The Best Ski Jacket for Men Review
What is the best jacket for your snow sport desires? We scoped out the best in men's insulated ski and snowboard jackets and pushed their limits in the backcountry and on the resort. Our expert testers slammed through foul weather and slid on rock-hard steep descents, putting each excellent piece of technical outerwear through the wringer. Some performed better than others, and each brought their own style to the market. We carefully tested each one and scored them on warmth, weather resistance, and ventilation. We considered each contender's style, comfort, and features. In the end, we had overall favorites and also identified those that may appeal to a more particular audience.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
Wading through the incredibly diverse field of ski outerwear can be a trying task. Fear not, as we have selected 10 of the best ski jackets for this year's selection. Each piece we review is excellent, and every skier or snowboarder will find something here for him or her. Our field reflects the entire spectrum, from budget options that work just as well commuting to the office on a blustery day as they do on your favorite ski resort, to purpose-built, high-end offerings that will protect and warm the most discerning riders in the most trying conditions.
Choose the right one for you, and burly conditions on serious peaks will seem downright pedestrian. Of course, these will protect in less gnarly weather as well. All are comfortable enough for all-day wear and our selection represents a broad cross-section of fashion tastes. From youthful backcountry-inspired styles like the Arc'teryx Fission SL to the subdued and neutral design of the Helly Hansen Alpha 2.0, there is an option here for you. For a step-by-step guide to navigating the entire ski jacket market, please consult our comprehensive Buying Advice article. If, however, you are looking to choose from the OutdoorGearLab selection of skiing outerwear, read on.
Types of Ski Jackets
This review concentrates on ski-specific insulated jackets. Many will also serve other purposes, but their primary function is as ski resort upper body protection. Ski area specific designs are characterized by durable and thick shell fabrics and included (though sometimes removable) insulation. Within the overall ski outerwear category are three primary divisions. Here we've reviewed contenders in the first two, and will refer you to other OutdoorGearLab reviews for the third.
This style is the most versatile. Like our Best Buy winning Columbia Whirlibird Interchange 3-in-1, these are perfect for the skier looking for a multi-function, customizable protection piece on a budget. Each entry in this category is composed of an insulating liner, which is either a fleece or a synthetic fill layer, and a shell. The two pieces can be worn separately or zipped and snapped together for an easily donned and doffed cold-weather jacket. Two primary disadvantages stand out.
In their combined configuration, they are inherently more restrictive and less comfortable than one-piece products of a similar warmth. And, for reasons unknown to us, the modular jackets on the market are generally made of at least slightly lower quality materials. If you want this sort of function with high-end down insulation and the best shell fabrics on the market, you will find precious few options. The other 3-in-1 jacket we tested is the Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot.
The majority of the ski jackets in our review fall into this category. The amount and type of insulation may vary, and the shell fabrics represent a wide spectrum of quality and durability. However, all are purpose built for riding chairlifts up and sliding down on snow. Price, fit, quality, style, and weather protection vary across the selection. Rest assured that there is something in this category for everyone. The insulated shells we tested are the Arc'teryx Macai, the Spyder Leader, Arc'teryx Fission SL, Helly Hansen Alpha, and Patagonia Primo.
Dedicated Shell Jackets
For the first time, in 2016, we tested men's ski shell jackets alongside the other types. For those wishing to construct their wardrobe from individual pieces, so as to be able to tailor the protection to the user and conditions, that process starts with a ski shell. The ski shell jackets we tested are the Norona Lofoten, the Outdoor Research White Room, and the FlyLow Gear Quantum Pro.
Other Layering Options
It is also just as reasonable to ride the ski resort with a combination of other types of separate layers. Many will choose one outer layer from a plethora of hardshell or softshell jackets to block precipitation and wind. General purpose, or alpine climbing specific shell jackets are generally closer fitting, with fewer features than the ski specific shells we choose here. Regardless of what sort of shell is chosen, one will then insulate beneath that shell with a fleece, synthetic jacket, or down layer. Finally, many "around town" and hiking inspired winter jackets can be pressed into service for ski area usage.
