Arc'teryx Sabre Pants
: None | Waterproofing
Quiet shell fabric
The Arc'Teryx Sabre is our top scoring ski pant and the one we recommend to anyone that can afford it. The construction is top-notch, the materials are immaculate, and the balance of performance attributes makes it suitable for everything from long days of backcountry touring (in cold and stormy weather) to posh deck apres in St Anton.
The Arc'Teryx Sabre is ridiculously expensive, though. When you can get more than three pairs of the Best Buy The North Face Freedom for the same price, it may be difficult to justify the expense. Sometimes Arc'Teryx products are nice, but not all that unique in function. The Sabre though, with its three-layer construction and fuzzy lining is pretty unique on the market. None of the others we tested are built like this. The result is a very versatile and lightweight product, earning its best-in-class status.
Read review: Arc'Teryx Sabre Pants
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Freedom
: None | Waterproofing
Lots of color options
Unsealed zippers and some seams
Somewhat confining cut
For the money, The North Face Freedom Pants are amazing. They block almost all the weather and conditions you might throw at them, the construction is quite robust, they aren't super bulky in your suitcase, and the selection of colors is dizzying. We tested the uninsulated version of the Freedom Pants, but there are also insulated and bib versions available. We cannot comment directly on these other versions.
The primary issue we had with the Freedom Pants is the unsealed pockets and some seams. Main, lower leg seams are taped, but the pocket and vent zippers are not waterproof. The seams that hold these zippers in are not waterproof either. In most regular use, this will not be a concern. Nonetheless, it is a weakness that others have addressed. None of those that have fully sealed seams and zippers compete with the Freedom on price.
Read review: The North Face Freedom
Top Pick for Insulated Pants
Spyder Dare Regular GTX
: Synthetic, 40 g | Waterproofing
Fit well and are comfortable
Stylish with necessary features
Lack sealed zippers
Rear pockets have vulnerable velcro flaps
Insulated ski pants do not have the same broad application that uninsulated ones do. Yes, some skiers prefer them. Our market research has concluded that those that prefer insulated pants are in the minority. Many skiers do desire a second pair of insulated pants for the coldest of days. For those that desire such a "pant quiver" to choose from, the Spyder Dare Regular GTX is our top choice. These pants are warm, comfortable, and fit very well. Despite being thick due to its insulation, we didn't experience any drawbacks in its range of motion. The weather resistance is great (minus one minor drawback mentioned below), and our testers and friends are down with the simple style.
We have some minor issues with the venting (we prefer externally located vents for maximum airflow — those on the Dare are along the inseam). But, hey, these are designed for cold days when you're unlikely to want to give up any heat. We did experience a couple uncomfortable moments when the rear flap pockets filled up with snow. Zippers on these pockets would fix this problem and keep pocketed items more secure. Overall, though, these are the best insulated pants for skiing that we have tested in a while, and when it got super cold, the Spyder Dare was our go-to model.
Read review: Spyder Dare Regular GTX
Top Pick for Ski Bibs
Marmot Discovery Bib
: None | Waterproofing
Every seam and zipper is waterproof
Bibs are awesome
So many pockets
Like it says, "bibs aren't for everyone." The masses are pretty starkly divided on this topic. Some love 'em and gotta have 'em, while most can't deal. If you are in the vocal minority that loves them, check out the Marmot Discovery Bibs. They are soft, lined with smooth fabric, have many pockets (all of which close with waterproof zippers), and a long front zip for on and off and pit stops.
Bibs are inherently warmer than regular pants, and the separate hanging lining of the Marmot Discovery exaggerates this. These are warm for California or spring riding. The long, external, mesh-less vents of the Discovery help but don't make up for the fact that these are super protective. They protect from external weather and also keep in your interior climate changes. The FlyLow Baker Bibs suffer these same inherent bib challenges and are further hamstrung by stiff fabric and expensive purchase price.
