How to Choose Ski or Snowboard Pants

Two women skin up a snowy hill side in a snow storm

Wind in your face, that feeling of floating down the mountain, a satisfying burn in your legs as your muscles work that carving turn. All this and more make skiing and snowboarding some of the best ways to spend time outdoors in winter.

But dressing properly for the weather is essential to keeping you warm and having fun. This includes snow pants! Finding the right ski or snowboard pants for your adventures can make or break your day playing in the snow. To keep you having fun, we’ll take a look into the different types of ski/snowboard pants and what they’re best for.

It’s worth noting that ski and snowboard pants have no technical difference. They are made from the same materials and offer the same features whether you use them for skiing or snowboarding, though one key thing to consider when looking for a pair is whether you want classic pants or bibs.

Orange snow pants

Classic Ski or Snowboard Pants

Like regular pants, but for snow! This type of ski and snowboard pants feature your familiar zipper and button, but with the added adjustability of velcro or snaps on each side. You can bring the velcro/snaps in to make your pants a little tighter or leave them be if you want a looser fit. These are easy to take on and off for potty breaks, but you’ll be chancing the ever-present risk of snow getting down your pants if you fall over.

Each brand makes their pants a little different – some will have more pockets and bonus features, others will run tall or short, small or large. A few companies have attachment points that allow you to link your pants to your jacket to help prevent snow from getting where you don’t want it. Think about what adventures you’re looking to pursue and do your research to figure out what is important to you in classic snow pants.

Purple bibs

Bibs

Bibs are a popular option for snow pants. They are like the overalls of the ski and snowboard world, offering protection from snow getting down your pants or up your shirt that classic pants don’t. The additional material can also help keep you marginally warmer (and you know we love the chest pockets that come with some bibs to keep snacks from freezing). A downside of bibs is that they make using the bathroom more challenging. If you stay hydrated, taking your jacket off and undoing the bibs can be cumbersome in the backcountry.

As mentioned above, every brand will have different features available on their bibs, so take time to consider what winter adventures you’re going on and what features you’ll want. Is that snack pocket a must-have? Do you need a drop seat to be happy? (Read on to learn more about drop seats). Maybe the amount of fabric used for the chest isn’t enough or is too much. These are all variables to think about.

Shell Ski or Snowboard Pants

Shells are pants with no added insulation. They are windproof and waterproof and typically have reinforced fabric at the knees and cuffs. They will also have critically or fully taped seams (seams that have waterproof tape applied to them from the inside of the pants to ensure water doesn’t leak through). Critically taped seams mean that only some seams are taped, usually those around your backside.

Shell pants won’t keep you warm on their own so plan to layer up beneath them with a good base layer (or even some puffy pants if it’s extra cold).

Pro tip: Are you riding chairlifts on a cold day? Wear a pair of chamois (padded bike shorts) beneath your shell pants for added insulation!

If you like to spend most of your time in the backcountry, shells are the best option. They’ll keep you protected from the elements but are light enough to keep you from getting too hot and sweaty (nobody likes chafing).

Insulated Ski or Snowboard Pants

Insulated pants will have an outer waterproof/windproof shell with a built-in layer of insulation. The insulation in these pants is not as fancy as that in ski and snowboard jackets, as keeping your legs warm is not as critical as warming your core. These are great for folks who will spend a lot of cold days riding chairlifts at ski resorts.

We don’t recommend insulated ski/snowboard pants for backcountry touring. In addition to being too hot, you’ll more than likely sweat on the uphill and will ultimately end up cold when your sweat freezes.

Features of Ski or Snowboard Pants

A woman zips an outer thigh vent on purple bibs

Vents

Lots of snow pants come with vents – some only on the inner thighs, others on both the inner and all down the outer thighs. These are great for those days when you’re sweating going uphill or when your day riding lifts becomes warmer than you anticipated. Open them up for additional airflow and cool yourself down!

