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Gear Made Clear: Ski Outerwear

Of course, you want your outerwear to look good when you wear it. How else are you going to maximize your likes on the ol’ Instagram? However, in addition to sleek colors, patterns and prints, there’s a ton of incredible technological aspects packed into your kit. These construction techniques and materials are what keep you protected while you’re out shredding in the elements. Outerwear is complex. But, never fear, we’ve consulted Dakine’s Lead Designer, Peter Line, as well as esteemed pro skier and product tinkerer Eric Pollard, to help you study up before making your next big purchase. This is Gear Made Clear: Ski Outerwear.

What is the most important thing to keep in mind when purchasing new outerwear?

What kind of performance are you looking for from your outerwear?  Is it waterproofing and breathability? Do you need a minimalist shell? What about insulation? Keep in mind that cost is largely based on the materials, whether it be Gore-Tex or something else. What kind of fit or silhouette are you drawn to?  Is it a slim/tailored fit or baggier? Do you want a utilitarian look or an extra-clean aesthetic? How many pockets do you need, and where are your favorite pockets located? Do you prefer three jacket pockets? Two hand warmer pockets? A hidden center flap pocket? In what climate or environments do you particularly ride? Is it cold, high alpine, high elevation, wet? What kind of rider are you? Someone who is going to be riding the resort a few days a year, or someone who is going to ask their outerwear to perform day in and day out, all winter?

How a Membrane Works

The membrane is the waterproof technology that is bonded to the outer protective shell fabric. The membrane is a micro-porous material; the pores are so minuscule that exterior water can’t penetrate it, yet the pores allow for water vapor to pass through, thus making it breathable.

Durable Water Repellent

The face fabric, which attaches to the membrane, protects the membrane from dirt and deterioration. However, it’s not waterproof in the least, which presents a problem for the vulnerable membrane. The solution? Durable Water Repellent (DWR).

While the membrane is what keeps water out of the interior, the face fabric can get wet and soak very easily. In order to prevent this, the fabric is treated with a Durable Water Repellent. This is the stuff that makes moisture bead up on the fabric.

Seam Taping & Welding

Holes are created around the seams and zippers in your outerwear when it’s sewn together. Water, obviously, can penetrate these holes, which is no bueno. To prevent moisture infiltration, these areas are taped over or welded together. In some cases, only the areas most prone to soaking are taped or sealed; this is called “strategic” or “critical” taping.

The tape is a film that is heat sealed over the seam creating a waterproof barrier. This usually is applied to the inside of the seam. For a welded seam, the actual seam connection is heat-sealed without them being sewn. Welded seams usually look cleaner, but in most cases are not as durable as sewn seams.

Gear Spotlight:

Dakine Stoker 3L Bib

Function collides with fashion in the form of the Stoker 3L Bib from Dakine. Outfitted with more pockets than you could ever imagine needing, this bib will carry all of your extra goodies–yes, that includes pocket bacon. Boasting an über-waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex shell, these slim-fitting trousers transition seamlessly from the resort to the backcountry. Water-resistant zippers and fully taped seams keep the snow at bay while the mesh-lined inner leg vents save you from overheating in your epic pursuit of stoke. Added bonus: the Quick Fly hidden zipper relieving yourself in the woods won’t be a hassle. Buy now — $420

Two-Layer vs. Three-Layer Construction

When you hear “Two-layer” and “Three-layer” thrown around, they refer to the outerwear’s membrane and protective layers. The membrane (more information, to the left) is the waterproof/breathable layer that’s bonded to one or two other layers to keep it safe. The “face fabric,” mentioned below, is the outermost layer, and will don your garment’s colors and prints.

In a three-layer construction, the outer face fabric is bonded to the waterproof/windproof/breathable membrane (which in the case of the Stoker Bib is a Gore-Tex membrane). Then, to protect this delicate membrane from the dirt, oil and moisture your body produces, it’s bonded to a backer. With the Stoker, we use a tricot backing, and a brushed fleece for its partner, the Eliot Jacket, to add a touch of warmth.

For two-layer construction, the membrane is only fused to the outer face material; there’s nothing protecting the delicate membrane inside. That’s why, typically, a two-layer jacket needs a lining—in many cases, a simple taffeta fabric is used. 


Insulation increases the warmth of your outerwear. Your garment is either pumped full of down—the cozy inner layer of feathers from birds—or a synthetic material designed to boost warmth. Heavier insulation is often placed in areas more susceptible to heat loss, like the torso and hood.

Fill power measures the warmth of down. The rating is derived from a test where an ounce of down is shoved into a graduated cylinder, with the volume it occupies, in cubic inches, being its fill power. A higher number, like 800, generally indicates a warmer garment, while numbers below 500 indicate light insulation. Down’s ability to compress and its high warmth-to-weight ratio are extremely attractive.

Synthetics are measured by the weight of a one-meter-by-one-meter sampling of synthetic insulation. A higher weight means more warmth. Synthetic insulation, generally, isn’t as warm or compressible as down, but often better at water repellency.

Waterproof & Breathability Ratings

Water column tests determine a garment’s waterproof rating. Water is poured into a one-inch diameter tube positioned on top of a piece of fabric until the liquid penetrates the membrane. The amount, in millimeters, that the fabric can handle before soaking is its rating, 10,000 mm or 10K, for example. Higher numbers indicate better waterproofing.

Breathability ratings come from a test measuring how much water vapor can permeate a square meter of fabric over the course of 24 hours. That rating is a measurement of grams per meter squared per day (10,000 g/m2/d or 10K). Again, the higher number, the more breathability.


Gear Made Clear: Ski Goggles

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