The Best Men's Ski Jackets of 2017
What is the best jacket for your snow sport? We scoped the best in men's insulated ski and snowboard jackets pushing their limits in the backcountry and resort. Our testers experienced foul weather and rock-hard descents, putting each piece of technical outerwear through the wringer. Some performed better than others, and each brought their own style. We tested each one and scored them on warmth, weather resistance, and ventilation. We considered each contender's style, comfort, and features. In the end, we had favorites and identified those that may appeal to a more particular audience.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Men's Ski Jacket
We awarded our Editors' Choice to the Arc'teryx Macai jacket. The Macai delivers performance in all categories and crushes the field in warmth-to-weight and durability. The Macai is the lightest piece tested and is nearly the warmest. Down insulation is the distinguishing characteristic of the Macai. Protected from moisture, goose down is an unequaled insulator. The Macai's waterproof Gore-Tex shell and strategic synthetic fill in the underarms do just that. The one drawback we found was a propensity for staining. The front of one tested jacket easily picked up permanent marks in normal usage. Another test iteration, in another color, did not demonstrate this. Interestingly, like many of our Editors' Choice products in other categories, the Macai did not score at the top of any single metric. There are other products that excel in one category or another. However, solid performance across the board and insulation durability tip the balance solidly in its favor.
Very warm and well made
Down insulation with waterproof shell
Body-mapped synthetic insulation in key areas
Poor function of velcro on sleeves
Best Bang for the Buck
Columbia Whirlibird Interchange 3-in-1
Right off the bat, it was clear that our Best Buy Award would go to one of the 3-in-1 style jackets. Each jacket in that style is priced near the low end of our selection and provides unmatched versatility. This style, regardless of the brand and model, offers a burly shell and separate, stand-alone insulating liner. As a consumer, you can use the whole thing together for maximum protection, use just the shell for warmer conditions, or use the liner on its own around town or during spring skiing. While the Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot is more polished and offers better weather-proofing than the award winner, the Columbia Whirlibird Interchange 3-in-1 is much warmer and costs half the Patagonia piece.
Limited wind and water protection
Top Pick for Synthetic Insulation
Our Top Pick in this test is an unlikely standout. The Spyder Leader only wowed our testers with its style and loose comfort. In these categories, the Leader is unequaled. However, elsewhere in the test, and not unlike our Editors' Choice, the Leader delivered consistent results. The true value of the Spyder comes in its design. This is a fully insulated, synthetic shell jacket. Synthetic jackets from other companies play "second fiddle" to a top-of-the-line down insulated model. For the synthetic jacket, other companies "dumb down" all the attributes of the jacket. With the Leader, Spyder keeps everything top-of-the-line but insulates with synthetic. For users prone to wetness in their ski jacket, the Leader is our Top Pick. If you sweat a lot, or ski day after day in wet climates like coastal Washington and BC or the Northeastern USA, but need a top-end jacket, check out the Spyder Leader.
Fast-drying synthetic insulation
Synthetic insulation not terribly durable
Top Pick Shell-Only Jacket
Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell
We have reviewed ski jackets for many years. For most of that time, we confined our initial selection to insulated jackets. While we still hold that an insulated jacket is the most appropriate for ski resort use, we acknowledge that some wish to build themselves a layering system from individual, purpose-built components. For those users, your upper body protection starts with a shell jacket. The shell keeps off snow, rain, and wind. It needs to be loose-fitting, but with effective waist, wrists, and head/face seals. In our years of testing, no product has sealed out the weather like the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell jacket. It is the only shell jacket tested that incorporates interior wrist gaiters, it has a huge, adjustable hood, and it has the best waist seal of any coat tested. When paired with the matching Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Pants, which we also tested, the Lofoten's powder skirt can be cinched, snapped, or zipped. In the zipped-together configuration, the Lofoten pair essentially becomes a one-piece suit, with absolutely no gaps for snow or wind to get in.
Drum tight weather protection
Analysis and Test Results
Wading through the diverse field of ski outerwear can be a trying task. Fear not, as we have selected 10 of the best ski jackets for this year's selection. Each piece reviewed is excellent, and every user will find something for them. Our field reflects the entire spectrum, from budget options that work just as well commuting to the office as they do at the ski resort, to purpose-built, high-end offerings that will protect the most discerning riders in the most trying conditions.
Choose the right one for you, and burly conditions on serious peaks will seem easy. Of course, these will protect in milder weather as well. All are comfortable enough for all-day wear, and our selection represents a cross-section of fashion tastes. From youthful backcountry-inspired styles like the Arc'teryx Fission SL to the subdued and neutral design of the Helly Hansen Alpha 2.0, there is an option here for you. For a step-by-step guide to navigating the entire ski jacket market, please consult our comprehensive Buying Advice article. If, however, you are looking to choose from the OutdoorGearLab selection of skiing outerwear, read on.
