There are a number of key specs you want to look out for in your snowboard jacket.
One factor might be budget, so you may not be able to always get the exact jacket that you want.
However, below are what I consider to be the crucial aspects that you shouldn’t compromise on, to ensure that you have a comfortable, warm and dry experience on the mountain.
The number one function of any snowboard jacket, in my opinion, is waterproofing. There’s nothing worse than getting wet from a bit of rain or snow and ending up cold and uncomfortable.
It’s enough to send you home from the mountain early or makes for an uncomfortable rest of the day.
I know what’s it’s like to have both a really un-waterproof jacket and a really waterproof one and the difference is worlds apart.
If you live in more a more extreme cold area, where rain is less common during snowboarding season, you can get away with less waterproofing and might consider warmth a higher priority. But even in that case, some level of waterproofing is still important.
So how do you know waterproof the jacket is before you buy it?
Snowboarding jackets will usually indicate their waterproof-ness in two of the following three ways
- How the seams are sealed
- Waterproof Rating
Though there are a number of other technologies now and it may not be as easy to tell what their waterproofing levels are, apart from just taking the brand’s word for it. It’s nice when the waterproof rating is mentioned, so you have means of getting an impression of how waterproof it will be – and to be able to compare to others.
How the seams are sealed
Seams will either come “fully taped (aka “fully seam sealed”) or “critically taped”.
Fully Taped means that all the seams are sealed and no water will get in that way.
Critically taped (aka critically sealed), means that only the major seams are sealed and water can still enter through other seams.
Always look for the “fully” option and try to avoid the “critical” option where possible.
Some, but not all snowboard jackets come with a waterproof rating which is measured in millimetres. They usually come in a range from 5,000mm to 20,000mm. These ratings are a bit misleading – they’re suppose to determine how much rain the jacket can handle in a 24 hour period.
However, you will never get 5,000mm of rain in a day – but a 5,000mm rated jacket will let water in – trust me I’ve been there and been very wet! I think the heaviness of the rain – i.e. the amount of force that the rain drop hits the jacket with, is more indicative to how wet you’ll get. Heavier rain/snow might penetrate a 5,000mm jacket but less likely to affect a 20,000mm jacket.
I wore a 10,000mm waterproofer (which was also fully seam sealed) for quite a while and I only ever get wet on when the rain was pretty heavy. So, in my experience 10,000mm is enough most of the time but 15,000mm + is better (or gore-tex) if you want to stay dry in more conditions. I have to get out there on heavy rain days sometimes (when I have gear to test and only have it for a limited amount of time, sometimes it’s forced), and I got sick of it, so replaced with a Gore-Tex jacket, which is still not invincible but much better.
15,000mm+ is probably your best bet but 10,000mm will be fine if you don’t get a lot of heavy rain or choose not to go out in heavy rain anyway.
Just avoid 5,000mm unless you want to get wet up there!
I’ve found Gore-Tex to be really waterproof and breathable so it’s a great option to go with.
It’s not usually cheap, though there are a number of cheaper options these days.
Gore-Tex will always have fully taped seams. It’s a requirement for any jacket manufacturer that is using the Gore-Tex technology that the seams are fully sealed.
Gore-Tex typically comes with a waterproof rating of 28,000mm and breathability of 20,000mm (though sometimes more, like on a 3 layer Gore-Tex jacket).
RELATED: TOP 20 SHELL SNOWBOARD JACKETS
Snowboarding is a rigorous activity and with that often comes sweat, especially if you end up a little over dressed for the day.
I have spent more days on the mountain sweating than I have cold. So breathability becomes really important to wick away the sweat.
This is both for comfort and, maybe a little counterintuitively, warmth. If you are out there sweating away and that sweat becomes trapped in your un-breathable garment, it will not only be uncomfortable and start to stink but when that sweat cools down (maybe you’ve just had a break or lunch or dinner or something) and you go back out there, it can make you really cold because you aren’t dry.
Breathability is typically measured in grams and you can expect anything from 3,000g to 20,000g.
I would try for at least 10,000g if you can. 20,000g is probably overkill and you will typically pay extra for a better rating but I find it nice to have that extra breathability, but I tend to sweat pretty easily on the hill.
