How to Choose the Best Ski Jacket for Women

The ladies decide where to ski next while testing jackets and skis at Mammoth Mountain.
Article By:
Jessica Haist
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Sunday

When you are thinking about buying a new ski jacket, really take a moment to consider the true use of this jacket; where and when you will be using it, how often you will wear it, and how much realistically you are willing to spend. If you are a fair weather skier who only goes up to the hill on sunny days and only skis a few times a year, you can get away with a jacket that is less warm and less waterproof but plenty stylish, like the Orage Nina. You also may want to spend less on a jacket. If you are in the 100+ day club at your resort and like to ski deep powder and on storm days, you may be looking for a jacket that is much more durable and has higher performance materials, like the Patagonia Primo Down - Women's, which costs more. How warm a jacket is and how it performs will depend on several factors, including your climate, the materials it is made of, breathability, and the fit — we've discussed these factors and several other factors to consider here to help you find the perfect jacket for you. If you already know what you are looking for and want more information on the jackets we tested, check out our main review of women' s ski jackets.

Climate


Carefully consider the climate you will be skiing in: how warm or cold is it? How wet or dry? Do you ski mostly in the Canadian Rockies or the North East where temperatures are frequently in the negatives? Or are you skiing in California where temps are moderate and the sun makes frequent appearances? If you are in these colder climes you will want to buy a jacket with more insulation and wind resistance. In warmer environments you may be looking for a jacket with lots of ventilation potential like the Patagonia Untracked - Women's or a 3-in-1 type jacket so you can separate the layers and leave the insulating layer behind on warmer days.

Testing the Primo Down at Big White Resort in British Columbia Canada.
Testing the Primo Down at Big White Resort in British Columbia Canada.

Do you ski somewhere with a wetter maritime climate like Costal British Columbia, or do you stick to regions with dry powder and less rain like Utah or Montana? If you will be in an area with a lot of wet precipitation and warmer temperatures you may want to consider getting a jacket with higher water resistance, such as Gore-Tex. Water resistance is slightly less important in colder, dryer climates.

Hardshells vs Insulated Jackets


When choosing your ski jacket you should consider its intended use. Hardshells are lighter weight, more versatile, and more technical jackets that are typically used for high-output activities such as backcountry skiing and mountaineering. A hardshell is an outer layer that is waterproof, breathable, durable, and usually has the ability to vent. It is also typically much lighter than an average insulated ski jacket since it is not insulated whatsoever and usually has no ski-specific features. We tested 3 ski specific hardshell jackets this season that all came with features like powder skirts and goggle pockets –but no insulation. This gives you the ability to tailor your insulation underneath to the weather outside, making the jacket more versatile for different weather and conditions. Hardshell jackets can be very expensive because they tend to incorporate higher-end membrane technologies. Reference our Hardshell Buying Advice for more information on waterproof fabrics.

The 3 ski specific shell jackets we tested  the Patagonia Untracked Jacket  Arc'teryx Sentinel and the Flylow Billie Coat.
The 3 ski specific shell jackets we tested, the Patagonia Untracked Jacket, Arc'teryx Sentinel and the Flylow Billie Coat.

Insulated ski jackets are made specifically for keeping you warm while riding the lifts and going downhill. Manufacturers have put a lot of thought into how these jackets can best serve their users in this specific function. They include features like goggle pockets, pass pockets, and powder skirts. These jackets (like most of the jackets in this review) come with some type of insulation, either down or synthetic insulation, such as Primaloft, to keep you warm while sitting on the lift. Because of these features, they are heavier than a hardshell, which is acceptable since you're not carrying it around while hiking uphill.

Softshells should also be mentioned briefly in this section. They are made out of a stretchier, less waterproof material that tends to be more comfortable and significantly more breathable, but are intended for dryer days of use. Softshells are usually heavier than a hardshell. For more information on softshell jackets read our softshell jacket review.