Types of Ski Jackets
This review concentrates on ski-specific insulated jackets. Many will also serve other purposes, but their primary function is as ski resort wear. Resort-specific designs are characterized by durable, thick shell fabrics and include (though sometimes removable) insulation. Within the overall ski outerwear category are three primary divisions. We've reviewed contenders in the first two, and will refer you to other OutdoorGearLab reviews for the third.
This style is the most versatile. Like our Best Buy winning Columbia Whirlibird Interchange 3-in-1, these are for the skier looking for a multi-function, customizable piece on a budget. Each entry in this category is composed of a fleece or synthetic insulating liner, and a shell. The two pieces can be worn separately or zipped/snapped together for an easily donned cold-weather jacket. Two primary disadvantages stand out.
In their combined configuration, they are more restrictive and less comfortable than one-piece products of similar warmth. And, for reasons unknown to us, the modular jackets on the market are generally made of slightly lower quality materials. If you want this function with high-end down insulation and the best shell fabrics on the market, you will find few options. The other 3-in-1 jacket we tested is the Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot.
The majority of the ski jackets reviewed fall into this category. The amount and type of insulation varies, and the shell fabrics represent a wide spectrum of quality and durability. However, all are purpose-built for riding chairlifts up and skiing down. Price, fit, quality, style, and weather protection vary across the selection. There is something in this category for everyone. The insulated shells tested are the Arc'teryx Macai, the Spyder Leader, Arc'teryx Fission SL, Helly Hansen Alpha, and Patagonia Primo.
Dedicated Shell Jackets
For the first time, in 2016, we tested men's ski shell jackets alongside the other types. For those wishing to construct their wardrobe from individual pieces, so as to be able to tailor the protection to the user and conditions, that process starts with a ski shell. The ski shell jackets we tested are the Norrona Lofoten, the Outdoor Research White Room, and the FlyLow Gear Quantum Pro.
Criteria for Evaluation
We ranked each jacket according to six metrics: Warmth, Weather Resistance, Comfort, Ventilation, Style, and Features. Check out the chart below to see where each ranks in Overall Performance.
Skiing and snowboarding take place in cold environments. An insulated jacket built specifically for resort riding is the first line of defense against that cold. Most of the jackets tested are insulated. Most have synthetic insulation sewn in. (For more information about synthetic insulation, consult our insulated jacket buying advice.) In these jackets, a three-dimensional matrix of man-made fibers creates dead air that protects against convective and radiative cooling.
On other jackets, including the most expensive, durable, and highly rated products tested, insulation comes from goose down. Goose down is highly insulating and lasts a long time, but it costs more. Synthetic fill also insulates better when wet than down. Uninsulated shell jackets provide little warmth to the wearer. What they do, however, is protect the wearer's inner insulating layers from the adverse affects of wind and wetness. In this way, shell jackets are integral to a layered skier's warmth, but only indirectly.
Wearing each of our tested products back-to-back in stormy weather across the continent allowed us to make assessments of their warmth. The Columbia Whirlibird is the warmest jacket tested. Next, the Helly Hansen Alpha 2.0, Arc'teryx Macai, Patagonia Snowshot and Spyder Leader had high insulating values virtually indistinguishable from one another. Due to its loose, drafty fit, the latest iteration of the Patagonia Primo is tied with the much lighter Arc'teryx Fission SL for lesser insulation. The shell jackets all had far less insulation value, with only the Outdoor Research White Room edging slightly ahead due to its thin fleece lining.
Weather resistance is a function of three things, in declining order of importance: construction, waterproof materials, and the durable water repellent coating (DWR). For routine resort use, construction and design will influence the degree of wind and precipitation protection. The jacket needs to be constructed from waterproof and breathable fabrics and coated with an effective DWR.
However, design and construction, particularly with regard to seam integrity, hood shape, waist sealing, and wrist cuff style, are by far the biggest determinants of weather resistance. The most weather-resistant coats tested are constructed well, regardless of the fabric technology used. That said, good fabrics sewn well trump poor fabrics sewn in the same way. Finally, to be clear, we discuss mainly water resistance in our reviews. However, because anything that resists water will resist wind and snow as well, we can extrapolate overall weather protection from tests, and discussion of water resistance.
