For the 2018-2019 season, the four heavily insulated jackets all performed pretty similarly with no jacket standing out as far better or worse than the others. The Best in Class goes to the Columbia OutDry EX Diamond Piste which is a new take on the previously tested OutDry EX Diamond Down Insulated Jacket which also scored well. The main complaint about the Diamond Piste was the face material; a high denier fabric which has a plastic-like feel to it and slightly off-putting exterior seam tape. If the exterior had the look of a jacket like the Black Crows Corpus Gore-Tex jacket it would have most likely blown the other jackets out of the water. Black Crows just entered the ski apparel market this year and testers were impressed with the quality material of the Corpus Gore-Tex jacket and its burly, durable nature. Unfortunately, the Corpus Insulated Gore-Tex jacket has some breathability issues that need to be resolved before it will become a top pick. The Helly Hansen Powderstar was the only female specific jacket and while very stylish, a crucial fit design and low weatherproofness rating prevented it from scoring higher. While the Obermeyer Kenai still scored respectably, it was rated the lowest due to a look and feel of a typical everyday ski jacket with nothing much to differentiate it from other jackets on the market. Overall, a solid batch of jackets but with all the choices of ski resort jackets these days manufacturers are going to have to find ways to really make their product stand out above the rest.
The Materials Rating is the only category in which all the jackets scored exactly the same. All the jackets were constructed out of a durable and waterproof exterior using down and/or synthetic insulation. The Columbia OutDry EX Diamond Piste stood out because of their new Omni Heat 3D technology which really enhanced the warmth of the jacket while keeping it very light. However, the Columbia jacket was docked points due to its exterior fabric which has a cheap, plasticky feel to it that disenchanted testers. The Black Crows jacket was also notable in the exterior and soft interior fabric, but a minor cosmetic detail along with poor breathability kept them for scoring above the others. Both Helly Hansen’s Powderstar and Obermeyer’s Kenai jacket used quality materials but nothing about either stood out as superior from the others.
All the jackets in this test have an abundance of features which is expected of a resort specific jacket. They all have enough pockets for goggles, snacks, and warm layers, although the Black Crows Corpus Insulated Gore-Tex and Obermeyer Kenai have such an abundance of pockets that it would be impressive to fill them all. Most of the jackets have a pass specific pocket in the arm while the Powderstar and Kenai both have a specific insulated pocket for a phone to shield it from the cold temperatures. Most of the jackets came with a goggle wipe in the pocket which is handy when it is snowing out and the Kenai even threw in a neck gaiter.
All of the jackets except the Columbia OutDry EX came equipped with a RECCO reflector which is a feature that will likely never get used but is great insurance in the unlikely (though possible) event of getting buried in the snow. The Columbia OutDry EX was also the only jacket to not come with wrist gaiters which can help keep out cold air from entering a jacket through the sleeves. Overall, testers couldn’t think of much more they would need in a resort jacket and they were quite pleased with all the features provided from the jackets even though a few seemed a bit over the top.
The Black Crows Corpus Gore-Tex jacket came out ahead from the other jackets in terms of weatherproofness. The Corpus uses the tried and true Gore-Tex shell fabric which holds up even in the worst of storms. The Primaloft synthetic insulation isn’t quite as lightweight as down but still provided plenty of warmth. The other jackets all use their own proprietary outer fabric to varying degrees of success with the Columbia Diamond Piste also standing out as being particularly waterproof with its exterior seam taping.
For temperature control, both the Helly Hansen and the Columbia stood out above the others. What the Powderstar lacked in weatherproofness was made up in terms of breathability due to the down insulation and lower waterproof rating. The Columbia Diamond Piste was also constructed with down insulation that contributed to its breathability along with its large pit zips. The Black Crows Corpus Insulated Gore-Tex Jacket was surprisingly unbreathable causing a clammy feeling inside the jacket that testers disliked. In addition to its poor breathability, testers found the pit zips hard to use and had the effect of all or nothing in terms of being warm or cold. The Obermeyer Kenai did well in terms of breathability but also had poorly designed pit zips that barely worked to allow cold air in even when opened up all the way.
Once again there wasn’t a clear winner for fit and comfort. The Obermeyer Kenai has a comfortable mesh panel on the back but other than that feature, nothing else that stood out, resulting in a tie with two others. The Black Crows jacket has a long fit with plenty of mobility but nothing else that made it stand out above the rest. The Columbia jacket has a strange plasticky feel that most testers disliked which earned it a lower rating than the others despite its good fit. The Helly Hansen Powderstar stood out as a very comfortable jacket for everyday use but the odd fit prevented it from scoring higher. Testers disliked the shortcut, which allowed cold air in at the hem and a strange bulging around the waist.
