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Over the past decade, our expert shredders have tested nearly 60 of the best women's ski jackets. For this update, we bought 15 top-ranked models to test back-to-back on the ski hill. From California to Colorado to Canada, we ride chairs, carve turns, slash pow and crush happy hours to put each model to the test. When it came time to leave the resort behind and head to the more rugged backcountry, we put each jacket's versatility, weather resistance, and ski-specific features to the test. We've made all the side-by-side comparisons of warmth, weather protection, value, and style for you to find the best model to meet your needs.
The women's Arc'teryx Sentinel is our favorite shell jacket for ripping around resort slopes. The Sentinel has a sleek, high-quality construction with fully taped seams and DWR-treated and taped zippers to keep the moisture out. We love how with their large open design, the pit zips could quickly increase ventilation. While working hard on the uphills and downhills, we found this shell material was also extremely breathable, allowing us to stay dry all day. To match all of the high-end construction, this shell has enough features to keep us happy at the resort. This shell scores highly in nearly every metric, save warmth, and looks stylish doing so. The 3L Gore-Tex shell screams bombproof weather resistance from the first feel, and it did not disappoint over our rigorous testing.
The flipside of the breathability and versatility of a hardshell design is that it does not provide any inherent insulation. The Sentinel has a soft flannel backer, but we did not find this to provide any significant insulation. We should note that maintaining the proper temperature through layering and sweat-wicking is certainly an important part of staying warm. That said, if you are looking for a jacket that keeps you both warm and dry, you may want to consider one of the insulated models we tested instead. However, if you're looking for one of the highest-end hardshells on the market, we believe the Sentinel is worth the investment. This jacket is burly and stylish, with a flattering cut, and should hold up for multiple seasons.
The Helly Hansen Powderqueen 3.0 blew us away with how warm it is for its weight. When we first picked it up and slipped it on, we were amazed by how instantly warm we felt. It feels like an ultralight luxury down sleeping bag with its silky soft synthetic insulation. The DWR shell material blocks wind and precipitation wonderfully, and the water-resistant zippers work like a dream. A rare find in an insulated jacket, the Powderqueen 3.0 wicks moisture incredibly well. Even when we began to work up a sweat, the heat in this jacket was noticeably dry.
In a related vein, we wish the Powderqueen 3.0 had more effective pit zips. However, with how well the material wicked moisture, this was not as necessary as it would be with some other insulated models we've tested. If you trend cold and prefer built-in insulation in your ski jacket, allow us to recommend the ultra-comfortable and high-performing Powderqueen 3.0 to keep you warm and dry on the deepest powder days.
The Outdoor Research Carbide shines in its extremely breathable and comfortable shell material. The 3L Pertex shield material is one of the most breathable and comfortable materials we've worn. The DWR coating of this material is also convincing, providing excellent weather protection for its weight. Combine all of this with ski-specific features to take you from the resort to the backcountry, and you have a stellar value for an excellent price.
While this stretchy 3L provides excellent breathability and water resistance, we felt the more biting winds permeate this thin material. This more backcountry-oriented shell is so thin that we have some questions about how it will hold up to the test of time, but after over a month of use, we have no reason to believe it will perform poorly. If we had just one wish for this jacket, it would be that the powder skirt was removable. This upgrade would knock this jacket out of the park. These small criticisms aside, we believe the Carbide performs similarly to many high-end shells on the market at a fraction of the price.
We were pleasantly surprised by the versatility and performance of The North Face Thermoball Eco Snow Triclimate 3-in-1. Despite its slim fit, the jacket had almost all of the features we look for in a ski jacket (deep pockets, quick and reactive zippers), and it impressed us with its weather resistance. Best of all, its two separate pieces make a warm and high-functioning ski jacket when combined, but are highly satisfying as individual pieces, too. The inner synthetic jacket is warm and looks great on its own, and we often wear it around town. The outer shell stands perfectly well on its own on warmer days or when we want to play with light layers underneath.
The jacket is very comfortable but should probably be sized up to allow the best movement when skiing with all layers together. We felt this tightness mostly across the shoulders and chest, which hindered movement somewhat. The jacket comes in enough colors to personalize it, and it works well with fun, patterned ski pants. We think The North Face Thermoball Triclimate 3-in-1 is a jacket that could work for almost anyone looking for a great deal on an insulated jacket.
