Best Ski and Ride Outerwear

January 05, 2018

  • by
  • Lionello DelPiccolo

Aside from perhaps having a pair of comfortable boots, owning quality outerwear is of the utmost importance when calibrating your winter kit. Your skis might be awesome, your snowboard might be top-of-the-line, but if you’re stuck wearing outerwear that fails to keep you warm and dry, chances are you won’t stay out past lunch. Subpar outerwear will soak through in wet snow and fail to keep you warm in the cold — not to mention, it might also look like a hand-me-down from a Day-Glow-loving aunt.

Active Junky’s been on the hunt for stylish and functional outerwear that you’ll be stoked to wear all winter long. Read through this snow outerwear buyer’s guide for the best ski and ride jackets, pants, and bibs from top brands like Holden, Burton, Patagonia, and more.

Brands Evaluated

 686  Holden  Stio  Quiksilver
 Burton  Patagonia  The North Face  

How to Pick Ski Jackets and Pants

There are several key aspects to keep in mind when choosing your winter outerwear — and we’re not just talking about making sure you’re fully color-coordinated.


Photo Credit: Lionello DelPiccolo

Waterproof and Breathability: Understanding the Numbers

While you certainly can shred in a Canadian tuxedo, at Active Junky, we’re big fans of staying the proper temperature and staying dry. Ski and snowboard outerwear should be both waterproof and breathable — but unfortunately that’s not always a given. Fabrics are generally rated with two key numbers that, while they seem complicated, are worth understanding. These numbers tend to look like 5000/10000, 10000/10000, 20000/20000, etc.

The first number is all about the waterproofness of the jacket — on a basic level, it represents how much water (in millimeters) can hit the exterior of the fabric before it soaks through. A 5K jacket, for example, might soak through in a light rainstorm, while you can pretty much take a shower in a Gore-Tex 3-layer jacket and emerge dry.


Photo Credit: Lionello DelPiccolo

On the other side of the spectrum is the second number (measured in grams), which describes breathability and measures how much moisture can escape through from the inside of the fabric to the outside. A bit more complicated to understand than the first number, the second number is a calculation of how much vapor (think sweat) in grams can escape from inside a square meter of said fabric to the outside in 24 hours. You don’t want your perspiration to stick around on the interior of your jacket and get clammy, so a jacket with a high breathability rating is preferred by those skiers and riders who are no stranger to sweat.

If that was too complicated, all you really need to know is this: the higher the rating, the more waterproof and/or breathable the outerwear. For example, a 5K jacket, while cheaper than a 20K jacket, is less waterproof and breathable.

If you want to dive deeper into the science behind these waterproof and breathability ratings, Active Junky’s partner site EVO has an awesome guide here that breaks down Gore-Tex, eVent, DWR, and other outerwear tech

Insulated or Shell?

There are several types of jackets and pants to choose from, but the main choice you have to make is whether you want to go the insulated route or choose a shell.

Shells

Shells range from minimalist technical jackets and pants designed for mountaineering and backcountry skiing, to heavier, more resort-friendly jackets and pants that have ancillary features. Shells are defined by a lack of insulation, so they’re best used for layering. In a day of skiing, it might be frigid in the morning, requiring an insulated midlayer underneath your shell, but as the sun comes up, you’ll want to ditch a layer or two. This is where shells are prime. Essentially, it’s a waterproof and breathable outer layer that allows you to customize your kit to the conditions at hand.

  • Pros: Lightweight, packable, great for layering, versatile
  • Cons: Not insulated, not warm on its own, expensive

Insulated Jackets and Pants

Insulated jackets and pants are less versatile than their shell counterparts. Where you can layer underneath a shell, insulated jackets and pants have insulation built in to the design, making it tough to react to changing weather patterns. Insulated jackets are usually cheaper, and they’re warmer too, making them ideal for those who strictly ride at the resort and don’t venture into the backcountry.

  • Pros: Warmer, cheaper, more features
  • Cons: Less versatile, bad for layering, bulky


Photo Credit: Lionello DelPiccolo

Universal Features

Each of the ski and ride jackets, pants and bibs included in this buyer’s guide were evaluated based on these attributes, with the highest-scoring attribute picked as a key attribute listed in each review below.

Features
What extra features does the outerwear possess, and do those features add to the overall usability and experience?

Waterproofness
How waterproof is the outerwear? Does the fabric live up to its rating?

Breathability
How breathable is the outerwear? Would our perspiration-prone testers consider purchasing this piece?

Versatility
Does the outerwear leave room for layers? Can it be worn in multiple scenarios?

Warmth
How insulated is the outerwear? Is it comfortable in cold weather?

