Shell vs. Insulated Jacket for Skiing: Detailed Breakdown

Shell vs. Insulated Jacket for Skiing

Shell or Insulated jacket for skiing? This is one of the most popular questions from our readers.

When it comes to skiing, most skiers know that you need two very specific things: a good pair of skis and the right jacket. In fact, the right jacket can make the difference between a great day on the slopes and a not-so-great one.

Skiing is all about staying warm and comfortable, and that’s why it’s so important to have the right jacket protecting you from precipitations or freezing winds.

But with so many different types of jackets on the market, it can be tricky to decide which one is right for you.

Be sure to read this comprehensive guide about ski jackets before you make any purchase!

What is the Difference Between Shell and Insulated Jackets?

Shell jackets and insulated jackets are two of the most popular types of ski jackets on the market.

But what’s the difference between the two?

A shell ski jacket is a waterproof and windproof outer layer that is designed to be worn over other layers in wet weather conditions. They are made with breathable fabrics, which prevent moisture from building up inside the jacket.

On the other hand, insulated jackets are designed to keep you warm in cold weather conditions. They are made with down or synthetic fibre insulation and trap the body heat inside the jacket.

insulated jacket for skiing

Insulated Jackets for Skiing

Shell jackets may be lighter and cheaper, but they don’t do anything to keep you warm in cold weather conditions.

I learned this the hard way when I went skiing in Colorado one year and got caught in a freak snowstorm. My friend who was wearing an insulated jacket stayed nice and toasty, while I nearly froze to death. Now whenever I go ski in colder temperatures, I make sure to bring an insulated jacket with me.

Ski Jacket Insulation Guide

The term “insulation” in ski jackets refers to the materials used to fill the space between the fabric layers of the garment.

The three most common types of insulation materials used in ski jackets are down, synthetic fibres and a hybrid mixture of both.

Insulated jackets are a great choice for skiers who tend to get cold easily, or who will be skiing in very cold conditions.

Down is made from the soft, fluffy feathers of ducks or geese, which is an excellent insulator because it traps warmth very effectively.

However, down does have some drawbacks. First, it is not as effective at trapping heat when wet as synthetic insulation (more on this later). Second, down is more expensive than synthetic insulation.

A down jacket’s warmth is in direct relation to its fill power. A higher fill power and loft allow for more warm air to be trapped, making the garment warmer overall whilst also taking up less space, perfect for packing.

Synthetic fibres are man-made materials that are designed to mimic the properties of natural down feathers.

Synthetic insulation is less expensive than down, and it performs better when wet, however, synthetic insulation is not as good as down at trapping heat.

The amount of insulation in a jacket is measured in grams per square metre (gsm), not the weight of the entire jacket. In general, 50g-100g of insulation is good for spring or autumn weather, or as a technical mid-layer under another coat. Jackets with 100-200g are best suited for colder temperatures.

when to wear insulated skiing jacket

When to Wear an Insulated Jacket?

The primary benefit of an insulated jacket is that it will keep you warm in cold weather conditions, even when wet.

This makes insulated jackets ideal for activities like skiing, snowboarding, mountaineering, and ice climbing.

Insulated jackets come in a variety of weights, so you can choose one that is appropriate for the weather conditions.

For example, a lightweight down-insulated jacket might be all you need for a springtime hike in the mountains. You can also wear this jacket as a standalone piece in milder temperatures.

Insulated jackets are also available in waterproof and water-resistant varieties. Water-resistant insulated jackets are ideal for activities like skiing and snowboarding, where you might encounter wet snow or mild rain.

However, it is important to remember that insulated jackets are not designed to be worn in heavy rain. If you need a garment that will protect you from wind, snow or rain, you will need to wear a shell jacket over your insulated jacket.

what to look when choosing insulated material

What to Look for When Choosing an Insulated Jacket?

When choosing an insulated jacket, the three most important factors to consider are warmth, weight and waterproofing.

Warmth is the primary reason for buying an insulated jacket, so make sure to choose one that is suitably insulated for the temperatures you will be wearing it in.

Weight and packability are also important considerations, especially if you plan on carrying your jacket with you on long hikes or ski tours.

Waterproofing is another important consideration when choosing an insulated jacket, especially if you plan on wearing it in wet or snowy conditions.

Doesn’t matter if you buy in-store or online, ask the retailer about these different types of characteristics and make sure you choose the one that is right for you.

Pros and Cons of Insulated Ski Jackets


  • Keeps you warm in cold weather conditions, even when wet
  • Available in a variety of weights and styles
  • Waterproofing is available on some models


  • Not designed to be worn in heavy rain
  • Can be bulky and weigh more than other types of jackets
  • More expensive than non-insulated jackets

3. Shell Jackets for Skiing

There is a saying in the ski world: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

This couldn’t be more true.

Skiing can be a HOT sport, so make sure to pack a shell jacket! They’re perfect for skiers who tend to sweat or want the option to add/remove layers depending on changing weather conditions.

