Cold weather, snow, ice, rain. Depending on how you look at them, they’re either your worst enemy or a best friend. Snow on the ground means you can sled, ski, ice skate, have a snowball fight…well, you know how to play in the snow.
But knowing what to wear in the snow, that’s a bit more difficult. Learn more about different types of snow pants so you know what to wear for all the ways you want to enjoy the snow.
A Song of Ice and More Ice
Humans actually have a long and pretty impressive past when it comes to facing extremely cold conditions. For starters, humans managed to survive the last Ice Age. During this period in time, which lasted thousands of years, enormous glaciers covered more than one-third of the planet. That’s a heck of a lot of ice.
In some places, the glacier was a mile thick. That means if you stood at the bottom of it and looked up, you wouldn’t even be able to see where the glacier ended! This was a time when enormous woolly mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, gigantic bears, huge lions and many oversized animals roamed the Earth.
They were covered in thick skin and fur, sometimes multiple layers of fur, in order to stay protected from the harsh climate.
So, yeah. If you didn’t have really warm pants in those days, you were pretty much going to die from cold. If you didn’t get killed by one of these absolutely huge animals wandering around, that is. Cold is deadly and it was never deadlier than at this time, when humans were still using rocks as hammers.
They hadn’t yet figured out stuff like writing but they knew one thing: they needed warm pants.
The First Snow Pants
The first pants were most likely created during these early days of mankind, back when people lived in caves and just sort of wandered around looking for stuff to hunt and stuff to eat off of plants.
But calling these early efforts at fashion “pants” is a little generous. The clothing these very, very ancient people wore was made with animal hide, leather and fur, and somewhat crudely held in place with cords, knots or primitive stitches made with animal sinew serving as thread, of a sort. You can imagine exactly what that looked like and it’s just as bad as you think it was.
Pants like this were, technically, the first snow pants. Luckily for all the humans that came after these early survivors, the more modern and infinitely more wearable type of snow pants would show up much, much later in fashion history. The entire Roman Empire would rise and fall, and then a whole bunch of other stuff would happen before modern snow pants reappeared in common style. But once they did, they made a big splash.
The First Commercial Snow Pants
Skiing as a sporting activity first appeared in northern Europe in the 1800s but it didn’t catch on with the rest of Europe and the rest of the world until the 1920s. Skiing became an Olympic sport in 1920 and quickly took the world by storm. Suddenly, people all over the world were interested in recreational skiing.
Back then, women wore the same type of ski pants as men: thick, baggy pants worn tucked into ski boots. They were worn with matching jackets to create all-over ski outfits. But the trend toward skiing as recreation gave birth to a new fashion industry: cold weather wear. Soon, ski pants and variations, like snow pants, appeared on the fashion scene and in stores everywhere.
Most snow pants and ski pants in these early days were made with wool, a material that is naturally insulating and moisture-resistant. Wool absorbs a lot of moisture before it begins to feel wet, which is a huge asset when you’re in the snow and ice. In the 1930s, snow pants were made with wool and lined with cotton flannel in most designs. The warmth of wool and the soft cotton material made for very soft, comfortable snow pants.
However, wool pants were difficult to keep clean and they had to be worn with multiple layers in extremely cold conditions. The thick cotton and wool created bulky, somewhat heavy snow pants.
In 1949, everything changed with the invention of nylon. This new synthetic material was quick-drying, lightweight and durable. Snow pants were now made with outer nylon shells that could be dyed in a variety of bright colors.
Designers started to experiment with new, lightweight fabrics thanks to the many new synthetic materials being created. Snow pants and ski clothing of all types became more streamlined and form-fitting but they remained highly colorful. By the 1970s, wool was hardly ever used for snow clothing and skiwear.
Types of Snow Pants Designs
There are really two main types of snow pants and the type you choose will make a lot of difference overall. Since there is such a big difference between the two, it’s important to know what each type does so you can make the right decision for your cold weather wear.
Hardshell snow pants are incredibly lightweight and completely waterproof. Hardshell snow pants are made with plastic and a waterproof membrane. As the name suggests, hardshell snow pants do feel a little stiff and they aren’t very breathable, which means your skin can get sweaty while inside the pants.