Down vs Synthetic Insulation


This question comes down to climate and intended use again. If you're in a dryer, colder climate, down is number one for warmth. It has a much higher warmth-to-weight ratio but loses its insulating power if it gets wet. The Patagonia Primo Down Jacket - Women's use entirely down insulation, but is also uses a waterproof outer material which allows it to function even in a wet environment. Whereas the First Tracks jacket should be used with caution in wetter climates as its shell material is less water resistant than Gore-tex and leaves the down insulation vulnerable. The Arc'teryx Andessa uses a body-mapped combination of down and synthetic insulation in order to achieve high warmth and durability. If you are interested in learning more details about the benefits of down insulation, check out our down Buying Advice article.

Two of the warmest jackets in this review  the Primo Down and the Andessa.
Two of the warmest jackets in this review, the Primo Down and the Andessa.

Most ski jackets use synthetic insulation because it is slightly more versatile and less expensive than down. Synthetic insulation is a bit tougher and will keep you warm if your jacket gets wet. It is however, heavier than down insulation, though weight is not as important of a concern for a resort-specific jacket.

Ventilation


When skiing at a resort, you spend a majority of your time riding lifts and sitting still, not working up a sweat. However, on a cold day when you work hard while skiing, on a deep powder day for instance, then you have to sit still on a cold chair lift on the way back up, ventilation and breathability become more important. If you work up a sweat in a stifling jacket, being wet will make you chilly as soon as you are no longer moving.

We love the Sentinel paired with our Patagonia Untracked pants for ski touring. The Sentinel has huge pit zips for great venting on the uptrack.
We love the Sentinel paired with our Patagonia Untracked pants for ski touring. The Sentinel has huge pit zips for great venting on the uptrack.

It can be hard to determine the breathability of an insulated ski jacket since typically you are wearing a few layers underneath, or the jacket is lined or has an inner jacket. For these reasons it is more important to look at the ventilation possibility of the jacket, such as pit-zips, or if an inner jacket can be removed. Most of the jackets we tested in this review had some type of ventilation features, with the exception of the Spyder Radian. Jackets that allow for additional airflow during times of hard exertion will be the most comfortable during the most circumstances.

Ski Features


If you're buying a jacket specifically for skiing or snowboarding, you want it to have the features that will work best for that purpose. The main features we look for are pockets, hoods, RECCO technology, powder skirts, and wrist gaiters.

Pockets
If you are planning to spend your day out on the ski hill, it is important to be able to stash everything you may need in your jacket. It is nice to have large interior pockets for snacks and goggles, as well as smaller pockets for keys and cell phones. If you're into listening to tunes while shredding, look for a jacket that has a media compatible pocket where your headphones can feed through the interior, like in the Flylow Billie Coat.

The Patagonia Untracked jacket has great ski features including a media pocket with headphone gasket.
The Patagonia Untracked jacket has great ski features including a media pocket with headphone gasket.

Hoods
If you wear a helmet, make sure that your hood fits over your ski helmet! Otherwise what's the point of having a hood on your jacket at all? Being able to put up the hood when the wind kicks up keeps you far warmer than letting the cold seep in around your neck. We like the Primo Down's down lined hood.

We could not zip the Whirlibird's collar all the way up when we had the hood up and a buff on under our jacket.
We could not zip the Whirlibird's collar all the way up when we had the hood up and a buff on under our jacket.

Powderskirts
Powderskirts are a type of interior waist strap that is meant to button tightly over the waist band of your pants and prevent snow from getting up your back or down your pants in the event of a wreck in the snow. We are huge skeptics of powderskirts. We found that most, if not all, of the powderskirts we have ever used end up riding up around our ribs and do nothing to keep the snow from going up our backs or down our pants. The most iappealing quality we find in a powderskirt in the jackets we review is when it is removable (in the Primo Down, Andessa, Billie Coat and Radiant). That being said, if you really want to stop that uncomfortable cold feeling of snow trickling down into your underpants, many manufacturers make jackets whose powderskirts are compatible with the ski pants of the same brand, like the Patagonia Untracked, allowing the jacket and pants to either zip or button together to stop the problem of powderskirts riding up. Look for that function and buy both pieces together for extra snow protection.

We love the Billie Coat's removable powder skirt.
We love the Billie Coat's removable powder skirt.