Read review: Marmot Discovery Bib
Top Pick for Backcountry Skiing
: None | Waterproofing
Every seam and zipper is waterproof
Only three pockets
Thin construction is limited to backcountry use
In many ways, backcountry and resort ski pants are similar only in 2/3rds of their respective names. Backcountry models must allow an extensive range of motion, add little warmth, and must breathe very well. Resort models emphasize cold and wet protection and fashion. It is notable, then, that the Patagonia Descensionist is an excellent backcountry pant that protects nearly as well as a resort pant. It breathes and moves all you need it to on even the most significant ski mountaineering endeavor. The construction is lightweight for human-powered adventures.
The protection is top-notch, but the fabric is thin and flexible. It doesn't insulate very well nor does it guard against flapping in high winds, whether those winds are from nature or the skier gliding through the atmosphere. The lightweight construction, also, will suffer in more robust use. The Patagonia Descensionist is best compared to the Outdoor Research Trailbreaker. The Trailbreaker is more comfortable and has more pockets, while the Descensionist is lighter and more protective. Overall, we prefer the positive attributes of the Descensionist and therefore grant it our Top Pick Award for touring.
Read review: Patagonia Descensionist
Breaking trail in the OR Trailbreaker pants.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by Mountain Guide and OutdoorGearLab Contributor Jediah Porter. Jed's guiding work includes a lot of skiing, in addition to a mix of rock climbing, approaches, and ice climbing. Even when he's off the clock, it's more often than not skiing or climbing that he gets up to. This day-to-day, intimate familiarity with ski gear in settings from professional to recreational make Jed the ideal ski pant reviewer. He's got an acquired taste for the finer points that will give you a leg up on making a solid purchase. Last year, Jed logged 102 days backcountry skiing, in addition to 70 days guiding on skis. You can check out more of what he's up to here.
Finding the best pair of ski pants began with ample quantities of market research, which eventually yielded the 12 models that are discussed here. Testing was largely done in the field at Grand Targhee and Mammoth resorts, and on backcountry trips, with each pair having gone on at least one backcountry tour. These pants saw cold days, warm ones, fog, and clear skies. Since we didn't have any rain, we tested water resistance of each pair side-by-side by taking them into the shower. Throughout the testing process, we paid attention to important attributes like warmth, ventilation, comfort, and features.
Related: How We Tested Ski 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 single pair of pants to perform in all of these conditions. 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.
Related: Buying Advice for Ski Pants
Our team of testers went to town on each model in this review. After researching the market's best options and purchasing them all, the experts took them to ski resorts in Jackson Hole and on touring adventures in the Tetons. On top of on-snow testing, we put them through specific, controlled tests, such as our shower test to check waterproofing. In the end, we compiled months of notes and experiences to score each model across six performance metrics. All models proved worthy of consideration, while some pants floated on top of the pow.
If you don't think we enjoyed testing these pants...you might not get it.
Because we can be a little laxer with our pant selection, it is sorely tempting to select based on price. The good news is that you can still do very well with low-priced products. Except in the gnarliest of weather, the least expensive products we test will do all you need them to do. It is weather resistance that really sets the more expensive products apart. To guard against every drop of water and every snowflake and every whisper of wind, well-sealed pants will cost you. To eke out those additional bits of protection costs hundreds of dollars, it turns out. With the additional cost also comes some durability improvements, fashion upgrades, increased ventilation, and just general "slickness." These latter improvements are more debatable and less important than the weather resistance issues that are most closely tied to price.
Weather resistance (followed closely by fit and comfort) has 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 for bluebird day usage. 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.
You can't see them in there, but the Arc'teryx Sabre does all it needs to do to keep out precip of all kinds.
If you spend a great deal of time skiing in stormy weather, the Patagonia Powder Bowl, Arc'teryx Sabre, Arc'Teryx Rush LT, Marmot Discovery Bibs, and Flylow Baker Bibs have excellent protection. For backcountry skiing pants, the Patagonia Descensionist is impressive in its weather protection. It isn't in the same league as resort pants, but it far exceeds the protection offered by otherwise close competitor Outdoor Research Trailbreaker
In deep snow, the protection afforded by bib pants is worth the weight and bulk.
