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Updated Sep 6, 2021 11:30 PM

Puffers and parkas may get the lion’s share of winter gear attention, but snow pants are an essential item for keeping comfortable in cold weather — particularly when any form of precipitation is present. But pants can look like…pants, and at a glance it’s harder to intuit which pair may be your best choice. For instance, what’s the difference between snow pants and ski pants? Snowboard pants? Insulated pants? Are all snow pants waterproof, and does it matter?

We did the research to make your purchase choice easy. Here’s what you need to know to find the best snow pants for you:

Features to Consider When Shopping for Snow Pants

There are two main considerations for snow pants: What they’ll be used for, and what they’re made of. Both are dependent on each other. While you can certainly use the same pants for different activities, you should think about what you’ll be doing the most while wearing the pants, and then look for the qualities that matter most for those activities: insulation, waterproofness, flexibility, ease of putting on and taking off, pockets, and construction. Don’t base your choice on looks alone — sub-par pants are snow pants that you’ll wind up wearing inside instead of outdoors.

Do You Need Waterproof or Insulated Pants?

The more time you’ll spend in contact with the ground or the elements — snowboarding, sledding, even just a snowball fight — the more essential waterproofing becomes. And if warmth is paramount and you want simplicity (meaning no need to put several insulating layers beneath the outer pants — insulated pants are the best choice. Plenty of those are waterproof, too.

You’re looking for two things when it comes to waterproofing: the seams, and the millimeter rating.

Seams, left untouched, are the most permeable part of a garment. If seams are taped during manufacture, moisture is blocked from entering at the seams. Some pairs will have fully taped seams — the best option — while others will have partially taped seams. Partial is better than nothing, and generally found on less expensive pairs, but if you can, by all means go with fully taped.

The millimeter waterproofing rating tells you at what quantity water will permeate the pants. Measured in millimeters, it refers not to the thickness of the fabric or its coating but the pressure at which water will penetrate the fabric. A ranking of 15,000mm or above is generally going to keep you totally dry, although if you know you’re going to be in particularly wet conditions, look for 20,000mm and up. Breathability is often listed alongside waterproofing, measured in grams, so if you see something like “20k/20k,” that’s “waterproofing/breathability” — and great ratings for both. (Breathability matters for waterproofing, because if sweat can’t get out, you still end up with moisture inside that will quickly make you cold.)

With insulation, you’re considering the same factors as you would with winter jackets: quality and quantity of filling. Quality is given in the down fill rating, and quantity in ounces. (Find out more about down ratings.)

Keeping dry is key to keeping warm and comfortable, so if you’ll be active in the snow and coming into contact with wet snow, look for good waterproof snow pants.

Best Waterproof Pants: Flylow Foxy Bibs Ski and Snowboard Pants



Fully taped seams, a 20,000mm waterproofing rating, gaiters, and the torso-and-waistline-covering ski bib entirely eliminate potential entrances for moisture. But beyond that, these waterproof pants have a 20,000g breathability rating, plus a zippered venting system so you can cool down quickly if you need to. All the climate control in the world, though, doesn’t matter if they aren’t comfortable pants. The Flylow Foxy Bibs stretch in all three layers of fabric, smartly cut legs, and a design that makes getting in and out of them a breeze.

Best Insulated Pants: The North Face Freedom Insulated Snow Pants

North Face


Made with Heatseeker Eco recycled material for warmth, these straight-leg insulated snow pants have an adjustable waist and variety of available inseams, plus fully taped seaming, and solid waterproofing and breathability (plus venting). Pockets are sleekly built in, and gaiters keep snow out at the ankles.

Do You Need Ski Pants or Snowboarding Pants?

Snowsports like skiing or snowboarding require pants with specific features. For example, will the pockets fit all of your personal items, and keep them secure up the lifts and down the slopes? Will you be able to freely move in the waist, hips, and knees? Will you be able to bend without the pants pulling up from the ankles or down from the waist? Will they keep you warm and dry, not just when moving downhill, but while sitting on a wet lift on a windy day?

Ski pants and snowboard pants share the same fundamentals, but pants for snowboarding generally should have better waterproofing and be cut a bit baggier for sufficient room to move.

