Ski Jackets – Buyers Guide

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Ski Jackets Feature Image North Face

Ski Jackets are your first point of defence for keeping the weather out. While many of them look very similar, there are tons of subtle differences between what is considered good and bad. Hopefully, this guide covers everything you may need to know about Ski Jackets.

Waterproof and Breathability Ratings

The Waterproof and Breathability ratings are a good place to start when it comes to Ski Jackets. In general, a Jacket that has higher ratings will perform better in adverse conditions, although these ratings aren’t the only important factor.

Waterproofing

Waterproof Ratings are measured in mm’s of height using a water column. They range from 2,000mm (2k) up to 40,000mm (40k), with most Ski Jacket options sitting at 10k, 15k, or 20k. Gore-Tex is accepted to be rated at 28k waterproofing and is the gold standard for staying dry. If you go out when its raining and expect to stay dry, you don’t want to be looking for a jacket with anything less than 20k Waterproofing. Lower-rated jackets work well for the occasional shower or snowing, but will wet out quicker than their higher rated cousins.

Ski Jacket Features - Gore Tex
Gore-Tex is the Gold standard for Waterproof Membranes found in Ski Jackets

Breathability

Breathability is a measure of how well a Jacket disperses water vapour from inside the jacket. It is measured in grams per 24hr period, and ranges from 2,000g (2k) up to above 30,000g (30k). Breathability becomes more important the more active you are when wearing it. If you regularly chuck your skis on your shoulder and hike for a better run, a higher breathability rating is essential. Anything 10k or less you will find that you sweat more often while skiing and the moisture inside your layers will be more uncomfortable. A Ski Jackets Breathability is only as good as the layers you wear. If you are stacking cotton t-shirts and hoodies under your jacket it’s breathability performance will be severely compromised. Layering is key!

Both of these ratings are largely only reported by the manufacturers themselves rather than independent testers. This is one of the reasons why two jackets with the same ratings from different brands will perform differently. There is a wide range of tests that can be used to generate these values and even the difference in the way they are measured can lead to differences. Adding to the fact that it is in the best interest of brands to advertise their gear with higher ratings in order to sell more. Hence these values shouldn’t be the only thing you are looking at when determining the quality of a ski jacket.

However, it is a good place to start. Most brands are likely to add higher quality features to a jacket in which it has invested into better materials. Hence you will find better seam sealing, DWR finishes and zippers on jackets with higher waterproof ratings. These smaller details play a huge role in the performance of a ski jacket.

Seam Sealing

Like most clothing, Ski Jackets are held together by panels of fabric sewn together into shape. The problem with sewing Waterproof gear is that it leaves a ton of small holes that water can get into. This is why in order to make a Ski Jacket waterproof, it’s seams need to be sealed.

Different quality ski jackets will have their seams sealed differently. High-end Jackets will be ‘Fully Seam Sealed,’ and have each external seam taped and sealed in a way that keeps water out. ‘Critically Seam Sealed’ pieces are often lower end and only feature seam sealing on the more important areas of the jacket, often around the shoulders and hood. A Ski Jacket is only as waterproof as its least waterproof area. If the seams let water in, you will be wet no matter how great the fabric is.

Durable Water Repellant (DWR)

The DWR layer is a hydrophobic layer added to the external face of a Ski Jacket. It is designed to aid in the waterproofing process by actively repelling water droplets and ‘beading’ them off. There are many different types that all achieve essentially the same thing.

Waterproof Ski Jacket
DWR is key to keeping Water from ever entering your Jacket!

It is called ‘Durable’ because the Jacket can be washed many times before washing away the DWR. Often times if a Ski Jacket starts absorbing water rather than repelling, the DWR may be clogged with dirt or oil and needs to be restored. This can be done very simply,  cleaning and then tumble drying on low heat for roughly 20 minutes. If that fails, you may need to re-apply an aftermarket DWR product. These can be found at most Outdoors stores around town.

Ski Jacket Insulation

Ski Jackets come with widely differing amounts of Insulation. From shell jackets, with no insulation, all the way to Down Filled Ski Jackets that make the wearer look like the Michelin Man. Deciding on how much Insulation you want in a Jacket is reliant on a couple factors: where you’ll be using the jacket, how hot or cold you normally run, and what other insulating layers you already own and intend to use.

