Our expert team has bought and tested 60+ unique models over the years. Always updating, we review 13 of the best ski jackets available today for side by side comparison. We put insulated jackets, shells, and 3-in-1 models to the test at the resort and in the backcountry. Ex-pros and mountain guides fill up the roster of our team that took these models to ski hills during storms and bluebird days. It's hard to judge warmth, weather resistance, comfort, ventilation, and more from the specs and marketing claims on your computer screen, so we did the work for you. Our assessments and recommendations will lead you to the right product for your needs and your wallet.Related: Best Ski Jackets for Women
Best Ski Jackets for Men of 2020
Best Overall Insulated Ski Jacket
Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft
The Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft barely edged out our previous favorite to become this year's Editors' Choice winner for insulated ski jackets. The Alpha LifaLoft provides plenty of warmth and weather resistance for all types of weather and takes home top honors for comfort, style, and ski features. This jacket excels in every category of our review. By using synthetic insulation and a proprietary waterproof/breathable membrane, Helly Hansen keeps the cost of this jacket comparatively low while maintaining its warmth and weather resistance. Its well-designed fit, excellent features, and svelte Scandinavian style and color options help this jacket rise above the rest of the competition.
The Alpha LifaLoft doesn't provide as much warmth as the down-insulated (and previous Editors' Choice winner) Arc'teryx Macai, nor does it protect from the elements as much as other jackets that use a Gore-Tex membrane. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. While a super warm jacket is at home only in sub-zero temps, the Helly Hansen performed well in a variety of temperatures and precipitation tests. The result is a more versatile jacket at nearly half the price. For this, the Alpha LifaLoft takes the crown.
Read review: Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft
Best Resort Shell Ski Jacket
Arc'teryx Sabre AR Jacket
Shell-only ski jackets have become increasingly popular, and if you ski in a warmer climate, you might see more shell jackets on the slopes these days than insulated jackets. With the right layering system underneath, a shell jacket provides more versatility than an insulated jacket, allowing for use in a greater range of temperatures. The Arc'teryx Sabre AR is awarded the Editors' Choice for shell ski jackets because of its best-in-review weather resistance and excellent ventilation and comfort, all reasons why skiers might opt for a shell jacket instead of an insulated one. This jacket will keep you dry and sheltered from the wind, period. It brings a loose, freeride cut and style to a field otherwise dominated by traditional jacket designs.
As with any shell, keeping the user warm is the responsibility of insulating layers worn underneath. If you are looking for a jacket that will allow you to head to the slopes without any further thought, choose an insulated jacket instead. If you are intrigued by the idea of versatility and are willing to invest in a variety of layers to wear under this shell jacket, the Sabre AR is the best that money can buy. Expect to pay a lot for it, but not any more than other Gore-Tex shell jackets.
Read review: Arc'teryx Sabre Jacket
Best Bang for the Buck
Columbia Whirlibird IV Interchange
The Columbia Whirlibird IV Interchange retains its title as our overall Best Buy Award winner. As usual, Columbia brings exceptional value to the table in a versatile 3-in-1 ski jacket. Being of the modular 3-in-1 design, there is immediate value in the fact that you get two jackets (and three ways to wear them) for the price of one. This jacket provides decent weather protection and warmth at a fraction of the price of other models in the review. Otherwise, there is nothing special about this jacket, but it gets the job done with an Omni-Tech waterproof membrane, adjustable hood, powder skirt, and plenty of pockets.
Our biggest gripes with the Whirlibird IV are minor. It has a loose and boxy fit, its bulky, and its style leaves a bit to be desired. This jacket is best suited to occasional skiers; hardcore skiers will be better off looking at higher quality and higher performance options. That said, we were pleasantly surprised by the overall performance of this versatile 3-in-1 jacket system, especially for the price.
