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The air is crisp, the snow is fresh, and you’re poised for a full day outdoors. Nothing can harsh that winter mellow quite like wearing the wrong winter clothes for the conditions. Having cold and wet legs or a damp butt will ruin the day at best, and possibly introduce the risk of hypothermia at worst.

Archaeologists say the oldest pants uncovered so far belonged to nomadic herders who roamed western China at least 3,000 years ago. Those wool trousers were designed to maximize warmth and ease of movement as those herders did their thing. Prior to that, there’s only evidence of individual leggings—kind of like super long leg warmers—like the goat leather versions archaeologists found on another herder, Ötzi the Iceman, who was murdered in what’s now Switzerland about 5,300 years ago. The last few thousand years have no doubt brought major technological advances in optimizing pants for their intended purposes—but the primary goal of modern winter pants doesn’t differ all that much from those early pants. The best snow pants hold in your body heat, insulating you against the cold without causing you to overheat or sweat. And they’re designed to let you move easily as you trek or ski through deep snow.

Features to Look for when Shopping for the Best Snow Pants

With so many options for snow pants, it can be tricky to figure out which features make a real difference on the slopes. The best winter pants hit a few key notes: robust waterproofing, reliable insulation, breathability, and enough flexibility to accommodate movement. Find out what other snow gear outdoor survival experts say you can’t live—literally—without.

Do You Need Waterproof Pants for This Winter?

Snow pants have two main tasks: keeping you dry and keeping you warm. Waterproofness is a feature of the outer layer of insulated pants—and nothing is as important as the quality of this layer, since snow clothing is basically worthless once it allows snow to intrude. When that happens, it’ll quickly melt, and you’ll get wet and cold—very cold. Extreme activity can cause waterproof qualities to fail, so make sure your snow pants are designed to withstand tough use.

Best Waterproof Snow Pants: North Face Freedom Pants

These waterproof snow pants have sealed seams to guard against moisture intrusion during extreme activities, such as backcountry skiing. North Face

Are you looking for the best North Face pants for this winter? North Face’s DryVent engineering ensures snow pants that are waterproof and breathable. The waterproofing layer on the outside of the snow pants comprises a durable water repelling finish that makes water bead up on contact. Seams are sealed to guard against water intrusion during strenuous activities. The interior layers are super warm, thanks to 60 grams of insulating polyester, and work together to move sweat from your skin through the garment. Proprietary technology called DryVent maximizes breathability in these waterproof pants. If you’re looking for more extreme outdoor gear, North Face also offers 2.5L and 3L DryVent options.

Are You Looking for the Best Insulated Pants?

Many winter sports enthusiasts prefer very cold temperatures so they won’t have to deal with slushy or sticky snow. And those frigid temps call for serious insulation. Insulation works by holding in your body heat so you stay toasty no matter the weather. Insulation is typically measured in grams. Weights generally range from 30 to 800 grams, with higher numbers translating to warmer pants. Many manufacturers insulate some portions of their snow pants more heavily than others to maximize warmth where you need it, while still ensuring your snow gear is flexible enough to move with you.

Best Snow Pants for Cold Conditions: Burton Covert Snow Pants

These snowboard pants provide 10,000 grams of insulation in just two layers. Burton

Whether you’re looking for cross country skiing pants or pants for snowboarding, snow gear at the top of the mid-range for both insulation and waterproofing is ideal. Burton’s snowboarding pants hit that sweet spot at 10,000 grams of Thermolite insulation combined with 10,000 mm Dryride waterproofing. These insulated pants also include fully-taped seams and various pockets (zippered, lined pockets as well as hook and loop pockets) for warming your hands and stashing your stuff. Bonus: These snow pants are available in various colors and can pass as office pants, so you can head to the snow after grinding out your 9 to 5.

Are the Ski or Snowboarding Pants Breathable?

All that waterproofing and insulation is great, but it comes with a huge caveat: if you’re working or playing in the snow, you’re probably also sweating. And snow gear that doesn’t wick away that moisture efficiently will make you very cold very quickly. The only way that you’ll get dry is to change out of the pants, which will probably end your day.

Best Breathable Snow Pants: Columbia Ride On Snow Pants

This option relies on seam-sealed Omni-Tech fabric to keep that air circulating. Columbia

In addition to sealed seams and internal leg gaiters that help keep the snow out, Columbia snow pants use proprietary technology called Omni-Tech to maintain a 60 g warmth rating while ensuring breathability and air circulation where you need it. These snow pants have a button closure plus an external waist adjuster so you can cinch up or loosen the waistband on the fly.

