Ski pants are a critical barrier between you and the elements, and there’s a pair to fit every type of skier and budget. Resort goers typically opt for a classic hardshell design with some light insulation to stay warm on the lift rides up. Backcountry skiers have plenty of softshell and hybrid options for improved range of motion and breathability. Of course, some of our recommended ski pants toe the line for those who like to do a little of both. Below are the best ski pants for the 2020 season, along with our comparison table and buying advice after the picks. For more on outerwear, see our article on the best ski jackets.

Best Overall Ski Pant

1. Arc’teryx Sabre AR Pant ($499)

Arc'teryx Sabre AR ski pantBest for: Resort and backcountry
Insulated: Yes (thin fleece backer)
Type: Hardshell
What we like: Fantastic build quality, fit, and versatility.
What we don’t: Light insulation isn’t ideal for extended ski touring.

If we were to pick one ski pant for anywhere on the mountain, for conditions from bluebird to overcast and wet, it would be the Arc’teryx Sabre AR. These pants have it all: a 3-layer Gore-Tex construction for bomber protection from the elements, standout build quality, a lightweight fleece backer for comfort and a little warmth, and a solid feature set with plenty of storage. Further, you get an ideal fit that isn’t too baggy or tight and the sleek styling that Arc’teryx is known for.

In terms of use, the Sabre is an ideal pant for active resort skiers and those who occasionally like to get beyond the ropes. It won’t be out of place in the backcountry either, with excellent range of motion from the precise cut, along with big side vents for dumping heat. The light insulation does favor inbounds use overall, but the Sabre pants are among the most versatile on the market and our top choice for 2020.
See the Men's Arc'teryx Sabre AR  See the Women's Arc'teryx Sentinel AR


Best Budget Ski Pant

2. The North Face Freedom Insulated ($160)

The North Face Freedom Insulated snow pantsBest for: Resort
Insulated: Yes (60g synthetic)
Type: Hardshell
What we like: Proven and tough resort pant.
What we don’t: Baggy fit isn’t for everyone.

For weekend warriors and those don’t want to spend a ton on ski gear, no pant is more popular at the resort than The North Face Freedom. We love the value here: for well under $200 you get a thick 2-layer construction that is super durable and blocks out wind and snow very effectively. The 60-gram Heatseeker insulation is a nice touch for those wanting a little extra warmth (there is a non-insulated version for $140), and the venting system is surprisingly good for a budget pant. The Freedom is a noticeable step down in quality from our top pick, but it covers all the bases for resort skiers at a reasonable price.

Keep in mind that although the Freedom Insulated pants will do the trick for skiing laps and long chairlift rides, performance-minded skiers likely will be left wanting more. To start, the fit is pretty generic—there isn’t any stretch built into the fabric and they’re quite baggy around the thighs and lower legs. Moreover, it’s easy to overheat with the cheap waterproofing technology, and while we like the zippered vents, their placement along the inner thigh creates extra bulk. But we keep coming back to value: the Freedom pants are a proven choice with a surprisingly long lifespan and undercut most of their competition below by $40 or more.
See the Men's The North Face Freedom  See the Women's The North Face Freedom


Best Backcountry Ski Pant

3. Outdoor Research Skyward II ($299)

Outdoor Research Skyward II ski pantBest for: Backcountry and resort
Insulated: No
Type: Hybrid hard/softshell
What we like: AscentShell fabric balances stretch, breathability, and waterproofing.
What we don’t: We miss the old bib option.

The Outdoor Research Skyward II is one of the most well-balanced designs on our list, but it really excels in the backcountry. Credit goes to the proprietary AscentShell 3-layer fabric, which stretches like a softshell, is air permeable for excellent breathability, and completely waterproof with taped seams. We’ve found the pant moves very nicely with you whether high stepping to break through fresh snow or going into a deep telemark turn. Further, a total of four pockets provide useful storage, and the breathable fabric and side vents keep you cool and comfortable even into the spring.

Similar to the jacket version of the Skyward, the pant falls just a little short in a few performance categories. To start, the relatively thin material and air permeable nature of the AscentShell fabric means it won’t isolate you from harsh wind like Gore-Tex (but it’s no slouch in a winter storm either). And while we like the fit overall—which is not too baggy but not too snug—it isn’t as well-tailored as the impressive Sabre above. We also miss the comfortable bib design of the original Skyward, but the current pant model likely will have wider appeal for those that split time between the resort and backcountry... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Outdoor Research Skyward  See the Women's Outdoor Research Skyward


Best Ski Bib

4. Flylow Gear Baker Bib ($420)

FlyLow Baker Bib ski pantBest for: Resort and backcountry
Insulated: No
Type: Hardshell
What we like: Bomber protection in wet and deep snow.
What we don’t: Less versatile than a standard pant.

