The Best Ski Pants for Women Review
We wanted to see which women's ski pants were the best, so we traveled to ski areas all over Colorado in the sun, wind, rain, and snow. We spent long days working on the mountain, and we spent fun days touring the backcountry. Our testers wore these pants while skiing, telemarking, snowboarding, and, of course, while attending après ski. Throughout this process, we evaluated each pair according to its warmth, comfort & fit, weather resistance, ventilation, ski specific features, and style.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
To test the seven pairs of women's ski pants in this review, we recruited seven lady snow sport enthusiasts. With their help, we assessed each product's key components, which ranged from functional pockets to water-proofed seams and stylish cuts. These garments can be expensive and unless you ski on a regular basis, it's highly possible that you'll only have one pair and if you're like us, you'll want them to perform for multiple seasons. These factors can make purchasing a pair a relatively big decision. In this review, we will help you decide upon factors which to base your individual purchase. So whether you ski once a year, hit the slopes every weekend, guide professionally, or are a seasoned backcountry enthusiast, read on to see how the industry's leading women's ski pants stood up in our head-to-head tests.
Selecting the Right Product
Ski pants are made for long days in winter weather; they are higher performing than inexpensive "snow pants" that do not have the technology and performance to keep you protected from ultra cold, wet winter weather. When selecting the pair that's right for you, it's important to first think about how you'll be using them Do you live near a mountain with bitterly cold winters? Will you be chasing pow during big storms? Do you plan to use these pants in the backcountry? Or do you usually just hit the slopes for a week-long vacation in late April?
With the answers of these questions in mind, consider the technical attributes and features like warmth, ventilation, and weather resistance that will best serve you. From there, look at style, fit, and comfort because if your pants aren't going to keep you warm and dry, you won't be able to enjoy yourself. Many skiers and winter enthusiasts will only buy one pair of ski pants and then pair it with different jackets and base layers, so it's important that you select a product that will effectively serve you whether you're hoping to get in 60 days this winter, or you're planning a a quick visit over spring break. For more information on purchasing the right product, be sure to read our buying advice article, How to Choose Ski Pants for Women.
Types of Women's Ski Pants
We tested three different types of pants: insulated, uninsulated, and bibs. In general, we find that a well-insulated pant is superior to uninsulated on bitterly cold days in the mountains. That said, uninsulated pants offer much greater versatility since you can customize the weight of your base layers depending on weather and activity.
Insulation varies by grams. In this review, the Patagonia Snowbelle, Spyder Traveler, Marmot Freerider, and Roxy Dynamite were our insulated pants. With 40-60 grams of insulation, these are in between a shell (20 grams) and down jackets (100 to 600 grams). Our testers agreed that insulated pants are great for resort skiing during mid winter or cold weather. Come spring, they tended to be too hot. However, the great thing about insulated pants, is that with an effective ventilation system, they can be used in various weather conditions. Across the board, they tended to be too hot for hiking in the backcountry when you are generating quite a bit of body heat.
Uninsulated: Two Layer vs. Three Layer
Two layer construction is when the face fabric and outer laminate are sealed together and a liner hangs freely on the inside. The North Face Freedom and Columbia Bugaboo are made with two layer construction. This design often feels less bulky than an insulated pant, although current technology is allowing insulated pants to feel light as well.
An example of three layer construction is the Arc'teryx Sentinel Bib. This is when all three layers - the face fabric, weatherproofing membrane, and inner liner - are laminated together. This type of garment can often feel less pliable than the two layer systems.
The more fabric you have covering your body, the warmer you will be. Even though our bib style pant, the Arc'teryx Sentinel Bib, is lined only with light fleece, this design still traps a surprisingly amount of warmth. This is because without a place for air to enter around your core, your body can maintain heat better. If needed, the Sentinel pant has a ventilation system that can be used when working extra hard and generating heat.
Criteria for Evaluation
Comfort & Fit
Ladies! We have different body types! Women's ski pants are similar to jeans - between different brands, styles, inseam lengths, tall, short, regular, loose fit, and fitted fit, it can certainly be overwhelming. We had seven women varying from size 4-8 try on these pants, which range in size from small to medium and 4-8. Every brand and style was a bit different so we highly recommend trying on several pairs. Even if you have to order a few online and send some back, it is worth being comfortable when skiing!
Here's a quick run-down of how each pair fit:
In our fitting session, we found The North Face Freedom LRBC (size small) to be snug in the hips and the Tailored Spyder Traveler (size 8) to be snug in the waist and both ran small. One of our testers is usually a size 4, but the size 8 Spyder pants were snug in her waist and booty. The Columbia Bugaboo (size medium), Marmot Freerider (size small), and Roxy Dynamite (size small) have a relaxed fit through the hips and thighs; they have a stylish shape without feeling like skinny jeans. All three have an adjustable waist features and large pockets. The Patagonia Snowbelle (size medium) tested true to size alongside the Arc'teryx Sentinel Bib (size medium). Although the suspenders are adjustable, we found the bibs to be more accommodating for taller women.
