Battle of the Ski Jackets: Budget vs. High End

There’s no way around it: Skiing is expensive. Even if you eschew lift tickets and stick to the backcountry, you’ll likely spend several thousand dollars for all your gear, and that’s before factoring in additions like avalanche safety classes. So it makes sense to cut back on costs wherever possible. For example, do you really need a super-pricey hard-shell jacket?

To answer this question, I called up my old friend Ryan Pyles to test the $ 700 Strafe Ozone Jacket head-to-head with the $ 50 Iceburg Outerwear Men’s Insulated Jacket he purchased at Walmart. Pyles, who is currently living in his van, got after it at resorts in three states over a period of several weeks for this review.

Here’s what we found.

The Jackets

Strafe Ozone Jacket ($ 700)

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(Courtesy Strafe)

Strafe’s high-end ski jacket combines three different Polartec constructions—Alpha, NeoShell, and Power Dry—in a waterproof, performance-oriented package.

Iceburg Outerwear Men’s Insulated Jacket ($ 50)

walmart-iceburg-jacket_h.jpg

The Iceburg has many top-notch features, like waterproof fabric, pit zips, taped seams, and a powder skirt, but in a much more affordable package—almost too affordable to have all that capability.

The Test

  • Pyles skied in conditions ranging from minus 10 degrees in Montana’s Bridger Bowl to a 40-degree day in Jackson, Wyoming.
  • He ran the sleeves of both jackets under a faucet for about a minute to test waterproofing. Then he filled his cupped hand with water and rubbed the liquid into the fabric to test absorption.
  • He hiked Casper Bowl in Jackson, Wyoming, in both jackets to test breathability.
  • He wore them while enjoying après PBRs and tequila shots in his van and at swanky Jackson bars to gauge looks. He also solicited opinions from friends and family.

The Results

Ski Performance and Fit

While Pyles had low standards for the Iceburg (that is, he expected to fear for his life while skiing in it during subzero temperatures), he was impressed by how well it performed. “For $ 50, I expected to die of hypothermia almost immediately but was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t,” Pyles says. While that’s a low bar to meet, he was comfortable in the Iceburg in temps down to single digits.

Yet the Iceburg’s fit was not nearly as dialed as the Ozone’s—it was much less roomy and comfortable—and it has none of the smart detailing one gets with a high-end shell. “The pockets weren’t big enough, there’s no internal goggle pocket, the hood is not helmet-compatible, there is no powder skirt, and the collar isn’t high enough to come up over your face,” Pyles says. “But the absolute bare bones—like being warm and having a hood—were there.”

That said, the Ozone was the clear performance winner for how it moved with Pyles while he was skiing and its ample storage space, but also for how seamlessly the tech features are integrated into the jacket. “I love this thing so much I am going to have to start buying $ 700 jackets,” Pyles says. “The jacket is also extremely well built, with care put into zipper and pocket locations to keep everything extremely functional. It’s worth the $ 700 you paid for it.” While it was incredibly feature rich, the Ozone’s perks were built so subtly into the jacket that Pyles didn’t really think about them until they came in handy. “The functionality is awesome—there’s a super-high collar, and the long cut means that the powder skirt actually stays below your waist and won’t ride up to your belly button,” he says. “The pockets are huge. I keep a water bottle, a couple Buffs, a couple Clif bars, and a sandwich in there and don’t have to ski with a backpack.”

Waterproofing

The Iceburg boasts a 5,000-millimeter waterproof/breathability rating, which sounds fancy but basically means that it has just the tiniest bit of moisture resistance. “This was immediately obvious when I performed the faucet test, because it did not repel water at all,” Pyles says. “That said, the coat is extremely warm and performs fine when snow is falling. Add rain, however, and you have a problem.”

The Ozone absolutely excelled in the faucet test and in the real world. “It is money in terms of waterproofing,” Pyles says. “It beads up water really well, and the Polartec Neoshell doesn’t absorb water. I haven’t seen any signs of it soaking through.”

Breathability

“Where the Iceburg really falls apart is with spikes in temperature or increased activity,” Pyles says. He likened hiking Casper Bowl in this jacket to mountaineering in a plastic bag. “It has the unpleasant tendency to not only trap moisture, but also keep it close and stick to your skin. This is compounded by the lack of any vents at all.”

The Ozone, on the other hand, regulated Pyles’ body heat incredibly well. “Above zero degrees I wore a T-shirt, and below zero I wore the thinnest base layer I own,” he says. “Despite the insulation, the jacket breathes extremely well, and I had no problem hiking Casper Bowl with the mercury around 35.” And though he only had to use them once, the extra-long pit zips easily dumped excess heat. “The fact that you aren’t wearing a ton of layers underneath means you cool down quickly,” Pyles says.

Looks

Pyles was pleasantly surprised at the Walmart jacket’s steeze. It could pass for a much pricier layer. “The Strafe jacket is slightly looser-fitting and longer, and the hidden zippers give the coat a sleeker look,” he says, “but otherwise they both come across as nice jackets.” This was confirmed during après in a Jackson Hole bar, when the Iceburg received zero ridicule. “If style is all you are going for, apparently Walmart will pass muster for most Jackson Jerrys,” Pyles says.

The Ozone held up on close inspection. Credit the long cut that lends it a little park flavor while being tailored tight enough to not fit like a XXXL basketball jersey. Also, all the details are hidden, keeping it from coming off as flashy. “It is really clean-looking, with its solid color-blocking and simple lines,” Pyles says.

The Bottom Line

As expected, there is a huge quality difference between $ 50 and $ 700 ski jackets. Does that disparity warrant the $ 650 price gap? Both Pyles and I think it does—if, of course, you have that kind of scratch to spend.

“All said and done, the Iceburg is a perfectly viable cold-weather storm jacket,” Pyles says. After all, if you get cold or sweat enough, you can always go warm up in a lodge—and spend your savings on beer.

Buy Now: Strafe Buy Now: Iceburg

Outside Magazine: All

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