For maximum protection when skiing in wet snow and deep powder, it’s hard to beat a bib. And among the many bib options on the market, Flylow’s Baker is a standout. It has a long track record of waterproof performance from its 3-layer build and DWR coating, is super tough with panels of reinforced Cordura, and has an easily adjustable fit with Velcro tabs on the sides. The Baker also performs well for sidecountry hikes and backcountry tours with a ventilation system that features both massive side vents and zippered openings along the inner thigh.

What do you give up with the Baker’s bib design? The extra waterproof layer around the stomach and lower back does make it run hotter than a comparable pant like the Skyward above, and it’s overkill on mild weather days. The fit of the Flylow also is on the baggy side, which can inhibit range of motion for skinning uphill. But the Baker is a perfect match for its namesake hill: it’s built to handle anything from wet, unruly conditions to bottomless powder days.
See the Men's Flylow Baker Bib  See the Women's Flylow Foxy Bib


Best of the Rest

5. Patagonia SnowDrifter Bib ($349)

Patagonia SnowDrifter ski bibBest for: Backcountry and resort
Insulated: No
Type: Hybrid hard/softshell
What we like: Creative mix of weather protection and comfort.
What we don’t: The Skyward II above is a little better for touring.

Patagonia’s backcountry jacket and pant collection has gone through a number of major revamps over the past few years, and for 2020, we get the SnowDrifter Bib. This all-new design essentially has two parts: a 3-layer waterproof fabric protects you below the belly, while a stretchy softshell covers the upper body. This provides a nice balance of weather resistance (the upper portion isn’t waterproof but does have a DWR coating) and range of motion for steep uphill sections and extended bootpacks. Along with creative two-way zippers at the back that double as a drop seat and large venting system, the SnowDrifter is a formidable season-long backcountry option.

How does the SnowDrifter Bib compare with the Skyward II Pant above? Beyond the obvious added protection around the torso, the SnowDrifter’s waterproof lower uses a burlier 75-denier fabric (the Skyward’s is 50D), which helps it block out wind a little better. This makes the Patagonia a bit more appealing for resort days, although the tradeoff is less breathability and stretchiness around the legs. All things considered, we give the edge to the better venting and more mobile Skyward II for touring, but the SnowDrifter is a great all-rounder for those who prefer to wear bibs.
See the Men's Patagonia SnowDrifter  See the Women's Patagonia SnowDrifter


6. Helly Hansen Legendary Pant ($200)

Helly Hansen Legendary ski pantBest for: Resort
Insulated: Yes (60g synthetic)
Type: Hardshell
What we like: Insulation and a clean design at a reasonable price.
What we don’t: Pants are prone to showing wear over time.

For a super clean resort pant with a nice boost in warmth, give the Legendary Pant from Helly Hansen a look. The 2-layer waterproof shell is perfect for those who aren’t frequently working up a sweat, and the Legendary has a touch of PrimaLoft in the butt and knees for cold rides on the lift. We also like the simple design from the Norwegian company, which comes in a variety of colors and should go with just about any jacket combination.

In terms of movement, the Legendary incorporates a mechanical stretch fabric not wholly unlike the hybrid hard/softshell pants above. The extra “give” is great for both sidecountry hikes and downhill travel. Our main issue is with the durability of the fabric: the build quality isn’t quite up to par with Patagonia or Arc’teryx and the pants will show more wear over time. But we do like the extra warmth and features, which make the Legendary one of our top resort picks.
See the Men's Helly Hansen Legendary  See the Women's Helly Hansen Legendary


7. Arc’teryx Beta AR ($499)

Arc'teryx Beta AR snow pantBest for: Backcountry
Insulated: No
Type: Hardshell
What we like: Standout performance and fantastic fit.
What we don’t: Missing a few ski-specific features.

Arc’teryx’s Beta AR hardshell pant is an absolute classic among alpinists and serious backcountry skiers. Its premium Gore-Tex Pro fabric is super tough yet light and packable, and the fit and finish are simply a step ahead of everything else on the market. In addition, the sizing is spot-on for making it easy to swap layers underneath without inhibiting mobility, and despite weighing just over a pound, you still get high-end touches like side zips that extend all the way to the bottom hem. These openings provide unmatched ventilation while also making it very easy to slip the Beta over a pair of ski boots. For backcountry specialists, you can’t ask for much more.