Although we found comfort to be inseparable from fit, once you find a pair or two that are well-suited to your body type, you can start to consider which features will most benefit your individual comfort. For max comfort and fit, look for pants with fleece-lined waist bands, adjustable waist bands, and more supple fabrics.
For this metric, we looked at each piece's overall construction, assessing seam-taped zippers, waterproofing materials and membranes, and the various types of DWR (Durable Water Repellent) finishes and coatings used. Most of the garments we tested offered adequate protection against the elements; however the pants that withstood rain, wet snow, damp chairlifts and sideways blizzards the best were the Arc'teryx Sentinel Bib and the Marmot Freerider. Both of these models are made with waterproof GORE-TEX membranes and the Freerider features extra waterproofing on the seat and thighs. In our two-minute shower drenching test, the Columbia Women's Bugaboo and the Roxy Dynamite were the only two pieces with significant seam leakage. Be sure to read our buying advice article for more information on what helps make a product more weather resistant.
The warmth of a pant can always be modified with base layers (long underwear), so keep in mind that warmth can be altered by choosing layers based on projected weather and activity level. For this reason, we didn't weight warmth as heavily in our metrics.
The warmest pant we tested was the Marmot Freerider, which is a great piece for mid-winter resort skiing, or if you are sensitive to the cold. Our Editors' Choice winner also comes fitted with vents, which makes them versatile enough for use on warmer spring skiing days. But if you're only planning to ski on cold days, these pants will keep you warm, happy and enjoying your adventure! The Patagonia Insulated Snowbelle also provides a high level of function with the addition of vents. The other pants we tested use the "two and three layer" uninsulated systems; although models like The North Face Freedom pant are uninsulated, they still provide plenty of warmth with an effective layering system.
If you are planning to do most of your skiing in frigid, winter conditions at the resort, but also want to be able to use your pants for those inevitable spring trips to the mountains, we suggest purchasing a pant with a high degree of warmth and good ventilation. This way you have plenty of warmth along with a versatile pant that can change with the seasons.
Although often overlooked, ventilation is a critical component of a well-designed ski pant. No matter what style of pant you choose, a sufficient ventilation system will allow you to adjust to varying levels of exertion and changing weather conditions. As your body heats up and sweats more, you don't want excess moisture to build up because once your body cools down the sweat can make you extra cold not good. In our clothing reviews, we often talk about a garment's ability to control moisture in terms of its breathability; however, since ski pants are highly weather resistant, their materials just aren't as breathable, which is why ventilation is so important. About half of our testers preferred the inner thigh vent, but keep in mind that features such as these are yours to choose! Both the Marmot Freerider and Arc'teryx Sentinel Bib pant have outer thigh vents, Columbia Women's Bugaboo has none, and the rest have inner thigh vents.
These seven pairs of pants came outfitted with a wide variety of features. Pockets are an important feature that we assessed these aren't jeans, so we expected our pockets to be highly functional! We looked for zippered pockets that would hold everything from a wallet, to skin wax, to lip gloss. We also gave extra consideration to those pieces that had fleece-lined pockets and waist bands. We were disappointed to find that several women's specific pants do not have large hand pockets specifically The North Face Freedom and the Roxy Dynamite. Although not a tangible feature, many of the pants we tested come with at least a one-year warranty, and the Spyder and Patagonia models have a lifetime warranty.
Additionally, the Patagonia Insulated Snowbelle and the Arc'teryx Sentinel feature the RECCO Rescue System. Garments with this technology have an electronic device embedded in the fabric in case of an avalanche or other accident. However, it is crucial to note that RECCO does not replace a beacon or guarantee safety, it is a factor that increases probability of a person being found if he or she is buried in an avalanche within ski resort boundaries. Please visit RECCO's website to ensure your understanding of this electronic system.
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we are firm believers that just because you're playing hard outside doesn't mean you can't look good doing it! This goes double for skiing at a resort. In our style metric, we looked at pants that could easily go from a killer day on the slopes to a relaxing visit to our favorite slope-side happy hour. Although we're not runway fashionistas, there were a few select britches that all the ladies loved.
For the style-conscious shredder, the Tailored Spyder Traveler pant is a great choice. Once you find your size (runs 2+ sizes small), this piece fits snugly but the fabric offers plenty of mobility. Meanwhile, the Roxy Dynamite and North Face Freedom pants have a long and lean look that earned them both a seven out of ten in our style metric. The Columbia Bugaboo with its casual, less flattering fit earned our lowest style score. All four of these pants have plenty of room for your strong legs and backside while sporting flattering back pockets and a variety of color options.
