How to

15 August 2017

Buying a New Ski Jacket? Here’s What You Need to Know

Skiing is an incredibly popular pastime all around the world, with amateurs and professionals alike hitting the slopes in their droves each and every year. However, embarking on such a trip without the proper clothing is a disaster waiting to happen, so we thought we would compile a simple run-down of all the key features and considerations you should take into account when selecting your new ski jacket.

For a complete rundown of essential clothing for cross country skiing specifically, see our previous article. While you’re at it, also have a quick study of our guide to selecting the skis themselves.

As for now, let’s delve into the details of a decent ski jacket.

Jacket Type

There are countless variations of ski jacket available on the market, but they will typically fit into one of three categories; Shell/Hardshell, Insulated, or Softshell. Each carries its own advantages and drawbacks, so selecting the correct type for your intended activity and expected weather conditions is crucial if you are to keep yourself both adequately warm and comfortable.

Shell Jackets:

Also known as a hardshell jacket, the uninsulated shell jacket is by far the most versatile option and is widely favoured by the majority of skiers year round. Offering little-to-none of its own insulation and acting purely as a barrier against wind and rain, shell jackets are generally used in combination with lower insulating layers which can be added and removed as the weather requires, enabling the wearer to maintain optimal comfort levels regardless of conditions. Capable of standing up to the worst the weather can throw at you, shell jackets are generally considered to be the best choice for those wanting just the one jacket to use across various skiing styles, locations, and climates.

With shell jackets the most important factor to consider is the waterproof rating, which is derived from a water column test and stated in mm. These ratings tend to range from around 5,000mm to 20,000mm or even higher. If you’re planning on heading into extreme conditions you will want to look out for that 20,000mm rating, although bear in mind that some high-end fabrics do not give a conventional rating, and instead simply guarantee to keep you dry.

Insulated Jackets:

Comprised of a waterproof outer shell and a layer of insulation beneath, insulated jackets are often the ideal solution for those who exclusively ski in bitterly cold conditions as they cut out the need for some of the additional layering underneath. The waterproof rating is again important, but you will also have to make the choice between down and synthetic insulation.

I’m not a big fan of down, primarily due to the cruelty it has been revealed to inflict upon animals; it is however still widely used, and so remains worthy of discussion. Puffy and lightweight, the warmth-to-weight ratio offered by down insulation is nothing short of excellent and therefore it can be invaluable when faced with truly cold conditions. The major drawback however is moisture, which quickly and negatively impact upon the performance of down as an insulation material and effectively makes it unusable in wet conditions.

The other option is synthetic insulation, which is by far more reliable in wet conditions than down. If skiing in spring or autumn conditions you will be best of looking for a jacket with 50-100g of insulation per square meter, whilst those heading into colder conditions will require 100-200g in order to be properly protected.

Softshell Jackets:

High output activities quickly generate heat and by extension perspiration, and as such it is important when partaking in such activities to select a garment with adequate breathability. Hardshell jackets can be somewhat lacking in this department and will soon leave you feeling somewhat clammy, so in such cases you may be better off opting for a softshell jacket. Comprised of a treated outer layer of stretchy woven fabric such as polyester and/or nylon, these jackets are warm, comfortable, and water-resistant. While not the ideal solution for wet environments as they are more water-resistant than waterproof, softshell jackets are best used during periods of high exertion in a dry environment.

Skier Type

What you require from a ski jacket will also vary based upon the activities in which you are partaking. For example, the active nature of freestyle skiers means that during winter they are likely best served by a hardshell jacket which will protect them from any moisture during a stumble or fall, whilst allowing them to add additional layers underneath for warmth. During warmer, dryer months, a softshell jacket will add breathability and may boost the comfort level of the wearer as compared to the aforementioned hardshell. For these skiers, it’s all about timing it seems.

Ramping the idea of an active nature up to 11 are the backcountry skiers, who spend the time strapped to their skis exploring the wilderness across largely untouched peaks. The level of physical exertion is high, and the conditions are often the most extreme faced by any skier. During warmer months the added breathability offered by a softshell jacket will be ideal, but when the worse weather hits during winter you may find this somewhat lacking. In these cases a softshell jacket is still a good idea, but you may be best wearing it underneath a waterproof technical shell jacket, which will provide extra waterproofing and wind-breaking capabilities without compromising the breathability of the softshell below.

Piste skiers arguably have the most choice when it comes to the ideal ski jacket, with the best option depending predominantly upon what time of the year and how regularly you ski. Those who ski exclusively in winter often opt for an insulation jacket in order to better preserve warmth, while those hitting the slopes in spring may favour the added breathability of a softshell jacket. By far the most popular choice and easily the best fit for those who ski all year round however is the hardshell jacket. This will protect the wearer from any wind and rain whilst allowing them add or remove inner insulating layers to match the conditions at the time.

Additional Considerations

Other useful features to keep an eye out for include wrist gaiters and powder skirts designed to prevent snow from making its way under your clothing through the sleeves and back, which will obviously impact upon your overall warmth. Vents can also prove valuable by aiding in airflow and breathability.

Also pay attention to the hood; while all decent ski jackets will likely have a hood of some description, some are more adjustable than others or may be removable in their entirety, adding flexibility to your winter sports attire. 

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for the written word. Currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor, his time at many UK festivals has taught him the importance of keeping warm.