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 2021 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 ($549)

Arc'teryx Sabre AR ski pantCategory: Hardshell
Insulated: No (thin fleece backer)
Best for: Resort and backcountry
What we like: Fantastic build quality, fit, and versatility.
What we don’t: Very pricey.

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 touch of 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 excellent pant for active resort skiers and those who like to get beyond the ropes. It won’t be out of place during quick trips in the backcountry either, with fantastic range of motion from the precise cut, along with big side vents for dumping heat. Price is the biggest obstacle, and it’s a significant investment if you don’t plan to get out a lot (one of the budget options below will be better for occasional riders). But for top-end material quality, comfort, and versatility, the Sabre AR is our favorite ski pant for the 2021 season.
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 pantsCategory: Hardshell
Insulated: Yes (60g synthetic)
Best for: Resort
What we like: Proven and tough resort pant.
What we don’t: Baggy fit isn’t for everyone.

For weekend warriors and those that 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 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 snow pantsCategory: Hybrid hard/softshell
Insulated: No
Best for: Backcountry and resort
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 fully 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 pantCategory: Hardshell
Insulated: No
Best for: Resort and backcountry
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 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 snow bibCategory: Hybrid hard/softshell
Insulated: No
Best for: Backcountry and resort
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 pant and jacket collection has gone through a number of major revamps over the past few years, but they’ve landed on a real winner with the SnowDrifter Bib. The 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 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 with both wind-proofing and tear resistance. 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 pantCategory: Hardshell
Insulated: Yes (60g synthetic)
Best for: Resort
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 pantsCategory: Hardshell
Insulated: No
Best for: Backcountry
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 (recently upgraded to their extra-durable Most Rugged construction) 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 1 pound, you still get functional touches like generous thigh zips, powder cuffs, and reinforced patches at the instep. Some will bemoan the loss of the full-length side zips with the latest Beta AR, but for most backcountry specialists, you can’t ask for much more.

What pushes the Arc'teryx 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, keys, or gloves. Further, the stiff 80-denier fabric that covers a good portion of the pant lacks the stretchiness of the designs above. The flipside is that the Beta easily outperforms its competitors in truly nasty conditions without weighing you down. 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 pantCategory: Hardshell
Insulated: No
Best for: Resort and backcountry
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. Like their Baker Bib above, this is a super tough design 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 pantCategory: Hardshell w/stretch panels
Insulated: No
Best for: Backcountry and resort
What we like: Fully waterproof, stretchy, and very comfortable.
What we don’t: Expensive and low on pockets.

Outdoor Research's Hemispheres Bib and Jacket kit received a lot of attention at its release in late 2018 and for good reason. 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 pantsCategory: Hardshell
Insulated: No (available)
Best for: Resort
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 significant difference in price ($159 when comparing non-insulated versions). 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. Black Diamond Recon Stretch ($349)

Black Diamond Recon Stretch ski pantCategory: Hybrid hard/softshell
Insulated: No
Best for: Backcountry and resort
What we like: Good balance of comfort, protection, and breathability.
What we don’t: Not a standout in durability.

Black Diamond hasn’t been in the ski apparel game for long, but their collection is filled with some quality options for backcountry use. Like Outdoor Research’s Skyward II above, BD’s Recon Stretch Pant puts an emphasis on comfort and mobility with a woven softshell-like face fabric. Combined with a smooth jersey backer and easily accessible side vents, the Recon is a nice pairing for long stretches on the skin track. Importantly, the Recon also features a waterproof membrane (BD’s in-house design) and full seam sealing, so you don’t have to leave it behind on stormy days.

The Recon Stretch strikes us a nice one-quiver pant for those who split their time fairly evenly between the backcountry and resort. It’s not going to match Gore-Tex in all-out weatherproofing (those riding in especially wet climates may want to steer clear), but otherwise there’s little to complain about in terms of performance. Durability is a concern, however, due to the moderately thin fabric. There are reinforcements around the instep, but it’s noticeably less burly than the cuff protection in a pant like Arc’teryx’s Sabre AR. But if you take care around sharp ski edges and boot buckles, the Stretch Recon is a versatile pant and a decent value at $349.
See the Men's BD Recon Stretch  See the Women's BD Recon Stretch

 

12. Columbia Bugaboo IV ($110)

Columbia Bugaboo IV snow pantsCategory: Hardshell
Insulated: Yes (60g synthetic)
Best for: Resort
What we like: Affordable and tough for occasional resort use.
What we don’t: Not fully waterproof and pretty cheap materials overall.

