The Best Ski Pants Review
Out of the hundreds of options, which pair of ski and snowboard pants is right for you? Protecting your legs from wind and cold and abrasion is a thankless job. You will use and abuse this garment for a long time, usually in inhospitable climates. You will need pants that fit your body and roughly fit your skiing style and habits. You need pants that compliment all of your upper body layers, stylistically. Finally, ski or snowboarding pants need to withstand weather and usage. Materials and construction must be up to the significant task of protecting your legs from wind, snow, rain, and high-speed abrasion. 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
Patagonia Powder Bowl Pants
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Freedom Pant
Top Pick for Insulated Pants
Mammut Bormio Pants
Best for Specific Applications
-Backcountry Use: Patagonia Powder Bowl
-Hardcore, Dedicated users: Flylow Baker Bibs
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Analysis and Test Results
We ask a great deal from our ski and snowboarding pants. We require them to protect from wind, cold, snow, and abrasion. We need them to be comfortable, fashionable, and durable. We appreciate versatility and value. We may own 4 or 5 or more layers and jackets for our upper body, but typically people only own one pair of ski or snowboard pants. We will mix and match these upper layers to accommodate everything from burly storm days of riding lifts 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 a pair of shell pants and a pair of long underwear and little more. Very dedicated skiers may own something more specialized. Maybe. In short, we demand a great deal of our pants. Fortunately, the market is flooded with excellent lower leg protection, and our legs are pretty resilient. If our legs become a little cold, or wet, or hot, it's not the end of the world. Therefore, our pant selection is a little more forgiving than our jacket selection.
Types of Ski Pants
The most common and versatile lower-body garments are not insulated. Keeping the insulation out allows the user to better customize his cold-weather protection depending on the anticipated temperatures. Uninsulated ski or snowboarding pants are further 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 and Flylow Baker Bibs, feel durable and a bit stiff, relatively speaking. They go on easy and vent well. They don't feel all that great 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 result is softer and more flexible pants. This means that these pants, like our Best Buy Freedom pants from The North Face and Editors' Choice Patagonia Powder Bowl, are more comfortable and slightly warmer than the previous style, especially when worn without long underwear.
In our test, the Columbia Bugaboo II 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 are great for those that know they will be in cold climates or know that they are susceptible to cold legs. For most users, however, uninsulated pants will be more valuable and versatile.
In our review, only the Flylow Baker Bibs represented bib construction. The Baker Bibs are made using "Three Layer" construction, but other offerings from other companies come in any of the above fabric styles. Bibs are great for bridging the lower-body/upper-body gap, especially in tall people.
Criteria for Evaluation
Fit and Comfort
Fit is paramount. And very subjective. Even more than with ski jackets, individual fit matters and varies. Try your pants on. That being said, we were able to have multiple body-types try out the pant selection. Certain themes emerged, and the individual reviews of each product notes these observations. We tested only size medium pants. For the most part, every pair of pants we tested fit someone really well. And all were usable for our lead tester, a self-described "extra medium" (always wears a size medium, in virtually every piece of clothing.) Additionally, our comfort assessment of these pants took fabric texture into account. Thick and stiff pants with no hanging liner like the Arc'Teryx Sabre were less comfortable than the supple fabric and fleecy lining of the Mammut Bormio. The Patagonia Powder Bowl pants were also quite comfortable.
Fit and weather resistance share equal and top importance when evaluating ski or snowboarding pants. Weather resistance is a function of garment construction, design, and shell fabric integrity. All of the pants in our test are made with adequately waterproof and windproof outer fabric. However, in order to maximize the weather protection characteristics of this outer fabric, effective construction is key. Pants must have separate and tight inner cuffs, solid zippers and flaps, and an effective durable water repellant (DWR) finish. The DWR is what makes water "bead up" on the surface of the fabric. It blocks initial and light precipitation and keeps the face fabric dry. This is important for weather protection, but perhaps more valuable in maintaining the breathability of the fabric laminate. In short, we found all of the tested pants to have more than adequate weather resistance. If you spend a great deal of time skiing in stormy weather, look to the solid protection of the Patagonia Powder Bowl and Flylow Baker Bibs.
Just like in all cold-weather clothing, insulating value matters. However, it is important to note that most skiers give little thought to the insulating value of their pants. In colder conditions, they layer underneath. Along those lines, we tested for warmth, but didn't put a great deal of weight on that comparison metric. The warmest pants in our test were hands-down the Columbia Bugaboo II. The Mammut Bormio is also lightly insulated and fits solidly between the Columbia and those with a shell fabric and separate fabric liner like The North Face Freedom. Finally, insulating the least were the all-one-piece pants like the Arc'Teryx Sabre.
Not every ski day or ski climate is created equally. Changes in latitudes, changes in exertion, and changes in weather all require versatility from your clothing system. As noted above, while you may adjust and 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 possible temperature and exertion. Especially if you will use your ski or snowboarding pants for backcountry usage, consider the ventilation of those pants. (Our testing team included backcountry ski guides who recommend well-venting ski resort pants for the occasional visit to the backcountry, but note that if you will go hiking for your turns a great deal, dedicated backcountry pants will be well worth the investment, mainly because of the greater comfort in high-exertion settings.) Look for thigh vents. Vents on the inside seem to be more effective than those on the outside. The Mammut Bormio pants vented very well even while being insulated, and the Flylow Baker Bibs earn special notice on account of both inner and outer leg vents.
Style is subjective. However, certain characteristics and considerations stand out. First of all, unlike ski jackets, it is less likely that the user will wear his or her ski or snowboarding pants "on the town". If so, and our testing team loves those days where we go nonstop from first to last chair and then straight to partying down, you are unlikely to care too much about what sort of statement your pants make when not on skis. In short, ski pants don't need to look like anything other than ski pants. Secondly, you will likely own far fewer ski or snowboarding pants than you do ski jackets. Choose your colors carefully. At this point in history it is tempting to go for any of the colorful ski pants available. However, this limits your selection of jackets. If you mix and match jackets, grey or black pants are most versatile.
Finally, in terms of style, fit varies across the products available. Generally, a baggy style is current. However, degree of bagginess varies. With their legs locked roughly together, 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.
Important features are integrated belts, pockets, and key or pass clips. None of these features are "make or break" attributes, but the sum of a carefully designed feature set adds considerable value. We also noted when pants incuded Recco reflectors. Consult our ski and snowboard pant buying advice article for more information on Recco.
It can be a daunting task to select the perfect pair of pants for your skiing adventures. With the many options available, how do you choose? Weather resistance, comfort, and durability are just a few of the important features to consider when purchasing your pair. 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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