The Best Ski Pants Review
Out of hundreds of options, what is the right ski and snowboard pant for you? Protecting your legs from wind, cold, and abrasion is a thankless job. You will use and abuse this garment for a long time, usually in unforgiving climates. You will need pants that fit and match your skiing style, while stylistically complementing all of your other layers. Finally, ski or snowboard pants need to withstand weather and usage. Their materials and design must be up to the task of protecting you from wind, snow, rain, and abrasion. So do your due diligence, consult our extensive review, and your choice will reward you for years and years.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Ski Pants
Arc'teryx Sabre Pants
It was not an easy job to narrow down our selection of pants in an effort to grant the Editors' Choice award. We had an excellent selection of highly functional garments. As is often the case, the winner of this award did not have the highest marks in any one category. Across the board, however, the Arc'teryx Sabre delivered strong scores. For each specific attribute, there is likely a better choice, but the Sabre is unbeatable as an all-arounder. This award winner, with its uninsulated construction, solid design, comfortable fit, excellent materials, and classic styling, is the highest scoring, most versatile, all-around product in our review.
Excellent weather protection
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Freedom Pant
The North Face Freedom Pant are comfortable, weather resistant, and their fit is impeccable. Their price point is competitive, especially considering that the seams and fabric are durable, and the style is neutral and long-lasting. The fit isn't too baggy or too tight. The fleece hanging liner means that the pants can be worn without long underwear on warm or long days, and the inner leg vents shed steam. The design is simple, with sparse features and solid boot-sealing cuffs.
Top Pick for Insulated Pants
Spyder Dare Athletic Fit
In general, we caution against insulated ski or snowboarding pants for most people. You're better off owning multiple thicknesses of long underwear and layering underneath your uninsulated pants in order to adjust for different temperatures. However, some skiers will require insulated pants. If you dislike long underwear, get really cold, or ski in frigid climates, adding some insulation to your pants might be important. So if you must have insulated pants, the Spyder Dare Athletic Fit are the top pick. The insulation is carefully tuned, and the fit and styling is modern and clean.
Insulation narrows appeal and functionality
Top Pick for Weather Protection
Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Pants
When worn with the matching jacket, the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Pants create the most weather-protective two-piece suit we have ever used. Short of an admittedly unstylish one-piece, the zipped-together Norrona Lofoten pair guards best against the gnarliest winds and precipitation. The construction of each piece is clean and made from the best possible materials. The price shows this quality, but for those looking for the best outerwear for skiing in wild weather, the Norrona set up is at the top of the list. Pair these pants with the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell, our Top Pick shell-only jacket, for the ultimate weather protection.
Excellent weather protection
Bib section is tight on bigger people
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Analysis and Test Results
We ask a lot from our ski and snowboarding pants. We need them to protect us from wind, cold, snow, and abrasion. We need them to be comfortable, fashionable, and durable. We also appreciate versatility and value. We may own many layers and jackets, but typically people only own one pair of ski or snowboard pants. We will mix and match these upper layers to tackle everything from storm days at the resort to hot days in the backcountry, and we expect our one pair of pants to perform in all of these conditions.
Virtually every skier owns little more than a pair of shell pants and a pair of long underwear. Very dedicated skiers may own something more specialized. Maybe. But in general, we demand a great deal of our pants. Fortunately, the market is flooded with excellent leg protection, and our legs are resilient. If our legs become a little cold, or wet, or hot, it's not the end of the world. Therefore, our pant selection can be a little more forgiving than our jacket selection.
Types of Ski Pants
The most versatile pants are not insulated, as they allow you to customize your system depending on the temps. Uninsulated ski or snowboarding pants are divided into two different types of construction. Both types join three sheets of material but are named for the number of these layers that are laminated together.
"Three-layer construction" sandwiches a waterproof/breathable membrane between a burly face fabric and a lighter mesh or fleece lining textile. Pants constructed this way, like the Arc'teryx Sabre, Norrona Lofoten Pants, and Flylow Baker Bibs, feel durable and a bit stiff. They go on easy and vent well. They don't feel all that comfortable against bare skin, and therefore are best worn with long underwear.
In our testing, the most versatile and highest rated pants use "two-layer construction." The face fabric and waterproof membrane are laminated together, but the inner layer of fleece or mesh hangs free. The pants are softer and more flexible as a result. These pants, like our Best Buy Freedom Pants from The North Face and high-scoring Patagonia Powder Bowl, are more comfortable and slightly warmer than the previous style, especially when worn without long underwear. The Patagonia SnowShot Pants are also a two-layer construction.
