Hands-on Review of the Patagonia Powder Bowl Pants
The Patagonia Powder Bowl pants are solid performers across the board. They represent our testers' preferred design - a waterproof/breathable shell backed by an independent hanging mesh liner. The construction is durable and weathertight.
The Powder Bowl pants in action, Teton Pass Wyoming, December 1, 2016. IFMGA guide and lead test editor photographed by another IFMGA guide, and pro photog, Mark Smiley.
Fit and Comfort
Patagonia comes to ski clothing construction from a long background in making rock and alpine climbing clothing. Climbing clothing requires great range of motion, flexible fabrics, and a comfortable cut. The same can be said for ski clothing. You want your clothes to protect from the weather but stay out of the way otherwise. Patagonia long ago effectively made the logical leap to ski clothing. And they keep churning out clothing that is ski and snowboard specific with their trademark non-restricting fit.
Almost all of our award winners are in this upper echelon of comfort. Arc'teryx, The North Face, and Norrona also come with alpine climbing backgrounds, while Spyder has a long and deep history of excellent all around ski clothing. Of the non-award winning clothing in this test, the Powder Bowl is among the most comfortable. The Mammut Bormio is also a contender in comfort, without winning an award. The Bormio achieves great feel with soft fabrics inside and out, while the Powder Bowl does it with smooth fabrics and careful tailoring.
Protection from the elements is a function of a garment's fabric technology and design elements. All the pants in our test are made of waterproof material. Our testing confirms the waterproof nature of all the shells. However, the water blocking textile is only part of the equation. The panels of fabric must be sewn together securely, with those seams sealed. Additionally, all pockets and vents must securely close and seal. Finally, with pants, the waist and ankle/cuff interfaces must block out the weather. Patagonia delivers on all design counts.
In order to use the Gore-Tex fabric they source, Patagonia must tape the seams. The two leg vents and three of the five pockets zip closed with waterproof zippers. The other two pockets seal with traditional zippers covered with fabric flaps. The cuffs are made in what has now become the standard fashion. The main shell fabric forms a loose and round cuff that obscures the upper boot in addition to an inner stretchy (and lighter fabric) gaiter. Patagonia executes this system in a simple and effectual manner.
Of the easier draping "hanging liner" designed pants, the Patagonia Powder Bowl is the most weather resistant. Only the beefy, thicker fabrics of the "three-layer" products protect better. The Arc'teryx Sabre, the Norrona Lofoten Pro Pants, and the FlyLow Gear Baker Bib all have lining, membrane, and shell fabric laminated into one piece. This instills greater confidence and has real performance benefits. The Norrona Lofoten Pants, especially when zipping to the matching jacket, the Norrona Lofoten Gore Tex Shell, to create one-piece suit, is our top performing weather beater. The Arc'teryx Sabre Pants are only a little better at blocking weather than the Powder Bowl, but the Powder Bowl pants are less expensive and a little comfier.
This contender provides just the right amount of insulation. They can be comfortably worn on their own in warm and average conditions, or layered underneath for lower temperatures. The mesh lining is smooth and comfortable against the skin and provides just enough additional warmth as compared to pants without a lining. On the warmth spectrum, pants like the Powder Bowl fit right in the middle. In our test, the Arcteryx Sabre and FlyLow Baker Bibs represent "three layer" construction and are the least insulating. Note that the "three-layer" designation refers to the number of distinct sheets of textile stuck together into one. Ironically, the construction of the Powder Bowl pants is referred to as "two layer" style. While, just like in the Arc'teryx Sabre pants, there are three sheets of textile in the Powder Bowl, but only two of them are laminated together. Hence the terminology.
On the other end of the insulation continuum is our Top Pick winner Spyder Dare. In the Dare pant there is the 2-layer shell, a light sheet of insulation, and the hanging fleeced mesh liner. Across the board, our testers dig the versatility and warmth balance of the classic 2-layer, uninsulated construction of pants like the Powder Bowl. Our Best Buy winner also has this type of construction; check out our review of The North Face Freedom Pants for a budget set of all-around pants.
This garment has long, outer leg vents. They run from just behind the knee up to just behind the hip bone. The best single pair of vents in our test, found on the Mammut Bormio are located inside the legs, and are turned toward the front to pick up additional air. Those on the Powder Bowl pants are effective, but don't transfer quite as much cooling air as the inner leg style. The Powder Bowl outer leg vents are lined with mesh to block some snow, while Flylow's Baker Bibs have similarly placed vents that don't have mesh backing. These latter openings are even more effective, especially when paired with FlyLow's complementary inner leg vents.
The exterior vents of the Powder Bowl are large. The mesh backing and rearward positioning somewhat hampers their effectiveness, especially as compared to some others in our test.
The Patagonia Powder Bowl pants are neutrally styled, with a subtly flashy color scheme. We have tested the "Captain's Blue" color and "Electric Yellow" over the years. Neither color is neon, but neither is black or grey. If you will wear your pants with multiple jackets in multiple colors, consider carefully which color option you choose. The most muted color option Patagonia offers in the Powder Bowl is grey. They do not make these pants in black. The fit is middle-ground baggy. The Arc'teryx Sabre fits looser, while The North Face Freedom Pants are closer fitting.
The Powder Bowl pants led the way with slimming ski pants down. We appreciate this trend, and notice it now in other products on the market.
The selection of pockets on the Powder Bowl Pants is comprehensive and useful. The belt loops take a large stylie belt. Also, Patagonia equips this garment with a Recco reflector for ski resort avalanche rescue. Pants don't usually have a great number of features, so this short list represents the top of the line. The only attribute we might like to see added is a key/pass keeper in one pocket.
The Powder Bowl pants are equipped with a simple tab centered in the rear that receives a snapped tab on most Patagonia ski jackets.
The Spyder Dare Pants have more features, as do the Arc'teryx Sabre pants. The Columbia Bugaboo II Pants has fewer options.
These are excellent all-around ski pants. If you will own just one pair of pants for all conditions and mountains, consider the Patagonia Powder Bowl or Arc'teryx Sabre. These will protect from the gnarliest weather and vent for sunny hikes into the backcountry. If you are looking for an excellent budget alternative, check out The North Face Freedom Pants, our Best Buy winner.
Two former Editors Choice winners, and still excellent products. The Patagonia Powder Bowl pants lose their award as the Arc Teryx Sabre improves, while the Primo Down jacket shown here has gotten baggier in cut, dropping some scores.
These are not inexpensive pants, but they can often be found on sale. Patagonia offers a comprehensive warranty, and has manufactured the Powder Bowl pants out of bomber materials. They will last you a long time, returning on your investment many times over.
In an earlier generation of this review the Powder Bowl pants earned our Editors' Choice award. In the meantime, Arc'teryx improved a few things about the Sabre model that edges them ahead. Nonetheless, the Powder Bowl remains an excellent choice for the discerning user.
Our ski pant review was a close race. The field is broad and varied, serving a variety of users in only subtly different ways. The prices cross a huge span and quality is similarly ranging. As always, the selection of pants we ultimately reviewed was sorted to represent the best on the market. Any of these products will serve you well, particularly if you choose carefully to match your style and usage preferences. That being said, if you want an easy choice for your only or primary ski pants, purchase the Patagonia Powder Bowl pants. You will not regret it.
Epic fresh snow in a beautiful location. Good ski gear gets you here, without compromise. Here, Jed Porter tests an earlier color of the Powder Bowl. The latest iteration is similar in function.