The Columbia Ridge 2 Run II, Spyder Dare, Salomon Chill Out, and The North Face Freedom all lack complete seam sealing and feature vulnerable zippers and pockets. Each has taped seams at the lower leg and along the main seams, but the zippers are not waterproof. Models with rear pockets that close with just a velcro flap are susceptible to filling with snow on mega powder days. On one super deep day, we experienced some rear pockets filling with snow, and then that snow melted down the back of one tester's legs.
With some skepticism of the "waterproof" nature of these pants, we did our regular shower test and then went a little further. Even after extended exposure, we couldn't get liquid water to go through the fabric or seams or zippers of the Descensionist.
Fit and Comfort
The fit is paramount yet 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. The light fabrics of the backcountry models put them in an entirely different comfort category. BC skiing pants are more comfortable than resort pants, all else equal.
The clean lines and tailored fit of the Sabre suit users of all shapes and objectives.
Of the three-layer pants, the Arc'teryx Sabre pleased the most users, while the FlyLow Chemical and FlyLow Baker Bibs have stiff fabric and somewhat cumbersome tailoring. The North Face Freedom pants have a soft fleece lining. The Spyder Dare is nearly as comfortable as any of the other resort-fashioned award winners. The Marmot Discovery Bibs snag the Top Pick Award for bibs from the FlyLow Baker Bibs with softer fabric that is more comfortable right out of the box.
Not every ski day or ski climate is equal. Changes in latitude, exertion, and the weather all require versatility from your clothing. While you may choose from multiple 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. All pants we tested have vents of some sort. The best are those that have two vents per leg. Next best are long, exterior vents with no mesh. Next best are exterior vents with mesh. The least effective vents are those that are mesh-backed and placed on the inner leg. The mesh does serve the purpose of keeping snow out. We still prefer no-mesh vents, though, for their max venting abilities.
The Flylow Baker Bibs and FlyLow Chemical pants earn special mention because of their inner and outer leg vents. These pants both provide the ultimate in ventilation. The dual vents on each leg create a swirling flow of air that not only goes across but also travels up and down the legs inside the pants.
Two zips per leg are more than twice as good as one zip per leg. Here, the FlyLow Chemical.
The long, non-mesh backed vents of the Arc'teryx Sabre and Marmot Discovery are effective, but a touch immodest. The Patagonia Powder Bowl has long vents on the exterior of the leg, but the mesh blocks the full flow of air. The North Face Freedom, Spyder Dare, and Columbia Ridge 2 Run II vents are all located on the interior of the leg and have a mesh backing. These provided the least amount our air exchange and heat dumping in our trial period.
The mesh behind the zippered vent of the Powder Bowl doesn't provide the highest level of air exchange, but it does keep out the white stuff way better than a no-mesh vent.
Style is subjective. However, certain characteristics and considerations stand out. If you end up at the watering hole in your full kit—and our testing team loves those nonstop days when you head straight from last chair to partying down—you might care a bit more about how your jacket looks than your pants. However, anyone who has ever skied at a resort knows that there is a ton of thought that goes into the overall look of a ski get-up. And really, it's a shame to spend so much money on a pair of pants that look terrible.
Ski pants don't need to look like anything other than ski pants. You will likely own fewer ski or snowboarding pants than you do ski jackets. Choose your colors carefully. It is tempting to go for one of the colorful pants available, but this limits your jacket selection. If you mix and match jackets, grey or black pants are the most versatile. Recent trends have muted the color schemes in ski wear. Some products are still available in brighter colors, but not all.
Muted colors are fashionable now. The purple of the tested Arc'Teryx Sabre is about as wild as we got.
