Ski and Snowboard Pants Guide
Are you planning an outdoor adventure in the snow? Well, before you go romping through that fluffy powder, you will need the outerwear that will keep you warm and dry. One of the many crucial layers you will need is a pair of ski/snowboard pants. There are a few different factors that you must weigh when choosing which pant is right for you, such as warmth, durability, waterproofing, and breathability. Let’sbreak each of those down.
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. With that in mind, snow pants typically come in three insulation styles.
- Unlined "Tech" Pants - This type of snow pant is lightweight, has no insulation, and has high waterproof and breathability ratings. Typically speaking, this pant is for backcountry or cross-country skiers and snowboarders that demand outerwear that is lightweight, versatile, and breathable. It may also be a good option for that individual who never seems to get cold and rides in warmer and wetter snow conditions.
- Uninsulated "Shell" Pants– A bit of a misnomer, this type of snow pant does have a thin layer of insulation between the user and the waterproof shell. This inner-liner adds some warmth and comfort but is also there to wick moisture away from the body. This is a great pant for individuals who don’t get too cold and would prefer a light base layer under their pants in most conditions. Shell pants are versatile options that allow room for varying types of base layers for differing conditions.
- Insulated Pants– This category of snow pant is lined with a light layer of breathable insulation, which is usually fleece or a synthetic material. This layer can come in different thicknesses, typically ranging from 25-140 grams but can go as high as 800 in items with down insulation. The higher the insulation in grams, the warmer the pants tend to feel. Once again, the best way to regulate your temperature is through your base layers.
Depending on the type of activity and terrain you will be using your pants in, your need for durability will vary. If the only activity you are using your pants for is walking to the car in the snow, then any pair off the rack may do. For more demanding activities such as skiing and snowboarding, pants need more fortified fabrics like nylon and polyester as well as have critically taped (waterproofed) seams. It is important to consider areas of the pants that may endure more wear than others and how those areas are fortified. The cuffs of the pants (especially the rear) on nicer pants tend to have tougher materials and stitching to ensure a long life.
The waterproof rating of your pants is an essential feature of your snow pant. Ski and snowboard pants 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 fabric to keep moisture out. There are other factors to keep in mind that effect how waterproof the pant is. The seams of the pants 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 pants have been fortified. As the waterproof rating of the pants goes up, you will also want to see a corresponding increase in the breathability of the pant. The type of climate you typically ski or snowboard 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.
Like waterproofing, the breathability of your pants is an essential factor in keeping you dry as well as regulating your temperature. In the same way that many ski and snowboard pants 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 waterproof rating of the pant. 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 pants, it is important that as the waterproof rating goes up, the MVTR goes up as well, ensuring that your body temperature is well regulated and that you don’t sweat.
Although not essential components, the following are some factors that may be very important and will aid you in finding the perfect pant.
- Reinforced areas – As we mentioned in the durability factor, some areas of pants are reinforced. For a skier, an important area of reinforcement would be the cuff of the pant, which can easily get pinched between the sharp plastic heel of your boot. With all the time that snowboarders spend in and on the snow, they will find it important that the bottom of the pant is well reinforced and critically taped.
- Safety Features – Many pants these days have safety features built-in such as RECCO™, which is sewn into the pant and provides location assistance to rescue workers in locating a downed skier or snowboard in the event of a search.
- Ventilation – Throughout your day on the mountain, both the outside temperatures and your internal temperatures will fluctuate. Some pants have ventilation features in key areas that allow you to unzip and allow more airflow. This is often found in the inner thigh areas and sometimes the outer seams as well.
- Pant to Jacket Compatibility – Many brands have features that enable a better connection between your pants and jacket. A better jacket to pant connection prevents unwanted snow and wind from spoiling your day. This connection may come from straps in the jacket that connect to loops on the pants or even zippers.
- Built-in Suspenders – Similar to bib pants, these pants have built-in suspenders that keep your pants up and in the perfect position at all times. While not offering the snow protection that bibs do, this feature holds up its end of the bargain.
- Waist Adjustment – Some pants have adjustments on the inner lining of the waist that allows for the wearer to bring in the waistline to a more snug and secure fit.
- Pockets– You may want cargo pockets to pack away snacks, trail maps, and other essentials. Or you may not need any at all and like the nice slim look of a pant with no pockets.
- Bibs – Bibs are an "overall" style pant with built-in suspenders that offer the ultimate protection against the intrusion of snow and wind. Bibs also provide the benefit of staying up and in place without the need for a belt.
- Integrated Gaiters – A common but important feature to ski and snowboard pants are the integration of boot gaiters. Gaiters are an inner cuff at the bottom of your pants that prevent snow from coming up your pant leg and getting you wet.