What pushes the Arct’eryx down our list is that it’s more of an all-rounder intended for various activities, including mountaineering, so it’s a little short on ski-specific features. For one, you only get a single zippered pocket, which isn’t great for organizing items like an avalanche beacon, map, or gloves. Further, the stiff 40-denier fabric that covers a good portion of the pant is thin and lacks the warmth and stretchiness of the designs above. The flipside is that the Beta easily outperforms its competitors in truly nasty conditions. In the end, if you’re planning on going out for extended missions deep in the backcountry, the proven AR pant is the one you want.
See the Men's Arc'teryx Beta AR  See the Women's Arc'teryx Beta AR


8. Flylow Gear Chemical ($360)

FlyLow Chemical ski pantBest for: Resort and backcountry
Insulated: No
Type: Hardshell
What we like: A bomber pant that does just about everything well.
What we don’t: Fit is still a little baggy for our tastes.

Flylow Gear flies a little lower under the radar than some of the bigger outdoor gear brands, but the Chemical pants are a solid offering. Most notably, this is a super tough ski pant with a 3-layer build, Cordura patches in high-wear areas like the knees, and waterproof zippers. Given the impressive level of protection, they ventilate well and you can release hot air in four places: two zippered vents along the inner thigh and two large vents along the outside of your legs. It all adds up to a formula that has generated a cult-like following.

How does the Flylow Chemical stand up against the competition? It has a premium price, which is on par with the Patagonia SnowDrifter above. That model wins out in breathability of the fabrics (remember the Chemical has more actual vents), but the Chemical is a more rugged pant that should be able to take plenty of use and abuse. If you ski hard and want a pant to match, this is a great choice.
See the Men's Flylow Gear Chemical  See the Women's Flylow Gear Nina


9. Outdoor Research Hemispheres Bib ($599)

Outdoor Research Hemispheres bib ski pantsBest for: Backcountry and resort
Insulated: No
Type: Hardshell w/stretch panels
What we like: Fully waterproof, stretchy, and very comfortable.
What we don’t: Expensive and low on pockets.

One of the most highly anticipated products for last winter was the Outdoor Research Hemispheres Bib and Jacket kit. Featuring strategically placed panels of Gore-Tex with Stretch Technology, the aim was to deliver hardshell levels of protection with the comfort and mobility of a softshell. Through a full season of backcountry and resort skiing, we can confidently say that OR delivered on their promise. Simply put, it’s the most comfortable bib we’ve tested to date without any noticeable compromise in weather protection. The Hemispheres’ generous stretch is a big plus on the skin track, and its seam-sealed construction has withstood everything from wet snow and rainfall to deep powder days.

What pushes the Hemispheres Bib down our list is its steep price. At $599, it’s as expensive as the PowSlayer below, which features a more breathable Gore-Tex Pro build. Further, we were a little disappointed with the limited pocket storage. The kangaroo-style opening along the stomach and dedicated hand pocket for an avalanche beacon are functional, but one or two more zippered closures would’ve made it easier to divvy up items like a phone and GPS device. These nitpicks aside, if range of motion is at the top of your priority list, the Hemispheres deserves a serious look... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Outdoor Research Hemispheres  See the Women's OR Hemispheres


10. Patagonia Powder Bowl ($299)

Patagonia Powder Bowl snow pantsBest for: Resort
Insulated: No (available)
Type: Hardshell
What we like: Good looks and durable construction.
What we don’t: Expensive for a 2-layer design.

Along with the PowSlayer below, the Powder Bowl is one of Patagonia’s signature ski kits. Lightly updated for last winter, the pant features solid weatherproofing from its Gore-Tex membrane, a 100% recycled face fabric, and good all-around looks. It’s built to withstand abuse at the resort with a durable 150-denier shell, and Patagonia has included nice touches on this mid-range model like low-profile zippers on the side vents and large pockets. Fit-wise, the Powder Bowl falls on the baggy end, but its articulated cut and two inseam options (short and regular) should keep most skiers happy.

Like a lot of Patagonia gear, the Powder Bowl is rather pricey at $299 for the uninsulated model (the insulated Powder Bowl is an even steeper $379). It’s true that the 2-layer Gore-Tex construction should outlast a basic option like The North Face Freedom above, but if you only make it up to the hill a few times a year, it’s hard to justify the $139 difference in price. For a more affordable alternative from Patagonia, check out their $199 Snowshot pant, which has a simplified design and in-house H2No waterproofing instead of Gore-Tex... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Patagonia Powder Bowl  See the Women's Patagonia Powder Bowl


11. Columbia Ride On ($99)

Columbia Ride On ski pantBest for: Resort
Insulated: Yes (60g synthetic)
Type: Hardshell
What we like: Modern looks and a great price.
What we don’t: Not fully waterproof and pretty cheap materials overall.

