Of all your ski gear, ski pants may be the most under-rated. You need to consider your skiing style and conditions to get the best ski pants for your needs.
Spring skiing, where its warmer and wetter will have entirely different criteria vs a cold, dry climate. Its worth some research to choose the best possible pair.
Ladies: We have a list of the best women’s ski pants here.
So of all of the available options which ones are right for you?
Quick Answer: The 7 Best Ski Pants for 2018
- Spyder Troublemaker Ski Pants
- Columbia Bugaboo II Ski Pants
- Burton Cargo Mid Fit Ski Pants
- Arc’teryx Sabre Gore-Tex Ski Pants
- Outdoor Research Skyward Pants
- Helly Hansen Legendary Ski Pants
- Arctix Ski Pants/Bibs
Here is a feature overview of my 3 top rated ski pants with full reviews and our buying guide below.
Best Ski Pants
Ski Pants Reviews
Arc’teryx is a maker of “premium” ski gear and tend to be expensive. But for that extra money you get a product that is second to none when it comes to detail and quality. Arc’teryx started out making outdoor clothing for the Canadian military so it should tell you something about their standards and quality.
These are a shell only category of ski pants meaning there is very little insulation in the pants. Obviously unless it is some warm spring skiing you will need a good base layer underneath.
The Sabre’s are waterproof ski pants because of the DWR finish (Durable Water Repellent) and Gore-Tex liner.
The material is fairly thick and can feel stiff at times, I personally like the crotch sits a little lower than most ski pants. I seem to have an issue with most pants riding up my crotch and it’s pretty annoying!
All seams are FULLY taped that insures no water gets in through the seams and fit flush with the pants for a sleek look. They have ventilation zippers for when it gets warm, but oddly they put them in the back.
This keeps them out of view for a clean look but does reduce their effectiveness. For extra reinforcement the Arc’teryx has reinforcement on the cuffs to provide abrasion resistance.
They have powder cuffs to fit around your boots to keep out the snow and wind. The Arc’teryx Sabre ski pants have belt loops and include a belt if find they are loose on you.
If you don’t mind spending extra money, these are ski pants for the person who is looking for the best.
Spyder is probably better known for their ski jackets but they have some excellent ski pants as well.
Nice, modern, clean aesthetic means you’ll look like a pro right out of the gate. Just don’t take a digger under the lift. Light insulation, coming in at 40g, is made of 3M Thinsulate which we should have come to expect as it’s the industry standard.
Of particular note is that the DWR coating on the shell so we can expect it to be tough and durable while maintaining a high level of waterproofness.
Just keep in mind may find them to get hotter faster than non-waterproof pants. This is for the best, however, as it is balanced by a relatively lightweight insulation and thigh zippers for good ventilation if you get too warm.
Featuring reinforced inner-boot patches (called Scuff patched by Spyder) you won’t have to worry about destroying your pants during hardcore skiing.
This is another important feature, I have had many ski pants get cut up by ski edges that didn’t have the reinforcing patches.
The absolutely necessary integrated boot gaiters are standard fare on the Troublemaker pants and will keep snow out!
One of my favorite additional features is the cargo pocket. Stash a couple granola bars in there are have a quick power-up before you hit the trees!
One last feature of note is the articulated knee construction, while not as important on ski pants it adds another level of comfort.
With Spyder, you know your guaranteed a quality pair of pants. Overall, probably the best ski pants!
Columbia has always been one of my favorite budget-minded outdoor brands. Let’s see if the Bugaboo II pants can keep up the economy-grade quality of the Columbia line.
A 100% nylon outer means great durability and abrasion resistance with thicker nylon reinforced cuffs on the pant legs are great for preventing fraying. This is important in my opinion as this area often sees a lot of abuse during skiing.
With a claim of waterproof / breathable fabric, Columbia has somehow managed to get these pants into the sub-$100 category. So I was concerned that they may have sacrificed quality in order to achieve the economy pricing with “waterproof/breathable” fabric.
They are “Critically seam sealed” in the most critical areas that are most prone to getting wet. However I’d really have liked to see them seam seal the whole pant. But I had no issues with getting wet even in wet spring skiing.