Read review: Columbia Whirlibird IV Interchange
Best Buy for a Shell Jacket
Outdoor Research Skyward II
Our competition includes several shell-only ski jackets, and the Outdoor Research Skyward II performed as well as most of them. Testers found that it offers a similar level of weather protection and all-around performance as its more expensive competitors, and for this reason, we award it with our Best Buy Shell Jacket Award. This highly weather-resistant model is great for skiers who prefer a do-it-yourself layering system, and it wards off the harshest of weather to keep you warm and dry. This jacket also scores highly in the ventilation category, due to its highly breathable AscentShell fabric and massive side vents. The outer fabric also repels water very well.
Some caveats include a hood that is barely helmet compatible and the lack of a powder skirt for deep days in the resort. These shortcomings don't detract much from the shell, because it performs where it needs to, in weather resistance and ventilation. Other shells use high-performance Gore-Tex fabrics, which can also lead to higher price tags. Overall, this jacket is a great option for those who need a high-performance shell at a bargain price.
Read review: Outdoor Research Skyward II
Best 3-in-1 Jacket
The North Face ThermoBall ECO Snow Triclimate
The North Face Thermoball ECO Snow Triclimate impressed our testers and takes home our Top Pick Award for a 3-in-1 ski jacket. Across the board, this jacket performed well. It offers plenty of warmth when worn in its full configuration. Its modular design provides you a layering system to fit the current conditions. We found it to be very weather resistant, with a 2-layer DryVent construction, an excellent adjustable hood, and a powder skirt to help keep out the elements. It also comes with some nice features like a pass pocket and an attached goggle wipe.
We have few gripes with the ECO Snow Triclimate, testers found it feels on the heavier side. The added weight is a result of the 3-in-1 design which is common amongst this subset of jackets. Otherwise, the jacket has a long and somewhat roomy cut, clean lines, and an easy-going style. We loved the Thermoball ECO Snow Triclimate, and it's also offered at a reasonable price.
Read review: The North Face Thermoball ECO Snow Triclimate
Best for Backcountry Skiing
Outdoor Research Hemispheres Jacket
Many skiers are entering the backcountry in search of untracked snow and a serene experience. Backcountry ski outerwear needs to provide comparable weather protection and comfort as inbounds counterparts. These pieces are differentiated by a backcountry specific feature set, excellent ventilation and reduced weight. The Outdoor Research Hemispheres provides the same weather resistance and more ventilation than the Editors' Choice shell jacket, at a fraction of the weight. This jacket stands up to the gnarliest winter weather and then disappears into a backpack when the weather clears up. This is precisely what we are looking for in a backcountry shell jacket.
The Hemispheres is a shell that doesn't provide any insulation or resort features such as a powder skirt. The absence of both is no big deal in a backcountry shell but might leave resort skiers wanting more. Additionally, the color options and general style of the jacket fall short of the competition. However, the high visibility colorways provide an additional margin of safety in the backcountry. high. For backcountry enthusiasts, this is a great ski shell that can also be worn on the deepest storm days at the resort. For resort-centric skiers, we would recommend other shells found in this review.
Read review: Outdoor Research Hemispheres
Why You Should Trust Us
Our test team is led by Jeff Dobronyi, an AMGA Certified Ski Guide and OutdoorGearLab Contributor. Jeff lives, skis, and guides in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and leads ski trips all over the world, from Colorado and Wyoming to Canada, Alaska, Europe, and South America. Logging upwards of 150 days per year on skis, Jeff gets intimate with his ski gear and puts it through the wringer. When you ski that much, you know what works and what doesn't, and he is familiar with the small details that will make or break ski equipment.
Jeff is joined by skier and author Jeremy Benson and internationally certified Mountain Guide Jed Porter. Jeremy has been a sponsored ski athlete for nearly two decades and has skied around the world from Argentina and Chamonix to his backyard playground of the Sierra Nevada. Jed's adventures take him from his home range of California's High Sierra to the Chugach of Alaska and all points between with an impressive and growing climbing and skiing resume.
