Shell Shock: The 7 Best Ski Jackets

Aug 10, 2015

Category: Gear

Ask a tortoise what the most important thing in their life is and they’ll probably…well, they won’t say anything because they’re a tortoise. If they could speak, however, they would tell you it is their shell. Their shells have to be able to stand up to freezing temperatures, rough winds, shifting weather, and moisture from both inside and out. Few items in a man’s arsenal are faced with such challenges, but ski jackets are certainly one of them, so there is no excuse for having a bad one. That’s a sure-fire way to end up a dead tortoise.

Waterproofing, ventilation, ruggedness, and the ability to carry all of your gear out on the resort slopes or deep into the backcountry are all the earmarks of a good jacket designed for skiing. It also needs to be capable of accommodating layers underneath while not binding or bunching when you’re trying to add a little swerve to your skiing game. Not just any off-the-rack coat can keep up, which is why we have the 7 best ski jackets for you.

Columbia Alpine

Columbia Alpine

Pro: Multiple interchangeable layers
Con: Hood is weak

Bare Necessities: Going any cheaper than the Alpine and you’re condemning yourself to a miserable day on the slopes. This bears no frills and none of the sexy tech that you’ll find elsewhere, but it is still a damn solid jacket. The Alpine uses the Omni-Heat system to bounce the heat from your body back so that you’re able to stay warmer longer. The interior thermal lining combines like Voltron with a tough outer shell with an adjustable hood and cuffs to keep flurries from finding their way into your long underwear. It has almost no ventilation and looks dull as dishwater, but it’ll protect you for pennies on the dollar. The removable storm hood stands up well enough, but don’t take on any blizzards in it. [Purchase: $160]

Marmot Flatspin

Marmot Flatspin

Pro: Well insulated
Con: Pockets are not fully waterproof

Most for the Money: We can’t get on board with the distinctive plaid design, but there is no denying that for a reasonable price, the Flatspin can stand up to the toughest elements without blinking. The waterproof exterior keeps you dry while the high-tech insulation holds in heat on the inside. It’s made with activity in mind, as evidenced by the stylish Pit Zips that allow you to regulate heat during a hike or a hot day, though you’ll want some light layers to keep toasty if you plan on spending a lot of time on a lift. While the body itself is good, not all of the zippers will pass muster when the real wet hits. There is an internal pocket for gadgets, but if you get caught in some serious weather or your own manly musk seeps through, there is the chance that they will get fried. [Purchase: $200]

W13

Helly Hansen Mission

Pro: Tough exterior
Con: Can cause overheating issues

Beyond the Slopes: Just because something is a ski jacket doesn’t mean that is all it is. The Mission was made for more than just hitting the slopes. Its rough waterproof shell and soft inner layer make it a favorite among those who are just as likely to spend their days with an ice axe as they are with a ski pole in their fist. The insulation is PrimaLoft which helps wick away moisture and allows the wearer to keep their temperature regular when hiking the backcountry or lounging by the jacuzzi at a premier resort in the Swiss Alps. All of the zippers are completely waterproof including the interior pocket for ski goggles and electronics. Since it already has dual layer construction, adding a mid layer underneath is typically overkill, so if you are facing alpine temperatures stick to something reasonably light or you’ll find your movement constricted and your skin soaked in sweat despite the Mission’s beautiful ventilation. [Purchase: $280]

Spyder Eiger

Spyder Eiger

Pro: Built for rescue aid
Con: Requires layers

Avalanche Survivor: Hopefully you aren’t planning any mountain excursions that will find you buried up to your eyeballs in snowfall or trapped waiting for a Saint Bernard with a jug of whiskey around his neck, but if you do, the Eiger is there for you. It was made with the help of the big mountain legend Chris Davenport who doesn’t settle for second best. Under his direction the bombproof Eiger was created complete with everything the backcountry thrill seeker needs. It comes equipped with the RECCO avalanche rescue system, heavy-duty zippers that won’t pop or bust under duress, and air vents right at your mouth so you can always breathe that sweet mountain air. The shoulders are treated with an anti-abrasion coating so when you’re lugging around your gear for some action off the beaten path it won’t wear through or stick. The closest thing to a negative about the Eiger is that it does require layers, so one-stop shoppers need to move along. [Purchase: $350]

Mountain Hardwear Quasar

Mountain Hardwear Quasar

Pro: Very light
Con: Pullover

Phantom Weight: There are a few ski jackets that are lighter than the Quasar which comes in at just about 8 ounces, but they typically lack a few of the features that come standard with the Quasar. It has a fully articulated hood that can work with helmets of just about any kind along with sleeves that have watertight cuff protection. Both the back of the jacket and the hood have stretch panels so that as you pack on those winter pounds, you won’t suddenly burst a seam. It uses the Dry Q fabric which allows it to breathe and help keep water at bay. When every ounce counts and you need the most protection you can pack into a tiny ball, the Quasar is top of the line. Just be aware that it is a pullover, which will keep front venting options to a minimum. Basically an easy top layer shell. [Purchase: $375]

Outdoor Research White Room

Outdoor Research White Room

Pro: Gore-Tex insulation
Con: Short body

Triple-Decker: Even if you’re a real hard case who’s seen some serious cold, odds are good that wherever the mysterious “White Room” of Outdoor Research is, it is way worse than anything you’ve come across if it produces products like this. This seems to have everything. There’s a helmet-friendly hood that easily stows away when not in use. The body has 3 layers of Gore-Tex to give you warmth, protect you from wind, wick away moisture, and roll water away well enough to make a duck’s back jealous. It doesn’t ride up even if you’re doing chin-ups on some backcountry tree branch. The long vents on the side can drop heat like…well, like it’s hot, and the snow skirt fits easily with just about any kind of pants. The price is going to be daunting for anyone who didn’t get in on the dot-com boom and the shorter body is made for activity rather than resort trips, but otherwise this is a glorious creation. [Purchase: $550]

Arcteryx Mens Caden

Arcteryx Men’s Caden

Pro: Outstanding storm hood
Con: Expensive

Storm Chaser: The Caden accomplishes a difficult balancing act by offering impressive protection along with minimal weight so that backcountry skiers who need to reduce their load but also get the best storm-fighting stuff available can have both. At two and a half pounds, this gives a “barely there” feel that belies its ability to keep you warm and dry when the snow hits the fan. The body is breathable, waterproof Gore-Tex that comes complete with a hardy storm hood that works with any helmet and allows you to easily move your head. The WaterTight Vislon front zip helps keep warmth in while also keeping moisture from accumulating so even if you’re wearing ski goggles, you can be assured they won’t fog up and ruin visibility. A stretch powder skirt completes the ensemble ensuring you’ll be the warmest girl at the dance. [Purchase: $644]

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