If you love hitting the slopes, sledding, snowshoeing, or any other cold weather activity, having a good pair of waterproof snow pants is crucial. Snow pants will keep you warm, dry and comfortable when you’re out playing in the elements. But with so many options on the market, how do you choose the best snow pants for your needs? This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know – from types of insulation to key features and fit. We’ll also recommend our top snow pant picks so you can find your perfect pair. Let’s get started!
When shopping for snow pants, there are a few key factors you’ll want to consider:
- Weather Protection: You want pants that are fully waterproof and weather resistant to keep you dry in the snow. Look for waterproof membranes like Gore-Tex and coated fabrics that cause water to bead up and roll off the surface. Fully taped seams are also a must to prevent moisture from sneaking in.
- Insulation: The insulation rating indicates how warm your snow pants will be. Down insulation offers the most lightweight warmth, but synthetic insulation like PrimaLoft maintains insulating ability when wet. Fleece or wool linings provide some extra warmth as well.
- Fit and Comfort: Snow pants should have articulated knees and gusseted crotches to allow full range of motion. Make sure they are roomy enough for base layers without being overly baggy. Adjustable features provide a customized fit.
- Extra Features: Handy details like zippered pockets, vents, reinforced scuff guards, reflective details and more all enhance your experience on the mountain.
Why Wear Waterproof Snow Pants?
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s look at why snow pants are so important for winter recreation. Here are some of the benefits they provide:
- Stay Dry: Quality waterproofing guarantees snow and moisture won’t soak into your pants or base layers. Wet legs can lead to an uncomfortably cold day.
- Insulation: Proper insulation maintains body heat to keep your core and legs warm. Being cold makes winter activities far less enjoyable.
- Protection: Durable fabrics shield your pants from rips, abrasion and damage when skiing, snowboarding or sledding.
- Freedom of Movement: Articulated knees and stretch fabrics allow a full range of motion for your preferred winter sports.
- Safety: Reflective details, stripes and logos make you more visible in low light conditions.
- Comfort: A well-fitting pair of snow pants feels tailored and comfortable without restricting your movement.
For these reasons, snow pants are considered mandatory gear for winter lovers. Investing in a quality pair will serve you well for seasons to come.
Key Features to Look For
Snow pants utilize a range of technologies and features to deliver weather protection, warmth, and mobility. Here are some key things to look for when evaluating pairs:
- Waterproof Membranes: Gore-Tex, eVent, HyVent – these membranes are waterproof and breathable to keep water out while allowing sweat vapor to escape. They are ranked by denier or layer thickness.
- Fully Taped Seams: Taping seals the stitching to prevent moisture intrusion at the seams. Pants should be “fully taped” for complete waterproofing.
- DWR Coating: Durable water repellent (DWR) coating causes moisture to bead up and roll off the pants without soaking in. It enhances waterproof performance.
- Insulation: Down, PrimaLoft, fleece and wool linings provide warmth without adding excess weight and bulk. Check the insulation rating.
- Articulated Knees: Pre-shaped knees mirror your natural motion so you can sledge, ski or play without restriction.
- Vents and Zippers: Vents regulate temperature and zippered pockets securely hold small items and valuables.
- Gusseted Crotch: The gusseted crotch eliminates binding when crouching, bending and taking big steps.
- Adjustability: Waist tabs, velcro ankle adjusters and suspender buttons let you customize the fit.
- Durability: Scuff guards, kick patches and hem guards ensure seasons of use without damage.
Types of Snow Pant Insulation
One of the most important factors in snow pants is the type of insulation. This determines how warm the pants will keep you. The three main types are:
This very warm and lightweight natural insulation comes from duck or goose down clusters. The fill power indicates quality – higher numbers mean more insulation per ounce. Down is unbeatable in terms of packable warmth. However, it loses loft and insulating value when wet. Down snow pants are also fairly expensive.
