The market is flooded with ski jackets. For 2018 we scanned the deep field, purchased the very best 11 contenders, and put them through the paces. Our expert team of guides, patrollers, and diehard skiers have years of experience formally selecting and reviewing ski jackets and can tell you that selecting any sort of technical equipment is a high-consequence choice. Your ski resort jacket is no exception. The right choice is warm, comfortable, well-fitting, and protects you from some of the planet's gnarliest weather. Additionally, there are budget and style concerns that factor significantly into your choice. We assessed for warmth, weather protection, comfort and fit, ventilation, style, and features. At the end, we ended up with excellent feedback for every single product, and have identified five award winners. We have made Editors Choices and identified Best Buys in both insulated and uninsulated sub categories, with a Top Pick winner that blurs the lines between these two.
The Best Ski Jackets for Men
We are constantly scanning the market, testing new products, and updating this review. To conduct 2018's full review update, we have spent the first months of this weird US Western Mountain ski season pounding the pavement (and by "pavement" we mean powder, crust, ice, groomers, rain, snow, wind, sun, and the literal pavement of occasionally drought-ridden ski towns). We took your advice and requests to heart this year, adding even more shell-only jackets to our overall selection. It seems that the majority of users prefer an insulated jacket, but there is a hearty minority that assembles their resort clothing kit from individual pieces. For each subset, we have identified an Editors Choice and a Best Buy. Our Top Pick winner in 2018 is a budget 3-in-1 jacket that blurs the lines between the two main categories.
Best Overall Men's Ski Jacket
After a survey of the current market, the Arc'teryx Macai jacket still earns our top spot as the Editors' Choice winner. The one qualifier we'll add in 2018 is that we have also added an Editors Choice shell-only jacket. Our community has informed us that those assembling ski outfits from layering pieces are a significant part of the market. The granting of an Editors Choice award to the Arc'teryx Sabre should not diminish the honor bestowed on the Macai. The Macai is high performing in all categories, putting a large margin on the competition in warmth-to-weight and durability. The lightest insulated piece tested and nearly the warmest, it mainly features down insulation (while many other contenders have synthetic). The Macai's waterproof Gore-Tex shell and synthetically filled underarms protect and insulate even in very wet conditions. In past testing, we found that the Macai does have a higher propensity to stain, with one model picking up permanent marks in normal usage. (Newer versions in another color have not had this problem.) The Macai is a solid performer across the board, and its insulation durability tips the balance solidly in its favor.
Read review: Arc'teryx Macai
Best Men's Shell Ski Jacket
Some people just like a layered resort skiing outfit. For a long time, we discounted that. We are now recognizing our mistake, and making up for lost time. To get layering aficionados an Editors Choice, we hammered through a couple of months of early season skiing in the Sabre and a few other shell contenders. The Sabre is the clear winner. If you prefer to assemble your clothing system and separate insulation from protection, the Sabre is the best way to top off that layering combo. It is as protective as a shell jacket gets. The long-term partnership between Arc'teryx and Gore-Tex shows, with excellent optimization of technology and design. For protection from wet, wind, and snow, nothing beats the Sabre.
Read review: Arc'teryx Sabre
Best Bang for the Buck, Insulated
Armada Carson Insulated
Most skiers and riders like a bargain. Those that most dig a bargain are younger riders. Armada aims at this demographic with its Carson Insulated jacket. The style is long and intended to evoke your cotton pullover hoody. The performance is adequate, with insulation and weather resistance enough for short storm day sessions or all day in fairer weather. In frigid conditions, like sub 20f, you will need to layer beneath a little more than in a more insulated piece. These are easy compromises to make for the high value this jacket provides.
Read review: Armada Carson Insulated
Top Pick as a Three-in-one Jacket
Columbia Whirlibird Interchange
Right off the bat, it was clear that our Top Pick Award would go to one of the tested 3-in-1 style jackets. Each jacket tested in that style is priced near the low end of our selection and provides unmatched versatility. This style of jacket, regardless of the brand and model, offers a burly shell and separate, stand-alone insulating liner. This allows you to use the whole package together for maximum protection, use just the shell for warmer conditions, or use the liner on its own around town or during spring skiing weather. While the Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot is more polished and offers slightly better weatherproofing than the award winner, the Columbia Whirlibird Interchange is much warmer and costs half of what the Patagonia model does. Additionally, the jacket is available in Big and Tall options, so you can fully tailor the fit.