Insulation on these pants is a low 40g of polyester which puts them into the high-activity-level and warm temperature classification for skiing.
Adjustable waist system is the industry standard double Velcro and does include a set of belt loops for added security.
As is absolutely necessary, Columbia put integrated gaiters into these pants so we’re guaranteed at least the bare minimum necessities in a ski pant.
All said and done, the Columbia Bugaboo II pant make a solid choice for the budget-minded skier looking for waterproof pants at an economy price.
My only gripe is they could have more inner-boot reinforcement and seam sealing. Overall these are the best ski pants for the money.
I have always been a fan of Burton outdoor wear. They are usually fairly priced and good quality. These ski pants are no exception.
There is a slimmer fit model as well if you want all the features but not the baggier snowboard look and fit.
As the name implies, they have cargo pockets and lots of them. If you are like me and like to avoid the lodge and just carry your lunch with you consisting of some power bars and trail mix, your gonna love these pants.
These are what I would a shell only but they do have a light layer of insulation with a mesh and taffeta lining.
There is a model available with a thicker insulation if you think you need it. The shell is what I would call 100% waterproof, rated at 10,000mm (see below for what this means).
The Burton Mid Fit pants are a 3 layer construction with a membrane middle layer to provide extra protection from the elements plus breathability.
The seams are fully taped to complete the pants for water resistance. They are feature rich, the knees are articulated (pre-curved) for extra comfort and have reinforcement on the cuffs to provide abrasion resistance.
The Burton Cargo pants have powder liners for protection from snow and cold air coming up the bottom of the pants plus one of my favorite features; inner thigh zips to provide ventilation.
There is a lot to like with the Burton Mid Fit cargo pants, I would give them the nod for the best Mens Ski Pants.
Outdoor Research has long stood as my favorite brand for hats and gloves. When it comes to style and top quality construction OR is hard to beat and their ski pants are no exception to this rule.
If you’re a technical skier hitting the hills while everyone else is still snoozing, you’re gonna love these. They’re made for backcountry skiers who like to send it all over the mountain thanks to little details like the beacon pocket.
As always my favorite feature is the oft-overlooked leg zip pocket. You’ll be happy to know OR didn’t overlook it on these pants. Plus, they have included optional bibs so you can make sure your pants stay on when you explode like Jerry.
Water resistant zippers and top of the line materials make these the best ski bibs and a good choice for skiers who push hard in and out of bounds.
Helly Hansen is almost always around and yet often stays under the radar. It’s surprising really, because I’ve yet to encounter any of their gear that isn’t well made.
I was a little hesitant to recommend these pants because they’re insulated. Insulated ski pants turn into sweat buckets quickly but then I realized they have leg venting!
That means you can easily dump extra heat by throwing open the leg vents. Plus, the extra insulation makes them ideal for the coldest days of winter.
I do know from experience that Helly Hansen pants tend to fit pretty snug. They did make these with 2-way stretch fabric though so hopefully they won’t feel restrictive.
Just make sure to consult the sizing chart and if in doubt, consider going a size up. If you’re looking for the warmest ski pants, the HH Legendary’s are a good choice.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the Arc’teryx are the Arctix ski pants. Similar in name only, these are a budget pair of ski pants. The Arctix Men’s insulated pants are a solid shot in that category.
Featuring 100% nylon shell material, you can be assured that the outer fabric is robust and durable. This is paired with some super thick 600D nylon reinforcement around the cuffs and ankles to help prevent ski boot abrasion and resist the sharp edges of your skis.
Adjustable waist with two side-mounted Velcro straps means you won’t have to match your sizing perfectly so you’ll have room to eat as much lunch as you want and still hit the slopes comfortably.
Arctix also included a set of belt loops so you can get a great, secure fit on these pants.
Belt loops are great to help ensure that your ski pants stay in place during hard runs. Having a belt on also helps to keep powder out of your pants!
Boot zippers help with getting your ski boots on without having to fight the pants as you gear up. Then simply zip ‘em back down and you’re ready to get shreddy.
Good gaiters are a 100% necessity on all ski pants and these Arctix pants don’t disappoint. The gaiters elastic band is coated in silicone gripping material to keep the gaiters in place while you’re skiing. Make sure you use them!
