Learn the basics of ski outerwear componentry, from weatherproofing to insulation to size and fit.
How To Buy Ski Jackets And Parkas
Dressing properly for skiing means dressing in layers that will work to keep you dry, warm and protected under a variety of conditions. When you layer, you can take off or put on pieces as needed, allowing you to be prepared for fast changing winter weather conditions or tailor what you’re wearing to your activity levels.
The importance of layering
- The best layering system for skiing consists of three layers:
- Layer one: long underwear/base layer
- Layer two: insulating tops & pants
- Layer three: outerwear
- When all three layers are working together, the result is a “personal climate” that will keep you comfortable and protected on the slopes
Outerwear features and functions
The outer layer, which includes insulated jackets, shells/non-insulated jackets, pants and one-piece suits, protects you from the extreme elements you may encounter while skiing, such as snow, sleet, rain and wind.
- Fabrics and the treatments used on them to help protect you from the elements should be among your top considerations when selecting outerwear for skiing
- Most outerwear is made out of tightly woven nylon or polyester. Both are durable and fairly water-resistant, and can be woven in various weights.
- Some skiwear is now made using nylon and polyester microfibers. These fabrics are woven using extremely fine fibers.
- The use of these fabrics results in high-performance outerwear that is highly durable, very lightweight, breathable, water-repellent and wind-resistant, all by the nature of the fiber and weave
- Microfibers are used in higher-priced, higher-performance garments
Outerwear features and functions
- Ski outerwear that is waterproof/breathable offers the ultimate in protection from the elements
- Making garments waterproof/breathable is accomplished through various coatings and laminates, such as Gore-Tex®, a popular microporous laminate
- To make waterproof/breathable outerwear most effective, garments should be seam-sealed, meaning that no water from snow, sleet, or rain enters your jacket
- The ultimate goal is to keep moisture from the outside from passing through the jacket, while still allowing water vapor generated by perspiration to escape
- You should note that waterproof/breathable outerwear is usually less breathable than water-repellent/water-resistant outerwear
- Some waterproof/breathable outerwear styles include design elements like zippers and venting systems to allow more perspiration vapor out
- Outerwear that is water-repellent or water-resistant will keep you dry for long periods of time, but unlike waterproof fabrics, these fabrics can become saturated and lose their effectiveness in extreme weather conditions or when you make a lot of contact with the snow
- Water-resistant garments generally keep out more water for longer periods of time than water-repellent garments.
- Most fabrics with these characteristics are breathable and will allow water vapor from perspiration to escape while keeping snow, sleet and rain at bay
- DWRs, durable water-repellent finishes, are often used in ski outerwear and enhance water-repellency without negatively affecting breathability
- It’s important to choose outerwear that will protect your body from the chilling effects of wind passing through your jacket
- Moisture Wicking
- Some outerwear has a moisture wicking layer attached to the underside of the shell that helps promote the release of perspiration vapors and enhances comfort and the body’s ability to stay warm
- Your choice of an insulated piece of outerwear versus a non-insulated shell will depend on two main factors: weather conditions, and what you plan to wear underneath.
- Weather conditions
- Colder skiing conditions usually require outerwear that offers the added warmth of an insulation. Warmer spring skiing conditions may call for only a shell.
- What you plan to wear underneath
- If you do not plan to dress in layers, with long underwear and an insulated mid-layer, you will definitely need a garment with some insulation for skiing, especially in cold conditions
- Keep in mind, however, that a good thermal base layer and an insulating second layer can reduce or eliminate the need for insulating materials in your outerwear, even on very cold days
- Skiers who dress in layers consider shells more versatile than insulated pieces, because they can function well in a variety of conditions
- Skiers who choose a non-insulated shell should make sure it is waterproof/breathable
- Weather conditions
- Man-made insulations
- Most insulations are made of polyester and come in a variety of weights and lofts
- Generally, the greater the weight and loft, the more warmth the insulation provides
- Improvements in technology have lead to the development of insulations that provide greater warmth with less weight and loft than previously required
- Down is nature’s great insulator
- It offers a high warmth-to-weight ratio, and is compressible, lightweight and breathable
- There are some design features that will make a real difference to your comfort on the slopes
- Zippers with big pulls make it easy to zip and unzip your jacket when wearing bulky gloves
- Storm flaps that conceal zippers help to keep out wind and cold
- Cuffs are used to keep snow from entering your gloves and jacket
- Hoods are used to keep your head dry thus keeping you warm
- Large functional pockets are used to hold valuables such as your wallet and keys
- Jackets and pants should be roomy enough to allow for maximum freedom of movement
The type and intensity of your winter activity and weather conditions encountered are important factors to consider when buying a jacket or parka.
- Radial sleeve
- Radial sleeves eliminate the restrictions and tugging that occurs in the shoulders of a normal jacket or parka
- More space is created in this area by using a different construction of the shoulder, armhole, and underarm panels allowing for easier movement
- Sealed seams
- Ensures that no water from snow, sleet, or rain enters your jacket, making sure you stay dry and warm
- Venting systems
- Most venting systems are simply an underarm pit vent
- This is simply a zipper in the underarm area of the jacket that can be opened to provide ventilation when temperatures heat up
- Zippered Pockets
- This feature allows you to not only have a place to store valuables, such as a wallet or keys, but also can act as a hand warmer
- Zip off hood
- This feature helps you to control not only your body temperature, but also your visibility and comfort
- Lift ticket D-ring
- Gives the skier a place to conveniently store their lift tickets
- Layered design
- This jacket is actually three jackets in one
- It features an outer shell and a zip-in/zip-out inner liner
- The two pieces can be worn either together or separately giving many different options for temperature control
- These combine tops and bottoms and are preferred by some skiers for especially cold or windy conditions or when skiing on fresh powder
- The elimination of a break between jacket and pant gives the cold, wet and wind one less source of entry