That parachute track-suit you were rocking in 1989, the one that’s hip AF again now? Don’t get us wrong, the neon pink really popped, but it didn’t work when it rained all week on your school camping trip back then, and it definitely doesn’t keep you warm or dry now.
Outerwear is often referred to as 'technical' for a reason - because it is. The gear you wear in the outdoors is designed to perform very specific functions in very specific environments, with the goal of keeping you warm, dry, and comfortable. Historically, the selections of outerwear available to plus-size skiers, boarders and outdoor adventurers were not very technical at all. Getting a curvy jacket or pants in the right size usually meant compromising on warmth and dryness.
The great news is, things are finally changing. More and more brands are recognizing that plus-size people do ski, hike, climb, paddle, travel… you know, all the things ‘straight’ size people do. With that said, because gear has rarely been marketed to this community, and because, with representation, we’re seeing a lot of new plus-size people hitting the outdoors (Yes!! You are SO welcome here! Woohoo!!), we’re seeing a lot of people who feel a bit bamboozled by all the jargon.
And why wouldn’t you?
There’s a lot of it!
So, if you’re not sure what DWR is, why there’s a dangly bit inside that ski jacket, or why there are zippers with no pockets in your snow pants, read on! We’ve got the lowdown on the technical features you should look for in your plus-size outerwear.
Because bigger bodies deserve the best gear too!
Technical features to look for in plus-size winter clothing
If you’re heading outside in winter, whether it’s to ski or snowboard, play in the snow, or check off a bucket list item like seeing the northern lights and staying at an ice hotel, you’re going to want to be two things. Warm (obviously) and dry. What with snow being made of water and all.
The best plus-size winter outerwear comes with a number of different features that will ensure that you have the time of your life outside, instead of shivering miserably and wishing you’d stayed in the car. Let’s check them out.
The best fabric for plus-size winter outerwear
Ideally, the outer of your winter pants and jacket should be made of a multi-layer material, with a waterproof membrane laminated to the underside of the outer fabric, as well as a DWR coating added to the top of the outer fabric (more on that below). Gore-tex is the brand name most people know (although good luck trying to find plus-size clothing in actual Gore-Tex!), but most outerwear companies have their own proprietary technologies that work the same way. This waterproof layer system makes sure that no moisture seeps through the fabric, whether you got caught in a downpour or you’re sitting on a snow-covered chairlift.
Most fabrics also add a DWR coating, which stands for ‘Durable Water Repellent’
This is essentially a chemical treatment that reduces the surface tension of the fabric and causes water to bead off (ooh, geeky). Generally, cheap jackets and pants (not the ones we sell or recommend) will use DWR only, whereas higher-end technical gear will have both a waterproof and breathable fabric membrane and DWR. And for the environmentally conscious (which is all of us, right??) you’ll be pleased to know that new environmentally friendly versions are being incorporated into more ski gear every year.
Here’s a quick pro-tip:
DWR wears off over time, especially in high wear areas and with washing your gear too often, but many people don’t realize it can be rejuvenated with a wash-in liquid and your tumble dryer. Don’t throw out an old piece of clothing if it starts to feel soggy - you could extend its lifespan by years, and save yourself hundreds of dollars, with the right treatment. And, whatever you do, DON’T take it to the dry cleaner!! The harsh chemical cleaners will likely destroy the waterproofing of your beautiful ski gear
What does it mean when a jacket says it’s 10K/5K waterproof and breathability?
Waterproofing levels in outerwear are rated by how much water they repel per square millimetre of fabric, and this correlates to the first number. Breathability ratings as depicted in the second number are rated by how much vapour can escape out of the fabric over a 24hr period without letting wind and water in.
The higher the numbers, the more waterproof or breathable it will be, which can also translate into a higher cost. For winter sports, we recommend choosing plus-size ski jackets and pants that are no less than 10,000mm (10K) waterproof and at least 5,000gm/m2 breathable. If you run hot, you’ll want a higher rating, also there are other features you can use to get that sweet, cool air flowing - read on!
What is Seam Sealing?
When you’re in a freezing environment, every feature to keep out the cold and moisture makes a big difference. In good quality plus-size outerwear, the underside of the seams is covered in thin, flexible tape to keep the cold wind and rain from seeping through. This is called seam sealing, or taped seams. Some garments have full seam sealing while others have only critical sealed seams. It’s worth knowing that this process is quite expensive, so full seam sealing is going to bump up the cost of your outerwear. If cost is a consideration, opting for critical seam sealing and having a well-planned layering system is a great option
How can you tell if your outerwear has sealed seams?
