Good for you, planning ahead pays. As spring approaches, deals on winter gear are heating up faster than the weather. Even so, ski and snowboard threads are spendy, and picking the right ski pants is a big deal. We want ours to work in a wide range of conditions for years. To help you find a good deal on a long-lasting pair, a team of slaydies switched out ski pants on resort groomers and backcountry bowls in Utah, California and Japan. Each tester paid particular attention to details like venting, breathability, water-proofed seams, warmth, functional pockets, and stylish cuts. Whether you ski once a year, hit the slopes every weekend, guide professionally, or are a seasoned backcountry enthusiast, we have a pick for you.
The Best Ski Pants for Women of 2018
Looking for one pair of ski pants that can perform in conditions ranging from spring slush resort laps to backcountry blizzards? The Arc'teryx Sentinel is it. The lack of built-in insulation lets you choose how warm or cool you want them to be. This fact, along with the exterior thigh zippered vents, makes the Sentinel extremely versatile. Gore-Tex is the most reliable waterproof fabric on the market. The cherry on top is that Arc'teryx combined it with a 3-Layer softshell construction, giving it a soft and flexible feel. The pockets alone made us fall in love with the Sentinel — perfectly placed and generously sized. The sleek and slimming fit of this award-winner nailed resort and backcountry style. The Sentinel is the most expensive pant we tested. In this case, you get what you pay for. You can wear these anywhere in the winter, for any amount of time, for any reason, and you will never be disappointed.
The removable belt is a little awkward to operate with cold weather impaired digits. We like the FlyLow Nina's adjustable band better. While the outer thigh vents are our favorite, next to FlyLow's inner and outer vent system, we wish they were a little longer to improve airflow.
Read review: Arc'teryx Sentinel Pants
Foxy and functional, Flylow's ski bib can take on multi-day backcountry missions or spring corn laps in style. Bibs keep snow out on powder days and, with no waistband, provide a more flexible fit. The Foxy's technical construction, comfortable fit, and thoughtful features are a nice bonus. Its 3-layer stretch storm shell intuitive fabric has the highest waterproofing and breathability rankings available and certainly worked for us. When it heats up, inner knee vents and outer thigh vents provide maximum breeze with minimum chaffing. The left side vent starts at the waist, letting you keep your jacket on for bathroom breaks. A kangaroo pouch is a nice hiding spot for cold hands and other pockets are perfectly sized and placed. The 2018 version gets a slightly stretchier and more comfortable fabric than the 2017 Foxy. We tried on both, and the 2018 Foxy is softer, quieter, and slightly more comfortable without a base layer. The 2017 version might be burlier though.
Unfortunately, the softer feel might come with reduced durability. We found a couple of ski slices in the instep scuff guards after just a few weeks of use. A friend with the 2017 Foxies is slice-free. The Burton Avalon Bibs saw no such wear and tear during the same initial trial period. And, being primarily snowboard bibs, the Avalons don't have an instep guard. We also prefer the security of Gore-tex's reputation for durable waterproofing. The intuitive fabric is less established and a bit of an unknown durability-wise.
Read review: Flylow Foxy Bibs
You don't have to be a certified ski bum to want to save some cash when ski season rolls around. You can spend the majority of your paycheck on a pair of pants, sure, but do you need it? Resort skiers and riders who run cold and shop on a budget, the Freedom LRBC Insulated is your match. It offers plenty of room to move and space for extra layers if you need them. These pants perform solidly across lift accessed terrain and are half the cost of many of the pants in this review.
While it is affordable, warm and stylish, the Freedom pant is hard to size. It's "LR" or low-rise fit also lets snow sneak in when you take a tumble in powder. (The "BC" stands for boot-cut, btw.) The thigh-pocket velcros instead of zipping, meaning that it's not secure enough to trust with valuables. The crazy-affordable $160 price tag is impossible to argue with, but the waterproofing may not last as long as more expensive varieties with proven track records, like Gore-Tex.
Read review: The North Face Freedom LRBC Insulated
Burton's laidback-cool look and breezy functionality hits again with the Avalon Bib. Waterproof 2-layer Dryride fabric kept us dry and, with the right number of baselayers, warm. These bibs have a generous hip cut flatters a number of body types, from pretty curves to streamlined shapes. Generously sized front pockets are a cozy hiding place for cold hands but, with no zipper or velcro, aren't secure enough for storage. The zippered pouch on the bib is the best place for valuables. Less technical construction means that venting and breathability aren't suitable for sweaty backcountry climbs, but these bibs are excellent resort wear. A reasonable price and durable feeling fabric make this a good value for the occasional to dedicated skier or boarder.