Wrist Gaiters
This handy feature — also known as sleeves with thumb holes, keeps your wrists cozy and warm when you're around town or on the ski hill. When worn under your gloves, they can also keep snow from going up your sleeves. We found that some wrist gaiters are better than others. We like the sleek nylon material used on the wrist gaiters of the First Tracks and Orage Nina as they fit under gloves more easily. Beware if they feel too tight, this could end up cutting off circulation and making your hands cold.

RECCO
If you will be skiing at a big mountain, especially in the west, in-bound avalanches can still be a concern, especially if you are out there skiing right after a big storm. The RECCO avalanche rescue technology is becoming more widely used at ski resorts across the country, and therefore is becoming a more popular feature in ski apparel. RECCO is a reflector chip that is embedded in equipment or clothing and it does not need batteries or need to be turned on to function. Its sole purpose is to send out a signal that ski patrollers will be able to locate using a RECCO Detector if you are buried in an in-bounds avalanche. RECCO technology typically makes jackets more expensive, so consider carefully if this is a feature that you absolutely have to have. Although the relatively inexpensive Barnsie contains a RECCO reflector. The jackets equipped with RECCO in this review are the Patagonia Snowbelle, Untracked and Primo Down, the Barsie and the Arc'teryx Andessa and Sentinel jackets.

Fit and Comfort


If your ski jacket doesn't fit you, it can affect your comfort and warmth. If the jacket is too small for you it will feel uncomfortable and you won't be able to wear additional layers underneath. If it is too big, it will feel bulky and drafty. If you are buying your jacket online, be sure to check out the manufacturer's sizing chart and compare your own measurements to them. We found that some brands' sizing charts were on the small side (Arc'teryx) and we would recommend sizing up, while others were on the big side (Columbia).

Testing with tutus on. The Arc'teryx Andessa and The North Face Cheakamus Triclimate 3-in-1. Both are size medium but fit on the small side  worn here by women who typically wear size small.
Testing with tutus on. The Arc'teryx Andessa and The North Face Cheakamus Triclimate 3-in-1. Both are size medium but fit on the small side, worn here by women who typically wear size small.

Removable vs Non-Removable Liner Jackets


For all of the 3-in-1 jackets we tested in this review, we found that the individual pieces worked better on their own than when they were worn together. A 3-in-1 type jacket is a good value for the money and can be a versatile garment if you live in a place where the weather changes drastically from day to day. They can be very warm, or when you take the inside insulating layer out for warmer temperatures, cooler but still wind and water resistant.

We think the Whirlibirds layers work better separately than zipped together.
We think the Whirlibirds layers work better separately than zipped together.

We find when wearing both the layers together, generally these jackets feel bulky and more uncomfortable than the single layer ski jackets. But it is nice to get off the slopes, throw the outer shell in the car, and have a stylish, cozy, and warm jacket to wear for après ski activities, whether it is going for happy hour or running errands. Ultimately, we find 3-in-1's to be jackets of all trades, masters of none.

Style


Though style is entirely subjective, we feel that skiing in particular is a unique situation where your choice of clothing becomes your identity. Remember, you will be wearing this jacket along with hats, helmets, and goggles, so people will no longer see your face or hair, but will recognize you primarily by the jacket you're wearing. Think carefully about how you want to represent yourself through your jacket — super steezy and colorful like the Nina, or classy, simple and understated like the Primo Down or Sentinel. Select a jacket that fits well and that comes in a color that you love.

The Nina was one of our favorite jackets we tested  all the ladies wanted a turn wearing it!
The Nina was one of our favorite jackets we tested, all the ladies wanted a turn wearing it!

At the top of the Sherwin's  Mammoth Lakes  CA
Jessica Haist
About the Author
Jessica is a recovered fashion major and urbanite who now spends all of her time living, working and playing in the mountains. Jessica originally hails from Toronto, Canada and now calls Mammoth Lakes California home. She is an avid skier, rock climber, backpacker, gardener and mountain biker. She has lived and worked all over North America pursuing her outdoor passions and work as an outdoor educator and guide. Jessica has recently completed her Masters Degree in Adventure Education from Prescott College in Arizona.

 
 

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