Last month I had a snowmobiling trip planned in Maine, and I figured it might be time for some new gear after using 15+ year old Edco gear for the last decade or more. Waterproofing technology wasn’t what it is today back then, and I remembered I broke the main zipper on the jacket last year. (note – my butt would also get wet when snowmobiling, from the flurries that would kick up from the track and heat up under my pants/between the seat)
So off I went, searching high and low all over the internet looking for the best jacket for skiing and snowmobiling. Trouble was, there really isn’t a good guide out there that discusses the pros and cons of trying to source a crossover jacket. By crossover jacket, I mean one set of gear that works well enough to use for multiple activities, such as hitting the slopes on a good skiing day, or blazing a back-country trail on a snowmobile.
My main reason for wanting one set of dual purpose gear, is travel. I live in Florida year round, and usually leave half of my snowmobile gear up in Maine, especially my Sorel boots because they’re so clunky. With all the weight limit restrictions on baggage these days, it adds what seems like a fortune to my airline tickets to take extra luggage and overweight bags, so I definitely don’t want to be lugging two sets of gear across the country. (physically it’s a pain to carry all that too, if I happen to travel alone)
What you’ll learn in this review:
- Can you wear a ski jacket on a snowmobiling trip
- Will you be warm snowmobiling in a ski jacket
- Is the Spyder Leader jacket the best snowmobiling jacket money can buy
- The secret to staying warm in below zero weather snowmobiling
Quick Review Of The Spyder Leader Jacket: Pros & Cons Comparison
You might not want to spend time reading a long comprehensive review, so I put together this quick review overview section, with the detailed breakdown of my real world experiences further down below.
Keep in mind my intended usage for this Spyder Jacket was for a variety of winter sports in the snow, and I purchased it for a skiing/snowmobiling trip I was going on in Maine.
- Good style, looks awesome
- High windproof and waterproof ratings, yet still breathable
- Handy comfort features built in (fleece lining inside the collar, to keep your neck/chin from rubbing; lift pass storage in the wrist; hood pocket in the back)
- Love being able to use if for both skiing and snowmobiling instead of traveling with extra suitcases
- You need to layer up for those extra cold days snowmobiling
- Less abrasion resistance from trees when snowmobiling in the woods (but this is catch 22: this is also what makes this jacket give you more mobility for skiing )
Would I buy it again?
Yes definitely. I’ll be using this jacket again for my snowmobiling/skiing trip next year! The only thing I’m going to change is my base and mid layer setup, which you can read more detail about below.
What I Wanted In A Snowmobile & Skiing Jacket For My Winter Gear Arsenal
As I mentioned above, after using older Cordura Nylon based woven gear the last 10 years with no Gore-tex or other waterproofing, my top priority was to find a jacket that is waterproof and windproof. (fairly standard in today’s gear)
Keeping your skin dry, and the wind and water out is the name of the game in below zero weather… especially for snowmobiling. Typically if you can keep the elements out and the heat in, you’re in business.
I also wanted waterproof pockets, so I could carry my phone and other electronics without worrying if they’d survive a long ride or not. (and thanks to this, I was able to get some cool photos of my trip even when my GoPro didn’t work.) We also needed to have paper snowmobile maps with us as a backup, since cell service normally doesn’t work in the boonies… A dry place to keep all this stuff without creating bulk in the two front primary pockets was also a priority of mine. Reason being, when there’s too much bulk in the abdominal area, if affects your ability to lean into corners and ride your snowmobile aggressively.
Seems pretty standard right? Yes and no.
The Problems With Wanting A Jacket That You Can Ski Or Snowmobile In
(as with a lot of things in life, the best of both worlds can be hard to come by, especially in a winter jacket)
You want to be warm on the coldest of days, even at 60 mph + while riding a snowmobile, whether it rains or snows, and you’re going to be hours from home with just you and the forest.
You want to be agile and nimble on the ski slopes, comfortably warm whether it’s 20 degrees at basecamp and 5 minutes of – 5 degrees at the summit, and maybe even cool down on hot days when you’re blazing the blues working up a sweat.
This is essentially what I want in a multipurpose snow jacket, so that I can travel with one set of gear, and be comfortable during any activity or terrain I encounter. Well, realistically that’s asking a lot, and as an example you run into a lot of situations where you want the cold weather performance of an insulated 2′ thick concrete wall (i.e.- thick, heavily insulated snowmobile jacket), yet the flexibility of a partition wall from Ikea (i.e. – thin, easy to move around in, open and close here and there for ventilation, etc.. Just like a ski jacket).
