Bibs and the backcountry can be an incredible combination, but be careful! Not all bibs will do well in the backcountry. Bibs are great for keeping snow out of your clothes while you hit pow lines, but the uphill can turn a pair of bibs without proper ventilation into an oven, and some bibs are just too heavy, even if you’re not a gram-counter. With such a high price point, pulling the trigger on a pair for backcountry use is risky if you haven’t done your research. That being said, the right bibs can do it all, keeping the snow out and keeping you cool on the ascent, without adding any weight to your setup.
What features do I want in a backcountry snow bib?
Here are some things your bibs should (and all of the ones on this list) have. Lots of ventilation, built-in gaiters, lots of pockets, drop seat capabilities, and waterproof – but light – material.
This is one of the most important features in a backcountry bib. Bibs keep you warm, but it’s easy to overheat. Pay attention to the material bibs are made of, as some material is more breathable than others. Some bibs come with mesh-guarded vents to let in cool air but keep out snow, a cool idea, but in my opinion they don’t let enough air in. The best ventilation in a pair of bibs is full side zippers that let you open up from waist to ankle for full-on airflow. Another great (but rare) feature is inner-thigh vents. I keep the inner-thigh vents on my Flylow Bakers open basically 24/7 as it’s very rare for snow to make it in there (except in the deepest powder), and in combination with the outer-thigh vents, you can really get a cross-breeze going.
These are a must, but you’d honestly be hard-pressed to find a pair of bibs without them. Gaiters go over the tops of your boots to keep snow from getting in. The best gaiters have grip on the inside to keep them attached to the tops of your boots, as well as a strap so you can cinch them tighter when necessary.
Pockets (lots of them)
Pockets can be about personal preference. I love to stash all my little gear items (headphones, snacks, avvy beacon, phone, etc.) on my person, even when I’m wearing a backpack, so I’m not constantly taking it on and off. For me, lots of pockets are a must, but I’m not everyone. Pockets (and the bib material necessary to house them) add weight and stiffness, so for those looking to go lighter, lots of pockets can be a downside, and your jacket should have plenty as well. Pick your poison.
This is a big one. No one likes to take their bibs completely off to go to the bathroom, especially when you have a jacket or other layers over your bibs. Drop seats are either one or two full-side zippers that let you open up the back of your bibs. For guys, a front zipper is a must as well. All of the bibs on this list have front zips and can open up in the back for serious bathroom duty.
It’s tough to strike the right balance between waterproof material and weight, but luckily, there have been some incredible advancements recently in material technology that have brought these two aspects closer together. GORE-TEX (featured in the OR Hemispheres and Arc’teryx Beta SV Bibs) is the top of the line choice, but any bib with a DWR (Durable Water-Repellant) finish will keep you dry and shouldn’t weigh too much.
The Best Backcountry Bibs
Given the above criteria, we’ve selected the four best bibs for backcountry use, taking in personal experience and recommendations from industry professionals. For the ladies reading this review, check out the link at the bottom of each section to access the women’s version of the item. The four bibs on this list are:
1. The Patagonia Snowdrifter Bibs ($350)
2. The Arc’teryx Beta SV Bibs ($575)
3. The Flylow Baker Bibs ($420)
4. The Outdoor Research Hemisphere Bibs ($599)
Pros: Lightweight, cheapest on the list.
Cons: Pockets are sufficient, but not a standout feature.
Senior Editor Joe Carberry wrote a review of these bibs last year. These are 100-percent backcountry bibs, with stretchy, light material and hardy waterproofing. They’re a fairly minimalist bib, without a ton of pockets, but the top pocket has a loop for your beacon, which is a nice feature. They have a Recco Reflector, which aids professional in finding you should an emergency arise, are made with low-impact materials, and are backed by Patagonia’s Ironclad Guarantee – if you break it, they’ll fix it. Surprisingly (knowing Patagonia), they’re also the cheapest on this list. The women’s version is available here.
Pros: Super-duper stretchy movement.
Cons: Limited pocket space, high price point.
My friend Zeke swears by these bibs. “They move super well, better than any other pants I’ve had,” he told me. “Climbing, hiking, skiing, I’ve never felt held back by them.” They’re pricey, but similar to Patagonia, Arc’teryx is committed to continued use of their products and will fix your gear if you break it. These pants also feature a Recco Reflector, a useful feature. Online reviews point to the lack of pockets, not the worst when you have a backpack, but a bit of a pain when you don’t. The women’s version can be found here. Another great Arc’teryx bib is the Sabre LT, which has some cool features like a full front zip that opens all the way to the top of the bib.
Pros: Tons of pockets, heavy-duty material.
Cons: Heavier than most bibs on this list, buckles could be smaller.
These are the bibs I run. Tons of pockets, good venting, but a bit heavier and stiffer than the rest on this list as they sacrifice some flex for ridiculously-tough material and waterproofing. They’re a 50/50 resort and backcountry bib, which is exactly what I was looking for. Some people complain about the buckles for the straps being tough to wear with a backpack, but I haven’t had any problems yet. I love the inner thigh vents, a unique feature on this list. Flylow Bakers are a mens-cut bib, and the women’s version are called the Flylow Moxie and Flylow Foxy. The Foxy is a tighter fitting version, and the Moxie is a bit more roomy.
Pros: Super light and stretchy, dedicated beacon pocket.
Cons: High price point.
Another super light and stretchy backcountry bib, these guys have a dedicated beacon pocket with a clip as well as a chest pocket. They are the most expensive bibs on the list, but they live up to the price point as an incredibly well-engineered piece of equipment with plenty of pocket space, light and stretchy material, and plenty of other nifty features. The women’s version can be found here.
All of the above options are great choices as backcountry bibs, and do what any backcountry bib should do, such as dump heat, not add too much weight, and keep the snow out. That being said, if you’re looking for a pair of bibs that can stand up to the harder snow (and harder falls) of resort skiing and riding, and look fashionable while doing so, look no further than the Flylow Bakers. The Patagonia Snowdrifter bibs can toe the backcountry/resort line as well, and are the best bang for your buck on the list. If all you want to do is backcountry, and price point isn’t a consideration, I’d go with the Arc’teryx Beta SV bibs, or the OR Hemispheres. Happy turns!