Read review: Columbia Whirlibird Interchange
Analysis and Test Results
Wading through the diverse field of ski outerwear can be a trying task. Fear not, as we have selected 11 of the best ski jackets for this year's selection. Each piece reviewed is excellent, and every user will find something for them. Our field reflects the entire spectrum, from budget options that work just as well commuting to the office as they do at the ski resort, to purpose-built, high-end offerings that will protect the most discerning riders in the most trying conditions.
Choose the right one for you, and burly conditions on serious slopes will seem easy. Of course, these will protect in milder weather as well. All are comfortable enough for all-day wear, and our selection represents a cross-section of fashion tastes. From youthful backcountry-inspired styles to the subdued and neutral design of the Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0, there is an option here for you. For a step-by-step guide to navigating the entire ski jacket market, please consult our comprehensive Buying Advice article. If, however, you are looking to choose from the carefully curated OutdoorGearLab selection of skiing outerwear, read on.
Types of Ski Jackets
This review concentrates on gravity-fed, ski-specific jackets. Many will also serve other purposes, but their primary function is as ski resort wear. Resort-specific designs are characterized by durable, thick shell fabrics and include features tailored for users at a ski hill.
Within the overall ski, outerwear category are three primary divisions. We've reviewed contenders in all three.
This style is the most versatile. Like our Top Pick winning Columbia Whirlibird Interchange, these are for the skier looking for a multi-function, customizable piece on a budget. Each entry in this category is composed of a fleece or synthetic insulating liner, and a shell. The two pieces can be worn separately or zipped/snapped together for an easily donned cold-weather jacket. Two primary disadvantages stand out.
In their combined configuration, they are more restrictive and less comfortable than one-piece products of similar warmth. And, for reasons unknown to us, the modular jackets on the market are often made of slightly lower quality materials. If you want this function with high-end down insulation and the best shell fabrics on the market, you will find few options. Notably, an exception to this correlation between 3-in-1 design and construction quality/materials, the other 3-in-1 jacket we tested is the Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot. The Snowshot is an excellent jacket, in the 3-in-1 design.
The largest category of ski jackets reviewed fall into this subset. The amount and type of insulation vary, and the shell fabrics represent a wide spectrum of quality and durability. However, all are purpose-built for riding chairlifts up and skiing down. Price, fit, quality, style, and weather protection vary across the selection. There is something in this category for everyone. The insulated shells tested are the Arc'teryx Macai, the Spyder Leader, Helly Hansen Alpha, Armada Carson Insulated, Stio Shot 7, and Patagonia Primo Down.
Dedicated Shell Jackets
For the first time, in 2018, we tested men's ski shell jackets almost equally alongside the other types. For those wishing to construct their wardrobe from individual pieces, to be able to tailor the protection to the user and conditions, that process starts with a ski shell. The ski shell jackets we tested are the Norrona Lofoten, the Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Sabre, and the FlyLow Gear Genius.
We ranked each jacket according to six metrics: Warmth, Weather Resistance, Comfort, Ventilation, Style, and Features. We then combined these respective rankings and scores, weighted each metric for its relative importance to your end experience, and calculated an overall score. Check out the chart below to see where each tested jacket ranks in Overall Performance.
Skiing and snowboarding take place in cold environments. An insulated jacket built specifically for resort riding is the first line of defense against that cold. Most of the jackets tested are insulated. Most have synthetic insulation sewn in. (For more information about synthetic insulation, consult our insulated jacket buying advice.) In these jackets, a three-dimensional matrix of man-made fibers creates dead air that protects against convective and radiative cooling.
