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How To Choose Snowboard Jackets & Snowboard Pants?

When you shop for a snowboarding jacket and snow pants, what you’re looking for is highly technical outerwear that will keep you:

  1. warm, dry and comfortable while performing a highly physical and athletic activity
  2. in one of the planet’s most extreme environments – the mountains. Besides all of this, you also want it to
  3. look great, and be hardwearing and durable.

Getting all of this dialed in is a tall order, and with so many options out there, it’s vital to have a clear understanding of what you’re looking for, and some knowledge of what goes into a good snowboarding outerwear combo. Choosing the right snowboard jacket and snowboard pants isn’t easy, but once you know what you’re looking for, it’s not too hard, either. Using this guide, we’ll help you to find the outerwear combination that’s perfect for you.

Let’s start with taking an overview of the materials and construction methods used in creating snowboarding outerwear, then we’ll move onto more specific aspects related to jackets and pants.

Outerwear Materials

Snowboard outerwear needs to be lightweight and non-restrictive while providing waterproof and breathable protection from the snow. For this reason, most snowboarding outerwear is made with polyester or nylon ‘outer’ fabric bonded with a water-resistant, breathable inner membrane. Polyester and nylon are the most popular choices for manufacturers due to their durability, low moisture absorbance and quick drying times. Adding a waterproof, breathable membrane increases the fabric's water resistance while still allowing excess heat to escape.  Some other features that can increase water resistance are taped seams, waterproof zippers and DWR coatings, but more on those in a bit.

Waterproofness/Breathability Ratings and How They Work

To put it simply, ski and snowboard outerwear are not actually waterproof. To be truly waterproof, a material cannot be breathable. The challenge is to make a material that keeps water out while allowing moisture (sweat/excess heat) to escape. The principle of water-resistant, breathable fabric works because water vapour molecules are much smaller than water in its’ liquid state. By creating a material coated with a porous membrane with holes big enough to let vapour out and small enough to stop water from coming in, snowboard outerwear can protect the wearer from rain and snow while preventing the uncomfortable build-up of moisture from sweating.

These porous membrane coatings vary considerably in waterproofness and breathability (and cost). Outerwear has a waterproof rating in millimetres and a breathability rating in grams. 

A waterproof rating is calculated by placing a column of water in a tube onto the fabric: the rating equals the height of the water column (measured in millimetres) before water starts leaking in. So if a column of water needs to be 10,000mm high before it starts pushing through, the fabric is given a 10k waterproofness rating. In the snowboard outerwear market, 5k waterproofness provides good entry-level water resistance, while premium waterproof products like Gore-Tex are around the 20k mark.

Waterproof Rating (MM) Water Resistance Suitability
0-5,000 MM None to some resistance to moisture Light Rain, Dry Snow, No Pressure
6,000-10,000 MM Rainproof and waterproof under light pressure Light rain, average snow, light pressure
11,000-15,000 MM Rainproof and waterproof except under high pressure Moderate rain, average snow, light pressure
16,000-20,000 MM Rainproof and waterproof under high pressure Heavy rain, wet snow, some pressure
20,000 MM+ Rainproof and waterproof under very high pressure Heavy rain, wet snow, high pressure

Breathability is calculated similarly, this time by calculating how many grams (g) of water vapour can pass through a square meter (m2) of the fabric from the inside to the outside in 24 hours. The larger the number, the more breathable the fabric, so in the case of a 10k fabric, 10,000 grams of water vapour would escape over 24 hours.

Breathable Waterproof Fabric Layering

Waterproof breathable fabrics are made up of an outer layer called the “face fabric” which is usually made from nylon or polyester, and treated with DWR. Below the face fabric is a porous laminated membrane or coating that keeps water out and allows moisture to escape. Some fabrics have a 3rd layer of mesh bonded to the membrane, making it more durable and removing the need for a protective fabric liner. This is called 3L fabric. 2L fabric does not have this layer, and so requires a fabric lining to protect the membrane.

Which Breathable Waterproof Rating Is Best for Me?

