Updated November 2017
We kept ourselves busy this shoulder season by updating this review. While most products featured here remain unchanged going into the 2018 Winter, a few received minor updates. Our Editors' Choice winner from Arc'teryx switched up its color palette and is still our favorite model available. The Norrona Lofoten, one of our Top Picks, was modified with a slimmer fit and a price hike. Another Top Pick winner from Spyder also got updates to its shell fabric and thigh vents. We detail the changes to both models in the individual review. Lastly, the top non-award-winning model, the Mammut Bormio, is being discontinued. Follow the retailer price links to grab these pants at a steep discount before they're gone for good.
Best Overall Ski Pants
Arc'teryx Sabre Pants
Can take a beating
Protects against inclement weather
The fight for the top got fierce, and it was not a given which model would win our Editors' Choice Award. We had an excellent selection of highly functional garments. As is often the case, the winner of this award did not have the highest marks in any one category. Across the board, however, the Arc'teryx Sabre
delivered strong scores. For each specific attribute, there is likely a better choice, but the Sabre is unbeatable as an all-arounder. This award winner, with its uninsulated construction, solid design, comfortable fit, excellent materials, and classic styling, is the highest scoring, most versatile, all-around product in our review.
Read review: Arc'teryx Sabre
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Freedom Pant
The North Face Freedom Pant
Built to last
Vent zippers congest crotch area
are comfortable, weather resistant, and their fit is impeccable. Their price point is competitive, especially considering that the seams and fabric are durable, and the style is neutral and long-lasting. The fit isn't too baggy or too tight. The fleece hanging liner means that the pants can be worn without long underwear on warm or long days, and the inner leg vents shed steam. The design is simple, with sparse features and solid boot-sealing cuffs.
Read review: The North Face Freedom Pant
Top Pick for Insulated Pants
Spyder Dare Athletic Fit
Protects from wind, snow, and rain well
Spyder updated the ventilation on the latest version of this pant, moving the vent pockets to the inner thighs. This should improve ventilation overall. We detail all the updates to this model in the individual review.
In general, we caution against insulated ski or snowboarding pants for most people. You're better off owning multiple thicknesses of long underwear and layering underneath your uninsulated pants to adjust for different temperatures. However, some skiers require insulated pants. If you dislike long underwear, get really cold, or ski in frigid climates, adding some insulation to your pants might be important. So if you must have insulated pants, the Spyder Dare Athletic Fit
is the Top Pick. The insulation is carefully tuned, and the fit and styling are modern and clean.
Read review: Spyder Dare Athletic Fit
Top Pick for Weather Protection
Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Pants
Bomber protection from nuking weather
Top quality materials and craftsmanship
Tight in the bib area for larger riders
When worn with the matching jacket, the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Pants
create the most weather-protective two-piece suit we have ever used. Short of an admittedly unstylish one-piece, the zipped-together Norrona Lofoten pair guards best against the gnarliest winds and precipitation. The construction of each piece is clean and made from the best possible materials. The price reflects this quality, but for those looking for the best outerwear for skiing in wild weather, the Norrona set up is at the top of the list. Pair these pants with the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell, our Top Pick shell-only jacket
, for the ultimate weather protection.
Read review: Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Pants
Analysis and Test Results
We ask a lot from our ski and snowboarding pants. We need them to protect us from wind, cold, snow, and abrasion. We need them to be comfortable, fashionable, and durable. 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 own something more specialized. Maybe. But in general, we demand a great deal of our pants. Fortunately, the market is flooded with 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 a little more forgiving than our jacket selection.
An OutdoorGearLab selection of ski pants.
Types of Ski Pants
The most versatile pants are not insulated, as they allow you to customize your system depending on the temps. Uninsulated ski or snowboarding pants are divided into 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.
"Three-layer construction" sandwiches a waterproof/breathable membrane between a burly face fabric and a lighter mesh or fleece lining textile. Pants constructed this way, like the Arc'teryx Sabre
, Norrona Lofoten Pants
, and Flylow Baker Bibs
, feel durable and a bit stiff. They go on easy and vent well. They don't feel all that comfortable against bare skin and therefore are best worn with long underwear.
In our testing, the most versatile and highest rated pants use "two-layer construction." The face fabric and waterproof membrane are laminated together, but the inner layer of fleece or mesh hangs free. 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
The Columbia Bugaboo II Pants
, Spyder Dare
, and Mammut Bormio
are insulated. 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 Baker Bibs
are made using three-layer construction and bridge the lower-body/upper-body gap, especially for tall people. 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.
Criteria for Evaluation
Check out the following chart to see where each ski pant in our review ranked in Overall Performance.
Fit and Comfort
Fit is paramount. And very subjective. 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
, were less comfortable than the supple fabric and fleecy lining of the Mammut Bormio
. The Mammut Bormio
pants were certainly the most comfortable, with the Patagonia Powder Bowl
The clean lines and tailored fit of the Sabre suit users of all shapes and objectives.
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 range of motion. The Spyder Dare
is as comfortable as any of the other award winners, but the Mammut Bormio
edges ahead when comparing insulated pants. Regarding fit and comfort, there is nothing notable about the Patagonia SnowShot
or The North Face Freedom
Cold smoke, cold air, and pants for this cold weather. The Spyder Dare is the best insulated ski pant we've tested, for that narrow part of the market that needs such a thing.
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 of the pants in our test are made with 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 effective 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.