Most ski jackets aren’t very abrasion resistant compared to snowmobile jackets, especially if you’re riding in the back-country on your sled through some tight stuff… You’re going to stab a couple tree branches with your shoulder and whatnot, but most people won’t do that type of riding. Yet it’s nice to have the abrasion resistance of Cordura Nylon, and I would say that the majority of skiing specific snow gear is lacking in this area, as it’s not really intended for this purpose or needed to ride chair lifts all day.
Well once you start adding all these jacket requirements up, you’re pretty much looking at a dedicated snowmobile jacket that’s quite rugged/rigid to stay warm in the coldest of riding conditions. The trouble with that is, it would end up being one that you wouldn’t be able to stay agile enough in to hit the ski slopes every once in a while if you wanted to. So you have to compromise somewhere, in order to get the best of both worlds unfortunately. Before my trip two weeks ago, I just wasn’t sure who made the best stuff that would be versatile enough for my dual purpose needs.
My cousin had been raving for the last two years about this winter gear he’d been using for 5 or 6 years in a row now. I’ve seen him in it before on our trips, but didn’t give it much thought at the time other than thinking it looked awesome. Well when I hit a wall looking at snowmobile specific jackets, and realized I’d never be able to ski in one of those suckers, I took his recommendation and began looking into the Spyder jackets.
Enter Spyder Winter Gear…
My Review Of My Spyder Leader Jacket After Using It On A Snowmobile Trip In Maine Last Month
To cut the boring decision making process short, I settled on the Spyder Leader jacket for a couple of reasons. For one, I found it as a Prime Item on Amazon, and the price was cheaper than Backcountry.com, PeterGlenn.com, and SteapAndCheap.com at $249 with free shipping. This was close to a sale or clearance price for this jacket, and about $100 off or retail, if not more. This jacket had higher wind and waterproof ratings than any other jacket I could find in this price range.
The second reason I chose this jacket is because it had everything I wanted in regards to the zippers and storage. It would work well for both carrying electronics on snowmobile trips, and lift passes for skiing. I wanted taped and sealed waterproof zippers WITHOUT a wind flap that you had to snap over it. Those are cumbersome to me, and I wanted to be able to gear up quickly without a lot of hassle. I didn’t realize there were a lot of other perks that come with this jacket, but I’ll save those for later.
The Spyder Leader Jacket Is An Insulated Jacket, Not Just A Hardshell Outerwear Jacket – (With Clever Bonus Perks!)
I wasn’t sure how to gauge how warm I’d be in this jacket, since it drops to -20 below zero some days in Maine where we travel to. But I did know up front that it has 100 grams of Thinsulate, which is more than most skiing jackets and bibs/pants come standard with. (normally 50 – 80 grams is industry standard from what I’ve seen)
note – keep in mind for a later comparison, that a high quality snowmobile jacket normally has 200 grams of Thinsulate, with a quilted liner insert, and a tough Cordura Nylon outer shell. (part of the reason why they don’t make good crossover/dual purpose skiing/snowmobile jackets too, since they’re harder to move around in. But this is important for you to know when selecting the materials your jacket is made of.)
I love the style of this Leader jacket, and the build quality is amazing! You notice this as soon as you unbox it. In the case of getting what you pay for, this definitely rings true with Spyder gear.
What I didn’t expect, was the subtle little niceties built into the jacket that really make noticeable improvements to your riding experience while you’re wearing it… But you’d never know it until you’re using it. Maybe this is industry standard on winter gear these days, but these were bonuses that made a huge difference to me!
Little refined elements of the Spyder Leader Jacket I didn’t expect to perform so well are:
- Soft fleece lined inner collar
- Zip on and off hood, that’s still sleek and helmet compatible collar with hood removed
- Primary zipper is windproof/waterproof on it’s own
- Concealed ski pass or key zipper pocket on the wrist
- Hood pocket in the lower back for easy storage when removed
- Exterior and interior chest pocket that are both truly waterproof
I’m going to elaborate on these points a little bit, so you know why they matter, and how they affect your experience when you’re out in the elements. Sometimes the descriptions on these jackets aren’t the best on the website you buy them from online, so this should help give you a better feel for all the features of the Spyder Leader jacket.
The soft fleece lined inner collar might not seem like a big deal, but it really is. Unless you’ve had your face half frozen before, and experienced what it’s like to feel the tough nylon of a snowmobile jacket rub against your skin, you probably wouldn’t appreciate this seemingly small nuance of an improvement. But it’s the little things like this, that go a loooooong way when you’re out on the trails!
