Over several years, we've bought and tested 36 pairs of ski pants, legs-on. Our experts rank 10 of the best ski pants here, based on in-depth testing that lasted months and caused fun to be had, from Jackson Hole to Grand Targhee to Mammoth Mountain. Whether the powder gods delivered or we made tracks on corduroy, we cycled through each model, assessing their performance. The ideal ski pants should function to fit comfortably, keep you dry, vent off excess heat, keep you warm on the lifts, and have handy features, all while offering a style point or two. We scored each pair on these merits, resulting in a detailed assessment to guide you to your next pair.Related: Best Ski Pants for Women
Best Ski Pants for Men of 2020
Best Overall Ski Pants
Arc'teryx Sabre AR Pant
We recommend the Arc'Teryx Sabre AR to anyone who can afford them. The construction is top-notch. The materials are immaculate, and their balance of performance attributes helps them 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 provide excellent weather protection, fit like a glove, and ventilate well. They are also suitable for backcountry skiing—fantastic, reliable performance all-around.
The Sabre AR Pants are expensive, and there are plenty of other options that come close to matching their performance at a much lower price. The insulation is relatively thin, so they aren't super warm (though most skiers prefer to layer underneath themselves). But if you're 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
For the money, The North Face Freedom Insulated Pants are excellent. They are highly weather resistant, warm, durable, and stylish. And all of that comes for a fraction of the price of the Arc'Teryx Sabre AR. If you're looking for a great pair of pants for almost any day of the ski season, these are a bargain.
The primary issue we have with the Freedom Pants is that the pockets and some seams are unsealed. The main lower leg seams are taped, but the pocket and vent zippers are not waterproof. The seams that secure these zippers are not waterproof either. This will not be a concern for most casual skiers, but for hardcore chargers and everyday users like ski instructors and patrollers, we'd opt for a completely weatherproof alternative. None of the pants with fully sealed seams and waterproof zippers are as affordable as the Freedom Insulated.
Read review: The North Face Freedom Insulated
Best Insulated Pants
Spyder Dare GTX
Insulated ski pants can't offer the same versatility as their uninsulated brethren. Some skiers prefer cozy built-in insulation, but the trend in the market is towards very light insulation or hardshell-only designs. Some skiers do opt for a second pair of insulated pants on the coldest of days. For those searching for an insulated pair to fill their "pant quiver", the Spyder Dare GTX is our top choice. These pants are warm, comfortable, and fit very well. Despite being thick due to their insulation, we didn't experience any drawbacks in our 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. When it gets super cold, the Spyder Dare is our go-to model.
Read review: Spyder Dare GTX
Best Ski Bibs
FlyLow Gear Baker Bib
Some skiers like the feel and protection of bibs while 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 pleasing the ski town locals. They also vent effectively for long bootpacks or an occasional ski tour.
Some skiers don't want bibs, perhaps because they can feel overbearing, restricting, or too warm and stuffy. These bibs also feature a loose, freeride fit, which some skiers aren't after. The fabric feels stiff and unrefined, but this won't a big deal to the "core" users that these pants are designed for. Bibs aren't for everyone, but if you like them, we highly recommend the Baker Bib.
Read review: Flylow Gear Baker Bib
Best for Backcountry Skiing
Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II
Backcountry ski pants are used very differently than their inbounds relatives. They need to be light, breathable, and possess thoughtful features — all characteristics that take a backseat in downhill ski pant design. The Trailbreaker II are thin softshell pants that are bolstered by waterproof panels on the front of the lower legs. This allows for maximum breathability across most of the pants, which is necessary for shedding heat on long uptracks while earning turns. The softshell fabric is inherently more comfortable than its hardshell competition, but it's not nearly as waterproof. 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 adequate protection.
We also like how lightweight these pants are. Although there are lighter options, these hit a sweet spot between low weight and durability. They don't provide much warmth, and their weather resistance is limited, but if you're a backcountry skier, you likely know how to deal. We recommend these for everyday backcountry use.
Read review: Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II
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, only taking days off when his legs are begging for a break. Jeff's gear has to work, day in and day out because he puts it through the wringer, both recreationally and professionally. These demands make him a great judge of outerwear. 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, hiking, 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 considerable market research, which eventually yielded the top models that are discussed here. Testing was largely done in the field at Grand Targhee and Mammoth ski resorts, and on backcountry trips in the Tetons, with each pair used for at least one backcountry tour. We tested each pair of pants in at least two different climates, from windy Sierra storms to frigid, clear days in Jackson Hole. We often took one run per day in each pair, changing pants in the gondola between runs to get comparable side-by-side comparisons between the products. Since we didn't have any rain during this testing period, we observed each pair's water resistance by wearing them in the shower for 5 minutes and checking for water penetration. 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 from our ski and snowboarding pants. They need to resist wind, snow, and maybe even rain. They should be comfortable, fashionable, and durable. On top of all that, they need to provide versatility for all of the conditions that winter might throw at us. Most skiers own a few different jackets and upper layers but typically only own one pair of ski or snowboard pants. We mix and match these upper layers to tackle everything from storm days at the resort to hot days in the backcountry, but we expect our single pair of pants to perform in all of these conditions. Fortunately, our legs are tough. If our legs get a little cold, or wet, or hot, it's not the end of the world. Therefore, one pair of pants is usually sufficient for whatever ski weather you'll experience.
