Buying a winter jacket seems pretty straightforward until you see all the choices. When searching for the right ski or snowboard jacket, there are many questions you may ask. For example, is an insulated jacket better than a shell? What about breathability? Waterproofing? Should you layer, or buy a really warm coat? The choices can seem to go on forever. Let's unpack some of these choices so you can get a jacket that not only looks great but keeps you warm — without making you sweat all winter long.


Warmth can be subjective. What is considered warm to one person may not be warm to another. Because of that, your base layers are truly the key to regulating your temperature. Some jackets are insulated a lot, while others have no insulation at all. There are four basic categories of jackets covered below, and we explain the amount of insulation you can expect from each.

Waterproofing and Breathability

Two of the most important factors in picking the right jacket are the waterproofing and breathability. These two components are key to keeping you dry, both inside and out. Let's break them down individually

  • Waterproofing - Ski and snowboard jackets typically (but not always) have a waterproofing and breathability rating easily visible on their tags. The waterproof rating is on a scale that starts at 5,000 mm and can go as high as 30,000 mm. This scale determines how much water pressure it takes before the material leaks. At a rating of 5,000 mm, a fabric is determined to be "waterproof." As the number goes up, so too does the ability of the material to keep moisture out. There are other factors to keep in mind that effect how waterproof the jacket is. The seams may be either fully taped or critically taped (or not taped at all). This taping of the seams ensures that the holes created in the stitching of the jacket have been fortified. As the waterproof rating goes up, you will also want to see a corresponding increase in the breathability rating. The type of climate you typically ski/board in will help you determine what waterproofing is right for you. The warmer and wetter conditions of snow in California and Oregon require a higher waterproof rating than the colder and dryer conditions of Colorado and Utah.
  • Breathability - Like waterproofing, it is a crucial factor in keeping you dry as well as regulating your temperature. If your jacket does not allow moisture to escape from the inside as you get too hot, you will sweat, leading to the possibility of being cold later. In the same way that many ski and snowboard jackets have the waterproof rating printed on the tags, the same is true with breathability ratings. These ratings range from 2,000 g to 25,000 g and usually coincide closely with the jacket's waterproof rating. This rating is measured in grams and represents the Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate (MVTR). The MVTR indicates how much sweat per one square meter can escape the fabric in a 24-hour time frame. Similar to the waterproof rating, the higher the MVTR number, the better the material breaths. When choosing a jacket, it is vital that as the waterproof rating goes up, the MVTR goes up as well. This ensures that your body temperature is well regulated and that you don't sweat.

There are also many great branded fabrics, such as Gore-Tex, OutDry, and DryVent, to name a few. These fabrics are made with pores that are large enough to allow sweat to move out while also keeping outside moisture from getting in since the pores are too small for water molecules to pass through. Whatever type of jacket you choose, the waterproofing and breathability will be great indicators of how well your jacket will perform in a given environment.

Types of Ski/Snowboard Jackets

There are other jackets used in combination with or independent of your ski and snowboard jacket, such as insulators and soft shells. We cover these jackets in a different gear guide. Your main ski and snowboard jacket will fall into one of these four categories.

  • Insulated Jackets – The majority of jackets that you will see at your favorite resort are insulated jackets. These jackets tend to provide more warmth but may not offer as much versatility as a shell jacket. Insulated jackets come in varying levels of insulation, ranging from fleece and synthetic materials to down. The amount of insulation a jacket contains is measured in grams. The higher the number, the warmer the jacket will tend to feel.
  • Shell Jackets – This type of jacket offers very little if any insulation and should always be paired with appropriate inner layers. Shell jackets are versatile, and with the right fit will allow room for base layers and mid-layers when needed. This type of jacket likely has some taped seems and a decent waterproof rating.
  • 3-In-1 Jackets – These jackets are also referred to as tri-climate jackets because of its ability to adapt to current conditions. This jacket is a combination of a shell jacket and varying types of insulator jackets that can usually zip into the shell. Together they combine to create a jacket for colder conditions. Individually the shell is excellent in warmer conditions and when a waterproof option is needed. The inner liner makes a great jacket for a warm, dry day or a night on the town.
  • Technical Shells – These jackets are lightweight, have very high waterproof and breathability ratings, fully taped seams, and no insulation. Great for the backcountry enthusiast and those who want the best of the best for varying conditions.

Other Features

  • Ventilation – Throughout your day on the mountain, both the outside temperatures and your internal temperatures will fluctuate. Some jackets have ventilation features in key areas such as under the arms that allow you to unzip and allow more airflow.
  • Hoods – On those cold days with snow billowing down, a hood creates extra protection and warmth. Most hoods fit easily over your helmet and have drawstrings to cinch up snug. Some hoods have snaps or zippers for easy removal.
  • Pockets – Some might say the more, the merrier. There is a multitude of items you might carry with you, lip balm, hand warmers, snacks, and your phone, to name a few. Well placed and designed pockets allow you to tuck those items away safe and secure until you need them.
  • Safety Features – Many jackets these days have safety features built-in such as RECCO™, which is sewn into the jacket and provides location assistance to rescue workers in locating a downed skier or snowboard in the event of a search.
  • Powder Skirt – Nothing is worse than getting cold, wet snow inside your jacket when you fall. A powder skirt is a band in the inner waist of the jacket that connects snuggly through snaps or zips to create a barrier that prevents the intrusion of snow.
  • Jacket to Pant Compatibility – Many brands have features that enable a better connection between your powder skirt and pants. This connection prevents unwanted snow and wind from spoiling your day. The connection is made with straps and snaps or even by fully zipping the two together.