Criteria for Evaluation
Skiing and snowboarding take place in cold environments. An insulated jacket built specifically for resort riding is the first line of defense against that cold climate. Most of the jackets we tested are somehow insulated. Most have synthetic insulation sewn in. (For more information about synthetic insulation, consult our insulated jacket buying advice.) In these jackets, a three-dimensional matrix of fine, man-made fibers creates dead air space that protects against convective and radiative cooling of the user's body.
On other jackets, including the most expensive, durable, and highly rated products in our test, the insulating value is provided by goose down. Goose down is highly insulating and lasts a long long time, but it costs more than synthetic fill. Synthetic fill also insulates better when wet than down. Uninsulated shell jackets provide a very little amount of warmth to the wearer. What they do, however, is protect the wearer's inner insulating layers from the adverse affects of wind and wetness. In this way, shell jackets are integral to a layered skiers warmth, but only indirectly.
Wearing each of our tested products back-to-back in stormy and cold weather across the continent allowed us to make fairly accurate assessments of their relative warmth. The Columbia Whirlibird is the warmest jacket in our test. Next, the Helly Hansen Alpha 2.0, Arc'teryx Macai, Patagonia Snowshot and Spyder Leader had high insulating values virtually indistinguishable from one another. Due to its loose and drafty fit, the latest iteration of the Patagonia Primo is basically tied with the much lighter Arc'teryx Fission SL for lesser insulation. The shell jackets all had far less insulation value, with only the Ourdoor Research White Room edging slightly ahead due to its thin fleece lining.
Weather resistance is a function of three things, in declining order of importance: construction, waterproof materials, and the durable water repellent coating (DWR). For routine resort use, construction and design will be the primary force influencing the degree of wind and precipitation protection the wearer receives. The jacket needs to be constructed of any one of a number of waterproof and breathable fabrics and coated with an effective DWR.
However, design and construction, particularly with regard to seam integrity, hood shape, waist sealing, and wrist cuff style, are by far the biggest determinants of weather resistance. The most weather resistant coats we tested are constructed well, regardless of the fabric technology used. That said, good fabrics sewn together well will trump poor fabrics sewn in the same way. Finally, to be clear, we discuss mainly water resistance in our reviews. However, because anything that resists water will resist wind and snow as well, we can extrapolate overall weather protection from tests, scores, and discussion of water resistance.
Manufacturers and sales personnel will make a big deal of the technology in the shell fabrics. Gore-Tex, a well-established brand manufacturing raw materials and licensing its use to many clothing companies, describes its fabrics and company-certified garments as "Guaranteed to Keep You Dry." This claim implies both protection from atmospheric solid and liquid water, and transmission of body-generated water vapor. In our review, the Patagonia Primo Down, Arc'terx Macai, Arc'teryx Fission, and Norrona Lofoten Gore Tex Pro Shell are made of Gore Tex. Other manufacturers use a pair of five-digit numbers to describe both waterproofness and breathability ("10,000/10,000", or further abbreviated to "10k/10k").
The first number in the pair describes waterproofing by indicating the number of millimeters of water the fabric can withstand over a 24-hour period. That is in theory, in perfect conditions. The second number describes breathability, in grams of water vapor that can pass through a square meter of fabric in a 24-hour period. Now, what does all that mean in real life? First of all, these numbers and claims are assigned by the manufacturer. Little to no independent qualitative testing is performed. Second, basically all fabrics available on the market (certainly all in our tests) are good to the claimed 10k/10k performance. And that is plenty. All this is interesting academic information, but we can move on now, as all the jackets in our test are made of high performing fabrics.
Each company does it differently, but at some point in the process of construction the manufacturer coats the outside of the fabric with a DWR. This is what makes water bead up on the surface of a garment. The above described waterproof/breathable laminates are inside of the shell fabric. In order to keep the outer fabric dry (and therefore breathable – soaked fabric does not breathe) it is treated with a somewhat inappropriately named DWR. In actual usage, the DWR is often the least durable part of the entire jacket and wears off over time.