Manufacturers and sales personnel make a big deal of the technology in the shell fabrics. Gore-Tex, a well-established brand manufacturing raw materials and licensing its use to many clothing companies, describes its fabrics and company-certified garments as "Guaranteed to Keep You Dry." This implies both protection from solid and liquid water, and transmission of body-generated water vapor. In our review, the Patagonia Primo Down, Arc'terx Macai, Arc'teryx Fission, and Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell are made of Gore-Tex. Other manufacturers use a pair of five-digit numbers to describe both waterproofness and breathability ("10,000/10,000", or further abbreviated to "10k/10k").
The first number in the pair describes waterproofing by indicating the number of millimeters of water the fabric can withstand over a 24-hour period. That is in perfect conditions. The second number describes breathability, in grams of water vapor that can pass through a square meter of fabric in a 24-hour period. What does all that mean in real life? First of all, these numbers and claims are assigned by the manufacturer. Little to no independent testing is performed. Second, basically, all fabrics available (certainly all in our tests) are good to the claimed 10k/10k performance. And that is plenty. All this is interesting academic information, but we can move on now, as all the jackets tested are made of high performing fabrics.
Each company does it differently, but at some point in the process, the manufacturer coats the outside of the fabric with a DWR. This is what makes water bead up on the garment. The above-described waterproof/breathable laminates are inside of the shell fabric. In order to keep the outer fabric dry (and breathable — soaked fabric does not breathe) it is treated with DWR. In usage, the DWR is often the least durable part of the entire jacket and wears off over time.
We tested the DWRs in our sprinkler test. While soaking the fabric, simulating rain, wet snow or both, we rubbed the forearm of every one. This simulates actual usage. Arms rub against the body, bodies rub against the snow, chair lifts rub against backs and shoulders. Patagonia garments, the Patagonia Primo and Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot have the best DWRs in our test. The Arc'teryx products come next, with the soft outer fabric of the Helly Hansen Alpha delivering an impressive performance. The Spyder Leader eventually wet out in this test. In each case, however, the truly waterproof part is protected and hidden by the shell fabric. The DWR on the Norrona Lofoten Gore Tex Pro Shell was the best, with the OR and FlyLow products faring well.
Again, and we cannot say this enough, design is far more important. All the ski jackets in our test are made of waterproof/breathable fabric. Weather resistance performance is therefore a function of construction and fit, with DWR playing a role as well. We looked for thoughtfully designed hoods, high, stiff collars, effective cuffs (with inner, secondary cuffs a bonus), protected zippers, and long sleeves and hems. Our top scorers were both Arc'teryx models and the Patagonia Primo Down. The Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell tops the shell jacket field with immaculate cuffs, a huge hood that can be cinched down, and a powder skirt that can be attached to the matching pants to form a one-piece suit. In insulated jackets, weather resistance and warmth often come from the same features. Jackets that came out on top in overall scores were also the ones that performed best in weather resistance and warmth.
Not all cold environments are created equal, and not all ski days have equal conditions. Being able to adapt your insulation to match your surroundings and exertion is key to comfort. A rider will sit for long periods of time. Lift lines and lift rides expose a skier to weather with little opportunity to generate body heat. And then, the polar opposite to the lift ride, the rider will drop in for a few minutes of high output activity. The day can heat up or cool down, and one day may be different from the last. Traveling to new mountain ranges is a primary driver of the passionate skier. All these changes require adaptable gear. Ventilation performance is crucial, both in the short term of one run to the next, and long term of one day, week, season, or range to the next.
The Columbia Whirlibird and Patagonia Snowshot offer modular, "3-in-1" designs that are well suited to ventilation and adaptation. These each come in one insulated, and weatherproof package. The inner liner of each can be unzipped and unbuttoned to be worn alone. The shell of each can also be worn on its own. That gives you two parts, worn together or individually, hence the "3-in-1" descriptor. They earned our highest scores for ventilation. The option to mix and match the layers does take time, but it gives better climate control than any of the others tested.
If it is crucial to you to vent or seal up in a matter of seconds, look for a jacket with long (longer than a foot or so), non-mesh-backed pit-zips with multiple zipper pulls. The absolute best vents start on the user's chest instead of inline along the underarm. The Outdoor Research White Room has long zips starting on the chest with no mesh backing. It is the best non-3-in-1 venting jacket reviewed. Among the insulated jackets, none have all the vent attributes we look for. The Patagonia Primo Down and Arc'teryx Fission both have long zips that open entirely without mesh, but they are hidden under the arm.
