The Best Ski Jacket for Women Review
What makes the best ski jacket? We tested twelve top-of-the-line ski jackets over several seasons to help you find the best. We skied numerous runs at Mammoth Mountain and Kirkwood in California and even brought a few to ski in British Columbia. We sat on many chair lifts, went to multiple happy hours, and partook in numerous winter activities such as an overnight ski trip in the Sierra backcountry and ice climbing in Ouray, Colorado, to put these to the test. Our lady testers skied hard in all conditions and sported tutus on a ladies ski day. New this year we have added ski specific, un-insulated, hardshell jackets to the lineup — a versatile layer to add to your quiver. We compared each jacket's unique features in different mountain conditions, testing for warmth, ski features, weather resistance, ventilation, style, comfort, and fit.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Women's Ski Jacket
Patagonia Primo Down Jacket - Women's
The Patagonia Primo Down Jacket - Women's takes the award for Editors' Choice for the fourth year running. It is one of the warmest jackets we tested, sleekly stylish, and constructed with high quality materials, including a waterproof/breathable Gore-Tex shell and 800-fill traceable down insulation. It is one of the only jackets to combine a Gore-Tex exterior and all down insulation, (along with the much more expensive Andessa) allowing it to be lightweight AND waterproof. We particularly love its special pockets for iPods, keys, and ski passes, its helmet compatible down-lined hood, and its removable snow skirt. The newest version of the Primo Down has a longer cut, diamond sewn baffles that go all the way to the hem of the jacket, and a softer, suppler feeling Gore-Tex material. Our testers all love the Primo Down!
Useful ski features
Afraid the potential lack of breathability could affect the down insulation
Best Bang for the Buck
Columbia Whirlibird Interchange - Women's
The Columbia Whirlibird Interchange - Women's is our favorite of the three-in-one styles we tested, and it wins the Best Buy award because it provides the most function and versatility for the least amount of money. We particularly like how the Whirlibird's two layers (a synthetic insulated interior jacket and a wind/water resistant outer shell) perform individually, and enjoyed peeling off the shell and wearing the inner layer around town; but found that they don't work in combination quite as well as we would have hoped. Although we believe it is a less durable and functional option than both the Sentinel and Primo Down, it is a great value for your money, retailing for only $200! For this price you get two separate jackets with three wear options for around town and on the ski hill.
Inner layer is good for around town
Two layers do not work well together: snow skirt doesn't work with inner layer, no access to interior pockets
Thin hood material
Top Pick for Stylish Resort Jacket
We received so many compliments when wearing the super cute Nina. We loved wearing it to the resort and around town! The Orage Nina is super comfortable and stylish, making it our no-brainer choice for our Top Pick Award for best looking jacket. Its tri-colored pattern will make you stand out in a crowd, but not feel too flashy. It is a feel-good layer has all the right ski features to keep you functioning well at the resort. We love its comfy wrist gaiters and that it has all the stash pockets you could need, including a mesh goggle pocket, pass pocket, and interior zipper pocket for keys or electronics. The stretchy shell material moves well with the wearer on the slopes and it is insulated enough to keep us warm on most days. If you're looking for a stand alone (not 3-in-1) resort-oriented piece that has it all in a stylish package, the Orage Nina is for you.
Good ski features
Not super durable
Top Pick for Best Ski Specific Shell
Arc'teryx Sentinel - Women's
Uninsulated ski specific shells were a new addition to our review line-up this year. A shell is a versatile piece to add to your quiver. It allows for you to tailor your insulating layers to the weather, is light and protective enough to work well in the backcountry. Our favorite is the Arc'teryx Sentinel - Women's, which will guard you from the elements in any conditions. It is the lightest jacket in the entire review and would be a great choice to bring when you plan to ski big backcountry lines. We love the Sentinal's cavernous hood that engulfs a ski helmet, and has a great adjustment system that is easy to operate with gloves on. Once on, the hood moves with you when you turn your head. We like the Sentinel's soft, lightweight Gore-Tex material. The Sentinel comes in a variety of bright and appealing colors, and it has a flattering, yet practical cut our testers are fond of.
