There are two main types of snowboard and ski jackets. You’ll find 3-in-1 jackets and what I’ll call traditional jackets. In the traditional jacket category, you’ll find both insulated jackets and basic shell jackets without insulation. I’ll go into detail for each of these categories.
3 in 1 Systems
3-in-1 jackets are really two jackets that are designed to work together as a system and allow flexibility in terms of how they’re worn. They consist of an outer shell (outer jacket) that provides some degree of waterproofing and wind protection while an inner layer (inner jacket) acts as an insulator.
The inner layer is designed to fit perfectly within the outer layer and it can be zipped or snapped with the outer layer making it operate similarly to a traditional jacket when configured in this manner. You can also wear the inner layer without the outer layer or vise versa. So, you get three configurations in one system, thus the name 3-in-1.
These systems have the advantage of providing several options for adjusting the warmth level for the weather conditions. For example, when it is very cold you can wear the whole system and when it is very warm you can wear just the shell. Or if the weather is somewhere in between you can layer up with a fleece or light t-shirt and wear the shell over that. A bonus is after a day of riding I’ve worn just the inner layer for a night out if the weather is clear.
Looking at the cons I will say that when the whole system is worn it can feel a bit bulky and, in my experience, they don’t seem to provide as much freedom of movement as a traditional jacket. This can be overcome somewhat by sizing up a bit to provide a little more room or choosing one that has a more relaxed fit.
But then when you wear the individual components they may be a bit too big. Personally, I’ve found wearing the whole system is too warm except for the very coldest conditions. You will also find these systems are typically more expensive than a comparable traditional jacket. So, for me, since I don't frequently wear the whole system, I can’t fully appreciate the apparent value. But if you are a person that is always cold this could be exactly what you need.
In summary 3-in-1 systems provide a lot of versatility and several warmth configurations with a single purchase. But pay extra attention to the fit and be ready to pay somewhat more than a basic jacket.
Traditional Jackets (Insulated and Non-insulated)
The basic shell jacket consists of a durable outer waterproof layer that provides wind protection. Usually, there is a thin inner liner that is made from a softer material. There is no insulation in between the inner and outer layer. Shell jackets are popular because they are waterproof, windproof and extremely breathable but their warmth depends on how you choose to layer. They are very good with mobility and are light in weight.
I really like the freedom to choose my inner layers to control warmth. In the spring I wear this type of jacket with just a t-shirt underneath. On a relatively cold day, I can wear a base layer, t-shirt, and fleece underneath and be quite warm. Keep in mind that I am almost always hot so if you’re a cold person then this may not work for you. Even for me, on occasion, when it is really cold and windy I’ll opt for an insulated jacket.
A quality insulated jacket is usually similar in design to the shell jacket. The difference is that there is insulation in between the inner liner and outer shell. The degree of warmth varies and is controlled by the insulation material type and weight. The insulation is measured in grams and the higher the gram weight the warmer the jacket. As with the shell jacket, the outside is weatherproof to keep you dry and warm.
An insulated jacket has the capability to provide superior warmth. But when the weather is hot you don’t have the option of somehow making them less-warm. They are usually a little bulkier and may limit your freedom of movement. They are awesome if you’re generally a cold person or even if you are a warm person but it is particularly freezing out. So if you go for an insulated jacket and it will be your only jacket then consider how often you’re cold and the conditions that you usually ride or ski in.
To learn more details about insulation check out Buying Guide: How to Choose Insulated Outerwear
Fit: What jacket fitting options are available?
Fitting of a snowboard jacket is all about its shape and jackets come in slim, regular and relaxed fit. It entirely depends upon your style that which fit you should prefer.
A slim fit has form fitting at waist, shoulders, and chest. Regular fit jackets are tailored just under the waist and are not too tight. Relaxed fit jackets are larger in size in comparison to other options and have better room for shoulders and chest as well.
Length: What jacket length options are available?
The length of the jacket closely relates to the fit and design of it. You’ll find cropped jackets with hems sitting at the waist or even higher. There are hip length jackets with hems sitting on the hip bone or even a couple of inches below.
You can even find thigh length jackets with hems sitting 3 or 4 inches below the hip for extra coverage at the bottom. There are jackets longer even than these are a bad choice for skiing or snowboarding since they will limit leg movement.
Waterproofing and Breathability Ratings
You want to consider both the waterproofing and breathability of your jacket. You want it to be resistant to moisture to keep you dry but at the same time allow sweat to escape so you don't get cold. The minimum acceptable rating for skiing and snowboarding is 5k/5k but you'll likely want something higher than this. For more detailed information check out Buying Guide: How to Choose Waterproof and Breathability Ratings for Outerwear.
There are many features available for jackets. Below I'll discuss what I feel are a few of the more important ones.
Many jackets feature hoods. I really prefer a hood because it allows me to put it on when it is wet or windy. If you wear a helmet look for a hood that is designed to go over the helmet otherwise it will be pretty much useless. Some designs have detachable hoods which are great if you only want the hood in certain conditions.
Pockets are mandatory. You should look for two large pockets in the front that you can put your gloves in when you’re not using them. Many designs have an inside pocket for goggles which is a great feature. Sometimes you’ll find a special pocket to hold your pass in a convenient location to activate the gates as you’re waiting in line. This avoids having to take your pass out. And of course, since we're all addicted to our phones you need a good pocket that is inside the jacket to securely hold it. If you listen to music look for holes to pass your headphone cord through.
Well designed jackets will have zippered vents with mesh underneath your armpits. This is mandatory on a warm day. You can open them to increase airflow and keep you cool.
This is a nice to have feature that consists of an inner skirt with elastic that buttons around your hips. The best designs snap to compatible pants. This pays off during powder days. When you fall it keeps snow from going up your jacket.