We took the best ski pants available and put them in side-by-side and run-by-run tests both at the resorts and the backcountry. To get our final field of 9, we started by researching over 30 models before selecting the finalists for our hands-on tests. Our findings surprised us as there was no one dominant pant across all metrics. Instead, most pants excelled in a few conditions and applications. Look at all the award winner to find the one that best matches your skiing style and clothing preferences.
The Best Ski Pants for Men of 2018
We just added a new ultralight option and award winner: The Patagonia Cloud Ridge. It's an ultralight ski pant that doubles as a rain pant. We used this pant bike commuting, boating, resort skiing and more. That said, it lacks the ski specific features of many other pants.
Best Overall Ski Pants
Arc'teryx Sabre Pants
While the Arc'teryx Sabre didn't dominate any one category, it had the most consistent performance across all metrics. For each specific attribute, there is likely a better choice, but the Sabre is unbeatable as an all-arounder. This award winner, with its uninsulated construction, solid design, comfortable fit, excellent materials, and classic styling, is the highest scoring, most versatile, all-around product in our review.
Read review: Arc'teryx Sabre Pants
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Freedom Pant
The North Face Freedom Pant are comfortable, weather resistant, and their fit is impeccable. Their price point is competitive, especially considering that the seams and fabric are durable, and the style is neutral and long-lasting. The fit isn't too baggy or too tight. The cozy fleece liner means you don't need long underwear on warm or long days, and the inner leg vents shed steam. The design is simple, with sparse features and solid boot-sealing cuffs.
Read review: The North Face Freedom Pant
Top Pick for Insulated Pants
Spyder Dare Athletic Fit
Spyder updated the ventilation on the latest version of this pant, moving the vent pockets to the inner thighs. This should improve ventilation overall. We detail all the updates to this model in the individual review.
Read review: Spyder Dare Athletic Fit
Top Pick for Weather Protection
Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Pants
When worn with the matching jacket, the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Pants create the most weather-protective two-piece suit we have ever used. Short of an admittedly unstylish one-piece, the zipped-together Norrona Lofoten pair guards best against the gnarliest winds and precipitation. The construction of each piece is clean and made from the best possible materials. The price reflects this quality, but for those looking for the best outerwear for skiing in wild weather, the Norrona set up is at the top of the list. Pair these pants with the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell, our Top Pick shell-only jacket, for the ultimate weather protection.
Read review: Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Pants
Featherweight and Versatile
Patagonia Cloud Ridge Pants
If you mainly backcountry ski or just love lightweight gear that's a good value, check out the Patagonia Cloud Ridge. It's a cross between a rain pant and a ski pant and weighs less than half of most of the competitors. It's also only $190. We used it skiing at the resorts and the backcountry. We went boating, hiking, backpacking and used it for our daily bike commutes. It lacks pockets and any fancy features. But we love that simplicity and weight savings.
Read review: Patagonia Cloud Ridge Pants
Analysis and Test Results
We ask a lot of our ski and snowboarding pants. We need them to protect us from wind, cold, snow, and abrasion. We need them to be comfortable, fashionable, and durable. We also appreciate versatility and value. We may own many layers and jackets, but typically people only own one pair of ski or snowboard pants. We will mix and match these upper layers to tackle everything from storm days at the resort to hot days in the backcountry, and we expect our one pair of pants to perform in all of these conditions.
Virtually every skier owns little more than a pair of shell pants and a pair of long underwear. Very dedicated skiers may have something more specialized. Maybe. But in general, we demand a lot of our pants. Fortunately, the market has excellent leg protection, and our legs are resilient. If our legs become a little cold, or wet, or hot, it's not the end of the world. Therefore, our pant selection can be more forgiving than our jacket selection.
Putting together a full kit of snow gear isn't cheap. In addition to the boots, bindings, skis/snowboard, you've got all the clothing, layers, and accessory items. With this in mind, we compared overall score and retail price of each item to help you get the most for your men's ski pant dollar.
In general, it will cost you an additional $100-$350 to take a step up from the low to high end of performance. For a solid pant at a low price, look at the Freedom Pant from The North Face. For $499 you can get into a pair of our favorite all-arounder, the Arc'teryx Sabre. Or, for significantly more, consider the Norrona Lofoten Gore Tex Pro Pants - the most expensive option, but one to consider if weather resistance is important to you.