Columbia’s Bugaboo has been their leading ski pant for years, but there’s a lot to like about the new Ride On. Most importantly, this is a surprisingly modern pant with clean styling, great color options, and a semi-tailored fit. It’s a far cry from the overly baggy and dated look of that’s been a hallmark of the Bugaboo through multiple generations. Further, the Ride On’s insulation is well-suited for resort use: with 60-gram fill throughout, it’s enough to isolate your lower half from a frigid chairlift but isn’t prone to overheating on the descent. Priced right at $99, the Ride On and women’s On the Slope line up nicely for beginners and value-seekers. 

The Columbia gives The North Face’s Freedom above a run as our favorite budget ski pant but comes up short in a few key areas. First, the Ride On only is critically seam taped, which means that it’s less weather-worthy and can succumb to extended moisture more readily. This likely only will be an issue on especially wet snow days, but it’s something to take note of. In addition, you miss out on zippered vents for dumping heat, and the material quality is a step down and likely won’t hold up as well in the long run as the Freedom. That said, for about $60 less and with a more athletic fit, the Ride On is a nice alternative for less.
See the Men's Columbia Ride On  See the Women's Columbia On the Slope


12. Burton Reserve Bib ($250)

Burton Reserve bibsBest for: Resort
Insulated: No
Type: Hardshell
What we like: Great price for a quality bib.
What we don’t: Step down in protection from the Flylow Baker above

Burton’s Reserve is proof that you don’t have to spend upward of $400 for a quality ski bib. We love the value here: for $250 you get great coverage, a durable and waterproof 2-layer build, and functional organization with a zippered kangaroo-style pocket along the front. The styling favors the park and freeride crowd—which is no surprise coming from Burton—but the Reserve’s seam-taped construction and thigh vents are useful features when exploring the outer reaches of the resort.

In many ways, the Reserve Bib is a budget alternative to the Flylow Baker above. Both offer good waterproofing overall and have a moderately loose fit that’s easy to layer underneath. But the Baker’s 3-layer construction is a much better breather and its side vents make it easier to quickly dump heat. The shell material also is noticeably cheaper on the Reserve and likely won’t last as long, but that’s to be expected with the $170 savings. It’s worth noting that there isn’t a women’s-specific version of the Reserve, although Burton’s women’s Avalon has a similar bib design and 2-layer waterproof build.
See the Men's Burton Reserve Bib


13. Arc’teryx Macai ($525)

Arc'teryx Macai ski pantBest for: Resort
Insulated: Yes (80g synthetic)
Type: Hardshell
What we like: Our favorite insulated resort pant.
What we don’t: Ultra pricey.

Arc’teryx is known for their backcountry prowess, but they can make a sweet resort pant, too. Take the Macai, which is insulated and tough but doesn’t give up the fantastic fit and detailing we love from the British Columbia brand. The pant is bombproof with a 3-layer Gore-Tex shell, provides warmth when temperatures really drop with 80-gram synthetic fill, and includes impressively large side zips (at least for a resort pant) for mixing in a sidecountry hike. As expected, the Macai's mobility is fantastic with a streamlined shape, articulated cut, and strategically placed gussets.

Despite the impressive performance, the Macai strikes us as a very hefty investment considering its cold-weather focus. If you have a closet full of ski pants, the $525 price probably isn’t a deterrent, but the lightly insulated Sabre above is more adaptable and useful for the entire season. That said, if you want a warm pant without compromising on performance, the Macai deserves a serious look.
See the Men's Arc'teryx Macai  See the Women's Arc'teryx Andessa


14. Patagonia PowSlayer Bib ($599)

Patagonia PowSlayer bib ski pantsBest for: Backcountry
Insulated: No
Type: Hardshell
What we like: Supreme protection and very lightweight.
What we don’t: Costs nearly as much as your powder skis.

For backcountry skiing and deep powder in particular, you won’t find better lightweight protection than the PowSlayer Bib. First, you get a top-of-the-line Gore-Tex Pro shell made with durable but light 40-denier nylon. Given the toughness and high cut of the bib, it’s extremely difficult for snow to enter. Second, the PowSlayer comes with just about every feature that Patagonia offers, from side zips and gaiters to a Recco reflector. Third, the bib is impressively lightweight given all that it is and does, weighing in at around 20 ounces.

