purple ski jacket

If you’re wondering why ski fashion seems to favor bright and colorful garments, it’s intentional. When skiing with others, having a recognizable piece of ski clothing makes it easier to spot each other and meet up at the lift or at the bar for apres. Being distinguishable is especially important in snowy or cloudy conditions when it becomes increasingly difficult to pick people out at any distance. 

White colors blend in with the snow, while black is common and hard to identify. Even light pastel colors can be hard to pick out from far away. So when choosing a ski jacket, consider picking a jacket with a bright or unique color to stand out a bit on the slopes.

Don't Skimp on Price

We all love deals. We can’t resist the world of off-brand Amazon products. Certain things are great to buy from this marketplace – but your ski jacket is not one of them. Your ski jacket is your primary line of defense against the cold and keeps you warm on the slopes. You will spend more money in the long run by buying an inferior product in order to save a few bucks upfront. A product that determines your physical well-being in freezing temperatures is not something to skimp on.

If you’re a beginner or going on your first ski trip, we’re not advocating for you to spend an exorbitant amount of money on a jacket. However, anything under $100 isn’t probably even worth looking at. We would personally be skeptical of any ski jacket under $150 honestly. The average retail price for a decent quality ski jacket is about $250. To be safe, stick to name brands with experience in building quality ski products made for winter environments.

Skier smiling in nice ski jacket

Final Thoughts

Your ski jacket is one piece of ski gear to not cut corners on. If you buy a high quality jacket, you will be well protected from the elements and, with proper care, you should not have to buy another one for years to come. So, tailor your search for jackets you think look good and have the features that will keep you warm and dry for the conditions you like to ski. 

A ski jacket is an exciting piece of gear to purchase but an expensive one to get wrong. It dictates your ski look and is a pillar of comfort. We hope this article helps you figure out how to choose a ski jacket that’s right for you. Good luck and we can’t wait to see what you’re wearing on the slopes!

Are you feeling confident about finding the perfect ski jacket? What feature is most important to you? Let us know in the comments below!

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