Related: Buying Advice for Ski Pants
Our selection of pants spans a huge price range, from budget options to pants that command a serious 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 can do all you need them to at the resort. Weather resistance is what really sets the more expensive products apart. To fully guard against every drop of water, every snowflake, and every whisper of wind, well-sealed pants almost always cost more. With the additional cost also comes some durability improvements, increased ventilation, fashion upgrades, and general refinement. That said, all of the pants in this review will protect against most weather that you encounter on the slopes, and the extra features and style found in the more expensive options are ultimately unnecessary to many skiers.
Weather resistance is our top priority when evaluating ski pants. This resistance 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 sport 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 a durable water-repellent (DWR) finish. This 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 ensures that the fabric laminate remains breathable.
If you spend a lot of time skiing in stormy weather, the Patagonia Powder Bowl, Arc'teryx Sabre AR, and Flylow Baker Bibs supply excellent protection. Among backcountry skiing pants, the Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II is more protective than the Norrona Lyngen Hybrid pant, but neither is completely 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 fends off most bad weather at a low price.
Fit and Comfort
Good ski technique is important to both our enjoyment of the sport and to reducing risk of injury. If we can't move freely, our technique could be limited or altered, leading to less fun on the slopes and a potentially dangerous experience. Well-fitting and comfortable ski pants don't hinder our motion at all, while poorly fitting ski pants feel restrictive and limiting. Of course, fit and comfort depend on body type. Some pants feature a slim fit through the thighs and knees, while others are baggy and loose. In our experience, the perfect fitting ski pant sits somewhere right in the middle-- not too tight and not too loose. Everyone is different, so pay close attention to our photos, and see if our testers have the same body type as you. In our testing period, we were able to have multiple body types assess all the pants. We tried to test size Medium pants, but in a couple of cases, we had to return them and get size Large.
Fit goes hand in hand with comfort. A well-cut pair of pants will be 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 occupy an entirely different realm of comfort.
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, so they need to be super comfortable. We found the OR Trailbreaker II to be a bit looser and thus more comfortable than the Norrona Lyngen Hybrid.
Of the three-layer pants, the Arc'teryx Sabre AR is the most comfortable. The FlyLow Chemical and FlyLow Baker Bibs, in contrast, feature 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 offers a slightly looser and less constricting cut. The Marmot Discovery Bibs sport a soft and stretchy fabric that accommodates a wide range of motion.
Each day on the ski slopes is different, from warm, sunny, and windless days to the brutally cold and stormy days that we seem to remember. Most skiers only own one or two pairs of ski pants, and these pants need to keep us warm on the coldest days of the season. The rest of the time, our pants may be too warm and need to be able to dissipate any excess heat from our legs into the outside atmosphere. Ideally, on the coldest days, our pants can keep all of our body heat on the inside, and on the warm days, our pants can ventilate to let some of our heat escape. Breathable, softshell fabrics let warm air escape every day of the year and aren't ideal for the coldest days. Zippered vents allow the user to choose when to let air escape and when to trap warm air inside. 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.
Most ventilation is supplied by 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 seem to be those that are mesh-backed and located on the inner leg. Unfortunately, this happens to be the most common ventilation scheme in our comparison. Mesh does keep some snow out, but it also inhibits airflow. We prefer no mesh, but most resort-oriented pants include mesh to guard 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 provide the best ventilation 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.
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. Even though the Flylow models offer greater airflow, these two backcountry-specific models dump heat more effectively overall to provide 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 long vents on the exterior of the leg, but the mesh blocks the full flow of air. The North Face Freedom Insulated and Spyder Dare vents are 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.
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 choice for cold conditions, the Spyder Dare, and the best value Freedom Insulated.
Our favorite insulated pant is the Spyder Dare. This product performed highly in the warmth metric while also remaining relatively comfortable and weather resistant. 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 milder ski destination.
Pants constructed with "2-layer" construction, like the Patagonia Powder Bowl, 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.
The shell-only ("three-layer") pants like the FlyLow Chemical Snow Pants and FlyLow Gear Baker Bibs have the least insulation. The Editors' favorite 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.
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 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.
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 Yakuomo Bib features, 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 of pockets. The Marmot Discovery pockets are almost worthless because they can't be closed.
We looked for a clip or tether located inside a pocket to attach an avalanche transceiver for backcountry-specific models. 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 in the right handwarmer pocket in the Trailbreaker II. The Norrona Lyngen Hybrid doesn't have a transceiver clip.
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.
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.
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.
It can be a daunting task to select the perfect pair of ski pants. 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 are also 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 the slopes.
— Jeff Dobronyi and Jediah Porter