How To Choose the Best Ski or Snowboard Jacket

Stay comfortable in any conditions with the right jacket.

You probably spend a lot of time choosing your ski or snowboard. Now put the same attention into getting a jacket. Your outermost layer is critical to staying comfortable and making the most of every day on snow. Here’s how to get the right one.

First, decide what kind of skiing or riding you’ll be doing most. If it’s primarily lift-accessed, and you don’t need the breathability of more backcountry-oriented outerwear, the options open up to include insulated jackets. If you’re planning on hiking for your turns, you’re better off with a shell that breathes and can be layered easily.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Before shopping, ask yourself the following to hone in on the right jacket.

Where will you be skiing or riding most? 

If it’s touring in the backcountry, get a highly breathable shell. If it’s lift-accessed skiing at a resort, you’ll want a warm, insulated jacket. 

Do you expect wet conditions? 

If you live in a region where rain and wet snow are common, opt for synthetic insulation and a waterproof shell.

How hot or cold do you run? 

Get a jacket that matches your personal needs. If you shiver at the slightest windchill, consider a down jacket with a windproof shell. Run hot? Don’t overdo it with a jacket that you end up carrying more than wearing.  

Is your favorite season spring?

A softshell is great in moderate spring conditions.

What features do you need?

Make a list of features—powder skirt, headphone port, stowable hood, etc.—that are essential.

Jacket Types

There’s a lot of variation in winter jackets, from insulated models to shells to 3-in-1 jackets. Here’s an overview of the main types you’ll see. 

Insulated Jackets 

For resort skiing and riding in cold conditions, you want a warm jacket for lift lines and chair rides. And if breathability isn’t a big concern (i.e. you don’t plan on ever hiking), or you’re skiing where it can also rain, consider an insulated jacket with a waterproof shell. 

Down jackets: Down insulation delivers a high warmth-to-weight ratio and the best packability. Trade-offs: Down is often more expensive and can lose its insulating properties when wet (it’s best for dry, cold areas like the Rockies). However, most newer jackets feature water-resistant down, which has a hydrophobic treatment that helps feathers maintain loft in wet conditions.  

Synthetic jackets: Synthetic-fill jackets are generally less expensive than down and perform better when wet. They’re a good choice for soggy regions like the Northwest or Northeast. Downsides: Synthetic jackets are generally heavier and bulkier than down jackets of equivalent warmth. Some companies use body mapping—putting more insulation in the torso area than the arms—to reduce weight and bulk. 


A shell cuts wind and protects from snow and rain. 

Hardshells: A waterproof/breathable hardshell has no insulation, so works as the outermost layer of a system (over a midlayer and baselayer). A hardshell should have a hood and might include pit-vents for breathability. Note: Try it on with layers underneath to get the right size; err on the large size. Hardshells can be thin and light or thick and heavy, but either way look for a high waterproof rating (20,000g/m2 or higher).

Resort versus backcountry hardshells: Shells made for resort use tend to be heavier, bulkier, and less breathable than backcountry-oriented shells, and they also have more features, like multiple pockets and powder skirts (see features below). Shells that perform better in the backcountry are lighter, more compressible, more breathable, and generally more minimalist to save weight.

Softshells: Softshells are weather resistant enough for light snow and rain, but more comfortable than hardshells because they’re softer, stretchier, and more breathable. That makes them excellent for backcountry touring, especially in spring conditions. Like hardshells, they come in versions that are more appropriate for resort use (heavier, more features) and ones that are better for the backcountry (lighter, more breathable). Note: Some softshells today are waterproof, just like hardshells, blurring the line between the two categories.  

3-in-1 Jackets: These versatile jacket “systems” come with two pieces that can be worn together or individually. Typically an outer shell attaches via zipper to an inner fleece or other insulated layer (often a vest or inner jacket), letting you layer up or down according to the conditions. The advantage over buying a shell and midlayer separately? A 3-in-1 system can fit better, match better, and potentially cost less.


Once you know which type of jacket you want, focus on the features, which are also key to performance.

Taped seams: If you are shopping for a totally waterproof jacket, make sure it has taped seams, which prevents leaking through the stitching. Seams can also be glued or welded to stay watertight.  

Venting: Located in the armpit or down the sides, zip vents let air circulate through the jacket to cool you off. Vents can be open or lined with mesh, and are more common in shells than insulated jackets.   

Waterproof zippers: Many higher-end jackets use waterproof zippers to prevent leaks, saving weight by eliminating zipper flap covers. 

Pockets: Pockets are personal preference, but it’s great to have several, including outer hand pockets, a vest pocket, and a large inner pocket (great for goggles or skins). Resort skiers might want a ski pass pocket as well. 

Headphone ports: Many jackets today will have a way to integrate headphones. Make sure yours does if that’s something you’ll use.  

Hood: You’ll want a hood on cold, blustery days. Features to look for include adjustability, removability, stowability, and helmet-compatibility.  

Powder skirts: Also called powder tunnels, these keep snow from sneaking up your back or down your pants. Many are made of stretch-fabric and fasten around your stomach via Velcro or snap buttons; some are also removable, or designed to fasten to your pants.   

Cuffs: Most cuffs are adjustable, usually via Velcro, to accommodate gloves. Some jackets also include an inner cuff or gaiter, often with a hole for your thumb. 

Hem cinch: Adjustable drawcords let you snug the hem tight, eliminating drafts and sealing in warmth. 

Lining: Many resort-oriented jackets (not single-piece shells) come with some sort of lining inside, like light fleece or mesh. A liner can boost comfort and warmth.

RECCO: This technology helps rescue teams locate people buried in avalanches or lost in the outdoors. The RECCO system uses a passive harmonic radar reflector embedded into the jacket to make the wearer searchable to professional rescuers.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.