It can be hard to justify spending $300 on a snowboarding jacket. However, a seasoned snowboarder will advise you that investing in good quality equipment is the key to having a good time.
It is technically possible to snowboard wearing an all-purpose rain jacket as long as you’re riding in dry weather conditions. However, with limited durability and ventilation features, you’re likely to run into trouble when riding in powder conditions and snowy weather.
While a raincoat will keep you dry, they aren’t designed for athletic purposes, and with limited breathability, can leave you soaked from the inside out as your body perspires from active riding.
Some high-end rain jackets, however, are particularly breathable (jump here).
Let’s look at some of the main pros and cons of a rain jacket versus a snow shell.
Pros of a rain jacket vs a snow shell
The main reason many opt for a rain jacket is because of the substantially lower cost compared to a hard shell.
A great quality rain jacket that is wind and waterproof could cost between $100 and $150, while a technical winter shell jacket typically costs upwards of $300.
Rain jackets are generally fully waterproof whereas similar-priced level snow shells may be merely water-resistant. This means the shell will hold water off the surface of the jacket, but won’t stop it from seeping into the material in hard rain.
A waterproof rain jacket used in combination with insulated fleece base layers can keep you warm enough on a cold dry day.
However, with limited ventilation, you might find yourself needing to often unzip your rain jacket to cool down and balance out your body temperature.
A waterproof nylon raincoat with ventilation zips under the armpits, paired with a wicking material base layer, can do a decent job for snowboarding though.
A rain jacket can be used for other purposes such as summer hiking and any rain conditions. Many offer nice comfort and stretch, and are quite durable for this kind of use.
A rain jacket can be a good option for a beginner snowboarder who isn’t sure whether or not they will pursue the sport and doesn’t want to spend heavy money on expensive snowboarding equipment.
Cons of a rain jacket vs a snow shell
1. Lower breathability
While the 100% waterproof feature of a rain jacket is useful in wet conditions, rain shells are generally much less breathable than snowboarding shells.
Rain gear can be too insulating for active riders and trap your body moisture and sweat, causing you to overheat and sweat.
Once your body temperature rises, you feel moist and clammy and have to continuously open up your jacket zip to cool down.
In an aggravating cycle to keep your body temperature stable, the freezing air cools down your moist body too quickly and you end up uncomfortably sweaty all day.
2. Lacking ventilation
Most snowboard shells are designed with zip features in the underarm area where riders sweat most.
In contrast, not all rain jackets come with zips under the arms. As a result, you may spend a great deal of time opening and closing your jacket zip.
3. Less durable
While it is possible to find great quality (higher priced) rain jackets, typical rain shells often lack the level of durability needed for riding on chairlifts and through trees.
Thin rain jackets get easily ripped and are less likely to survive a fall at high speed than a more durable snow shell.
4. No powder skirt
During powder days, riders often find themselves falling and sitting in soft and sometimes wet snow.
For this reason, snowboarding jackets are designed with a tight powder skirt that hooks over your pants to prevent snow from getting into your pants or under your jacket. Rain jackets typically lack this feature.
A rain jacket might also not have an optimal length for snowboarding. A jacket that is too short and lacks a powder skirt will leave you with a wet butt and cold back. Conversely, a jacket that is too long might get in your way when riding.
5. Other missing features
Rain jackets lack other features that make a snowboard specific jacket so practical on the mountain, e.g.:
- Handy pockets to hold your valuables, ski pass card
- Holes to thread your earphones through
- Zip-in liners that protect your pockets from snow
- Attachment points to clip into your bib, snow pants, or gloves
Pros of a technical snowboard shell
Higher-end modern snowboarding jackets typically use a true waterproof membrane that helps weather all snow conditions.
Patented materials such as Gore-Tex, eVent, and NeoShell have a waterproofing rating of at least 15k, protecting the snowboarder from water, snow, and harsh winds while keeping him/her warm and well-ventilated.
Gore-Tex is designed with a membrane backer that prevents snow from penetrating the fabric yet allows for moisture and sweat to exit the material.
These hard shells are primarily designed to be both breathable and waterproof, a crucial combination for an action sport like snowboarding.
When purchasing a snowboarding hard shell, you might choose between a 2, 2.5, and 3 layer waterproofing jacket. The most durable and high-performance jackets typically have 3 layers but come in at the highest price.
As mentioned, built-in powder skirts, clips to attach your pants and gloves, breathability zips and specially designed pockets are desirable features of good snowboard hard shells.
Snowboard shell cons
The main drawback of a quality snowboarding jacket is price. A middle of range Burton jacket will cost you between $200 and $300, while a Gore-Tex Burton jacket will set you back between $300 and $600 depending on the specs.
Also, keep in mind not all snow shells are made equal with regards to waterproofing. For wet regions like the Pacific Northwest, be sure to choose a snowboard shell with at least 20k rating – which can further drive up the price.
A few good rain jackets for snowboarding
If you aren’t willing to put in the big bucks for a full-on snowboard shell, take a look at some of these rain jackets under $200 which can serve you well in the right conditions.
Marmot PreCip Eco
Made with waterproof and breathable fabric, with pit zips and adjustable velcro wrist cuffs, this lightweight eco jacket will keep you dry and well ventilated but will need to be layered for warmth. Amazon
Patagonia Torrentshell 3L ($150)
This high quality and breathable 3 layer raincoat limits clamminess and is versatile enough to wear all year long.
The 3 layers make it durable and long-lasting while protecting you from the elements. Evo
Fitted with pit zips and Gore-Tex Paclite technology, this is a super warm yet breathable jacket that can double as your city raincoat.
It also has storm flats and zippered pockets to prevent snow from penetrating zips. Sometimes it gets too warm which makes the pit zips extra necessary.
It’s not adequate for extreme conditions but will serve well in moderate temperatures and conditions. Amazon
North Face DryVent
This 3-layer fully waterproof and windproof jacket is relatively breathable for a rain jacket.
It has a storm flap protecting the center zip from unpredictable conditions, zippered pockets, and velcro wrist cuffs and comes with a lifetime warranty. Amazon
Helly Hansen Seven J ($100)
Worn with a puffer jacket and moisture-wicking thermal layers, this shell acts almost like a high spec snowboarding jacket and will keep you super dry.
However, if you don’t already own a puffer, the added price (between $60 and $300) could make it worth your time investing in a snow jacket. Amazon
While it is possible to snowboard wearing a rain jacket, your comfort will depend entirely on the weather and terrain you ride in as well as how often you snowboard.
While it’s best to have the right equipment before you head up the ski lift, you can certainly test out using a rain jacket before investing in expensive equipment.
If you’re aiming to visit the mountains once a year or so, a rain jacket can keep you warm and dry provided you pair it with synthetic mid-layers, and don’t ride in really wet or snowy conditions.
If you plan to ride frequently, consider investing in a true technical snowboard jacket that will protect you from water and wind, allow your body to breathe, and offer useful features such as a powder skirt.
Be sure to shop around for past season jackets for good deals.