Depending on where you usually ride and how cold you run, you might want to go with a jacket that has insulation. Insulation in snow jackets usually runs from shell (aka no insulation) to “lining” to a lot of insulation – with a variety of fillers from synthetic to down.
I typically ride with a shell and I can layer underneath (my preference being Merino base layers) when it’s colder. But I do also have an insulated jacket for those particularly cold days. I was in -22°F (-30°C) recently and was pretty to be able to layer AND have an insulated jacket!
RELATED: TOP 10 INSULATED SNOWBOARD JACKETS
There are several things with a snowboard jacket that help to make it more functional, inluding:
- Powder Skirt
- Jacket to Pants Connections
Unless you want snow down your pants or inside your jacket then having a powder skirt will serve you well.
It’s not 100% fool proof and may not stop the snow on a big wipeout but I find it generally does a good job. Not a must-must have but a very-very nice to have – and 99% of snowboarding jackets have this.
A lot of powder skirts also have connections that can connect them to your pants – offering even more protection. Sometimes this means getting your jackets and pants of the same brand. These jacket to pants connections are pretty good to have on a powder day (if you don’t ride with bib pants.
The other way a jacket can help with being too hot and for when you’re sweating up a storm, is with vents, particularly in the under arm.
Most snowboard jackets will come with these, usually in the form of zips under the arms with a mesh lining.
A hood on your jacket can really help on super cold days and wet days.
And having a hood that’s helmet compatible is really a must these days with most wearing helmets (which is a good thing – gotta protect that Noggin!).
I find I don’t use the hood that often, but during a snowstorm or a downpour I appreciate it then.
Got to have somewhere to put that wallet, phone, keys, lock etc – and whatever else it is you feel you need on the mountain. Thankfully most snowboarding jackets come with plenty of pockets to accommodate this.
Some pockets that I find are must haves:
- Media pocket (sometimes known as a noise pocket) – to keep your phone safe, easy access and easy to run ear phones out of, if you’re not using bluetooth. I use bluetooth helmet speakers, but still good to have for those days when I’ve forgotten to give them a charge.
- Zippered sleeve pass pocket. Just makes it way easier when going through RFID gates. Sometimes they are velcro and they’re probably fine, but I just trust zips way more than velcro.
- Handwarmer pockets: Admittedly I seldom use these to actually warm my hands, but they’re handy for bits and pieces.
- Goggle mesh pocket: Again I don’t often actually use this for my goggles, but sometimes I store my selfie stick in there for when I’m filming or just taking pictures during demos.
Obviously you are going to want to get the right sized jacket. Generally each model of snowboard jacket will come in a range of sizes so there should be one that fits you. For sizing it’s usually pretty safe to go with your normal size.
Apart from everything else, you still want to look good on the mountain right!? Once you’ve found something that’s going to be functional for your needs, then you’ve just got to find the style that you like.
Fortunately, there are heaps of snow jackets in existence so it shouldn’t be any trouble finding one that fits everything that you need and that you like the looks of.
To summarize, look for:
|Seams Sealing:||Fully Taped|
|Fabric Waterproof:||10,000mm minimum and more if you live somewhere where rain is going to be a reality.|
|Fabric Breathable:||10,000g minimum|
|Insulation:||A shell is typically a good idea, so you have the option to layer but have a jacket for warmer days too – but if you live in a colder environment or run cold, then some level of insulation might be best for you.|
|Powder Skirt:||Preferable – and comes on a large majority of snowboard jackets|
|Jacket to Pants Connections:||For even more effectively keeping snow out of the pants|
|Venting:||Underarm pit vents are typically enough|
|Hooded:||Try to make sure it’s helmet compatible, assuming you wear a helmet.|
Finally, there is the important factor of budget. Everyone has a different budget. Some simply can’t afford to spend more than a certain amount – and others might be able to afford to but don’t want to spend over a certain amount. For others your budget might be unlimited. Even on a small budget, I would try to look for the minimums of 10,000mm/10,000g waterproofing/breathability – and there a plenty of great options for a good price at those levels.
