The Best Snow Pants Aren't Pants at All. They're Bibs.

I just spent the morning digging out a snow cave in "Snow Mountain," a colossal pile of snow I shoveled out of my driveway yesterday following the blizzard that socked the Northeast the past few days. As I squirmed and wiggled my way inside (much to my 2-year-old's amusement) I was reminded why I greatly prefer snow bibs—which I was wearing—over snow pants, which I generally avoid.

The big reason is this: a completely snow-proof seal around the waist. The bib's extra layer of fabric extends up over the torso and, when covered by a waterproof jacket, completely eliminates the potential for gaps that might let snow in—no matter how much you might belly and worm and squirm and dig your way into a snow cave, for example. This feature is particularly helpful if you're tall like myself (6 feet 5 inches) and faced with upper garments that don't extend down quite as far as you'd like.

Bibs also never slip down, thanks to the straps that extend over the shoulder—a plus, say, in a major butt-sliding wipeout on the ski slopes as well as belly-worming in and out of a snow cave.

Here are the other key features to look for in a pair of snow bibs.

1) A highly breathable upper section. You don't need Gore-Tex (or the equivalent) all the way up to your sternum, which turns the bib-jacket combo into a double layer torso sweat box. All you need is a few inches above the waist to ensure a snow-proof seal.

2) Shoulder straps that are easy to adjust but stay securely in place, even during activities that involve a wide range of motion such as snowboarding, ice climbing, or snow cave wiggling. Test this before you buy if at all possible. It's a serious annoyance to have to readjust your shoulder straps underneath other heavy winter layers.

3) Side zippers along the legs for effective ventilation. (Don't forget to zip them back up before you start wallowing in snow.

4) Leg cuffs that extend down far enough to fully cover your boot-tops and help keep snow out of your footwear, even without gaiters. Some bibs feature extra-tough fabric on the inner cuffs to protect against crampon points, a nice feature.

5) Bathroom access. A good pair of bibs gives you the option to relieve yourself without having to strip down. A rainbow zipper that extends front to back is my preference, though a fly/drop-seat combo can work as well.

I have an older pair of Arc'teryx bibs (the Alpha SV to be exact), which have performed admirably for nearly a decade now on almost every winter adventure I've been on. Here's the current version (pictured above), which remains an excellent (if expensive) choice. It's available in both short and tall sizes, which was a big selling point for me. The Arc'teryx Theta SV bib is another good option.

Go Snow!

“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.