Arc'teryx Sabre AR Pant
: Thin fleece lining | Waterproofing
Stiff shell fabric
The Arc'Teryx Sabre AR wins our Editors' Choice Award, and we recommend it to anyone who can afford it. The construction is top-notch, the materials are immaculate, and its balance of performance attributes helps it excel at everything from long days charging at the resort to posh cocktail bars in Aspen. Their 3-layer shell construction with a brushed fleece lining is unique in the market, and very comfortable. They have great weather protection, fit like a glove, and ventilate well. It's also suitable for backcountry skiing. Fantastic, reliable performance.
The Sabre AR is expensive, and there are plenty of other options that come close to matching its performance at a much lower price. Also, since they lack robust insulation, they aren't super warm (although most skiers prefer to layer underneath themselves). But if you are willing to put up the cash, these pants are excellent, and they'll last a long time. In short, they are the total package in a pair of ski pants.
Read review: Arc'teryx Sabre AR Pants
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Freedom Insulated
: Synthetic | Waterproofing
Lots of color options
Unsealed zippers and some seams
For the money, The North Face Freedom Insulated Pants are amazing. They are highly weather resistant, durable, warm, and stylish. All of that comes for a fraction of the price of our Editors' Choice. If you are looking for a great pair of pants for almost any day of the ski season, these are a bargain.
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 are not waterproof either. In most regular use, this will not be a concern, but for hardcore skiers and everyday users like ski instructors and patrollers, we'd opt for a completely weather resistant pair instead. None of the pants with sealed seams and waterproof zippers are as affordable as the Freedom Insulated.
Read review: The North Face Freedom Insulated
Top Pick for Insulated Pants
Spyder Dare GTX
: Synthetic | Waterproofing
Fit well and are comfortable
Plenty of weather resistance
Lack sealed zippers
Snug fit isn't for everyone
Insulated ski pants do not have the same broad application that uninsulated ones do. Yes, some skiers prefer them, but the trend in the market is towards hardshell-only designs or very light insulation. 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 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. The racer style isn't for everyone, but we have to concede that in certain contexts, it looks good.
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, these are designed for cold days when you're unlikely to want to give up any heat. Also, we wish all of the pockets were waterproof. 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 GTX
Top Pick for Ski Bibs
FlyLow Gear Baker Bib
: None | Waterproofing
Great weather resistance
Bibs are awesome
Bibs aren't for everyone
Loose and baggy fit
Some skiers like the feel and protection of bibs and others don't. If you do, then you'll enjoy the Baker Bibs. They are thick and burly, weather resistant to the extreme, and have a style that will fit in with ski town locals. They also vent effectively for long bootpacks or the occasional ski tour.
Many skiers won't want bibs, perhaps because they can feel overbearing, restricting, and too warm or stuffy. These bibs also feature a loose, freeride fit, which many skiers don't want. The fabric feels stiff and unrefined, which isn't a big deal to the "core" users that these pants are designed for. Bibs aren't for everyone, but if you like them, then the Baker Bib is highly recommended.
Read review: Flylow Gear Baker Bib
Top Pick for Backcountry Skiing
Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II
: None | Waterproofing
: Pertex Shield+ (partial)
Comfy and stretchy
Great features for the backcountry
Backcountry ski pants are used very differently than their inbounds relatives. They need to be light, breathable, and contain thoughtful features, all characteristics that take a backseat in downhill ski pant design. The Trailbreaker II pants are thin softshell pants that are bolstered by waterproof panels on the front of the lower legs. This allows for most of the pant to remain breathable, which is necessary for long uptracks while earning turns. The softshell fabric is inherently more comfortable than its nylon competition, but it's not nearly as waterproof. In fact, these pants will get soaked if there is a lot of liquid water in the atmosphere. Still, if the snow is cold and dry, these pants provide good protection.
We also like the low weight of these pants, and although there are lighter options, these hit the sweet spot in the lightweight vs. durability matrix. They don't provide much warmth, and their weather resistance is limited, but if you are a backcountry skier, you likely know how to deal. We recommend these for everyday backcountry use.
Read review: Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II
The Sabre AR pants during testing in the Wyoming backcountry.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by ski guide, avalanche forecaster, mountain guide, and OutdoorGearLab Contributor Jeff Dobronyi. Jeff lives, skis, and guides in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, one of the coldest and snowiest places in the country. He skis almost every day of the winter, taking days off only when his legs are begging for a break. Jeff's gear has to work, day in and day out. He puts his gear through the wringer, both recreationally and professionally, making him a great judge of outerwear. You can learn more about him and see what he's up to here. Professional mountain guide Jediah Porter also contributed to this review. Jed's guiding work includes a lot of skiing, in addition to a mix of rock climbing, approaches, and ice climbing. Last year, Jed logged over 100 days of skiing, in addition to 70 days guiding on skis.