Two of our award winners the Arc'teryx Sentinel and the Marmot Freerider earned high marks in our style metric. They are superb in color, cut, comfort, and technical qualities. These pants just look good, they fit all our models and testers in a different way but all seven women connected with the function and style of the pants.
Ask An Expert: Kim Havell
Professional freeskier Kim Havell just about lives in her ski pants. She has skied on all seven continents (including first descents on four of them), and her list of first descents is impressive, to say the least. She's also an accomplished mountaineer, having summited numerous high peaks in the Himalaya, Alaska, and South America and skied down them of course! It's no wonder Outside Magazine called her the "Preeminent Female Ski Mountaineer of our Time." She kindly shared her insights with us into something she's wearing more often than not. You can follow her global adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
What brand and style do your wear?
I wear Salomon's new technical mountaineering line called Soul Quest. All the gear in that line is great.
What are the top features you look for in a product?
Durability! I ski at least 175 days a year, and I wear my pants for a lot of different things. I do typically have around three pairs for different environments and uses, from spring skiing to expedition skiing. So sometimes I wear a Gore-tex pant, or a soft shell or an insulated pair. It kind of depends on the adventure.
A really good cut and fit is obviously important for any piece of outdoor clothing, but for pants in particular. They need to be the right cut and length to go over ski books, but I don't want the cuffs catching on my crampons. I also like having some pockets and a solid waistband. I really like a high waist. Salomon started making a high waist in the back of their pants, so if you bend over to put your ski boots on you are not exposed to more air. It's one of my favorite new features.
Finally, I care about where the zippers are on pants and the ability for airflow. That might be more important than anything else.
Do you ever have any weird fit issues?
I'm actually a sample size, which means I'm a medium across the board, so I fit in everything medium most of the time.
Bibs or pants?
I do really like bibs because I get Reynaud's, so when my core gets cold it shunts the blood away from my extremities and then my fingers and toes get cold much more easily. Bibs definitely help to keep my core warmer, and if possible I would choose to wear them. They are great for colder days and even getting into springtime, but then there is a cutoff for them where they are too cumbersome for warmer and lighter activities.
Insulated or shells?
I generally prefer shells, and actually when I am being active I will only use shells. But for hanging around camp I love insulated pants. I just feel like it is too hard to regulate temperatures with insulated pants on and even in really cold climates I much prefer to layer. If I'm going to be dynamic I don't really want insulation in my pants.
Is there a certain style or fit that you prefer?
I like a relaxed fit but not too relaxed because then your pants get caught on things. I'm not a jibber! I don't like really tight fitting pants either. I did have a pair that we were testing two winters ago, and I think men liked them on women, but the women didn't like wearing them. I don't feel like wearing spandex in the backcountry.
Any preference with ventilation zipper locations? Inner vs outer thigh?
I do like both but the outer zippers are better in general. Ventilation is so nice period, because it gives you a bigger window with your pants and when you can use them. I like having flexibility for ski touring and climbing and mountaineering, so the more uses a pair of pants can have and the easier it is to move around in the better. Zippers and vents give you more breathing room and they open the pants up more as well.
Do you do any extra waterproofing?
I've never had to do any waterproofing. If it gets to that point, I've done enough to damage them and it's usually time for a new pair.
Ever tried a powder skirt that zips the jacket and pants together? Or what about an old-school union suit?
I haven't tried the powder skirt that zips everything together yet. Salomon has some one-piece suits but nothing that attaches one piece to the other. I do think the one-pieces are awesome. They are warm and pretty nice for freeskiing but not for ski touring. On really cold days you can't get much warmer than having a one-piece suit on.
You do a lot of ski mountaineering and expeditions any tips or tricks on going to the bathroom outdoors with all of your ski gear on?
You just have to learn to be tough about it as a woman. Watch for wind direction and try not to pee on yourself. And it can't hurt to practice.
I was on Ama Dablam with a couple of Search and Rescue buddies, and we were up at Camp 3, which is a small camp. I hadn't thought to practice with my "femme funnel" beforehand, and I managed to pee on my sleeping bag. It was not cool. At least it was our summit day the next day and we were out of there, but to live with that for the rest of our trip was kind of brutal.
Any last tips on buying a pair of pants?
There are a lot of different companies making ski pants and they all have very different cuts, so it's worth trying on five or six different brands to find the one that fits you perfectly and stays up. Sometimes the Velcro on the sides doesn't hold together for very long, so look for belt loops that will work as a backup, or the option to add suspenders to the waist.
Versatility is a key component to a good pair of pants, and usually if it is versatile it is also well made. You should also think about what you want them for, i.e. ski resort vs backcountry. If you only ski two weeks out of the year at a resort in January, then you might just want a pair of insulated pants. Otherwise, the flexibility of layering so you can wear the pants in different environments is the way to go. Just make sure it has the components that you need for the right applications.
— Alexis McLean & Amanda Fenn
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