Skiers demand a lot of their pants. We want them to fit well, vent while protecting us from the elements, and be flexible but also durable. This winter, in an effort to find the best on the market, I spent three months testing 16 pairs of pants and bibs, with the help of four other skiers. My all-around favorite was a pair of bibs from Trew. They were comfortable, versatile, and breathed much better than expected. Of course, different skiers have different tastes, so we also tested everything from baggy freeride models and insulated in-bounds pants to slim soft shells for backcountry skiing.
Our Favorite Ski Pants
Trew Trewth Bibs ($420)
In theory, bibs offer a level of comfort and protection from the elements that pants can never match. But in practice, many are frustrating to wear—they often don’t vent or fit well, and the suspenders frequently slip.
Not so with the waterproof Trewth bibs. Trew put a tacky lining on the suspenders to keep them in place and coupled that with soft rubber strap adjustments that stayed away from the top of my shoulders, where pack straps could rub uncomfortably. (By contrast, Spyder’s Nordwand bib, which I also tested, is marred by uncomfortable metal clasps. Anyone who has suffered through a tour with strap adjusters digging into their shoulders will avoid bibs like that at all costs.) The suspenders have such a wide range that a medium fit both my five-foot-ten-inch frame and another tester’s, who is six foot one. I also had enough room to layer a light puffy underneath on cold in-bounds days.
Because bibs cover so much of a skier’s body in a relatively vapor-impermeable layer, many people find them stuffy. I didn’t have that problem with the Trewth bibs. The side vents run from my armpits to my knees, and they’re secured by a well-placed snap at the top that keeps them from flapping open while still allowing plenty of air movement.
And for areas of the bibs that don’t have a vent, we found the waterproof membrane to be more breathable than others in the test. The fabric was soft and flexible and didn’t make the telltale swishing sound that I associate with Gore-Tex pants, nor the crinkle sound I hear in pants like Norrona’s Lyngen (reviewed below), which are made with Gore-Tex Pro. The Trewth bibs have a generous amount of stretch, helpful when I reached down for my boot buckles, and I never had any issues with the material wetting out, though my testing was mostly limited to skiing in relatively dry continental Rockies snow.
What’s more, the Trewth bibs feature a larger storage capacity than any other pants in the test: there are five waterproof pockets placed around the hips and torso and two large cargo pockets above the knees. More than any others we tried, they’re the pants I keep returning to. Even bib skeptics in the test crew started coming around eventually.
Best Hard-Shell Touring Pants
Fjällräven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Trousers ($470)
I liked Fjällräven’s Bergtagen pants for two main reasons: they have simple full-length side zippers that are easy to open and close, even with gloves on, and they’re just 23 ounces—lightweight for hard-shell pants, which tend to be heavier than their soft-shell equivalents. Those are key features for ski touring.
The Bergtagen is made with Fjällräven’s Eco-Shell material, a PFC-free, recycled-polyester fabric that kept out precipitation and breathed enough to keep my temperature well regulated. It doesn’t have quite as much stretch as the Trewth bibs or Black Diamond’s Recon Stretch pants (below), but there’s enough to comfortably move around during transitions. I also liked the aramid reinforcements on the cuffs for top-notch abrasion resistance.
In keeping with European style trends, the Bergtagen runs on the slim side, but that doesn’t restrict movement in the knees. And unlike most brands, Fjällräven gives buyers the option of choosing from a list of preset waist and inseam measurements, as you would with a pair of jeans, which anyone who doesn’t fit neatly into one of the main-size categories can appreciate.
Best Soft-Shell Touring Pants
Dynafit Mercury ($230)
Soft-shell material is usually more breathable than that of hard shells, at the expense of total waterproofness. For people who do a lot of high-output touring and live in relatively dry climates like the Colorado Rockies, soft shells often make sense. Dynafit’s Mercury pants are minimalist, lightweight (just 20 ounces), and my choice for uphill skiing.
Dynafit made the Mercury with a nylon-polyester-elastane material it calls Dynastretch, which is windproof and water-repellent. They felt like soft sweatpants more than snow pants but still come with a beacon pocket, an integrated belt, and reinforced hems.