Finding the best pair of ski pants began with tons 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 in the Tetons, with each pair having gone on at least one backcountry tour. These pants saw cold days, warm days, foggy days, and clear skies. Since we didn't have any rain, we tested the water resistance of each pair by wearing them in the shower for 5 minutes. 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 be resistant to wind, snow, and maybe even rain. They should be comfortable, fashionable, and durable. On top of all that, they need to be versatile for all of the conditions the winter might throw at us. Most skiers own a few different 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, our legs are tough. If our legs become a little cold, or wet, or hot, it's not the end of the world. Therefore, one pair of pants will usually be appropriate for the ski weather you'll experience.
Related: Buying Advice for Ski Pants
Our selection of pants has a huge price range, from budget options to pants that command a high premium. 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 tested will do all you need them to do at the resort. Weather resistance is what 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 hundreds of dollars more. With the additional cost also comes some durability improvements, fashion upgrades, increased ventilation, and general refinement. That said, all of the pants in this review will protect against most weather that you'll encounter on the slopes, and the extra features and style found in the more expensive options are ultimately unnecessary to many skiers.
If you don't think we enjoyed testing these pants...you might not get it.
Weather resistance is the top priority when evaluating ski pants. This is a function of both the shell fabric and garment design. All the pants we tested have adequate, weather resistant outer fabrics for bluebird day usage, and many have completely waterproof fabrics. However, the fabric is meaningless without thoughtful design.
Pants must have separate and tight inner powder cuffs, solid zippers and flaps, and durable 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.
The Sabre AR pants easily fended off snow and precipitation during our test.
If you spend a great deal of time skiing in stormy weather, the Patagonia Powder Bowl, Arc'teryx Sabre AR, Arc'Teryx Rush LT, and Flylow Baker Bibs have excellent protection. For backcountry skiing pants, the Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II is more protective than the Norrona Lyngen Hybrid pant, but neither is totally waterproof. Aside from these softshell options, most pants in this review offer solid weather protection that will be adequate for most ski days. The The North Face Freedom Insulated and the Columbia Ridge 2 Run III both satisfy the general needs of weather protection for low prices.
The burly fabric and DWR coating keep all precipitation on the outside of the Flylow Baker Bibs.
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. The Marmot Discovery Bib has pockets without any closure mechanism, and look like normal pants pockets. This is our least favorite pocket design for ski pants, leading to a significant knock on their weather resistance capabilities.
The open pocket design is a big flaw in the Discovery Bibs' weather resistance.
Fit and Comfort
Fit is equally as important as weather resistance in ski pants. If the pants fit weird or limit motion, they are worthless. That said, proper fit depends on the body type of the person wearing the pants, so pay close attention to our photos, and see if our testers have the same body type as you. That being said, we were able to have multiple body types assess the pants in our review. We tested size Medium pants, but in a couple of cases, we had to return them and buy size Large.
Fit goes hand in hand with comfort. A well-cut pair of pants is more comfortable to wear. Additionally, we took fabric texture into account. Thick, stiff pants with no hanging liner, like the FlyLow Baker Bib, aren't as comfy as the lighter, more flexible Patagonia Powder Bowl or Arc'teryx Sabre AR. On the top shelf of mobility and comfort are the light, softshell fabrics of the backcountry models. They stand in an entirely different realm of comfort.
A slim fit and stretchy softshell fabric make acrobatic movements a breeze.
The backcountry pants in our review feel like pajamas compared to all the other options. That's a good thing because you'll spend a lot of time hiking uphill in these pants. They need to be super comfortable. We found the OR Trailbreaker II to be a bit looser, and thus more comfortable than that Norrona Lyngen Hybrid.
The Trailbreaker II pants hard at work on the skin track.
Of the three-layer pants, the Arc'teryx Sabre AR is the most comfortable, while the FlyLow Chemical and FlyLow Baker Bibs have stiff fabric and somewhat cumbersome tailoring. The Picture Yakuomo Bib has a soft fleece lining. The North Face Freedom Insulated and Spyder Dare pants both have synthetic insulation, which is very comfortable, although the Freedom has a slightly looser and less constricting cut. The Marmot Discovery Bibs feature a soft and stretchy fabric that accommodates a wide range of motion.
The Yakoumo Bib has a well-tailored and comfortable fit, from the bib down to the boots.
Ventilation is key to a good pair of ski pants because each day is different. From the coldest days of December to sunny and warm days of the spring, our pants must be versatile and adapt to the conditions. We try to recommend pants that are good enough to be your only pair, as most skiers own just one. Some of the pants in this review are niche pants that are designed for either warm days in the spring or the coldest conditions possible, but most are somewhere in the middle. Ventilation is the main device by which pants achieve versatility.
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.
Most ventilation is achieved through zippered thigh vents. All of the pants we tested have vents of some sort. Vents on both the inside and outside of the thigh allow for maximum airflow. The next best are long, exterior vents with no mesh, then exterior vents with mesh. The least effective vents are those that are mesh-backed and placed on the inner leg, which happens to be the most common ventilation scheme in our comparison. Mesh serves the purpose of keeping snow out, but it can also inhibit airflow. We prefer no mesh, but most resort-oriented pants have mesh covering the vents. If you ride hot and tumble a lot, mesh-lined vents are probably a good option!
