Staying Dry: A Guide to Waterproof Ski & Snowboard Jackets

Snowboard Expert Jason Robinson delves into waterproofing tech, care, and some suggestions on the best jackets to keep you dry this winter!

Three people with skis on their backpacks walk up a snowy, windy ridge.

Push your personal limits, not the limits of your jackets’ waterproofing. Photo by Guillaume Groult

Staying dry is an important element to an enjoyable day recreating in the elements. Somewhere like dry, sunny Colorado, where they seem to receive the majority of their snow at night and the sun shines every day, makes staying dry a cinch. This may help explain why denim is such a popular choice at so many of the ski resorts dotting the Rocky Mountain front. Where I live, the climate is such that my local ski hill has the word hurricane in its very title. Neighboring Mt. Baker Ski Area boasts an annual average snowfall of around 700 inches and the base an average winter daily high temperature of around 30 degrees, which can mean heavy rain at times. Wet, Wild, and, of course, Waterproofing.

Whatever side of the spectrum of arid and monsoon you happen to ski or ride in is going to impact exactly what type of jacket and pants it will take to keep your dampening drawers from dampening your day. Like I said before, some will choose denim, and that is, of course, their choice to make. Another important factor is what type of skier or boarder you are. Do you stay mostly on groomed trails? Or do you prefer to explore the mountain for fresh powder? Long breaks or long hikes? How deeply you immerse yourself in the experience is another key consideration that may impact your route when dropping in on new outerwear.

The more educated you are going into a purchase, the more likely you will be happy with the gear choice. Plenty of resources exist out there to help you decide what you should wear when skiing or snowboarding. In this article, we will cover general waterproofing tech, explain waterproofing and breathability ratings, some basic gear care, and ten recommendations for waterproof jackets.

Technology of Waterproof Jackets

A man stands with a snowboard and a jacket. The jacket has a tag on it that reads "Gore-Tex".

A brand new GORE-TEX shell is certainly something worth smiling about. Photo by Tristan Shu

In general, it is simple enough to understand the concept of something being “waterproof.” It doesn’t get wet, and it doesn’t let water in. The image of a dry bag comes to my head. Stuff it full, roll it up, clip it. Go ahead and throw it into the river—if you can retrieve it, the contents will have remained dry for the duration of their travels.

A rubber raincoat, poly tarp, or even a black plastic bag offer unparalleled protection from precipitation. If you were stuck in place, ideally all day out in the rain or snow draped in rubber or plastic, you’d stay mostly dry. However, that same highly protective outer layer worn while doing something quite active–such as skiing or snowboarding–will perform so well at being waterproof that it not only keeps the precipitation out but locks the perspiration in.

Ratings and Layering Explained

A woman in a waterproof jacket and a rope. There is a person being lowered by rope with skis on in the background.

Staying Dry could save your life in the event of an unplanned night in the mountains. Photo by Tristan Shu

When speaking on active outerwear fabric, breathability becomes just as important as its waterproofness. The material is made up of a membrane that allows water vapor to pass through but blocks actual liquid water. Waterproof outerwear typically have both a breathability and waterproof rating that will correspond with their performance. GORE-TEX is the most commonly known and one of the most widely used waterproofing standards.

Waterproof ratings are a bit more straightforward, so we will start there. The most common way of determining fabric's waterproof ratings is by placing a long, vertical 1”x1” square tube over a small piece of fabric. They begin filling the tube with water until the fabric starts allowing water to pass through and the height of the water before the leak is the fabric’s rating. They're usually read in millimeters (mm), ranging from 5,000mm up to 30,000mm, and they are usually abbreviated to read as 5k or 30k. The most common ratings you will typically see are 5k, 10k, 20k, and 30k (all meaning thousands of mm). For a 30k waterproof jacket to allow water in, that one square inch tube has to be filled 30,000mm or nearly 100 feet high, too.

  • 5k: Designed for light use in light rain or dry snow
  • 10k: Suitable for light pressure in rain and average snow
  • 20k: Performs well under heavy use in wet snow or heavy rain
  • 30k: The highest-performance waterproofing available

Consistently measuring breathability is inherently more difficult due to environmental variables of different testing sites making results slightly less standardized. The process remains simple enough and, in essence, what they do to determine a fabric’s breathability rating is to take a one square meter swatch and place it over a container of liquid, similar to how you’d put plastic wrap over a bowl. They leave the test material over the bowl in a controlled setting for 24 hours and then weigh the container of liquid to see how much of its liquid contents were allowed to evaporate, passing through the material. This value is known as the Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate (MTVR) and is measured in grams.