Shell Ski Jackets

Shell Ski Jackets are designed and produced without any Insulation. This enables users to customise their layering to suit the daily condition. Experienced Backcountry skiers utilise this strategy fairly exclusively. The main benefit of using a Layered approach with a shell jacket is versatility. If it is sunny and cold you can pull the outer layer off and be more comfortable. This is especially important in the backcountry when it’s quite easy to run up a sweat when going uphill then have to deal with all sorts of conditions up top.

Ski Jacket Features Down Jacket
When its Sunny and Cold, skip the Ski Jacket and trust the Down Jacket

Layering is a whole topic in itself. Most people aim for a 1-2-3 system. Base Layer, Mid Layer, Outer Layer (Shell Jacket).

The aim of a Base Layer is to Wick Sweat away from your body, Merino Wool is the gold standard for wicking with the added benefit of providing warmth. Mid Layers are the basis of your warmth, differing amount of insulation and material can be modified to suit the conditions. Down is perfect if you are somewhere that is cold and dry, less so if you ski at Buller.

Of course, the Outer Layer is the Shell Jacket that is there to block the Wind and Water from your body. For it to function perfectly, all three layers need to be adequately breathable. Forgo cotton at all costs, technical fabrics such as polyester, nylon and wool will outperform cotton in all areas.

Insulated Ski Jackets

Most Ski Jackets come with some form of insulating material built into the Jacket. Whether it be Down or some form of Synthetic, the end goal is the same, trap heat close to your body and prevent the wearer from freezing. There are a number of big names to look out for, Primaloft, Thermogreen and Thinsulate are all options you’ll find across our range of ski jackets.

With an Insulated Jacket you have the flexibility to forgo the Mid Layer in your Layering, especially in Australia. But the downside of that is that if the conditions are too warm for how much insulation your Jacket has then you can’t ditch it without losing your outer layer as well.

In Ski Jackets, Synthetic insulation is preferred to the warmer Down. That’s because no matter how good a Ski Jacket is, it can eventually wet out. If Down insulation gets wet it loses a ton of its insulating power and will make you cold. So despite Down Insulation having superior insulating qualities, synthetics win out in the vast majority of Insulated Ski Jackets.

Insulated Ski Jackets will often advertise how insulated they are with a weight measurement, say the Women’s Patagonia Insulated Powder Bowl Jacket used Thermogreen insulation and has 100g in the Body and 60g in the Arms. So you’d know the Arms are strategically less insulated than the body of this specific Jacket. But you don’t want to be comparing different insulating materials by the weight of each. 100g of Down will be different warmth than 100g of Primaloft which will be different from 100g of Thermogreen.

Ski Jacket Features

This is where Ski Jackets differentiate themselves from Rain Jackets, City Jackets etc. These generally won’t make or break your trip but will add to the convenience of getting around.

Hood

If you ski in conditions that aren’t sunny, all Ski Jackets you will want to be buying have a hood. The fit of the hood, however, differs between brands. If you wear a helmet, having a hood that fits over the helmet is super important. Most good jackets have helmet compatible hoods but it is always worth checking.

Powder Skirt

The Powder Skirt is the main feature that differentiates Ski Jackets from Climbing Jackets. Having an elastic waistband to keep snow from getting up your jacket helps you stay warm and dry when skiing bottomless Japan powder. Good Powder Skirts are low profile and clip away when not in use.

Ski Jacket Features - Powder Skirt
There are only a few things worse than snow down your pants, Powder Skirt to the rescue.

Ski Pass Pocket

With the invention of RFID Chips, Ski Jacket design has started adding specific pockets for Ski Passes utilising RFID technology. Often situated on the left arm they allow a user to keep the pass well away from any interference caused by a Phone or Wallet situated on their body. If you ski at a resort using RFID Technology, these pockets are awesome.

Elastic Wrist Gaiters

Most Ski Jackets come with some variation of Elastic Wrist Gaiter. Designed to go on the inside of your glove to stop the dreaded gap between glove and jacket. There are rifts between the people who use the different styles. Some people like thumb holes, some people hate thumb holes, some people hate the gaiters altogether. Hence Ski Jackets come with all sorts of different varieties. In my experience, thumb holes are useful for those who don’t have base layers or mid layers that have thumb holes.

Ski Jacket Features - Wrist Gaiters
Elastic Wrist Gaiters help keep your Jacket in place. Thumbholes Optional

Ski Jacket Fit Guide

There are a couple different mentalities when it comes to sizing. The vast majority go for a loose fit with a slightly longer cut. This leaves flexibility with layering underneath and a larger overlap between Jacket and Pants to help keep snow out.

