Home » Are ski jackets warm? The complete guide to ski jackets

Are ski jackets warm? The complete guide to ski jackets


Last season it was time for me to buy a new ski jacket. It had been a while, and a lot of the technology that goes into making a ski jacket had changed. So I had a lot of questions, and I had to do some research.

So I thought, I’d share the answers I found here in this blog post. Hopefully, it might help someone else.

If you’re looking for a suggestion for a good ski jacket, have a look at this post: Recommended ski clothes – from base layer to shell

What kind of ski jackets are available?

Ski jackets come in a lot of shapes and sizes as well as with different designs and features. But still, it is possible to put ski jackets into a few classes.

Ski jackets can be divided into three basic categories: shell, insulated, and 3-in-1. The shell is waterproof, windproof and breathable, but doesn’t keep you warm. Insulated jackets usually consist of a weatherproof outer shell and an insulation layer, to keep you warm. The 3-in-1 jacket also includes a shell and insulation layer, but you have the option to remove the insulation layer from the shell, which makes 3-in-1 jackets a versatile choice.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these categories.

What is a shell ski jacket?

The primary function of a shell jacket is to act as an outer layer, which provides protection from the elements. They don’t offer any insulation, so you’d still need a warm coat underneath, to keep warm.

Shell jackets are a good option, if you do a lot of high activity skiing, which makes you produce a lot of body heat, or if you ski during the end of the season at higher temperatures. The reason is that you can change the insulation layer (like a fleece) to something thinner, or even skip it and just ski with the shell and a nice warm merino wool base layer.

You can divide shell ski jackets into two categories: the hard shell and the soft shell.

Softshell ski jackets

Softshell ski jackets are made from soft, breathable, stretchable fabric, that provides wind protection as well. The soft, stretchable material in softshell jackets makes it possible to move more freely while you ski.

Most softshell jackets are water repellent and provide some protection from snow and rain. They come with lining (e.g., fleece) as well for insulation.

In dry conditions and warmer temperatures like those at the end of the season, the softshell jacket can be worn as both outer and mid layer, which makes them, in essence, a 2-in-1 solution.

Softshell jackets can also act as a mid layer, and be worn under a hardshell on freezing days.

Hardshell ski jackets

Hardshell ski jackets are designed to act as the weatherproof outer layer. They’re designed to provide protection from wind, snow, and rain, while still being breathable.

Hardshell ski jackets don’t provide any insulation. So you need an insulation layer underneath.

Hardshell isn’t as stretchy as softshells, but are very durable and light. And they are a must for rainy days and off-piste skiing.

Hardshell jackets often come with extra features, which act as further protection against the elements such as sealed seams, a hood, and a powder skirt. It’s more difficult to find these features in softshell jackets.

What is the shell in a ski jacket made of?

A shell is usually made of synthetic material like polyester, polyamide or nylon, which is used as the face fabric.

The shell has a membrane, which is designed to provide waterproofing and breathability.

Some manufacturers develop their own membranes, to keep costs down, while other licenses a brand name membrane like GORE-TEX®.

The shell can also be coated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR). This is a coating, which is applied to the face fabric of the shell, so that snow and light rain bead off the jacket.

DWR is much cheaper than using a waterproof membrane like GORE-TEX® or Helly Tech®. DWR needs to be applied once a year, though, and it is only water-repellent and not waterproof.

There’s been a move towards using recycled materials as well. So if the environment is something you care about (you should!) go for a shell with recycled polyester or nylon fiber.

What is an insulated ski jacket?

Insulated ski jackets are designed to keep you warm, even in icy conditions, while also providing breathable protection from water, snow, and wind. They’re a great option if you go to places like Canada, Norway or the north of Sweden.

Insulated ski jackets use either goose or duck down, some kind of synthetic insulation (like fleece or PrimaLoft) or a mixture of both.

Ski jackets with down insulation

A lot of people like to use a down jacket for the daily commute in the winter. If you’re one of those, who already own a down jacket, you’re probably wondering, can I use a down jacket for skiing?

Ski jackets with down (like goose and duck feathers) insulation are hot. The feathers trap the warm air from your body and insulate at the same time, which make for a very efficient insulator. This means that you’ll get warm quickly and stay that way. You can’t beat nature.

The effectiveness of down as an insulator can also be a problem though because your body produces a lot of heat by itself when you ski. So only use down in icy conditions.

Another downside to down jackets is, that if they get wet, they stay wet for a long time (up to 24 hours). Also, the down will clump together, and the jacket will lose its ability to trap air and keep you warm.

Down jackets are best for icy and arid conditions.

Down are light-weight and compactable and suitable for transport.

The effectiveness of a down jacket is measured in fill power

How warm the down jacket is, is described with a fill power rating. The higher the fill power is, the more effective the jacket is at keeping you warm.