As the waterproof/breathability rating increases, so does the price, so it's important to choose outerwear that reflects your budget and intended use. A 5k waterproof rating offers limited protection in wet conditions, so it is used by snowboarders who mostly ride in cold, dry conditions. Up to 10k waterproofness delivers solid performance in various weather conditions and is a good choice for most snowboarders. Anything over 10k provides great protection from wintery elements and is great for snowboarders who spend a lot of time on the snow, especially in wetter climates. A jacket or pants’ breathability rating is not the top priority for the average snowboarder. However, if you’re doing a lot of hiking and other high-intensity activities, a high breathability rating of 20k+ is recommended.

Snowboarders in the Southern Hemisphere seem to push their outerwear to the limits with wetter conditions, so getting the highest rating that you can afford is always good.

What Is Seam Sealing?

Seam sealing is an important part of the manufacturing process where a thin waterproof tape is applied under seams to prevent leakage through the tiny holes created by stitching needles. Full seam sealing is best, while critical seam sealing uses tape only on high exposure areas like the neck, shoulders, and chest. If the jacket or pants you’ve been considering has no seam seals, it's probably not suitable for snowboarding in anything but warm, dry conditions.

What is Durable Water Repellant(DWR)?

DWR stands for Durable Water Repellent – an outer coating that repels water, causing it to bead off. Most outerwear fabrics receive this treatment during manufacturing, and it helps prevent the face fabric from absorbing water. Regular contact with snow can quickly wear a garment’s DWR coating away, making the face fabric damp, so it seems that the outerwear is no longer waterproof. However, this is not the case: the membrane below is doing the waterproofing work. Once your jacket or pants has lost their factory DWR coating, it’s possible to replace them at home with waterproof spray or wash in treatments like Nikwax.

Fit

Snowboarding pants and jackets range from tight fit to baggy. Since snowboarding is an active sport, your outerwear should allow for unrestricted freedom of movement. This is almost guaranteed with a baggier outfit, but if you prefer a slimmer fit, articulated knees and elbows make all the difference. There are three basic snowboarding outerwear fit categories.

Slim: A tighter, traditional mountain look that should move with you as you ride and deliver a glove-like fit.

Modern: A sleek fit with an ergonomic approach provides a slimmer, fashionable look. Usually with tapered zones for mobility. 

Relaxed: Designed for maximum comfort and relaxed style, a relaxed fit has a baggier cut that delivers unlimited freedom of movement on the mountain.

How to Choose a Snowboard Jacket

What Are the Different Types of Snowboard Jackets?

There are two types of snowboard jackets available; insulated and un-insulated (shell). Within those two types, there is a wide range of waterproofness, fits and features.

Insulated Snowboard Jackets

Insulation is a key feature in most snowboard and ski jackets. The insulation can vary from light to heavy, depending on the weather conditions. The thicker or heavier the insulation, the warmer the snowboard jacket. Some jackets come with a removable insulation layer that can be easily zipped in and out of the jacket. These are known as 3-in-1 jackets.

Insulation for snowboard jackets is usually made with a synthetic polyester loft that is light and will retain heat even when wet. Synthetic insulation also dries quickly and is often more affordable. Some insulation types work by puffing up and trapping air (loft), while others, like Thinsulate, are designed to provide insulation without making the jacket appear bulky. Natural down is the other type of insulation used less commonly in snowboard jackets. It’s lighter and warmer than synthetic insulation, and the price will reflect this warmth-to-weight factor. Roxy’s Warmflight technology provides a best-of-both-worlds solution, combining the lightness and loft of natural down with the breathability and resistance to humidity that you get from modern synthetic materials.

Non-insulated Snowboard Jackets (Shell Jackets)

A non-insulated jacket or shell has no insulation and is designed as a weatherproof barrier. Wearing a shell allows you to add or subtract layers underneath to suit the weather conditions and temperature. This makes a shell jacket a popular choice for snowboarders wanting a versatile jacket that will provide good protection from the harshest elements. It's also the first choice for snowboarders heading into the backcountry, as shell jackets are lightweight and packable.

Should I Choose a Shell or an Insulated Jacket for Snowboarding?