The MVTR Breathability Scale:

  • 5,000g - 10,000g: Works well for chairlift laps at ski resorts, moderate activity levels, and no heavy exertion.
  • 10,000g - 15,000g: Will keep you comfortable while performing more intense aerobic exertion while riding, hiking, or touring.
  • 15,000g+: Highly breathable and engineered for comfort during high exertion.

One final differentiation when speaking on waterproof jackets is two-layer vs. three-layer waterproofing. This gets a bit on the technical side, but check out An Expert Guide to Waterproofing in Your Ski and Snowboard Gear for more.

Care Tips

Several jackets on display with a sign in the background that reads "Breathability to the Extreme".

Scenes from the 2022 Activewear Waterproofing Summit. Photo by Edmund Mohrle

As our favorite waterproof/breathable gear gets dirty, it will ultimately begin to lose some of those wonderful waterproof and breathable characteristics we’ve learned to love. Dirt dirties our gear from the outside, which can greatly reduce the waterproofing properties. And our own sweat evaporating through the jacket leaves behind deposits in the fabric's tiny pores, which can greatly diminish the material's breathability. For better performing gear, care should include regularly washing and drying as well as reapplying Durable Water Repellent (DWR). A little love in this regard can help get you a lot more life out of your beloved outerwear.

Men’s Jackets

1. DC Men's Defy Snowboard Jacket

The DC Men’s Defy Snowboard Jacket.
  • 10K Waterproof
  • 5K Breathable
  • Warm Insulation – 100g / 60g fill

DC’s Defy Snowboard Jacket comes in a triple block colorway, a style reminiscent of snowboarding’s heyday. This is the base-level jacket for what you’ll want when hitting the slopes this winter and gives you a 10k waterproof rating and 5k for breathability. DC’s ProFill Insulation offers 100g synthetic insulation in the body and 60g in the sleeves for added warmth. Ripstop fabric allows the jacket to withstand plenty of wear and tear. It features taped seams, underarm vents (aka pit zips), and an interior media pocket with cord route for a phone or device of your choice.

2. The Northface Sickline Jacket

The The Northface Sickline Jacket.
  • 20K Waterproof
  • 10K Breathable
  • PrimaLoft Silver Insulation – 100g / 60g / 40g fill

This is a very sensible shell designed for all-mountain skiers and boarders that appreciate a more classic look, want to stay dry, and don't want to break the bank. It features Primaloft insulation to help keep you warm, while the DryVent fabric provides 20k in waterproof capabilities and 20k breathability. It includes two internal mesh goggle pockets, an external chest pocket, two zippered hand warmer pockets, an internal media pocket, and a wrist pocket with a goggle wipe. Jacket-to-Pant Integration allows for the powder skirt of this jacket to zip together with any compatible North Face snow pants.

3. Airblaster Men's Beast 2L Insulated Jacket

The Airblaster Men’s Beast 2L Insulated Jacket.
  • 30K Waterproof
  • 20K Breathable
  • Primaloft 40g fill

This is a very lightly insulated (40g Primaloft fill), hooded shell-style jacket that features a laser-cut Hypalon Beast patch on the jacket's chest area. The fully taped seams help keep the moisture locked out, while this jacket's extra long fit helps you move easier, look better, and keep your butt dryer all the same. This is an extremely comfortable jacket that is constructed with 2-Layer laminated Eco-Vortex fabric made with recycled polyester. It provides 30k waterproofing, 20k breathability, and an ergonomic 2-way adjustable hood with a Lycra drawcord. Gotta love the removable powder skirt with a pass pocket window, three zippered external pockets, an inside mesh goggle pocket, and a media cord port with a zipper.

4. Burton [ak] Men’s Cyclic GORE-TEX 2L Jacket

The Burton [ak] Men’s Cyclic GORE-TEX 2L Jacket.
  • 20K Waterproof
  • 20K Breathable
  • Non-Insulated

Burton ak has built a solid reputation of bringing a great balance of comfort, style, and performance over the years. The Cyclic is an uninsulated shell made with a 2-layer, 20k GORE-TEX. It is ideal for regulating body temp through adjusting insulating layers while riding the resort, hiking, or out backcountry skiing. It also is designed with zippered hand-warmer pockets, chest pockets, hand pockets, a bicep pass pocket, interior power mesh dump pockets, and an interior media/goggle pocket with a therma-pocket to extend the battery life of your device. Bet you can’t say that ten times fast. Ha! But yeah, there are lots of pockets.