We are completely enamored with the technical, high-end Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro. It feels like they thought of everything when designing this jacket. Its performance begins with the most breathable of Gore-Tex membranes with a hefty 70D weave. This shell feels like it can handle any weather, and we know it wicks moisture as well as any of the best options on the market. Every zipper is water-resistant and taped. The removable powder skirt and super lightweight wrist gaiters add a little more versatility than standard in a backcountry-specific shell.
The features of this jacket are fairly sparse compared to some resort-specific models, which lands it more squarely in the backcountry shell category. Often, less is more for the backcountry, and this jacket is no exception. Still, the double chest pockets and single internal zip pockets are more than adequate for days in the resort. We found it hard to find a flaw in either the construction or performance of this high-end shell. If you are in a position to invest in a top-end piece of gear, especially for the backcountry, the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro jacket is an outstanding choice.
Finding the best women's ski jacket started with ample online research. We made an initial cut of 50 jackets before selecting and purchasing the models discussed here for testing. We took them out in various locations from Canada to Vermont to California to Colorado, including the backcountry.
Our team of experts has tested nearly 60 of the best women's ski jackets over the past decade. These jackets underwent more than 100 individual tests paying special attention to critical areas of performance to make this a very rigorous assessment. When called for, we supplemented field use with controlled tests, like spraying the jackets down with water to test water resistance. We know you'll find this study to be a thorough and handy starting point in the selection of your next ski jacket.
Our examination of women's ski jackets is based on six rating metrics:
Weather Resistance (20% of overall score weighting)
Comfort and Fit (20% weighting)
Warmth (20% weighting)
Ventilation (20% weighting)
Style (10% weighting)
Features (10% weighting)
This review is brought to you by OutdoorGearLab Review Editors Betsy Welch, Jessica Haist, and Jackie Kearney. Betsy hails from the Front Range of Colorado, although you'll usually find her adventuring in the mountains or abroad. She likes to rip around local resorts, nordic ski, and dabble in skimo racing when the snow flies. Originally from Toronto, Canada, Jessica made her way west into the states and now resides in Mammoth Lakes, California. Jessica has acquired the gear connoisseur's eye for detail and function with Mammoth mountain's varied slopes available all season long. She's also lived and worked all over the US as an outdoor educator and guide and holds a Master's Degree in Outdoor Education from Arizona's Prescott College. Jackie has skied and lived in several places in the American West. After ski patrolling for several years at Kirkwood Mountain in Lake Tahoe, California, she returned to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado to pursue the same work at Telluride.
Analysis and Test Results
If you're into riding the lifts from the first chair until the last call, you'll want a ski jacket that will keep you warm, dry, and functioning well all day. Style is also a huge factor when choosing your outfit for riding, as it often becomes one's on-hill identity that your ski partners recognize ("There she is, in the teal coat!"). Where you live and how often you ski will affect which jacket will work best for you. Are you a fair-weather skier who likes cruising the groomers and then having happy hour on the deck? Or do you want to slay the pow on a storm day and work hard all day doing it? We've outlined the best choices for each scenario.
It is difficult to figure out which ski jacket hits the sweet spot between performance and price. Consider how much you get out on the mountain to help you justify your spending on your next ski jacket. For only a few weekends every winter, you might be happier with a less expensive option. However, if you call into work sick every powder day (hey, we don't judge) and get dozens of days on the mountain each year, it's easier to swallow the prices of some high-end gear. If the latter sounds like you, Arc'teryx Sentinel and Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro jackets should both be on your shortlist. For less frequent skiers or those on a tighter budget, there are a few models that combine great performance with relatively modest price tags, like The North Face Triclimate 3-in-1, Flylow Lucy, or the Outdoor Research Carbide.
We do our best here to help you identify the tradeoffs you are making when budgeting for your ski jacket. In our experience, spending more often leads to superior weather resistance, higher-end style, and better tailoring. The Arc'teryx Sentinel and Norrona Lofoten are great examples of this—they top out on style and weather resistance. Their thoughtful construction with taped or welded seams and fully water-resistant zippers meld with high-end Gore-Tex to put them a step above the rest in this category. They'll keep you skiing all day and will likely last several ski seasons. Relatedly, they consistently impress with their on-trend and flattering tailoring. However, if you are looking for a jacket with similar weather resistance and a similar cut, consider the award-winning Outdoor Research Carbide at a fraction of the price.
Going for an insulated jacket could potentially save you money on insulating mid-layers, which alone are often as expensive as any of these jackets. Many insulated jackets today tend to cost less than the pricey shell jackets. The Helly Hansen Powderqueen 3.0 is our favorite insulated model, but still priced within reach. For further savings, the versatility and price-point of The North Face Thermoball Eco Snow Triclimate 3-in-1 is a very appealing bargain to cover your bases adequately.