Check out our Top 10 Cheap Men’s Snowboard Jackets list or our Top 20 Women’s Snowboarding Jackets list (which has a section for low cost options) for some great options at a reasonable price (list updated annually).
If you’re willing to spend a bit more, then you might want to check out the following instead:
>>Top 20 Men’s Shell Snowboard Jackets
>>Top 10 Men’s Inulated Snowboard Jackets
>>Top 20 Women’s Snowboard Jackets (which is split up into shell, insulated, jackets between $250 and $300 and jackets under $250).
All the lists above are updated annually.
I think I’ve covered all the important aspects here but if you can think of anything I’ve left out just leave a comment below. Any other questions or comments very welcome too.
A great write up, though I have a few additions that might help people!
A typical shell has three layers: the outer layer (nylon), the membrane laminate (Goretex or a similar, cheaper laminate), and the liner. The outer layer is coated in DWR (“Durable Water Repellent”). This is what makes water bead up on the surface of your shell. It has nothing to do with Goretex or any other laminate membrane. When it wears out, you can buy wash-in or spray-on DWR and restore it. It will wear out. Many people don’t know this. I was sitting in a gondola the other day and several people were making small talk, with the consensus that because water wasn’t beading up on their jackets anymore, they needed new ones. False! Nikwax makes a spray on bottle that sells for around $15 and there are a few other brands too. (I brought this up politely, I think, haha.)
The laminate membrane is where Goretex, or a “lesser” membrane comes in. Considering Goretex has been on the market since the early 70s, as a single term, it’s not exactly “the latest” per se. However, they have upgraded it a few times, and the story of how Gore works as a business is kind of cool and is worth reading about, if you’re curious. What Goretex did that was revolutionary happens more at the vapor level. It is waterproof, of course, but without DWR doing some of the heavy lifting, it gets overworked and your jacket gets heavy. What it does that was a game changer: it is waterproof one way while vapor escapes. So your sweat (as Nate mentioned) doesn’t keep you wet. Goretex is the market leader and the newest versions are very breathable.
Case in point, I’ve been rocking the 686 core Goretex line this season. The jacket has no pit zips, which I thought would be an issue. Nope. I can open the chest vent and the system works surprisingly well at keeping me from getting sweaty on, say, a long cat track traverse or hike. If you’re going to be splitboarding or something, you will want pit zips, but for regular resort use, I’m pretty impressed and I’ve owned many Goretex (and other laminate equipped) jackets in all sports (road and mtb, backpacking, XC skiing, telemarking, etc etc).
The other thing to mention… powder skirts. Most vendors make snaps or hooks that allow your powder skirt to attach to your pants. This is what makes the powder skirt actually useful. Without that pant/jacket interface powder skirts don’t work. This was a thing that was kinda new when I was a kid (late 90s/early aughts) and jackets that didn’t have it, frankly, had ineffective powder skirts.
Bibs and one pieces get around that, but if you’re buying new gear and want a powder skirt, make sure they can hook together. It makes a world of difference.
Good gear can last decades with a little bit of maintenance. Of course, if you’re like a lot of us (myself included), you end up with many pieces so you can dress appropriately for the conditions (spring conditions, powder days, or park laps) and also just mix up that fit once in a while.
Some great technical details and great point about the DWR spray and the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of powder skirts without a jack-to-pants integration system. Thanks for sharing
Thanks for your reply Nate. Ive fiddled with my DC jackets hood now and the problem is the shape has a peak to it, which just doesnt work. If you fold the peak back about an inch and pin it then the hood works fine, especially over your favourite beanie. The jacket itself is lovely, both warm and practical with access to all the main pockets when buttoned up. I look forward to using it in the powder.
Heres to sunny days and snowy nights.
Thanks for the update and the info Dave. Yes please to sunny days and snowy nights!
Ive just bought a DC snowboard jacket – which I do like but the hood seems weird to me, maybe Im just daft but the 3 way adjustment doesnt seem to help. On my previous jackets Ive tightened the edge of the opening around my face – or not at all. Maybe the hood will “bed in” as it is new and stiff. Does anyone else have thoughts on this, I only really use my hood when its very cold and now Ive got a usable helmet I probably wont use it at all.