Colors stain easily
Analysis and Test Results
If you're into riding the lifts from first chair till closing, you'll want a ski jacket that will keep you warm, dry, and functioning well all day. We also think that style is a huge factor when choosing your outfit for riding. That outfit will become your on-hill identity that people will recognize. ("There she is, in the pink coat!") Where you live and how often you ski will affect which jacket will work best for you. Are you a fair weather skier who likes cruising the groomers and then having happy hour on the deck? Or do you want to slay the pow and work hard all day doing it? We have broken down what to look for if you want to do either of these things in our evaluation below.
Types of Ski Jackets
The products we tested are meant to be worn on the slopes - your resort slopes - so we specifically tested and evaluated them for this use. Every product in this review is water resistant (some are waterproof), and all of them have features specific to skiing, such as powder-skirts and goggle pockets, to make your day riding the lifts more enjoyable. Most of these jackets are insulated, but this year we have added un-insulated ski jackets to our review because they are a great choice if you want to decide on your own insulating layers.
Hardshells and Softshells
consider a ski specific hardshell like the Arc'Teryx Sentinel - Women's or a softshell. Hardshells are completely waterproof and the ones we tested all are tailored for skiing big lines or shredding laps at the resort. Softshells are stretchier, more breathable, and not waterproof. Similarly, there are many multi-purpose softshells out there, but you can find some that are specific to backcountry skiing or riding. We didn't test any softshell ski jackets.
We like the Columbia Whirlibird Interchange - Women's, its synthetic inner jacket is stylish enough to wear out to the bar for aprčs ski. We do think that with proper ventilation and design some of the higher quality jackets such as the Orage Nina could be a better all-around jacket than some of the 3-in-1s we tested.
Criteria for Evaluation
The chart below shows how each ski jacket in our review fared in Overall Performance. Read on for in-depth information about each individual metric.
We evaluated all twelve jackets on how well they keep you protected from the elements. The shell jackets like the Patagonia Untracked - Women's scored the highest in this category. Depending on the time of year and the climate you're skiing in, this category can be the most important feature of a ski jacket. Ski areas in a maritime climate tend to have wetter, heavier snow that can easily soak through a jacket without decent water resistance. This is important because the more water that soaks into your jacket, the heavier and more uncomfortable it becomes. And the wetter you get, the colder you become, meaning less skiing for a cold and wet you.
Many of the products we evaluated are constructed with a waterproof/breathable shell material such as Gore-Tex. The Untracked, Andessa, Sentinel, and Primo Down all feature Gore-Tex. In addition, everything we tested was given added water resistance with the application of each manufacturer's proprietary DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating, but some jackets repelled water better than others. We discuss waterproof materials in greater detail in the individual reviews.
Along with field testing, we sprayed each jacket with water to closely evaluate how well water beaded off of the surface, and how long it took the water to soak into the material. The spray test evaluated the DWR coatings on these jackets, not the overall waterproofness of the materials. It is important to note that DWR coatings will wear off over time from washing and use, but garments can be re-treated. The Arc'teryx Sentinel and Patagonia Primo Down with Gore-Tex shells and DWR coatings held up the best and beaded water easily, whereas the Orage Nina and Spyder Radiant soaked the water right up. To learn more about DWR coatings and how to choose the right waterproof material for your outerwear, we recommend checking out the Hardshell Buying Advice Article.
Other factors we considered in this category are how wind resistant the jacket's construction is — do we feel drafts through zippers or seams? The Andessa, a high-end and expensive jacket, had a noticeably drafty zipper. We also evaluate if hoods are well fitting, insulated, and will fit all the way over a helmet to protect you from winds and precipitation while sitting still on the chair lift or skiing down in stormy weather. All of the shells and 3-in-1 jackets have non-insulated hoods, while the fully insulated jackets all had insulation in the hood.
