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Rain Jacket vs Ski Jacket – Differences? Similarities?

Snow skiing carving at high speed.

If you love spending time in the great outdoors, you know that wearing the proper gear is key to protecting you from the elements. There’s nothing more annoying than getting stuck outside in a heavy rainstorm. When it comes to buying and wearing a rain jacket or a ski jacket, how do you know which one to choose?

Are they really that different from each other? Let’s dive into the differences and similarities between rain and ski jackets, so you can decide which option is right for you.

What is a Rain Jacket?

A rain jacket is specially designed to protect you from the weather, namely the rain. These durable yet lightweight jackets are made of a water-resistant material that’s made to keep water off of your body so you can stay dry. While rain jackets work great for casual outings and occasional downpours, they might not be the best option if you’re into snow-related activities like skiing or snowboarding.

Most rain jackets are extremely lightweight since they’re designed to be carried with you while working or traveling. These jackets likely won’t keep you warm enough if you’re planning to spend some time in the snow. A rain jacket comes with a myriad of features that distinguish it from a snow jacket.

We’ll discuss those features in more detail later.

Fit blonde in rain jacket running on a rainy day.

What is a Ski Jacket?

A ski jacket (or hardshell jacket)  is typically medium to heavy-weight and designed to not just keep you dry, but also warm in cold climates. While it’s still lighter than a ski coat, these jackets feature materials that are supposed to keep you insulated and dry at the same time. Most people who live in areas with snow and cold weather choose to wear ski jackets over rain jackets due to the insulation factor alone.

They’re ideal for light snow conditions and can also be worn in the rain, as long as the outdoor temperatures aren’t too high. While ski jackets do keep you warm, they’re also breathable. This feature will help keep your body temperature regulated so you don’t get overheated when participating in outdoor sports and other activities.

Portrait of a skier smiling on a snow mountain background.

How are they different?

Aside from their style and how they look, there are several differences between a rain jacket and a ski jacket. Let’s break down the details to give you a better idea of the variations between these two popular types of jackets.

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A rain jacket typically has an adjustable hood and sometimes, adjustable or elastic sleeves and hems that cinch tightly to help keep you dry. They’ll also include two or three pockets, most of which have a zipper to keep the contents secure and dry. High-quality rain jackets may also have gussets under the arms to improve breathability.

Others may include a feature where you can zip the hood into the collar to secure and hide it when you don’t need it. A rain jacket is great for wearing around town or to bring with you in case it happens to rain. As for ski jackets, they have many more technical features.

These jackets usually have gussets on the back for breathability and a taller, thicker collar to keep you warm. Most ski jackets have a longer fit to provide more coverage, while rain jackets tend to hit right at the hip or waist area.

Materials and Construction

Rain jackets are typically made with two layers of material to keep them nice and lightweight. Ski jackets usually consist of three layers in order to keep you a bit warmer. A ski jacket may have a thinner exterior fabric, but it should also have sealed seams to keep cold and moisture out.

A ski jacket also typically has an inner breathable liner, while a rain jacket doesn’t. This means that the material of a rain jacket comes into direct contact with your skin, while a ski jacket has a separate layer to protect you and feels softer against the skin when you wear it. It should be noted that new rain jacket brands are starting to make their products with three layers of materials versus two.

A material called Gore-Tex is a popular choice for ski jackets. This durable, weather-resistant material is guaranteed to keep you dry and has tough construction that can hold up well to heavier wear and tear.

Design Features

Both rain and ski jackets should have seam taping to prevent rainwater or snow from getting in. A zipper “garage” or cover will keep your zipper from getting wet or rusty, although most ski and rain jackets use plastic, no-rust zippers today, as opposed to the metal zippers of the past. Technical rainwear should have adjustable features at the hood, arms, and waist area, while more casual rain jackets won’t.

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Almost all ski jackets have this design feature since they’re considered more sports-related and technical in terms of functionality. As for weight, rain jackets are usually lighter than snow jackets due to the use of lighter and fewer materials. If you need something heavier to keep you warm, then a ski jacket is the better option.

Always look for jackets with venting so that you can adjust as needed. This will keep you from overheating when you’re out on the slopes or hitting the trail.

Skin jacket on snow background.


Since ski jackets are made with slightly heavier and thicker materials, they tend to be more durable than rain jackets. Lightweight nylon rain jackets can easily snag or rip. The zipper on a ski jacket also tends to be a bit more durable, while some rain jackets don’t even use a zipper closure.

Instead, they may have buttons or snaps to keep them closed. This allows air to get in, while a ski jacket has a snug fit and zippers designed to insulate you from the cold air. Overall, ski jackets are going to be a lot more durable than most rain jackets.

Cost Differences

Rain jackets can cost as little as $20-$30 up to several hundred dollars. Designer rain jackets will cost more than standard rain jackets. If you’re looking for a rain jacket made for hiking or outdoor activities, choose one with the materials and features you need.

As for ski jackets, they almost always cost more than rain jackets and typically start at about $100 and go up from there. Some may even cost as much as $500 depending on the brand.

Benefits of Each

Let’s take a quick look at the benefits of a rain jacket and a ski jacket.

Rain jackets

  • Lightweight construction makes them easy to carry with you
  • Adjustable hoods help to keep you dry
  • Zippered pockets keep your belongings safe and secure
  • Packable rain jackets are great for travel
  • More affordable than ski jackets
  • Great for quick outings or whenever you need a layer of protection from moderate rain

Ski jackets

  • Includes a variety of technical features like zippered gussets
  • More durable than rain jackets
  • Designed to help you stay warm in winter weather
  • Have a longer fit and taller collar than rain jackets
  • Feature quality, heavy-duty materials
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Brief History of Each

Before the rain jacket was invented, most people coated their clothing with oil to help repel the rain. In the early 1820s, a man named Charles Macintosh designed the first rain jacket made of a material called tarpaulin. Also known as “India rubber cloth,” this material consisted of a variety of textiles including flax, wool, hemp, cotton, silk, leather, and even paper.

The material was layered in between a rubber core to help keep the wearer warm and dry. Soon, Macintosh’s famous rubber cloth was being used to make jackets by manufacturers in London and other parts of Europe. A man named Thomas Burberry designed a weatherproof option for soldiers during World War I that was made of a fine-twilled cotton material treated with a chemical that helped to repel water while allowing it to breathe.

This now-famous rain jacket is known as a “trench coat.” You may also know the name Burberry due to the famous designer’s line of bags, scarves, coats, and more. Over the decades, advancements in fabric technology have changed into what we now know as the modern rain jacket.

Most people wore thick, heavy sweaters before the ski jacket was invented. However, the thick wool not only got wet but also held onto moisture like a sponge, making it extremely heavy and cumbersome to wear. It wasn’t until after World War II that ski jackets became popular.

An Austrian man named Claus Obermeyer designed a quilted parka with insulating layers to keep skiers warm and dry. Fast-drying nylon replaced heavier wool, and the ski jacket was born. Famous fashion designer Emilio Pucci started to design ski jackets featured in bright, bold colors.

Brands like White Stag and Bogner were soon at the forefront of ski wear, including coats, pants, and hats. Ski clothing is considered not just a utilitarian layer for sports, but also a fashion item today.

A happy female snowboarder wearing yellow jacket.

As you can see, there are some distinct differences between rain and ski jackets. If you’re looking for something light to keep you dry, a rain jacket is the right choice. For those who need a little extra warmth, durability, and more technical features, ski jackets are the way to go.

Look for your perfect layer today, so you can get outdoors and stay nice and dry.