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How to Choose the Right Snow Pants

SAIL

September 30, 2022

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how to choose snow pants

You are active all winter long, whether on the hiking trails, on the ski slopes, or even in the backcountry, and you are looking for snow pants that will allow you to stay both warm and dry? Here’s everything you need to know about the most important features of snow pants to find the right ones for you. Follow the guide!

In this article, you will learn more about:

  1. What Are the Key Elements to Consider When Choosing snow pants?
  2. Snow pants for Each Activity
  3. Pro Tips

What Are the Key Elements to Consider When Choosing snow pants?

What does “insulated pants” mean? How can you avoid sweating while ski touring or snowshoeing? Is water-repellent fabric the same as waterproof fabric? If all these questions are running through your mind when shopping for snow pants, it’s completely normal. Buying technical clothing for winter is not as easy as it sounds. Understanding the importance of these three key elements will render you able to choose:

Insulation

When we say that a garment is insulated, it means that it has thermal insulation—in the form of a synthetic layer or down, for example—, which provides a warm lining to your body to block out the outside temperature.

Even though legs are less sensitive to cold than the rest of the body, it can still be important to protect your thighs and buttocks from the bites of winter. For this, there are insulated, partially insulated or non-insulated snow pants. Your choice will mainly depend on the intensity of your activity and your tolerance to cold and heat.

Activities that involve periods of stillness (such as ice fishing or downhill skiing at lift time) require a good layer of insulation. In the context of intense sports such as cross-country skiing or ski touring, which make you sweat easily, it can be interesting, on the other hand, to opt for non-insulated pants.

In any case, remember to pick a size large enough to possibly wear an additional underlayer, such as merino wool leggings if you are chilly or going out in extremely cold weather.

To learn all about the multilayer system and base layers, read our articles here.

Waterproofness

There’s nothing worse than feeling cold and wet after just a few hours of playing outside in the snow. For this reason, it is important to choose waterproof pants. Unlike water-repellent fabrics (on which water drops or snowflakes fall in beads and then penetrate through the fabric after a few minutes), waterproof membranes (such as Gore-Tex and its derivatives) completely repel moisture. To find out the degree of impermeability of a garment, check the label for a measurement expressed in Schmerber (10,000 Schmerber = 10,000 mm of water, i.e. the equivalent of the resistance of the fabric to a 10-metre water column). The higher the number, the more waterproof the fabric. For example, all Gore-Tex pants have a Schmerber index of 28,000 mmr. It is also important to check if the seams are well sealed and if the zippers have an inner waterproof strip to prevent any passage of cold air through these thin gaps.

To learn more about waterproofing outdoor clothing, read our article here.

Breathability

Last important criterion in choosing your snow pants: breathability. This is especially true for high-intensity activities like cross-country skiing or ski touring. Indeed, if your pants keep you warm and protected from external humidity without sufficiently wicking away perspiration, it is on the inside that you risk overheating and being soaked. Two elements are therefore essential: the breathability of the fabric and the ventilation system of the pants.
Once again, Gore-Tex type membranes, called waterproof-breathable, are ideal. If you look at them under a microscope, you will see an incredible number of pores per square centimetre. Each of these tiny holes is 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet, which keeps moisture out, while being 700 times larger than a water vapour molecule, which lets your sweat out.
In addition, many models of ski touring pants now have long zippers on the side of the legs. This allows you to ventilate your lower body during a ski touring ascent, for example.

Snow pants for Each Activity

As you will have understood, it is the type of activity you indulge in that will determine the criteria which are the most important when choosing snow pants. To make things easier, discover here how important insulation (warmth), waterproofing and breathability are for each type of winter activity.

Skiing and Snowboarding Pants

Skiing and snowboarding:
impermeability ++
warmth +++
breathability +

When alpine skiing, you sweat very little (even less from your legs) and your body has relatively little contact with the snow. On the other hand, you spend a lot of time immobile in the queue and on the seats of the ski lifts. As a result, it is necessary to look for insulated (and therefore warm) and comfortable pants.

When snowboarding, you have more contact with the snow, when you sit down to take a break or close your bindings. It may be important to opt for pants with reinforced insulation and waterproofing in the buttocks and knees. Also consider trousers in the form of overalls (also called bibs), which prevent snow from entering in the event of a fall.

The North Face and Helly Hansen offer very warm and comfortable pants for skiing.

Pants for Walking and Snowshoeing

Walking and snowshoeing:
impermeability ++
warmth ++
breathability +++

During a walk or a winter hike, it is important to wear comfortable and breathable pants. Indeed, walking in the snow or snowshoeing, especially when there is a variation in altitude, is a cardio exercise that makes you sweat easily. Avoid pants that are too insulated or too thick and favour the multilayer system with the addition of leggings in cold weather.

Some materials can also be noisy with every step. Remember to walk a few metres in store to test the different fabrics.

For hiking, products from Mountain Hardwear are a must.

Ski Touring Pants

Ski Touring:
impermeability ++
warmth +
breathability +++

As mentioned earlier, ski touring is an intense sport that requires great versatility in your clothing. Look for pants that are non-insulated and breathable, with wide openings on the side of the legs if possible, to open when climbing with skins. Waterproofing is also an important criterion if you plan to descend in fresh powder.

Rab, well known in the ski community, offers several very breathable and high-performance pants for ski touring enthusiasts.

Backcountry Ski Touring Clothing

Cross-Country skiing pants

Cross-country skiing:
impermeability ++
warmth +
breathability +++

Widely acclaimed by cross-country skiing enthusiasts, close-fitting pants such as leggings are to be preferred. They are much more aerodynamic than other snow pants and they are very breathable. If you are Nordic skiing and you are likely to be in more contact with the snow (lower legs especially), look for models that are more waterproof or with windproof material on the front of the thighs for severely cold days.

This is also the case for fatbike enthusiasts. Avoid insulated pants or pants that are too wide at the bottom of the legs to increase your comfort when pedalling.

For cross-country skiing, the brands Garneau, Swix, Craft, Sportful and Salomon are the best on the market for winter pants and leggings.

Cross-country Skiing Clothing

Multi-activity Pants

Multi-activity:
impermeability +++
warmth +++
breathability +

If you are looking for versatile pants for occasional and not too intense activities such as ice fishing, skating or even sledding, aim for warm and waterproof models. They will guarantee you maximum comfort for all your winter outings.

Take a look at Columbia or Borealis.

Pro Tips

  • To keep your legs warm and dry, remember to fit the built-in gaiters (found inside most snow pants) around your boots. Same thing for the waistband of your pants: tighten it well to prevent snow from entering the pants in the event of a fall in powder snow, for example.
  • If you often feel oppressed by the waistband of your pants, try a model with suspenders instead. This allows you to feel that your pants are held in place while maintaining greater freedom of movement.
  • If you have long legs or on the contrary are shorter than the average person, some models offer non-standard sizes that adjust to non-traditional proportions.

Now you know everything about snow pants, so you are ready to have fun outside all winter long!

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