Being insulated pants, these ski pants are rocking 85g of 100% polyester insulation. If you’re not sure what that means for you let’s break it down: 85g is a moderate – low amount of insulation for skiing.
You’ll have a bit too much insulation for warm spring skiing and a bit too little for the colder days. Make sure you use a good base layer on colder days, see my guide here.
Machine washable and machine dryable is a great plus because, often, high end outdoor gear can be a little finicky in the wash. Don’t have to worry about damaging these pants in the wash though so just toss ‘em in after a hard sweaty day.
Arctix also makes some of the best ski bibs as well, here is the link to see them on Amazon.
The Arctix ski pants are perfect for the occasional skier and wants the best budget ski pants.
Ski Pants Comparison Table
|Arc'teryx Sabre||Nylon||Brushed liner||Scuff guards / Taped seams / GORE-TEX®||4.0 / 5.0|
|Spyder Troublemaker||Polyester||40g of Polyester||Scuff guards / Thigh ventilation||4.3 / 5.0|
|Columbia Bugaboo II||Nylon Legacy Twill||40g of Polyester||Scuff guards||4.3 / 5.0|
|Burton Cargo Mid Fit||Nylon||Taffeta Lining||Fully taped seams / Thigh ventilation||4.5 / 5.0|
|Outdoor Research Skyward||Nylon / spandex||Polyester liner||Scuff guards / Avalanche Beacon Pocket||4.2 / 5.0|
|Helly Hansen Legendary||Nylon||Primaloft®||Scuff guards / Thigh ventilation||4.4 / 5.0|
|Arctix Ski Pants||Polyester||85g of Polyester||Boot gaiters||3.8 / 5.0|
How to Choose the Best Ski Pants
- Types of Ski Pants
- Fit and Comfort
- Water/Weather Resistance
- Style and Color
- FAQ For Ski Pants
- Best Ski Pant Brands
So you decide to head to the outfitter for a pair of new ski pants.
Maybe it’s been a few years since you sized yourself up against the wide array of technical ski pants on the market but, if you haven’t been in to a ski shop in the winter months recently, you’re about to find out that ski pants come in every size, style, shape, and material under the sun.
Types of Ski Pants
We’re going to cover the main types of ski pants here and you’ll be appropriately educated to go shopping!
Uninsulated ski pants, sometimes called shells, are usually a waterproof / wind proof outer layer meant to be worn as a layering system.
Most often shell pants are made, primarily, from an outer layer of thick nylon. Nylon is durable and abrasion resistant so that your pants don’t immediately rip when you take your first digger.
You can further break down the uninsulated ski pants into two sub categories; 2 layer pants and 3 layer pants.
In the 2 layer variety you just have a breathable liner and a water resistant shell, whereas the 3 layer pants have a water resistant and breathable “membrane” in between the shell and liner. This hybrid system gives you the best of both worlds. Of course they are more expensive than 2 layer pants.
I don’t think the extra layer is really necessary. A good 2 layer pair of pants are fine and much cheaper.
Pro tip: look for reinforced nylon patches on the inside of each pant leg where your boots and ski edges are likely to rub and abrade. This is a nice extra feature.
Uninsulated pants sometimes come with a very bare minimum layer of fleece or some other polyester based “insulation” for just a touch of warmth.
Keep an eye out for leg zips, inner leg zippers which can be opened and closed to manage heat levels during changes in activity to prevent overheating. These are great extra features.
Make sure you buy a size of pant which allows plenty of space for adding layers of insulation underneath when the mercury drops.
Most people who get into skiing automatically assume insulated pants are the way to go. This is not necessarily the case. They are the least versatile type of pants and unless you are only making a few runs down the mountain or only ski in very cold weather, thickly insulated ski pants are probably not the way to go.
I can’t remember my legs ever getting cold on the slopes. While I usually ski pretty hard, even when I am skiing with my girlfriend who is much slower I still have never had an issue with uninsulated pants with a base layer underneath, (see my recommended base layers here).
Insulated pants come in many thicknesses and intended warmth ratings. These pants can range from bare minimum insulation to polar-explorer style insulation.
