April 24, 2024

Styles For Men

Boldness and Elegance, Timeless Men's Style

The best ski jackets of 2024 reviewed by a ski expert, from The North Face to Helly Hansen

7 min read



What should I look out for when choosing ski jacket?

Let’s be honest, look is really important when selecting your ski clothing. Depending on your preferences, this may be at the top of your priority list, or sit below other considerations. Thankfully, most ski clothing is available in a variety of colours, from safe black and dark blue to more exotic bright neons, so there really is something to suit all needs. 

You also want to ensure you get features that are going to enhance your time in the mountains. If you want to carry things with you, such as a phone, wallet, some snacks and possibly a drink or spare pair of goggles, then having a number of pockets can be great. If you always wear a backpack, then you may not need as many pockets, and if they’re higher up towards the chest then they’ll not interfere with the backpack waist strap.

Fit is also important, and not just so you look fantastic. If a jacket fits well, then you can move freely and pretty much forget you’re wearing it. Also, did you know that if a jacket fits well it may actually work better, in terms of breathability? Well, it can make a difference. This is when a good ski shop can really help out, as they can assist in finding options to suit your body shape.

Ski jackets come in a range of prices, but to enhance the value you may wish to get one with a removable hood or detachable powder skirt, so it doubles up as an everyday winter jacket at home. If you go for a shell jacket (more on this below), then this really can work all year, providing superb wet-weather protection in the summer months too

Are ski jackets waterproof?

The vast majority of ski jackets are waterproof, windproof and breathable. This means the jacket can keep you warm, lets any moisture building up inside to escape and protects you from wind, snow and rain. Just because a jacket is labelled as waterproof, though, doesn’t actually mean it’s completely waterproof. 

Jackets often have a HH (hydrostatic head) waterproof rating, from 5,000 up to over 20,000. The higher the number, the more the garment resists water coming through from the outside. This is down to how much pressure it will take for water to seep through the waterproof layer. Not all brands state their waterproof rating, including some of the better known and highest performing laminates. 

A jacket is made of stitched panels, so the panel edges are full of holes (not so great for keeping water out). The manufacturer uses a waterproof, but non-breathable, tape on the inside of the seam to keep water out. Not all seams will necessarily be taped though. If taping is used, then it ranges from on just the really vulnerable seams, such as the shoulders, which is called Critically Taped, through to all seams, or Fully Taped. Critically taped seam sealing tends to be used to match a certain lower price point.

The jacket also needs to be breathable. We produce moisture and this needs to be allowed to escape from the jacket. This is where we’ve seen some impressive developments in recent years, with garments that provide a high waterproof rating and superb breathability.

Like waterproofing, breathability can be rated too, and typically follows a similar number scale. The best are 20,000 or higher, with cheaper, less-breathable garments rated around 5,000. There are other scales for breathability, but this one is most common.

Other features, such as venting panels (underarm vents, pit zips, chest vents) can be opened and closed, improving temperature and moisture management

It is important to know that if the outside of the jacket becomes saturated with water, then the breathability will be severely impaired. This is why you’ll see water bead up and run off new jackets. This is due to a durable water repellent (DWR) coating or treatment. Historically, these have been made using perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), but these are not good for the environment and are being replaced by cleaner solutions by most brands. Ironically, some of these greener solutions significantly out-perform PFC’s.

You can also replenish this outer water repellency by using an off-the-shelf technical fabric wash and treatment, such as Nikwax. Washing your ski clothing is really important to ensure it works as designed, but don’t just use normal household detergents. Which products you use will depend on the type of clothing you’re washing. Any good ski shop can advise you on this. You’ll dramatically improve the performance and longevity of your ski clothing if you look after it, in this way.

What is the warmest ski jacket?

An insulated jacket is designed to improve how warm you are when skiing. This may have a synthetic insulation or natural, such as wool or down. They all have a goal of trapping air and providing an insulating layer. 

Down is an exceedingly efficient insulator but it can be expensive and it is an animal product, and doesn’t perform when wet. Recycled down is becoming more common, as sell as treatments to help it perform better when wet. 

Synthetic fibres are far closer to down in terms of low weight and packability. Wool is also being more widely used as an insulator, is sustainable and, like synthetics, performs when wet.

Shell jackets do not have any insulating layer and therefore need to be paired with one, or more, insulating layer underneath, as the temperature dictates. Shell jackets are lighter than insulated varieties, and are favoured for higher output activities, such as freeride skiing when you’re hiking for fresh lines, or ski touring. 

Both shells and insulated pieces have a waterproof layer. Waterproof layers can be pretty delicate so you have an outer fabric, also known as the face fabric, to protect against dirt and abrasion. You also need to protect the inside of the waterproof layer, or membrane. 

Shell jackets therefore have an inner laminate, which can be made of a wide variety of fabrics. This protects the membrane, but can also help wick moisture away from the skin and disperse it over a broad area so it can escape through the membrane. The face fabric, waterproof layer and inner protective fabric are all bonded together in some way. This is referred to as a 3-layer garment.

Insulated pieces have a face fabric and a waterproof layer but no bonded inner face fabric, as the insulation protects the membrane. This is therefore called 2-layer construction. You can also get a 2-layer non-insulated jacket, but this has a separate, non-bonded inner lining to protect the waterproof layer.

What is a powder skirt?

A powder, or snow, skirt is an internal panel that acts like a gaiter around your waist. The front is fastened when you put the jacket on and helps to seal out the elements a little. 

The term powder skirt is a little misleading. If you’re skiing powder, you’re typically wearing a backpack, and the pack’s waist belt holds the jacket in place and stops powder entering from below. You therefore don’t need a powder skirt for powder skiing, and many professionals remove theirs. This can also be why you see some touring orientated jackets without powder skirts.

A powder skirt can work really well at helping to seal in a little warmth, stop wind blowing up under the hem and helps to prevent the jacket riding up.

What is a stretch fabric?

We move around a lot when skiing, so having a fabric that can move with us is ideal. Hence the evolution of stretch fabrics. Some stretch will only be in one plane. For example, if you hold the jacket fabric across the chest and try to stretch it, it may not give. If you then try to stretch it top to bottom, you may feel an elastic nature in the fabric. This is two-way stretch. It can be up and down, or side to side, but won’t be both. If the fabric stretches up and down and side to side, then this is called four-way stretch.

The issue with ski jackets is getting all the layers of the jacket to be able to move, or stretch. There are some superb products now that have stretch in the outer, the insulating layer and the inner lining. Not all materials are created equal though, so the jacket may only stretch a little or it may stretch a lot. This is why it’s important to try a jacket on before you commit to it, to make sure it works for your body shape and movements.

What is Recco?

Recco is a technology used in lots of skiing and snowboarding applications. It is comprised of a little electronic device, called a reflector, and a large detector that is used by rescue teams. Manufacturers can install the reflector in many types of clothing and hardware, including jackets.

It does not need charging or any sort of power source. It is designed to help rescue teams locate the reflector, and the person, if they get caught in an avalanche. It can also be used in certain situations to locate people that have got been lost, even if it’s not an avalanche situation.


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