When shopping for a ski jacket you are going to find two different types that are available. One is an insulated jacket and the other is a soft shell jacket. The most common question that people have is, “which one should I buy?” The simple answer to this question is that there is no right answer. The reason for this is that each person has a different body temperature regulation. Some people will get hot very quickly and thus having an insulated jacket would cause them great discomfort. Others, however, are routinely cold and having an insulated jacket only makes sense because a soft shell jacket would leave them even colder. With this being said, the first step to selecting the jacket that is best for you is by determining if you are warmer or colder person by nature. Once this is determined, you can then move forward in the process of selecting your jacket.
The construction characteristics of an insulated jacket include an outer layer that is waterproof and windproof, along with an insulated layer that is built directly into the jacket. The insulating inner layer is likely to be made of fleece, down, or a synthetic fabric such as Primaloft. Also, many insulated jackets will contain an additional insulator piece that can be removed. These types of insulated jackets are some times referred to as system jackets or 3-in-1 jackets.
The insulation that is found in insulated jackets is most commonly measured in grams. The greater the number weight in grams, the warmer the jacket will be. Insulation types can range as low as 30 grams and go as high as 800 grams, which is most commonly found with Down material. For people who are colder by nature, an insulated jacket is the most suitable option.
Soft Shell Jackets
Soft shell jackets are windproof, waterproof jackets that have no internal insulation and are highly breathable. Now, you might wonder why anyone would choose a jacket that contains no internal insulation. The reasons for this are several, one of which has already been identified; being a warmer person by nature. Another reason that one may choose this type of jacket is because they prefer to have added mobility that is not available with an insulated jacket. As soft shell jackets are usually worn over a base layer and a mid layer, soft shell jackets do not have the added bulkiness of an insulated jacket. This means that you can contain the warmth of your body via your base layer and mid layer, but have added range of motion.
A soft shell jacket can be worn on its own on warmer days or layered with base and mid layers for colder days. However, for extremely cold temperatures and extended periods of time outdoors, a soft shell jacket is probably not the best option, but the final decision is ultimately up to you. For more information on base and mid layers, please review our article on the importance of layering.
Probably the most important characteristic of any ski jacket is the waterproof rating. This rating tells you how quickly your jacket will become saturated and begin allowing water to penetrate to the layers below. Waterproof ratings are measured and indicated in millimeters(mm). The level is determined by placing a tube filled on the fabric and filling it with water. The level at which the water begins to penetrate through the fabric is the waterproof rating. The higher the number, the more waterproof the jacket is and the longer it will withstand snow and rain. For a jacket to be deemed legally waterproof, it must achieve a minimum 1,500mm rating. Jackets can be rated as high as 20,000mm, but the average rating is typically between 5,000 and 10,000mm. Keep in mind that as the rating goes higher, so too will the price.
There are many different types of waterproof fabrics that are used on the market today. Among the more well-known materials that are used are Gore-Tex, Hyvent, and Event. What makes materials such as these so effective is that they contain pores which are larger than a molecule of sweat, but smaller than a molecule of water. This means that not only is the material waterproof, but also very breathable.
Just like the waterproof rating measures how effective a jacket is at keeping water outside, the breathablity rating of a jacket measures how effective a jacket is at transferring moisture from inside to the outside. The same fabric pores that help prevent water from penetrating inside a jacket, allow sweat molecules to escape and ultimately keep your warmer.
Breathability rating is measured and indicated in grams (g). The measurement is determined by finding the Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate (MVTR). The MVTR determines how many grams of sweat per 1 square meter can escape a jacket in a 24 hour period. The higher the number, the more moisture escapes and the more breathable it is. Entry-level breathable fabrics will have MVTR ratings in the range of 2,000-3000g. Fabrics at the high end of the breathability scale will have an MVTR around 25,000g.
Contrary to what many people believe, ski jackets are different than your everyday winter jacket. Yes, you can wear your ski jacket as your everyday jacket, but if you haven’t purchased a jacket specifically for skiing, you’re best not to wear the everyday winter jacket that you bought at the department store to the slopes. The reasons for this are several, but one of the most important ones is that your ski jacket is going to be far more durable.