The single biggest drawback of most insulated pants is their inherent difficulty in modifying warmth levels based on activity level. If you’re ripping it down the double blacks you’re going to want less insulation than when you’re sitting down for the afternoon beer on the patio.
As with the shell pants, you’ll want to look for insulated pants with ventilation options, it will be critical for temperature regulation.
When it comes to insulated pants you’ll want to be very thoughtful about your normal activity levels while skiing. If you’re a slower skier who only skies a couple runs per day then you’ll be okay with a heavier insulation.
I have a good pair of The North Face Freedom Ski Pants that are lightly insulated and on especially cold days on the ski lift I am glad I have them!
If you’re going run after run down the bumps, you’re going to overheat quickly with insulated pants.
If you go with the insulated variety, go for a light insulation, like 40-60 grams, this way on the really cold days, just wear a good base layer and you will be fine.
Like jackets, there is a “softshell” type of pants offered as well. The main difference being soft shell ski pants don’t have the durable, nylon outer shell and use a lighter, more flexible material.
These pants are primarily designed for warmer weather where you don’t need protection from the cold wind.
They are much more comfortable and breathable than the “hard shell” variety. If you are a beginner skier, these are probably not for you.
They do not offer much in the way of water resistance and if you are falling, you are quickly going to get wet and miserable. For the spring skier in the warmer weather, these are a solid option.
Bibs take the pants game to the next level. Over the shoulder straps hold these chest-high pants in place while you ski.
These type of ski pants are an excellent option for the deep powder skier and the back country or heli-skier who needs the ultimate protection from snow getting down your pants.
Bibs are usually more expensive than pants but they have two solid benefits:
- They stay in place more securely
- There is no waistline where snow can sneak in
It’s important with bibs that you get the correct size. For guys, if they straps don’t allow the bibs to sit low enough they will ride up your crotch making for a uncomfortable day on the slopes.
I tried a friend’s pair of bibs and was constantly trying to pull them down all day, very annoying.
The best ski bibs offer a hybrid design that allow you to zip off the “bib” part and left with a pair of pants only. I like this design as it offers the best of both worlds.
Ski bibs are the best option for deep powder skiers or skiers who feel that ski pants won’t stay in place for them.
How to Evaluate Ski Pants
Fit and Comfort
It’s critical that your skiing pant choice fits well and remains comfortable throughout the day in all conditions. We’ll make note of any fitment considerations in our reviews.
See the descriptions of different skiing pant types above for more details on fitment.
Pants which include stretchy panels in the crotch, knees, and butt are often quite flexible and may be a great solution if you’re ripping carves so hard you need to get all the way down on the snow.
If you’re going to error on the fitting side, better a little bigger so that they don’t reduce your flexibility.
Usually skiing pants must only resist the cold. Frozen snow rarely presents difficulty in staying dry (unless it gets inside your clothing).
However, during spring skiing you’ll sometimes find yourself skiing in unexpected weather. Rain is possible and getting wet in 40-degree weather is a recipe for hypothermia.
Be sure to consider the possibility of soft, wet, spring snow or a rare cloud burst at the end of the season.
We’ve talked about warmth in the pant descriptions section but let’s consider a little more:
During spring skiing temperatures in the sun can easily rise into the high 40’s or 50’s on occasion. During these times you’re going to want very thin layers with great warmth management such as vents and layering options.
Mid-season when temps plummet into the negative 20’s or deeper, you’ll need to add layers or pull out your most highly insulated pants.
Not only do ski pants need to keep the heat in so you stay warm, the best ski pants also let moisture out (perspiration). The last thing you want is to be skiing hard and then start sweating and your pants get wet from perspiration.
This is incredibly important to remain comfortable on the slopes. Long inside zippers on the legs are, by far, the best solution for great ventilation.
Style and Color
Looking good is 90% of becoming the best skier on the mountain. Everyone knows that. Be careful buying white pants, they look great but one fall can get them permanently stained, drink coffee or hot chocolate, better watch the spills!
There are a few features that I would consider a necessity. One of them are reinforced panels for durability. Gaiters are pretty much included in any decent pair of pants, they are an extra cuff with elastic so they fit tightly around your ski boots to keep the snow out.