On other jackets, including the most expensive, durable, and highly rated products tested, insulation comes from goose down. Goose down is highly insulating and lasts a long time, but it costs more. Synthetic fill also insulates better when wet than down. Uninsulated shell jackets provide little warmth to the wearer. What they do, however, is protect the wearer's inner insulating layers from the adverse affects of wind and wetness. In this way, shell jackets are integral to a layered skier's warmth, but only indirectly.
Wearing each of our tested products back-to-back in stormy and cold weather across the continent allowed us to make assessments of their warmth. The Columbia Whirlibird is the warmest jacket tested. Next, the Patagonia Primo Down (as long as you seal it down against drafts. The latest iteration of the Primo Down is a little prone to letting air in and out) and Arc'teryx Macai duke it out for second place. The Patagonia Snowshot 3-in-1 and Stio Shot 7 run a very close third to the high end down insulated pieces. The Helly Hansen Alpha 2.0, and Spyder Leader had high insulating values virtually indistinguishable from one another and noticeably lower than those above. The Best Buy Armada Carson Insulated is better thought of like a lightly insulated shell than as a competitor with the warmest jackets. The shell-only jackets all had far less insulation value. The Arc'teryx Sabre edged slightly ahead of the Norrona and the Best Buy FlyLow Genius due to its thin fleece lining.
In assessing more and more shell-only jackets, we have to make particular note of their warmth. A shell-only jacket is simply not insulated. Those that prefer this style of ski clothing get most of their warmth from a different layer. Sure, the waterproof and windproof shell of the Editors Choice Arc'teryx Sabre and the like minimize heat loss due to convection and evaporation. However, it is actual insulation, in the form of an inner fleece or puffy jacket, that protects against heat loss due to radiation and conduction. There are slight differences in the warmth of the different shell jackets. The fleecy "flannel" lining of the Sabre is slightly more insulating than the smooth lining of the Norrona Lofoten and FlyLow Gear Quantum Pro.
Weather resistance is a function of three things, in declining order of importance: construction, waterproof materials, and the durable water repellent coating (DWR). For routine resort use, construction and design will primarily influence the degree of wind and precipitation protection. The jacket needs to be constructed from waterproof and breathable fabrics and coated with an effective DWR.
Design and construction, particularly with regard to seam and zipper integrity, hood shape, waist sealing, and wrist cuff style, are by far the most significant determinants of weather resistance. The most weather-resistant coats tested are constructed well, regardless of the fabric technology used. That said, decent fabrics sewn well trump poor fabrics assembled in the same way. Finally, to be clear, we discuss mainly water resistance in our reviews. However, because anything that resists water will resist wind and snow as well, we can extrapolate overall weather protection from tests, and discussion of water resistance.
Manufacturers and sales personnel make a big deal of the technology in the shell fabrics. Gore-Tex, a well-established brand manufacturing raw materials and licensing its use to many clothing companies, describes its fabrics and company-certified garments as "Guaranteed to Keep You Dry." This implies both protection from solid and liquid water, and out-bound transmission of body-generated water vapor. In our review, the Patagonia Primo Down, Arc'terx Macai, Arc'teryx Sabre and Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell are made of Gore-Tex. Other manufacturers use a pair of five-digit numbers to describe both waterproofness and breathability ("10,000/10,000", or further abbreviated to "10k/10k").
The first number in the pair describes waterproofing by indicating the number of millimeters of water the fabric can withstand over a 24-hour period. That is in perfect conditions. The second number describes breathability, in grams of water vapor that can pass through a square meter of fabric in a 24-hour period. Also in perfect conditions. What does all that mean in real life? First of all, these numbers and claims are assigned by the manufacturer. Little to no independent testing is performed. (similarly, any pre-production testing of Gore-Tex garments is kept "in-house", either by the manufacturer or Gore-Tex, or both). Second, basically, all fabrics available (certainly all in our tests) are good to the claimed 10k/10k performance. And that is plenty. All this is interesting academic information, but we can move on now, as all the jackets tested are made of high performing fabrics. As stated above, there is far more variability in construction detailing than there is in fabric performance. Perhaps the most valuable part of the Gore-Tex label is their rigorous construction standards. Gore requires that clothing manufacturers seal seams and use zipper waterproofing, for instance.