The Flylow Baker Bibs and Flylow Chemical pants earn special mention because of their inner and outer leg vents. These pants both provide the best ventilation out of the waterproof pant options. 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. No other pants in our review have two vents on each leg.
Vents on both sides of each leg offer the most ventilation of the waterproof pants in our review.
The long, mesh-free vents of the Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II and Norrona Lyngen Hybrid are super effective. Plus, both of these models use softshell fabric, which is much more breathable than even the most ventilated hardshell pants. Therefore, while the Flylow models are capable of greater airflow, these two backcountry-specific models dump heat more effectively overall, achieving the most ventilation of any pants in the test bunch.
Among the rest, the long vents on the Arc'teryx Sabre AR provide adequate ventilation for resort and backcountry use. 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 Insulated, 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 of air exchange and heat dumping in our trial period.
Deep powder skiing in the Lyngen Hybrid.
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 because our lower bodies aren't as sensitive to cold as our upper bodies. In cold conditions, layering underneath usually 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 Top Pick for cold conditions, the Spyder Dare, and the Best Buy Freedom Insulated.
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 the warmest option. When skiing in truly frigid conditions, we would reach for the Dare pants over the others. That said, they are too warm for most days at lower latitude ski destinations like Taos or Lake Tahoe.
The Spyder Dare pants don't look insulated. They don't even feel insulated. But they are.
Pants constructed with "2-layer" construction, like the Patagonia Powder Bowl, Columbia Ridge 2 Run III, Picture Yakuomo Bib, and Marmot Discovery Bib, offer just the right amount of warmth for most ski conditions in the US. Separate from the outer shell is a hanging lining, either mesh or fleece. The air space between the fabric layers adds just a touch of warmth, without tipping them into "too hot" status.
A soft hanging fleece lining provides most of the Discovery Bibs' warmth.
The shell-ony ("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 AR 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 thin, brushed fleece liner of the Sabre AR's shell fabric adds a small amount of insulating power, as well as great next-to-skin feel.
Backcountry 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 OR Tralbreaker II pants are made with a thick softshell fabric and are generally warm enough for most conditions while also dumping heat effectively when needed. The Norrona Lyngen Hybrid pants are very thin softshells and won't provide adequate warmth for normal mid-winter conditions.
The skin-hugging fit of the Lyngen Hybrid means it is tough to wear thick baselayers underneath.
Important features are integrated belts, pockets, key or pass clips, and Recco technology. None of these features are make-or-break attributes, but a full set of features makes a good pair of pants even better.
The Flylow Gear Baker Bib has the best set of features in our review. They have tons of pockets in convenient locations, with waterproof zippers on all exposed pockets. We liked the features on the Yakuomo Bib, especially the unique drawstring that pulls up the back of the pants cuffs, so they don't get scuffed when walking on pavement. The FlyLow Chemical and Arc'Teryx Sabre AR are light on features, with only a couple pockets. The Marmot Discovery pockets are almost worthless because they can't be closed.
Unique drawstrings raise the pant cuffs of the Yakoumo Bib off the ground.
For backcountry-specific models, we looked for a clip or tether located inside a pocket to attach an avalanche transceiver. This allows the transceiver to be worn in a pocket, which is how most backcountry skiers prefer to wear their beacons, compared to the traditional chest harness. The beacon pocket is located above the waist on the Rush LT, and in the right handwarmer pocket in the Trailbreaker II. The Norrona Lyngen Hybrid doesn't have a transceiver clip.
The right hip pocket of the OR Trailbreaker II also holds a clip for an avalanche transceiver.
Style is subjective. However, some rules generally apply. Many skiers prefer pants that blend in with the crowd and use their jackets to make a fashion statement. But if you end up at the watering hole at the end of the day, you'll probably take your jacket off, in which case your pants will be the centerpiece of your look. Furthermore, 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 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 traditionally the most versatile. But nowadays, ski pants come in a variety of muted colors that branch out from the norms, like khaki and navy blue. Some products are still available in brighter colors, but not all.
Classy style from the Sabre AR pants.
Fit is also an important component of style. A baggy fit is fading in popularity. Snowboarders can get away with more "sag" and extra fabric, given that their legs remain a fixed distance apart. Skiers require a greater range of motion. Backcountry users, whether on skis or snowboard, need even more range of motion than skiers at the resort.
The loose and "core" style of Flylow Gear.
Highlighting these changes in style, the Arc'teryx Sabre AR has slimmed down in the years we have been testing. The latest iteration has a closer fit than its ancestors without losing mobility. The Spyder Dare has a snug fit, sophisticated style, and comes in more colors than in the past. The North Face Freedom Insulated pants are the most neutral pants in our review, and they look great. The Marmot Discovery Bibs and Flylow Baker Bibs are a tad loose for our liking, but many skiers and riders prefer the baggy look.
The close, sleek style of the Spyder Dare looks good, but it's not for everyone.
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 the most important factors for most skiers, but style and features might be more important to some. There is a good pair of pants for every budget. Having the right pair of ski pants can make or break a trip. Our recommendations here will help you maximize your fun on snow.
Loading the car after a great day of ski pants testing.