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If you’ve ever been on a chairlift and started thinking about your pants, you’re probably wearing the wrong pair. The best ski pants are designed to go unnoticed—unless you’ve opted for those Mojito Green Spyders.
Ski clothing, and pants in particular, are built to keep you comfortable. Waterproofing materials, like Gore-Tex and eVent, are designed to stop the wind and wet from seeping in, while also providing breathability that lets hot air out when you’re working hard on black diamonds or in the backcountry. Waterproofing and breathability ratings are often paired, because, let’s face it, what good is keeping moisture out if your fabric locks sweat in?
- Best for Men: Arc’teryx Sabre AR Snow Pants
- Best for Women: Helly Hansen Switch Cargo
- Best Cross Country: Craft Pursuit Cross-Country Ski Pants
- Best Backcountry: Outdoor Research Skyward II Snow Pants
- Best Lightweight: Arc’teryx Beta AR
- Warmest Ski Pants: Spyder Dare GTX
- Best Ski Bibs: Flylow Gear Baker Bib
- Best Budget: The North Face Freedom Insulated Snow Pants
Waterproof ratings, expressed in millimeters, measure how tall a column of water would have to be when poured into a 1-inch-by-1-inch tube before starting to leak through the fabric underneath. About 15,000mm is a good rating, and 20,000mm says the fabric will keep you dry in the wettest conditions. Breathability, expressed in grams, measures how much water vapor can move completely through one square meter of fabric in a day. Between 10,000g and 15,000g is a solid range for ski pants. If all of this feels like information overload on fabric moisture, just remember there is little worse than being weighed down by wet, heavy pants on the mountain.
Ski gear is also meant to keep you warm. If you prefer hitching a ride to the top, you’ll likely want a pair of snow pants with insulation, so you can stay toasty while you’re sitting still. But if you’re always on the move and skinning your way up, a light, unlined ski pant is probably the way to go.
Fit matters, too. Not only do you want to be confident in how you look—in case your turns could use a little finessing—you should also expect your ski pants to optimize those turns. For instance, if your pants are too snug in the knees and hips, you could lose hip mobility when you need it the most.
The bottom line is that at the bottom of the hill, you don’t want to be second-guessing your snow pants. If you’re spending energy wishing they were warmer, more protective or a brighter shade of green, then you clearly wasted your money on the wrong pair. As Ned Flanders famously declared while skiing on the Simpsons, comfort on the slopes feels like “wearing nothing at all.” So if you’re trying to track down the best ski pants, we’ve got you covered.
How To Find The Best Ski Pants For You
Warmth, waterproofness, and wearability are the primary considerations when shopping for the best ski pants. But a lot goes into those factors. Unpacking the right features comes down to whether you prefer packed powder to the fluffy stuff, or chairlifts to churning uphill under your own power. Do you need massive vents to dump heat, or do you prefer ski clothes with thick insulation to keep you warm while you vent on the chair about the time you got your car stuck in a snowbank and didn’t have any snow gear? Do you need backcountry ski pants with pockets to pack snacks for a full day in the woods? Do you need space for an avalanche beacon? Are you ready to rock a ski bib? So many questions go into being a ski pants smartypants.
Men’s Ski Pants and Women’s Ski Pants Are Cut Differently
Notably, the cut of the seat is one of the biggest differences between women’s ski pants and men’s ski pants. On a woman, men’s ski pants are going to be baggy in the rear and crotch, which is not just a style concern. If your pants are at risk of falling down, you are, too—excess fabric in the wrong places could, most certainly, trip you up. Conversely, women’s ski pants on men are likely to be constricting. Narrower thighs and knees could restrict your movement, and it’s tough to make tight turns when feeling like your ski pants need to be let out. Other than fit, men’s ski pants and women’s ski pants have the same available features. The best ski pants offer what you need, whether you care most about staying dry, warm, or fresh.