When you're working hard making turns in deep powder, you can work up a sweat. You don't want to feel clammy and sweaty under your jacket, which will leave you chilled when sitting still on the lift, so you want your jacket to be somewhat breathable or have the ability to ventilate. The materials it is made of as well as the ventilation features incorporated in the jacket are both effective ways to release heat and moisture. With an easy-to-open pit-zip you can immediately get airflow to your body, allowing you to regulate your temperature quickly. Since most of the contenders in this review are thick and insulated, meaning not very breathable, the ventilation features are important for staying comfortable in varying conditions on the ski hill. The three un-insulated shells we tested had the best ventilation of the bunch, all with gaping pit-zips and somewhat breathable materials.
Most of the jackets in this test have some type of pit-zip feature for venting, allowing for air to circulate inside the jacket on warmer days, some allowing more air in than others. Some of the jacket's pit-zips were mesh backed to keep the snow out, like on the Arc'teryx Andessa, whereas some had no mesh like the Mountain Hardwear Barnsie. Without mesh, the pit-zips are able to open up wider for maxiumum ventilation, but also can allow snow inside the jacket if you happen to tumble. All of the 3-in-1 styles, like the Columbia Whirlibird Interchange, have pit-zips on the exterior shell, but not on the interior insulating layer, which makes them much less effective. The Spyder Radiant is the only jacket in this review with no pit-zips.
The first thing most people think about when heading out for a ski is "Will I be warm enough?" We rated each jacket on how warm it kept us on cold, windy, storm days. We skied fast and sat on windy chair lifts to find out if there were any drafts in strange places and tried out all the special features designed to help retain heat. The Arc'teryx Andessa, the Patagonia Primo Down - Women's and the Columbia First Tracks 860 TurboDown - Women's are the warmest in the review, and all of them use high quality down insulation. The Andessa and the First Tracks use down insulation in combination with strategically mapped synthetic insulation in areas prone to dampness, such as the underarms, hem, and hood. The Primo Down is, well, filled with down.
The Columbia Whirlibird and First Tracks jackets use a foil-like lining Columbia calls Omni-Heat that is designed to reflect heat back towards your body. This, in combination with synthetic insulation, keeps you warm. We were skeptical about this flashy material but found that the Whirlibird was one of the warmer jackets in the review. We really like the lightweight Thermal.Q Elite insulation in the Mountain Hardwear Barnsie. This jacket is not as warm as some of the others, but its warmth-to-weight ratio is very high. We did not evaluate the shell jackets in the warmth department as none of them are insulated, and so we rated them all the same in this category.
Other design factors that contribute to warmth are wrist gaiters that keep the drafts out of your sleeves, chin guards that are able to zip up over a neck gaiter, and baffles around your neck to keep drafts from creeping down your spine.
Each item in this review has different ski-specific features that make spending a day on the ski hill easier and more comfortable. Most ski specific jackets have powder skirts, designed to keep snow from going up your back on a powder day or from going down the pants when falling down. We love the powder skirts on the Andessa, Billie Coat, Radiant, and Primo Down because they are removable for times when they aren't needed. Many brand's powder skirts are compatible with the same brand's ski pants, and you are able to attach them together so they become impenetrable to snow. This is the most effective way to wear a powder skirt.
There are many convenient and unique features on all the different models on our test. Features we look for in our favorites are:
We need lots of places to stash our stuff. We particularly like it when jackets have media pockets with headphone ports like in the Orage Nina so we can listen to our tunes while we shred. We noticed this year that more jackets than ever have this feature. We also like big mesh goggle pockets and fleece lined hand warmer pockets as well as interior zippered pockets for keeping the important things like credit cards and car keys. The Flylow Billie Coat had a great variety of pockets.
These help keep the drafts out of your sleeves and keep your hands warmer when you don't have your gloves on. Wrist gaiters made out of thin, sleek materials are better for wearing underneath gloves, like in the Mountain Hardwear Barnsie. Less models came with wrist gaiters or "thumb holes" this year.
This feature seems to be a growing trend, and is becoming an industry standard for all ski jackets. The RECCO system will potentially aid ski patrol in finding you more quickly if you are caught up in an in-bounds avalanche. Read more about RECCO in our Buying Advice Article. The Primo Down, Andessa,
Snowbelle, Barnsie, Untracked, and Sentinel jackets all have a RECCO reflector.
