Answering the call of the snow-covered slopes? You’ll need the right gear to help you stay warm and protected while carving through fresh powder. While your snowboard and boots are undeniably vital, you also need other things, such as gloves, pants, goggles, and a snowboard jacket. If you’ve never purchased a snowboard jacket before, it can be difficult to navigate your options. Our buying guide will walk you through what you need to know, from waterproofing to venting, and everything in between.
Snowboard Jacket Types
We’ll start our discussion with a look at the types of snowboard jackets on the market. There are three primary types out there, but not all of them are the same.
Hard Shell – Several of the snowboarding jackets on our list are hard shell models, meaning that they help provide wind and water resistance, but they do little more. Sure, they’ll keep you warm enough on a sunny day on the slopes, but if you’re caught outdoors in real weather, you’ll quickly see that they’re not designed for that sort of environment.
Soft Shell – Soft shell jackets are water repellent, but not necessarily waterproof. They are also not really designed for deep cold, either. They work well layered under a hard shell jacket, though, and can increase the protection those garments offer.
Insulated Shell Jackets – Most of the snowboard jackets we included on our list fall into this category. They are essentially a combination of the two types listed above, with a dash of cold weather resilience thrown in. That means you’ll fare better on chair lifts, as well as when boarding in colder weather conditions. That additional protection comes with a tradeoff, though. These jackets tend to be bulkier than their cousins and are harder to move in, so if you’ll be doing something particularly athletic, you might want to consider going with a thinner jacket.
Three-in-One – Only one jacket on our list falls into this category. They are essentially modular creations and you can strip down layer by layer as you get warmer. These jackets are good options for situations in which you may get too warm for an insulated shell jacket, but still need some additional protection from the cold when you slow down. In most cases, you simply unsnap the inner or outer liners as necessary, although some jackets have a zip system instead of snaps.
Waterproofing and Its Role in Your Jacket
If you’ll be snowboarding, you’ll have to deal with water. You won’t be doused in it, but snow does melt, and you’ll need to ensure that your gear is up to protecting you against meltwater. All of the jackets listed on our head-to-head comparison offer good waterproof performance, but how does it break down?
Most of the jackets we included were listed as having 10k waterproofing. What does that mean? Simply put it means that the jacket will be waterproof up to the point that it can absorb up to 10,000 millimeters of water over a one-day period and still be waterproof. While most of our models fall into the 10k category, there are others out there.
5k waterproofing is pretty decent for light usage needs, but is not a good option for anyone who will be getting serious on the slopes. 10k is the best middle range here, which is why we choose it as one of our criteria. However, you can go higher if you want. 15k jackets offer a bit more protection without being too stiff or bulky. There are snowboarding coats that offer 20k waterproofing, as well.
With that being said, not all snowboard jacket manufacturers use the same waterproofing rating. These competing technologies can be more than a little confusing. One that you’ll encounter is a durable water repellant coating, or DWR coating. We do not recommend these coatings, as they generally wear away over time, eventually leaving you with a jacket that is not waterproof at all. There is also Gore-Tex, which is waterproof in its own right, but does not have ratings (Gore-Tex is always the same level of waterproof).
The Question of Insulation
Insulation within the jacket is what keeps you warm. The more insulation you have, the warmer you’ll stay. However, high levels of insulation will also make the jacket bulkier and harder to move in, so you will want to find the right balance between flexibility and warmth retention.
There are several different insulation materials used on the market today. Goose down is one of the more common, but it has problems. The most obvious issue is that those with allergies may not be able to use goose down jackets, so a down alternative is necessary. Down is a great choice for many people, though, as it is lightweight, and ensures that your jacket does not have to be too bulky in order to protect you from the cold.
Polymer insulation is a synthetic option that offers good performance, but does not quite compare to down. It’s heavier than down, though, and may not be as long lasting. With that being said, if down gets wet, you will not stay warm. Polymer insulation will be just fine, though.
Wool is another type of insulation used (generally merino wool). It is very warm and will keep you protected even in cold temperatures. However, wool has some drawbacks. One of those is that it doesn’t work well if it gets wet (so pay attention to your waterproofing). The second is that it must be dry cleaned only, and will shrink significantly if you do not care for it correctly.
Snowboard Jacket Breathability and Vents
Breathability is a critical consideration. Snowboarding is an active sport, and while you won’t do much sweating riding the chair lift up, the story changes when you actually start boarding. It’s important that your snowboard jacket allows moisture to escape, while still preventing moisture from coming in. You want to make sure that your jacket is breathable.
Part of this comes from the inner construction of the jacket. Look for one that offers a breathable liner. However, most jackets also come with a system of vents that you can open to help vent heat and moisture during very active boarding sessions.
Armpit vents are pretty common, but some jackets offer other vents, as well. When you start shopping around, check how easy it is to open those vents, and the type of closure that they use. Is it a zipper? Buttons? Something else? Consider your comfort while wearing the jacket, as the closure will be directly under your armpit, and a bulky style will be felt.
The Importance of Jacket Fit
Fit is an important element of finding the right snowboard jacket. The size you purchase has an impact on this, but the cut of the jacket is also important.
Too Large or Too Small – You do not want to purchase a snowboard jacket that is either too large or too small. If it is too small, you’ll limit your range of movement. If it is too big, you will also limit your range of movement and you may find that the jacket does not do a very good job of keeping moisture out. The best idea here is to try on a jacket in person before you buy, simply because sizes are not completely standard, and a medium in one brand may fit more like a large in another.
Cut of the Jacket – Some snowboard jackets have a specific fit designated by the manufacturer. At least two of the ones we listed in our comparison did. One had a mid-fit and one offered a more ergonomic fit. The fit from the manufacturer will have a role in how comfortable you are and how well you’re able to perform on the slopes.
