“It’s amazing how having the wrong clothing on can make or break an experience for you.” – Beth Haley, Sierra Snowboard soft-goods buyer
Whether you’re new to snowboarding/skiing or an enthusiast looking to upgrade your apparel, choosing the right snowboard/ski jacket will be one of the most important decisions you make before you get on the hill.
These days, jackets come in many different varieties – from soft shells to waterproof down puffies – with different technologies built in and drastically different price points in some instances.
In this article we’ll walk you through the four most common forms of ski/snowboard jacket – simple shells, insulated jackets, puffy jackets and soft shells – with an aim toward helping you choose what’s right for you. And while we’ll focus on performance and features, don’t forget to get a jacket that represents your personality, whether you’re a neon extravagance kind of guy/gal or more into subdued hues of gray.
Pros: Lightweight, multi-purpose, durable, easy to layer, usually waterproof to a degree.
Cons: Not very warm by itself.
The most basic of jackets, the shell is also the most versatile of the four options because it can be worn by itself, or layered on top of insulating clothing in colder weather. Look for a shell that offers some degree of waterproofing (measured in millimeters, with higher numbers being more waterproof – e.g. 20,000mm) and breathability (measured in grams, with higher numbers being more breathable – e.g. 10,000g).
There are generally two forms of waterproof-breathable shells on the market: two-layer systems and three-layer systems.
Two-layer shells feature an outer fabric layer (usually nylon of some sort) with a waterproof/breathable membrane fused to it, and then a separate inner wicking layer of fabric that hangs inside the shell, serving to protect the membrane and wick moisture away from your body.
Three-layer shells, on the other hand, have all three of these layers (outer fabric, waterproof/breathable membrane, inner fabric) fused together, with no separate hanging layer inside.
Pros: Don’t need as many under-layers in cold weather, often have accessory pockets inside and out.
Cons: Heavier than a shell, less breathable than a shell, might be too hot in warmer weather, takes up more space than a puffy when packed.
There are many options when it comes to insulated jackets. Some have a layer of insulating material – typically a woven synthetic insulation (e.g. Thermacore™) – sandwiched between the inner and outer liners. Others might have a removable insulating layer – such as a fleece vest – inside of what is essentially a shell.
Manufacturers have also realized that some riders/skiers will prefer more insulation around the torso, to keep one’s core temperature steady, with less around the arms, which allows for less total weight and better range of motion.
Pros: Very warm, can be packed down into a smaller space than insulated jackets.
Cons: Often less waterproof than other options, not as breathable as other options, loses almost all warmth once filler gets wet.
Puffy jackets feature down or synthetic filler in between an inner and outer layer of fabric. Holding that fill in place is the job of stitching or quilting, with more stitching making a puffy jacket less puffy.
Puffy jackets come in many different weights, from super warm and lofty jackets meant for the coldest of days, to more moderate weights designed to keep the chill away in the spring.
Pros: Comparable waterproofing to shells, more comfortable to wear, warmer than your average shell, as breathable as other types of jacket.
Cons: Typically less technical features and pockets than jackets (e.g. no powder skirt), often no hood or a non-removable hood.
Since the invention of the soft-shelled jacket, many skiers and riders have found all the features they are looking for in a more comfortable package. Soft shells don’t scream, “I’m a snowboard jacket!” – making them more usable as an all-purpose jacket that can be worn around town as well as on the hill.
Soft shells also come in different varieties, with some having an inner fleece lining for added warmth, and other being bare-bones items.
Time to shop
Now it's time to explore the myriad options in each of these categories. Check out the links below and see what's out there.