The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

The Best Ski Jackets for Men

Jason  Mike and Jed on Chair 5  Mammoth Mountain. Testing The North Face  Burton  and Helly Hansen ski jackets in these stormy conditions highlighted vast differences.
Monday December 3, 2018
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If you're looking for a new ski jacket, the number of options can be mind-numbing. To help, we researched 75+ top models before purchasing 13 of the best to test and compare side by side. Our test fleet includes an array of constructions and styles from single-piece insulated, 3-in-1 modular, to shell-only jackets. Our team of testers put each model through its paces while skiing in a variety of locations and a broad range of weather conditions. While testing, we scrutinized every aspect of each model's design and performance, paying close attention to warmth, weather resistance, ventilation, fit and comfort, style, and ski features. When all was said and done, we compiled our notes and opinions and rated each model on the criteria mentioned above to identify our award winners. Use our assessments and performance results to match the right jacket to your style and aspirations. For hardshell-only seekers, head over to our review of those as well.


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Awards Editors' Choice Award  Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award  
Price $949.00 at REI
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$699.00 at Backcountry
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$625.00 at REI
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$250.00 at Amazon
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$449.95 at MooseJaw
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Pros Impeccable quality, clean lines, very warm, excellent weather protectionDown insulation, generous fit, great weather protectionComfortable, burly fabric, impeccable designReasonably priced, 3-in-1 versatility, warm, good weather protectionClose fitting, warm, synthetic insulation, tons of ski features
Cons Super expensive, too warm for some applicationsBoxy cut, drafty construction unless well cinched downVentilation could be better, expensiveSlightly boxy fit, heavier weightLess stylish body hugging fit
Bottom Line Arc'teryx’s top of the line ski jacket and the winner of our Editor's Choice Award. This is the best insulated ski jacket money can buy, if can afford it.A top of the line insulated ski jacket with down stuffing wrapped in a Gore-Tex hardshell.An excellent ski shell for the discerning, long-term skier.This reasonably priced and versatile 3-in-1 jacket is a great option for frequent resort skiers.A comprehensive, modern ski jacket with a body-hugging fit.
Rating Categories Arc'teryx Macai Primo Down Sabre Jacket ThermoBall Snow Triclimate Alpha 3.0
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Specs Arc'teryx Macai Primo Down Sabre Jacket ThermoBall Snow Triclimate Alpha 3.0
Main Fabric N40p-X GORE-TEX Polyester N80p-X GORE-TEX 100% Polyester 2-layer Helly Tech Professional
Insulation Coreloft 100, Coreloft Compact, and 750 fill goose down 850 fill power down Light flannel backer 124 G/M² PrimaLoft® ThermoBall™ Synthetic Primaloft Gold & Black
Pockets 2 handwarmer, 1 sleeve, 1 chest, 1 internal mesh, 1 internal chest 4 external, 2 internal 2 hand, 1 sleeve, 1 internal 2 hand, 2 chest, 1 internal goggle, 1 wrist pocket 2 handwarmer, 2 external chest, 1internal chest, 1 internal mesh drop-in, one sleeve

Updated December 2018
We've been watching the market closely and excitedly for the Winter 2018/19 ski jacket offerings. On the front end of this season, we tested out a slew of new models to continue bringing you the best assessments of today's top models. Newcomers to our group of award winners are The North Face Thermoball Snow Triclimate (Top Pick for Versatility), Flylow Gear Lab Coat (Best Buy for a Shell), and Columbia Whirlibird III Interchange (Best Tight Budget Buy). Other models impressed us as well, from manufacturers like Outdoor Reseach and Marmot, narrowly missing the winners' circle. Arc'teryx still takes home our Editors' Choice Awards for insulated and shell models, outclassing the competition once again in this category. Check out our latest assessments in these gear reviews, then go hit the slopes in some new threads.

Best Overall Insulated Ski Jacket


Arc'teryx Macai


Main fabric: N40p-X GORE-TEX | Pockets: 6
Impeccable quality
Clean lines
Very warm
Excellent weather protection
Super Expensive
Too warm for some applications

After a survey of the current market, the Arc'teryx Macai jacket maintains its top spot as the Editors' Choice insulated ski jacket winner. The one qualifier we'll add in 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, weather resistance, 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 fit, style, and insulation durability tip the balance solidly in its favor.

Read review: Arc'teryx Macai

Best Overall Shell Ski Jacket


Arc'teryx Sabre Jacket


Main fabric: N80p-X GORE-TEX | Pockets: 4
Burly and protective
Good pocket layout
Soft, "flannel" lining
Expensive
Stiff fabric
Powder skirt is not removable

Some people just like a layered resort skiing outfit. For a long time, we discounted that. We now recognize our mistake and are 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 Arc'teryx Sabre Jacket 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.