What’s a Powder Skirt?
Only a couple of the models we reviewed offered a true powder skirt. The reason for this is simple – alternative exist that do a very good job. For instance, the elastic cord at the bottom of the coat that helps keep it tight against your body allows you to help prevent snow and ice from entering from underneath.
A true powder skirt is something else. It’s located a few inches from the bottom of the jacket, and can be found inside. Its job is to provide an adjustable seal around your waist to truly prevent any chance of moisture from entering. Some powder skirts are removable to suit your riding needs, as well.
What You Should Know about Pockets
You’ll want to carry at least a few things with you on your downhill run. You’ll need your lift pass, as well as your phone or other media player. You’ll likely want somewhere to keep your goggles other than strapped to your head, too. Pockets serve all of these purposes, and more.
You’ll notice from our reviews that some of the models we covered offered plenty of pockets, while others were a bit more minimal. That lets you choose the right combination of storage and aesthetics for your specific needs.
When checking out a potential snowboard jacket, make sure that the one you choose has fully closing pockets. These can quickly fill up with snow and ice, and if not emptied promptly, it will melt. While your jacket might be waterproof, it can only absorb so much moisture within a given amount of time and still protect you against water intrusion.
Check out our article on the top ice climbing glove.
Full Seamed vs. Tape Seamed
You’ll have noticed that some of the snowboard jackets on our review mentioned taped seams. What does that mean? Seams are, well, exactly what they sound like. These are the areas where two or more pieces of material come together and are adhered to one another. There are two types of seam style used by today’s manufacturers.
Full Seam Sealed – Full seam sealed jackets are made with completely sealed seams. These are among the most waterproof options on the market, and the sealing system is supposed to completely prevent the chance of water entering through a seam.
Taped – Taped seams are different from full seam sealed models. These seams are not completely sealed during the manufacturing process, but are taped in critical areas where water ingress is the most likely, although some seams are sealed completely.
What about Hoods?
All of the snowboard jackets we reviewed included a hood, and for good reason. Your head is one of the most significant areas of heat loss. It’s also not much fun to find out that your hat is soaking wet with melted snow. However, there are a few important considerations to bear in mind while shopping for a coat particularly where the hood is involved.
Removable – Some jackets offer a removable hood. Others are stowable. Some are fixed position and cannot be stowed or removed. There are pros and cons to each of these solutions, so know what you want before buying.
Removable hoods can be stored when you don’t need them. Stowable hoods can be rolled up and stowed in the collar, but rolling them can be a challenge sometimes. Fixed hoods are there all the time and there’s no way to remove them, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Do I Need Reflectors on My Snowboard Jacket?
You’re not required to have reflectors on your jacket, but it is a good idea. RECCO reflectors can help search and rescue workers spot you in the case of an avalanche or another type of accident while you’re on the slope. They also do not take away any of the mobility that you would enjoy with the jacket, and usually don’t affect the style, either. Really the question should be why wouldn’t you want snowboard jacket reflectors?
Are Pockets Really Just Personal Preference?
For the most part, yes. However, remember that you will want ways to carry things with you. Most resorts these days have good cellular signal, so carrying your phone on the slopes is pretty common. Plus, you can use your device to listen to music, and it might be a lifesaver if you were to have an accident, end up lost, or be involved in an avalanche. With that being said, make sure that all exterior pockets have waterproof flaps or zippers to secure them against snow and ice.
Is There a Better Snowboard Jacket Brand?
There are plenty of snowboard jacket brands on the market today, and while they all have their own loyal followings, there’s really nothing to say that one is better than another, so long as you are comparing apples to apples. The best idea is not to shop by brand at all. Rather, figure out what is more important to you in a jacket, and then find options that fit those needs. Once you have a handful of options, read their customer reviews, compare their benefits and features, their prices, and make an informed decision.
What Is a Storm Flap?
You’ll find that most of the snowboarder coat models we listed have what is called a storm flap. Really, this is nothing more than a flap of padded fabric that sits outside the coat’s front zipper. Buttons hold it closed when you’re wearing it. Why does it matter? Your zipper is one of the inherent weak points when it comes to waterproofing, simply because it’s pretty much impossible to completely waterproof the zipper’s teeth. The storm flap helps keep ice and snow from accumulating on the zipper, where it might melt and invade your coat.
What Is a Gaiter?
If you spend any amount of time reading snowboard jacket reviews, you’ll come across the term “gaiter”. If you’re not sure what this means, don’t worry. It’s simple. Take a look at the cuff on most snowboard coat models and you’ll find an elastic closure. This is designed to hold tight around your wrist, keeping the sleeve down and snow and ice out. Some jackets also have waist gaiters, and you’ll even find that some brands offer removable gaiters.
Why Would I Need Two-Way Zippers?
While not all snowboarding jackets will come with two-way zippers, they are an important convenience. The reason for this is that some coats are longer than others. In that instance, they may impact your leg movement. Being able to zip from the top down allows you to zip your jacket just as far as you need for good movement. This is particularly important with jackets that fit a bit tighter, as just zipping up a few inches can give you the leg movement you need.
Why Does a Pass Pocket Matter?
Why would you need a pass pocket when you just clip your pass to your coat? Actually, more and more ski and snowboard facilities are doing away with clip-on passes. Instead, they’re using RFID technology. A pass pocket allows you to store your pass away in a convenient spot.
Ultimately, there is a snowboarding coat for just about any skill level, any budget, and any need. Whether you’re looking for something that will help ensure you can carve through fresh powder on the most frigid of days, or just need something so you can get out with the family on your annual vacation, our list has something for you. Of course, there are many other snowboard jackets on the market, so if you’re not able to find the ideal solution from our list, chances are good that it is still out there and available to you.