Columbia’s Bugaboo Pant has been a long-time favorite among beginner skiers. The price is right at $110, which includes a durable and hardwearing exterior, waterproof lining, and a healthy dose of warmth with its 60-gram synthetic insulation. In addition, Columbia incorporates a surprising number of useful features: the adjustable waistband makes it quick and easy to customize the fit (it secures with Velcro), and the hand pockets are nicely sized for storing essentials like a lift pass and keys. Totaled up, the Bugaboo Pant is everything a first-timer or occasional skier needs and nothing they don’t.

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 Bugaboo is 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. Further, 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 $50 less and with a similar feature set, it’s hard to knock the Bugaboo’s bang for buck. 
See the Men's Columbia Bugaboo IV  See the Women's Columbia Bugaboo

 

13. REI Co-op First Chair GTX ($249)

REI First Chair GTX snow pantsCategory: Hybrid hard/softshell
Insulated: No
Best for: Resort
What we like: Gore-Tex protection at an excellent value.
What we don’t: Step down in performance from the FlyLow Baker above.

REI Co-op’s new First Chair is proof that you don’t have to spend upward of $400 for a quality ski bib. At a much more palatable $249, you get great coverage, a durable and waterproof 2-layer Gore-Tex build, and functional organization with zippered chest storage and two thigh pockets along the front. REI also incorporated some mechanical stretch into the face fabric, which is a nice touch for everything from sidecountry hikes to getting on and off the lift, and we think they nailed the styling with a clean and modern look. It doesn’t hurt that you get REI’s excellent warranty to back up the purchase either.

In many ways, the First Chair GTX 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 better breather and it’s easier to dump heat with vents on both the outside and inside of the thighs (the REI’s are only at the back). You also get more fit customization with the Baker to maximize protection and comfort on the move—the REI lacks belt loops and you can’t tighten the top of the bib under the arms. As a result, we think serious skiers and those dabbling in the backcountry will be better off with the proven Flylow. Those planning on sticking to the resort, however, will find a lot to like with REI’s First Chair.
See the Men's REI First Chair GTX  See the Women's REI First Chair GTX

 

14. Arc’teryx Macai ($575)

Arc'teryx Macai snow pantsCategory: Hardshell
Insulated: Yes (80g synthetic)
Best for: Resort
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 staying cool. 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 $575 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

 

15. Patagonia PowSlayer Bib ($599)

Patagonia PowSlayer snow bibCategory: Hardshell
Insulated: No
Best for: Backcountry
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 Patagonia PowSlayer Bib. First, you get a top-of-the-line Gore-Tex Pro shell that’s as good as it gets in brutal conditions. Combined with the raised cut of the bib and a high-quality 40-denier nylon face fabric, and 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 the 40D fabric is on the thin side and requires added care around sharp equipment and gear (for reference, the Sabre AR above uses 80D). But if you want to keep things light without sacrificing performance on both the up- and downhill, the PowSlayer is an excellent choice.
See the Men's Patagonia PowSlayer  See the Women's Patagonia PowSlayer

 

16. Strafe Cham Pant ($469)

Strafe Cham ski pantsCategory: Hybrid hard/softshell
Insulated: No
Best for: Backcountry
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 this season with a Schoeller Aerobrane waterproof construction. The new air-permeable face fabric and membrane 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 latest Cham should be a 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 Strafe. We like the OR’s tough construction, which is a little better-tuned for wet climates like the Pacific Northwest. It’s also the clear leader in price at $299 versus the Stafe’s $469 and is offered in men’s and women’s versions (the Strafe is considered unisex). But the Cham includes nice touches like a button system that raises the cuffs to reduce the risk of tearing on crampons, and all signs point to it being the better breather of the two. In the end, it’s hard to pass up the value of the OR, but the Cham should continue to be a favorite in the Colorado backcountry.
See the Strafe Cham Pant

 

17. Marmot Refuge ($200)

Marmot Refuge ski pantsCategory: Hardshell
Insulated: No
Best for: Resort
What we like: Upgraded features and a more tailored cut than The North Face Freedom.
What we don’t: Not a standout in terms of value.