I will probably never use the hood when snowmobiling, since I always have a helmet and balaclava or neck warmer with me anyway. (if you want help with picking out a balaclava, this is the one I use) But it’s nice to be able to attach the hood for ski days, in the event I want to hang out and keep the wind off my ears.
The lower back pocket to store the above mentioned zip off hood was a nice bonus! You wouldn’t want to create extra bulk in the sides or front of your jacket by stowing it in any of those pockets, so it was really nice to have it stored in the back in case you wanted to zip it on when out and about. (I’ll add a bunch of pictures of the jacket to this post so you can see what I mean)
One of the biggest things, and what you’ll use the most on this jacket, is the main zipper on the front to take the jacket on and off. I like the fact that there’s no zipper flap to snap, so there isn’t a bunch of extra steps or button snaps to fool around with. This way, you can be be ready to go in just a few seconds, and if you need to take your jacket off and on while you’re out on the trail, it doesn’t take forever to do it. Additionally, the main zipper is windproof and waterproof on it’s own which is perfect.
I didn’t notice this in the pictures before my Spyder jacket came in, but the zippered ski pass or snowmobile key pocket concealed into the wrist is super convenient for lift passes or sled keys. Instead of having to get your body close to the lift pass scanner, you can just wave your arm… super nice. Same goes for using it as a snowmobile key pocket… It’s always close to your hands, stays out of the way and won’t scratch your go to items (sunglasses in other pockets, for instance), and you don’t have to go digging in other harder to reach jacket pockets.
I knew the Leader jacket was coming with hand/wrist elastic snow skirts, since I saw them in the picture when looking at it online. But these turned out to work really really well. I like the fact that your sleeve won’t pull out of your gloves when your arms are extended, and the adjustable Velcro sleeve straps make it fit snug no matter how many under layers you’re wearing.
How The Spyder Leader Jacket Performed Snowmobiling In Temperatures Between 0 – 40 Degrees
It was an unusual winter this year in March of 2016, and much much warmer for a day or two than normal. One night it dropped to -20 below zero, but quickly rose to around 8 degrees Fahrenheit by noon the next day. Nonetheless, I got to see how the Leader jacket performed in a variety of temperatures, and was only cold in it one time. (most likely operator error: my fault)
Keep in mind, snowmobiling is much different than skiing, and you normally wear a much heavier mid layer on top of your moisture wicking layer, all underneath your jacket of course. But since it was so warm this winter, I went out with a single thin weight Champion base layer from target… hardly what I would consider a heavyweight thermal, and not even close to an expedition weight mid or base layer.
I’m explaining this to you because there was one day where we rode up about 2500′ more in elevation on the sleds, and I was cold. In hindsight, I don’t think we realized how cold it really was because everyone was cold. When we stopped to take a break and took our gloves off, our hands were instantly getting cold. (just to give you an idea) When we left camp on this particular day, it was about 12-15 degrees, but I suspect that with the wind chill on some of the peaks we were on, it was below – 0.
So while the shell of the jacket proved to work perfectly, (super dry, very breathable) I was definitely feeling chilly with only 100 grams of Thinsulate in the jacket on this cold day in the mountains. What I should have done, is wear a moisture wicking base layer, and then a medium to heavyweight thermal or fleece over the top of that. This way I’d have the extra insulation for the majority of the trip, but be able to shed a layer if we got stuck and I had to dig a sled out or something. (I sweat like crazy when that happens)
Otherwise than that, the jacket performed flawlessly, and I’ll be using it again next year. I’ll also make a list at the end of this post with the rest of my gear changes if you need any recommendations on how to set yourself up for staying warm.
Is This One Of The Best Skiing Jackets On The Market?
For skiing this jacket is a no-brainer, and probably one of the best skiing jackets you can get on the market today. With the ridiculously high waterproof and windproof ratings this jacket has, it’s sure to be a top performer in any class of high end winter jackets, if not out perform many more expensive brands in waterproof and windproof pressure tests, such as Arcteryx or Patagonia.
Keep in mind skiing is much different than snowmobiling though, since the amount of heat the body generates on a generally active day is much greater, and the lack of extra wind from riding on the sled at 60mph normally heats you up much quicker. If anything, you’d probably want to use the built ventilation arm pit vents the Leader jacket has, unless it happened to be unusually cold on the slopes that day.
