Whether you’re a hard charger or just getting your ski legs, your jacket is often the difference between happy shredding and sad, wet schlepping back to the car. With so many options out there, the search for the perfect jacket is not always easy, so we rounded up some of our staff and member favorites to help you find the one.
Ski Jacket 101
The perfect jacket will keep you warm and dry on cold days and not too sweaty on warm days, but striking that balance can be tough. Before you buy, think about the insulation, weather protection and features you’ll need to stay smiling on the mountain. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Ski jackets come in three main designs: hard shell, insulated and 3-in-1.
Lightweight, technical hard shells (an alternative term for waterproof/breathable gear) are favorites of backcountry skiers, in-bounds skiers who run hot, or skiers living in cold, wet climates that demand the best defense against moisture. The shell does not have any insulation, so you’ll need to add base and insulating layers underneath, depending on conditions. For basic layering tips, check out our Expert Advice article.
Insulated ski jackets wrap a layer of synthetic or down insulation in a tough waterproof shell. They’re great for skiers who run cold, or in-bounds skiers who like to keep it simple and don’t want to deal with zipping and unzipping multiple layers. Not sure what kind of insulation you need? Learn how to choose insulated outerwear.
3-in-1 ski jackets combine a waterproof shell and an insulating layer. You can wear the insulating layer alone, the outer shell alone or both pieces together. Because they provide three jacket options in one, they’re great for skiers who want the most bang for their buck, or for beginners who won’t know how much insulation they’ll need until they’re on the mountain.
Waterproof fabric is easily the most important feature when you’re throwing yourself around in snow. Depending on what kind of skiing or boarding you do, some additional features may make a big difference. For instance, “pack-friendly” pockets that sit high on the torso are ideal for backcountry skiers who need pocket access when they’re toting gear; separate ski-pass pockets are convenient for resort skiers lapping lift lines; and all-around features like snow-blocking powder skirts and heat-dumping pit zips ramp up comfort whether you’re skiing in bounds or out.
You may be thinking: Can’t I just wear my rain jacket? Many beginners throw a rain jacket over an insulating layer to score weather protection on the mountain without having to invest in a new piece of clothing. But be warned: You may end up colder and wetter than expected, lacking the snow-blocking power of ski-specific gear. The author of this article, for instance, tried the rain jacket workaround, then followed an ill-fated suggestion to try a black diamond run on her second day on skis. Only after penguining down the mountain and emerging snow-logged and freezing did she realize the true benefit of a powder skirt. Consider this a cautionary tale.
Ultimately, you’ll know what jacket is right for you after you test it out for yourself, but here are a few of our favorites to get you started:
Best Full-Featured Hard Shell Ski Jackets
Built to handle the most severe weather conditions, the Shashka and Rush include ski-specific features in waterproof 3-layer Gore-Tex® Pro fabric that’s burly, lightweight and breathable.
“The Arc’teryx Rush jacket has been my go-to ski shell for the last four seasons or so,” says Carter Lee, a staff member of the Salt Lake City REI since 2013. “It has kept me dry through more storms than I can count, doesn’t let snow in on even the deepest powder days and ventilates well enough to wear on warm spring days. The Rush also has pockets that are accessible even if you’re wearing a backpack or a harness. ”
MSRP: $649 (Women’s) / $699 (Men’s)
Weight: 15.2 oz. (Women’s) / 1 lb. 5.5 oz. (Men’s)
Features we love:
- Fully-taped seams guard against driving rain and snow
- Adjustable, helmet-compatible hood covers without restricting vision
- Powder skirt keeps snow from creeping (or cascading) in
- Pit zips dump heat when you’re working hard
- Pack-compatible zip hand pockets
Best Bang for Your Buck Hard Shell Ski Jackets
Tough and soft, the Flylow Vixen provides waterproof shell protection in a sleek design that won’t crunch with every move.
“I have people come in and say, ‘The whole time I’m hiking all I hear is chhchhchhchhchh,’” says Eryn Johnson, a staff member at the Salt Lake City REI since 2003. That’s why she recommends the Vixen for a more affordable, high-performance ski shell. “You can tell they’ve put a lot of thought into it,” she says. “They’ve bonded a wicking liner to the shell on the outside so it’s still one piece and keeps it really simple and light. Plus, it’s not quite as noisy as other shells.”
Weight: 1 lb. 6 oz. (Women’s) / 1 lb. 7.1 oz. (Men’s)
Features we love:
- 3-layer waterproof/breathable stretch shell
- Fully-sealed seams with Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment defend against wet snow
- Adjustable, helmet-compatible hood seals out snow and maintains visibility
- Waterproof zippers keep pocket contents dry
Layering tip: For easy layering in the backcountry or in-bounds, shell jackets pair well with a lightweight insulating puffy. Carter recommends the Arc’teryx Atom LT Insulated hoodie.
“I’m honestly not sure how Arc’teryx was able to make a single jacket capable of keeping you warm at temperatures well below freezing but still comfortable to wear on spring days as warm as 50 degrees. Not that I’m complaining, the Atom LT hoodie definitely spends more time out of my closet than in it,” Carter says.
Best Insulated Ski Jackets
If you run cold but move fast down the mountain, the Burton Jet Set jacket may be the ticket. Eryn loves it for its easy wear and reliable weather protection.
“[In this jacket] I don’t have any problems staying warm. It’s fitted but not tight, so it moves really well. It’s waterproof and has zipped hand pockets with soft liners which is really nice,” she says.
As an added bonus, the Jet Set features partially recycled synthetic insulation, which provides a solid defense against damp cold. Plus, both the Jet Set and the comparable men’s Covert jacket sport a casual design that wears well on the slopes and the street.
MSRP: $199.95 - $239.95 (Women’s Jet Set) / $199.95 (Men’s Covert)
Fabric: Polyester (Women’s) / Polyester/Nylon (Men’s)
Features we love:
- 2-layer waterproof/breathable shell blocks wind and wet snow
- Wicking taffeta lining helps keep you warm and dry
- Adjustable hood blocks weather without blocking peripheral vision
- Powder skirt keeps snow from getting where it shouldn’t
- Media-compatible pocket lets you connect cords internally
Best 3-in-1 Ski Jackets
Carter calls the Snowshot “One jacket to rule them all at a good price point,” and for good reason. Jacks of all trades and masters of all, the men’s Snowshot and women’s Snowbelle 3-in-1 jackets are lauded by REI staff and members alike for their versatility and warm, waterproof performance. Even better, the Snowshot actually provides four jacket options rather than three, thanks to a reversible liner design (quilted on one side, smooth on the other).
Weight: 2 lbs. 8.7 oz. (Women’s) / 2 lbs. 15 oz. (Men’s)
Features we love:
- 2-layer waterproof/breathable fabric with DWR coating blocks elements
- Reversible zip-out jacket with 60g synthetic insulation
- Wicking polyester lining glides over layers
- Removable, adjustable helmet-compatible hood
- Powder skirt prevents snow from creeping in
- Pit zips dump body heat when you need to
- Media pocket routes cords internally
Want more recommendations for 3-in-1 jackets? Check out our round-up of the best 3-in-1 jackets for 2018.