Types of Ski Pants
The most versatile pants are not insulated, as they allow you to customize your system depending on the temps. Uninsulated ski or snowboarding pants come in two different types of construction. Both types join three sheets of material but are named for the number of these layers that are laminated together.
"Three-layer construction" sandwiches a waterproof/breathable membrane between a burly face fabric and a lighter mesh or fleece lining textile. Pants constructed this way, like the Arc'teryx Sabre, Norrona Lofoten Pants, and Flylow Baker Bibs, feel durable and a bit stiff. They go on smooth and vent well. They don't feel all that comfortable against the bare skin and therefore pair well with long underwear.
In our testing, the most versatile and highest rated pants use "two-layer construction." The face fabric and waterproof membrane are laminated together, but the inner layer of fleece or mesh hangs free. The pants are softer and more flexible as a result. These pants, like our Best Buy Freedom Pants from The North Face and high-scoring Patagonia Powder Bowl, are more comfortable and slightly warmer than the previous style, especially when worn without long underwear. The Patagonia SnowShot Pants are also a two-layer construction.
The Columbia Bugaboo II Pants, and Spyder Dare are insulated. Essentially, in between the lining fabric and the waterproof membrane, the manufacturers add a layer of synthetic "puff" insulation. These pants work well if you will be in cold climates or get cold legs.
Some will want insulated pants as a second pair in their quiver. For the coldest of days, this can be a good idea as layering underneath shell pants is bulky. For users that get out often enough to justify owning multiple pants, an insulated pair to complement your daily driver is worth consideration. For these folks, the less expensive Columbia Bugaboo is a good choice. If cost is no issue, the Spyder Dare is, as we've noted above, the best-insulated ski pant in our review.
In our review, only the Flylow Baker Bibs had full-bib construction. The Baker Bibs are made using three-layer construction and bridge the lower-body/upper-body gap, especially for tall people. The Norrona Lofoten Pants can be used as bibs or as regular pants, and zipped together with a matching jacket, the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell, to form a one-piece suit. The Spyder Dare pants have a rear bib panel to add weather protection. The rest of the pants in our test are waist-high design.
Criteria for Evaluation
Fit and Comfort
Fit is paramount. And very subjective. Individual fit matters, and it varies. So try your pants on. That being said, we were able to have multiple body types assess the pant selection. Certain themes came up, and the reviews of each product note these observations. We tested size medium pants. For the most part, every pair of pants we tested fit, someone, well. All were usable for our lead tester, a self-described "extra medium" (always wears a size medium).
Additionally, we took fabric texture into account. Thick, stiff pants with no hanging liner, like the FlyLow Baker, aren't as comfy as the lighter, more flexible Patagonia Powder Bowl.
Of the three-layer pants, the Arc'teryx Sabre pleased the most users, while the Norrona Lofoten made up for stiff fabric with careful tailoring. The Columbia Bugaboo II pants have the softest fleece lining, but the thick insulation hampered the range of motion. The Spyder Dare is as comfortable as any of the other award winners. Regarding fit and comfort, there is nothing notable about the Patagonia SnowShot or The North Face Freedom.
Fit and weather resistance have top importance when evaluating ski or snowboarding pants. Weather resistance is a function of both the shell fabric and garment design. All tested pants had adequately waterproof and windproof outer fabric. However, to maximize the weather protection of this outer fabric, effective construction is key.
Pants must have separate and tight inner cuffs, solid zippers and flaps, and an adequate water repellant (DWR) finish. The DWR is what makes water "bead" on the surface of the fabric. It blocks light weather and keeps the face fabric dry. This is important for weather protection, but it also helps maintain the breathability of the fabric laminate. All of the tested pants have adequate weather resistance.
If you spend a great deal of time skiing in stormy weather, the Patagonia Powder Bowl, Arc'teryx Sabre, Norrona Lofoten Pants, Spyder Dare, and Flylow Baker Bibs have excellent protection.
The Patagonia SnowShot and The North Face Freedom have a weakness that takes away from their weather protection. Each is ready for average ski conditions, but when pressed, the fabrics might get overwhelmed. For the SnowShot and Freedom, the catch is in the less-breathable construction. In humid of conditions, condensation can appear on the inside, making it feel like the weather is getting through.