We evaluated all jackets on how they keep you protected from the elements. Hardshell jackets like the Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell, Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro, and the Arc'teryx Sentinel score high in this metric because of their super durable and water-resistant shell materials and large storm hoods. Depending on the time of year and the climate you're skiing in, weather resistance can be the most essential ski jacket feature. For example, the wetter, heavier snow of a maritime climate can quickly soak through a jacket without decent water resistance. The wetter you get, the colder you become, meaning this can factor into an abrupt end to your ski day.
Many of the products we evaluated are constructed with a waterproof/breathable shell material such as Gore-Tex. The Arc'teryx Sentinel, Norrona Lofoten, and REI First Chair GTX feature Gore-Tex. Like the Black Diamond Recon Stretch, some products we tested have a highly rated, proprietary waterproof/breathable material like BD.dry. Also, everything we tested was given added water resistance with the application of a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating, but some jackets repelled water better than others.
Waterproofness is rated on an industry-standard test in which labs determine how many millimeters of water in a square inch tube it takes for a material to start leaking. As a general rule, something with a 15K waterproof rating will work for most resort use, but if you live in a maritime climate or go on a lot of all-day tours in stormy weather, look for something closer to the 20K+ range.
Breathability, on the other hand, is not so simple. Water vapor behaves differently in different climates, and there is no standard test for breathability. Manufacturers will want to report the highest number here, so it's important to take this information with a grain of salt.
Along with field testing, we spray each jacket with water to carefully evaluate how well water beads off the surface and how long it takes the water to soak into the material, if at all. The spray test largely assesses the DWR coatings on these jackets, not the overall waterproofness of the materials. Every jacket we tested did well at repelling moisture during our spray tests. We were curious about the protective qualities in the shells of the Columbia Whirlibird IV Interchange and The North Face Thermoball Eco Snow Triclimate 3-in-1, so we took them out in wet snowfall. Moisture beaded right off of them both. It is important to note that DWR coatings will wear off over time from washing and use, but garments can be re-treated. The Arc'teryx Sentinel and Norrona Lofoten have Gore-Tex shells with DWR coatings that held up the best and beaded water quickly, whereas the Orage Nina and Obermeyer Tuscany II Insulated absorbed some water into their exterior shells over time.
We also consider other factors in this metric: how wind resistant is the jacket's construction—do we feel drafts through zippers or seams? The Arc'teryx and Norrona jackets performed highly here. We also evaluate if hoods are adjustable, insulated, and will fit over a ski helmet to protect you from winds and precipitation while sitting still on the chairlift or skiing down in stormy weather. All of the shells have non-insulated hoods, while the fully insulated jackets all had some degree of insulation in the hood. For example, the Helly Hansen Powderqueen 3.0 has a pillowy insulated hood that adds an awesome buffer on storm days. We also loved the technical performance of the oversized Arc'teryx and Norrona hoods and how well they protected our chin and face even without a helmet underneath.
Comfort and Fit
Comfort and fit are paramount because you want to move around and feel good while wearing your jacket all day. There is an array of ways manufacturers address comfort and fit in their jackets. In our experience, there are two main ways in which they do this: the tailoring, and the mobility of the actual material. For example, burlier shells like the Arc'teryx Sentinel and Norrona Lofoten feel crinkly out of the box as they do not have any stretch. What sets them apart from each other are their varying levels of tailoring.
We especially like how the Arc'teryx Sentinel has articulated elbows, a fold of fabric at the elbow that allows you to bend without pinching or shortening the arm. The Sentinel and the Norrona Lofoten are tailored with ample room in the shoulders, which we love, and a taper at the waist to allow easy movement and keep the jacket shifting around and rubbing or pulling uncomfortably.
Some jackets have stretchy shell materials that flex with movement, like the Flylow Lucy, Outdoor Research Carbide, and Black Diamond Recon Stretch. Some insulated models also incorporate stretch to counteract the bulk of insulation. The Obermeyer Tuscany II and Orage Nina both incorporate stretch into their construction. Notably, the Helly Hansen Powderqueen 3.0 did an excellent job at this, combining with generous tailoring to produce an extremely comfortable jacket that we would forget to take off when we came inside because it felt like a second skin.
