Buying Guide for Ski Jackets
By Steve Kopitz
Finding the right ski jacket for you is easy once you are armed with the knowledge to know what to look for. Beyond looking good, ski jackets are designed to keep you warm, insulated, dry and protected from the elements to ensure you remain comfortable all day on the mountain.
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Types of Jackets
To determine the type of jacket that is appropriate for you, you’ll need to consider what conditions you usually ski in. Do you ski in a cold, dry climate or is the ski resort you’re headed to located in a warm and wet climate? There are even some ski resorts that can experience a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions all in the same weekend. On top of the resort conditions, what about your body? Do you tend to run cold regardless of the weather/temperature? Or do you overheat on even the coldest of days?
Here is a list of the jackets we offer on skis.com and how they may benefit you:
3-In-1 Jackets consist of multiple layers in one jacket. They have an outer jacket that protects you from the weather and the elements. The inner layer of the jacket acts as an insulation piece and can be made of fleece or down. The inner layer fits perfectly inside the outer layer and can be snapped or zipped together to give you a very warm and weatherproof combination that is very versatile.
These Jackets can be worn all together, the outer layer can be worn by itself on a spring day, or the inner layer can be worn on its own either for a night out in the village or just around town. Hence the name 3-In-1.
Insulated Jackets can come in many different weights and materials. They generally have a weatherproof outer to keep you dry and the insulation layers can be made of fleece, down or a synthetic material such as Primaloft. The insulation weight is measured in grams. The higher the number, the warmer the jacket will be.
Insulator Jackets are designed to keep your extra warm and have a low profile to give you a high range of motion. They can be worn underneath a shell for warmth and are designed to be minimally bulky. They are also very popular to be used by themselves in the spring and fall. They typically have down as the main source of insulation.
Shell Jackets are becoming more and more popular every year and could very well be the most technical piece of outerwear that you own. Shells are generally windproof, waterproof and highly breathable but have no insulation. They are very lightweight and give you the maximum in mobility. Since they do not have any insulation you should consider wearing an insulator underneath your shell.
One-Piece Ski Suits are a combination of jackets and pants together.
Soft Shell Jackets are made from a soft and stretchy fabric. They can be the most breathable jackets while still providing some wind protection. They work great for spring and fall jackets, layering pieces and for fashion as well.
Fit is all about the shape and cut of the jacket. The fit will depend on the style and look that you prefer.
Slim Fit Jackets offer a form fit. They are tailored more at the shoulders, mid body and waist while still ensuring full comfort.
Slim/Regular Fit Jackets are a happy medium keeping up with the trends without being too tight. They have a slightly tailored look, and have a classic style with plenty of comfort and mobility.
Regular Fit Jackets have a traditional fit, typically shaped to fit just below the waist. Regular fit jackets offer a shaped fit without being tight or constricting as well as a classic style.
Regular/Loose Fit Jackets will provide you with a classic look but plenty of room for layering while avoiding the overly-baggy look. Regular and loose fitting jackets are great if you want more mobility, room for layering and more room than a regular fit.
Loose Fit Jackets will offer you the most room in the shoulders and chest. Most freestyle clothing manufactures have a loose, baggy fit and style.
Length refers to the actual length of the jacket. The length of the jacket you prefer is related to the fit and style that you are looking for.
Long jackets fall into two categories. Casual jackets that are long in length can be mid thigh to knee length for comfort and warmth. For ski and snowboard jackets they are typically 3-5 inches longer in the body than a medium length jacket.
Medium length jackets are the most traditional fit. Medium length jackets stop at the hips or slightly below.
Short length jackets end just above the hip for a more tailored and fitted look.
There are a few different insulation types designed to keep you warm and comfortable on the mountain. Each has their own advantages.
Down is a natural insulation material that has very strong warmth-to-weight ratio. While high fill down jackets may seem bulky, they are the warmest jackets available. Lighter fill down jackets make a fantastic layering piece. The disadvantage to a down jacket is that it may not be very weatherproof.
Fleece insulation is a great combination of lightweight and warmth. Fleece can either be bonded to the inside or make up the entire jacket.
None- Some jackets have no insulation at all. These are typically shells that have the highest amount of weatherproofing and breathability. You should always layer properly underneath a jacket with no insulation either with a wicking layer, insulating layer or both.
Synthetic insulation is the most common. It often has a brand name such as Thinsulate, Primaloft, etc. Regardless of the brand, a synthetic layer provides you with warmth even if the jacket is wet or damp. Jackets with synthetic insulation hold up very well, protects you from the elements and keeps you warm.
When considering the warmth factor of your jacket the things that you need to consider is whether you run hot or cold while skiing.
Non-Insulated jackets are considered shells and are designed to protect you from the elements while providing you with minimal warmth. Shell jackets provide you with greater mobility and weatherproofing while sacrificing warmth. If you want a shell jacket, make sure you layer properly with a base layer, mid layer or insulator depending on the temperature.
Slightly Warm jackets will be lined or lightly insulated to help keep a little heat inside. While these are great options on warmer ski and snowboard days, layers are suggested on cold or windy days.
An insulated jacket is ideal for the normal cold temperatures. If you can handle a normal winter day than a warm jacket should suffice on the mountain. A wicking or base-layer is encouraged to help with moisture management to keep you warm and dry. Layers are urged in extreme cold or if you have a tendency to get cold easily.
Warmer jackets tend to have down or synthetic insulation. There may be a little technology in these jackets to help trap the heat inside so you can remain warm in consistently cold temperatures. Base-Layers are encouraged for moisture management but mid-layers, depending on the temperature, may be too stifling.