Soft shell snow pants are made to be very stretchy and highly breathable while still maintaining water resistance. However, they are not waterproof. Soft shell snow pants are also abrasion-resistant. They are flexible, breathable and comfortable to wear, but they aren’t waterproof and they are somewhat heavier in weight than hardshell snow pants.
Types of Snow Pants Styles
While there are two main designs for snow pants, there are several different snow pants styles you can choose from for your winter activities. Different types of snow pants are made for different snow activities. Some designs might work better for you, based on the kind of stuff you want to do in the snow.
Get to know more about these different types of snow pants and you’ll know how to choose exactly what you need for exactly what you want to do.
3 In 1
The 3-in-1 style of snow pants is so named because it has a three-layer design. This starts with the outer shell, which is water-resistant or waterproof. A waterproof membrane protects you against snow and ice. The membrane is meant to keep you dry even if your pants get soaking wet. The last layer is a lining that makes it comfortable to wear 3-in-1 snow pants.
There’s also an insulating layer, which is removable if you need a little less warmth. Just remember to put the layer back in if you remove it before you go back out into the snow!
It’s confusing, but 2-layer snow pants are made with three layers. These layers begin with two layers that are fused together. This is made with a waterproof membrane that is laminated to an outer shell.
The lining fabric is its own separate layer. Between the waterproof membrane and the separate insulation, an air pocket creates its own insulation. This provides additional warmth without adding extra weight to the pants.
Bib snow pants are sort of like overalls. They have a front flap that extends up to cover the chest. The front flap attaches to shoulder straps.
Bib snow pants are very warm because they extend up your body but they also restrict your movements because they form a shell around your entire lower body from the chest down. If you’re being very active in the snow, or hope to be, you might want to try a different style.
Cargo snow pants are styled to be similar to standard cargo pants. Cargo snow pants fit around the waist and hang straight down the body. They also have large patch pockets that can hold items. The large pockets come in handy. You might need storage spots for your phone, your camera or other gear you need for your snow adventure.
Snow Pants Features
A lot goes into making snow pants. The style you choose matters, the type of snow pants you pick matters…and the stuff used to make your snow pants matters, too. When you’re looking for snow pants, take a look at the features of the pants.
Not all snow pants are created with the same amount of insulation or waterproofing abilities. Once you know what you need your snow pants to do, you’ll know how to choose pants with the right features.
Types of Snow Pants Materials
What are snow pants made of? Most snow pants are made with polyester or nylon, synthetic materials that are highly lightweight, easy to clean and durable. That’s all the stuff you want in a good pair of snow pants. Polyester and nylon resist wrinkles well and they can be dyed in any color.
This makes these materials perfect for snow pants and snow clothing, which is still often made in bright colors and vivid designs.
Microfiber material is woven to make it lightweight, breathable and highly durable. The woven design adds extra strength. Microfiber is typically made with polyester and a plastic-like material.
Very small threads are used to make microfiber, which makes it very soft to the touch. It’s highly breathable, durable and easy to clean. Microfiber is also windproof and water-resistant, so it’s perfect material for snow pants.
Polyester is a highly durable fabric that is resistant to mildew, quick-drying and shrink- and stretch-resistant. The fabric retains its shape, in other words, even after heavy wear, lots of snow and ice and even after being machine washed.
Nylon is a highly lightweight material that is machine-washable and durable. Nylon takes dye well and it’s incredibly breathable. This material is strong even when it’s incredibly thin, so it’s a popular choice in all cold weather wear.
Types of Insulation
Snow pants are made with insulation to protect you from cold temperatures. However, not all insulation provides the same warmth. When you know the differences between types of insulation in snow pants, you’ll know how to find the right warmth level for your needs.
Down is the same stuff used to insulate birds, like geese and ducks. Down is a type of soft, waterproof feathers. They dry quickly, insulate well and they’re perfect for the cold and wet because that’s exactly why ducks and geese have down: to protect them from cold, wet conditions.
Fleece is harvested from sheep. This material is soft and insulating but it is not as insulating as down and synthetic options. Fleece dries quickly and retains a lot of moisture before it starts to make you feel wet, so it’s a good option for snow pants that don’t need to be super warm.