Best Men’s Ski Pants: Arc’teryx Sabre AR Snow Pants
The 3-layer Gore-Tex construction gives these hardshell ski pants plenty of protection and a solid fit. A thin fleece backing will warm your legs on the ride up without overwhelming you if you prefer to skin your way to the top. Plus, side vents can release heat on big backcountry days. These pants are pricey, but they are worth it if you plan to put that season pass to work.
Best Women’s Ski Pants: Helly Hansen Switch Cargo
The PrimaLoft insulation will keep you cozy on the chair, while the articulated construction in the seat and knees gives you comfort when you shred, helping to make these the best women’s ski pants. 2-layer HellyTech Performance fabric with DWR finish gives these fully-taped hardshells plenty of waterproofing. These ski pants are likely to run hot if you’re climbing in the backcountry, but the low-rise cut and boot flare will have you looking good at the resort—pack snacks in the cargo pockets, and ski nonstop from first chair to sunset.
Cross-Country Ski Pants Should Be Lightweight
Nordic skiing is pure aerobic exercise. So the best cross-country ski pants should look more like what you’d wear to bike or jog, rather than what you’d wear to run laps at the resort. Forget heavy, insulated snow pants; lightweight ski pants for cross-country outings should be stretchy to accommodate lots of muscle movement, and breathable to wick away all the sweat you’re going to work up. While softshell pants sacrifice waterproofing capability, that’s OK. Let’s face it, when cross-country skiing, you’re likely to produce more moisture than Mother Nature will throw at you. And skinny skis mean skinny pants—the more form fitting your cross-country ski pants, the less friction you’ll experience as you skate or glide.
Best Cross-Country Ski Pants: Craft Pursuit Cross-Country Ski Pants
These are the best cross-country ski pants because they work as hard as you do on the trails. The polyester fabric is durable, lightweight and breathable, and this ski gear is easily adjustable, with zippers at the base of the legs and a stretchable waistband. While this Swedish-made pair of cross-country ski pants is costly, it will protect you with three-layer fabric designed to keep the elements at bay.
Slimmer Fit Ski Pants Make Uphill Hiking Easier
As with cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing—especially the uphill part—lends itself to slim fit ski pants. Narrower legs mean less weight and less inseam scuffing, and that makes for a more comfortable skin up the slope. Backcountry ski pants should also feature breathable fabric that wicks sweat, but all that deep powder you’ll be navigating does make waterproofing more essential—and could lend itself to a harder shell than what you’d need for pure cross-country skiing.
Insulation is less crucial in the backcountry than it is when downhill skiing inside the ropes—since you’ll be creating a lot of your own warmth—but other features, which might seem like trivial accessories to resort skiers, could actually be critical to survival out in the untracked snow. For instance, some ski pants come with sewn-in RECCO units, which can help rescue operations track you down. Other elements, such as extra pockets for snacks and built-in-gaiters to keep out snow, can help ensure your safety and happiness as you explore.
Best Backcountry Ski Pants for Touring: Outdoor Research Skyward II Snow Pants
Stretchy AscentShell 3-layer fabric. DWR coating. 1 pound, 6.8 ounces. That’s the kind of data that helps make Outdoor Research’s Skyward II the best backcountry ski pants for touring. The breathable, lightweight fabric on the hybrid hard/softshell pants does an excellent job regulating temperature and beating back the snow and wind, though you might find these ski pants to be a little too thin on particularly frigid and blustery days.
Do You Need Heavier or More Lightweight Ski Pants?
Generally speaking, if you want to be warmer, you’ll want heavier insulation—which translates to heavier ski pants. On the flipside, if your aim is to stay cool as you work your way uphill—and work up a sweat—you’ll want a lightweight ski pant. Lighter pants tend to be more breathable than heavier pants, but that also means the cold air can find its way in. Heavier insulated pants will surely keep you warm, but their bulkier shape could have you looking slightly less cool—depending on your style, of course. That quick game of hot and cold should get you a little closer to finding the best ski pants for you.
Best Lightweight Ski Pants: Arc’teryx Beta AR
These snow pants from Arc’teryx are the best lightweight ski pants because they provide potent resistance to water and wind even though they weigh just over 1 pound. The three-layer Gore-Tex Pro fabric provides ample airflow, and articulated patterning in the knees and rear gives your lower half plenty of room to breathe when navigating the backcountry. Keprotec instep patches limit wear and tear from boots and ski edges, and adjustable pant cuffs with elastic hooks keep snow off your boots.
