What Kind of Pants Are Best for Skiing?

Hard Shell Vs. Soft Shell Pants

 Skiing is an aerobic sport requiring apparel that stretches with your movement and protects against precipitation.  Skiing pants need to shield your legs from the cold, wet snow, while allowing your sweat to evaporate. Two options for ski pants include hard shell and soft shell pants.   Your personal preference, the skiing environment and your activity of choice may help determine which type of ski wear meets your needs.

Skiing in Hard Shell PantsCredit: Wiki Commons


Hard Shell Pants

Hard shell pants are a popular choice for skiers, as the hard shell material provides water resistance from the slushy, wet snow. A common material composing these pants is Gore-Tex, a stiff and somewhat inflexible fabric.  This material keeps an individual dry, while allowing for some ventilation of air and release of sweat.  However, hard shell pants may restrict movement and may not provide enough breathability and comfort for some skiers. 

Soft Shell Ski Pants for MentCredit: Amazon.com


Soft Shell Ski Pants for Women(128029)Credit: Amazon.com

Soft Shell Pants

Soft shell clothing is composed of a tightly woven system of water-repellent fabric and commonly includes cinch cords or reinforcements at the bottom of pants to prevent snow from entering.  However, soft shells may not provide the water and wind resistant protection found in hard shell pants.  Potential benefits of soft shell fabric include its snug fit and greater breathability.  Additionally, the protective fabric stretches significantly more than the Gore-Tex fabric.

Hard Shell Ski Pants for WomenCredit: Amazon.com Hard Shell Ski Pants for MenCredit: Amazon.com

Skiing Environment

The skiing environment may play the biggest factor in determining the best type of skiing pants for you.  In coastal snow environments or slushy and rainy weather conditions, a hard shell fabric may provide greater water resistance than the soft shell fabric. Soft shell pants tend to begin absorbing water in warmer and wet environmental conditions.  However, in areas with temperatures below freezing and in the interior mountains, soft shells may be a better option, as these pants allow for more breathability and can generally protect against this type of snow condition. 

Wear Soft Shell Ski Pant during SkitouringCredit: From ca.wikipedia. Photo taken by Andreube

Type of Activity

The type of skiing activity you plan to participate in may dictate which type of apparel you choose.  For example, soft shell pants may provide the best option for skiing on small slopes, ski touring, and activities that don’t involve constant contact with the snow. Hard shell pants may provide the best protection against the snow during snowboarding, heli-skiing and skiing down large, slushy slopes.  However, if you plan on participating in a significant amount of aerobic activity, such as cross country skiing, the breathability and flexibility of soft shell pants may prove more beneficial than the precipitation protection of hard shell pants. 


Overall, hard ski pants are best for activities with a lot of snow exposure in wet, coastal conditions. soft ski pants are best for lighter activities with dry snow conditions in intercoastal regions. Soft ski pants allow for more flexibility and breathability for everday and sports wear.



Backcountry.com: What the Heck is Soft Shell?

Canadian Mountain Holidays Heli-Ski Blog: Soft Shell vs. Had Shell for Skiing in the Backcountry

Outdoor Gear Deals: Hard Shell versus Soft Shell Jackets

Outdoor Research: Choose the Right Outdoor Jacket: Hard Shells, Soft Shells and Hybrids