At the end of the day, the type of jacket you choose will come down to personal preference. A snowboard should offer protection from the wintery conditions while keeping you warm, dry and comfortable. An insulated jacket will be a great choice if you want instant warmth from the cold. Or, if you want a versatile jacket that can fit different layers underneath, an uninsulated jacket might suit you better.

Essential Snowboard Jacket Features

Venting

Snowboarding is an intense activity where you alternate between riding and resting multiple times a day. No matter how breathable the fabric of your jacket is, good ventilation is essential to keep you cool and help regulate your body temperature. Snowboarding is an intense activity where you alternate between riding and resting multiple times a day, and ventilation is required to help eliminate excess heat and moisture buildup. Snowboard jacket vents are usually located around the armpit area and should be mesh-backed to prevent snow from getting in while riding with them.

Snow Skirts

A snow skirt or powder skirt is a flap of waterproof fabric with an elasticated bottom that sits around your waist to keep snow getting in. Some powder skirts are removable and also can allow you to connect your pant and jacket for a snow-proof seal.

Cuff Gaiters

Usually located at the wrist opening of your jacket, a cuff gaiter is an internal sleeve with an attached thumb loop. It sits inside your glove and prevents snow from getting in.

Pockets

Like any technical clothing item, pockets are featured heavily on snow outerwear for snacks, accessories and your phone. When checking out the pockets on a snowboard jacket, look for good placement of pockets, waterproof zips to keep out moisture, fleece lining and glove-friendly access.

Hood

A hood is an essential snow jacket feature that can help to keep you warm and dry in really bad weather. While some are removable, most snowboarding jacket hoods are not. When choosing your perfect snowboard jacket, always look for an adjustable hood that is big enough to cover your helmet (if you wear one). Also, look for a high collar with cinch tighteners that can be pulled up over your chin and lips.

Other (non) Essential Snowboard Jacket Features

There are many extra tech, safety and fashion features in ski and snowboard jackets like goggle wipes to lift pass holders. While useful, these are primarily non-essential and should not distract you from the essentials, such as waterproofness, snow protection, and pockets.

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How To Choose Snowboard Pants

What Are the Different Types of Snowboard Pants?

Like jackets, snowboard pants come in various styles and fits and have multiple additional technical features. A good pair of durable, waterproof pants are essential as snowboarders spend more time sitting on the snow to strap into their bindings. There are three types of snowboard pants – insulated, un-insulated and bib/overalls. Insulated pants usually contain light, low-profile synthetic insulation to add extra warmth without too much weight or bulk. Un-insulated snowboard pants are lightweight and are often worn in the backcountry or wet weather. Bib or overall style pants are a fashionable and functional option that extends coverage up past the waistline, making them ideal both with a jacket in winter conditions and without in warmer spring conditions. 

The other key aspect of a snowboard pant’s performance is durability. Boots, bindings, and snowboard edges take their toll on outerwear, so look for reinforced cuffs around the ankle and durable fabric on the knees.

Essential Snowboard Pant Features

Venting

Like snowboard jackets, no matter how breathable your jacket’s fabric is, good ventilation is necessary for cooling down quickly. Snowboard pant vents are between the thighs and should be mesh-backed to prevent snow from getting in while riding with them.

Ankle Gaiters

Ankle gaiters are two internal sleeves of waterproof fabric with elastic on the bottom that stretches over the top of your snowboard boots, preventing snow from getting into your boots.

Pockets

Pockets are essential in any pair of snowboard pants to hold snacks, car keys and your lift pass (if your jacket doesn't have a pass pocket). Pockets should be in easy-to-reach areas and move with you when bending your knees. It’s also best to avoid keeping your phone in your pants pocket.

Other (non) Essential Snowboard Pant Features

There are a vast array of snowboard specific features on the market, from zip-up bottom leg gussets to lift pass holders to Recco® Avalanche reflectors. All have their uses, but, like jackets, it’s better to focus on the essentials, such as fit, waterproofness, snow protection, and pockets when choosing your perfect pair of snowboard pants.

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Related Guides

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How To Dress for Snowboarding: The Essentials

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