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 match your skiing style and habits while complementing 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
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Analysis and Test Results
We ask a great deal from our ski and snowboarding pants. We require 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 four 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 can be 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, Norrona Lofoten Pants, 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 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 result is softer and more flexible pants. This means that 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 constructed in this two-layer form. If you are thoroughly confused by all this discussion of 3 vs 2-layer construction, don't worry too much. Either buy the Arc'teryx Sabre Pants, or any of these on the list of 2-layer products.
In our test, 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 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.
Some will want insulated pants as a second pair in their "quiver". For the absolute coldest of days, this can be a good idea. To really insulate against arctic conditions, layering underneath shell pants is bulky. For users that get out often enough to justify multiple ski pants, an insulate pair to complement your day-to-day pair is a worth consideration. For these folks, the less expensive Columbia Bugaboo is worth a look. If cost is no issue, the Spyder Dare is, as we've noted multiple times above, the best insulated ski pant in our review.
In our review, only the Flylow Baker Bibs represented full 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. The Norrona Lofoten Pants can be configured as bibs or as regular pants, and zipped together with a matching jacket, the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell, to form a sort of one-piece suit. The Spyder Dare pants have a rear bib panel to add some weather protection. The rest of the pants in our test are regular waist-high design.
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 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 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 right 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 some 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 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 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, look to the solid protection of thePatagonia Powder Bowl, Arc'teryx Sabre, Norrona Lofoten Pants, Spyder Dare, and Flylow Baker Bibs.
The Patagonia SnowShot, Mammut Bormio, and The North Face Freedom each have some sort of weakness that hamstrings their absolute weather protection. Each is ready for your 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 the most humid of conditions you will get condensation on the inside that makes it feel as though 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 greater condensation on the inside.
Finally, the weather protection of the Columbia Bugaboo II is hindered by its lack of seam sealing. In our shower test we observed external moisture getting through the seams. This is the only product that exhibited this attribute. Thankfully, the heavily insulated design is most suited to the coldest of climates and conditions where there will be no liquid water to breach this design gap.
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 Pants.
The Mammut Bormio is also 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 is the one we recommend for most of those looking for warm ski pants. Finally, insulating the least were the all-one-piece pants like the Arc'teryx Sabre, Norrona Lofoten, and FlyLow Gear Baker Bibs.
Not every ski day or ski climate is created equally. Changes in latitudes, exertion, and 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 Flylow Baker Bibs earn special notice on account of both inner and outer leg vents, while the Mammut Bormio pants vented very well, even while being insulated. The placing of the Bormio vents pulls them open when unzipped and leaves them 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 slightly different from one another, function to about the same standard. The Columbia Bugaboo II pants do not have any 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, but fading away a bit. 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.
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 one tested a few years back. 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 give it a gentler look than the others, while the smooth, rugged fabrics of the FlyLow and Norrona pants are unobtrusive and suggest alpine competence.
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 pant buying advice article for more information on Recco. The Spyder Dare and Arc'teryx Sabre pants are the best appointed, while the Norrona Lofoten and Columbia Bugaboo offer the most spare feature sets. 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 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. Like any purchase, it is the balance of all these attributes, alongside cost and style and availability, that informs an eventual decision. With ski pants, factor in the amount of time you'll use them and with what ski jacket you will pair it. Where you ski, how you ski, and what your overall exertion level will factor in too.
In making your final decision, calibrate our recommendations against OGL's institutional opinions. We speak to the masses, 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 they interact with in person to receive equipment advice. In the middle is the glorious masses; those that love to ski, but don't get to do it as much as we like.
This "meat of the business" is who we speak to here. We know you need awesome gear to maximize your time out. That time is precious, and our recommendations can literally make or break an entire season's ski trips. We take that weight 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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