We tested the DWRs in our sprinkler test. While soaking the fabric, simulating rain or wet snow or both, we rubbed the forearm of every one. This simulates the reality of actual usage. Arms rub against the body, bodies rub against the snow, chair lifts rub against backs and shoulders. Patagonia garments, the Patagonia Primo and Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot have the best DWRs in our test. The Arc'teryx products come next, with the soft outer fabric of the Helly Hansen Alpha delivering an impressive performance. The Spyder Leader eventually wet out in this test. In each case, however, the truly waterproof part is protected and hidden by the shell fabric. The DWR on the Norrona Lofoten Gore Tex Pro Shell was the best among the shells, with the OR and FlyLow products faring well.
Again, and we cannot say this enough, design is far more important. All the ski jackets in our test are made of waterproof/breathable fabric. Weather resistance performance is therefore a function of construction and fit, with DWR playing a role as well. We looked for thoughtfully designed hoods, high stiff collars, effective cuffs (with inner, secondary cuffs a bonus), protected zippers, and long sleeves and hems. Our top scorers in terms of insulated jackets were both Arc'teryx models and the Patagonia Primo Down. The Norrona Lofoten Gore Tex Pro Shell tops the shell jacket field with immaculate cuffs, a huge hood that can be cinched down, and an amazing powder skirt that can be attached to the matching pants to form basically a one-piece suit. In insulated jackets, weather resistance and warmth often come from the same features. Jackets that came out on top in our overall scores were also the ones that performed best in weather resistance and warmth.
Not all cold environments are created equal. Nor does a single ski day involve uniform conditions. Being able to adapt your insulation to better match your surroundings and exertion is key to resort comfort. A rider will sit, sedentary, for long periods of time. Lift lines and lift rides expose a still skier or boarder to all the weather with little opportunity to generate body heat through exertion. And then, polar opposite to the lift ride, the rider will drop into a few minutes of high output athletic activity. Additionally, the day can heat up or cool down, and one day may be very different from the last. Traveling to new mountain ranges is a primary driver of the passionate skier. All these changes require adaptable gear. Ventilation performance is crucial for adaptation, both in the short term of one run to the next, and long term of one day, week, season, or range to the next.
The Columbia Whirlibird and Patagonia Snowshot offer modular, "3-in-1" designs that are particularly well suited to ventilation and adaptation. These each come in one beefy, insulated, and weatherproof package. In usage, the inner liner of each can be unzipped and unbuttoned to be worn alone. The shell of each can also be worn on its own without the insulation. That gives you two parts, worn together or each individually. Hence the "3-in-1" descriptor. They earned our highest scores for ventilation. The option to mix and match the layers does indeed take some time, but it gives far better climate control than any of the other ones in our test.
If it is crucial to you that you can vent or seal up in a matter of seconds, look for one with long (longer than a foot or so), non-mesh-backed pit-zips with multiple zipper pulls. The absolute best vents start on the users chest instead of inline along the underarm. The Outdoor Research White Room has long zips, that start on the chest, and have no mesh backing. It is the best non-3-in-1 venting jacket in our review. Among the insulated jackets, none have all the vent attributes we look for. The Patagonia Primo Down and Arc'teryx Fission both have long zips that open entirely without mesh, but they are hidden under the arm.
The Spyder Leader has mid lengthy zips that start on the chest, but are backed with mesh. In comparing these jackets and their different venting styles head to head, the Spyder is slightly more effective at venting. This suggests to our test team that location of the vents has greater impact than the removal of the mesh backing. The Norrona Lofoten Gore Tex Pro Shell and FlyLow Gear Quantum vent well, while the remaining insulated jackets (Helly Hansen, Arc'teryx Macai) have nothing notable in terms of ventilation.
A handful of potential niceties can really augment a well-designed jacket. Throughout our tests we looked for plentiful pockets, ski pass clips and pockets, integrated goggle wipes, and systems to join jackets and pants into an integrated package. The top scoring jackets in this category were the Helly Hansen Alpha and the Spyder Leader, which both came loaded with resort skiing conveniences. Of the shell jackets, the Outdoor Research White Room has the most features, while the Norrona Lofoten Gore Tex Pro Shell has the fewest. The FlyLow Quantum has a ton of pockets, but few other niceties. The Patagonia jackets are near the middle of the pack. The Arc'teryx Macai has more features than its brother the Arc'teryx Fission SL.