While we love the fit and weather protection the Sabre offers, it comes at a premium. There are less expensive shell jackets models on the market, the Flylow Lab Coat for example, that offer a similar fit and level of protection and cost less. The Sabre is the best shell jacket in the test, however, but you pay for this level of performance.

Read review: Arc'teryx Sabre Jacket

Best Bang for the Buck


Columbia Whirlibird III Interchange


Best Buy Award

$149.00
(26% off)
at Backcountry
See It

Main fabric: Nylon/Omni-Tech | Pockets: Shell: 4 Liner: 3
Price point
Very warm
Modulates to fit many scenarios
Bulky
Clumsy weather protection
Basic fit and styling

The Columbia Whirlibird III Interchange returns to our ski jacket test this year and regains its position 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. The Whirlibird III tops the charts with its exceptional warmth, but otherwise, it provides a decidedly average performance across the board. Considering the price of admission we can't really complain because it gets the job done, and it does so admirably. In addition to its warmth, the Whirlibird III fends off the elements well with an Omni-Tech waterproof membrane, and adjustable hood, and a powder skirt. It's light on ski features, but it has the basics covered for the occasional resort skier.

Our biggest gripes with the Whirlibird III are minor. It has a loose and boxy fit, it's 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 III Interchange

Best Buy Shell Jacket


Flylow Gear Lab Coat


Best Buy Award

$524.95
at Backcountry
See It

Main Fabric: 100% Nylon + eVent | Pockets: 5
Low weight
Durable material
Great weather protection
Ventilates well
Few ski-specific features
Minimal warmth

Our competition includes four shell-only ski jackets, and the Flylow Gear Lab Coat proved to be the second highest rated of those models. 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. Testers love the large helmet compatible hood and the removable powder skirt that snaps onto compatible Flylow pants for stormy or deep powder days. It has excellent ventilation in the form of large open underarm vents and highly breathable eVent fabric, and the pocket layout is user-friendly and designed to not conflict with backpack straps should you take it backcountry skiing.

The Lab Coat has limited ski specific features; those seeking bells and whistles will be better off looking elsewhere. As a shell jacket, the Lab Coat provides little warmth to the user other than protection from the elements. That said, we feel that this is an excellent model to top off your resort or backcountry skiing layering system. It also boasts clean lines, an athletic fit, and a tech-casual style for $100 less than our Editor's Choice, the Arc'teryx Sabre, and $275 less than the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell.

Read review: Flylow Gear Lab Coat

Top Pick 3-in-1 Jacket


The North Face ThermoBall Snow Triclimate


Top Pick Award

$250.00
(28% off)
at Amazon
See It

Main Fabric: DryVent 2-Layer | Pockets: Shell: 6 Liner: 2
Fair price
Versatility
Warmth
Solid weather protection
Bulky
Heavy

The North Face Thermoball Snow Triclimate impressed our testers and takes home our Top Pick Award for a 3-in-1 ski jacket. The modular design of this style of jacket won't be for everyone, but there is no denying the intrinsic value and versatility offered by them. We tested four models of 3-in-1 jackets in this go 'round, and the Thermoball Snow emerged as our tester's favorite. It offers plenty of warmth when worn in its full configuration, plus the ability to adjust the way you combine its components to the current conditions. We found it to be very weather resistant, with a 2-layer DryVent construction, an excellent attached 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.

Our gripes with the Thermoball Snow are few, but testers found it to feel a bit heavy. This is a result of the 3-in-1 design, 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 Snow and we think this is the best 3-in-1 model we tested. Plus, it's offered at a reasonable price.

Read review: The North Face Thermoball Snow Triclimate


Analysis and Test Results


Choose the right ski jacket, and foul weather conditions will fade into the background, allowing you to focus and enjoy the task at hand. 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 cuts and baggy styles to the subdued and neutral, 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.

Co-author Jed "testing" the Patagonia Primo Down in the High Sierra backcountry. The lightweight  compressible and warm insulation  and beefy shell make it one of the more versatile products in our test. If you intend to ride the backcountry at all  consider this one.
Co-author Jed "testing" the Patagonia Primo Down in the High Sierra backcountry. The lightweight, compressible and warm insulation, and beefy shell make it one of the more versatile products in our test. If you intend to ride the backcountry at all, consider this one.