To produce this review, we spent weeks researching the current jacket offerings before selecting the 13 most promising jackets for hands-on testing. Then, we spent at least a day skiing in each model, from Mammoth to Tahoe to Jackson Hole. Our on-mountain testing featured the full spectrum of weather conditions and temperatures, and we took our weather resistance testing to the controlled environment of our shower for good measure.
Related: How We Tested Ski Jackets
Analysis and Test Results
To compare our selection of ski jackets, we scored each jacket across six categories. A good ski jacket must keep us warm, keep us dry, and be very comfortable, so we weighed these categories heavily. In addition, it's nice if the jacket has good ventilation, great style, and makes our lives easier on the hill with useful features. Of course, everybody needs something different, so keep your preferences in mind as you read through the performance categories.
Related: Buying Advice for Ski Jackets
Ski jackets cover a wide price range which offers different levels of quality and performance. Overall, we found that price does not correlate with performance, which is great news for skiers seeking a good deal on a good jacket. On one side of the spectrum, the Best Buy Award winner Columbia Whirlibird IV is very affordable and provides good performance and durability for the occasional skier. It also performs well as a general winter jacket and has 3-in-1 versatility for exceptional value. For a little more money, The North Face Thermoball ECO Snow Triclimate provides the same 3-in-1 value with much higher performance. The Editors' Choice Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft is very reasonably priced, compared to the second place Arc'teryx Macai, which costs nearly twice as much. The Macai justifies the high price with long-lasting down insulation and durable construction.
In the world of shell jackets, great value can be found in our Best Buy Award-winning Outdoor Research Skyward II, which uses a proprietary waterproof/breathable membrane instead of Gore-Tex. However, it performs nearly as well as the other shells in the review that cost up to twice as much. In our opinion, only the most hardcore users need the performance of the most expensive shells in the review, like the Arc'teryx Sabre AR and Norrona Lofoten. Consumers who invest in a premium shell will enjoy higher levels of performance and durability for years down the road.
Skiing often takes place in cold weather. In order to comfortably and enjoyably take advantage of the best days, our jackets need to keep us warm. However, skiing is also an aerobic sport that produces heat, and the better we get, the more aerobic it becomes. So, a jacket that is too warm for the given weather and activity level can actually be a bummer in certain situations. Furthermore, skiers often wear layers underneath their jackets to fine-tune their warmth levels. In general, we gave higher scores to the warmer jackets, but keep in mind the average temperatures where you ski most and your usual exertion level.
To test each jacket for warmth, we wore them in the cold early winter season in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where temperatures reach into the single digits by October. Once we had an idea of how they compared, we tested each jacket on the ski slopes, windy chairlift rides, and chilly nights out on the town to refine our ratings.Our review included jackets with down insulation, synthetic insulation, mesh, and fleece insulation, and no insulation. The scores in the warmth category generally follow that order. Down provides the greatest warmth-to-weight ratio, and the Arc'teryx Macai proves this to be true with incredible warmth at no increase in weight. Synthetic insulation is usually bulkier and less insulating, but products like the Editors' Choice Helly Hansen Alpha Lifaloft and Patagonia Primo Puff show that synthetic insulation can be almost as warm as down. Synthetic insulation maintains its warmth when the piece gets wet which is a distinct advantage over down.
Other jackets attempt to trap air and thus provide some warmth with hanging mesh liners (as does The North Face Balfron) or thin fleece liners (a la Arc'teryx Sabre AR) while still keeping a shell-like feeling. Most of the shell-only jackets include no insulating features, like the Flylow Lab Coat and Outdoor Research Hemispheres, which require users to think about their layering system before hitting the slopes.
Weather Resistance is equally important as warmth. Weather resistance evaluates a jacket's ability to shelter us from the wind, snow, and rain. The best ski jackets can fend off the elements commonly associated with a great day of skiing to keep our bodies warm, dry, and content. Even on the deepest powder day of your life, if the snow keeps coming up through your waist, down through your neck, or soaking through the jacket's fabric, you're gonna have a bad time.
