Ski jackets come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s a whole load of decisions that will need to be made when you’re buying a new one; decisions like whether to buy an insulated jacket or a shell.


A large part of that decision will depend on personal preference and what you plan on doing on the slopes; there are some key differences between hardshell, softshell and insulated jackets you’ll want to know about when you make your decision.

Insulated Jackets

Beloved of piste skiers and instructors everywhere, insulated jackets are the best way to keep warm on the coldest days; you’ll see plenty of them in places like Canada. On one of those days that the air is so cold that it makes your throat hurt as you breathe in, you’ll be glad you’ve got an insulated jacket. Trust us. 


Insulated jackets, rather obviously, are much warmer than shell jackets. This makes them perfect for casual skiers who don’t work up quite as much of a sweat as backcountry skiers might. Where a synthetic jacket might suit any skier who runs a little cold, down insulated jackets are great if the weather is -20 and dry, as they tend to be both warm and lightweight.


Synthetic insulated jackets might not be as warm as down, but they are a better choice in terms of waterproofing and staying dry when it’s pelting with snow. The addition of water-resistant down to the potential insulations available means the distinction between down and synthetic is less defined than it once was, but synthetic remains the better wet weather choice.


An Insulated Ski Jacket


Unless the weather is well beyond freezing, there’s a chance an insulated jacket is going to prove too warm for you; no amount of layering or otherwise will save you from overheating in an insulated jacket. You’ll also want to consider the fact that real, high quality down jackets don’t come cheap, and when it comes to warmth, lower cost alternatives aren’t going to be as effective. 




The most versatile option, softshell jackets can be worn as mid-layers and outer layers, depending on the weather and the activity. Softshell jackets come in a range of styles and fits, from those designed primarily as midlayers to those meant as outer layers that you can use almost the entire season.


Softshell is a spring staple thanks to the breathability and lightweight design.  Used by backcountry skiers as a midlayer when the weather is bad, this type of jacket is cheaper than high end insulated jackets and hardshell jackets, while being weather-proof enough to protect you from all but the worst weather.


Layering base and mid-layers underneath a softshell is a great way to stay warm in the spring, when the temperatures are rarely below -5 and it can warm up quickly. Weather in the mountains is always changeable, and being able to regulate your temperature by adding and removing layers is one of the biggest benefits of any shell jacket. 


Softshell jackets aren’t quite as weatherproof as a hardshell would be, and in the worst weather, that can be a big problem. Softshell jackets are far less likely to stay dry in heavy or wet snow. In practice, this means that for activities like ski touring it’s worth having a hardshell on hand to combat unexpected bad weather, which negates the price advantage it has over hardshell. 


Softshell Jackets





Light, easily packable during uphill climbs and almost as versatile as a softshell, these are an increasingly important part of a skier’s arsenal. Hardshells are technical, extremely weather-proof and popular amongst backcountry skiers; they hold up under practically anything a skier or snowboarder can think of.


Shells designed for skiing and snowboarding come with all the specialist additions that you expect from a ski jacket, including lift pass pockets, powder skirts, wrist gaiters and headphone ports. They’re weather-proof enough to withstand even the worst blizzards, and they’re easily packable during uphill climbs.


A hard shell might not have the sort of insulation that makes down jackets so toasty, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you’re facing frostbite inducing cold, it’s easy enough to layer up underneath a hardshell; starting with a breathable base layer and adding layers that can include t-shirts, fleeces and (on the worst days) a softshell underneath your hard, durable outer shell.


It’s the option for layering that makes hardshell jackets such a go to for backcountry skiers. The ability to put on and take off layers as they’re needed is far more important when you’re expending a lot of energy hiking up a mountain. Backcountry skiers need to be able to shed heat quickly and efficiently, which is best achieved by ditching a layer, and putting them back on when you’ve stopped for a break.


If you’re not a ski tourer or backcountry fan, there are a few minor drawbacks to a hardshell. They’re costly and they aren’t as breathable as softshells, which can mean that they’re not ideal during spring skiing season. Although the fabrics used are getting increasingly technical, there is still a trade-off to be made between the amount of waterproofing and the breathability of a material. 


A Hardshell Jacket



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