Published in Whitelines Magazine Buyer's Guide Issue, Winter 2010-2011
Buying the right jacket is like is like making love to a beautiful… actually no, scrap that, it’s nothing like that at all. But it’s pretty damn important nonetheless. Dressing properly can make the difference between enjoying the best powder day of your life and being found half-frozen in the foetal position jabbering like a crazed meth-fiend as the hypothermia sets in. OK so perhaps that’s a bit extreme, but at the very least if you don’t pick the right kit you’ll find yourself having to huddle over a hot chocolate in the café while your mates go out and shred. And then of course there’s the style question to consider...We’ve compiled a helpful guide showing you what to look for in outerwear so you can keep warm and look cool.
Choose snowboard-specific gear
It might seem like a good idea to save a few pennies by picking up your jacket at one of those French discount stores – you know, the ones that sell the tragically unfunny jester’s hats that snowbladers wear. It’s not. Nine times out of ten the outerwear they sell won’t be properly waterproof and you’ll end up shivering your way down the hill instead of shredding it. Outerwear like this is designed for walking to the Carrefour, not snowboarding. More often than not it’ll fall to pieces within a week, and you’ll end up spending more money replacing it. Properly made snowboard-specific jackets can cost anything from £100 to £450plus, while pant prices usually range from £70to £250. It might cost more initially, but buying snowboard-specific outerwear from respected brands will save you money (and hassle) in the long run.
Choose the right style
We’re not talking about fashion style here– not yet anyway – we’re talking about different types of jackets. Most jackets(and pants) fall into two main categories:
Insulated Jackets have extra layers of material inside the waterproof exterior that provides added warmth. These maybe heavier but they are usually better in really cold conditions. Down jackets, which are super-warm, have their insulation built into the shell.
Shell jackets don’t have any insulation. They’re lightweight and usually not as warm, so better for spring shredding. That said, you can always add or remove layers under the shell. Some insulated jackets let you zip-out the insulation turning them into shells.
Features to look out for
In general, the more features a jacket has and the higher the qualities of the fabrics, the more expensive it will be.
Waterproof Rating – This is a number that indicates the ability of the jacket’s fabric to resist water. It’s usually measured in millimetres, and most jackets have a rating somewhere between 5,000 mm and 30,000mm. The number refers to the depth of a column of water that could be placed on the fabric without droplets forming on the other side – the deeper this column, the more water pressure the fabric can resist. Essentially, the higher the number, the more waterproof the garment is.
Breathabilty Rating – Even the most sedate shredders sweat when they ride. If this moisture doesn’t have a chance to evaporate, every time you stop you’ll quickly become wet, cold, and miserable. For this reason most of the fabrics used in technical outerwear are breathable – that is, they allow a certain amount of moisture to evaporate out and away from your body. The breathability rating on a jacket tells you exactly how much moisture is allowed through the fabric in grams/centimetre/24 hours (or gm for simplicity’s sake). Most jackets and pants have a rating between 5,000gm and20,000 gm, and the higher the number, the more breathable they are.
Moisture wicking lining – Many jackets have linings made of special material that helps draw moisture away from your body so it can escape through the shell.
Taped seams and waterproof zips – Usually featured on higher-end jackets, these make sure that water doesn’t sneak its way in the seams or through the gaps in your zip. ‘Crucially taped’ jacket shave only the most exposed seams taped, while ‘fully taped’ have all the seams covered. It may sound like overkill, but trust me, if you’re riding a chairlift in a blizzard you’ll appreciate these!
Headphone loops/iPod pocket – Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Apple’s products are pretty much everywhere these days. One thing you can say for Jobs and co is they’ve made riding with tunes a whole lot easier – changing disc man CD’s with cold hands never was much fun. If you enjoy adding a soundtrack to your shredding, look for a jacket with these.
Vents – These let air flow through your jacket, to stop you stinking on really hot days. They usually have mesh coverings to stop chunks of snow getting in. On jacket’s they’re usually found under the armpits, in pants, and on the inside of the thigh.
Powder skirt and boot gaiters – Most jackets these days have powder skirts – elasticated bands that fit over the top of your trousers to stop snow going down your ass-crack when you fall over. Often, these will zip or pop onto your pants. Similarly, pants tend to have boot gaiters – elasticated ankle bands that fit over the top of your boots and stop snow going down them.
Once you’ve worked out what sort of jacket and pants you need, you can start thinking about style. Should you rock fluro or primary? Patterned or plain? Baggy or tight? We’ll leave that one up to you…
The three layer system
Your technical outerwear will keep you dry, but to be properly warm, you’ll need to be wearing layers underneath it. And whatever your granny might say, piling on layer upon layer of extra-itchy jumpers probably won’t help much. It’s best to stick to what’s known as the three layer system, which offers flexibility as well as warmth.
The base layer is possibly the most important of the three. Cotton t-shirts, as comfy as they are, aren’t great at taking moisture away from your body and will quickly become cold and clammy. It’s best to wear a ‘smelly helly’ style moisture wicking garment. The best ones are made of synthetic poly propelene or natural merino wool.
This is basically a layer of insulation that you can add to or take away as you want. Fleece or merino wool jumpers work well, cotton hoodies don’t.
This is your jacket and pants. They should be waterproof, breathable, and of course, make you look the shit!