Patagonia Powder Bowl Jacket


Photo Credit: Lionello DelPiccolo

Patagonia calls the Powder Bowl their “most versatile shell,” and that’s saying something, especially with top-of-the-line gear like the beloved PowSlayer and the Untracked Jacket in their lineup. However, the Powder Bowl is much cheaper (300 big ones less than the PowSlayer), namely because of the fabric tech employed. While the Powder Bowl doesn’t have the PowSlayer’s premium 3-Layer Gore-Tex Pro membrane — which offers better breathability for backcountry riders — the 2-layer Gore-Tex gets the job done, especially in-bounds. If you’re typically riding the resort but find yourself frequenting the backcountry more and more, this shell is a one-and-done deal. Patagonia powder bowl jacket main Patagonia Powder Bowl Jacket $351.12 - $371.07

While $400 is still steep for some, this piece brings in Patagonia’s quality at a (more) affordable price tag. It’s also a bit heavier than the PowSlayer, but, especially when riding the resort, that weight will be negligible. Where some of the purely big mountain shells skimp on features, this do-everything piece comes stocked with all the necessities and then some: two large hand-warmer pockets up front, one chest pocket, a forearm pocket (perfect for scannable ski passes!), and two internal pockets, plus a RECCO reflector, pit zips, a powder skit and helmet-compatible hood.

Best for: Resort skiing, side and backcountry treks and cold weather touring

Patagonia Kniferidge Jacket

Patagonia kniferidge 01 Patagonia Kniferidge Jacket $275.44 - $299.25

As lithe as an acrobat and as tuned for climbing as it is for the descent, both skiers and riders loved this Patagonia jacket. Run your fingers along the Polartec Power Shield Pro fabric and sure, this is by definition a softshell, but smoothness aside, the Kniferidge defends against rain and snow with the fortitude of a hardshell. “We were bootpacking couloirs at 13K feet,” said one tester. “And the Kniferidge cut a hard line through high winds, spinning ice and cold snow.” Upper body mobility is key when relying on ax and rope, and Patagonia’s climbing history is apparent with this agile design. No pit zips, though testers noted the soft shell fabric remained breathable on heart-pumping high alpine assaults. A mountaineering-friendly fit complements the mobility and stretch of the Polartec fabric for cooperative elasticity in sketchy situations.

Best For: Ski mountaineers; backcountry skiers, snowboarders and climbers.

Patagonia Kniferidge Pants

Patagonia kniferidge pants 02 Patagonia Kniferidge Pants - Men's Starting at: $234.98

“In the ascent event, the Kniferidge Pants easily won gold in the Gear Testing Olympics,” joked a tester after two days of ski-mo in the Chilean backcountry. And he’s got a point. Skinning deep into the backcountry? The pliable, comfortable softshell fabric stretches with your stride. Taking a hot coffee break under a rocky outcrop to warm up? The Polartec Power Shield Pro fabric keeps you warm, even if you’re sitting/kneeling on snow for long periods of time. Crampons on to clamber up the choke of a tight couloir? Slim-fitting legs, complete with cuff scuff guards at the inner calves, ensure rip and snag-free crampon use. Testers put these Kniferidge pants through all of these scenarios and more, but they were most impressed by the ability of the Kniferidge to handle all of these backcountry moments one after the other. Softshell lovers were impressed, and hardshell proponents were, once again, converted by Patagonia’s top-of-the-line quality.

Best For: Ski mountaineers, climbers, backcountry skiers

Stio Environ Bib


Photo Credit: Lionello DelPiccolo

There’s more than one reason why backcountry skiers love to rock bibs: bibs are comfortable when touring, they offer plenty of venting options, and they keep out the pow when the dumps of our dreams become reality. Stio’s all-new Environ deserves to be included in your bib considerations, as it nails all of these points and more. The relaxed fit is snug yet comfortable, with a soft yet lightweight brushed tricot liner against the skin, and the cut is obviously designed with alpine in mind. The polyester Dermizax 3-layer fabric has a welcome stretch throughout, so whether you’re reaching for a grab, reaching for a handhold on a summit scramble, skinning before dawn, or buckling your boots in the morning, you’ll stay comfortable.  Stio environ bib main Stio Environ Bib Starting at: $409.40

One of our testers argued that the waist could be a bit higher, as the Environ is currently only riding a bit higher than your average ski pants. Venting is on point: while the fabric is breathable (20K/10K), Stio’s outfitted the Environ with full-length side zips, a must for backcountry touring. Plus, backcountry skiers will dig the Dynatec kickpatch to mitigate damage from stray crampons. All in all, this is an admirable ski bib from Stio, and one our team is stoked to continue riding this year.