Look for a fill rating between 600-700 for most leisure skiing. You can go above 700 if you’re skiing in icy conditions.

Are ski jackets made of down unethical?

If you do choose a down jacket, try to make sure it is made with down from animals, which have been treated right.

Lately, there’s been a shift towards a higher ethical standard, and a lot of manufacturers of ski jackets now strive to use down from geese, which hasn’t been plucked while they’re still alive.

Unfortunately, since the down is often produced in China, there’s still stories of live plucking and foie gras feeding popping up once in a while. There’s really no way of knowing, if you’re expensive down ski jackets come from one of these manufacturers of animal cruelty.

There’s really no way of knowing, if you’re expensive down ski jackets come from one of these manufacturers of animal cruelty. The best way to be sure is to avoid down jackets altogether.

Ski jackets with synthetic insulation

Ski jackets with synthetic insulation are not as warm as down. Synthetic insulation has several other advantages though.

First, synthetic insulation isn’t as bulky as down. That’s nice for your freedom of movement when you ski, and also helpful when you have to pack your already overstuffed suitcase.

Second, synthetic insulation dries much faster than down if it gets wet.

Each manufacturer seems to have their own name for the synthetic material they use, e.g., Omni-Heat®, Thinsulate®, Heatseeker™, Polarguard®, or PrimaLoft®.

The effectiveness of the synthetic insulation is measured in grams per square meter
Some ski jackets utilize synthetic insulation as the base insulation, and then adds down strategically in places, combining the best of two worlds.

The effectiveness of the synthetic insulation is measured in grams per square meter. The heavier the weight, the warmer the jacket is.

There’s often more insulation in the body of the jacket than in the sleeves or hood.

If you’re going skiing in high season, you should look at insulation between 100-200 grams. If you’re going skiing in the spring, summer or fall, you could look for a jacket with an insulation level of 40-100 grams.

What is a 3-in-1 ski jacket?

The 3-in-1 ski jacket is basically a combination of the shell and the insulated ski jacket.

The difference is that you can remove the insulating layer when you get overheated. This is also practical if you start out in the morning with windy and snowy conditions, but find that by noon, the wind has died off and the sun has come out.

A lot of my favorite ski jackets have been 3-in-1.

Are ski jackets warm?

So I thought, I’d just spend a few lines to answer the title of this post, as it also provides a good summary.

Hardshell ski jackets are not warm in themselves but are designed to keep water and snow out, while still letting your body heat out.

Softshell ski jackets do provide insulation as well. Softshell jackets can be used by themselves in the autumn, spring or for summer skiing. They can also act as the mid-layer under a hardshell for icy conditions.

3-in-1 ski jackets consist of an outer shell, which in itself isn’t warm, and an insulating layer, which can be removed when needed.

Insulated ski jackets provide are warm jackets, where the outer shell and the insulating layer can’t be separated. Therefore, they are not as versatile as a 3-in-1 jacket. Insulated ski jackets are designed for icy conditions and can have an insulating layer which is synthetic and/or made of down.

Down ski jackets are hot and should primarily be used for dry and icy conditions. If down jackets get wet, they lose their insulating effect until they’re dry again.

Are ski jackets waterproof?

So are ski jackets waterproof then?

Well, some ski jackets are waterproof, and some are not.

Ski jackets where the face fabric has been treated with Durable Water Repellency (DWR) are not waterproof, but only water-repellent.

If you need a waterproof ski jacket, you need to look for a jacket, which has a built-in membrane like Gore-Tex.

The thing with waterproofing a jacket is, that if it were totally waterproof, it would not be breathable. So you need to find a jacket with a suitable membrane like Gore-Tex.

You should also look for a good waterproof rating (above 10.000 mm) if you expect to be skiing in the rain sometimes.

Let’s have a closer look at the different waterproof ratings.

What are waterproof ratings?

Ski jackets and ski pants have waterproof ratings, which is a measurement of how waterproof they are. The higher the number is, the more heavy showers, the fabric can withstand.

The fabric is tested in a lab, where a tube with a diameter of 2.5 cm is placed on top of the material.

Water is poured into the test tube until the fabric lets the water through. If the water leaks through when the water column is 5 meters high, the material is given a waterproof rating of 5,000 mm. If water leaks through at 20 meters high, the fabric is given a waterproof rating of 20,000 mm, etc.

Because 20-meter high test tubes aren’t convenient, sometimes pumps are used to simulate water pressure instead.

