The Freedom is a noticeable step down in quality from our top pick, but it covers all the bases for resort skiers at a reasonable price.
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We also appreciate versatility and value. We may own many layers and jackets, but typically people only own one pair of ski or snowboard pants. We will mix and match these upper layers to tackle everything from storm days at the resort to hot days in the backcountry, and we expect our one pair of pants to perform in all of these conditions.
Virtually every skier owns little more than a pair of shell pants and a pair of long underwear. Very dedicated skiers may have something more specialized. But in general, we demand a lot of our pants. Fortunately, the market has excellent leg protection, and our legs are resilient.
If our legs become a little cold, or wet, or hot, it's not the end of the world. Therefore, our pant selection can be more forgiving than our jacket selection. The most versatile pants are not insulated, as they allow you to customize your system depending on the temps.
Uninsulated ski or snowboarding pants come in two different types of construction. Both types join three sheets of material but are named for the number of these layers that are laminated together.
They go on smooth and vent well. They don't feel all that comfortable against the bare skin and therefore pair well with long underwear. In our testing, the most versatile and highest rated pants use "two-layer construction. The pants are softer and more flexible as a result. These pants, like our Best Buy Freedom Pants from The North Face and high-scoring Patagonia Powder Bowl , are more comfortable and slightly warmer than the previous style, especially when worn without long underwear.
The Patagonia SnowShot Pants are also a two-layer construction. Essentially, in between the lining fabric and the waterproof membrane, the manufacturers add a layer of synthetic "puff" insulation. These pants work well if you will be in cold climates or get cold legs. Some will want insulated pants as a second pair in their quiver. For the coldest of days, this can be a good idea as layering underneath shell pants is bulky. For users that get out often enough to justify owning multiple pants, an insulated pair to complement your daily driver is worth consideration.
For these folks, the less expensive Columbia Bugaboo is a good choice. If cost is no issue, the Spyder Dare is, as we've noted above, the best-insulated ski pant in our review. In our review, only the Flylow Baker Bibs had full-bib construction. The Norrona Lofoten Pants can be used as bibs or as regular pants, and zipped together with a matching jacket, the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell , to form a one-piece suit.
The Spyder Dare pants have a rear bib panel to add weather protection. The rest of the pants in our test are waist-high design. Individual fit matters, and it varies. So try your pants on. That being said, we were able to have multiple body types assess the pant selection. Certain themes came up, and the reviews of each product note these observations.
We tested size medium pants. For the most part, every pair of pants we tested fit, someone, well. All were usable for our lead tester, a self-described "extra medium" always wears a size medium.
Additionally, we took fabric texture into account. Thick, stiff pants with no hanging liner, like the FlyLow Baker , aren't as comfy as the lighter, more flexible Patagonia Powder Bowl.
Of the three-layer pants, the Arc'teryx Sabre pleased the most users, while the Norrona Lofoten made up for stiff fabric with careful tailoring. The Columbia Bugaboo II pants have the softest fleece lining, but the thick insulation hampered the range of motion.
The Spyder Dare is as comfortable as any of the other award winners. Fit and weather resistance have top importance when evaluating ski or snowboarding pants. Weather resistance is a function of both the shell fabric and garment design. All tested pants had adequately waterproof and windproof outer fabric. However, to maximize the weather protection of this outer fabric, effective construction is key. Pants must have separate and tight inner cuffs, solid zippers and flaps, and an adequate water repellant DWR finish.
The DWR is what makes water "bead" on the surface of the fabric. It blocks light weather and keeps the face fabric dry. This is important for weather protection, but it also helps maintain the breathability of the fabric laminate. All of the tested pants have adequate weather resistance. Each is ready for average ski conditions, but when pressed, the fabrics might get overwhelmed.
For the SnowShot and Freedom , the catch is in the less-breathable construction. In humid of conditions, condensation can appear on the inside, making it feel like the weather is getting through.
Finally, the Columbia Bugaboo II lacks seam sealing and is less protective as a result. In our shower test, we observed external moisture getting through the seams. This pair is the only product that exhibited this attribute.
However, the insulated design is best suited to cold climates and conditions where there will be no liquid precip to breach the pants. Just like in all cold-weather clothing, insulation matters. It is important to note, however, that most skiers give little thought to their pants' insulation. In cold conditions, layering underneath works best. So we tested for warmth but didn't put a great deal of weight on this metric.
We granted a Top Pick award to the insulated Spyder Dare. This product is the best-insulated pant in our test, and we recommend it for those looking for warm ski pants. Not every ski day or ski climate is equal. Changes in latitude, exertion, and weather all require versatility from your clothing. While you may choose from some upper body layers, you will likely own just one pair of pants. That pair of pants must be versatile and well ventilated to accommodate the entire range of temperatures and exertion.
If you use your pants for backcountry use as well, pay close attention to ventilation. Our testing team included backcountry ski guides which recommend well-venting resort pants for occasional backcountry use but noted that if you are an avid backcountry skier, dedicated backcountry pants will be well worth the investment in regards to comfort.
When thinking about ventilation, look for thigh vents. Vents on the inside are more effective than those on the outside. The Flylow Baker Bibs earn special notice because of their inner and outer leg vents. The long, non-mesh backed vents of the Arc'teryx Sabre and Norrona Lofoten are effective, but a touch immodest. The Columbia Bugaboo II pants do not have any vents.
However, certain characteristics and considerations stand out. Unlike ski jackets , it is less likely that you will wear your ski or snowboarding pants to the bar.
But if you do end up there in your full kit—and our testing team loves those nonstop days when you head straight from last chair to partying down—you are unlikely to care too much about what sort of statement your pants make when not on skis. Ski pants don't need to look like anything other than ski pants. You will likely own far fewer ski or snowboarding pants than you do ski jackets. Choose your colors carefully.
It is tempting to go for one of the many colorful pants available, but this limits your jacket selection.
If you mix and match jackets, grey or black pants are most versatile. Regarding style, fit varies. A baggy fit is in but fading. The degree of bagginess varies.
Snowboarders can get away with more "sag" and extra fabric. Skiers require a little more range of motion and therefore less fabric. Backcountry users, whether on skis or snowboard, need even more range of motion than skiers at the resort. Highlighting the changes in style, the Arc'teryx Sabre has slimmed down in the years we have been testing. The latest iteration has a closer fit than its ancestors. The Spyder Dare has a sophisticated look and is offered in more colors than in the past.
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