We wore each jacket in a range of weather conditions and inspected each jacket's important features like powder skirts, well-fitting and adjustable hoods, and secure cuff closures. Waterproof garments with thick outer shells to prevent wind penetration scored highly. To make sure we covered our bases, each jacket performed the dreaded "shower test," 5 minutes in the shower, to verify the manufacturer's waterproof claims.
Two jackets received perfect scores for weather resistance. They are both shell-only jackets, and they both use Gore-Tex: the Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Sabre AR, and the Norrona Lofoten. These jackets will repel all precipitation, from liquid water to snow, and block all attempts by the wind to penetrate your inner peace on cold, windy chairlift rides where your chin is tucked deep into your neck. The Macai and it's burly Gore-Tex lost a point for using down insulation, which loses its warmth when wet, which can easily happen when skiing due to external water or internal perspiration.
Most of the jackets reviewed use waterproof fabrics and synthetic insulation, such as The North Face Thermoball ECO Snow Triclimate and Patagonia Snowshot 3-in-1, which is a classic combination for weather-resistant ski clothing. Most jackets scored relatively well in this category as a result. Disappointingly, testers noted that the Flylow Lab Coat seemed to have a thin shell fabric that was more easily penetrated by cold, driving winds when other shells blocked the same wind in side-by-side testing on cold chairlift rides. The Balfron features cargo chest pockets that are useless if precipitation is falling heavily.
Comfort and Fit
In our daily life, we require our clothes to be comfortable relative to their specific use ski jackets are no different. When skiing we are constantly shifting, compressing, and extending as a result our jacket must be well-fitting without feeling restrictive. The cut of a jacket, materials used in construction, and attention to details can make a jacket a joy to wear every day or can leave you shopping for a new jacket. However, fit varies from one person to another. Second only to style, fit and comfort are subjective. What fits one person may or may not fit the next. For this reason, pay attention to our descriptions, not just the scores. It is worth noting that primary testing was done by thin, athletic, size medium, and large men.
We wore each jacket while out on the slopes and paid particular attention to how each model moved with our bodies. Some jackets have a baggy fit, including the Arc'teryx Sabre AR and The North Face Balfron, which allow for unrestricted motion and portray a certain style, but the extra material can be uncomfortable, depending on your taste. Some jackets have a "boxy" fit which does not contour to the body's curves and can feel loose, bulky, and uncomfortable for skinny people. The Columbia Whirlibird IV, Patagonia Snowshot 3-in-1, and Patagonia Primo Puff all felt boxy and untailored to our test team.
The Spyder Chambers has a snug, racer-like fit, and the Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft also features a slim torso design, but we liked how these garments stayed tight to our bodies without inhibiting motion. The soft fabrics and stretchy cuff openings of the Alpha LifaLoft also contribute to this jacket's top score for Comfort.
A day of skiing can be filled with drastic temperature swings. Skiers might encounter a frigid morning starting the car, a hot and stuffy experience herding the kids into ski school, cold and windy chairlift rides to the top of the mountain, aerobic downhill skiing, and a sunny and warm afternoon of slush skiing in the spring. Good ski jackets allow the wearer to adjust to their conditions, often through the use of vents and breathable fabrics.
To test ventilation, we hiked in the jackets to generate body heat and evaluated how each model allowed us to get rid of excess heat. Some jackets feature highly breathable fabrics, like the Outdoor Research Skyward II and Flylow Lab Coat, which slow the buildup of internal heat. In addition, some jackets have huge vents that allow the user to open up to the outside environment in a flash. Other jackets feature vents that are not helpful at all. Jackets with insulation hold heat in the body of the jacket, even when vents are open, thus reducing ventilation potential. Shell jackets will dump all their heat as soon as the vents are opened up.