What are the shortcomings of the PowSlayer Bib? The most obvious is the price—$600 is as much as many people spend for their skis. The bib also is overkill for those who don’t plan on utilizing the backcountry-specific design and features (on-piste skiers need not apply). And in past years, the PowerSlayer Bib had a roomy fit that some people complained was too much pant. Patagonia has tweaked this with a “refined fit,” although there is still ample room for layering.
See the Men's Patagonia PowSlayer  See the Women's Patagonia PowSlayer


15. Backcountry Hayden Gore-Tex Infinium ($300)

Backcountry Hayden Infinium ski bibsBest for: Backcountry
Insulated: No
Type: Softshell
What we like: Softshell build offers excellent stretch and breathability.
What we don’t: Not waterproof and unproven long-term performance.

Prominent outdoor retailer Backcountry has jumped into the ski shell game with authority for this season with a lineup of Gore-Tex-equipped models. The most innovative of the bunch is the Hayden, which includes Gore’s Infinium softshell fabric. This new material is only water-resistant but provides very sturdy wind protection and breathes far better than a typical waterproof 3-layer build. In addition, it’s extremely stretchy and the pant moves really nicely with you thanks to a trim cut and adjustable suspenders. For areas like Backcountry’s hometown of Park City, Utah, and the surrounding Wasatch Range where you see a lot of dry snow, the Hayden has all the makings of a solid touring design.

Given the newness of the Hayden and of making in-house products in general, we are a little hesitant to put a Backcountry pant any higher on our list at the moment. The brands above have built their reputations on long-term performance, and Backcountry has yet to prove itself in that realm. That said, it’s encouraging that they’ve kicked off their collection by partnering with a reputable company like Gore-Tex, and they certainly haven’t been shy with their features or pricing that clearly targets big hitters like Patagonia and Arc’teryx. In the future, the Hayden Infinium easily could work its way up our rankings.
See the Men's Backcountry Hayden  See the Women's Backcountry Hayden


16. Marmot Refuge ($200)

Marmot Refuge snow pantsBest for: Resort
Insulated: No
Type: Hardshell
What we like: More tailored cut than The North Face Freedom.
What we don’t: Not as good of a value as the Freedom.

The $200 price range is chock-full of ski pant options, but the Marmot Refuge makes its case with a nice fit and modest upgrades from many budget models. Straight away, the water-resistant zippers are a surprising addition for a mid-range design, although we think the glossy finish diminishes the premium look. Additionally, the Marmot is more tailored around the legs than The North Face Freedom or Helly Hansen Legendary above, and they even include a Recco reflector for help in an avalanche scenario. Despite being less proven in terms of long-term durability compared to the options above, the Refuge certainly looks the part.

What pushes the Marmot Refuge down our list? Most importantly, all of the extras don’t hide the budget-oriented waterproof construction, which is comparable to pants costing much less. As such, the question becomes whether or not the features add up to being worth the extra investment. If you want to avoid the baggy fit of The North Face Freedom, the Refuge certainly is viable, but the $60 price difference and lack of insulation are too significant to rank it any higher.
See the Men's Marmot Refuge  See the Women's Marmot Refuge


17. Strafe Cham Pant ($399)

Strafe Cham ski pantsBest for: Backcountry
Insulated: No
Type: Hybrid hard/softshell
What we like: Breathable, stretchy, and comfortable.
What we don’t: Not as wind or waterproof as a hardshell.

Based in Aspen, Colorado, Strafe Outerwear has a strong following among the backcountry ski crowd. Their most popular pant is the Cham, which was updated last season with a new waterproof softshell construction. This in-house design replaced the old Polartec NeoShell build but offers similar overall performance. The air-permeable material is highly breathable and has a lot of stretch that moves with you nicely on the uphill, but it doesn’t block out wet snow and frigid wind as well as a standard Gore-Tex hardshell. Overall, the Cham is a pretty good pairing for the dry snow of the Rocky Mountains as well as mild days in spring.

Among backcountry-focused models, Outdoor Research’s Skyward consistently is a best-seller and a strong competitor to the Cham. We like that the OR's tough construction that moves very well with you, and it’s also the clear leader in price at $299 versus the Stafe’s $399. But the Cham includes nice touches like a button system that raises the cuffs to reduce the risk of tearing on crampons. Between the two, we prefer the better all-around value of the OR in the end.
See the Men's Strafe Cham Pant


18. Armada Gateway ($150)

Armada Gateway snow pantBest for: Resort
Insulated: No
Type: Hardshell
What we like: A simple shell at a good price.
What we don’t: Long-term durability is questionable.

There is something to be said for simplicity, which is why we like Armada’s Gateway. These non-insulated resort pants offer similar protection from water and wind as the Marmot Refuge above but at a significantly lower price point. You also get seam taping, belt loops, and built-in gaiters with the Armada, but don’t expect much else in the way of features.