The Columbia Bugaboo II Pants, Spyder Dare, and Mammut Bormio are insulated. Essentially, in between the lining fabric and the waterproof membrane, the manufacturers add a layer of synthetic "puff" insulation. These pants work well if you will be in cold climates or get cold legs.
Some will want insulated pants as a second pair in their quiver. For the coldest of days, this can be a good idea as layering underneath shell pants is bulky. For users that get out often enough to justify owning multiple pants, an insulated pair to complement your daily driver is worth consideration. For these folks, the less expensive Columbia Bugaboo is a good choice. If cost is no issue, the Spyder Dare is, as we've noted above, the best insulated ski pant in our review.
In our review, only the Flylow Baker Bibs had full-bib construction. The Baker Bibs are made using three-layer construction and bridge the lower-body/upper-body gap, especially for tall people. The Norrona Lofoten Pants can be used as bibs or as regular pants, and zipped together with a matching jacket, the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell, to form a one-piece suit. The Spyder Dare pants have a rear bib panel to add weather protection. The rest of the pants in our test are waist-high design.
Criteria for Evaluation
Check out the following rating table to see where each ski pant in our review ranked in Overall Performance.
Fit and Comfort
Fit is paramount. And very subjective. Individual fit matters, and it varies. So try your pants on. That being said, we were able to have multiple body-types test the pant selection. Certain themes came up, and the reviews of each product note these observations. We tested size medium pants. For the most part, every pair of pants we tested fit someone well. All were usable for our lead tester, a self-described "extra medium" (always wears a size medium).
Additionally, we took fabric texture into account. Thick, stiff pants with no hanging liner, like the FlyLow Baker, were less comfortable than the supple fabric and fleecy lining of the Mammut Bormio. The Mammut Bormio pants were certainly the most comfortable, with the Patagonia Powder Bowl following behind.
Of the three-layer pants, the Arc'teryx Sabre pleased the most users, while the Norrona Lofoten made up for stiff fabric with careful tailoring. The Columbia Bugaboo II pants have the softest fleece lining, but the thick insulation hampered range of motion. The Spyder Dare is as comfortable as any of the other award winners, but the Mammut Bormio edges ahead when comparing insulated pants. In terms of fit and comfort, there is nothing notable about the Patagonia SnowShot or The North Face Freedom.
Fit and weather resistance have top importance when evaluating ski or snowboarding pants. Weather resistance is a function of both the shell fabric and garment design. All of the pants in our test are made with adequately waterproof and windproof outer fabric. However, in order to maximize the weather protection of this outer fabric, effective construction is key.
Pants must have separate and tight inner cuffs, solid zippers and flaps, and an effective water repellant (DWR) finish. The DWR is what makes water "bead" on the surface of the fabric. It blocks light weather and keeps the face fabric dry. This is important for weather protection, but it also helps maintain the breathability of the fabric laminate. All of the tested pants have adequate weather resistance.
Backcountry Use: Patagonia Powder Bowl
Hardcore, Dedicated users: Flylow Baker Bibs
Cold, but Not Super Cold Climates: The Mammut Bormio has lightweight insulation that splits the difference between uninsulated pants and our Top Pick Spyder Dare.
If you spend a great deal of time skiing in stormy weather, the Patagonia Powder Bowl, Arc'teryx Sabre, Norrona Lofoten Pants, Spyder Dare, and Flylow Baker Bibs have good protection.
The Patagonia SnowShot, Mammut Bormio, and The North Face Freedom have a weakness that takes away from their weather protection. Each is ready for average ski conditions, but when really pressed, the fabrics might get overwhelmed. For the SnowShot and Freedom, the catch is in the less-breathable fabric. In humid of conditions, condensation can appear on the inside, making it feel like weather is getting through. In the Bormio, the shell fabric has a soft texture that catches and holds snow. Nothing gets through, but this cold layer on the outside can lead to condensation on the inside.
Finally, the Columbia Bugaboo II lacks seam sealing, and is less protective as a result. In our shower test we observed external moisture getting through the seams. This is the only product that exhibited this attribute. However, the insulated design is best suited to cold climates and conditions where there will be no liquid precip to breach the pants.
Just like in all cold-weather clothing, insulation matters. It is important to note, however, that most skiers give little thought to their pants' insulation. In cold conditions, layering underneath works best. So we tested for warmth, but didn't put a great deal of weight on this metric. The warmest pants in our test were hands-down the Columbia Bugaboo II Pants.
The Mammut Bormio is lightly insulated and fits solidly between the Columbia Bugaboot and those with a shell fabric and separate fabric liner, like The North Face Freedom Pants, Patagonia SnowShot, and Patagonia Powder Bowl.
