The first few times you go skiing or snowboarding, it often means borrowing gear from someone else. The quality may not be the best. Or, maybe it’s been used a lot.
And, that’s fine.
That’s exactly what you need when you first start.
Budget-friendly basics to figure out if you even like the sport. But, once you decide to keep learning, that means it’s time to invest in buying your own snow gear.
How to Find the Best Snow Pants for You
When I first started shopping for my own gear, there was a LOT I didn’t know. I made some mistakes that ended up costing me more money when I had to make changes. But, over the years, we’ve continued to learn about gear, what works best, and what doesn’t. Snow pants or bibs are an often underrated part of the equation. But, they are the foundation of your outerwear, and it’s vital to choose an option that’ll keep you dry, warm, and comfortable while you play.
We know your time and money are valuable. So, we’ve put together the factors that are typically the most important to consider when you’re choosing snow pants for you and your family. You know – so you don’t have to make those same mistakes that I did. 😉
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Waterproofing is essential to consider when you’re choosing a snow pant. Especially if you live in a climate where the snow is wet, such as the Pacific Northwest or British Columbia. For us, it’s the very first thing we consider when looking at snow pants or bibs. If you live in a drier climate, like Utah or Colorado, you may be able to get away with something with a lower rating.
When you’re shopping, the waterproof rating will be the indicator to look for to help you make your decision. Most snow pants will have a waterproof rating somewhere between 5k-30k mm (typically just listed as 5k, 10k, etc.). Higher numbers mean that the pants will be more waterproof, keeping you infinitely warmer. You may not always find this rating, such as on items made with waterproof GORE-TEX fabric, but the vast majority of outerwear will include it.
Bottom line: In a wet climate, we’d stick to snow pants that are a minimum of 10-15k for the kids. For the adults, we seek out 20K or above. If you’re in a dry climate, we’d probably look for 10K as a starting point.
Pants and Bibs with Excellent Waterproofing
- Burton Kimmy Bibs: These bibs are the ones I have and I LOVE them. They have a waterproof rating of 28k, so they are perfect for the PNW.
- For kids, these Burton Stark Bibs at a 20k rating or these Volcom Barkley Bib with a 15k rating are solid options.
- For men, some great options to check out are the Airblaster Beast Bibs (30k) or Burton AK 2L (28k).
Breathability is another crucial thing to consider that’s closely tied to warmth. A lot of brands will include a breathability rating in addition to their waterproof rating. It’s common to see ratings again from 5k-20k g/m2. The higher the rating, the more it allows the fabric to release heat and sweat as you are moving.
Why does this matter? If you’ve ever gotten stuck and had to climb out of the snow, you know why. Suffice it to say, when you’re working hard and getting your heart rate up, it’ll let that heat release.
Bottom line: If you’re only doing resort riding, you can probably stick to a rating in the 5k-10k range. And, honestly, it will keep you warmer. However, if you run hot, plan on doing backcountry trips, spend a lot of time in warmer climates, or are getting into split boarding, you’ll want to look in the higher range.
Pants and Bibs with Great Breathability
- Burton Kimmy Bibs: These still win in my book for breathability with a 20k rating. Normally, I would get cold in 20k breathability, but the “Living Lining” is spectacular. Essentially, it acts like your pores – letting heat out when you’re hot and holding warmth in when you’re cold. It’s impressive how much of a difference it makes. I’ve often been warmer in these than in insulated options.
- For kids, these Burton Stark Bibs have a 20k rating (but are also insulated, which helps). Then Volcom Barkley Bib is a solid option with a 15k rating in this category as well.
- With a 20k breathability rating and the Living Lining, I’d totally check out the Burton AK 2L again in this category.
Warmth: Is Insulation a Must?
When it comes to warmth, you have a few factors to consider. First of all, do you want insulated snow pants? At first glance, you might think that’s an obvious yes. However, you may actually want to consider a shell.
As adults, John and I often opt for pants or bibs that are shell only. The advantage to this is that whether we are riding hard in 15°F weather or hanging with the kids in 30°F, we can adjust our base and mid-layers to stay comfortable. For instance, when it’s windy and in the teens, I may wear a baselayer, a fleece midlayer, and my shell bibs. When the temp starts climbing close to the 30° range, you’ll likely find me wearing only one baselayer. Or, if needed, a much lighter second layer.
For the kids, we tend to choose something with at least light insulation. This gives their smaller bodies a little extra warmth (read: less whining about being cold). In our experience, there have only been a handful of days in late spring where they feel too hot. And, we’ve always been able to combat that with lightening up the baselayers.
Bottom line: Insulated snow pants are great if you tend to run on the cold side. However, if you prefer to have full control over your body temperature, a shell may be the way to go.