While mess-lined inner-thigh vents work fine for snowboarding, they rub together annoyingly when open while walking. Burton's anti-scuff cuff isn't a reinforced instep like most ski-specific pants have. That said they fended off ski scrapes without a scratch during testing. Two velcro pockets in the back aren't very secure and don't provide much storage.
Outdoor Research combines the best of two worlds with their Trailbreaker Softshell ski pant. Soft and highly flexible softshell uppers and over the knee waterproof hardshell lowers keep you comfy while skinning up, skiing down, or kneeling to dig a snow pit. The biggest softshell benefit is breathability. As you heat up, they dump heat better than any hardshell can. When you reach their upper limit, an outer thigh vent from hip to knee does the rest. The fabric isn't windproof but kept us surprisingly warm during a 20-degree snowstorm in Japan, despite the wind cutting right through the thighs. While we don't recommend these pants for wet, Northwestern winters or serious weather, we didn't find the water resistance limit in snow storms or snow sitting sessions during testing. Two large pockets of at the back of the thighs seem bizarre but are actually genius. Hiking pulls the fabric at the front of the thigh, not the back. They aren't the best when seated.
The front two pockets are less comfortable to load up for a hike, and the right beacon pocket is pretty useless. It's a struggle to get our old Tracker2 beacon in or out. We just wear our harnesses, so it's not an issue. All the pockets are generously sized but have oddly small openings with uncomfortable, large-toothed zippers. Getting wet and cold in the back is a big deal. Since softshells are more vulnerable, we recommend bringing a waterproof rain pant or industrial-size trashbag for unexpected exposure to unpredictable mountain elements.
Ready to rally, the water and windproof Nina pant from Flylow keeps the weather out in the gnarliest of storms. It also offers enough cross ventilation to keep your base layers sweat-free on spring backcountry missions. Well-planned pocket placement means that your ski map, chapstick or bonk-insurance bar are at the ready, and they all zipper securely with easy to pull tabs. A high waist keeps the snow out of your drawers, and adjustment tabs let you dial in the baggy-chic fit. Though pricey, the Nina's will take you from the lift to the skin track for years to come.
The Nina's are as versatile as our favorite Arc'teryx Sentinel Pants but are somewhat less warm and comfortable. The Nina's fabric is stiffer and doesn't breath as well. The waistband can collect sweat on high output hikes, chilling you on the downhill. Well planned vents compensate on sunny days but aren't ideal when working up a sweat in a snowstorm. While the Sentinel's are sleek and stretchy the Nina's have a generous, somewhat bulky cut.
Read review: FlyLow Gear Nina
Warm and nicely vented with a fleece-lined, adjustable waistband the Snowbelle is comfortable resort wear. Patagonia's 2-Layer H2No Performance Standard shell is waterproof and breathes well. Inner-thigh vents keep the insulated pants appropriate on warmer days, as does the cozy fleece lining which practically begs you to skip a base layer. The baggy style looks nice and articulated knees offer plenty of room to move around on the descents. Fleece lined hand pockets are inviting and positioned low enough to be lift accessible. All told, if you can find the right size, the Snowbelle is a great ski pant for lapping resort runs.
Unfortunately, finding that size can be a bit tricky. Sizing up can feel too baggy and sizing down was tight in the bum and thighs for our testers. Either way, the long crotch is uncomfortable when hiking to earn your turns. That's why we wouldn't pick this pant for backcountry use.
Read review: Patagonia Insulated Snowbelle Pants
How to Buy the Best Ski Pant
When you think about what you want to spend on ski pants, first calculate how many powder days you're willing to forego to afford them. Then consider your in-bounds to out-of-bounds skiing ratio. If you're hiking a lot, breathability and layering options are extra important to make sure you don't overheat on the way up the mountain. In-bounds skiers can often get away with more insulation and less technical/expensive pants. Lastly think about how much time you spend on the snow each season, which translates to how durable you need your pants to be. Being cheap can get expensive if you have to replace your gear every season.
Now think about where and when you ski. If you ski a few days out of the year at a resort in fair weather, a budget pant like the The North Face Freedom may be perfect. On the other hand, if you shred the slopes at every opportunity, eat lunch on the chair, always choose powder over your posse, and spend a fair bit of time in the backcountry you should probably consider a technical pant with a high degree of weatherproofing and durability like the Arc'teryx Sentinel Pants or the Foxy FlyLow Bib. If you're new to winter sports, but dying to transform into a rippin' shredder, take the middle ground with the comfortable, reasonably priced, and weatherproof Patagonia Snowbelle. You can always re-assess after a season and invest more if you find yourself obsessed.
No matter what your specific needs and budget, there is a cute, warm, or well-featured pant out there for you. We'll walk you through what to consider when investing in a pair of women's ski pants.