You can't see them in there, but the Arc'teryx Sabre does all it needs to do to keep out precip of all kinds.
Backcountry Use: Patagonia Powder Bowl
Hardcore, Dedicated users: Flylow Baker Bibs
Cold, but Not Super Cold Climates: The Mammut Bormio has lightweight insulation that splits the difference between uninsulated pants and our Top Pick Spyder Dare.
If you spend a great deal of time skiing in stormy weather, the Patagonia Powder Bowl
, Arc'teryx Sabre
, Norrona Lofoten Pants
, Spyder Dare
, and Flylow Baker Bibs
have good protection.
In deep snow, the protection afforded by any of the configurations of the Lofoten pants is appreciated. Here, Lead Tester tries the Lofoten pants in bib mode with the Spyder Leader jacket.
The Patagonia SnowShot
, Mammut Bormio
, and The North Face Freedom
have a weakness that takes away from their weather protection. Each is ready for average ski conditions, but when really pressed, the fabrics might get overwhelmed. For the SnowShot
, the catch is in the less-breathable fabric. In humid of conditions, condensation can appear on the inside, making it feel like weather is getting through. In the Bormio
, the shell fabric has a soft texture that catches and holds snow. Nothing gets through, but this cold layer on the outside can lead to condensation on the inside.
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.
Testing for waterproofness. The Columbia pants, shown here, proved to have excellent water repellency, but one of the vulnerable seams leaked.
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. The warmest pants in our test were hands-down the Columbia Bugaboo II Pants
The Mammut Bormio
is lightly insulated and fits solidly between the Columbia Bugaboot
and those with a shell fabric and separate fabric liner, like The North Face Freedom Pants
, Patagonia SnowShot
, and Patagonia Powder Bowl
The Bugaboo II pants in action. In high energy skiing, only on the most cold days will the insulation of the Bugaboo be appropriate. On average to warm days of high exertion like this shown here, the Bugaboo pants are too warm.
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. Finally, the one-piece pants like the Arc'teryx Sabre
, Norrona Lofoten
, and FlyLow Gear Baker Bibs
had the least insulation.
The insulated Bormio pants are a possible choice for those in cold climates like Wyoming's Grand Targhee resort in December. Here, lead test editor in this western Wyoming ice box, in the Bormio 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 a number of 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 who 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, while the Mammut Bormio
pants vented very well, despite being insulated. The positioning of the Bormio
vents pulls them open when unzipped and leaves you exposed to air flowing in from the front.
The almost-full-length size zips of the Lofoten allow donning of pants with boots on and encourage significant venting potential.
The long, non-mesh backed vents of the Arc'teryx Sabre
and Norrona Lofoten
are effective, but a touch immodest. The Patagonia Powder Bowl
, The North Face Freedom
, and Patagonia Snowshot
vents, while different from one another, function to the same standard. The Columbia Bugaboo II
pants do not have any vents.
The wide-opening, inner thigh vents of the Mammut Bormio are turned every so slightly toward the rider's leg fronts. For this reason, the Bormio pants vent better than most.
Style is subjective. 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.
The exterior look of the Lofoten pants and jacket, in the colors we tested.
Finally, in terms of style, fit varies. Generally, 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. The Patagonia SnowShot
and Patagonia Powder Bowl
have looks that are virtually indistinguishable from The North Face Freedom
and Columbia Bugaboo II
. The Mammut Bormio's
softened outer fabric gives it a gentler look than the others, while the smooth, rugged fabrics of the FlyLow
pants are sleek.
Important features are integrated belts, pockets, key or pass clips, and Recco technology. (Consult our ski pant buying advice article for more information on Recco). None of these features are make-or-break attributes, but the sum of a carefully designed feature set adds value.
The Spyder Dare
and Arc'teryx Sabre
pants are the best equipped, while the Norrona Lofoten
and Columbia Bugaboo
offer the most sparse features. In between, The North Face Freedom
, Patagonia SnowShot
, Flylow Gear Baker Bibs
, and others have usable features that barely deserve mention.
The Arc'teryx Sabre is suited to all around ski life. Whether a cold day in the backcountry, or a hot day on the resort, or anything in between, the Sabre will serve you well.
Loading the car after a great day in The North Face Freedom Pants and some deep winter snow. Also shown is the Patagonia 3-in-1 SnowShot jacket, tested in our Men's Ski Jacket Review.
It can be a daunting task to select the perfect pair of pants for you. With the many options available, how do you choose? Weather resistance, comfort, and durability are just a few of the important features to consider. Like any purchase, it is the balance of all these attributes, alongside cost and style, that informs your decision. With ski pants, factor in the amount of time you'll use them and with what ski jacket
you will pair them. Where you ski, how you ski, and what your overall exertion level will factor in too.
In making your decision, weigh our recommendations against OGL's user group. We speak to the average ski gear consumer. The occasional skier isn't reading our reviews, as he or she simply uses what he or she has and doesn't think much about it. Similarly, those at the other end of the bell curve, the die-hards, have a community of folks who give them equipment advice. In the middle areis the glorious masses; those that love to ski, but don't get to do it as much as they would like.
We speak to this "meat of the business." We know you need awesome gear to maximize your time on snow. That time is precious, and our recommendations can make or break an entire season's ski trips. We take that seriously, and carefully consider all the variables when making our recommendations. We believe this review will give you the details that you need to make an informed decision. To learn more about the important features, consult our Buying Advice