What should I pay attention to when choosing a ski jacket?
Let’s face it, appearance is very important when choosing your ski clothes. Depending on your preferences, this may be at the top of your priority list, or among other considerations. Fortunately, most skiwear comes in a range of colours, from safe black and dark blue to more exotic bright neon colours, so there really is something for all needs.
You also want to make sure you get features that will enhance your time in the mountains. If you want to take things with you, such as a phone, wallet, some snacks and possibly a drink or a spare pair of glasses, it can be nice to have some pockets. If you always wear a backpack, you may not need as many pockets, and if they are higher on the chest, they won’t interfere with the backpack’s hipbelt.
Fit is also important, and not just for looking great. When a jacket fits well, you can move freely and almost forget you are wearing it. Did you also know that if a jacket fits well, it might work better in terms of breathability? Well, it can make a difference. This is when a good ski shop can really help, as they can help you find options that suit your body shape.
Ski jackets come in a variety of prices, but to increase the value, you may want to get one with a detachable hood or a detachable snow skirt so that it doubles as an everyday winter jacket at home. If you opt for a shell jacket (more on this below) then this really can work all year round and also offers excellent protection against wet weather in the summer months
Are ski jackets waterproof?
The vast majority of ski jackets are waterproof, windproof and breathable. This means that the jacket can keep you warm, allow moisture that accumulates inside to escape and protect you from wind, snow and rain. Just because a jacket is labeled as waterproof doesn’t mean it’s completely waterproof.
Jackets often have a water resistance, from 5,000 to more than 20,000. The higher the number, the more resistant the garment is to water penetrating from the outside. This is due to the pressure the water needs to seep through the waterproof layer. Not all brands list their waterproofing, including some of the better known and best performing laminates.
A jacket is made of stitched panels, so the panel edges are full of holes (not great for keeping water out). The manufacturer uses a waterproof, but non-breathable tape on the inside of the seam to keep water out. However, not all seams necessarily need to be taped. If taping is used, it ranges from just the really vulnerable seams, such as the shoulders, which is called Critically Taped, to all seams or fully taped. Critically taped seam sealing is usually used to match a certain lower price point.
The jacket should also be breathable. We produce moisture and this must be able to escape from the jacket. This is where we have seen some impressive developments in recent years, with garments offering high waterproofing and excellent breathability.
Like waterproofness, breathability can also be rated, and usually follows a similar rating scale. The best are 20,000 or higher, with cheaper, less breathable garments valued around 5,000. There are other scales for breathability, but this one is the most common.
Other features, such as ventilation panels (underarm vents, underarm zippers, chest vents) can be opened and closed, improving temperature and moisture management
It is important to know that if the outside of the jacket becomes saturated with water, the breathability is seriously compromised. This is why you see water beading and running off new coats. This is due to a durable water repellent (DWR) coating or treatment. Historically these have been made using perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) but these are not good for the environment and are being replaced by cleaner solutions by most brands. Ironically, some of these greener solutions significantly outperform PFCs.
You can also supplement this exterior water repellency by using a ready-to-use technical fabric wash and treatment, such as Nikwax. Washing your ski gear is very important to make sure it works as designed, but don’t just use regular household detergents. Which products you use depends on the type of clothes you wash. Any good ski shop can advise you on this. You will drastically improve the performance and lifespan of your skiwear if you take care of it in this way.
What is the warmest ski jacket?
An insulated jacket is designed to enhance warmth while skiing. This can have synthetic insulation or natural, such as wool or down. They all have the purpose of trapping air and providing an insulating layer.
Down is an extremely efficient insulator, but it can be expensive and it is an animal product and does not perform when wet. Recycled down is becoming more common as it is sold as treatments to make it perform better when wet.
Synthetic fibers are much closer to down in terms of light weight and packability. Wool is also more widely used as an insulator, is durable and, like plastics, performs when wet.
Shell jackets have no insulating layer and must therefore be combined with one or more insulating layers underneath, depending on the temperature. Shell jackets are lighter than insulated varieties and favored for higher power activities such as freeride skiing when you’re hiking for fresh lines, or ski touring.
Both the shells and the insulated pieces have a waterproof layer. Waterproof layers can be quite delicate, so have an outer fabric, known as a face fabric, to protect against dirt and abrasion. You also need to protect the inside of the waterproof layer or membrane.
Shell jackets therefore have an inner laminate, which can be made from a wide variety of fabrics. This protects the membrane, but can also help wick moisture away from the skin and distribute it over a wide area so it can escape through the membrane. The surface fabric, the waterproof layer and the protective inner fabric are all connected in some way. This is called a 3-layer garment.
Insulated pieces have a face fabric and a waterproof layer, but no bonded inner fabric, as the insulation protects the membrane. This is also called 2-layer construction. You can also get a 2-layer non-insulated jacket, but it has a separate non-bonded inner liner to protect the waterproof layer.
What is a powder skirt?
A powder or snow skirt is an internal panel that acts like a cover around your waist. The front fastens when you put the jacket on and helps keep the elements out a bit.
The term powder skirt is a bit misleading. When you are skiing powder you usually wear a backpack and the waist belt of the backpack keeps the jacket in place and prevents powder from entering from below. So you don’t need a powder skirt to powder ski, and many professionals remove theirs. This may also be the reason why you see some touring jackets without snow gaiters.
A snow skirt can really help keep a little warmth in, prevent the wind from kicking up under the hem, and help keep the jacket from riding up.
What is a stretch fabric?
We move around a lot when skiing, so it’s ideal to have a fabric that can move with us. Hence the evolution of stretch fabrics. Some pieces will only be in one plane. For example, if you hold the jacket fabric across the chest and try to stretch it, it may not give. Then if you try to stretch it from top to bottom, you may feel an elastic character in the fabric. This is two-way stretching. It can be up and down, or side to side, but won’t be both. If the fabric stretches up and down and side to side, it is called four-way stretch.
The problem with ski jackets is that all layers of the jacket can move or stretch. There are now some great products that have stretch in the shell, insulating layer and inner lining. However, not all materials are created equal, so the jacket may stretch just a little or a lot. That’s why it’s important to try on a jacket before committing to make sure it fits your body shape and movements.
What is Recco?
Recco is a technology used in many ski and snowboard applications. It consists of a small electronic device called a reflector and a large detector used by rescue teams. Manufacturers can install the reflector in many types of clothing and hardware, including jackets.
It does not require charging or any kind of power source. It is designed to help rescue teams locate the reflector and the person if they get caught in an avalanche. It can also be used in certain situations to locate people who are lost, even if it is not an avalanche situation.