Best for: Resort, side, slack, huck – the Stio Environ Bib slays it all

Burton [AK] 2L Cyclic Jacket


Lionello DelPiccolo

Burton’s AK line has long been thought of as one of the premier options for backcountry snowboarders. It does, after all, share a name with the big mountain mecca, a land of deep snow and ruthless storm cycles: Alaska. Whether you’re jetting up to Valdez for a one-time spring mission or hitting your local hill with relentless persistence, the [Ak] Cyclic jacket will keep you dry — no matter the storm cycle. 2-Layer Gore-Tex is airtight against moisture thanks to ridge-free taped seams, adding both functional performance and a sleek style. And speaking of style, the Cyclic is one of the coolest-looking backcountry shell jackets tested, namely due to the subtle chest pocket and a decidedly Jedi vibe provided by the StormForm FullTime Contour Hood. Burton ak 2l main Burton [AK] 2L Cyclic Jacket $240.24 - $362.66

The lining does have a bit more heft to it than many backcountry shells, with a lightweight taffeta and mesh layer, and it’d be tough to fit a pair of skins in that single chest pocket, making the Cyclic a smart choice for resort riders who dabble in the backcountry. Simplistic yet crafted from quality materials with an attention to detail, the Cyclic was picked as a go-to jacket to be worn day after day this winter by one of our perpetually traveling snowboard testers.

Best for: Resort storm days, heli-drops and cat skiing, a quiver of one when layering for varying conditions

Burton 3L Freebird Jacket

Burton freebird gtx jacket03 Burton AK 3L Freebird Gore-Tex Jacket Starting at: $388.08

The 3L Freebird is a backcountry buff’s dream come true. Lightweight and packable, it’s easy to stow in your pack during high-output skin missions. Need to layer up instead of down? Variable conditions in Chile had testers rocking everything from synthetic t-shirts to merino blend ninja suits and mid-winter down jackets under the shell: Burton’s regular fit (roomy yet not overly so) adapts to layering challenges with impeccable exactitude. In the words of one tester, “I’d remove my puffy before skinning, knowing that Freebird would repel wind and snow while allowing moisture to escape. Either way, it was comfortable—with or without layering.” Splitboarders noted that the chest pockets could have been larger, though the jacket is designed namely for those who haul avy safety gear in a backpack (and thus don't have a need for additional pockets in the jacket). Pocket qualms aside (which were virtually annihilated when this jacket was paired with the Freebird Bib), this 3L jacket earned top marks from testers in every category. 

Best For: Backcountry snowboarders, splitboarders, adventurous resort riders

Burton AK Freebird Bib

Leave it to a thoroughbred snowboarding brand to create a bib that actually fits snowboarders. Having dabbled with other ski-centric brands, a tester declared, “This bib fits the way backcountry snowboarders want it to. Not too baggy; though you still have the mobility to tighten your bindings or throw a tweaked grab without getting a wedgie.” A high, tailored design keeps pow shots from sneaking into the bib while offering additional pocket space in the front (2 chest pockets to accompany 2 thigh pockets). Talk about jacket compatibility, too: the chest pockets are easily accessed through the backcountry-friendly pit zips of the Freebird Jacket. Burton freebird gtx pants03 Burton AK 3L Freebird Gore-Tex Bib Pant Starting at: $539.36 Though cuff elevators raise the rear of the pant leg in the face of grit and grime, frequent crampon-users might want to shy away from this relaxed fit—or at least have a secondary pair of soft shell mountaineering pants at the ready. From a waterproofing standpoint, Burton’s gone all out on this one: 3-Layer Gore-Tex Pro makes up the majority of the pants, with 40D Gore-Tex Stretch (think lycra meets your rain jacket) on the chest and back for even more mobility. Burton topped off the feature-heavy, ultra-light bib with comfortable, adjustable shoulder straps. Needless to say, testers were in love at first couloir. 

Best For: Intermediate to expert riders in search of deep snow

Holden Fader Bib


Lionello DelPiccolo

In or out of the resort, the Holden Fader is a snowboarder’s bib through and through. From the laid-back style that is reminiscent of Carhartt work overalls, to the slew of features sewn into this piece, to the true relaxed fit, the Fader is one of the best snowboard-specific bibs we’ve ever seen — hands down. Since the brand’s inception in 2002, Holden’s always had a solid grip on style, and the Fader’s high-chested pockets, old school striped suspenders, as well as the built-in belt and leather embellishments throughout only support these claims. Holden fader bib main Holden Fader Bib Starting at: $278.96

Many a bib doesn’t speak to resort snowboarders — being too tight or too tuned for ski mountaineering — but the Fader is baggy enough to ball out and still fitted enough to grab a beer after the resort closes without looking like a goober. On the tech front, the 20K waterproof Ottoman fabric is on the heavy side, but with that weight comes durability. Also, it’s worth noting that the Fader is crafted under Holden’s “Eco Friendlier Mantra,” with a PFOA-free waterproof coating and a lamination process free of solvents. Handy chest pockets, leg vents, and snowboard boot-friendly gaiters solidify the Fader as a quality pick for the stylish single-planker.

