Any snowboarder will tell you that having the right gear can make or break your riding experience. Spending a day riding with soggy or ice caked pants is no exception and is enough to ruin a perfectly good day.
Beyond being uncomfortable and cold, you may even risk getting hypothermia on a really freezing day. Beginner riders often regret starting with the wrong pants and might even lose interest in the sport.
It’s possible to snowboard in regular pants using a waterproof top layer and warm polyester layers underneath. However, no combination will match the dryness, breathability, and comfort real snow pants offer. These can be rented or purchased used, and will make your snowboard experience a lot more enjoyable.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced snowboarder, wearing proper snow pants with a decent waterproof rating is essential. Beginners should prioritize their pants over their jacket because of how much time they spend sitting down in the snow.
Capable riders who spend less time on their butt may wear alternatives such as layers of rain and track pants and thermal underwear.
Even so, waterproof and sweat absorbing snow pants are your best option if you want to stay warm and have a flexible range of motion in your legs, especially if you want to ride in all weather conditions to improve your riding.
Check out Evo’s comprehensive snowboard pants selection
Snowboarding without proper snow pants
Your experience snowboarding without snow pants will depend a lot on what the weather and conditions are like and your level of boarding expertise.
If you don’t wear at least a water resistant layer of pants on a snowy or windy day, or in a warm resort around Oregon and Washington where snow is wet, you’ll quickly regret your decision.
Fresh snow sticks to clothing more easily than packed snow. If you’re a beginner, with all the sitting and falling, you’re bound to end the day with a wet and cold butt and legs.
Being exposed to the elements will amplify your discomfort and cold wind will freeze the water logged in your pants and create sheets of ice on your backside. On top of this, regular pants will get wet from the inside from sweat build-up.
Spending hours on end in icy wet clothing is not a great experience and can eve lead to potentially deadly hyperthermia in the wrong conditions.
Wearing thermal underwear layered under regular pants can delay getting an icy wet butt for a while, but after a couple of hours in snowy or wet conditions, there is no escaping the absorption.
Of course, on those spring days in dry Utah and Colorado, snowpack might be harder and regular pants might just do the job if you’re a seasoned snowboarder not spending much time on your butt.
Keep in mind that even if you manage to keep yourself off the snow and dry, regular pants don’t have the correct flexibility and design to allow you to ride to the best of your ability.
Alternatives to snow pants that people use
If you’re confident you can stay off the snow and the weather conditions are right (dry weather, hard packed snow), you can probably get away with snowboarding wearing regular pants.
Here are some of the snow pants alternatives riders have tried and tested on the hill:
Rain pants by nature are waterproof and can be your second best option behind proper snow pants. Layering a pair or rain pants with some long johns (for men), tights (for women) and even a pair of tracksuit pants for extra warmth can work well for some snowboarders.
Another alternative to snow pants is to use windbreaker pants – think 90’s style retro warm-ups. These pants can protect you from getting wet for a while and will typically shield you from the cold wind.
Polartec fleece pants
If you don’t have access to rain or water resistant pants, a pair of insulated Polartec fleece pants layered with other thermals can be a good solution. Polartec is a moisture wicking material that will absorb the sweat and moisture from your skin while insulating you from the cold weather.
Layering is particularly important if you don’t have insulated and waterproof snow pants. Keep your outer layer waterproof and throw on warm pants and long underwear underneath for extra warmth. Thermal layers can keep you warm while allowing your body to sweat and breath.
Be aware, however, that while multiple layers can keep you warmer and dryer, they may reduce your freedom of movement when snowboarding. Too many layers can also make you sweat when you’re active on the mountain – although you can easily shed a layer depending on the weather.
Water repellent spray
You can buy waterproof spray at most outdoor and ski and snowboard shops. It’s good to spray your pants 2 – 3 times, especially around the back area, letting the solution dry on the clothing in between applications. This spray is also great for lengthening the life of old snow pants which have lost their waterproofing over time.
Some snow pants are simple shells which are well insulated, wind and waterproof and are designed to be worn over layers of warmer pants. These can keep you dry and comfortable for a good amount of time.
Check out the shells here on Evo
Materials to avoid
- Denim jeans: jeans are relatively stiff and will typically hinder your movements e.g. for bending low in low-gravity turns. Also, they aren’t breathable and won’t dry easily once you get them wet.
- Cotton: Cotton will absorb a lot of water and stay wet for the entire day. Synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester dry much faster.
The case for true snow pants
While some riders are able to snowboard wearing rain or windbreaker pants layered with warm thermals, these options generally still fall short vs using proper snow pants.
Snow pant alternatives won’t usually have an elastic reinforcement band and an extra waterproofing layer by the feet. Dedicated snow pants are designed with built-in gaiters to fit tightly around your boots so that no snow or water can get into your ankle and foot area. Some even have clips that attach to your boots.
Snow pants also have reinforced material around the feet and ankles that protect the material from sharp ski and snowboard edges which can easily tear normal rain pant material.
Regular pants worn under a waterproof shell don’t have the correct breathability required for an active sport like snowboarding, and often end up drenched in sweat from the inside out.
Some snow pants are made using special fabrics such as Gore-Tex and eVent, which allow your body to breath while keeping you comfortably warm. They also have optional air-vents on the inner or outer seams, which can be unzipped for ventilation control.
Snowboarding pants are usually high waisted and have hooks, Velcro or buttons which can connect your pants to your jacket to prevent snow from falling down your backside (many riders even wear bib dungarees). This is essential if you’re looking to ride in powder where back snow entry is common.
Snowboarding pants are also a lot baggier than normal pants, which make it easier to sit down at an angle with your legs strapped into your bindings.
Specific snowboarding pants often have added waterproof knee and butt pads to absorb shock and keep you dry and warm when spending time sitting or kneeling in the snow.
Overall, snow pants tend to be warmer, more durable, breathable, and comfortable than other types or combinations of pants.
See Evo’s snowboard pants selection
Finding affordable snow pants
Beginners who don’t have the extra cash to buy snow pants, or those who aren’t planning on snowboarding a lot, can spend $15 to rent a jacket and snow pants for a day. This is a great option for those who don’t want to wash or ruin their own clothes.
Thrift shops and second hand stores are also a good option for getting well-priced and functional past-season pants.
If you can’t borrow, rent or buy your own snow pants, here are few useful tips:
- Bring a dry change of clothes for when you get soaked through to your skin. You can do a clothes swap midday and get a fresh (dry) start.
- Preferably choose moisture wicking material for your underwear or thermal layer. This will keep you drier than normal fabrics.
- For your layers, choose a collection of mid and lightweight 100% polyester base layers depending on your general body temp. While it may feel cold when you first step outside, you will warm up very quickly once you get moving.
- Your legs don’t need as much warmth as your core does so a good two layers (one waterproof) is usually enough for the average rider.
Remember, beginner riders who choose to cut costs and wear jeans on their first day will end up having such a miserable time that they will likely not want to continue with the sport.
If you are prepared to spend hundreds of dollars on a ski pass, rental equipment, transport and lodging for a snowboarding trip, renting or buying cheap snow pants shouldn’t be a huge issue.