Finally, the Columbia Bugaboo II lacks seam sealing and is less protective as a result. In our shower test, we observed external moisture getting through the seams. This pair is the only product that exhibited this attribute. However, the insulated design is best suited to cold climates and conditions where there will be no liquid precip to breach the pants.
Just like in all cold-weather clothing, insulation matters. It is important to note, however, that most skiers give little thought to their pants' insulation. In cold conditions, layering underneath works best. So we tested for warmth but didn't put a great deal of weight on this metric. The warmest pants in our test were hands-down the Columbia Bugaboo II Pants.
We granted a Top Pick award to the insulated Spyder Dare. This product is the best-insulated pant in our test, and we recommend it for those looking for warm ski pants. Finally, the one-piece pants like the Arc'teryx Sabre, Norrona Lofoten, and FlyLow Gear Baker Bibs had the least insulation.
Not every ski day or ski climate is equal. Changes in latitude, exertion, and weather all require versatility from your clothing. While you may choose from some upper body layers, you will likely own just one pair of pants. That pair of pants must be versatile and well ventilated to accommodate the entire range of temperatures and exertion. If you use your pants for backcountry use as well, pay close attention to ventilation. (Our testing team included backcountry ski guides which recommend well-venting resort pants for occasional backcountry use but noted that if you are an avid backcountry skier, dedicated backcountry pants will be well worth the investment in regards to comfort.)
When thinking about ventilation, look for thigh vents. Vents on the inside are more effective than those on the outside. The Flylow Baker Bibs earn special notice because of their inner and outer leg vents.
The long, non-mesh backed vents of the Arc'teryx Sabre and Norrona Lofoten are effective, but a touch immodest. The Patagonia Powder Bowl, The North Face Freedom, and Patagonia Snowshot vents, while different from one another, function to the same standard. The Columbia Bugaboo II pants do not have any vents.
Style is subjective. However, certain characteristics and considerations stand out. Unlike ski jackets, it is less likely that you will wear your ski or snowboarding pants to the bar. But if you do end up there in your full kit—and our testing team loves those nonstop days when you head straight from last chair to partying down—you are unlikely to care too much about what sort of statement your pants make when not on skis.
Ski pants don't need to look like anything other than ski pants. You will likely own far fewer ski or snowboarding pants than you do ski jackets. Choose your colors carefully. It is tempting to go for one of the many colorful pants available, but this limits your jacket selection. If you mix and match jackets, grey or black pants are most versatile.
Regarding style, fit varies. A baggy fit is in but fading. The degree of bagginess varies. Snowboarders can get away with more "sag" and extra fabric. Skiers require a little more range of motion and therefore less fabric. Backcountry users, whether on skis or snowboard, need even more range of motion than skiers at the resort.
Highlighting the changes in style, the Arc'teryx Sabre has slimmed down in the years we have been testing. The latest iteration has a closer fit than its ancestors. The Spyder Dare has a sophisticated look and is offered in more colors than in the past. The Patagonia SnowShot and Patagonia Powder Bowl have looks that are virtually indistinguishable from The North Face Freedom and Columbia Bugaboo II. The smooth, rugged fabrics of the FlyLow and Norrona pants are sleek.
Important features are integrated belts, pockets, key or pass clips, and Recco technology. (Consult our ski pant buying advice article for more information on Recco). None of these features are make-or-break attributes, but the sum of a carefully designed feature set adds value.
The Spyder Dare and Arc'teryx Sabre pants are the best equipped, while the Norrona Lofoten and Columbia Bugaboo offer the most sparse features. In between, The North Face Freedom, Patagonia SnowShot, Flylow Gear Baker Bibs, and others have usable features that barely deserve mention.
It can be a daunting task to select the perfect pair of pants for you. With the many options available, how do you choose? Weather resistance, comfort, and durability are just a few of the important features to consider. Like any purchase, it is the balance of all these attributes, alongside cost and style, that informs your decision. With ski pants, factor in the amount of time you'll use them and with what ski jacket you will pair them. Where you ski, how you ski, and what your overall exertion level will factor in too.
We speak to this "meat of the business." We know you need awesome gear to maximize your time on snow. That time is precious, and our recommendations can make or break an entire season's ski trips. We take that seriously, and carefully consider all the variables when making our recommendations. We believe this review will give you the details that you need to make an informed decision. To learn more about the important features, consult our Buying Advice article.
— Jediah Porter