Who should buy the Gateway? It’s a good budget option for those who don’t run cold or mind wearing thermals underneath, and we also like them as a spring-specific pant for when the conditions open up. The simple construction isn’t a high performer in terms of waterproofing or breathability, but it gets the job done if you only make it to the hill a few times per year. If longevity is something that you’re concerned about—this is a rather inexpensive ski pant after all—Armada does make a number of higher-end options including the 3-layer Basin with Gore-Tex Pro.
See the Men's Armada Gateway


Ski Pants Comparison Table

Pant Price Best For Insulated Type Fabric Weight
Arc'teryx Sabre AR $499 Resort/backcountry Yes (light) Hardshell 3-layer 1 lb. 5.2 oz.
The North Face Freedom $160 Resort Yes Hardshell 2-layer 1 lb. 12.9 oz.
Outdoor Research Skyward $299 Backcountry/resort No Hybrid hard/softshell 3-layer 1 lb. 6.9 oz.
Flylow Baker Bib $420 Backcountry/resort No Hardshell 3-layer 2 lb. 1.4 oz.
Patagonia SnowDrifter Bib $349 Backcountry/resort No Hybrid hard/softshell 3-layer 1 lb. 4.6 oz.
Helly Hansen Legendary $200 Resort Yes Hybrid hard/softshell 2-layer 1 lb. 3.5 oz.
Arc'teryx Beta AR $499 Backcountry No Hardshell 3-layer 1 lb. 2.9 oz.
Flylow Gear Chemical $360 Resort/backcountry No Hardshell 3-layer 1 lb. 14 oz.
OR Hemispheres Bib $599 Backcountry/resort No Hardshell w/stretch 3-layer 1 lb. 5 oz.
Patagonia Powder Bowl $299 Resort No Hardshell 2-layer 1 lb. 9.9 oz.
Columbia Ride On $99 Resort Yes Hardshell 2-layer Unavailable
Burton Reserve Bib $250 Resort No Hardshell 2-layer Unavailable
Arc'teryx Macai $525 Resort Yes Hardshell 3-layer 1 lb. 8.7 oz.
Patagonia PowSlayer Bib $599 Backcountry No Hardshell 3-layer 1 lb. 4.6 oz.
Backcountry Hayden $300 Backcountry No Softshell 3-layer Unavailable
Marmot Refuge $200 Resort No Hardshell 2-layer 1 lb. 10 oz.
Strafe Cham $399 Backcountry No Hybrid hard/softshell 3-layer Unavailable
Armada Gateway $150 Resort No Hardshell 2-layer 1 lb. 11 oz.


Ski Pants Buying Advice

Best Uses: Resort or Backcountry

Ski pants are designed for use at the resort, deep in the backcountry, or a mix of the two, so we’ve included a “best for” specification in our product descriptions and table above. Starting with in-bounds skiing, these pants are built tough—you typically get strong face fabrics, fully waterproof and windproof constructions, and generous fits for layering. If you ski consistently in frigid temperatures, it may be worth considering an insulated design, although we often prefer the flexibility of a thick, non-insulated shell for season-long use.

Ski pants (Outdoor Research Skyward II)
The Outdoor Research Skyward is a great option for mixed backcountry and resort use

Traveling uphill breaking trail or on the skin track has an impact on your pant needs. First off, mobility and freedom of movement are very important for backcountry use, so you’ll often find some form of stretch built into the fabric and an athletic fit. Additionally, breathability is essential—the materials are thinner and you get large zippered side vents for staying cool. Finally, all-out weather protection can sometimes by compromised in the quest to keep you from overheating (whether or not this is a good idea for you will depend on your local weather and snow conditions). For those looking for a single pant for mixed use, we still recommend a substantial waterproof design such as the Outdoor Research Hemispheres.

Hardshell Pants vs. Softshell Pants

Traditionally, the majority of ski pants were hardshells, which offer the maximum in terms of waterproofness, windproofness, and all-around weather protection. Softshells are more air permeable and flexible, but they alone don’t block moisture and wind as effectively as a hardshell.

Ski pants (Arc'teryx Sabre resort)
At the resort in the Arc'teryx Sabre hardshell pant

We still like hardshells for resort skiing—13 of the 19 picks on this list fall into the hardshell category—but softshell technology has emerged in a big way. Specifically, companies like Arc’teryx, Patagonia, and Outdoor Research are blending the two by combining 3-layer constructions with softshell fabrics for better movement. Pants like the Patagonia SnowDrifter and Outdoor Research Skyward are cutting edge and perhaps the way the future of ski outerwear tech is heading.