I’m the same. Barely use a hood at all these days. I have closeable vents on my helmet and usually ride with a facemask, so very little use for a hood.
But if anyone else knows the ins and outs of DC hoods, would be good to know
Dude, you’re awesome!
I have a question. Is the site you posted trustworthy? Never used The-House.com to purchase anything. Have you? If so, how quickly does it ship?
Thanks for your message. Yeah, thew-house.com is definitely trustworthy. I haven’t bought anything from there personally, but a lot of people have bought from there through this site, and I’ve never had any complaints. In terms of speed of shipping, I think it depends on the shipping you go with. I would imagine the free shipping would be slower, and there would be options to get it quicker. Looks like their current shipping times (relative to Christmas day) are if you order by December 14th, you would get it by December 25th (ground shipping) or December 20th for 2 day shipping, and December 21st for overnight according to this – https://www.the-house.com/helpdesk/shipping-information/us-shipping/#Holiday_Shipping
But yeah, as far as I know they are a trustworthy site – they have been going for a long time and have a good reputation
Moira Blythe says
I’m new to snowboarding and skiing, but my husband really loves doing both, so I am learning! I’ve never heard of a powder skirt before, but keeping snow out of my jacket and pants sounds amazing to me! We’ll have to go look at getting one of those, for me at least.
Thanks for your message.
Powder skirts definitely good to have – but it’s good for both advanced and novice skiers/snowboarders alike. If you’re riding in powder especially, you’ll want one of these even if you’re advanced rider. Most snowboard jackets these days come with one – so you should be able to find a jacket within your budget with a powder skirt for sure. In fact if it doesn’t have one, then it’s probably not really a snowboard jacket.
Vents are not a must-have?? That’s crazy talk! If you want to properly manage your sweat-levels then you should typically be open venting as you board down, then closing them back up for the lift ride up. Also… vent tags should be easy to reach and operate – no-one likes vents that are always catching. The other thing about vents is that they allow you to use that jacket in a greater range of temperatures. My main jacket with the vents closed is way too hot for spring days, but vents open is just fine.
Thanks for your message. Certainly some people appreciate some parts more than others. I find I only really use the vents in my jacket on warm days. And then I don’t do them up at all on those days. And on some really warm days I just leave the jacket in the car! On cold days I leave them closed – if I remember to. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to the effort of opening and closing them throughout the day like that. But I definitely understand that some people appreciate certain things more than others.
Personally it’s not a deal breaker for me. Though I can’t think of too many jackets these days that don’t have vents – but if you’re someone who does use vents a lot and sees them as critical, then something like easy to reach and use vents is an important factor.
Thanks for bringing this up and I’ll add it into the post.
After some extensive research and patient shopping, I purchased the Elevation jacket from Eira, a Canadian ski company. It has 20K waterproofing and 20K breathability, with fully-taped seams to boot. For an average price of $150, I couldn’t find anything else with the number of features and quality for the same or less money.
Just thought I’d pass that along as Eira seems to be little-known, but after receiving the product in the mail, I’m very impressed.
Hey John – that is impressive! Especially for that price.
I have to admit I know very little about Eira – will definitely look into them now. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Appreciate it.
Thank you so much for your article. I’ve never gone snowboarding (even though I really want to give it a go!) but I am looking for a jacket to take with me when I brave the European winter in 4 months.
Thank you so much, I still have a lot of research to do but you’ve cleared a lot of things up for me!
Thanks again, keep at it!
All the best
Glad to be of help and glad you learned something. You should definitely try to get on a snowboard when in Europe. I haven’t snowboarded in Europe but I hear they have some super cool resorts.
Have an awesome time in Europe and thanks for visiting!
I think I’d like one of these for any rainy day! Great Review, nice to know the difference in ratings!
Hey – I actually used mine as a rain jacket before I got my gore-tex one!
Robert Buchanan says
Great article Nate. Seems to me that the amount of investment a person would be putting into a snowboard jacket, that they would be ahead to get a jacket that would definitely keep them dry.
Hey Robert. Yeah absolutely it’s worth it to invest enough to get a jacket that will keep you properly dry – often you don’t pay that much more or even no more to get the right specs – just got to know what to look out for.