Some other features are cargo pockets for storing some snacks or your phone. I have even seen pants with a goggle wipe included.
All said and done the following features are critical in a ski pant:
- Integrated snow gaiters
- Adjustable waist
- Vent zippers
- Reinforced nylon cuffs
FAQ For Ski Pants
Q: What are powder gaiters and why do I need them?
A: Gaiters on ski pants are a lot like powder skirts on a jacket.
When properly fitted gaiters will keep snow from sneaking up into your ski boots. It also helps to keep your pants from pulling up your legs especially if you find yourself ski-less in deep powder.
In my view ski pants must have powder gaiters. Without them you’re pretty much just going to get a leg-full of snow ever time.
Q: What are your favorite accessories for ski pants?
A: While not really accessories, I do love leg zips. These are zippered openings between the thighs which help dump heat out while you’re skiing. This feature is by far the most important feature of a good pair of ski pants in my world.
After that I’d say that the next thing I look for, personally, is nylon reinforced patches on the insides of the pant cuffs. Boots and ski edges are destructive on ski pants! I can’t tell you how many nicks and cuts I have on my pant cuffs from ski edges.
Look for thick Cordura or nylon patches that help stave off the destruction of rough boots and ski edges.
Q: Should I get ski pants or bibs?
A: It’s weird just writing the word “bibs” I feel like it’s a word I’ve used maybe twice in my whole life. Maybe that’s why these “old fashion” style pants just aren’t that popular these days – they need a new cooler name!
Anyways, ski bibs are popular for backcountry skiing where deep powder tends to get into every nook and cranny. The taller waistline adds more protection and the suspenders help keep the bibs in place.
I personally don’t like bibs but if you struggle to find pants that fit well or if your ski pants always seem to be falling down consider bibs. You can also use a pair of suspenders to essentially serve the same function.
In general I recommend ski pants unless you have trouble finding a good fit, then just go with bibs. They’re quite a bit more expensive though, so hold on to your wallet!
Q: What do I wear under my ski pants?
A: Depends on what time of the season it is.
In mid-winter I usually wear midweight or heavyweight tights underneath my (thin) ski pants.
In spring season skiing I’ll wear ultralight tights or none at all on hot days at lower altitudes.
Remember that you’ll be much better able to manage your temperature on the mountain if you use pants with leg zips. Together with the right base layer underneath you can adapt to any situation.
Q: Does color matter with my ski pants?
A: Well… honestly probably not but here’s something to think about.
Tree wells claim lives every year on the mountain (article). What happens is skiers venture too close to a large tree which has a hollow hole made by lack of snow around the base of the tree. The snow under the nearby skier collapses into that hollow space and takes unsuspecting skiers with it.
All I’m saying is that if you happen to take a fall into a tree well (or get injured in another way) rescuers are going to be able to spot your clothing much more easily if it stands out.
Browns, dark greens, and whites all look like part of the mountain. Bright or unnatural colors, however, stand out and could help rescuers respond to you more quickly.
Just a thought.
Best Ski Pant Brands
As always choosing the “best” ski pant brands is very subjective. Ask 10 skiers and you will get 6-7 different answers. However certain brands always come to the top like Burton.
So the best brands of ski pants in my opinion are:
- Burton – What can you say? The originator of snowboarding, they also make some of the best pants available at any price.
- Columbia – In my opinion the best value/quality ski pants on the market!
- The North Face – One of the best known winter outfitters. They have an excellent lineup of ski pants.
- Arc’teryx – This Canadian company got its start making clothing for the Canadian Mounties. They are not cheap but the quality is second to none.
Of all the pants we’ve reviewed in this article, I feel The North Face Freedom Ski Pants are the best purchase for your money. With all the critical features and a price that seems reasonable, you’re sure to be happy.
Don’t forget to carefully consider the type of skiing you do before making a choice of ski pants.
Stay safe out there and rip it up!
I hope this guide was helpful for finding the best ski pants to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend a pair of pants I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.
New to skiing? See my beginners guide to skiing for tips and advice.
Have fun and be safe out there!