One notable downside of softshell fabric is that although it breathes and moves extremely well, it tends to allow for more airflow than a hardshell and is rarely fully waterproof. For these reasons, most ski pants and ski jackets purely for resort use are of the hardshell variety. From our list above, only the Backcountry Hayden Infinium is a true softshell, and while it blocks wind effectively, the non-waterproof build is a big downside in wet snow.

Ski pants (descending)
Softshell pants can be an option in dry snow and mild weather conditions

Fabric Layers: 3L vs. 2L

Most premium ski pants have a 3-layer construction, which incorporates three separate pieces of fabric: an outer shell, the actual waterproof and breathable membrane, and an inner lining. This makes it less bulky compared to a 2-layer design (these require a separate, hanging mesh liner along the interior), and also improves breathability and next-to-skin comfort. 3-layer pants are more expensive than 2-layer models and often involve big names like Gore-Tex and eVent. As a result of their strengths, 3-layer pants are popular among serious downhill and backcountry skiers.

Many mid-range and budget ski pants have a 2-layer construction. These are less breathable than 3-layer designs, although the simple designs often use thick fabrics that are quite durable. We’ve found that 2-layer pants are perfectly suitable for resort use where ventilation and mobility aren't as important (those skiing moguls or prone to overheating are exceptions). Further, you can save by going this route as some 2-layer ski pants run less than $100 (see the Columbia Ride On). For comparison, the cheapest 3-layer waterproof pant on this list is $299.

Ski pants (3 layers)
3-layer ski pants are common for backcountry use

Insulation and Warmth

Insulated ski pants seem like a no-brainer. If it’s cold enough for snow, it’s logical to bundle up with the warmest stuff available. But that’s not necessarily true—it’s actually quite easy to keep your legs warm while skiing. A few turns in and you’ll start to feel comfortable in all but the coldest temperatures. And if you’re skinning, that can warm you up very quickly.

Many resort skiers wear pants with light insulation like The North Face Freedom for added warmth during downtimes like riding the lift. As long as you don’t bring along your insulated pants on a warm spring day, they are great for cold conditions in the heart of the winter. Most backcountry skiers use shell pants with no insulation—their body is creating a lot of warmth on its own and they actually are looking for ways to dump heat. Other warming responsibilities go to your baselayers (more on this in the layering section below).

Ski pants (Patagonia Powder Bowl)
Testing the insulated version of the Patagonia Powder Bowl


Quality water resistance in a ski pant is an absolute must. They come in contact with snow on nearly every run and really put the membrane and outer fabric to the test. For ultimate waterproof protection, look for a burly hardshell pant made with Gore-Tex, eVent, or NeoShell. Mid-range and entry-level options utilize manufacturer’s in-house laminates that are still fully waterproof but most likely won’t have as long a lifespan. Seam taping and a DWR coating also are important for hard chargers to keep moisture from sneaking through. In terms of waterproofing, spending a little more does get you a nice upgrade in quality and longevity.

Ski pants (Gore-Tex waterproofing)
Gore-Tex waterproofing provides top-notch protection against the elements

Backcountry skiers have a different set of priorities, so they do not always require full waterproofing. Less time sitting on a chair and more time on the skin track means that some backcountry skiers only need waterproofing in specific areas or a very water-resistant construction. Your needs will vary, but don't automatically discount a partially waterproof or non-waterproof pant for backcountry use.

Ski pants (waterproof)
Deep snow will expose weaknesses in a waterproof design


The most breathable fabrics are found in softshell pants. Their stretchy and air permeable fabrics allow for the most air to escape, which is great for mild weather backcountry use. Breathability is, however, less important for those that stick to lift-assisted runs and don't venture into the sidecountry. And to help compensate for a less breathable construction, you can use the zippered leg vents that are included on most mid-range designs. As a result, resort goers can save some serious dough by not having to spend the hundreds of extra dollars it requires to get into a highly breathable shell pant. No matter your decision, if staying reasonably cool is important for you, don’t skimp on your baselayer. It plays a vital role in breathability, drawing moisture off of your skin.

The 3-layer construction Gore-Tex Pro is the ultimate expression of breathability in a fully waterproof and tough shell, but it comes at a hefty price. The Arc'teryx Beta AR is a beautiful example of how a quality ski pant can put it all together: burly but light enough, great mobility and super breathable–and then the nearly $500 price brings you back down to reality. If you can afford it, you’ll surely enjoy it!