Testing involved careful indoor inspection of each model we purchased, assessing crafstmanship, features, and fit under the warmth of a roof. Then, we happily sped over to our local ski hills and backcountry laps to find out where each model excelled or fell back. We ranked each jacket on six predetermined metrics: Warmth, Weather Resistance, Fit and Comfort, Ventilation, Style, and Features. Each metric is weighted relative to its importance in performance and your overall experience. We combined the scores from these rating metrics to determine the overall scores and our award winners.

Ripping some groomer laps while testing the KT Component jacket.
Ripping some groomer laps while testing the KT Component jacket.

Value


People with varying levels of disposable income come to the ski hill, and the market reflects that. Aside from fundamental differences in construction (i.e., 3-in-1, shell, insulated shell), there's a variety of options offered at different price points to suit a wide range of budgets. This is good news for those of us on tighter budgets and those who are willing and able to buy the highest end products.

At the high end, Arc'teryx makes a strong presence and takes our Editors' Choice award for both insulated shell and shell categories with the Macai and Sabre, respectively. You're looking at $949 for the insulated jacket and $625 for the shell, so these won't work for everyone's budget. Lower priced options with functional but lower performance, such as the Best Buy Columbia Whirlibird III Interchange or the Armada Carson Insulated, exist in the $200-$250 range and still get the job done.


Warmth


Skiing and snowboarding generally take place in cold environments. An insulated jacket built specifically for resort riding is the first line of defense against that cold. Many of the jackets we 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 human-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 in the form of goose down. Goose down is highly insulating and lasts a long time but it is more expensive. 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 effects of wind and wetness. In this way, shell jackets are integral to a layered skier's warmth, but less directly.

Keeping warm on a cold morning lift in the Macai. This jacket is toasty.
Keeping warm on a cold morning lift in the Macai. This jacket is toasty.

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 affordable Columbia Whirlibird III takes top honors for warmth with the Patagonia Primo Down and Arc'teryx Macai tied just behind. The Patagonia Snowshot 3-in-1, the North Face Thermoball Snow Triclimate, and the Marmot KT Component all come in close behind the warmest competitors. The Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0 and Spyder Leader have high insulating values virtually indistinguishable from one another while noticeably lower than those above. The Armada Carson Insulated is better thought of like a lightly insulated shell than as a competitor with the warmest jackets.

The shiny material is the Omni-Heat thermal reflective lining. It may sound gimmicky  but it works. Super warm.
The shiny material is the Omni-Heat thermal reflective lining. It may sound gimmicky, but it works. Super warm.

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 or layers. 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, for example, is slightly more insulating than the smooth lining of the Norrona Lofoten.

Cruising between storms while testing the Lab Coat.
Cruising between storms while testing the Lab Coat.

Weather Resistance


Weather resistance is a combination of several things, waterproof materials, quality construction, and good design. When these elements come together, you get a jacket that not only repels water and blocks wind but also seals up around the waist, wrists, collar, and hood. Additionally, waterproof fabrics are treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish which helps make water bead up, as opposed to soaking into, the face fabric. The best DWR's are expensive, and therefore the most expensive jackets are the least likely to "wet-out," or soak up water on the outside, which reduces a membrane's breathability and function. We tested each jacket's weather resistance during real-world use while skiing, and also in a simulated rainstorm in the shower.


Without boring you to death with the details of waterproof breathable membranes, they are the heart of a waterproof jacket's construction. There are a variety of waterproof materials on the market and used in the construction of the jackets in this review. Perhaps the best known is Gore-Tex, and there are others like eVent, DryVent, and Omni-Tech that all perform roughly the same way. In addition to the jacket being waterproof, we also consider other protection from the elements like the collar, hood, powder skirt, wrist cuffs, zippers, and DWR. When all of these elements come together you get weather resistance perfection. Insulated models like the Arc'teryx Macai and the Patagonia Primo Down are some of the best; it feels like you're sealing yourself into a waterproof mummy sleeping bag. Shell models, like the Flylow Lab Coat, Arc'teryx Sabre, and Norrona Lofoten offer the same level of protection from the elements, minus the insulation, and therefore score just as high.

We don't recommend hanging out in the shower in your ski jacket  trust us  we've done it. But if you do  we recommend the Arc'teryx Macai.
We don't recommend hanging out in the shower in your ski jacket, trust us, we've done it. But if you do, we recommend the Arc'teryx Macai.

Despite having a soft looking exterior, the Helly Hanson Alpha 3.0 surprised all of our testers with its weather resistance, with no wet-out and an excellent design to hunker down on stormy days. As the price of the jackets decreases, so does the quality of the DWRs and wet out becomes more of an issue. All of the jackets we tested kept us dry on the inside, but when a jacket becomes wet on the outside it is less comfortable and it just plain looks bad. The Whirlibird III, the Thermoball Snow, and the Skyward II all absorbed some water into their face fabrics. The 3-in-1 style jackets we tested have another consideration, and that is the function of their powder skirts. When the liner jacket is zipped into the outer shell of all these jackets, it conflicts with the use of the powder skirt, making them unusable or very awkward at best. Therefore, all of the 3-in-1 models scored slightly lower as a result.

