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 2018-2019 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 Pant ($499)

Arc'teryx Sabre (ski pants)Best for: Resort and backcountry
Insulated: Yes (thin fleece backer)
Type: Hybrid hard/softshell
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. These pants have it all: a 3-layer Gore-Tex construction for bomber protection from the elements, softshell fabric for movement, a lightweight fleece backer for a little warmth, and a solid feature set with plenty of storage. Further, you get a comfortable athletic 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 stretchy material and 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 2018-2019.
See the Men's Arc'teryx Sabre  See the Women's Arc'teryx Sentinel

 

Best Budget Ski Pant

2. The North Face Freedom Insulated ($160)

The North Face Freedom Insulated ski pant (2017-2018)Best 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 North Face Freedom  See the Women's North Face Freedom

 

Best Backcountry Ski Pant

3. Patagonia Descensionist ($379)

Patagonia Descensionist (ski pants)Best for: Backcountry
Insulated: No
Type: Hybrid hard/softshell
What we like: Light, stretchy, and breathable.
What we don’t: Thin and not as resort friendly as the Sabre.

Our number three ski pant brings together the qualities of a hardshell and softshell into a very functional hybrid construction. Billed mostly as a backcountry design, the Patagonia Descensionist delivers on those promises with excellent stretch, breathability, and a lightweight feel that won’t weigh you down on the uphill. And as the name indicates, the pant can withstand deep powder descents with 3-layer waterproofing and a reliable DWR coating. For touring all season long, the Descensionist is a fantastic option.

However, if you want to mix in substantial time at the resort, the Descensionist falls short. The fabric is a thin 50-denier nylon and polyester weave and lacks the warmth and extra protection that you get with the Sabre above. Further, in the quest to make the pant as breathable as possible, it isn’t as impenetrable to high winds and wet snow as Gore-Tex, so it’s not a perfect partner on the chairlift. But with the right expectations, you’ll love the balanced backcountry performance and superlight feel of the Descensionist.
See the Men's Patagonia Descensionist  See the Women's Patagonia Descensionist

 

Best Ski Bib

4. Flylow Gear Baker Bib ($400)

FlyLow Baker Bib ski pantsBest 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 Descensionist 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. Outdoor Research Skyward ($299)

Outdoor Research Skyward II pantsBest 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 updated Outdoor Research Skyward II is one of the most well-balanced designs on our list, and it works well for both resort skiing and touring. 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 design 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 large 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 of our top choices from Arc’teryx and Patagonia. To start, the 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 new pant model likely will have wider appeal for those that split time between the resort and backcountry. 
See the Men's Outdoor Research Skyward  See the Women's Outdoor Research Skyward

 

6. Helly Hansen Legendary Pant ($200)

Helly Hansen Legendary ski pants (2017-2018)Best 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. Patagonia PowSlayer Bib ($599)

Patagonia PowSlayer (ski pants)Best 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. For cheaper bib options, see the Flylow Baker above and Burton Reserve below.
See the Men's Patagonia PowSlayer  See the Women's Patagonia PowSlayer

 

8. Flylow Gear Chemical ($350)

FlyLow Gear Chemical pants (2017-2018)Best 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 Descensionist 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. Arc’teryx Chilkoot ($525)

Arc'teryx Chilkoot ski pantsBest 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 Chilkoot, 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 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 Chilkoot’s mobility is fantastic with a streamlined shape, articulated cut, and strategically placed gussets.

Despite the impressive performance, the Chilkoot 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. All told, if you want a warm pant without compromising on performance, the Chilkoot deserves a serious look.
See the Men's Arc'teryx Chilkoot  See the Women's Arc'teryx Kakeela

 

10. Burton Reserve Bib ($280)

Burton Reserve ski bibBest 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 $280 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 $120 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

 

11. Patagonia Snowshot ($199)

Patagonia Snowshot ski pants (2017-2018)Best for: Resort
Insulated: No
Type: Hardshell
What we like: Premium construction.
What we don’t: Lack of insulation means you’ll need a good baselayer.

For resort skiers who want a quality pant without spending an arm and a leg—and who don’t want to replace them every couple of years—we recommend checking out the Patagonia Snowshot. These ski pants will keep you dry, move well, and look great in the process. Keep in mind that the Snowshot has no insulation so you will want a decent pair of thermals on chilly days (the women's Snowbelle has light insulation). And the 2-layer construction means that they won’t breathe as well as a high-end 3-layer pant (the leg vents will help in dumping heat if necessary).