Each company does it differently, but at some point in the process, the manufacturer coats the outside fabric of the clothing item with a DWR. This is what makes water bead up on the garment. The above-described waterproof/breathable laminates are inside of the shell fabric. To keep the outer fabric dry (and breathable — a jacket with soaked outer fabric does not breathe) it is treated with DWR. In usage, and contrary to the name, the DWR is often the least durable part of the entire jacket and wears off over time.
We tested the DWRs in our sprinkler/shower test. While soaking the fabric, simulating rain, wet snow or both, we rubbed the forearm of every one. This simulates actual usage. Arms rub against the body, bodies rub against the snow, chair lifts rub against backs and backpacks rub on shoulders. Patagonia garments, the Patagonia Primo Down and Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot have the best DWRs in our test. The Arc'teryx products come next, with the soft outer fabric of the Helly Hansen Alpha delivering an impressive performance. The Spyder Leader shell fabric eventually wet out in this test. In each case, however, the genuinely waterproof part is protected and hidden by the shell fabric. The DWR on the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell was excellent, with the OR and FlyLow products faring well. The DWR of the Armada Carson Insulated suffered. Thankfully their waterproof laminate held up.
Again, and like a broken record, we cannot say this enough, design is far more critical. All the ski jackets in our test are made of waterproof/breathable fabric. Weather resistance performance is, therefore, a function of construction and fit, with DWR playing a role as well. We looked for thoughtfully designed hoods, high, stiff collars, effective cuffs (with inner, secondary cuffs a bonus), protected zippers, and long sleeves and hems. Our top scorers were both Arc'teryx models and the Patagonia Primo Down. The Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell entirely tops the shell jacket field with immaculate cuffs, a massive hood that can be cinched down, and a powder skirt that can be attached to the matching pants to form a one-piece suit. The newly added Editors Choice Arc'teryx Sabre narrowly edges out the Norrona in the contest of best overall shell jacket. In insulated jackets, weather resistance and warmth often come from the same features. Jackets that came out on top in overall scores were also the ones that performed best in weather resistance and warmth.
Not all cold environments are created equal, and not all ski days have equal conditions. Being able to adapt your insulation to match your surroundings and exertion is key to comfort. A rider will sit for long periods of time. Lift lines and lift rides expose a skier to weather with little opportunity to generate body heat. And then, the polar opposite to the lift ride, the rider will drop in for a few minutes of high output activity. The day can heat up or cool down, and one day will be different from the last. Traveling to new mountain ranges is a primary driver of the passionate skier. All these changes require adaptable gear. Ventilation performance is crucial, both in the short term of one run to the next, and long-term of one day, week, season, or range to the next.
The Columbia Whirlibird and Patagonia Snowshot offer modular, "3-in-1" designs that are well suited to ventilation and adaptation. These each come in one insulated, and weatherproof package. The inner liner of each can be unzipped and unbuttoned to be worn alone. The shell of each can also be worn on its own. That gives you two parts, worn together or individually, hence the "3-in-1" descriptor. They earned our highest scores for ventilation. The option to mix and match the layers does take time, but it gives better climate control than any of the others tested.
If it is crucial to you to vent or seal up in a matter of seconds, look for a jacket with long (longer than a foot or so), non-mesh-backed pit-zips with multiple zipper pulls. The absolute best vents start on the user's chest instead of inline along the underarm. Among the insulated jackets, none have all the vent attributes we look for. The Patagonia Primo Down has long zips that open entirely without mesh, but they are hidden under the arm. The Sabre has the same sort of vents as the Patagonia Primo Down. The Stio Shot 7 has long, dual-zipper pulled vents, but they are backed by mesh.
The Spyder Leader has mid-length zips that are backed with mesh. The Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell and FlyLow Gear Genius vent well, while the remaining insulated jackets (Helly Hansen, Arc'teryx Macai, Armada Carson) have nothing notable regarding ventilation.