Bibs versus Pants
Ski bibs aren't just a fashion statement. They have a very compelling performance benefit, keeping powder from sneaking down your pants. Snow has a way of getting everywhere, particularly in a storm. Waist deep powder shots or cartwheeling down a challenging trail can get your undergarments wet in a hurry. Bibs force the snow to work a little harder to get inside. The Flylow Foxy's also have jacket-integrating snaps, making your outer layer virtually impenetrable.
Bibs also provide a little extra wind and water protection for your chest and make it less important to nail waist measurements. Most of the true pants on this page have waist adjusting tabs to compensate for this issue. The bibs don't need it, though your waist size still affects fit. You'll also need to take your torso length and hip width into account. Bibs can also run a bit long on shorter-legged skiers. They also cost more. Some are a hassle when it's time for a bathroom break, though most modern bibs have zipping systems that deal with the issue. On the flip side, pants are less expensive, easy at rest stops, and some also integrate seamlessly with a compatible jacket.
How Warm and How Dry?
Technical waterproof fabrics balance keeping water from sneaking in and allowing sweat to evaporate out. Both actions are required to keep your layers from soaking through so you stay warm and dry while working hard in changing weather conditions. The technology is getting better all the time, but, for now, the most waterproof fabrics are not the most breathable, and vice versa. Adding zippered airways, or vents, to pants helps mitigate the breathability issue in the hottest or hardest working circumstances.
Softshell versus Hardshell
The biggest divide between waterproofing and breathability technology is between hardshell and softshell fabrics. Hardshell pants offer full waterproofing and superior wind protection. Softshell fabrics breathe like crazy but are only water resistant. Since being wet and cold in the mountains can rapidly degenerate into a serious situation, softshells are more popular in drier climates and warmer temperatures. Manufacturers are constantly improving softshell's weather protecting powers. As a result, it's creeping into more ski gear. A softshell probably isn't your best bet for a do-it-all year round pant, and they don't keep you warm enough on wet and windy days for lots of lift sitting, but they're a great spring-time pick for backcountry laps.
Types of Waterproof/Breathable Membranes and Insulation
Ski pants use a 2-layer or pricier 3-layer waterproofing system, which shellack either two or three layers of fabric together to protect you from the elements. Higher cost and higher performing pants generally use the 3-layer system, have 100% fully taped seams to seal sewing holes, and are uninsulated. This allows for maximum layering flexibility and ventilation when sweating up a skin track in the backcountry. After all, you can always add layers to add warmth. Two-layer ski pants can be insulated or uninsulated. Insulated pants are great for a day of frigid lift rides or for less aggressive skiers who tend to run cold. Here's a quick explanation of these three main ski pant types.
- Uninsulated 3-Layer Shell Pants — These shells bond a working waterproof/breathable membrane between an outer face fabric and inner fabric liner, often gauze or taffeta. The outer fabric is treated with some type of Durable Water Repellant (DWR) coating, which is essentially painted on. DWR beads water on the surface, allowing the inner membrane to function. This membrane blocks water droplets from coming in and allows water vapor out. The three layers appear as a single fabric. They used to feel pretty stiff, but the hand is improving with time and technology. These pants are the most versatile for layering and manufacturers often optimize them for the backcountry. Our award-winning Arc'teryx Sentinel pant and Flylow Foxy Bib are two examples.
- Uninsulated 2-Layer Shell Pants — These pants bond 2-layers of fabric together, a working membrane and a DWR coated face fabric. The inner liner is not bonded to the outer shell and hangs freely inside the pant. Generally, the liner is heavier and cozier than any found in 3-layer systems. These pants are often a bit heavier and warmer than their 3-layer counterparts. They also tend towards pockets and venting systems that are more resort-friendly than backcountry focused. These pants can dabble in the backcountry but are best for resort use. The Burton Avalon Bib is an example.
- Insulated Ski Pants — Insulated ski pants have additional, usually synthetic, puff to keep you toasty on those nasty mid-winter days. Unfortunately, you can't take it out to cool off during spring slush sessions. These pants are inherently less versatile. Manufacturers measure insulation in grams. For perspective, the uninsulated pant shells we review provide about 20 grams. A down jacket provides between 100 to 600 grams. The insulated pants we tested range from 40 to 60 grams. The Patagonia Snowbelle pants offer 40 grams. The North Face Freedom Insulated is on the 60 side of things. Insulated ski pants often have 2-layer water protection and breathability systems, like The North Face Women's Freedom LRBC pant.
Waterproof and Breathability Ratings
You'll often see manufacturers listing waterproofing and breathability ratings that look like 10k/10k or 20,000mm/20,000mm. Here's a quick decoder.