Pro tip: If you can prevent the sweat, you can prevent the freeze. By opening up your vents before you get too warm and start sweating, you’re helping conserve warmth – it’s not a good feeling when sweat freezes and the wind feels that much colder!

A man puts his hand in the pocket of taupe snowpants

Pockets

Most snow pants have two classic pockets like those you would see on any regular street pants. Some have additional larger ones farther down on the thighs, which we are big fans of. They’re great for extra hair ties, Voile straps, and/or snacks (pocket bacon anyone?!)

Pro tip:Stash your phone in one of those thigh pockets. Having it close to your skin will keep it warm and make the battery last longer, plus easy access for any photos you’ll want to take during tour beautiful day on snow!

Purple snow pants with added material on the knees and cuffs

Reinforced Knees and/or Cuffs

Some models of ski and snowboard pants will have extra fabric added to the knees and/or boot cuffs. Thie material is often more durable than the fabric that is used for the rest of the garment. This extra fabric will help prevent rips in the areas that tend to see the most wear.

For instance, ski boot buckles can be hard on your boot cuffs, as can sticks and saplings that aren’t covered in snow during your days in the backcountry. Plus, think about how much time you may spend in your knees transitioning in the backcountry, loading your layers back into your pack, etc. Reinforced cuffs and knees can lengthen the life of your pants in these circumstances and many others.

A woman unzipping the drop seat of black bibs

Drop Seats

Like your childhood footy pajamas, but for playing in the snow! Some companies make bib snow pants with a drop seat (butt flap) to make life a little easier. Instead of having to take off your entire bib, you can unzip the drop seat for bathroom breaks.

Pro tip: If you pee by squatting instead of standing, look into getting a Kula Cloth! This antimicrobial pee cloth will save you from having to drip dry forever more.

Waterproofing

The more waterproofing, the warmer and drier you’ll be. Ski and snowboard pants will fall between the 5,000 and 20,000 mm waterproof rating:

Waterproof Rating Water Resistance Conditions
0 – 5,000 mm No resistance Light rain, dry snow
6,000 -10,000 mm Waterproof at light pressure Light rain, average snow
11,000 – 15,000 mm Waterproof except at high pressure Moderate rain, average snow
16,000 – 20,000 mm Waterproof at high pressure Heavy rain, wet snow
20,000 mm + Waterproof at very high pressure Heavy rain, wet snow

DWR

DWR stands for durable water repellent. Your pants will need to be treated with DWR every so often to maintain their waterproofness. Read more about how to do that here.

Gortex and eVent are two popular waterproof fabric technologies you’ll find in snow pants:

Goretex

GORE-TEX is a fabric with expanded polytetrafluroethylene (ePTFE), which is closely related to the Teflon™ coating on frying pans. ePTFE has about 9 billion tiny, tiny holes per square inch of material. These holes are big enough for water vapor molecules to pass through, but not liquid water. The strong attraction between liquid water molecules makes them bunch up into spherical droplets and roll off the ePTFE surface, rather than pass through the membrane. Voila – waterproof!

eVent

eVent is another ePTFE-based membrane commonly used for technical clothing. eVent has a protective coating on the individual ePTFE filaments while leaving the empty spaces between them open. Due to this, eVent should theoretically be more breathable than GORE-TEX or other house-brand technologies. Some reports suggest that this is the case, but it’s hard to tell the difference.

Fit

Each brand’s ski/snowboard pants will fit a little differently. European brands like Mammut tend to be more form-fitting while others like Flylow sport a baggier style. When trying pants on, remember that you’ll be wearing a base layer beneath them – make sure you leave enough room.

To sum it all up, try ski and snowboard pants on! Depending on what snowsport adventures are on your horizon, choose a pair that has the features you want, the desired waterproof rating, and the ones that make you feel good.

Have fun out there!

A man and a woman sit on a chairlift together, smiling

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