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The first snowfall always makes us all excited more than ever. Now, the question is, do you have everything what it takes in your closet to fully enjoy the day on a ski hill?
Besides the ski jacket and ski gloves, the next essential piece of gear is definitely ski pants. Even though lower part of a body is more resistant and adaptable to changing weather conditions and definitely will withstand more than the upper body, you should never compromise on ski or snowboard pants. Blasting blizzard, sitting on a wet chairlift or sitting on a ground while strapping in your snowboard binding is no fun when it should result into being wet all day on a slope or just hiking. Therefore, here are some tips before you pick any men’s, women’s or kids ski or snowboard pants from our collection for your winter intended activities.
Before we move into categorizing winter pants, let’s clear out some things between ski and snowboard pants. Back in a day some brands focused only on skiing (e.g., Ortovox, Rossignol, Scott) and some only on snowboarding (Burton, Dakine, O’Neill). Even though some brands are still dedicated to its single sport, the fit is initial characteristic between ski and snowboards pants. Ski pants tend to be slimmer to keep the aerodynamic attribute of the pants and also having reinforced fabric by the ski boots area, which can otherwise be easily cut by ski edges (or crampons). On other hand, snowboard pants tend to be roomier for bending forward in your knees or sitting while strapping into your binding. Even though there are some main characteristics, nowadays most of outdoor brands don’t differentiate and rather manufacture more models of pants with different fit in order to cover demands of both snowboard and ski enthusiasts.
The following breakdown characteristics of pants can be applied to snowboard as well as ski pants depending on energy activity output. For certain winter activities some pants will work better than the others and in order to meet high demand of regular alpine skiers or thrilled powder seekers, pants should keep you warm and dry. This usually entails a water-proof as well as wind-proof and permeable (breathable) protective membrane that is bonded to a face fabric of the pants (i.e. Gore-tex, Hyvent, eVent, Outdry, etc.), however, bear in mind not all pants are fully waterproof (i.e., softshell pants)- as in fully taped seams instead of regular stitching where water will eventually seep through. Remember, each brand should state what waterproofing system or construction they use in their products.
What ski or snowboard pants and for what conditions?
Depending on the conditions and activity, we choose from an insulated version or not. If you are an alpine skier or snowboarder who tends to spend most of the winter in a ski resort (in-bounds) or simply you easily get cold, opt for an insulated version of ski pants. And since the odds of getting wet pants are higher than jacket, synthetic insulation in pants is preferred due to its water resistance and ability to continue providing warmth till the last chairlift ride of the day. However, for those who are dedicated to ski touring, freeriding (higher energy output activity) or alpine climbing which requires hiking, will most likely opt for a non-insulated version. This is also a very weather dependent choice, since we could lay eyes either on softshell or hard shell pants. In the event of choosing softshell pants you should be aware they are meant for high output energy activity with excellent moisture wicking capability as well as with wind stopper membrane, however bear in mind they are not fully waterproof, and taking them into unreliable weather conditions followed by snowfall or rain, could result into ending up wet throughout the day. Nonetheless, if you are headed out knowing the weather is going to be snowy, windy, wet, essentially harsh, you should go for hard shell pants to keep you protected from outer elements (this also applies to ski jackets for example).
Hard shell pants usually have 2 or 3-layer construction, which are constructed for more extended and demanding activities. So, in the end the 3-layer ski or snowboard pants would look like a sandwich-1st is durable outer fabric usually with DWR (durable water repellency) coating to beads water off, 2nd layer entails the waterproof membrane that won’t let the snow through but is also able to transport sweat molecules out on the surface and 3rd layer is a backer or inner layer (sometimes slightly insulated with fleece material). Despite hard shell pants provide the utmost climate protection against rain, snow and wind with fully taped seams, they are not designed to keep you warm as stand-alone piece without reliable base layer underneath (e.g., synthetic, wool or a combination of these two).
Waterproofness and permeability (breathability)
Before we move on, it’s important to mention that besides waterproofness, breathability of pants is also a huge decision factor when picking out the right ski or snowboard pants. Because everyone’s body runs on different kind of fuel as well as sweats differently, it is very important to look for waterproof and breathable ratings on garment. So, when you look at the label, what do those numbers actually mean, 10k/10k, 20k/20k, 30k/30k? Unfortunately, there isn’t a standardized process within the whole industry and manufacturers either outsource the testing to 3rd parties or in their own labs.
Essentially, the 1st number stands for waterproofness. The testing of fabric waterproofness consists of placing fabric over upside-down tube measured in millimeters, while water is being applied and therefore creating pressure on the fabric until it starts leaking. Hence the higher number the better chance of withstanding harsh weather. For example, Gore-tex doesn’t state its waterproofness, because they carry a ‘’guaranteed to keep you dry’’ promise but it is believed it’s around 40k.
The rule of thumb is if you are a resort skier in good conditions, look anywhere between 5k to 10k. If you are surrounded by wetter climate pick something between 10k to 20k and if you tend to go to places with unpredictable weather conditions into backcountry, look for 20k+. The 2nd number stands for breathability which, is measured in grams this time. Tested fabric is isolated on 1 square meter and watched how much water vapor can pass through within 24-hour period. In case the brand claims the breathability is 10k (or 10, 000) it would mean the fabric is able to transport water vapor in amount of 10 000g. Even though these numbers might seem impressive, lab tests will never reflect the real time conditions, therefore everyone should stay on guard when picking out the pants or jacket.
What features should ski and snowboards pants have?
Once we successfully keep the water out and stay warm, ski and snowboard pants should definitely have some key features such as side vents on both thighs to prevent excessive overheating, gusseted crotch and articulated patterning for that extra freedom of movement when it is needed, reinforced boots or ankle fabric against sharp ski edges or crampon punctures, or some pants also come with a bib zip-on option and suspenders, or avalanche beacon dedicated pocket. On this note, having a watertight pocket to keep your valuables dry is a key. Despite some outdoor brands claim their pants are waterproof, still be mindful when storing your smartphone in pockets so you don’t get surprised by finding a puddle inside them. So, don’t wait up any longer and gear up for the winter!