Best for: Resort use, riders who value steeze and function in variable weather conditions

686 Quantum Thermagraph Pants


Lionello DelPiccolo

686 is no stranger to tailoring snowboard pants — in fact, they make some of the most popular bottom layers in the snowboard game. The GLCR Quantum Thermagraph Pants, while a mouthful to say, are intuitive and easy to use, namely because there’s a whole lot of what you need and not much of what you don’t. The 20K fabric stays dry in all but the most intense of storms, while light Thermagraph insulation adds additional padding around the butt and knees for extra warmth. There are a few key features included in the affordable package, including ample pockets, BOA-compatible boot gaiters, a reinforced hem, and a mesh-lined venting system.  686 quantum thermagraph main 686 Quantum Thermagraph Pants Starting at: $223.20

Our testers loved the black and gray models for a more subtle, stealthy style on the hill, but you can go with the Day Glow yellow if you’re really feeling wild. Plus, the fit straddles the line between slim and baggy, a fact that our all-mountain testers truly appreciated. Having ridden previous models of this GLCR pants last season, our testers were hyped to see that 686 is sticking to their guns on this one.

Best for: Extremely cold conditions, skiers and riders who run cold and aren’t prone to a lot of sweating

The North Face Fuseform Brigandine 3L Jacket

Tnf brigadine jacket 01 The North Face FuseForm Brigandine 3L Jacket - Men's Starting at: $603.53

For starters, the Brigandine was developed with input from legendary skiers Johnny Collinson and Sage Cattabriga-Alosa. Active Junky big mountain skier, speed flier and gear tester Reed Snyderman gave two thumbs up to the Brigandine after charging hard in South America, saying, “This is my favorite kit I’ve tested all trip.” Comfort and confidence are key at the top of big lines, and that’s exactly what testers felt with the lightweight, durable and revolutionary FuseForm construction. Essentially, FuseForm weaves multiple fiber types together, allowing designers to craft fabrics of varying densities and strengths, shaving weight or boosting resistance when needed. The fabric is waffled and pliable to the touch, but it repels water on par with the best shells we’ve tested, all while allowing freeriders to climb, skin, huck and spin with the utmost flexibility. A helmet compatible hood, pit zips, adjustable cuffs plus more standard features – not to mention external flap-covered pockets and sufficient internal storage options – make this jacket as utilitarian as it is performance-oriented. 

Best For: Intermediate to advanced skiers, those who spend days at the resort and weeks in the backcountry

Quiksilver Dark and Stormy Jacket

Quiksilver dark and stormy jacket 1 Quiksilver Dark and Stormy Jacket Starting at: $141.55

At a 15K level of waterproofing (smack dab in the middle of the Quiksilver range), the Dark and Stormy holds off everything but the darkest and stormiest of storms. All jokes aside, Dry Flight fabric sheds snow buildup, only soaking through in wet, flaky blizzards or rainfalls that can no longer be described as a “drizzle.” 3M Thinsulate 40g insulation adds a solid heft to the jacket; it’s no backcountry layer, but it handles resort days with ease and steeze to match. Stylistically, this Quik jacket carries over a history of surf and skate with a denim-inspired, faded fabric, defined pocket placement and a leather patch on the lower left hip. “A solid resort jacket,” nodded one tester. “I love the storage capacity, as well as the Goldilocks level of insulation: not too hot, not too cold—just right.”

Best For: all-around resort riding

Quiksilver Lincoln 10K Pants

Quiksilver lincoln pants 04 Quiksilver Lincoln 10K Pants Starting at: $90.25

The Lincoln is a slim-fitting snowboard pant with enough style to please a park rat. Testers took the Lincoln well beyond the ropes of the terrain park, dropping cliffs and throwing slashes in the sidecountry. “The fabrics only 10K,” admitted a tester, “But I’ve been hiking hits in slushy snow and it hasn’t soaked through.” Expected features like the waist adjusters, boot gaiters and thigh vents combine with a retro polyester/elastane fabric and leather embellished zippers for a functional pair of pants with the right amount of flash. Combine these with the Dark and Stormy Jacket for an outerwear kit that’s reasonably priced and 100% stylish.

Best For: Styling out in the resort

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