Synthetic insulations like PrimaLoft, Thermoball or Thinsulate are made from polyester fibers. Synthetics retain warmth even when wet and are more affordable than down. However, they tend to be slightly bulkier and not as compressible. Popular choices include fleece linings and wool insulation as well.
Fleece and Wool
Wool and fleece linings provide warmth while maintaining breathability. Wool offers natural odor resistance too. However, both absorb moisture more than down or synthetic fills. Neither option is as warm or compressible as down. But they can add an extra layer of insulation at an affordable cost.
For the optimal balance of warmth, water resistance and value – we recommend opting for synthetic insulation like PrimaLoft in your snow pants. It’s the most versatile choice for all-around use.
Fit and Sizing Considerations
Since you’ll likely be layering long underwear or base layers underneath, fit and sizing are very important when choosing snow pants. Here are some key factors to keep in mind:
- Try pants on over the boots/shoes you expect to wear to ensure they fit comfortably over your footwear. Wear your typical base layers as well.
- Look for an articulated knee design and gusseted crotch to allow a full range of motion for winter activities.
- Pants should have room in the seat and thighs to layer insulation underneath. But they shouldn’t be overly baggy or saggy.
- For length, pants should fully cover your boots with a little overlap over the top. Consider your planned activity too – snowboarding pants may need more room than streamlined alpine ski pants.
- Adjustable features like waist tabs, hem cinches and suspenders allow you to customize the fit. This helps achieve the ideal fit over base layers and boots.
- When in doubt, consider sizing up. It’s easier to cinch and adjust pants that are slightly big rather than too small.
Trying on snow pants is the best way to assess fit and comfort. Take the time to test out different styles and sizes to find your perfect match.
Top 5 Recommended Snow Pants
Ready to shop for a new pair of snow pants? Based on our extensive testing and reviews, here are 5 of the top-rated and best-performing options:
The North Face Freedom Insulated Pants – Best Overall Snow Pants
The North Face Freedom pants top our list for all-around performance. Features like the DryVent waterproof membrane, fully taped seams, 150g of Heatseeker insulation, zippered hand pockets and articulated knees make these our go-to snow pants. The comfortable fit accommodates base layers without restricting mobility. While pricey, these pants deliver reliable weather protection, warmth and features for the money.
Marmot Mini Mapper Pants – Best for Backcountry Skiing
For skiers who like chasing powder stashes in the backcountry, we recommend the Marmot Mini Mapper pants. The combination of MemBrain waterproofing (20,000mm rating), 60g of Thermal R insulation and Marmot’s proprietary Angel-Wing movement design offers the perfect blend of waterproofing, breathability and unrestricted mobility for ski touring and backcountry use. The Mini Maps also feature useful details like RECCO reflectors, zippered thigh pockets, and integrated gaiters.
Burton Gloria Snow Pants – Best for Snowboarding
With their roomier fit, targeted insulation and shredding-friendly features, the Burton Gloria pants are our top pick for snowboarders. They’re designed specifically to match women’s bodies in motion on the hill. The mapped Thermacore synthetic insulation places warmth where you need it most while minimizing bulk, and the longer rise in front blocks snow on big powder days. The DryRide Durashell 2-layer fabric resists wetting out during storms, and the lifted cuffs accommodate bindings.
REI Co-op Midweight Base Layer Pants – Best Budget/Value Snow Pants
For those looking for reliable snow protection on a budget, we recommend the REI Co-op Midweight pants. They lack the advanced technical features of premium pants but still deliver decent warmth, water resistance and breathability for the price. The nylon shell sheds light moisture, the polyester insulation retains warmth, and the gusseted construction enables mobility. While best suited for milder conditions, these pants work great as an affordable introductory option.
