How to Buy a Ski Jacket: The Key Specs

Last Updated March 9, 2022 | by Lauren

How to Buy a Ski JacketEver been boggled by the technical specs used to describe modern ski jackets? Or wondered which ones would suit you best?

Read on as we outline the most important design features and technology offered by today’s ski jacket market.

When it comes to optimizing your experience on the hill, choosing the right jacket is one of the most important decisions you can make.

Whereas the wrong jacket will have you thinking about it all day—how uncomfortable it is, how cold and wet you are—the right jacket will hardly be on your mind at all. Design features like quality waterproofing, breathability, insulation, and functionality will keep your body warm and dry so you can keep your focus on your epic day.

Kinds of Jackets

First and foremost, you’ll need to determine which kind of jacket(s) you need. A lot of skiers use an outer jacket, called a shell, and many wear an insulating layer, like a fleece, underneath.


Hardshell jackets, worn as the durable outermost layer, are donned to keep snow, rain and wind out. They repel water, cut wind, and offer breathability to vent exertion-produced moisture. Shell’s aren’t insulated.


Many manufacturers make insulated ski jackets in one or two varieties: 3-in-1 models and single piece models. The latter offer a hardshell exterior and an insulated interior, sewn as one jacket. The 3-in-1 styles offer a hardshell exterior with an insulating layer that zips in and out of the shell, so you can adapt to the day’s conditions.

>>Hard Shells vs Insulated Jackets

Soft Shell

Stretchy, soft, water-resistant soft shells offer less water and wind resistance than hardshells, and as such, aren’t worn as much on the slopes. That said, they can be a nice choice for warm, mild days, when you want some protection but don’t see the need for a full-on hardshell.

Design Features

A range of clever features exist to maximize ski jacket performance. Some are better suited to particular ski styles and conditions, but many are versatile enough to serve just about anyone.


Most high quality shells contain three bonded technical layers, two of which are waterproof:

  1. First layer of defense—the outermost, nylon or polyester, “face fabric”. This layer is treated with a Durable Water Repellant (DWR) finish, which encourages water to bead and roll upon contact, instead of soaking in. This coating degrades with wear, though it can be re-applied at home with spray-on or wash-in water repellency restoratives like Nikwax.
  2. An internal, breathable, waterproof membrane. Examples include Gore-Tex and other manufacturer’s proprietary brands. In the event moisture “wets out” through the face fabric, this layer is next at bat. It gets its waterproofing from its tight weave (“denier”), though is also breathable enough to vent out exertion-produced moisture and heat.
  3. The innermost layer, which wicks moisture, reduces friction, and protects the internal membrane from body oils.

As the quality of these layers improves, so does the performance of the jacket. To gauge the overall effectiveness of their products, many manufacturers use a waterproof rating system, which measures how many millimeters of water the fabric can hold off before it begins to wet out. Standard soft shells offer 500-3,000 mm of resistance, mid-range hardshells 5,000-10,000 mm, and high-end hardshells 10,000-40,000 mm.

Ski jackets also offer waterproofing in the form of sealed seams and zippers. These features offer protection in the garment’s weak points by either taping or, better yet, welding seams together for better waterproofing.

If you opt for taped seams, do keep your eyes peeled for these two specs: taped seams will either be:

  • “critically taped” or
  • “fully sealed”

The latter is better, indicating that every seam on the jacket is sealed, not just the major ones.


While working to block external water from penetrating its weave, shell textiles simultaneously vent internal water (the moisture produced by your body’s heat and exertion) through and out of that very weave. This is a core, critical function of a ski jacket, and it’s one of the defining attributes that distinguishes hardshells and softshells from rain jackets, which aren’t usually breathable.

A ski jacket’s breathability is also enhanced with various venting features, like pit zips (zippered vents in the arm pits), and chest vents. Some are lined with mesh, whereas others are fully open. Either way, they allow a skier to cool down a bit without unzipping the front of the jacket.

Breathability ratings typically range anywhere from 5,000g to 25,000g.


Many jackets on today’s market offer a slew of fun design features that enhance the functionality of the garment in clever ways. I’ll list some handy favorites here:

Powder skirts: A Powder skirt is like a gaiter for your hip. It’s top is sewn into the internal waist of the jacket, but it’s elastically-hemmed bottom falls free. With a simple snap closure, you can keep most snow from getting to your torso.

Helmet-compatible hoods: Most modern ski jackets come with hoods designed to fit over ski helmets. And since we should all be wearing helmets on the hill, this is really the way to go.

Snow pant compatibility: Many high-end ski jackets snap onto compatible snow pants, giving you all the pro’s of a bib without the con’s.

Pockets: Of the wide variety of pockets that exist in today’s jacket market, the following are especially prized. Pass pockets, sewn into the sleeve, make ski lift pass checks a breeze (and some come with a detachable goggle wipe!). Headphone jack pockets are nice if you like to carve with tunes. Goggle pockets make for a nice place to stash your goggles when you’re not using them, and handwarmer pockets can be clutch on those deep freeze days.


Once you’ve identified the features, waterproofing, breathability, and insulation that’s right for you, all that’s left is fit and style! Pick a jacket that leaves room for layers (without feeling bulky), and speaks your language with the right color and fit. A good ski jacket will have you singing the praises of a happy camper for years to come.


Choosing a Ski Jacket, How to Buy a Ski Jacket, how to choose a ski jacket

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