As with most Patagonia products, the Snowshot aren’t cheap but offer a premium build that should last for seasons to come. The extra cost and uninsulated design push them down our list for this season, but they are still a solid mid-range option. And keep in mind these have a relatively baggy fit, but we did find the Snowshot a little more comfortable overall compared with the North Face Freedom above.
See the Men's Patagonia Snowshot  See the Women's Patagonia Snowbelle

 

12. Outdoor Research Trailbreaker ($235)

Outdoor Research Trailbreaker ski pant (2017-2018)Best for: Backcountry
Insulated: No
Type: Soft/hardshell
What we like: Super breathable and ready for the backcountry.
What we don’t: Delicate materials and limited to backcountry use.

Outdoor Research’s Trailbreaker pant is an unapologetic backcountry design. To start, the bottom portion of the pant is a waterproof 3-layer Pertex for fending off snow while breaking trail or descending in powder, and the top is a thin softshell that maximizes breathability and stretch. Further, you get large side zips for keeping cool and a dedicated beacon pocket that’s strategically placed out of the way so as not to be an annoyance while climbing. To top it off, the Trailbreaker includes removable suspenders on the men’s version for a very secure fit.

The downside of the Trailbreaker is that you’ll need a second pair of ski pants for resort days. The delicate materials and non-waterproof sections don’t play well on a freezing chairlift or spending all day in wet snow. In addition, the athletic fit is optimized for the uphill and will be snug for those used to the generous cut of a standard ski pant. We would opt for OR’s Skyward above as our all-in-one answer, but the Trailbreaker is a fun backcountry alternative.
See the Men's Outdoor Research Trailbreaker  See the Women's OR Trailbreaker

 

13. The North Face Seymore ($99)

The North Face Seymore ski pantsBest for: Resort
Insulated: No
Type: Hardshell
What we like: Cheap and backed by TNF’s great warranty.
What we don’t: Basic build and not insulated like the Bugaboo below.

The North Face squares up the budget and beginner end of the market with the Seymore pants. In many ways, this is a simplified version of the Freedom above, sharing the dual button closure, 3-pocket layout (the women's Sally pant only has 2 pockets), and burly shell with its more popular uninsulated sibling at a $41 savings. There wasn’t a lot of thought given to mobility or comfort, and we wouldn’t bank on them having a long lifespan, but the Seymore is a minimal and safe investment for someone trying out the sport.

Getting a ski pant for under $100 from a reputable brand like The North Face is impressive, but there are a few considerations to be aware of. First off, the use of stiff, cheap materials limits performance for hard chargers, and there aren’t any zippered openings for regulating heat like on the Freedom or Armada Gateway above. And among sub-$100 options, this pant doesn’t include insulation like the slightly cheaper Bugaboo II below. Skiers that get out a lot likely will find the Freedom or Gateway pants the better choice, but if you’re on a tight budget, the Seymore is a serviceable option and comes with The North Face’s excellent warranty.
See the Men's North Face Seymore  See the Women's North Face Sally

 

14. 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 has been updated for this season with a new waterproof softshell construction. This in-house design replaces 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 ideal pairing for the dry snow of the Rocky Mountains as well as mild days in spring. 

Among backcountry-focused models, Outdoor Research’s Trailbreaker consistently is a best-seller and a strong competitor to the Cham. We like that the OR comes with removable suspenders, and it’s also the clear leader in price at $235 versus the Stafe’s $399. But the Cham has more complete wind and snow protection with its full seam taping, and it includes nice touches like a button system that raises the cuffs to reduce the risk of tearing on crampons. It’s a close call between the two, but we think the Cham’s feature set is the better option for serious alpine adventures.
See the Men's Strafe Cham Pant

 

15. Marmot Refuge ($200)

Marmot Refuge ski 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

 

16. Black Diamond Mission ($449)

Black Diamond Mission ski pantBest for: Resort and backcountry
Insulated: No
Type: Hardshell
What we like: Tough and equipped for resort and backcountry use.
What we don’t: Not as functional or comfortable as the Sabre.

Although relatively new to apparel, Black Diamond is no stranger to deep backcountry lines with their excellent touring and freeride skis. The Mission Pant is built to “do it all,” featuring a proven Gore-Tex construction and the right features for dual resort and backcountry use. Importantly, the Mission isn’t as stripped down as many backcountry-specific models, and its 70-denier fabric and reinforced cuffs can take a beating around sharp ski gear and lifts. For the growing number of people that split time on both sides of the ropes, the Mission is well worth a look.