The Spyder Leader has mid length zips that start on the chest, but are backed with mesh. In comparing these jackets and their different venting styles head to head, the Spyder is slightly more effective. This suggests to our team that location of the vents has greater impact than the removal of the mesh backing. The Norrona Lofoten Gore Tex Pro Shell and FlyLow Gear Quantum vent well, while the remaining insulated jackets (Helly Hansen, Arc'teryx Macai) have nothing notable in terms of ventilation.
A handful of niceties augments a well-designed jacket. Throughout our tests, we looked for plentiful pockets, ski pass clips and pockets, integrated goggle wipes, and systems to join jackets and pants into an integrated package.
The top scoring jackets in this category were the Helly Hansen Alpha and the Spyder Leader, which both came loaded with conveniences. Of the shell jackets, the Outdoor Research White Room has the most features, while the Norrona Lofoten Gore Tex Pro Shell has the fewest. The FlyLow Quantum has a ton of pockets, but few other niceties. The Patagonia jackets are near the middle of the pack. The Arc'teryx Macai has more features than its brother the Arc'teryx Fission SL.
Fit and Comfort
Fit is king. We go to the mountains to feel good. We want to feel good in our clothes. Fit and comfort, like weather resistance, are functions of materials and construction. Carefully constructed garments fit better. However, fit varies from one person to another. Second only to style, fit and comfort is subjective. What fits one person may or may not fit the next. In order to address this, we tested on a variety of body shapes and in each review we rate overall fit as a single number but elaborate on what was different from one piece to another. It is worth noting that primary testing was done by thin, size medium men.
When we say a jacket like the Patagonia Primo was "boxy and loose", we mean that everyone will have this same experience, relative to the other jackets tested. A barrel-chested man may appreciate this boxier cut. All the jackets tested were marketed as size medium by their manufacturers. The Helly Hansen Alpha and Spyder Leader earned high scores in fit and comfort, coming to that performance from two very different directions. The Arc'teryx Alpha is constructed with what seems like 15 different soft and flexible fabrics. Virtually every part stretches and hugs the body. Visible bulk mainly comes from the insulation.
The Spyder Leader is looser in fit, with a brilliant collar and sleeve design that virtually disappears on the wearer. We also love the fit of the lightly insulated Arc'teryx Fission SL. The Arc'teryx Macai feels similar to the Helly Hansen - close and cozy - but accomplishes this with careful tailoring instead of the stretchy fabrics of the Alpha. The FlyLow Gear Quantum and Outdoor Research White Room shell jackets are constructed of a stiff material that feels protective but confining. The Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell is the lightest reviewed, with a thin fabric that moves with you. The Columbia Whirlibird and Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot are the most confining and bulky, attributable to the extra layers of fabric involved in their construction.
Style is subjective. Our test team of dirtbag ski bums, former fashion students, and cosmopolitan mountain towners brought a whole range of experiences and opinions to the scores. Your opinion may vary further. In our ratings, we tried to evaluate each piece in context. Of course, we considered fit, colors, and versatility. What statement does this jacket make? Can a wearer pull it off in town and on the hill? Will it look out of place in the backcountry? Out of place on a snowboard, or on skis? We also considered branding, intended use, target demographic, and resort fashion trends over time. Nonetheless, you may choose to throw our assessments of style completely out the window. And we are fine with that.
Some of the jackets we evaluated make strong visual statements. The Spyder Leader shouts "I'm a SKIER," the Arc'teryx Fission SL swaggers to the backcountry gate, while the Columbia Whirlibird Jacket says "I go to the mountains, but don't take myself too seriously." Others such as the Patagonia Primo Down, Helly Hansen Alpha, and Outdoor Research White Room have more understated, neutral looks that blend in on the hill and around town. The FlyLow Gear Quantum shell is beefy, with rigid fabric that holds its shape around people of all dimensions. The Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell we reviewed is bright and svelte, more like an alpine climbing hardshell than a ski resort piece.
To keep your legs comfortable and warm while hitting the slopes, we recommend the Arc'teryx Sabre and The North Face Freedom Pant. Both of these pants fit well and are weather resistant. Also notable, if only for its incredible integration with our Top Pick shell jacket, the Norrona Lofoten pants are excellent. For a more in-depth look of all the ski pants we reviewed, check out The Best Ski Pants Review.
Don't forget about your hands, either. For the most warmth and dexterity we recommend the Black Diamond Mercury Mitt. Check out The Best Ski Gloves Review for a full look at all the gloves we tested.
See also our downhill ski reviews for our Top Picks of Mens and Women's skis.
Finding the perfect ski outerwear can be a difficult task with the immense amount of jackets currently on the market. We tested 10 of the top ski jackets available in hopes of helping you sort through the list.
— Jediah Porter
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