This may sound obvious, but where are you going to use your gear and what are you going to be doing? Need snow bibs for your kids to play outside after the snowstorm you get twice a year, and they’ll only play for an hour or two max? You can probably get away with inexpensive options – maybe even (gasp!) from a department store. But, if you plan on spending more than a day or two on the slopes, you’re gonna need to think about it a little more.
Where Will You Be?
Again, if you live in a dry climate, you may be able to get away with a lower waterproof rating in the 5k-10k range. Live in the Washington or Oregon? We’d suggest going with the highest waterproof rating you can find. It will save you on those wet days…so, you know. Basically, every day. 😛
The insulation factor comes in here as well. Are the temps on your mountain typically in the teens or below? Take that into consideration when choosing whether you need insulation. If your temps are usually in the 20’s or above, you may prefer to be fully in control with a shell.
What Activities Are You Doing?
I briefly mentioned this above, but your gear should be chosen based on the activities that you’re planning to use them for. If you’re doing resort riding and you typically don’t ride hard, breathability is less of a factor. However, if the activities you’re doing are more aerobic (split boarding, backcountry riding, cross country skiing, snowshoeing), that breathability rating is going to be a HUGE factor in keeping you comfortable.
Comfort & Fit
Okay, so this may not make me popular with women, and as much as it kills me to say it, comfort and fit MUST come before style. Every time I’ve bought something because it was cute and not because it was comfortable, I’ve regretted the decision. Every. Single. Time. Now, if you can find cute AND comfortable – go for it!
When you try on pants, move around in them as you would when you’re on the mountain. You should be able to go through all the motions you will need to when you’re actually using them. If you can’t sit down and get up easily, can’t squat, can’t touch your toes without feeling too much pull, don’t get them. Seriously, don’t. It only gets worse when you try to add an extra layer on a cold day. Promise.
Pro tip: If you’re trying on pants or bibs in the store, find a baselayer to try on with them. It will help you get a much more accurate fit than if you try them on over your street clothes.
And, for the love…even though a popular brand (who will remain nameless) is making women’s snowboard pants that fit inside your boots, I’m telling you, it’s not worth it!!
Pants that go in your boot just invite snow – which makes you wet – which makes you cold. It’s a terrible idea. Function before fashion. 😉
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As far as style options, you have several to choose from: pants, bibs, or one-piece suits. After trying them all out personally over the last few years, here’s the rundown of what each has to offer.
Snow pants are one of the most common options and for good reason. They’re simple, and everyone is used to wearing pants. Zipper fly’s and (usually) an elastic portion on the waist make them generally comfortable for everyone.
That said, they aren’t my favorite. Take a good spill in snow pants, and you’ll realize why quickly. I can’t tell you how many times I got what seemed like a gallon of snow down my pants when I was learning. It’s not fun.
Some brands, such as Volcom, have combatted this problem by creating integrated zip systems where jackets and pants zip together, effectively blocking the snow from getting in.
However, we’ve found there’s more maneuverability with our next option.
Snow bibs give you more freedom of movement and keep the snow out even when you have a wipeout. They are my personal favorite. With one small caveat.
The first pair of bibs I bought, I was in love with. They had a waterproof rating of 28k and a breathability rating of 28k. They were comfortable and cute. They were perfect…
Until I went to the bathroom the first time and realized I’d failed to take one thing into consideration.
Bathroom access. 🤦♀️
It’s a bigger deal than you think. After about 6 months of practically undressing all the way to pee and struggling to keep them off the ground, I sold them, and I’ve replaced them with the Burton Kimmy 2L Bib. They have two side zippers that allow you to completely drop the seat WITHOUT getting undressed or struggling to keep them off the bathroom floor. Ew. Sooooo much better.
Therefore, when choosing bibs, remember that bathroom access is key. Look for options with easy bathroom access in the form of a zipper fly or drop seat. It will make your life soooo much easier.
You might also want to consider choosing a pair with elastic suspenders. They’ll move and flex more with you than regular suspenders as you ride.
Last but not least are one-piece snowsuits. No, these aren’t the one-piece snowsuits of the ’80s (although, those are still pretty epic 😉), but they are making a comeback.
A few companies have started making high-quality one-piece suits that are incredibly comfortable. They will also keep you warmer by containing your body heat. We actually have one from Airblaster for Garrett last year and, for him, it’s a great option.
That said, they can present issues for bathroom access and removing layers. As in, you can’t take off a jacket if you get too hot. So, if you decide to go with a one-piece, those are factors you will want to take into consideration.