The warmest jackets have insulation plus heat properties. The heat properties will keep the heat trapped inside providing a solid layer of warmth against the extreme cold. Base-layers are recommended for moisture management. The warmest jackets will be ideal for the skier or snowboarder who heads to the mountain regardless of the frigid temperatures and conditions. They tend to laugh in the face of the Polar Vortex.
The Waterproof Rating of a jacket determines how quickly a jacket will become saturated and allow water to permeate the jacket, or its ability to keep you dry in wet conditions. The higher the rating, the longer the jacket will keep you dry when wet. Waterproof ratings are measured in millimeters (mm). This level is determined by placing a cylinder filled with water and seeing the level at which the water begins to penetrate through the fabric. The higher the number, the more waterproof the jacket will be.
There are many different types of waterproof fabrics that are used in ski jackets. Among the more well-known materials that are used are Gore-Tex, Hyvent, and Event. What makes these materials so effective is that they have pores that are larger than a molecule of sweat but smaller than a molecule of water meaning that they are not only waterproof but very breathable.
Very High Waterproofing (>20,001mm) means that the jacket is the best way to stay warm and dry. By combining the best waterproof fabrics and best water repellant DWR coating, these jackets will stay dry all day in sustained snowfall and moderate rain.
Jackets with High Waterproofing (15,001mm-20,000mm) are a great choice for avid riders that need a jacket to withstand any conditions they may encounter. These jackets will keep you dry in heavy, wet snow and rain.
Jackets with Moderate Waterproofing (10,001mm-15,000mm) are the most common, and can use a combination of water repellant DWR coating and a waterproof fabric. These jackets will keep you warm and dry in light to moderate snow all day long, and in light rain.
Jackets with Mild Waterproofing (5,001mm-10,000mm) can use a waterproof fabric or a more advanced water repellant coating called DWR. These will keep you dry in average snowfall and light rain.
Water Resistant (<5,000mm) jackets are treated with a water repellant coating called DWR. These will keep you dry in light snow but will start to absorb water quickly in the rain.
Not Specified jackets mean that the manufacturer’s catalog claims the product is Water Resistant or Waterproof but does not provide an exact measurement.
Not Treated means just that. These jackets are not treated with any additional waterproofing and are typically spring/fall jackets or insulators jackets that are meant to go underneath a more waterproof jacket.
Breathability measures how effective a jacket is at transferring water vapor or sweat out of the jacket. The same fabric pores that help prevent water from penetrating inside a jacket will allow sweat molecules to escape in order to keep you drier and warmer.
Breathability rating is measured and indicated in grams (g) and is determined by finding the Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate (MVTR). The MVTR determines how many grams of sweat per 1 square meter can escape a jacket in a 24 hour period. The higher the number the more moisture escapes and the more breathable the jacket is. The more a jacket can breathe the better it will be at keeping you at a consistent, comfortable temperature.
Jackets with Very High Breathability (>20,001g) will keep you dry and comfortable in any condition. These jackets breathe so well that they will keep you dry even under a full day of heavy activity.
Jackets with High Breathability (15,001-20,000g) are good for skiers and snowboarders who will work up a sweat from time to time. These jackets provide great breathability which keeps you dry throughout the day.
Jackets with Moderate Breathability (10,001-15,001g) are the most common since they provide a good balance between function and the cost of technical fabrics. The jackets in the moderate category can keep you dry and comfortable during a full day of moderate activity and will easily handle sustained periods of high activity.
Jackets with Mild Breathability (5,001-10,000g) offer an adequate amount of breathability to remain comfortable for a full day of low to moderate activity and short periods of high activity. However without careful layering you will become sweaty with high activity.
Jackets with Low Breathability (<5,000g) offer some breathability but will keep sweat against your body under moderate to high activity causing you to become cold and chilly when you stop moving.
Jackets which are in the category of Not Specified are made of materials that have not undergone breathability testing or not specified by the manufacturer. This is common among casual and fleece jackets.
Jackets that are Not Breathable are specified by the manufacturer that they will not allow water vapor to escape from them.
Critically Taped Seams refers to the fact that only some of the seams, most commonly around the shoulders and neck, are taped and protected against moisture penetration. As long as you do not spend extended periods of time in wet weather or lying in the snow, critically taped seams offer you adequate protection.
Fully Taped Seams have all of the stitched seams taped for additional waterproofing with a waterproof tape that is glued on the interior and exterior of the seam to protect areas that are prone for having moisture seep into the jacket. Fully taped seams are the best options for skiers who will be out in the most extreme elements such as heavy snowfall.
Hood Type most ski jackets have some style of hood. They offer you protection from the elements and most can fit directly over your helmet while not interfering with your peripheral vision.
Fixed Hoods are the most popular style. They are an integral part of the jacket that cannot be removed.
Removable Hoods can be removed by unzipping or unsnapping from the neck of the jacket.
Pit Zips/Venting are an important option in your ski jacket that allow you to easily regulate your temperature. They can be opened on-the-fly to cool you down if you start to overheat. Some jackets may also offer additional forms of zippered venting. If there is an alternative venting position, it is most likely located in the chest.
Wrist Gaiters are built-in hand liners that go over your hands with a hole for your thumb but do not cover your fingers. They are sewn inside the cuff of the jacket to keep snow and cold out of your jacket by creating a seal for you to put your gloves or mittens over. They are incredibly warm and most commonly found on jackets for women and kids.
A Powder Skirt is something that every skier should have. They are stitched around the waist of the jacket that zip, button or snap to create a seal around the waist between your jacket and ski pants to keep snow and wind out and the warmth in.
Now that you are educated and informed on the features and benefits of ski jackets, go find your style and shop now!