Arc’teryx Beta AR Pants – Best High Performance Snow Pants
At the top end of the market, the Arc’teryx Beta AR pants stand out for their elite waterproofing and heavy duty performance. They’re designed for severe alpine environments and hardcore use. The 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro shell is extremely waterproof and breathable, while the separate insulation layer keeps you warm without bulk. Articulated patterning and rugged reinforcements hold up to aggressive skiing and mountaineering. Though expensive, the Beta AR pants are worth it for serious backcountry enthusiasts who want the best.
Caring for Your Snow Pants
Investing in quality snow pants means spending a decent amount of money. With proper care and maintenance, you can extend their lifespan significantly. Here are our top tips:
- Always follow the manufacturer’s washing and care instructions. Most snow pants should be washed in cold water on a gentle cycle then air dried.
- Use a waterproofing spray like Nikwax regularly, especially after washes, to maintain the DWR coating that repels moisture.
- Wash pants by hand or in a front-loading machine to be gentlest on fabrics.
- Use a mild detergent without bleach, softeners or fabric treatments, as these can damage waterproof membranes.
- Never put snow pants in the dryer! The heat damages membranes and decreases durability. Always air dry.
- Use a lint roller or stiff brush to remove lint and debris from pants after each wear. This prolongs the jacket’s water-resistance.
- For rips, apply a seam sealant like McNett’s Seam Grip to prevent leakage. patched quickly
- Always hang pants up or fold loosely for storage. Don’t stuff them compressed in a pack or tight space.
- Hand wash outer shells separate from inner insulating layers, then air dry fully before reconnecting.
With proper laundering and maintenance, quality snow pants should deliver many seasons of warmth and dryness on the slopes!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How much should I spend on snow pants?
A: Plan on spending $100-$300 for a quality pair of snow pants. Higher end technical options with premium waterproofing and insulation can cost over $500. Look for discounted older models or end-of-season sales to get the most features while staying within your budget.
Q: Is there a big difference between men’s and women’s snow pants?
A: Women’s snow pants differ by having a narrower waist and hip measurement along with shorter inseams and leg lengths. However, some women find men’s pants fit them better. Try on both men’s and women’s styles to determine what fits your body type best.
Q: Are snow pants supposed to be baggy?
A: Snow pants should have enough room in the seat, thighs and knees to layer base layers or additional insulation underneath. But they shouldn’t be overly baggy or saggy through the legs. More technical alpine styles have a closer fit. Try different pants on with your base layers to find the ideal roominess for your needs.
Q: Do I really need waterproof pants for winter hiking/walking?
A: For casual winter use, water-resistant softshell pants are usually fine. But full waterproof-breathable protection keeps you driest if you’ll be slogging through deep snow or sleet. Evaluate the conditions and your tolerance for dampness – then decide whether you want a waterproof outer layer.
Q: How do I stop snow pant leg cuffs from riding up?
A: Choose pants with internal gaiters or zippered ankle cuffs to secure hems over boots. You can also wear calf-height gaiters over your pants and boots to hold pant legs in place while hiking in snow. Finally, make sure your snow pants aren’t too short – leave room for some overlap over boot tops.
Q: Should I size up if I’m between sizes?
A: Yes, we recommend sizing up in snow pants to leave room for base layers and articulation. But don’t size way up or pants will be too baggy and lack needed support while skiing or riding. Try both sizes on with your typical boots and base layers to assess the ideal fit.
Time to Hit the Slopes!
Hopefully this guide has given you all the information you need to find your perfect pair of snow pants. The right combination of weather protection, insulation, and fit will keep you warm, dry and comfortable all winter long. Invest in quality so your new pants hold up for seasons of use.
Don’t forget to utilize handy features like pockets, vents and reinforcements on the hill. Maintain waterproofing with proper washing practices. And repair any small tears quickly to extend your snow pants’ lifespan. We even answered some of the most frequently asked questions about snow pants to further your knowledge.
Now that you’re equipped with expert recommendations, it’s time to get out and enjoy the slopes! Let us know if you have any other snow pants questions. And tell us which styles you love best this winter. Here’s to many more powder days ahead in your new favorite pair of snow pants!