The mesh on the waterproof zippered vents does do a good job of keeping the snow out as well. I know a lot of people have complaints in other reviews of similar brand jackets, and one is that when the vents are open it lets snow in. And when they’re closed, some don’t do a good job at blocking the wind. Not the case with the Spyder jackets, they’re very well designed and I’m happy with the performance of the windproof zippers, even on a snowmobile.
Is The Spyder Leader Jacket The Best Jacket For Snowmobiling?
It’s a bit of a stretch to say the Spyder Leader jacket is hands down the best jacket on the market for snowmobiling. If you’re looking for the best snowmobile jacket to ride in sub below zero temperatures year round, you should buy one of the Klim jackets. They’ve pretty much set the industry standard at this point, and a lot of the manufacturer’s gear is made by them. (Yamaha, Polaris, Arctic Cat, Ski-Doo, etc…)
But the Spyder Leader jacket was never intended to be just for snowmobiling, and neither is this review, as I was looking for a multipurpose snow jacket. The reason I didn’t buy a Klim jacket, or even exchange my Spyder Leader jacket after trying it out this year, is because I wouldn’t be able to use a Klim jacket to go skiing in. I’d either have to buy two sets of gear, one for snowmobiling, and one for skiing, or go with the more flexible jacket (Spyder) and re-tweak my mid and base layers for next year. As you can tell, I ended up going with the latter, and I’ll explain in better detail at the end how my under layers will be set up for next year.
As I mentioned earlier, traveling from Florida to Maine all the time doesn’t make it practical to fly with two sets of gear. Last year I went to Tahoe skiing, and my Spyder gear would have been absolutely perfect.
The Spyder jackets are some of the best on the market when it comes to waterproofing and wind-proofing, which is what you want in outerwear no matter what you’re doing in the snow. The major difference for snowmobiling specifically, as far as overall warmth is concerned, is you’re dealing with about 50% of the insulation you’d find in a snowmobile jacket. (100 grams of Thinsulate in the Spyder VS 200 grams in say a Klim for example) This can easily be addressed with the correct thermals and under layers, and you can actually be more flexible with a gear setup like this in any climate, which is why I decided to keep this jacket and continue to go this route for next year.
There are a few other minor things you are giving up when choosing a dual purpose snow jacket instead of a dedicated snowmobile jacket for snowmobiling. To be more specific, like I mentioned earlier in this review, a tougher exterior skin with better abrasion resistance in the woods, a built in secondary zip in liner inside the hard shell, and helmet collar snaps/balaclava integration are all nice features to have in a snowmobiling jacket. But those are also what makes snowmobile jackets unfit for skiing and snowboarding. It’s going to be hard to stay nimble on the slopes in a snowmobile jacket, which is ultimately why I didn’t go with one of those. If you lived up North though, and rode snowmobiles all winter long, you’d want those features though.
So while I wouldn’t say that the Spyder Leader jacket is “the best snowmobile jacket”, I would say it IS one of the best waterproof and windproof snow jackets you’ll find on the market that you can use for skiing AND snowmobiling.
Check out this cliff notes overview by Peter Glenn:
How To Stay Warm Snowmobiling & Cool/Dry On The Ski Slopes
I’m going to go over the important parts of layering, in case you need help with staying comfortably warm in the Spyder gear whether you’re going on a skiing or snowmobiling trip.
The single most important part here, is your layering choices and options that you pack. You might be wondering… “Will I be warm snowmobiling in the Spyder jacket or another ski jacket like a North Face”? I’ve been cold on snowmobiling trips in past years, so I can guide you on exactly what to do here, and what to pack depending on the temperature you’re going to be in.
You want to take a nice mixture of lightweight moisture wicking thermals for a base layer, and if you’re going to be riding in weather close to zero degrees, a heavyweight or expedition weight mid layer. I personally don’t like ultra tight compression gear, and prefer heavier thermals like the ones from Duofold, Coldpruf, or Polarmax. I have also used the heavyweight thermals by Patagonia in previous years, but don’t anymore because they were too warm and I sweat my ass off in them. (gear breakdown when I was too hot: t shirt, Patagonia heavyweight thermals, optional fleece or sweatshirt, then jacket.) I guarantee you won’t be cold in – 10 below zero weather with that same setup and this Spyder jacket… I didn’t even have a waterproof breathable jacket back then!
For skiing, just scale back any of the above depending on what the temp is that day. Most likely, you’ll be comfortable with a thin base layer, no mid layer, and the spider jacket on 10 – 20 degree days on the slopes. You won’t have to contend with the wind from riding sleds, and you’re full body with be much more active instead of staying in a seated position for a couple hours at a time.