Ladies may like a slimmer or more flattering fit, but this may limit mobility and the amount of layering you can fit underneath. Women’s Ski Jackets also have a tendency to be slightly shorter cut, be it trying to accommodate for body shape or higher waisted ski pants. There are definitely Women’s options out there that have a longer cut or at least a drop-tail for extra length at the back.

At no point should you feel constrained by a ski jacket when trying it on, even when moving your arms forward or above your head. That is a definite sign that a jacket is too tight and won’t allow for extra layers. Many brands have started creating their face materials with an element of stretch to all jackets to fit a little tighter without restricting mobility.

Checking Size

Length should be roughly around the middle of your bottom, definitely not higher than your waist, and unless you spend a ton of time in the park you probably don’t want it to sit at mid thigh.

Sleeve length should be between your wrist and the middle of your hand a la the wrist gaiter photo above. This ensures you have adequate overlap between your gloves and jacket. If you wear gauntlet style gloves then there is a little flexibility to be on the short side as the glove cuff covers most of your wrist.

Overall fit should be gauged by how loose the jacket hangs around your torso. Too tight and it will restrict movement and limit layering. Too loose and you’ll know by how boxy and unflattering it looks.

It is pretty hard to gauge whether a Jacket will fit based on Online fit guides, as some definitely have longer torso’s or short sleeves etc. Most brands fit fairly similarly from size to size. That is to say, if you are a Medium in one, chances are you’ll be a Medium in the next.

Ski Jacket Care

As much as we may want you to buy a new jacket or two every year, there is something to be said about reviving old jackets and making them last as long as possible. Better for your wallet and your environmental conscious.

Waterproofing

There is a common myth that washing your jacket kills the waterproofing. To a certain extent, this is true but only because of the harsh laundry chemicals being used. Avoid Fabric Softener and Bleach at all costs. However, occasionally washing with a tech wash actually improves the waterproofing and longevity of a jacket by cleaning dirt and oil out of the membrane.

The first thing that will make you Jacket feel old and not waterproof is the DWR wearing off and the Jacket wetting out. After washing, tumble drying your jacket on low heat can aid in reviving the waterproofing by re-activating the DWR (double check the manufacturer’s recommendation before doing this). If you test the jacket after doing this and it doesn’t bead off, chances are its time to add a spray on or wash in DWR treatment. Nikwax and Grangers are two brands that sell these treatments and both work a treat.

Rips and Tears

It feels like the end of the world when you snag a tree and put a gaping hole in your brand new $600 Gore-Tex shell. Luckily there are products out there that work better than Duct Tape when it comes to patching your Ski Jacket. Don’t bother getting the sewing kit out, taping is the way to go!

Tenacious Tape is your friend in these situations. Stickier and more pliable than Duct Tape and doesn’t leave a residue if you need to pull it off. Trim your patch to make a round or oval shape with no sharp corners that will inevitably peel and chuck it on there. Patch jobs, when done properly, last for years and add to the character of the Jacket. Most of the time there is a great skiing story behind every one.

Broken Zippers

These are probably the first sign a Jacket is nearing the end of its life, and unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it.

Ski Jacket Buying Process

Going to a shop can end up with you trying on every jacket in the store and we often spend a ton of time trying to work out which is the right one. Jackets are definitely one of the more subjective pieces in regards to colours and designs. Going in with an idea of what kind of Jacket you are after can greatly reduce the amount of time trying them on and will ultimately lead to you finding a better jacket than if you go in and fall in love with a certain colour.

There are 3 things you should probably have decided on before trying a Jacket. We tend to find the priority of those 3 factors is:

1) Insulation – Whether a Jacket is going to keep you warm or you intend on layering underneath will be the main factor of whether a Jacket will work for you or not.

2) Waterproof/Breathability Ratings – If you Ski in all conditions, get a Ski Jacket that will protect you. If you know you head to the bar in bad conditions, you can save money by getting a lower rated Jacket.

3) Features – Its worth having an idea of what features you like, but most people find they aren’t going to make or break when deciding a Jacket. For example, it isn’t a good idea to sacrifice on Waterproofing to gain a Powder Skirt.

Once you have got a range of Jackets that suit those 3 factors, then Fit, Colour & Design come into play.

 

Hopefully, some of that may help you in the purchasing process of your next Jacket. If you ever have any questions, we are one easy phone call or email away.

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