Do the Pants Let You Move the Way You Need To?

Technical measures like waterproofness, insulation, and breathability are all crucial when selecting high performance snow pants, but other features play a big role in how functional that snow gear actually is when you’re out in the snow.

It’s crucial that snow pants are well-fitted and flexible enough to allow you to move easily. Cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, snowboarding, and just hiking in snow requires snow pants that move with you without binding or bunching. And that’s as important for kids’ snow pants as it is for adults.

Other features and extras—like lined hand-warming pockets or zippered pouches to keep your stuff safe—can move decent gear into the awesome gear range.

Best Women’s Snow Pants: Arctix Insulated Cargo Pants

These snow pants balance warmth and comfort with extras like reinforced hems and boot gaiters. Arctix

These Arctix insulated cargo pants provide 85 grams of insulation in a sleek, low-bulk design. Internal leg gaiters keep the snow out of your boots, while boot zippers make it simple to get those boots on and off. The wide waistband has external adjustment tabs so you can adapt the snugness without leaving the slopes. Clothing and gear branded for women are notorious for overlooking pockets, so the hand pockets, cargo pockets, and built in O-ring for clipping on keys or lift tickets are seriously welcome features.

Best Men’s Snow Pants: Arctix Insulated Bibs

These snow bibs combine 5,000 mm waterproofing and 85 g insulation in a classic overall. Arctix

Ah, the eternal debate: snow pants or snow bibs? While pants are easier to get into and out of, snow bibs are superior in terms of warmth. That one-piece design gives you an extra layer of insulation on your back and doesn’t allow your precious body heat to escape at the waistband. These ski bibs rely on ThermaLock 5,000 mm waterproofing and 85 g ThermaTech insulation to keep you both dry and warm. When it comes to extra features, these include easy-adjust suspenders, chest and hand pockets, and an O-ring for attaching keys and lift tickets.

Best Kids’ Snow Pants: Eddie Bauer Kids’ Snow Bibs

These durable insulated overalls have articulated knees for easy movement and grippy rubber gaiters to keep those little feet dry. Eddie Bauer

When it comes to the littlest shredders, comfort is definitely key. These kid’s snow bibs are durable, waterproof polyester with articulated knees that help with fit and offer the widest range of motion. The gaiters feature rubber to better grip the snow boots, sealing out the snow to keep those feet warmer and drier for longer. These snow bibs feature a StormRepel finish that promises to repel water for the long haul so you can pass these overalls from kid to kid without sacrificing performance.

Best Budget Winter Pants: What You Get for Under $40

Hardcore skiers and snowboarders may want to invest in high performance gear with well-documented ratings for waterproofness, insulation, and breathability. For more casual users, budget snow pants are a great option for occasional snow activities or trips to the slopes. These winter pants are also ideal for adults or kids who just want to get a feel for winter sports without sinking a lot of money into clothing.

Best Snow Pants for the Money: Amazon Essentials Snow Pants

These are your basic old school insulated pants with a few extras like a D-ring loop for gear. Amazon

These snow pants are water resistant and insulated (though technical stats aren’t listed). In addition to the D-ring for attaching keys, lift tickets, or small gear, these include boot gaiters and zippered legs for easy on and off. The waist is also adjustable so you can customize fit.

FAQs

What are the best brands for snow pants and winter clothing?

There are so many brands to choose from when it comes to great winter clothing? Outdoor brands with a documented history of employing proprietary technology to increase measures of waterproofness, warmth, and breathability are always good bets. When it comes to snow pants, these include North Face, Burton, Columbia, Eddie Bauer, and Arctix.

Are snow bibs better than snow pants?

The classic snow-bibs-or-snow-pants decision ultimately comes down to personal preference—although there are definitely pros and cons for each option. Snow bibs are one piece, so they provide an extra layer of insulation for your torso and fewer opportunities for heat to escape since there won’t be a gap at the waist. On the other hand, snow pants are easier to get on and off and don’t require that you remove one or more top outer layers.

Should ski pants be tight or loose?

Ideally, ski pants should hit the sweet spot in between a tight fit and a loose fit. You want your snow pants to be snug enough to stay put while you move but loose enough to give you a broad range of motion as you navigate the terrain or the slopes. In general, look for snow pants with a looser or baggier fit for snowboarding to accommodate the wider range of motion required for the sport.

A Final Word on Shopping for Snow Pants

When it comes to finding the best snow pants, first look for the key measures for performance: waterproofness, insulation, and breathability. After that, it’s all about individual fit and snow gear preferences.

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