A handful of niceties augments a well-designed jacket. Throughout our tests, we looked for plentiful pockets, ski pass clips and pockets, integrated goggle wipes, and systems to join jackets and pants into an integrated package.
The top scoring jackets in this category were the Helly Hansen Alpha and the Spyder Leader, which both came loaded with conveniences. Of the shell jackets, the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell has the fewest. The FlyLow Quantum has a ton of pockets, but few other niceties. The Patagonia jackets are near the middle of the pack.
Fit and Comfort
Fit is king. We go to the mountains to feel good. We want to feel good in our clothes. Fit and comfort, like weather resistance, are functions of materials and construction. Carefully constructed garments fit better. However, fit varies from one person to another. Second only to style, fit and comfort is subjective. What fits one person may or may not fit the next. To address this, we tested on a variety of body shapes and in each review we rate overall fit as a single number but elaborate on what was different from one piece to another. It is worth noting that primary testing was done by thin, size medium men.
When we say a jacket like the Patagonia Primo was "boxy and loose" (and we do say that, from our first hand, comparative experience), we mean that everyone will have this same experience, relative to the other jackets tested. A barrel-chested man may appreciate this boxier cut. All the jackets tested were marketed as size medium by their manufacturers. The Helly Hansen Alpha and Spyder Leader earned high scores in fit and comfort, coming to that performance from two very different directions. The Helly Hansen Alpha is constructed with what seems like 15 different soft and flexible fabrics. Virtually every part stretches and hugs the body. Visible bulk mainly comes from the insulation.
The Spyder Leader is looser in fit, with a brilliant collar and sleeve design that virtually disappears on the wearer. The Arc'teryx Macai feels similar to the Helly Hansen - close and cozy - but accomplishes this with careful tailoring instead of the stretchy fabrics of the Alpha. The Stio Shot 7 fits like the Helly Hansen, with the Macai's careful tailoring instead of HH's stretchy materials. The Arc'teryx Sabre shell jacket is constructed of a stiff material that feels protective but confining. The Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell is the lightest reviewed, with a thin fabric that moves with you. The FlyLow Genius is real similar to the Lofoten, with a slightly looser cut. The Columbia Whirlibird and Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot are the most confining and bulky, attributable to the extra layers of fabric involved in their construction.
Style is subjective. Our test team of dirtbag ski bums, former fashion students, and cosmopolitan mountain towners brought a whole range of experiences and opinions to the scores. Your opinion may vary further. In our ratings, we tried to evaluate each piece in context. Of course, we considered fit, colors, and versatility. What statement does this jacket make? Can a wearer pull it off in town and on the hill? Will it look out of place in the backcountry? Out of place on a snowboard, or on skis? We also considered branding, intended use, target demographic, and resort fashion trends over time. Nonetheless, you may choose to throw our assessments of style completely out the window. And we are fine with that.
Some of the jackets we evaluated make strong visual statements. The Spyder Leader shouts "I'm a SKIER," while the Columbia Whirlibird Jacket says "I go to the mountains, but don't take myself too seriously." Others such as the Patagonia Primo Down, Helly Hansen Alpha, and Arc'teryx Sabre have more understated, neutral looks that blend in on the hill and around town. The FlyLow Gear Genius shell is slick, with rigid fabric that holds its shape around people of all dimensions. The Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell we reviewed is bright and svelte, more like an alpine climbing hardshell than a ski resort piece. The Best Buy Armada Carson Insulated is an outlier, style-wise. It has a youthful design intended to suggest your oversized cotton hoody. It does so successfully, and this look certainly appeals to some users.
To keep your legs comfortable and warm while hitting the slopes, we recommend the Arc'teryx Sabre and The North Face Freedom Pant. Both of these pants fit well and are weather resistant. Also notable, if only for its incredible integration with the burly shell jacket, the Norrona Lofoten pants are excellent. For a more in-depth look at all the ski pants we reviewed, check out The Best Ski Pants Review.
Finding the perfect ski outerwear can be a difficult task with the immense amount of jackets currently on the market. We tested 11 of the top ski jackets available in hopes of helping you sort through the list.
— Jediah Porter
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.