All the ski jackets and pants reviewed are tested by the same five criteria; materials, features, weatherproofness, temperature control, and fit/comfort. All the pieces were tested over multiple days in a variety of conditions to see how they perform throughout an entire ski season. Testers do all they can to try out every piece on the same day to compare each one in similar conditions and they get out on lots of days to test the jackets in a range from sunny spring days to stormy wintery days to see how they hold up.
For materials, the specifications provided by the brands are often very important. These specifications tell us what type (if any) and amount of waterproofing or insulation a jacket may have. With a wide variety of third-party insulating and waterproofing materials available, as well as the recent rise of “in-house” proprietary materials being used, it is important to know exactly what fabrics and insulations are being added to each piece in an effort to distinguish what makes one piece better than the next. Since testers typically only have only one season to test these pieces, durability is determined in part by any obvious fraying, ripping or other signs of reduced durability.
Since heavily insulated jackets are primarily intended for lift accessed skiing and riding there is an expectation that features will be tailored to provide the ultimate in comfort and convenience when on the mountain. This means that features such as a powder skirt, pockets for gear, a dedicated pass pocket, a helmet compatible hood, and wrist gaiters are all expected. Extra features such as a RECCO reflector or insulated phone pocket are considered a bonus.
The weatherproofness of a jacket first depends on what the intended purpose of the jacket is and then is based on the specifications that the brands supply. Since most heavily insulated jackets will be used at the resort under cold conditions there is an expectation that the jacket is able to shed blowing snow for the stormiest of days yet also fairly breathable. Since these jackets are for very cold weather, waterproofness isn’t as necessary.
The temperature control of a jacket is also based on the specifications that the manufacturer provides. The line between a lightly and heavily insulated jacket isn’t clear-cut but generally one would expect to use a heavily insulated jacket primarily when the temperatures drop well below freezing and need to still be comfortable when the day proceeds to get even colder. The jackets are then rated to how well they do in very cold temperatures and more importantly how well the jacket does when the temperatures fluctuate which is a common occurrence for any regular snow sports enthusiast. Breathability plays a big factor here because the breathability of a jacket will affect how warm or cold one feels as heat generated while skiing and then go sit on a long chairlift. The ability to fully unzip pit zips is a crucial part of temperature control since that is often the largest factor in preventing overheating.
Lastly, the fit and comfort category is fairly subjective but having multiple testers use the product provides for a good range of body shapes and opinions. Factors that are important here are how long or short a jacket is and if it is true to size. For determining comfort, the amount of stretch the jacket has and how soft it is on the inside often plays into the rating.
What is a Heavily Insulated Jacket?
A heavily insulated jacket is a ski jacket mainly intended for use at a resort in the coldest conditions. These jackets are expected to keep users warm while going up long cold chairlift rides yet prevent them from sweating and overheating while working down the slopes.
These jackets usually come with lots of features since going light isn’t a top priority while staying warm and being comfortable are. Some typical features of a heavily insulated jacket area are a hood that is usually detachable and able to fit comfortably over a hood. They can also include a powder skirt that is often detachable. Also standard, though not always present, are wrist gaiters which are a thin fabric that fits tightly around the wrist to prevent cold air from going up the sleeve and to keep hands a bit warmer if the gloves come off while still outside. All jackets come with pockets but there is a wide range in the number and size of these pockets. At the minimum jackets always have hand warmer pockets and are often fleece lined which is a plus. Chest pockets are also pretty standard though some jackets will have only one rather than two. Some sort of interior storage space is also common usually found in the form of mesh pockets that are large enough to stash gloves, snacks, and maybe a spare light layer. In addition, less commonly seen features include an insulated pocket for a phone so the battery doesn’t die in cold temperatures. Additional pockets on the outside are also seen in certain styles usually intended for the user who likes to bring it all like a speaker, drinks, lunch, etc. Most heavily insulated jackets are targeting a certain type of resort user which may be the skier or boarder who lives at the mountain and is out there every day, to the occasional resort user who wants to be comfortable and look good while at the mountain but who doesn’t need a jacket to hold up to years of daily abuse.
The main downfalls of heavily insulated jackets are that they lack versatility found in a lightly insulated jacket or shell and they tend to be fairly pricey. However, heavily insulated snow jackets can still be worn when walking around town in cold areas to increase the utility of the jacket. This category of the jacket does overlap slightly with puffy or insulated jackets, but the main difference is that those types of jackets don’t have the specific ski related features mentioned above and therefore tend to be a little less bulky and lighter weight.