The Outdoor Research Hemispheres jacket features vents that can be zipped open all the way from the rib cage to the bottom hem of the jacket. This provides incredible ventilation potential. On the other hand, the pit vents on the Spyder Chambers are relatively short and have mesh covering the opening, which inhibits air movement. Jackets of this style offer reduced ventilation opportunities. The Whirlibird IV has pit zips without mesh, but the vent does not continue through the inner layer (like all 3-in-1 jackets we've tested), which inhibits ventilation from the warmest chamber of the jacket.
Skiing is an aesthetic sport and style is becoming more prevalent than ever before. Fortunately, style is different for everyone. The one consistency is, the better we look, the better we feel, and the more fun we have. A good ski jacket has great style while retaining its performance. Style is the most subjective characteristic of a ski jacket, and our ratings in this category might be completely different than how you would rank them, depending on your style. Also, you might weigh style more heavily the an we do, and many people rank style as the most important characteristic of their ski jacket.
Ski jacket styles range from baggy, "core" styling that evokes the ski bum lifestyle (and also expert abilities), to tight-fitting alpine racer looks that would feel at home on the podium of the World Cup. Some jackets are neutral in their styling, which can look good, if well-tailored, and can look bad if left uncontoured. We took our jackets to the slopes and asked around for opinions, as well as around town for aprés in the ski bars of Jackson, Wyoming. We pair this anecdotal information with the available color options of each model.
The Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft was deemed the style king. It's svelte, Euro styling still hints at a core look, implying that the wearer is here to ski hard and look good. The Arc'teryx Macai is more neutral, yet classy, and took a close second place, but the color options are much more muted and earthy. The Flylow Lab Coat and Arc'teryx Sabre AR fall on the "core" side of the spectrum, which we like, but you might not. On the other hand, the Columbia Whirlibird IV is styled to fit in with the crowd on the gentler slopes, and seems more at home in a high school hallway than the haute montagne.
Good ski jackets incorporate features that make your day on the slopes easier. We're talking about big pockets that hold lots of snacks, extra gloves, a facemask, trail maps, tissues, etc. Ski-specific features aren't as important as our other metrics, but they can augment a jacket that is already good.
Features are meant to improve your experience with the product and activity. For example, a ski pass pocket allows you to store your RFID pass and simply wave your arm at the full body scanner to avoid any dance moves and rummaging. Well-fitting hoods are a must for stormy days, and powder skirts can help keep the snow out as well. We like jackets that include a RECCO reflector, which can aid in rescue in the case of an in-bounds avalanche.
The most heavily featured jacket in our review is the Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft, which boasts seven pockets, RECCO, a high visibility hood brim that folds away, powder skirt, removable hood, and a back vent. The Patagonia Primo Puff is also well-featured, and includes a powder skirt that integrates with Patagonia pants via a button and loop system. The 3-in-1 jackets also score highly for features, because you'll take home two separate jackets with all the individual features of each, plus the ability to integrate the layers seamlessly. Many of the shell jackets in the review are light on features, like the Norrona Lofoten and Outdoor Research Hemispheres.
Protection for Your Bottom Half
A solid ski jacket should be complemented by excellent ski pants. The Best-in-Class Arc'teryx Sabre AR Pants or the more affordable North Face Freedom Insulated Pants are some of our top recommendations. The lower body has different requirements than the upper body, and our comparison of ski pants reflects this. For example, ski pants must be absolutely weather resistant, but our legs need less heat to stay warm, so we weigh warmth and weather resistance slightly differently.
Related: Best Ski Pants for Men of 2020
Whatever you need from a ski jacket, we have something in this review for everyone. With all of the options available, we know it can be hard to choose, which is why we strive to create the best side-by-side gear comparisons on the planet. So take a deep breath, and remember, gear shopping is supposed to be fun! We'll see you out on the slopes.
— Jeff Dobronyi and Jeremy Benson