Well, the label or product description may tell you, but you can also see for yourself. If you’re in a store, look at a shell (unlined) jacket and you’ll be able to see the tape. Think of it as the door snake at your grandparents’ house, keeping those chilly drafts out.
What is the warmest fill for winter jackets?
Not all snow jackets are created equal.
The fashionable plus-size jackets that you find at department stores are super chic for swanning around the city or taking a winter mini-break, but to stay warm and dry while being active in the snow, you’re going to need something that works a little harder. Ditto for the “ski” jackets at Walmart/Target, etc
Should I buy a shell or an insulated jacket?
Well, this is your classic “how long is a piece of string?” question. Here’s the TL;DR: a good quality plus-size shell jacket (see membranes and seam sealing, above) is a FANTASTIC, versatile item to have in your quiver. It will take you from drizzly mornings walking the dog to sending it on backcountry pow days. BUT (and you knew there would be a but), it really depends on a lot of things:
* Where and when will you use it? Shells are great for milder snow conditions (Australia, New Zealand, West coast Canada). But if you’re heading somewhere known to get really cold (interior Rockies, Scandinavia, etc.) then you will likely want the insulation of a warmer jacket.
* How active will you be? If you’re riding hard all day and the conditions aren’t ultra-freezing, you may prefer the versatility of a shell, allowing you to cool off quickly. But if you’re exploring the village as much as you’re riding, or planning to use your jacket for non-sporting activities (photography, travel, snow play) you’re not going to get as hot in the first place.
* What’s your existing relationship with temperature? If you really feel the cold, insulation is your friend. But if you run hot and dislike feeling sticky, a shell might be a better choice.
So now we’ve got that sorted, let’s talk insulation
Is down or synthetic insulation better?
Down is an extremely popular choice for winter jackets for a reason - it’s really warm and really light. Down comes in a number of ‘fill weights’ and for a plus-size winter jacket, we recommend at least 600-weight
Is there any downside to down?
First, yes, it’s expensive!
Second, a common concern is that down doesn’t work so well if it gets wet. However, if you’re buying a better quality ski jacket, the outer fabric will be waterproof enough that this won’t be a problem (see above). And down can be easily washed and rejuvenated by cautiously heating your jacket in the tumble dryer. Warm, and low maintenance - win!
Third, sometimes down can be too warm for skiing and being super active like backcountry skiing, especially if it’s part of an outer jacket that cannot be separated from the outer shell
Is down ethical?
Down is a by-product of ducks and geese raised for their meat, and has been used for warmth by Native people in the Arctic for thousands of years. No birds are raised just for their down. In the West, conscious consumers have pushed for supply chain transparency to support animal welfare, and much down can be traced to its source. Because it’s a natural material, it can be considered a sustainable choice, too
What about synthetic fill for winter jackets and pants?
Synthetica insulations in ski gear has improved dramatically in recent years. Once considered an inferior choice to down, a good quality synthetic insulation will now keep you just as warm and makes a great alternative for vegans and price-conscious consumers. It’s also washable, doesn’t pack down, and is super lightweight. Although synthetic insulation doesn’t have fill weight measures like down, a good quality polyester filling will be roughly equivalent to a 600-weight down.
A synthetic-filled plus-size jacket is a great choice for active winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, where you’ll be going from warm to cold. If you’re going to be standing still in a very cold environment (viewing the northern lights or taking an Antarctic cruise), a down jacket or higher-weight synthetic jacket will be a better choice
What about insulated snow pants?
The vast majority of ski pants are insulated, using synthetic fill - simply because your pants are going to get wetter than your jacket, so down isn't a good option. It is possible to buy shell (non-insulated) ski pants, but we don’t recommend them unless you exclusively ski touring, because your legs will get too cold on the chairlift.
What other features should I look for in plus-size ski gear?
Powder skirts, Gaiters and Wrist cuffs
If you’re in a snowy environment, you want to spend lots of time in the snow, but you don’t want the snow in you! If you’ve ever taken a tumble while skiing or snowboarding, you know that squeal-inducing feeling when a big load of snow goes up the back of your jacket. Keeping the snow out is crucial to staying warm, but not all plus-size outerwear comes with the technical features to make this happen
Powder skirt, Snow cuff, Snow skirt, or Waist gaiter - whatever you want to call it!
A good plus-size ski jacket will usually have something called a powder skirt. It’s usually a nylon bit of material with an elasticated piece of fabric sewn onto the inside of the jacket, with additional closures that sit snugly (but not uncomfortably) around your waist. The powder skirt is designed to be an added layer of protection if you find yourself sliding unexpectedly on the ground, or, in an ideal world, if you’re bombing waist-deep powder in the backcountry. It also works wonders while enduring a windy chairlift ride. Basically, it keeps the air pocket of warm air inside your jacket while keeping the snow and wind out.