A quality hood design is an important aspect of a jacket's weather resistance. We like the cavernous hood on the Flylow Lab Coat.
A quality hood design is an important aspect of a jacket's weather resistance. We like the cavernous hood on the Flylow Lab Coat.

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 and large men.


When we say a jacket like the Patagonia Primo is "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. The Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0 earned high scores in fit and comfort. The Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0 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 excellent contoured fit is one the many reasons this jacket is so comfortable.
The excellent contoured fit is one the many reasons this jacket is so comfortable.

The Spyder Leader is looser in fit, with a brilliant collar and sleeve design that virtually disappears on the wearer. The 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 Sabre shell jacket is constructed of a stiff material that feels protective but confining. The lightweight Lofoten has a thin fabric that moves with you. The Patagonia Snowshot and the Columbia Whirlibird III are the most confining and bulky, attributable to the extra layers of fabric involved in their construction.

A comfortable jacket allows you to focus on your joy-ride.
A comfortable jacket allows you to focus on your joy-ride.

Ventilation


Not all cold environments are created equal, and not all ski days have equal conditions. Being able to adapt to match your surroundings and exertion is key to comfort. A rider will sit for long periods. 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 Snowshot, Thermoball Snow Triclimate, KT Component, and the Whirlibird III offer a modular, "3-in-1" design that is well-suited to adaptation in the form of adjusting the included layers. It comes in one insulated and weatherproof package. The inner liner can be unzipped and unbuttoned to be worn alone. The shell can also be worn on its own. That gives you two parts, worn together or individually, hence the "3-in-1" descriptor. This style of jacket is highly adaptable and earns a relatively high ventilation score as a result. The option to mix and match the layers does take time, but it provides an exceptional level of climate control.

These vents are huge. You can even open the snap at the hem and basically wear it like a cape.
These vents are huge. You can even open the snap at the hem and basically wear it like a cape.

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. Our highest rated jacket for ventilation is the Outdoor Research Skyward II with massive underarm vents that extend from the hem to the bicep. 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 Macai has the same sort of vents as the Primo Down but they are backed with mesh.

The shell-only jackets all vent reasonably well. The Arc'teryx Sabre, Flylow Lab Coat and Norrona Lofoten all have similar size and shape vents and highly breathable materials. The Spyder Leader has mid-length zips that are backed with mesh, while the remaining insulated jackets (Helly Hansen, Armada Carson) have nothing notable regarding ventilation.

Large vents with no mesh backing make for lots of air flow.
Large vents with no mesh backing make for lots of air flow.


Style


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." Others such as the Primo Down, Alpha, and Sabre have more understated, neutral looks that blend in on the hill and around town. The Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell we reviewed is bright and svelte, more like an alpine climbing hardshell than a ski resort piece. The inexpensive 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.

It has a super casual look with solid colors  clean lines  although the fit is a little on the boxy side.
It fits well  loose but not overly baggy  and a good length in the sleeves and torso.

Ski Features


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 come loaded with conveniences. Of the shell jackets, the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell and the OR Skyward II have the fewest. The Patagonia jackets and the Flylow Lab Coat are near the middle of the pack. If you like a pocket for everything, the Helly Hansen and Spyder models will serve you well. If you don't carry much with you on ski days, venture into the backcountry often, or ski with a backpack, the features offered (especially those concerning storage space) are much less important.

The pass pocket on the sleeve of the KT Component jacket.
The pass pocket on the sleeve of the KT Component jacket.


Protection for Your Bottom Half


To keep your legs comfortable and warm while hitting the slopes, we recommend the Arc'teryx Sabre Pants or the more affordable Freedom Pants from TNF. Both of these pants fit well and are weather resistant. For a more in-depth look at all the ski pants we reviewed, check out The Best Ski Pants Review.

Conclusion


Finding the perfect ski outerwear can be a difficult task with the immense amount of jackets out there. With the amount of time most manufacturers spend on advertising and marketing, it's tough to see through the product descriptions to understand the performance of any certain model. That's why we do what we do — to shed light on how each model functions on the mountain, not on the display rack. We hope this review helps you find the right model for your needs.

Testing the North Face Thermoball Snow at Sugar Bowl ski resort.
Testing the North Face Thermoball Snow at Sugar Bowl ski resort.


Jediah Porter and Jeremy Benson