In many ways, the Black Diamond Mission follows the design and functionality of the Arc’teryx Sabre above. Both have a tough shell that is reasonably lightweight, great range of motion, and a thin backer for comfort and chairlift protection. Where the Sabre wins out, however, is the built-in stretch. This improves its hikeability, and accordingly we’d take the Sabre over the Mission for backcountry trips. The Black Diamond also has a slightly odd fit and runs pretty long for many folks. But they nailed the build quality and styling, and with a few tweaks we think the Mission pant could be a real winner.
See the Men's Black Diamond Mission  See the Women's Black Diamond Mission

 

17. Armada Gateway ($150)

Armada Gateway ski pant (2017-2018)Best 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 a Gore-Tex Pro.
See the Men's Armada Gateway

 

18. Columbia Bugaboo II ($95)

Columbia Bugaboo II ski pantsBest for: Resort
Insulated: Yes (60g synthetic)
Type: Hardshell
What we like: Bargain basement price.
What we don’t: Not exactly a performance piece.

You can find long underwear that cost as much as these ski pants, but if you just need something for keeping you dry while doing laps at the resort, the Columbia Bugaboo II are a nice choice. Featuring Columbia’s waterproof and breathable Omni-Tech membrane along with a DWR coating, these certainly aren’t a high-performance ski pant for the worst of conditions. But the thick materials are tough enough to keep you protected and comfortable. And a nice bonus: the Bugaboo II have 60 grams of synthetic insulation for added warmth on those cold days.

It's important to set reasonable expectations with the Bugaboo II pants. The cheap membrane doesn't breathe well and the fit is generic and baggy. Moreover, don’t plan to keep these pants around for a lifetime, but we’ve had a pair hold up to five seasons of reliable backup use. For occasional resort skiers and general winter use, the Bugaboo II is one of the best values around. 
See the Men's Columbia Bugaboo  See the Women's Columbia Bugaboo

 

Ski Pants Comparison Table

Pant Price Best For Insulated Type Fabric Weight
Arc'teryx Sabre $499 Resort/backcountry Yes (light) Hybrid hard/softshell 3-layer 1 lb. 5.3 oz.
The North Face Freedom $160 Resort Yes Hardshell 2-layer 1 lb. 12.9 oz.
Patagonia Descensionist $379 Backcountry No Hybrid hard/softshell 3-layer 1 lb. 2.2 oz.
Flylow Baker Bib $400 Backcountry/resort No Hardshell 3-layer 2 lb. 1.4 oz.
Outdoor Research Skyward $299 Backcountry/resort No Hybrid hard/softshell 3-layer 1 lb. 6.9 oz.
Helly Hansen Legendary $200 Resort Yes Hybrid hard/softshell 2-layer 1 lb. 3.5 oz.
Patagonia PowSlayer Bib $599 Backcountry No Hardshell 3-layer 1 lb. 4.6 oz.
Flylow Gear Chemical $350 Resort/backcountry No Hardshell 3-layer 1 lb. 14 oz.
Arc'teryx Chilkoot $525 Resort Yes Hardshell 2-layer 1 lb. 11 oz.
Burton Reserve Bib $280 Resort No Hardshell 2-layer 1 lb. 15.4 oz.
Patagonia Snowshot $199 Resort No Hardshell 2-layer 1 lb. 7.9 oz.
OR Trailbreaker Bib $235 Backcountry No Soft/hardshell 3-layer 1 lb. 11.5 oz.
The North Face Seymore $99 Resort No Hardshell 2-layer 1 lb. 5.7 oz.
Strafe Cham $399 Backcountry No Hybrid hard/softshell 3-layer Unavailable
Marmot Refuge $200 Resort No Hardshell 2-layer 1 lb. 10 oz.
Black Diamond Mission $449 Resort/backcountry No Hardshell 3-layer 1 lb. 11 oz.
Armada Gateway $150 Resort No Hardshell 2-layer 1 lb. 11 oz.
Columbia Bugaboo II $95 Resort Yes Hardshell 2-layer 1 lb. 6.6 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.

Outdoor Research Skyward (backcountry skiing)
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 Skyward.
 

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 (Columbia Omni-Tech)
Columbia's Bugaboo II is a classic budget resort choice

We still like hardshells for resort skiing—12 of the 18 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 Arc'teryx Sabre, Patagonia Descensionist, 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 Outdoor Research Trailbreaker is a true softshell (on the upper half of the pant), and while it blocks wind effectively, the non-waterproof portion 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 isn’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 Bugaboo II). 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). 
 

Waterproofing

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

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.
 

Breathability

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 midrange 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 Patagonia PowSlayer 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 $600 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, Burton Reserve, and Patagonia PowSlayer are a few of our favorite bib designs.

Outdoor Research Skyward (removing bib)
A bib provides valuable protection in wet snow

Ski Pant Features

Pockets
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

Ventilation
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.

RECCO
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)
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 fit 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 (waterproofing)
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.
Back to Our Top Ski Pant Picks  Back to Our Ski Pant Comparison Table

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