Some other unique features that we came across this year were a cord to attach your cell phone to your jacket so it doesn't fall when you're on the chairlift in the Orage Nina; goggle wipes in arm pockets in the Radiant and The North Face Cheakmus Triclimate; and all kinds of stealthy pockets like in the First Tracks 860 Turbo Down.
We think that having good style is super important when you ski at the resort often. People begin to recognize you by what you wear every day, and your outfit essentially becomes your identity when your head and face is otherwise cloaked in a helmet and goggles. Your friends can no longer see your face or hair, but will certainly notice your jacket. Selecting one that represents your style and personality is just as important as finding one with properly placed vents and warm enough insulation.
The Urban Dictionary defines Steezy as:
"a snowboarder term that combines the word 'style' with 'ease' to create the act of doing a trick with style and ease to make it done with super steez. A rider with steez, would be referred to as "steezy" whether it be because of his/her sick tricks, gangster apparel, or watevs."We think you should feel steezy in your new jacket, however you may define it.
The latest trends in women's ski jackets for 2016 are jackets with extra long cuts to cover your back side and bright colors, either one solid color with a flashy liner color or jackets with different sections of color — we didn't see as many flashy patterns this year. This could be because there is a trend towards brightly colored ski pants, so having a more understated, solid color jacket can better match a bright pair of bottoms. Check out Best Ski Pants for Women Review to see what we think of the top pants on the market. Bright, contrasting colored zippers are still a favorite in women's jackets, like on the Untracked jacket.
All of the items in this review come in many different color combinations so you can find the one that best suits you. We think that the Flylow Billie Coat and Orage Nina are the steeziest of the bunch because of their ability to make you stand out on the mountain and their long hemlines — especially on the Billie Coat - are comfortable and protective. We also think the Patagonia Primo Down and the Arc'teryx Andessa are simple and clean looking for those of us who prefer a more understated style.
Comfort and Fit
Comfort and fit are very important because you want to be able to move around and feel good while wearing your jacket all day. Some have stretchy shell materials that flex with movement, like the Nina and the First Tracks. Some are extra roomy so you can wear more layers underneath, like the Whirlibird and the Untracked. The fit of your jacket can also affect the warmth of it. If it is too small and you are not able to put extra layers on for those biting cold days, you won't be as comfortable. Conversely, if it is too roomy and lets in drafts, it will also be less warm and comfortable. The latest version of the Primo Down has a softer, less crinkly feeling Gore-Tex material that we like a lot. The most comfortable of the shells we tested was the Arc'teryx Sentinel, it's Gore-Tex material has a soft hand and it fits really well, including the hood that moves with your head when you turn it.
We compared all of the manufacturer's size charts to see if they matched up with our tester's dimensions to give you some extra information for how to select a fit for yourself. Some models we recommend sizing up, down, or purchasing your normal size. We talk about this in more detail in each individual review, but in general we found Arc'teryx sizes to be on the smaller side and Columbia's to be on the bigger side.
To keep your legs nice and warm while hitting the slopes, we recommend the Marmot Women's Freerider and The North Face Freedom LRBC. Both of these pants fit very well and are very warm. For a more in-depth look at all the ski pants we reviewed, check out The Best Ski Pants for Women Review.
Don't forget about your hands as well. For the most warmth and dexterity, we recommend the Arc'teryx Beta AR Glove - Women's and the Outdoor Research Arete - Women's. Check out The Best Women's Ski Gloves Review for a full look at all the gloves we tested.
While you are putting together your ski or riding kit, you might want to check out our Best All-Mountain Skis for Women Review and Best Ski Boots for Women Review, we lay it all out there to help find the best gear for all types of lady shredders whether you're shredding corduroy or powder.
A ski jacket is meant to keep you warm, dry, and operating during a day on the slopes. All of the jackets in this review have features that are specific to skiing to do just that. When searching for your new ski jacket, weather resistance and warmth are huge factors that play into finding the best fit. Other factors such as pockets and ventilation should also be considered. We hope that our observations in this review have helped you select the right kind of jacket for your needs. Check out our Buying Advice article for details on the most important considerations for finding the perfect jacket for skiing or boarding at the resort.
— Jessica Haist
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