One tester used the Mercury pants for the Grand Traverse, a 40-mile ski-mountaineering race in Colorado, and on weeknight ski-mountaineering races at Colorado’s Eldora Mountain. He thought they breathed well and found that the zippers on the pockets and vents were easy to use with gloves on. Like the Bergtagen, the Mercury runs on the small side. These pants are also probably not the right choice for skiing wet powder in the Pacific Northwest. But you’d be hard-pressed to find better pants for ski touring in the Rocky Mountain West or other dry climes.
Best Storm-Skiing Pants
Flylow Chemical ($350)
I ended up wearing the Chemical on two of the most miserable ski days I had this winter: a backcountry tour in a whiteout with sustained 30-mile-per-hour winds and gusts up to 60, and another tour that ended in a half-mile bushwhack through dense trees. In about 30 minutes, I achieved a full season’s worth of branch scraping. Both times I was very happy to be wearing these pants.
Flylow’s waterproof fabric never wetted out and is noticeably less stiff than Gore-Tex shell materials, but the pants still felt burly, like a worn-in pair of Carhartts. Compared to the Trewth bibs or Fjällräven Bergtagen, the side vents are small. Accordingly, they didn’t breathe quite as well, but they were adequate for touring, even on warmer days. And in stormy conditions, they never failed to protect against sideways snow and rogue tree branches.
The fit is on the looser end of the spectrum, and I liked the Chemical’s articulated knees and adjustable button cuffs, which allowed for easy access to my boot buckles. If you’re the type of person (like me) who loosens their boots at the bottom of each run, this is a much appreciated feature. Flylow also included an internal beacon pocket in the leg, adding utility for backcountry skiers who already plan to bushwhack through deadfall in search of untouched powder.
Best In-Bounds Pants
Stio Environ ($379)
Billed as an all-around pant, the Environ is a bit on the warm and heavy side, but it’s just those traits that make it ideal for resort riding. An adjustable waistband, belt loops, and a relaxed, slightly articulated fit make it comfortable for long days, and I was happy to keep this pant on well into après.
Stio stitched flaps over the zippers and pockets, which look cool but add extra weight that would be unnecessary on a tour. The Environ’s fabric is soft but has a quality, durable feel to it and never wetted out, even when I took it on a trip to Big Bear Lake, California, to ski slushy spring snow. The pant runs a bit on the longer side, and a medium felt loose and baggy on me and even fit the six-foot-six skier in our test.
Black Diamond Recon Stretch ($329)
As the name suggests, these Black Diamond pants (the gray pants pictured above) offer excellent mobility. The fabric is wind- and waterproof, and the waist has an integrated, low-profile belt. That’s a tricky feature to get right—Patagonia’s PowSlayer, for example, uses velcro on the inside of the waistband, which literally rubbed me the wrong way under a pack—but Black Diamond’s version is functional and unobtrusive. (The company also included belt loops, which is confusing and totally unnecessary.)
The cuffs are reinforced and have quarter-length zippers, which offered easy access to my boots for transitions without taking off my gloves. The biggest downside was a relative lack of pockets—the pants have just three, one of which is for a beacon—and I noticed the lack of storage capacity.
Ortovox 3L Guardian Shell ($700)
Not quite a bib, but more than a pant, the Guardian Shell pants are very high waisted and have a finely woven merino-wool lining for a bit of low-volume insulation. For in-bounds or even sidecountry riding, they performed well, although with their insulation and side zips that are small and hard to operate, they would be too stuffy for touring.
Norrona Lyngen Gore-Tex Pro ($479)
At just over 15 ounces, Norrona’s Lyngen pants were the lightest in this test. Their weight and packability mean they can even be stashed easily in a pack on approaches, as one tester did while ice climbing and guiding this winter in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Picture Object ($200 MSRP)
Picture’s Object pants are vegan, organic, recyclable, and insulated, which makes them a great option for cold resort days. The high-waisted gaiter may not be for everyone but could be a good compromise for people who don’t want bibs.
How We Picked the Best Ski Pants
This winter, four testers and I, all of whom are dedicated backcountry skiers as well as avid resort-goers, spent three months testing 16 different pants both at resorts and in the backcountry of Colorado, Wyoming, and California. We had sunny, slushy spring conditions as well as single-digit days above tree line with high winds and whiteout conditions. Three testers were training for the Grand Traverse backcountry ski race. Combined, we put in hundreds of miles of touring and accrued over 100,000 human-powered vertical feet (ascent and descent).
