Why Not Just Any Jacket Will Do
Boulder Nordic & Cycle Sport Staff
The term "technical outerwear" isn't just something a marketing department coined to sell more gear. Rather, it describes some of the most hard-working garments in the outdoors. A ski jacket must keep its user warm enough, yet cool enough; it must block the wind but be breathable; and it must protect from the elements without being bulky or restricting movement. A technical jacket is so much more than just a shell—it's your automatic climate control when you're on the snow.Why won't a wind shell just cut it? Where is the moisture your baselayer is wicking from your skin going to go? With a shell, that moisture accumulates on the outside of your baselayer, making it less effective. Moisture will also eventually condense on the inside of the shell and your jacket will start raining on you from the inside. A technical jacket, on the other hand, employs breathable fabric (typically a panel on the back) that allows moisture to exit the jacket so, working in tandem with your baselayer, you remain comfortable and dry.
It's a challenge, however, to keep a jacket breathable and also windproof. This is where designers employ a multitude of different technical fabrics at strategic locations on the front and arms of the garment. Various solutions exist at various price levels, with lighter and more advanced fabrics available in higher-end models; we find, however, that even budget models are a cut above jackets that are not specifically designed for skiing.
An added benefit of wind-resistant materials is the creation of "dead air" space inside the jacket. While it might not seem like much, the space between the inside of a jacket and the outside of the baselayer creates an additional and meaningful layer of insulation.
Finally, as any cross-country skier knows, skiing is a dynamic sport with a great deal of movement around your core, arms, and shoulders. Nordic-specific jackets are designed to allow freedom of movement as you swing your arms, but will also have extra length in the back to ensure coverage, even while double-poling.
So even if many jackets look alike, just remember that not all were created equal.