We granted a Top Pick award to the insulated Spyder Dare. This product is the best insulated pant in our test and we recommend it for those looking for warm ski pants. Finally, the one-piece pants like the Arc'teryx Sabre, Norrona Lofoten, and FlyLow Gear Baker Bibs had the least insulation.
Not every ski day or ski climate is equal. Changes in latitude, exertion, and weather all require versatility from your clothing. While you may choose from a number of upper body layers, you will likely own just one pair of pants. That pair of pants must be versatile and well ventilated in order to accommodate the entire range of temperatures and exertion. If you plan to use your pants for backcountry use as well, pay close attention to their ventilation. (Our testing team included backcountry ski guides who recommend well-venting resort pants for occasional backcountry use, but noted that if you are an avid backcountry skier, dedicated backcountry pants will be well worth the investment in regards to comfort.)
When thinking about ventilation, look for thigh vents. Vents on the inside are more effective than those on the outside. The Flylow Baker Bibs earn special notice because of their inner and outer leg vents, while the Mammut Bormio pants vented very well, despite being insulated. The positioning of the Bormio vents pulls them open when unzipped and leaves you exposed to air flowing in from the front.
The long, non-mesh backed vents of the Arc'teryx Sabre and Norrona Lofoten are effective, but a touch immodest. The Patagonia Powder Bowl, The North Face Freedom, and Patagonia Snowshot vents, while different from one another, function to the same standard. The Columbia Bugaboo II pants do not have any vents.
Style is subjective. However, certain characteristics and considerations stand out. Unlike ski jackets, it is less likely that you will wear your ski or snowboarding pants to the bar. But if you do end up there in your full kit—and our testing team loves those nonstop days when you head straight from last chair to partying down—you are unlikely to care too much about what sort of statement your pants make when not on skis.
Ski pants don't need to look like anything other than ski pants. You will likely own far fewer ski or snowboarding pants than you do ski jackets. Choose your colors carefully. It is tempting to go for one of the many colorful pants available, but this limits your jacket selection. If you mix and match jackets, grey or black pants are most versatile.
Finally, in terms of style, fit varies. Generally, a baggy fit is in, but fading. Degree of bagginess varies. Snowboarders can get away with more "sag" and extra fabric. Skiers require a little more range of motion and therefore less fabric. Backcountry users, whether on skis or snowboard, need even more range of motion than skiers at the resort.
Highlighting the changes in style, the Arc'teryx Sabre has slimmed down in the years we have been testing. The latest iteration has a closer fit than its ancestors. The Spyder Dare has a sophisticated look, but only comes in one color. The Patagonia SnowShot and Patagonia Powder Bowl have looks that are virtually indistinguishable from The North Face Freedom and Columbia Bugaboo II. The Mammut Bormio's softened external fabric gives it a gentler look than the others, while the smooth, rugged fabrics of the FlyLow and Norrona pants are sleek.
Important features are integrated belts, pockets, key or pass clips, and Recco technology. (Consult our ski pant buying advice article for more information on Recco). None of these features are make-or-break attributes, but the sum of a carefully designed feature set adds value.
The Spyder Dare and Arc'teryx Sabre pants are the best equipped, while the Norrona Lofoten and Columbia Bugaboo offer the most sparse features. In between, The North Face Freedom, Patagonia SnowShot, Flylow Gear Baker Bibs, and others have usable features that barely deserve mention.
It can be a daunting task to select the perfect pair of pants for you. With the many options available, how do you choose? Weather resistance, comfort, and durability are just a few of the important features to consider. Like any purchase, it is the balance of all these attributes, alongside cost and style, that informs your decision. With ski pants, factor in the amount of time you'll use them and with what ski jacket you will pair them. Where you ski, how you ski, and what your overall exertion level will factor in too.
In making your decision, weigh our recommendations against OGL's user group. We speak to the average ski gear consumer. The occasional skier isn't reading our reviews, as he or she simply uses what he or she has and doesn't think much about it. Similarly, those at the other end of the bell curve, the die-hards, have a community of folks who give them equipment advice. In the middle is the glorious masses; those that love to ski, but don't get to do it as much as they would like.
We speak to this "meat of the business." We know you need awesome gear to maximize your time on snow. That time is precious, and our recommendations can make or break an entire season's ski trips. We take that seriously, and carefully consider all the variables when making our recommendations. We believe this review will give you the details that you need to make an informed decision. To learn more about the important features, consult our Buying Advice article.
— Jediah Porter
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