Fit and Comfort
Fit is king. We go to the mountains to feel good. We want to feel good in our clothes. Fit and comfort, like weather resistance, is a function of both materials and construction. Carefully constructed garments fit better. However, fit will vary from one person to another. Second only to style, fit and comfort is a very subjective measure. What fits one person may or may not fit the next. In order to address this, we tested on a variety of athletic body shapes and in each review we rate overall fit as a single number, but elaborate on exactly what was different from one piece to another. It is worth noting that primary testing was done by thin, size medium men.
When we say a jacket like the Patagonia Primo was "boxy and loose", we mean that basically everyone will have this same experience, relative to the other jackets in our test. A barrel chested man may appreciate this boxier cut. All the jackets we tested were marketed as size medium by their manufacturers. The Helly Hansen Alpha and Spyder Leader earned high scores in fit and comfort, coming to that performance from two very different directions. The Arc'teryx Alpha is constructed with what seems like 15 different soft and flexible fabrics. Virtually every part stretches and hugs the body. Visible bulk mainly comes from the insulation.
The Spyder Leader is far more loose in fit, with a brilliant collar and sleeve design that virtually disappears on the wearer. We also love the fit of the lightly insulated Arc'teryx Fission SL. The Arc'teryx Macai feels somewhat similar to the Helly Hansen - close and cozy - but accomplishes this with careful tailoring instead of the stretchy fabrics of the Alpha. The FlyLow Gear Quantum and Outdoor Research White Room shell jackets are constructed of stiff material that feels protective, but somewhat confining. The Norrona Lofoten Gore Tex Pro Shell is the lightest in our review, with thin fabric that moves with the wearer. The Columbia Whirlibird and Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot are the most confining and bulky feeling, attributable to the extra layers of fabric involved in their construction.
Style is highly subjective. Our test team of dirtbag ski bums, former fashion students, and cosmopolitan mountain town refugees brought a whole range of experiences and opinions to the scores. Your opinion may vary still further. In our ratings we tried to evaluate each piece in context. Of course, we considered fit, colors, and versatility. What statement does this jacket make? Can a wearer pull it off in town and on the hill? Will it look out of place in Instagram backcountry photos? Out of place on a snowboard, or on skis? We also considered branding, intended use, target demographic, and resort fashion trends over time. Nonetheless, you may choose to throw our assessments of style completely out the window. And we are fine with that.
Some of the jackets we evaluated make strong visual statements. The Spyder Leader shouts "I'm a SKIER," the Arc'teryx Fission SL swaggers to the backcountry gate, while the Columbia Whirlibird Jacket says "I go to the mountains, but don't take myself too seriously." Others such as the Patagonia Primo Down, Helly Hansen Alpha, and Outdoor Research White Room have more understated, neutral looks that blend in on the hill and around town without being too conspicuous. The FlyLow Gear Quantum shell is incredibly beefy, with rigid fabric that holds its shape around people of all dimensions. The Norrona Lofoten Gore Tex Pro Shell that we reviewed is bright and svelte, more like an alpine climbing hardshell than a ski resort piece.
To keep your legs comfortable and warm while hitting the slopes, we recommend the Arc'teryx Sabre and The North Face Freedom Pant. Both of these pants fit very well and are very weather resistant. Also notable if only for its incredible integration with our Top Pick shell jacket, the Norrona Lofoten pants are excellent. For a more in-depth look of all the ski pants we reviewed, check out The Best Ski Pants Review.
Don't forget about your hands, either. For the most warmth and dexterity we recommend the Hestra Seth Morrison Pro Model or Black Diamond Mercury Mitt. Check out The Best Ski Gloves Review for a full look at all the gloves we tested.
See also our downhill ski reviews for our Top Picks of Mens and Women's skis. Check out all of our ski gear favorites in one place on our Ski and Snowboard Gear Dream List.
Finding the perfect ski outerwear can be a difficult task with the immense amount of jackets currently on the market. We tested 10 of the top ski jackets available in hopes of helping you sort through the list. To learn more about the most important considerations when purchasing an insulated jacket for skiing, read our Buying Advice article, which details all the notable factors.
— Jediah Porter
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