If you want to read more about base layers for snowmobiling, check out snowmobile.com.
Making Sure You Won’t Be Cold Snowmobiling – The Secret To Staying Warm
While the layering above is super important, one thing to also note is: if your appendages start to get cold, you will think you’re cold… Doesn’t matter what jacket you’re wearing! In other words, it’s very important to keep your hands, feet, and face/neck warm at all times so that feeling doesn’t creep up on you. The smaller the body part, the less blood flow in extreme cold. The body naturally contracts and sends blood toward essential organs in cold weather, unless you’ve done something like the Wim Hof cold weather breathing training. Having the right moisture wicking and waterproof layers, gloves, and boots on your trip will eliminate this for you.
Pro packing tip – Sometimes once your hands get cold out in the woods or on the trail, it takes quite a bit to warm them up. As a backup, you can take these $5 hand warmers with you in case you get into a situation where you want a little extra heat to warm up your hands and feet. Simply snap them and slip one in your glove or boot.
I cover this in a lot more detail in the what to pack on your snowmobile trip post, as well as which balaclavas to use to keep your face and neck warm whether or not you’re wearing a helmet. (it’s not comfortable to stop and enjoy the scenery with your helmet on, so I normally switch to a different neck warmer and such)
What Layers I’ll Be Pairing My Spyder Jacket With Next Year
Next year, I’ll be taking my Spyder gear snowmobiling and skiing again, but I’m going to switch up my base layer and add a different mid layer for more flexibility in a variety of temperatures. Since it was such a warm winter this year, I don’t feel like I had the right combination of layers to switch to when the temps dropped to below zero in just a few hours one evening.
Next year, I’ll be using these Duofold Expedition Weight Thermals that are double layer in one for those extra cold days. I think they’re the best value for the money, but I’ll link up a few other brands for even more warmth and material options for you.
Here a few other good options for people who prefer non itching wool synthetics, traditional wool, polyester, etc…
The Best Base Layer For Snowmobiling
I think any of the above brands used as a base or mid layer is the way to go. I’m personally going with the Duofold’s for next year, but if you want to get other opinions about which base layer brands are good for snowmobiling, here are some reports from snowmobiling forums that are helpful from people actually out on the trails: (you can’t always trust Amazon reviews anymore, which is one reason I do these reviews on the blog now. But it’s always nice to see other people reporting similar experiences with the same brands of gear)
Snowmobile.com – The importance of base layer apparel
Snowwest.com – Best base layers for wicking sweat and staying warm?
Dootalk.com – Under Armour VS Klim Layers
Hardcoresledder.com – Base layer where/what to buy
Spyder Leader Jacket Review Conclusion: Buy It Or Not
If I lived up north and rode snowmobiles every weekend, I wouldn’t buy this Spyder Leader jacket for snowmobiling. I would buy this Klim jacket instead.
Since I live in Florida and travel for winter trips, the Spyder jacket is a good balance of pack-ability and warmth, and there’s no question the outer shell is windproof and waterproof with 20k ratings.
I wasn’t used to breathable gear in the beginning, as my old snow gear was double polyester with a non-breathable quilted liner. This was a little bit of an adjustment with the Spyder gear, but I did not sweat in it on my trip like I normally would, which was great. I like the fact that I can open the vents and take advantage of the breath-ability for a day of skiing, or close it up and use it as a cold weather waterproof insulated shell for snowmobiling… You just need to make sure you pack the right base and mid layers like I mentioned above, so if the temperature drops, you’re cozy warm no matter what.
Overall the Spyder Leader jacket performs great. You can’t ask for better windproof or waterproof zippers, and the versatility of winter sports you can use this jacket for is second to none. The price changes every now and then, but mine was around $250 out the door with free shipping since it was a prime item. The widgets below should show the current price for the right model, and I added the bibs and pack-able carry on jacket I mentioned in the Spyder review video:
I chose the Spyder gear over North Face, Mountain Hardware, Marmot, and Patagonia, both for the styling and performance. It’s a great value as well if you pick one up on sale or clearance, or an Amazon Prime item like I did. And you’ll definitely be impressed by the waterproof and windproof ratings, since Spyder manufacturers their gear with some of the highest rated materials in the industry in order to achieve those 20k + ratings.
I would definitely buy this jacket again, but I would (and will) change my selection of base and mid layers like I discussed above. It’s nice to have confidence in my outer shell, yet keep flexibility underneath to use my gear in a wider variety of winter sports. You never know what mother nature is going to throw at you on a day to day basis!