Alright, you’re ashamed of that hand-me-down from the 1990s / early-2000s and you’re ready for a new ski jacket or pants. Fair enough, you deserve it. Ski outerwear comes in many flavors these days and the marketing speak from manufacturers can be overwhelming. We want to provide a little context into why a $600 jacket is better than a $200 one. And that starts with layered fabric.
In short, 2- and 3-layer fabric has the same intention – keeping you protected from the elements. Whether you’re skinning in the Central Wasatch or riding your favorite chair at your local hill, these materials were designed to keep water, wind, and snow from reaching your inner layers. And while there is more to buying a new ski jacket than just layered fabric, this factor is a starting point and a big determination of price.
What It Is
2-Layer most commonly used fabric in outerwear pieces. It is comprised of a nylon or polyester face fabric which is bonded to another layer below. The second layer is usually some sort of polyurethane (PU) or expanded-polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) that acts as a membrane to pull moisture away from your mid-layers and baselayers as well as to prevent water and snow from seeping in. These membranes are what make a garment waterproof.
Sometimes a 2-layer piece will include a third moisture-wicking layer but it is not bonded and hangs loose within the garment. This “2.5” layer protects the membrane as body oils and moisture can contaminate it and degrade performance.
You’ll find 2-layer fabrics in a wide range of outerwear pieces. A lot of down ski jackets and pants use 2-layer fabrics in conjunction with their insulation to block the elements. This keeps the down insulation safe while providing breathability. 2-layer fabrics are also a bit cheaper to produce. Some touring jackets and pants use 2-layer fabrics to reduce weight but usually this type of fabric will be for resort / alpine outerwear.
What It Is
3-layer fabric is just like 2-layer but include a bonded third layer on the inside of the membrane – separating the membrane from your inner layers. This third layer complements the membrane and protects it from oil and moisture which can degrade performance. GORE-TEX employs their own proprietary C-Knit backer, and others include gridded polyester and other fabrics that help the membrane remove and vent water vapor. Third layers like this strive to protect and enhance the effectiveness of the waterproof membranes while being soft and quiet. In the past, backers could sound “crunchy” as you moved about.
3-layer fabric is widely used in alpine and touring ski jackets and pants and can often be found in high-end (higher priced) outerwear brands. Some common ones you’ll see are GORE-TEX Pro and eVent in brands like Arcteryx and Flylow. They are very effective at moisture transfer and are highly durable. 3-layer shells can be packed down small to fit in a pack and are ideal for layering with mid-layers and baselayers.
A Quick Note on Other Fabrics
There are other types of layered fabric. For instance, Simms uses a 5-layer GORE-TEX Pro fabric on some parts of their waders. This is extremely robust fabric that can handle way more moisture and water pressure than you would ever encounter skiing. Because, you know, waders literally go into rivers.
Softshell fabric is different in that it is often more stretchy and breathable, which works well in dry climates and spring conditions.
And we can’t not mention DWR. Durable water-repellent is a chemical application to the face fabric of any outerwear piece. When you see water rolling off your brand new ski jacket or pants, that’s due to the DWR not allowing moisture to soak into the first layer of nylon or polyester. Over time, the DWR treatment can be less effective and you’ll see dark spots on your jacket or pants where water is soaking in. But it can also be reactivated or reapplied. Check with the manufacturer of your outerwear to see the best way to enhance this first defense.
We work pretty hard to stock some of the best brands while maintaining a wide variety and range of prices for every user. If you’re in need of something new, check out our selection online or stop by our shops in Park City to try something on and further discuss your needs with one of our staff.
Want to learn more about fabric technology? Below are a couple blogs we’ve written in the past exploring technology ratings and GORE-TEX.