How To Buy Snow Pants

There’s a rea­son peo­ple don’t ski in jeans. On the hill, your legs are the most exposed part of your body, so it’s impor­tant to have warm, water­proof, breath­able pants that fit your style of ski­ing or rid­ing.

Style

They style of pant you pick will depend on how you like to lay­er, how cold you get, and where you like to play.

Pants: Just like your chi­nos or your grand­pa’s chi­nos, snow­pants have a zip fly, or an elas­tic waist. And they’re easy to vent. But com­fort comes at the cost of a big­ger risk that you will = get snow down your pants if you take a mon­ster spill.

Bibs: Some skiers and snow­board­ers pre­fer bibs, which come up to the chest and have built-in sus­penders, because they pro­vide extra warmth to your core, and they pre­vent snow from get­ting into your busi­ness. They are hard­er to remove than snow pants when nature calls.

One-piece: After dying out in the ear­ly ‘90s, one-pieces have made an un-iron­ic come­back. They’re warm and effi­cient, because they hold in all of your body heat, but they can make lay­er­ing and using the bath­room more labo­ri­ous.

Fit: Fit varies a lot between brands, and depends on what the pants are designed for. Park-focused brands like Oak­ley tend to cut their pants bag­gy, while more moun­taineer­ing-ori­ent­ed brands, like Moun­tain Hard­wear, tend to style their pants slim­mer. Adjust your fit to your ski­ing or snow­board­ing style: If you spend most of your time hik­ing in the back­coun­try a pud­dle of pants around your ankle might be inef­fi­cient.

Water Pro­tec­tion: Water­poof­ing comes from a mem­brane in the fab­ric, like GORE-TEX® Pro Shell, or from a coat­ing that’s applied to the out­side of the fab­ric. A fabric’s water resis­tance is mea­sured in mil­lime­ters of water it will hold before it leaks, so a pant that’s rat­ed 20k water­proof was test­ed to hold 20,000 mm of water over one square inch of fab­ric with­out drip­ping.

Breatha­bil­i­ty: The lev­el of breatha­bil­i­ty you need depends on your lev­el of activ­i­ty (read: sweati­ness). Breatha­bil­i­ty comes from the fab­ric, and is usu­al­ly inverse­ly relat­ed to water­proof­ing, although some fab­rics, like Polartec NeoShell, are built to be both. It’s mea­sured by how many grams of water evap­o­rate through the fab­ric in 24 hours. For instance, fab­rics rat­ed as 20k water­proof, pulled 20,000 grams.

Insu­la­tion: Some snow pants fea­ture built-in insu­la­tion, usu­al­ly fleece or a syn­thet­ic mate­r­i­al like Pri­maloft. Your oth­er option is a shell pant, with no added warmth, which you can lay­er under.

Gaiters and Rein­forced Cuffs: The cuffs of your pants will take the biggest beat­ing, due to ski edges and expo­sure. Look for pants with rein­forced cuffs, or scuff guards on the inner hem that will pre­vent them from get­ting roughed up. That rein­force­ment is a typ­i­cal dif­fer­ence between ski and snow­board pants because snow­board­ers don’t need them. Inter­nal gaiters keep snow out of your boots.

Seams: Any seam or zip­per is essen­tial­ly a hole in your pants and a way for mois­ture to get in. You want to look for jack­ets that have sealed seams. There are three main ways that seams are sealed.

Ful­ly taped: Water­proof mate­r­i­al is sealed over the edges of the seams.

Crit­i­cal­ly taped: Sim­i­lar, but the mate­r­i­al is only over the seams that are exposed to the most mois­ture.

Weld­ed: Instead of a seam, the edges of the two fab­rics are bond­ed togeth­er. It’s the light­est and most water­proof, but also the most expen­sive.

Pock­ets: Women’s pants often have small­er jeans-style pock­ets, which are less bulky, but aren’t great for stash­ing stuff. A car­go or thigh pock­et is con­ve­nient for things you need to access often, so you don’t have to go search­ing under your jack­et.

Rein­forced seat and knees: Even the most water­proof pants get a lit­tle leaky when you’re sit­ting on wet chair­lifts. Look for pants that have dou­ble lay­ers of fab­ric in the seat and knees, the places where you’re going to have the most con­tact with snow and oth­er sog­gy sur­faces.

Vents: To release some heat on hot days, or when you’re hik­ing, many ski pants come with inner or out­er thigh vents, or both. Both gives you good cross ven­ti­la­tion, out­er thigh vents tend to be big­ger.