Ultimately, the difference between good ski pants and great ones is narrow. All the pants in the test kept me and my fellow testers dry and warm, but some offered a level of breathability, comfort, and versatility that stood out. The pants reviewed here made the cut largely because the companies that make them pay attention to detail.
What to Look for in Ski Pants
While Gore-Tex has long set the benchmark for waterproof, durable, and breathable fabrics, companies are increasingly developing their own proprietary materials with great success. This means consumers have more options than ever, but it also means there’s more jargon to decipher. I’ve tried to clear some of that up for you here.
Soft Shells Versus Hard Shells
Soft-shell fabrics are breathable at the expense of total waterproofness. Hard-shell fabrics are, for all practical purposes, waterproof but less breathable. (Typically, because they’re supple and thus prone to snagging, soft-shell pants are designed with key areas of waterproof or hard-shell reinforcement around the knees, seat, and cuffs.) Soft shells will do a better job of regulating temperature during high-output activities, and if you spend a lot of time skinning uphill, and can afford more than one pair of pants, you might want to invest in both hard-shell and soft-shell pants. If you’re looking for versatility, a breathable hard-shell pant with good venting, such as the Trewth bib, with its ridiculously high 40K breathability rating, will do the trick. (More on ratings next.)
Waterproof and Breathability Ratings
A completely waterproof material, like rubber, doesn’t breathe. Wear it and you’ll end up soaked in your own sweat. Instead, most shell fabrics—even hard shells—are designed to be extremely water-resistant rather than waterproof. Manufacturers often rate their fabrics with two numbers. The first, a waterproof rating, is a measure of how many millimeters of water it takes to penetrate the fabric under a certain amount of pressure. The second, a breathability rating, indicates how many grams of water vapor can pass through the material from the inside out during a certain amount of time.
All of the pants I tested, even the soft-shell options, were sufficiently waterproof for the relatively dry conditions in the Rocky Mountain region. The only time you’ll likely notice a difference from wearing pants with higher waterproof ratings is in extremely wet environments, like the Pacific Northwest, where the drawbacks of a soft shell may outweigh the benefits of comfort and breathability. But even the hard-shell Stio Environ, with its 20K waterproof rating (on the lower end of the spectrum; by contrast, the Fjällräven Bergtagen Eco-Shell has a 30K rating), never wetted out during three months of testing.
Breathability is a bigger consideration. If moisture can’t escape, you’ll get wet from the inside, and in the worst cases, your sweat will freeze inside the shell. Still, if you’re planning on riding mostly in-bounds or doing very little backcountry, you may not need or want the highest breathability. (Pants I tested with lower breathability were also noticeably warmer.)
Insulation: For high-output activities like touring and ski mountaineering, I don’t recommend insulated pants. On the other hand, minimalist shell pants will need to be worn with warm base layers for in-bounds riding on cold days. Still, layering with shell pants gives you options that insulated pants don’t, and I generally think it makes sense to own good shell pants with a few base-layer options. But if you ski exclusively at resorts and want to stay warm on even the coldest lift rides, you might consider a pant with synthetic fill.
Durability: Don’t underestimate how sharp your ski edges are; without a durable layer of protection around the cuffs, you’ll end up with dozens of tiny cuts before the end of the first season. If you tend to chew through pants like an unsupervised puppy, look for models with extra reinforcement around the knees and seat, such as the Flylow Chemical.
Fit: After testing pants from 16 different manufacturers, I can confirm that sizing is extremely subjective. For example, a medium in both the Stio Environ and Norrona Lyngen fit the tallest tester, who is six foot six. Some models offer various waist measurements but only one inseam, an issue for shorter folks. If you’re looking for a good fit, there’s no substitute for trying pants on—or at least making sure the brand has a good return policy.
Beacon pockets: For backcountry-specific pants, a dedicated beacon pocket is becoming a more common feature. I regard these pockets with some wariness, and beacon manufacturer Backcountry Access doesn’t recommend carrying your beacon in an external pocket at all. This is because outside cargo pockets have been known to rip off during an avalanche. If you do use a beacon pocket, make sure it’s internally sewn.