The waterproof ratings are described in millimeter. Here you can see a table of different categories of waterproofing:

Waterproof rating in mmResistanceSnowy conditionsRainy conditions
<1,000Water repellentDry snowSpray
1,000-5,000Waterproof (light)Dry snowDrizzle to light rain
5,000-10,000Waterproof (medium)SnowModerate rain
10,000-20,000Waterproof (high)Slush, powder, wet snowHeavy rain
20,000-30,000Waterproof (extreme)Slush, powder, wet snowHeavy rain for a prolonged period of time

I made a four-day trip to the Southern parts of Sweden last season, and when I got there, it was raining. My ski jacket has a waterproof rating of 15,000 which meant, that I could ski all day in the rain, without worrying about getting wet.

What is the difference between a ski jacket and a snowboard jacket?

Ski jackets and snowboard jackets are both made from the same materials. Both types of jackets are made to keep you nice and warm and protected from the elements.

Where the two types of jackets differ is in the design and fit. Snowboard jackets, in general, has a much looser fit to allow for more freedom of movement. Ski jackets often have a tighter fit, as your upper body and arms don’t move as much, as they would if you were riding a snowboard.

Snowboard jackets also tend to be longer than ski jackets to help prevent powder getting in and keep you warm when you sit in the snow strapping your feet into the bindings.

You can quickly wear a snowboard jacket while skiing, and vice versa if you prefer the looser or tighter fit. The jacket I bought last season is actually a snowboard jacket. I’m still not sure if I prefer the loose or tight fit yet, though.

Can I wash my ski jacket?

Some people think, that if they wash their ski jacket, the breathable and waterproof membrane will suffer.

This is not the case. In fact, the opposite is true. When you ski, fall, sit in chairlifts and wear your jacket for after ski events, the fabric in your jacket will get dirty. Dirt clogs up the microscopic pores in the fabric and in the membrane, which in turn makes the jacket less breathable.

Before you wash your ski jacket (and ski clothes in general), you should always check the cleaning instructions. Never dry clean your ski clothes. The chemicals used in dry cleaning can destroy the breathable and waterproof membrane.

Also, don’t use fabric softeners or bleach, as these chemicals are also very harsh on the fabric and membrane.

Don’t put your ski jacket in the dryer. It will shrink the fabric, and possibly destroy the membrane. Instead, hang it outside to air dry.

You can easily wash your down jacket as well. Just make sure to check the care label and follow the guidelines.

Other features to look for in a ski jacket

When you’ve decided which type of jacket, you want, it is time to look at all the other features.

Hood: removable and helmet compatible

Most ski jackets come with a hood. But not all hoods are created equal.

First, you should make sure that the hood is removable.

And second, and even more important, make sure the hood is helmet compatible. A compatible helmet hood will fit your nugget and your helm as well, which is a must when you find yourself in the middle of heavy snowfall or a blizzard on the mountainsides.

Powder skirt

Make sure your ski jacket has a powder skirt as well. A powder skirt is a gaiter that wraps around your waist and prevents snow for getting in your jacket and pants.

Powder skirts are usually made from stretchy material for the best, tight fit, and some are removable.

Sealed seams for extra waterproofing

A way to distinguish a ski jacket of good quality from one of lower quality is when it comes to the seams.

Ski jackets of higher quality have seams, which are all sealed. What this means is, that the seams are sealed with waterproof tape. The seams are one of the most vulnerable parts of a ski jacket when it comes to making it waterproof. So good jackets always have sealed seams.

Mid-range jackets often have only the most critical seams sealed. And the cheapest jackets don’t have sealed seems at all.

You should also look for waterproof zippers, with a pull to quickly open your jacket, when you’re wearing gloves.

Air Vents

Ski jackets should have air vents to allow hot air to escape and let cold air in. Most jackets have vents placed in the position of your armpits. The air vents usually feature a zipper, which you should be able to reach easily, to quickly open and close the vents.

These are often lined with mesh, to prevent flapping of the fabric and to provide some protection from snow in case you crash.

You can also get jackets with air vents on the sleeves, across the upper back or on the front. The latter often doubles as a pocket, because of the mesh-lined fabric inside.

Cuffs and thumbs loops

Most ski jackets feature cuffs with holes for your thumbs. This is to prevent snow and wind getting up your sleeves and also prevent an unprotected gap of cold wind between your sleeve and gloves.

I personally love this feature, even if it seems small. So I would never buy a jacket without internal cuffs and thumb loops.

Pockets – lots of pockets!

You can never get enough pockets in a ski jacket, so make sure your jacket has a lot!

Pockets at the bottom part of the sleeves are a convenient place for your ski pass. It makes it much easier to go through the electronic gates, you have to pass each time, you need to use a lift.

If you don’t ski with a backpack make sure, that you have room for some energy bars, something to drink, your goggles or sunglasses, a balaclava, suncream, and your phone.

Further reading:

Recommended ski clothes – from base layer to shell

How to pick the best gloves and mittens for skiing