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How to Choose Snowboard Pants

Choosing snowboard pants might seem like it can take a back seat to selecting a jacket, but don’t forget that your pants are what’s going to be touching that snow-covered seat on the chairlift, shielding the tops of your boots, and keeping your knees dry when you take a spill. You might find a pair on sale at a great price or some that you think go perfectly with your jacket, but if the pants aren’t designed to handle the conditions where you ride, you might end up freezing your butt off or soaking through to your long underwear by the second run.

So when choosing a new pair of pants, it’s worth taking some time researching the various fabrics, features, and styles that will be most applicable to your type of riding. We’ve broken down a few of the most important categories you’ll want to consider before making your selection.

Waterproofing

The majority of snowboard pants will have a waterproof rating between 5,000 and 20,000mm (5-20K)—the higher the number, the more water-resistant the fabric. There are also some high-end fabrics that don’t post specific ratings (e.g.,Gore-Tex and eVent). The other thing that affects waterproofing is seam taping (fully taped seams or critical seams taped). Some snowboard pants are offered in a softshell material, which, while they’re stretchy and super-comfortable, won’t be quite as waterproof as most ‘hardshell’ pants.

How waterproof your pants need to be depends on the region you’ll be riding. For example, it’s both very wet and relatively warm in Oregon and Washington, so you’ll need something with a high waterproof rating and fully taped seams to keep you from getting soaked by all that wet snow, whereas dry areas such as Utah or Colorado allow you to get away with a lower waterproof rating. The price of pants generally increases with an increase in the waterproof rating and the amount of seams taped, so if you only go out a few times a year or usually encounter favorable conditions, a more inexpensive pair with a lower rating might work best for you. On the other hand, if you’re going to be spending most of your time in damp climates or harsh conditions, it’s going to be worth investing in pants that you can rely on to keep you dry day after day.

Warmth

Another factor that varies greatly in importance from person to person is the warmth of the pants. Uninsulated snowboard pants feature a shell with some type of lining for a little extra warmth and comfort. People whose legs don’t get very cold will often wear their snow pants over just a light base layer for the majority of the season, while others prefer to wear several layers to keep from getting cold. Of course, the amount of layering can be changed up depending on the weather, making shell pants a versatile option.

There are also unlined pants, which are usually technical pants meant for backcountry riding. The idea here is to make the pants as light as possible while also allowing for maximum breathability, which is key when you’re on long treks in changing conditions.

Finally, there are insulated pants that generally feature light, low-profile synthetic insulation to add some extra warmth. Remember that warmth on your legs is not as crucial as keeping your core warm, which is why pants have less insulation than jackets. It may feel cold for a minute when you step outside, but once you start moving, your legs tend to quickly warm up.

Key Features

While not all the bells and whistles are necessary, there are some important features to look for that may help you narrow down your choices. The relative importance of these features will depend largely on personal preference and the type of riding you’ll be doing.

Built-in Gaiters

Gaiters are probably the single defining feature most snowboard pants have in common. They’re found under the cuff of the pants, and are designed to keep snow out of your boots and lower extremities. They may have slightly different features, such as hooks to connect to laces or buckles or hook-and-loop openings along the sides, but as long as they’re being worn properly (over your buckled-up or laced-up boots—never tucked inside boots!) they pretty much all work the same way. Some pants will have zippered cuffs that make getting to the gaiter easier.

Venting

Another featured shared by many snowboard pants is zippered vents. These vents open up to allow you to dump heat and promote air circulation when you start to get too hot. Most often they are located on the inner thigh inseam, and feature a mesh lining to keep stray snow from getting in. Some pants will feature zip vents across the front or along the outer seam.

vents
Inner thigh vents, left, and vents on the outside of the thigh.

Jacket-pants connection

Many brands also have a system that connects your pants to your jacket if they’re compatible. This creates a snow-proof barrier that prevents snow and wind from making its way up your jacket and down your pants, which can be really important if you plan on riding in deep snow.

Bibs

If you’re looking for the ultimate protection against snow down the back, along with a touch more protection from the wind in front and waistband-free comfort, bibs are the way to go. They can range in design from minimalist backcountry style to something more reminiscent of overalls. Zip-off designs are also available, which offer the ultimate versatility.

bibsThe Salomon Soulquest pants with a versatile zip-off bib vs.the 686 Authentic Hot Lap bibs.

Pockets

Another key feature to keep an eye out for is pockets. While this may seem pretty obvious, it’s important to consider. For example, if you normally ride with a backpack, then you might not need anything more than standard hand pockets. However, if you know you’re going to be exploring the resort or hanging out in the park all day and don’t want to lug around a pack the whole time, then it might be really beneficial for you to have cargo pockets to hold snacks and other essentials.

Cuff Reinforcement

Often, snowboard pants will have reinforcement at the cuff (sometimes with a stiff, extra-durable fabric) to protect the pants from shredding at the cuffs when you’re walking around. On snowoarding pants, this is usually found in the form of a band at the cuff in the back.

Style & Fit

Last, but certainly not least, there is the style factor. This one is all personal preference, and while there’s no wrong way to go about it, knowing what’s out there will at least give you a better idea of where to start. The main element to consider when it comes to style is going to be the fit. Fit can generally be broken down into slim, regular, and loose. Although there are a lot of differences between, and even within, the fits of different brands, those three categories are a good jumping off point for finding the fit that’s right for you.

Whether you go for basic or tech, bright colors or earth tones, skinny or baggy is all up to you. Just remember that choosing the right snowboard pants is about more than just price or fashion; you need them to be comfortable and functional in the conditions you’ll be facing … and yes, you need them to make you really, really, ridiculously good-looking.

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