5. Volcom Men's Guide GORE-TEX Shell Jacket

The Volcom Men's Guide GORE-TEX Shell Jacket.
  • 30K Waterproof
  • 20K+ Breathable
  • Non-Insulated

The Guide is a 3-layer GORE-TEX jacket with 30k waterproof rating and built for those riders whose dreams are to ride powder all day long. It was developed with and for the backcountry guides at Baldface Resort in British Columbia and features all the tech you could ask for to help keep you dry on those long, hard days. It has fully-taped seams, waterproof zippers, and a highly breathable tricot backing. Get head-to-toe protection from the elements with Zip Tech Jacket to Pant Interface and Face Tech removable integrated mask. Snow is no match for all this tech!

6. Dakine Stoker Gore-Tex 3L Men's Jacket

The Dakine Stoker Gore-Tex 3L Men's Jacket.
  • 30k Waterproof
  • 20K+ Breathability
  • Non-Insulated

This jacket is sure to keep the heaviest of stokers stoked on just how dry they are staying. It is built for the heavily active rider who doesn't want to let a little inclement weather get in between them and a good time. This jacket is made from recycled polyester plain weave 3L with Gore-Tex. It features extra long wrist cuffs, a one-inch drop tail, tall face fabric, an attached powder skirt with Lycra, and a helmet-compatible hood for locking the stoke in and the moisture out. Aquaguard chest vent zips, an insulated device pocket, and chest vent access stretch mesh stash pockets are also in the lineup. I’m getting stoked just thinking of it.

Women's Jackets

1. Airblaster Women's Trenchover Insulated Jacket

The Airblaster Women’s Trenchover Insulated Jacket.
  • 15K Waterproof
  • 10K Breathable
  • Light Insulation – 40g fill

This lightly insulated (40g fill) pullover style women's jacket features 2-layer shell construction, 15k waterproofing, 10k breathability rating, and Airblaster's trademark full-side zip for hassle-free entry and exit. It is treated with a Durable Water Repellent coating that is fluorocarbon free and environmentally sound, so that you can go green in a colorway of your choice. It is a great choice for an upper entry-level waterproof jacket that will keep you dry in most conditions.

2. 686 Women's Hydra Insulated Jacket

The 686 Women’s Hydra Insulated Jacket.
  • 20L Waterproof
  • 20K Breathable
  • Medium Insulation – 60g / 40g fill

The 686 is just a bit of a bump up from the Trenchover: a little more insulation (60 g in the body 40 g in sleeves) and a little more protective 2-layer infiDRY 20K fabric with 20k waterproofing and 20k breathability. Bemis fully taped seams and Vader vents over the mouth allow for your breath to properly ventilate and prevent goggles from fogging up while still keeping your face warm. Air-Flo mesh-lined underarm vents and adjustable helmet-compatible add comforts.

3. Burton [ak] Woman’s Kimmy GORE-TEX 3L Stretch Jacket

The Burton [ak] Woman’s Kimmy GORE-TEX 3L Stretch Jacket.
  • 30K Waterproof
  • 20K Breathable
  • Non-Insulated

This is a very high-performance 3-layer Gore jacket designed for ladies that demand more out of their outerwear. This jacket’s material is not just highly waterproof and breathable–30k and 20k, respectively–but also features a built-in stretch and soft, brushed lining for a flowy, no-bunch, natural feel. Designed by legendary backcountry snowboarder Kimmy Fasani, the devil is in the details: zip vents, a two-way front zipper, a snow skirt, and wrist gaiters to help you get the most out of those big powder days.

Let’s Zip Up

Now that you have a bit more information about waterproof ski jackets and exactly what it takes to stay dry out there in those snowy mountains, I hope this helps you go into future outerwear purchases even better informed. For real expert advice and a hands-on customer service feeling–right from the convenience of home, connect today with a Curated Winter Sports Expert to help get you the best possible jacket for whatever type of skier or rider you are.

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Written By
I've spent over thirty years on snow and a decade as a professional rider. Snowboard career highlights include standout video parts with Absinthe Films, 2016 Big Mountain Rider of the Year and two Snowboarder Mag covers. I pretty much grew up on the slopes in Whitefish, Montana and snowboarding has...

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