Ski pants (uphill)
Backcountry skiers put a premium on the breathability of their pants

Pants vs. Bibs

Another “either or” decision when choosing ski pants is if you should opt for regular ski pants or a bib. Ski pants are the traditional choice, and what most folks are familiar and comfortable with. They’re completely capable for resort or backcountry skiing and are much easier to slip on and off. The primary downside is felt when cold air or moisture finds its way up your back on the chairlift or after taking a fall.

Bibs are the remedy for these maladies as they offer better protection from the snow, wind, and wet. They also run a little warmer thanks to the extra layering that covers part of your upper body. While you don’t have to worry about any discomfort from a waistband, the straps that run over your shoulders can take some getting used to (and you’ll need to dial in the fit to keep them from moving around excessively or interfering with your backpack's shoulder straps). But deep powder explorers or those that are prone to good falls may prefer bib-style pants. The Flylow Gear Baker, Outdoor Research Hemispheres, Burton Reserve, and Patagonia PowSlayer are a few of our favorite bib designs.

Ski pants (Outdoor Research Hemispheres bib)
Opening the kangaroo-style pocket on the OR Hemispheres Bib

Ski Pant Features

Typically, your jacket or backpack will be your primary place to store personal items, but it’s still worth checking the pocket situation on a pair of ski pants you’re eyeing. We recommend looking for a couple of zippered pockets that can fit snacks or personal effects. Unless you really need the extra capacity, we’re not huge fans of cargo pockets for resort skiing—filling them with larger items feels ungainly on the mountain. Backcountry-specific pants like the Strafe Cham put a greater emphasis on storage with dedicated pockets for items like a beacon.

Ski pants (pockets)
Using the beacon pocket on the Strafe Cham

To aid in breathability, most ski pants offer a zippered ventilation system that amounts to pit zips for your legs. The most common locations for the zippered panels are along the inside of your upper legs or on the outside of your thighs. Either style will help dump a lot of heat, although the former design adds unwanted bulk and can occasionally impact comfort. Backcountry-specific pants often place the zippers on the outside of the legs in part for this reason. Flylow's Baker Bib has vents on both sides of the leg, which provides excellent cross ventilation.

Ski pants (Patagonia PowSlayer side venting)
Backcountry-focused pants like the Patagonia PowSlayer typically feature generous venting

You may run into RECCO listed as a feature on some mid-range and high-end ski pants. These are for skiers that make their way out of bounds or into areas where they may experience avalanche dangers. The RECCO reflector built into your ski jacket or pant is a passive unit that doesn’t require batteries and can be picked up by RECCO detectors often carried by resort search and rescue. They lack the technology and strong signal of a dedicated search and rescue beacon, but they do provide an additional safety measure should you venture off-trail. We've found The RECCO System website helpful if you want more information about the technology.

Ski pants (Recco technology)
Recco reflectors are a common feature on mid-range and high-end pants

Ski Pant Fit

The best fit, no matter the type of skier or boarder you are, will come down to personal preference. There are, however, some helpful generalizations to be made. Most beginner and intermediate downhill skiers opt for a comfortable fit that is neither too tight nor too baggy. Backcountry touring types lean towards a slimmer cut for easier uphill hiking, and those that spend time in the park are inclined for a loose, relaxed fit. In the end, the most important thing is to find a fit that’s comfortable for you. Our preference is a bit of a more tailored cut as long as it doesn't negatively mobility. And it needs to have enough room to comfortably throw on a light or midweight baselayer underneath.

Layering Underneath Your Ski Pants

The layers you wear under your ski pants don’t get as much attention as those warming your core, but they remain an important consideration nevertheless. To start, it’s almost always a good idea to throw on at least a thin pair of long underwear both for resort and backcountry skiing. The extra layer not only provides insulation and protection from cold snow and freezing chairlift seats, but it also wicks moisture away from your skin. Further, the interiors of ski pants are often not very plush, with exposed mesh, zippers, and minimalist liners that become less comfortable as the day wears on.

Ski pants (Arc'teryx Rush LT hiking)
Quality baselayers wick moisture when you're working hard

In choosing a baselayer, it’s worth getting a soft and close-fitting design to maximize warmth. The best models are made with either synthetic or wool—cotton doesn’t insulate when wet, so it’s a bad idea even on a resort day. Synthetics are the cheaper option and efficiently wick moisture, but merino wool is our favorite. It’s very warm for its weight and naturally resists odor better than a polyester alternative. Baselayers are offered in a range of thicknesses, including lightweight designs for warm days or backcountry use, and mid and heavyweight options for cold days at the resort. And in particularly frigid conditions, you can always double up your baselayers to increase warmth.
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