Okay, so you’ve decided on your preferred fit and style. You’ve determined how vital waterproofing and breathability are, and you’ve found a few pairs of pants that all look like great options.
So, how do you decide?
First, try them on. If they all pass the comfort test, it’s time to narrow down your choices with the additional features that are important to you.
A gaiter is found under the cuff of your pants. It’s another layer of fabric on the bottom portion of the pants designed to prevent snow from getting in your boots. Most use elastic to stretch over boots, but you may also find closures such as zippers or snaps.
Vents are portions of the pants along the seams that contain a zipper to allow you to open up, or vent out, hot air. These can be incredibly helpful in temperature regulation. If you’re cold, keep them zipped. Too hot? Open those things up.
Bottom line: If I’m waffling between two pairs of pants, one with vents and one without, vents always win.
It seems like a duh, but pockets are a huge factor to consider. Pockets provide places to store things like your lift ticket, money, phone, keys, snacks, etc. My current pair of bibs has two large chest pockets, two regular pockets and two large pockets at the knees. It’s perfect because I have plenty of options to separate things out. For instance, I always try to put my money and ID in a separate pocket from anything else and so I don’t accidentally drop them while digging for chapstick or snacks.
We failed to think about this with Garrett’s one-piece and got caught with only one smaller chest pocket for him. Thankfully, most of the time, kids don’t really need to carry much. Plus, a fanny pack works under his gear for snacks!
Bottom line: Make sure your gear has enough pockets to hold what you need on the slopes unless you plan to carry a pack.
Having taped seams simply means that the seams are reinforced to keep moisture from sneaking in. There are a few ways these can be made: critically taped, fully taped, or welded.
Critically taped means that the seams most likely to be exposed to moisture are taped. Fully taped means all seams are taped. If something has welded seams, it means the seams are actually fused together. They’re the most effective at keeping moisture out. However, they will also be the most pricey.
Bottom line: At a minimum, you want critically taped seams, but fully taped is much preferred.
When it comes to pants, in particular, certain areas just take more of a beating. Watch for the following areas to be reinforced, and your gear will likely hold up longer.
Reinforced cuffs help to protect them from getting torn up from being stepped on or from ski edges. Most of the time, you’ll find snow pants to have a reinforced cuff, but not always.
Knees & Seat
Knee and seat reinforcement typically is an extra layer of fabric on the areas that are likely to frequently come in contact with the snow or a wet chairlift. It’s always a nice bonus to have, because, as we know, wet = cold.
Bottom line: Having knees, seat, and cuffs reinforced will help your gear last longer.
Maybe you’ve seen the RECCO name or symbol on pants, bibs, or jackets when you were shopping, but didn’t know if it was something you needed. Basically, RECCO is a safety device to help pinpoint your location. It’s not as effective as an avalanche beacon; however, it can help you be found in an accident. In essence, when emergency workers and ski patrol use a RECCO transponder and send out a signal, it echoes back a location, helping them to locate the device (and you.)
- When it comes to waterproofing, the higher the number, the dryer you will be. Most snow gear will fall in the 5k-30k range.
- Breathability is similar. A higher rating means a fabric is more breathable. Most will be between 5k-30k.
- Wet climates need higher waterproofing than dry climates.
- If you run hot, are doing aerobic activities, or are often in warmer weather, higher breathability is your friend.
- With a shell, you can be fully in control of your layers and body temp. However, if you run cold (or for kids), you probably want insulation.
- Comfort is a priority over style. Always. Test out your gear by moving in the way you will need to on the mountain.
- Bibs keep the snow out better than pants but can make bathroom logistics harder. Look for options with a drop seat and/or a zip fly.
- One-piece suits are easier, but make shedding layers more complicated.
- Vented pants will give you more temperature control.
- Taped seams are a must. At a MINIMUM, they should be critically taped. Fully taped is better.
- Reinforced cuffs, knees, and seat will help your gear last longer.
- RECCO is nice to have for safety.
Final Thoughts about Choosing Your Perfect Snow Pants for Winter
If you made it all the way to this point, you’re sure to have a good understanding of the basics you need to know to choose quality gear for your winter activities. But, if you really want to dive deeper, we’ve got a little more info for you.
If you’re intrigued and want to know ALL the details about the science behind waterproofing, breathability, fabric construction, and more, check out this Outerwear 101 Guide from Blister. Fair warning – it’s incredibly long, but if you have burning questions, you can totally geek out and find your answers. However, if a five-page article isn’t your jam, you may want to check out this article from The House about Understanding Snowboard Outerwear.
Regardless of where you live or which snow activities you plan to do, choosing the right snow pant can make or break your day. And, ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. Finding the gear that will keep you warm, comfortable, and dry while you are finding your stoke.