Windbreakers are an essential piece of gear for any skier or snowboarder, as they provide protection from the elements.

What is a Shell or Non-insulated Ski Jacket?

A shell jacket is a waterproof and breathable outer layer that protects you from the elements like wind, rain, and snow. Shells are not-insulated jackets, so they will not keep you warm on their own.

Shell jackets are typically made from Gore-Tex or another type of waterproof/breathable fabric.

Gore-Tex is a laminate fabric that has millions of tiny pores that are too small for water droplets to penetrate, but large enough for water vapour to escape.

This means that you will stay dry and comfortable even if you are sweating or skiing in wet conditions. Shell jackets also have taped seams to prevent moisture from seeping through the cracks.

Hardshell vs Softshell Jackets

There are two main types of shell jackets: hardshells and softshells.

Hardshell jackets are made from a stiffer, more durable fabric that is completely waterproof. These jackets are great for skiing in wet or icy conditions, but they can be less comfortable to wear and more difficult to move in.

Softshell jackets are made from a softer, more flexible fabric that is water resistant rather than waterproof. Softshells are more comfortable to wear and offer a better range of motion, but they are not suitable for skiing in extremely wet conditions.

when to wear a shell jacket

When to Wear a Shell Jacket?

Shell jackets are most commonly worn during activities where you will be sweating, such as during alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, hiking, or climbing.

Often, shell jackets have pit zips, which are zippers located under the arms that allow you to ventilate the jacket when you start to heat up.

What to Look for When Choosing a Shell Jacket?

When choosing a shell jacket, the climate conditions in which you will be skiing are essential to consider. I can’t emphasize this enough because your day would be ruined otherwise.

For example, if you plan on doing a lot of skiing in very cold weather, you will want a jacket with a high denier rating, which indicates the thickness of the fabric.

Jackets with a lower denier rating are more breathable but may not be as warm.

In general, shell jackets should be fitted but not too tight. You should be able to move your arms and legs freely without the jacket feeling restrictive.

If you plan on layers underneath your, consider leaving enough room so that you can comfortably move your hands.

Pros and Cons of Shell Ski Jackets


  • Shell jackets are waterproof and breathable
  • Taped seams prevent moisture from seeping through the cracks
  • Typically made from a stiffer, more durable fabric
  • Cheaper than insulated jackets
  • Longer lifespan
  • Versatile; easily layered with other clothing


  • Bad at heat retention
  • Not as comfortable

4. Which Ski Jacket is Right for You?

As I said in the beginning, choosing the right ski jacket is essential to having a great day on the slopes. There are a lot of different factors to consider, such as the climate conditions, your budget, and what type of skiing you will be doing.

Here’s a quick reminder to help you choose the best ski jacket for your needs:

1. Consider your climate. If you’ll be skiing in a cold climate, you’ll need a thicker ski jacket that can keep you warm. Conversely, if you typically ski in warmer conditions, you’ll want a lighter jacket that won’t overheat you.

2. Think about layering. A good ski jacket should be able to be layered underneath for added warmth, or worn alone in milder conditions.

3. Pay attention to fit. A ski jacket should be snug but not too tight so that it doesn’t restrict your movement. Make sure to try on the jacket before you buy it, and move around in it to see how it feels.

4. Choose a style you like. Ski jackets come in a variety of styles, from traditional to modern. Pick one that you feel good in and that fits your personal style.

5. Don’t forget about the extras. Many ski jackets come with handy features like pit zips, zippered pockets, hoods, and powder skirts. Consider which features are most important to you and make sure to look for them when shopping for a jacket.

With these tips in mind, you’ll be sure to find the perfect ski jacket for your needs.

which jacket type is good for skiing

Shell vs. Insulated Jackets: The Final Verdict

You got the point: both have their pros and cons. Ultimately, the choice between a shell ski jacket and an insulated ski jacket comes down to climate and personal preferences.

If you want to hear my personal preference: I usually go for a shell jacket. I like being able to layer my clothing to customize my warmth.

My Personal Recommendation: Layering Guide

If you’re looking for the best all-around ski jacket, I recommend a shell jacket. Shell jackets are versatile and can be worn in a variety of conditions. They can also be layered underneath for extra warmth in colder weather.

When it comes to layering, I recommend the following:

1. Base layer: A base layer is the first layer of clothing that you’ll put on. It should be made from a material that wicks away sweat and keeps you warm.

2. Mid layer: The mid layer is the second layer of clothing. It should be made from an insulating material like fleece or down.

3. Outer layer: The outer layer is the third and final layer. This is where your ski jacket comes in. Choose a shell jacket or an insulated jacket, depending on your needs.

Wrapping Up

I hope this guide has helped you choose the best ski jacket for your needs. With so many different types and brands on the market, it can be tough to know where to start. But if you keep in mind your climate, desired features, and personal style, you’ll be sure to find the perfect ski jacket for you.

Happy skiing!

What’s your favourite type of ski jacket? I’d love to know in the comments below!

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Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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