When they say a garment is waterproof to 20,000mm, they mean that a 20,000mm (or 20 meter) column of water would have to be suspended over one square inch of the fabric before it would start to leak. That's a lot of water pressure. Anything rated to over 10,000mm (10 meters) is considered waterproof. Several companies, like Gore-Tex, don't publish these numbers. When you see a rating of 20k, you know a company is staking a claim in its waterproofing. Of our test pants, we trust the Arc'teryx Gore-Tex waterproofing the most, followed by the Flylow's Intuitive fabrics.
Breathability ratings state how many grams of water vapor can pass through a square meter of fabric (g/m2) in a 24 hour period. Testing methods for this are really difficult to nail consistently, so take it all with a grain of salt. Ratings range from 5,000 g/m2 to 20,000. Again, it's a way for a company to communicate how breathable they feel their garment is. A rating of 5,000 g/m2, like the Burton Avalon Bib is fine for resort riding. You'll want to look for 15,000 to 20,000 g/m2 levels of breathability for the backcountry.
When we asked our team of testers, fellow ski racing coaches, and other snow sports enthusiasts, 100% of them have ski pants with vents. Although often overlooked, ventilation is a critical component of a well-designed ski pant. With an effective ventilation system, insulated pants can function in a variety of weather conditions. We tested pants with no vents, outer thigh vents without mesh, and inner thigh vents with mesh. Vent placement comes down to personal preference, though inner vents did irritate several testers' legs. At the end of the day, it's just important that you can get some air flowing to stop sweat from soaking your layers and freezing you when you stop moving.
The Flylow Foxy Bibs, Flylow Nina Pants, and Arc'teryx Sentinel Pants have outer thigh vents, which make them the most breathable and user-friendly. The Flylow options not only have exterior vents but also has two small inner thigh vents, giving it the highest ranking ventilation system we tested, allowing for air to flow all the way through the pant. We recommend making sure that the zippers are easy to pull and don't catch easily on the mesh or surrounding fabric.
Back to You
Now that you have a more in-depth idea of the types of pants you can choose from, you can start to assess the climate where you usually ski. You should also consider the conditions at the time of year you usually hit the slopes. As you're thinking about both of these factors, also think about your cold or hot tendencies. If you end up in the lodge with your feet over the heater, surrounded by a group of crying ski school kids while your family has fun in the blowing ice storm outside, give yourself a break, you may be an insulated pant kind of gal.
If you love to ski in storms, invest in a pant with quality weather protection and durability. Spend the extra money to have fun. There's no point in spending hundreds on lift tickets and passes if you can't enjoy yourself. If you do get an insulated pant, be sure there is a ventilation system, especially if you want to be able to wear it on warmer days. We found that more than half of our ski-obsessed friends use insulated pants at the resort during the colder winter months. Come springtime or backcountry days, about a third switched to uninsulated pants.
Comfort and Fit
Comfort is queen, keeping you feeling ready and willing to rip. You want a ski pant that leaves plenty of room for you to carve and stay warm. Be sure you have room in the waistband for layers, room in the legs for movement, and the right length to cover your boots and keep snow out. If a pant is too baggy, it may leave too much airspace for your body to warm it efficiently. Check each manufacturer's sizing chart. Some brands offer short, regular, and long length options, which is a plus.
Ski pants come outfitted with a wide variety of features, from zippered pockets and fleece-lined waistbands to warranties and pass holder rings. Here's a rundown:
- Pockets — Why are women's pockets often so small? We have bigger wallets, more chapstick, and usually a camera or phone. The pocket perfect pants from our test pieces are the Flylow Gear Nina and Foxy pants and the Arc'teryx Sentinel. The North Face Freedom Pant at least had a cargo pocket, but with a velcro only closure. Generally speaking, be wary of back pockets and tiny hip pockets that may as well be on your favorite tight party pants. If you like carrying a backpack or have a favorite fanny pack from the 80s, then disregard this message.
- RECCO — The Patagonia Snowbelle and the Arc'teryx Sentinel are both outfitted with RECCO Rescue technology. This means that they have an electronic device in their fabric that can be detected by ski patrollers in case of an avalanche in-bounds. It's important to note here that this device is not an avalanche beacon. If you are skiing in avalanche-prone terrain, RECCO should never be used as a replacement for an avalanche beacon. If you have a garment outfitted with RECCO or you're thinking about purchasing one, we highly recommend visiting RECCO's website for more information about the pros, cons, and limitations of this technology.
- Random but Cool — Burton provides a cuff snap to keep your pants off messy bar floors or muddy parking lots. Flylow's kangaroo pouch is a handy hand warmer.
Invest in a pant that you feel comfortable in, is warm, versatile, and right for your body temperature type. Most importantly, have fun while staying warm and safe!
— Polly Dacus and Clark Tate