Best Ski Pants: Flylow Cage Ski and Snowboard Pants



Three layers, a 10k/10k waterproofing/breathability rating, outer thigh vents, and a super sturdy, reinforced fabric mean these ski pants will take you downhill in comfort for many seasons to come.

Best Snowboard Pants: Burton Gore-Tex Vent Ski/Snow Pants



For snowboard pants and gear, Burton has been a go-to for decades. These cross-vented, Gore-Tex pants are ideal for snowboarding due to their fit (particularly in the knees, waist, and ankles), and the serious wind-proofing and waterproofing qualities.

Will You Be Working in these Pants?

If you’re working rather than playing, you’re going to need something different in snow pants. While some essentials remain consistent (after all, you’re still looking to stay warm and dry), durability matters more. Insulation is also non-negotiable, since you won’t be generating your own warmth to the same level as you would be when skiing or snowboarding.

Best Snow Pants for Work: Carhartt Yukon Arctic Snow Bib



Supremely hefty 1000-denier Cordura nylon and insulation to match makes the Yukon Arctic Carhartt bibs the best snow pants for working outdoors. Covered-over-for-warmth leg zippers allow access and ventilation, the knees are double-built for durability, and are designed to allow knee pads.

Do You Need All-Around Snow Pants?

You need good insulation and waterproofing for everyday snow pants, but not to the same levels as skiing and snowboarding pants. Walking to a store, light shoveling, and going on short hikes don’t require the best pants out there. But you do need pants that you can rely on to keep you warm and dry during those activities.

Best All-Around Men’s Snow Pants: Burton Insulated Covert Ski/Snowboarding Pants



Made with Thinsulate for low bulk and high warmth, these insulated men’s snow pants also win points for style. With fleece-lined pockets, fully taped seams, and a 10k/10k rating in waterproofing and breathability, these are a great choice for all-around pants.

Best All-Around Womens Snow Pants: Flylow Daisy Ski and Snowboard Pants



Stretch in the 10k/10k waterproof/breathable fabric keeps these women’s snow pants comfortable, and durable fabrics and reinforcements make them last. Spaceloft insulation makes them warm without making the pants massive.

Best Kids’ Snow Pants: Columbia Snuggly Bunny Bunting



One zip and four flips of the arm- and leg- hole flaps, and your little one is all sealed in—no mitten and boot fights, and no worry about snow or cold getting in at a gap between coat and pants. When your child sizes out of bunting, the Arctix Reinforced Snow Pants for Kids is a good choice, and the price-point won’t make you dread growth spurts.

Best Cheap Snow Pants: What You Get for Under $35

Insulation is easier to find than waterproofing, so if you’re on a budget, your money is best spent on an impermeable layer that you can wear on top of a few layers of long underwear or leggings. You’ll stay dry and warm.

Best Cheap Snow Pants: Columbia Men’s Rebel Roamer



These Columbia snow pants are available in variable inseam lengths, allowing you to get the right fit not only for height, but for winter footwear, too. They have a 10,000mm waterproofing rating and taped seams, so if you won’t be spending a lot of time immersed in snow, they’re a good choice.


Q: Do snow pants need to be waterproof?

In short, yes, snow pants need to be waterproof. Moisture getting underneath pants will sap body heat and keep you cold, no matter the insulation quality. Even if you’re not going to be spending a lot of time on the ground, moisture often finds ways to sneak in (think melted snow in the ski lift or on a park bench, kneeling down in wet snow), so investing in waterproof pants is smart.

Q: How should snow pants fit?

Snow pants should fit in a way that allows a comfortable range of movement, particularly in the waist and hips, so there isn’t any tugging or exposure to elements when you bend, sit, or squat. Beyond that, it all comes down to the type of layering you’ll do underneath, what you’re wearing them for, and personal preference. Many people wear a layer of thermal underwear beneath snow pants.

A Final Word on Shopping for the Best Snow Pants

No matter what you’ll be doing while wearing the snow pants, waterproofness and insulation are vital. Keep those two factors constantly in mind as you shop.