The fit of your jacket can also affect its warmth. If it is too small and you are not able to put on extra layers for those biting cold days, you won't be as comfortable. Conversely, if it is too roomy and lets in drafts, it will also be less warm and comfortable. We compared all of the manufacturers' size charts to see if they matched up with our testers' dimensions and provided some extra information on how to select a fit for yourself. We liked the extra room all of the hard shells in this review left for layering. For the Columbia Whirlibird IV and The North Face Triclimate 3-in-1 models, we recommend sizing up since the inner insulating layer can feel a bit bulky and lacks stretch.
How warm (or cold) you are on the hill can make or break your ski day. We rated each jacket on how warm it kept us on cold, windy, stormy days in our test. We skied fast and sat on windy chairlifts to find out if there were any drafts in strange places and tried out all the special features designed to help retain heat. We also ensured that the jackets we tried had different types of and degrees of insulation. The Burton Jet Set was a surprisingly toasty budget option.
The Columbia Whirlibird IV uses a foil-like lining called Omni-Heat that is designed to reflect heat toward your body. This design, in combination with synthetic insulation, keeps you warm. We were skeptical about this flashy material but found that the Whirlibird IV is one of the warmer jackets in the review. The North Face Triclimate 3-in-1 was also super toasty, albeit a bit slim fitting. Our favorite top-performing product here was the Helly Hansen Powderqueen 3.0. While it does not contain the heaviest insulation in grams packed into the shell, it is the only model here with Primaloft synthetic insulation. We found this insulation to have the best warmth-to-weight ratio in this review, which leads to this jacket's lofty, light warmth.
Consider the winter climate where you typically ski and your average level of exertion on the ski hill. Intermediate to advanced skiers in warmer, maritime climates might not want to opt for the warmest model, as the outside temps and generation of body heat are already warm enough.
The uninsulated shell jackets we tested all provide a similar, but not equal, level of warmth. We found the weight of the face fabric and the backer material did contribute to their overall warmth. Notably, the Arc'teryx Sentinel has a flannel backer and a 70 denier face fabric. This design made it the warmest of the shells we tested and made it the best option for a shell jacket. With these jackets, layering appropriately underneath is the best way to manage their warmth. While not incredibly warm on their own, these jackets provide the added benefit of helping you manage your temperature based on exertion, which is a key element to staying dry inside your jacket and consistently warm all day.
Other design factors that contribute to warmth are wrist gaiters that keep the drafts out of your sleeves like in the Helly Hansen Powderqueen 3.0, chin guards that can zip up over a neck gaiter like in the Burton Jet Set, and baffles around your neck to keep drafts from creeping down your spine like in the The North Face Triclimate 3-in-1.
When you're working hard making turns in deep powder or hiking in bounds, you can work up a sweat quickly. If you get sweaty, you can become clammy and cold, causing a premature end to your ski day quickly. You want a jacket that breathes well or can let air pass through using pit zips and other features. A jacket's materials and the ventilation features incorporated in the jacket are both effective ways to release heat and moisture.
With an easy-to-open pit-zip, you can immediately get airflow to your body, allowing you dump heat and regulate your temperature quickly. Some jackets, like Norrona Lofoten, featured central and chest zips for ventilation. Since many of the contenders in this review are thick and insulated, meaning not very breathable, the ventilation features are essential for staying comfortable in varying conditions on the ski hill. The uninsulated shells we tested had the best ventilation of the bunch.
Almost all of the jackets in this test have some pit-zip feature for venting, allowing air to circulate inside the jacket on warmer days, some allowing more air in than others. Some of the jacket's pit zips were mesh-backed to keep the snow out, like on the Helly Hansen Powderqueen 3.0, whereas some had no mesh. Without mesh, the pit zips can open up wider for maximum ventilation and allow snow inside the jacket if you happen to tumble. Unless you're brand new to skiing, we usually recommend open pit zips without any mesh liner. All of the 3-in-1 styles have pit zips on the exterior shell but not on the interior insulating layer, making them much less useful. Of course, removing or adding the insulating layer is a fantastic way to regulate temperature.
Style may be subjective, but it's still important to many skiers. Feeling good in your jacket can affect how you ski and feel on the hill. Then, there's the fact that people begin to recognize you by your favorite ski pants and jacket, and your outfit essentially becomes your identity when your head and face are otherwise cloaked in a helmet and goggles. It's how people find you out on the mountain. Selecting a jacket that represents your style and personality is important, just as finding one with properly placed vents and warm enough insulation is essential, too.
