When gearing up for ski season, you have two choices for leg coverings. You can opt for traditional ski pants or bib pants (also called bibs). Each one has their pros and cons that are worth diving into. In this guide, I’ll unpack the similarities and differences between a pair of ski pants and a ski bib so you can find the best option for you.
What Are Ski Pants?
Traditional ski pants are waterproof or water-resistant extra layers that can be used for skiing. They are more comfortable in cold weather than rain pants.
Traditional ski pants also come with plenty of pockets, and their cuffs will fit around a ski boot. Many can be cinched down, but some require a belt. Ski pants insulate your legs but don’t cover your chest like a pair of ski bibs do.
Different Types Of Ski Pants
There are four main types of ski pants out there built to deal with the weather and accommodate a range of body types.
Stretch Ski Pants
Stretch ski pants are ski pants with elastic or spandex in the waist and leg cuffs. The elastic allows the pants to stretch, which can accommodate various body figures. When the elastic is present in the pant cuffs, the pants can wrap around the top of your boots, which prevents snow from sneaking in. The elastic also helps increase freedom of movement.
While some stretch pants are waterproof, many are only water-resistant. These pants are great for drier weather, but I wouldn’t choose them for deeper snow days.
Soft Shell Ski Pants
For sunny or mild spring skiing weather, soft-shell ski pants may be the way to go. These options are stretchy, comfortable, and made from highly breathable material while offering a decent amount of water resistance. Like stretch ski pants, soft shells are usually not waterproof. So, if you are skiing deeper powder or the mercury bottoms out, I’d opt for something thicker.
Shell Ski Pants
Shell pants are ski pants without the insulation underneath. It’s a pretty basic but effective design that keeps snow out. You have a waterproof exterior, zippers to slip the pants over your boot, and sometimes a stretchy waist or extra ventilation zippers. That’s it. If you want to stay warm, use these for warmer ski days or stack base layers underneath them for heat retention.
Insulated Ski Pants
Unlike the shell ski pants, a pair of pants with a layer of insulation will keep you nice and toasty. These are regular ski pants meant for use in the middle of the winter. They are usually made from waterproof fabric.
Insulated ski pants take the idea of layering and condense it into one versatile option. You don't want thick, insulated pants for spring skiing, but they crush it in cold weather. Sometimes you can zip off the insulated layer, and they’ll turn into shell ski pants.
What Are Ski Bibs?
Ski bibs are ski pants with shoulder straps and extra material around the chest. They are the best options for keeping snow out (on a powder day or if you fall) and offer a snug fit. They also have more pockets than ski pants. One thing I don’t like about bibs is that, because they're pants with suspenders, it takes longer to take them off for restroom visits.
Different Types Of Ski Bibs
All ski bibs function roughly the same way, but there are some small differences in fit and style that are worth noting.
If you have a smaller body type, I’d opt for a slim-fit pair of bib pants. This type hugs your body and cinches down well across smaller frames. Of the three bib options, it’ll look the most fashionable.
However, a slim fit on larger folks will be uncomfortable, and accessing the chest pocket is difficult if the fabric is too tight. Additionally, there may not be enough room to stack more than a base layer underneath a slim-fit ski bib.
Most people who wear ski bibs opt for a regular fit. With a regular fit, you’ll get a little space between the bib and any base or mid-layer. You can, of course, cinch things down via adjustable shoulder straps, but the idea is that you can also use the chest pocket without it pressing against your rib cage. A regular fit does not hug the body as well as a slim fit but isn’t baggy.
A relaxed-fit bib is good for larger folks and skiers who wear baggy clothing. It allows you to make full use of the pockets while still being able to cinch down the suspenders. If you are a smaller skier, the extra space under the bib may catch on tree branches or flap uncomfortably at speed. You want the bib to be comfortable but tight enough to not be a nuisance while you ski.
Comparing Ski Pants vs. Ski Bibs
So, which one is better? Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference, but there are several factors that will help guide your decision. Let’s talk about them.
A pair of bib pants is going to be warmer than most ski pants. They are insulated and cover a larger portion of your body for efficient heat retention. A classic ski pant with insulation does an admirable job of keeping you warm. But it won't cover as much of your body and doesn't have the extra layer of fabric around the chest.
Both offer waterproof varieties. However, soft-shell ski pants are water resistant, not waterproof, which is an important distinction.
Bibs do have an advantage, though, because the fabric extends up above the beltline. If you fall into the snow, there's a chance intermittent moisture can seep under your ski jacket. The chest area of the bib will then stop it from soaking your innermost layers.
Bibs are pants with suspenders and a larger surface area, so they protect your body during times of light and heavy moisture. However, ski bibs are heavier and a bit more burdensome to take on and off. Bibs also have oversized pockets in the chest, which adds more protection for phones or wallets.
The breathability of ski pants is generally better than bib pants. When the temperature warms up, it’s nice to have non-insulated ski pants or soft-shells to ski in. Bibs keep you warm, but they aren’t very breathable and could be uncomfortable in warm spring skiing conditions.
Ski pants are a bit more versatile than bibs. Some ski pants have inside zippers that allow you to separate an insulation layer from the shell. You can also just get a shell and add layers underneath it. With bibs, once it’s on, it’s staying on.
Ski pants are generally cheaper than bibs because there's less material to work with. That’s not always the case, and high-end ski pants can cost just as much as several generic bib pants. However, the average cost of a ski bib is more than the average cost of a pair of ski pants.
Ski Pants vs. Ski Bibs - Which One Do I Choose
Ultimately, the perfect ski pants come down to the type of skiing you enjoy doing, your ability level, and environmental concerns (weather, temperature, etc.).
If you are a serious skier who loves deep powder days, colder climates, and plenty of pockets, get a ski bib. Beginners, intermediates, and skiers prone to the occasional fall will also appreciate the extra protection bib pants offer. If you’re a skier looking for a comfortable waterproof covering for your legs with a good range of motion, ski pants will be more appealing.
If you're looking at pants for touring, I would also avoid bibs because they aren't as breathable. On long tours, your body heat could spike under a heavy bib, leading to an uncomfortably sweaty day in the backcountry. But if the temperature is forecast to stay cold and you don't have great body heat regulation, bibs can keep your body temperature consistent.
It’s important to match your ability, likelihood of falling, and likelihood of skiing during storms to your choices.
In the world of ski bibs and ski plants, it's important to remember that both do an excellent job of keeping your body warm and dry. There are more varieties of ski pants out there that can handle dynamic temperature and weather changes during ski seasons. However, bibs offer more protection from snow during days of deep powder skiing.
If you are looking for a one-size-fits-all model, I think a pair of insulated ski pants with plenty of movement in the legs is a great option. If you ski hard and want something with the most protection against snow and moisture seeping below your outer layers, bib pants are unmatched.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.