Synthetic materials, such as acrylic and rayon, are also used to create insulation. Because synthetic materials are so lightweight and can be made to mimic the qualities of lots of other fabrics, synthetic insulation can provide as much insulating power as down.
Types of Waterproofing
Many snow pants are made with some degree of waterproofing power, though not all designs are made to withstand full submersion in moisture. Waterproof clothing is made with a rating between 5,000 and 20,000 mm. The higher the number, the more moisture the clothing can stand.
Different Types of Snow Pants
There are lots of different types of snow pants and lots of different features and options to consider when you’re choosing the right cold weather clothing.
Choose the right snow pants for the snow activities you want to enjoy and the amount of cold weather protection you’re going to need. When you know about the styles, features and design of snow pants, you’ll know how to find the right pair of snow pants. There’s a lot more to this fashion item than bright color!
There’s a lot of stuff going on with snow pants, from the style to the material to all the different choices you have to make when it comes to finding the right cold weather wear. Get the answers to the most commonly asked questions about snow pants so you’ll know all the stuff you need to know about wearing snow pants.
Are snow pants the same as ski pants?
So is there a difference between snow pants and ski pants or are they the same? You can certainly wear ski pants as snow pants or vice versa but in general, these are two separate kinds of pants. For starters, ski pants tend to fit more snugly and snow pants are a little more loose. However, there are some distinct differences between these two types of cold weather items.
Ski pants are made to be flexible and lightweight because skiing is an athletic activity, which means they may have a little less insulation and they will certainly have a somewhat slimmer, close-fitting design compared to snow pants. Ski pants are a little more flexible, as a general rule, than snow pants.
How should snow pants fit?
Snow pants should actually be a bit bigger than your normal pants. You’re not looking for clothing that shows off your figure, after all. Snow pants are designed to be worn over other layers of clothing, so the fit is a little bit baggy around the body.
These pants are often sort of long in the hems, maybe even a few inches too long for the length of your legs. That’s because the pants are worn tucked into boots, so the extra length provides extra warmth for your body.
Snow pants fit around the natural waist or a little higher. Some designs are made to sit very high up so they can provide additional cold weather protection but you may find this restricts some of your movement.
The way snow pants fit is based on your own comfort but you don’t want to choose pants that are too big. If your snow pants are so big that they hang off your body and leave a lot of room between your body and the pants, you’re not going to be well protected from the cold.
Can snow pants go in the dryer?
You’re going to wear snow pants while out in the snow, getting active outdoors. That means they’re going to get dirty. But can you machine wash and dry your snow pants?
First, look at the care label on the pants. This should provide detailed instructions for how to clean your snow pants. You might need to remove linings or insulation to wash them separately from the waterproof shell. Sometimes, you might need to hand-wash the waterproof shell while the lining and insulation can go into the machine.
In many cases, snow pants can be machine washed and dried. If you’re going to do it, unless the instructions indicate otherwise, you should wash snow pants in cold water on the gentle cycle. Use only a mild detergent.
As far as machine-drying snow pants…don’t. Allow snow pants to air dry, even when you machine wash them. Turn them inside-out and dry the inside first and then turn the pants right side out to allow the outside to dry.
Can you hem snow pants?
Snow pants are generally made to be long, which can seem strange and uncomfortable. Most of the time, these pants don’t need to be hemmed to fit better because they’re supposed to be long. But if you need your snow pants shortened, it is possible. Simply cut off the excess fabric and sew a new hem.
On snow pants, hems and seams are taped so they’re weather-resistant. You can get your own waterproof tape to put around the hems so you don’t lose this protective seal.
What do you wear under snow pants?
You shouldn’t ever wear just snow pants when you’re going out to brave the cold and snow. No matter how athletic you plan on being, you need to have more protection outside of snow pants. Wear a base layer under your snow pants to give yourself a necessary layer of insulating protection.
Base layers are somewhat lightweight but warm and breathable pieces of clothing that fit snugly against the skin. If you’re engaging in winter fun, you should wear a base layer pants and shirt.
Mechanics of Sport – Ski Clothing
Outdoor Alive – What Material are Snow Pants Made Of? (Quick Answers)
Outdoor Gear Lab – How to Choose Ski Pants for Men
The Spruce – How to Clean and Care for Snow Pants
The Vintage Traveler – A Short History of Ski Clothing