Color-blocked designs with different colored hoods, bodies, and sleeves continue to be the latest style on the slopes, as is found in the Norrona Lofoten and the Arc'teryx Sentinel. We like the color offerings for the Burton Jet Set. We love contrasting zippers like on the Helly Hansen Powderqueen 3.0 and super-stylish Flylow Billie Coat.
We dig the look of long hemlines—like on the Arc'teryx Sentinel, Norrona Lofoten, and Black Diamond Recon Stretch. These jackets, along with the Outdoor Research Carbide, feature a tailor that tapers at the waist and extends back out, creating a look that flatters natural contours. We also thought that the more traditional, straighter cut of The North Face Triclimate 3-in-1 looked nice and clean for those of us who prefer a more understated style.
This year, we found that almost all of the jackets had the same essential ski features in common: pass pockets, goggle pockets, YKK zippers, and adjustable hoods. It seems that the manufacturers have caught on to what makes a great day on the hill, and they've incorporated these essential features into the jackets. Most ski-specific jackets also have powder skirts designed to keep snow from going up your back on a powder day or from going down the pants when falling.
We love the powder skirts on the Black Diamond Recon Stretch and Norrona Lofoten because they're removable when not needed, like for around-town use or when there isn't pow to slay on the mountain. Many brands' powder skirts are compatible with the same brand's ski pants, and you can attach them, so they become impenetrable to snow. This compatibility is the most efficient way to wear a powder skirt, but it's not very helpful if you have different brands of jackets/pants.
There are many convenient and unique features on all the different models on our test. Features we look for in our favorites are:
We need lots of places to stash our stuff. We particularly like it when jackets have media pockets with headphone ports like in the Arc'teryx Sentinel and Outdoor Research Carbide so we can listen to our tunes while we ski. More jackets have been incorporating this feature, although, with the popularity of wireless earbuds, we wouldn't be surprised to see this feature vanish as quickly as it appeared. We also appreciate big mesh goggle pockets and fleece-lined handwarmer pockets like the Burton Jet Set and Helly Hansen Powderqueen 3.0. A zippered interior or chest pocket is essential for keeping important things like credit cards and car keys safe and sound. The Flylow Billie Coat has a great variety of pockets that we love. We found it odd that the chest pocket on the Burton Jet Set is only affixed with velcro rather than a zipper.
These help keep the drafts out of your sleeves and keep your hands warmer when you don't have your gloves on. Wrist gaiters made of thin, sleek materials are better for wearing underneath gloves. These can cut off circulation or be just downright uncomfortable if poorly designed. The Norrona Lofoten and Helly Hansen Powderqueen 3.0 have notably effective and comfortable wrist gaiters.
This feature seems to be a growing trend and is becoming an industry standard for all ski jackets. The RECCO system will potentially aid ski patrol in finding you more quickly if you are caught in an in-bounds avalanche. The Arc'teryx Sentinel and Helly Hansen Powderqueen 3.0 jackets have a RECCO reflector.
The Norrona Lofoten is the only jacket in this review that features a "Rescue Pocket." This pocket is not actually a pocket, but more a vent in the chest with a mesh backer velcroed to the body of the jacket. The intention is to be able to reach a transceiver on a body harness beneath your shell without having to undo a chest strap on a backpack or unzip your jacket fully. We think this is an innovative feature, and when practiced extensively, it could improve efficiency in a search, just like any other rescue equipment. Our only warning would be to make sure you don't try and use it as a real pocket.
Another unique feature that we came across was a cord to attach your cell phone to your jacket so it doesn't fall when you're on the chairlift. The Orage Nina sported this useful feature. The Helly Hansen Powderqueen 3.0 was the only jacket that featured a battery-saving pocket for your phone. This jacket functions with Primaloft Gold Aerogel insulation to keep your phone warm and the battery operation going as long as possible despite the cold external environment. If you've ever had your phone battery perish prematurely at the resort, you'll probably appreciate this unique feature.
Aside from your skis and boots, your ski jacket is probably the most important piece of gear for a day on the hill. It has to keep you warm, dry, and able to rip all day long. All of the jackets in this review have features that seek to do just that. For many people, weather resistance and warmth are the most important factors to consider, while for others, features like pockets and where they're placed matter the most. For skiers who like to shred hard and maybe get out in the backcountry, ventilation is a key factor. And of course, you want a jacket that looks good, makes you feel great, and reflects your style. We hope that our observations and recommendations have helped you select the right kind of jacket for your unique needs on the slopes.
Jacqueline Kearney, Betsy Welch, and Jessica Haist
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