Regarding style, fit varies. A baggy fit is fading in popularity. The degree of bagginess varies. Snowboarders can get away with more "sag" and extra fabric, given that their legs work more closely together. 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 comes in more colors than in the past. The Marmot Discovery Bib and Patagonia Powder Bowl have looks that are virtually indistinguishable from The North Face Freedom and Columbia Ridge 2 Run II. The smooth, rugged fabrics of the FlyLow and Salomon pants are sleek.
FlyLow style caters to the die-hard part of the ski world. It tells people loud and clear that you (at least think that you) ski fast, hard, and in any conditions.
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 are the Salomon Chill Out and the Top Pick-winning Spyder Dare.
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. When skiing in truly frigid conditions, we would reach for the Dare pants over the others. The Chill Out pants are equally as warm, but we prefer the Dare pants overall.
Cold smoke, cold air, and pants for this cold weather. The Spyder Dare is the best insulated ski pant we've tested, for that narrow part of the market that needs such a thing.
Pants constructed with "2-layer" construction, like the Patagonia Powder Bowl, the Top Pick Marmot Discovery Bibs, and the Best Buy The North Face Freedom Pants, offer just the right amount of warmth for most ski conditions in the US. Separate from the outer shell is a hanging mesh lining. The air space between the fabric layers adds just a touch of warmth, without tipping them into "too hot" status.
Ski pants in action. In high energy skiing like this, uninsulated pants are preferable to the niche insulated options.
The one-piece ("three-layer") pants like the FlyLow Chemical Snow Pants, Arc'Teryx Rush LT, and FlyLow Gear Baker Bibs have the least insulation. The Editors' Choice Arc'Teryx Sabre is made with a three-layer construction, but the inner layer is fuzzy. This adds enough warmth to simulate the insulation value of the "two layer" pants with three-layer construction.
The insulated Salomon Chill Out pants are a possible choice for those in cold climates like Wyoming's Grand Targhee resort in December. Here, lead test editor in this western Wyoming ice box.
Backcountry ski pants and warmth require some further discussion. Backcountry skiing is both warmer (when going uphill) and colder (in the event of even a minor emergency with no lodge available) than regular resort skiing. We bring extra layers for emergencies, and we choose our primary ski pants for the uphill portion. Our backcountry ski specific pants are not nearly as warm as our resort pants, for a good reason. Of those we tested, there was still a range of warmth offered. The Arc Teryx Rush LT is a unique, outlier product that is basically a glorified rain pant with some ski features. It provides no insulation. The Patagonia Descensionist is a stripped down resort skiing pant made with a super-lightly fleeced three-layer construction. It is suitable for backcountry skiing temperatures of all kinds. The OR Tralbreaker pants are thicker fabric than these other two, but not by much. They are a little warmer than the Descensionist, but not as warm as any of the resort ski pants.
Human powered skiing in the Outdoor Research Trailbreaker. High above Wyoming's Teton Pass, January 2019.
Important features are integrated belts, pockets, key or pass clips, and Recco technology. None of these features are make-or-break attributes, but the sum of a carefully designed feature set adds value.
The Patagonia Powder Bowl and Marmot Discovery pants are the best equipped, while The North Face Freedom, FlyLow Chemical, and Arc'Teryx Rush LT offer the most sparse features. In between, The North Face Freedom, Arc'Teryx Sabre, Flylow Baker Bibs, and others have usable features that barely deserve mention.
Deep snow in the Best Buy Freedom Pants from The North Face.
When it comes to backcountry models, we most appreciate a clip or tether located inside a pocket to attach an avalanche transceiver. Having a dedicated attachment point is nice. This beacon pocket is located above the waist on the Rush LT, in the right handwarmer pocket in the Trailbreaker, and the right thigh pocket of the Descensionist.
We dig this feature on some backcountry ski pants -- A clip to attach your beacon, as shown on the OR Trailbreaker.
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 which ski jacket you will pair them. Where you ski, how you ski, and what your overall exertion level will factor in too.
Loading the car after a great day of ski pants testing.
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.