Warmest Ski Pants: Spyder Dare GTX
Go ahead, we dare you to put these Spyder ski pants to the test. They are the warmest ski pants for a reason. Start with a Gore-Tex coating to keep out all the wet and wind, add fully-taped seams and then line the inside with 40 grams of PrimaLoft Eco insulation, and, no lying, you might just think your legs have caught fire. Plus, there’s no denying that the stretchy suspenders are downright hot.
Prefer Ski Bibs?
Some skiers take on so much powder, they need a snorkel to help them breathe. With such adventurers of the deep, you’re likely to find a ski bib under their coat. Much like baby bibs guarding against strewn mashed vegetables, ski bibs guard against wet or deep snow.
The extra fabric climbing to your chest and back helps repel that spray, preventing the cold snow from finding its way in—and down—your pants. While offering maximum protection, ski bibs also come in minimalist backcountry styles, which cut away fabric in the midsection to shed some pounds. Still, ski bibs, on balance, tend to be heavier and pricier than ski pants with typical waists, but if you’re often in thick or wet snow, you’ll be glad you opted for something a little extra.
Best Ski Bibs: Flylow Gear Baker Bib
There are at least a dozen reasons why the Baker Bib is one of the best ski bibs. Top attributes include a 3-layer intuitive membrane that rates at 20K/20K for waterproof and breathability, an integrated avalanche beacon attachment system in the thigh pocket and a drop seat that lets you efficiently get down to business when nature calls. While the baggy trim of these hardshell pants might slow down your backcountry pursuits, few other ski pants can keep you this dry in snow that’s truly deep.
Ski Clothes Can Get Expensive: Here’s What You Can Find for Under $200
Lift tickets are no small investment. And for the occasional weekender who doesn’t own skis and boots, the added cost of rentals turns a day on the slopes into a small fortune. Still, the adrenaline of going downhill easily justifies the expense. And the good news is you can save money on other snow gear. While top-of-the line ski pants cost more than some skis themselves, you can also find excellent cheap ski pants that will keep you warm and dry for that day at the resort. Yes, budget buys will skimp some on style, customized fit and functionality, but waterproof shells and nicely insulated linings are well within reach for the less than $200.
Best Budget Ski Pants: The North Face Freedom Insulated Snow Pants
If you’re a skier who visits the resort a few Saturdays every winter, these North Face insulated pants will free up some cash for that much-deserved après beer. The Freedom is the best budget ski pant because its 60-gram Heatseeker insulation offers plenty of warmth, while the durable 2-layer build keeps you well protected from snow and wind—all for less than $200.
The fit is baggy and not easily customizable, and these hardshell pants can run hot if you’re burning the legs on steeps, but you’ll find easy relief knowing that you saved a ton on these ski pants—not to mention that the venting system of this budget North Face model works surprisingly well.
We think Arc’teryx makes the best ski pants. This Canadian brand, headquartered in Vancouver—site of the 2010 Olympics—is the gold standard of skiing apparel. Though pricey, Arc’teryx ski pants are built to battle the elements—even the damp snow often found on the Coast Mountains in the company’s backyard, and look good too.
You choose the best ski pants that make you comfortable. What makes you comfortable? Only you can decide. For instance, stretchier pants often give a little on waterproofing. While heavily insulated pants tend to weigh down style and functionality. It’s up to you to find the right balance.
Ski pants should fit your needs and fit also affects performance. If you’re uphill skinning or on cross-country skis, you should opt for lighter and more breathable ski pants. But if you’re focusing on keeping your lower body mobile, a baggier pant will work for you.
Snow pants have two main jobs: keeping you warm—whether that’s holding in heat or wicking away sweat—and keeping you dry. It helps if they look good, too. If you’ve found a pair that accomplishes these objectives, you’ve taken a huge step toward finding the best ski pants for you.