Buying a new snow jacket for skiing or snowboarding can be quite overwhelming when you start your research. There are a lot of technical terms, brand names and technologies that make it hard to decipher what is really important, to what might just be marketing hype. So, let's break it down by features and what to look for.
The primary reason why you need a snow jacket in the first place is to protect you from the elements. Therefore, what most people start focusing on is the different waterproof and breathability ratings on snow jackets. The level of waterproofing will be shown as numbers referring to a water test. 10,000mm is average and should be the minimum level you would consider for any snow jacket. 20,000mm would be high and anything above that would be extremely high. You must be thinking, great I’ll just buy a 20,000mm jacket and it will be perfect but that’s not necessarily the case. The higher the waterproof rating can limit the ability of the jacket to allow moisture and heat to escape.
This is why breathability also plays a big role when buying a ski or snowboard jacket. The reason being is you need to have a snow jacket that allows the moisture and heat that can build up within the jacket to escape. If your jacket has low breathability it means all that moisture stays within your jacket which will eventually make you wet. When you then sit on a chairlift waiting to get back to the top of the run in -10 to -15 you quickly become very cold and in extreme cases, this can lead to hyperthermia. Breathability is also expressed in numbers but in grams and the same principals apply. 10,000g is average and the minimum level you would consider for a snow jacket. 20,000g is high and anything above that is extremely high.
The most recognised waterproof technology would be GORE-TEX. GORE-TEX was the first company to discover a waterproof membrane and as a result, have been widely accepted as a market leader. However, all brands have their own proprietary waterproof membranes, for example, Helly Hansen has Helly Tech. The North Facehas launched a new technology rivalling GORE-TEX called FutureLight. The North Face has claimed that their new FutureLight technology is not only as waterproof as GORE-TEX but also maintains full breathability.
There are commonly two styles of jackets to select from. A shell jacket often provides zero insulation or warmth properties but is far more versatile. An insulated jacket provides far more warmth but is less versatile. The reason why someone would choose a shell could be, they ski or snowboard in the backcountry and do a lot of hiking to earn their turns. Alternatively, they may ski or snowboard during different times in the season. If you go skiing or snowboarding in the early and late parts of the season it tends to be warmer so a shell allows you to layer accordingly to the temperatures. However, even in the coldest of temperatures, you can still layer effectively in a shell to ensure you are warm and comfortable. It just means you may end up spending more on thermals and different mid-layers to cover all weather conditions.
Why would you then choose an insulated jacket? To be honest, 98% of all our jackets that we sell will be insulated and that’s because we come from a tropical climate and we hate being cold. As Australians, we also tend to ski overseas in Japan, North America or Europe in peak season when it's at its coldest. Therefore, buying an insulated jacket makes a lot of sense and can result in having to buy fewer layers. It may also allow you to wear the insulated snow jacket when travelling meaning less luggage.
There will be two types of insulation ‘Down’ and ‘Synthetic’. Down is regarded as being the warmest form of insulation but doesn’t breathe as well as synthetic insulation. Down is a great option for women who really feel the cold and just want to be as warm as possible. However, synthetic insulation also provides high levels of warmth but breathes a lot more. It also keeps you warm even when wet whereas down loses all of its insulating properties when wet.
Whichever style of jacket you choose don’t be fooled into thinking that a shell jacket will be any cheaper because it doesn’t have any insulation. In most cases, a good shell will cost as much if not more than an insulated jacket. They tend to be very technical, most likely has a GORE-TEX waterproof membrane which always adds to the overall cost but they are very durable.
To enhance a snow jackets waterproofness, they will come seamed sealed which means all seams are taped. Alternatively, entry to mid-level jackets may only come critically seamed sealed meaning they will only be taped in areas like the shoulders.
Ski or Snowboard jacket linings will also come with quick-drying, moisture-wicking material that is designed to remove any sweat away from the body as quickly as possible. That’s why wearing technical base layers are also important to help wick moisture off the skin and out of your jacket.
The fabrics used in snow jackets come in a variety of different options. Generally, shells will be two or three layers giving it that hard, robust hand feel which some people prefer and others feel like your wearing a plastic bag. On the other hand, other jackets will have stretch fabrics providing a much softer hand feel and higher levels of mobility.
Choosing the right fit is very important and ultimately depends on the type of skiing or snowboarding you plan on doing. Slim fits tend to be more suited towards someone looking to spend most of their time on the groomed runs. Whereas the baggy fits are for someone who may want to spend more time in the backcountry who need that extra room for hiking or high output activities. Stretch materials once again help with all levels of mobility and advancements in face fabrics mean there are a lot of options for everyone.
Most snow jackets will have venting underneath the arm to allow cool air in and hot air to escape. However, Kjus who many would regard as one of the most innovative ski brands in the world re-engineered the underarm vents. During their wind tunnel testing, they discovered that the most effective measure to cool someone down is by having the vents on the inside of the forearm. When in the skiing position it cools you down significantly quicker and prevents any irritation that may be caused by having vents open under your arms.
All quality snow jackets will come with a powder skirt which is designed to keep the snow from entering inside your jacket and pants in deep powder or after a big fall. They will be elasticated and stretchy with some even coming with silicon on the band to increase its effectiveness of staying in place. Some will also allow you to connect your powder skirt to your pants which is extremely helpful when in deep snow and heli-skiing.
Hoods can either be removable or they are fixed. This is a personal preference but the benefit of having a hood that is detachable means you can remove it. Hoods can also be big enough to go over the top of your helmet for extra weather protection. Brands like Helly Hansen have also used their hoods to help become more noticeable by having a bright hit of colour so you can be easily spotted when in the trees or just cruising down a blue run.
Some jackets will come with elasticated thumb loops or internal cuffs that help prevent wind or snow entering inside your sleeve or glove. They are generally made of a lightweight quick-dry material so they don’t stay wet for long.
One of the most important features to consider when buying a ski or snowboard jacket. How many pockets does it have? Most jackets will have an internal pocket for valuables, a bigger mesh pocket for accessories like neck gaiters, balaclavas or storing your goggles at lunchtime. A lift pass pocket on your arm. Helly Hansen, for example, has a chest pocket that is insulated and designed to extend your battery life on your phone by up to 20% as your phone battery dies very quickly in sub-zero temperatures. This is very handy especially if you were caught in the backcountry and needed to call someone for help. Ideally, you want to see how deep the pockets are and what you think you might be putting in them. There is nothing worse than buying your jacket only to find that you don’t have enough pockets for the items you want to be carrying on a day out on the snow.
So that's about it for this one - if you made it this far then you should be an expert on ski jackets now :) - Make sure you check out our range of Snow and Ski Jackets - here.
Until next time happy trails.
The Snowscene Team