How do you wear it?
The powder skirt usually sits around your hips inside your jacket, but if you do it up around the waist section on your pants, it will allow you to move more comfortably once you’re all ‘done up’.
What about ski pant boot gaiters?
Regardless of how curvy your ski pants are, they should also come with a boot gaiter inside the cuffs, especially if you're using them for skiing where the snow flicks up a lot as you ski along (much like the tyres on your car). Like a powder skirt, but for your legs, the gaiter is a nylon and elasticized layer that fits around your boot to keep out the snow.
How do you wear it?
Stretch the gaiter around the outside of your ski or snowboard boots, at ankle level. A lot of new skiers will tuck the gaiter inside the cuff of their boots, but that’s going to be super uncomfortable when you’re moving, and will actually direct the snow inside your boots. Yuck!
And wrist cuffs...
One of our favourite luxe features on insulated ski jackets is inner wrist cuffs, which is an extra piece of moisture wicking fabric on the inner cuff of your ski jacket sleeve. Usually, it's in a lovely soft fabric. Its main purpose, like the other cuffs and gaiters above, is to keep the snow and wind out, but we love the feel of them when you’re putting your ski jacket on. Some even have little thumb holes which help to keep your sleeve down and fully cover your wrists.
Staying cool on the mountain - breathe!
What? Staying cool? Isn’t the whole purpose of ski gear to keep me WARM?!
Well, yes. This is why you need to stay cool. Stick with us… it makes sense, we promise. When you’re doing something active in a cold environment, you’re going to work up a sweat. That’s a good thing - it’s how you know you’re having fun! But sweat can cool down quickly and can even freeze on your skin if it’s really cold out. So, it’s important to allow hot air and moisture vapour to escape. The first part of this is wearing moisture-wicking breathable layers coupled with a great breathability rating in your outerwear.
Additionally, technical plus-size ski jackets and pants will come with vents that can be opened and closed with a zipper, allowing you to literally blow off steam when needed. These are usually under the arms and around the thighs, making sure that your hot spots don’t get a build-up of sweat
Want to know why layers matter so much (and they really, really do)?
Check out our piece on how to wear the right layers for your outdoor adventures, which explains how technical fabrics will keep moisture away from your skin, while also retaining warmth. Spoiler alert - you can totally wear your grandpa’s cozy old woollen sweater.
Do I need a ski jacket with a hood?
These days, when most people wear helmets for skiing and snowboarding (please wear a helmet - replacement brains are in short supply), you’d be forgiven for wondering whether a hood on a jacket is even necessary.
Hoods are a matter of personal choice - many people don’t like to ski with them on. But they do perform extremely well as storm protection. If you’ve ever sat on a chairlift with the sleet or graupel blowing sideways into your face, you’ll know the feeling of wishing you had a great hood to hunker down into.
A good hood will be big enough to fit over your ski helmet and will have a drawstring to cinch around your face or the back of your head, to prevent the hood from flapping around in the wind. Some jackets come with a detachable hood, which can be a nice feature when you’re lucky enough to be in the mountains on a glorious sunny day.
If you’re looking for a warm plus-size jacket for winter travel, hoods with faux-fur trim are great, because the trim deflects cold blasts of wind away from your face.
Snow Clothing Bonus Features
Since there are so many features on ski gear that we love, we could only cover the main points above, but you might like to think about these in your gear and decide how important they are to you:
* Ski Pass Pocket - super handy small pocket on your sleeve which makes digital turnstyles a breeze
* 2 way zips - Often more handy than you realise. They allow extra comfort when sitting or bending down, also easy access to your pants for when adjusting your layers, getting into pockets or having a quick tree wee
* Mobile phone pockets - did you know that in the cold weather your phone battery has an extremely reduced battery life? So if you keep it in an inside chest pocket closer to your body heat, this can extend your battery life to last all day.
* Storm flaps over zips - For extra waterproof, windproof and storm protection, that flap in front and/or behind your zip can make a big difference.
So, we hope by now that you can see that there’s more to good quality plus-size outerwear than a cute design or fluffy liner. You don’t have to spend a fortune to stay warm on your winter outdoor adventures, but knowing which technical features to look for will make sure that your investment pays off in the form of many happy years outside - skiing, snowboarding, seeing the world, or simply building that snowman with your kids.
What are your favourite snow outerwear features that you'd love to see in your plus size clothing?