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. To start, the water-resistant zippers are a surprising addition for a mid-range design, and they give the pant a premium, technical look. Additionally, you get a more tailored fit around the legs than The North Face Freedom or Patagonia Powder Bowl above, and they even include a RECCO reflector for help in an avalanche scenario. Available in a wide range of colors, the Refuge checks a lot of boxes for season-long resort use.

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 (including the aforementioned Freedom). And for the same $200, Helly Hansen’s Legendary offers a nice boost in comfort and warmth with its stretchy shell and 60-gram synthetic fill (the Refuge is uninsulated). That said, if you like the fit and styling and don’t plan to be out in the harshest of conditions, the Refuge is a very serviceable resort choice. 
See the Men's Marmot Refuge  See the Women's Marmot Refuge

 

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

Backcountry Hayden Infinium snow bibCategory: Softshell
Insulated: No
Best for: Backcountry
What we like: Softshell build offers excellent stretch and breathability.
What we don’t: Not fully waterproof.

Prominent outdoor retailer Backcountry jumped into the ski shell game with authority last 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 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. In addition, the full-length side zips on the Hayden are a polarizing choice: on one hand they allow you to easily slide the pants over boots, but the design makes it more difficult to tune your ventilation. Finally, it’s a little light on organization for a backcountry-focused pant. These issues are enough to drop the Hayden down our list, but we’re hopeful Backcountry continues to refine their ski collection.
See the Men's Backcountry Hayden  See the Women's Backcountry Hayden

 

19. Armada Gateway ($150)

Armada Gateway ski pantsCategory: Hardshell
Insulated: No
Best for: Resort
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 Atlantis that features Gore-Tex protection and a recycled face fabric.
See the Men's Armada Gateway

 

Ski Pant Comparison Table

Pant Price Category Insulated Best for Fabric Weight
Arc'teryx Sabre AR $549 Hardshell No (light) Resort/backcountry 3-layer 1 lb. 5.2 oz.
The North Face Freedom $160 Hardshell Yes Resort 2-layer 1 lb. 12.9 oz.
Outdoor Research Skyward $299 Hybrid hard/softshell No Backcountry/resort 3-layer 1 lb. 6.9 oz.
Flylow Baker Bib $420 Hardshell No Resort/backcountry 3-layer 2 lb. 1.4 oz.
Patagonia SnowDrifter Bib $349 Hybrid hard/softshell No Backcountry/resort 3-layer 1 lb. 4.6 oz.
Helly Hansen Legendary $200 Hybrid hard/softshell Yes Resort 2-layer 1 lb. 3.5 oz.
Arc'teryx Beta AR $499 Hardshell No Backcountry 3-layer 1 lb. 0 oz.
Flylow Gear Chemical $360 Hardshell No Resort/backcountry 3-layer 1 lb. 14 oz.
OR Hemispheres Bib $599 Hardshell w/stretch No Backcountry/resort 3-layer 1 lb. 5 oz.
Patagonia Powder Bowl $299 Hardshell No Resort 2-layer 1 lb. 9.9 oz.
Black Diamond Recon $349 Hybrid hard/softshell No Backcountry/resort 3-layer 1 lb. 9 oz.
Columbia Bugaboo IV $110 Hardshell Yes Resort 2-layer Unavailable
REI Co-op First Chair GTX $249 Hybrid hard/softshell No Resort 2-layer 1 lb. 13.9 oz.
Arc'teryx Macai $575 Hardshell Yes Resort 3-layer 1 lb. 8.7 oz.
Patagonia PowSlayer Bib $599 Hardshell No Backcountry 3-layer 1 lb. 4.6 oz.
Strafe Cham $469 Hybrid hard/softshell No Backcountry 3-layer 1 lb. 0 oz.
Marmot Refuge $200 Hardshell No Resort 2-layer 1 lb. 10 oz.
Backcountry Hayden $300 Softshell No Backcountry 3-layer Unavailable
Armada Gateway $150 Hardshell No Resort 2-layer 1 lb. 11 oz.

 

Ski Pant Buying Advice

Hardshell Pants vs. Softshell Pants

Modern ski pants fall into two general categories: hardshell designs that offer excellent all-around weather protection and softshells, which are more flexible and breathable. For most resort uses, we prefer the traditional hardshell, and more than half the picks on our list fall into this category. Hardshells provide a reliable barrier to wet snow and harsh winds, are typically quite durable, and pricier options can have impressively long lifespans. Our top-rated Arc’teryx Sabre AR is a standout example, with bombproof 3-layer Gore-Tex protection at a reasonable weight.

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

That said, softshell technology has emerged in a big way. Specifically, companies like Patagonia and Outdoor Research are blending the two by combining waterproof constructions with softshell fabrics for better movement. Pants like the Patagonia SnowDrifter and Outdoor Research Skyward are cutting edge and an indication of the way the future of ski outerwear tech is heading. Where you compromise is all-out protection: softshells tend to allow more air to flow (both in and out) than a hardshell, so they feel less imperious in strong gusts. Additionally, their fabrics are more prone to wetting out after extended exposure. For these reasons, softshells are more popular among backcountry users, and particularly in regions known for dry snow conditions.

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

Ski Pant Insulation and Warmth

In terms of warmth, ski pants fall into two general categories: models with built-in synthetic fill and uninsulated shells. Resort skiers, and especially those that stick to groomed runs, will be best off with an insulated model. The boost in warmth is useful to fend off the chill, and the thicker construction provides an additional barrier between you and a frigid chairlift seat (or when sitting on snow). As mentioned above, the vast majority of insulated ski pants use synthetic fill due to its affordability and that it continues to insulate even when wet (unlike goose or duck down). The amount of warmth offered doesn’t vary too widely, and most use somewhere between 40- and 80-gram fill. The ideal amount for you will depend on your local conditions, skiing style (aggressive or casual), and if you’re prone to running hot or cold. Opting for a pant with 60-gram synthetic is a safe bet, and a design like The North Face's Freedom is often the sweet spot for many skiers.

That being said, an uninsulated pant makes a lot of sense for hard chargers or those that plan to ski the side- and backcountry. A shell pant won’t be as prone to overheating if you’re a mogul rider, spend a lot of time off-trail in soft snow, or if you do any extended hiking. And if you’ll be ski touring, a shell pant is a must-have to stay as cool as possible. A final benefit of foregoing insulation is that you can tune your baselayer depending on conditions: for spring-time or active use, you can opt for a lightweight model, and mid or heavyweight baselayers are great in the cold. Again, those planning on lapping the resort will most likely prefer the extra isolation and comfort of an insulated design, but there are a number of situations where a shell is the preferred option.

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

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 sometimes 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.
 

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 around $100 (the Columbia Bugaboo IV costs $110, for example). 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

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 (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 (especially for riders in regions known for dry snow like the Rocky Mountains). Your needs will vary, but don't automatically discount a partially waterproof or non-waterproof pant—including the Backcountry Hayden from our list above—for backcountry use.

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

Breathability

As we touched on above, breathability needs are closely aligned with your intended use(s). Resort riders, and especially those that plan to stay on groomed runs, don’t require a light and airy design. Most standard 2-layer constructions will offer sufficient breathability, and you can always select one with zippered vents to dump a little excess heat as needed. If you venture into the sidecountry, however, plan to mix in some touring days, or are a backcountry enthusiast, breathability then becomes an important consideration. Among waterproof builds, lightweight 3-layer constructions are the best ventilators (including Arc’terx’s Beta AR), and many softshell-inspired designs are even more impressive. You make compromises in all-out protection in harsh wind and wet snow, but air-permeable options like the Strafe Cham, Black Diamond Recon Stretch, and Backcountry Hayden are great performers when working hard.

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

Durability

Ski pants see a lot of rough use—everything from boot buckles, metal edges, and chair lifts can wreak havoc on the materials. As a result, they’ve a tough bunch overall. The most common way of determining ski pant durability is the fabric denier (D), which measures the thickness of the threads used for the shell material. Most resort-oriented designs are pretty substantial, including the Patagonia Powder Bowl (150D) and The North Face Freedom (140D x 160D). On the other end of the spectrum, touring-focused pants like the Outdoor Research Skyward II (50D) make the most compromises in durability to maximize comfort, mobility, and performance on the go. Our top-rated pant, Arc’teryx’s Sabre AR, does an excellent job of balancing needs for both activities with its high-quality 80D shell. Finally, it’s worth noting that many pants include a reinforced patch along the inside of the cuff (sometimes referred to as a scuff guard) for additional protection from ski edges.

Ski pants (Patagonia Powslayer scuff guard)
Scuff guards protect against ski edges and other sharp equipment

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, 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

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.

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

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 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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