A wet snow is falling. The wind is howling. And you have to shovel the driveway, walk to the library, or wait at the bus stop. Are you destined to be miserably damp and cold? Not if you're wearing a parka!
Don't have a parka? You've got time to shop before the weather gets truly heinous. Retailers like L.L.Bean, REI, and Backcountry often have great deals on parkas this time of year. (Because after all, we've found that January is a fantastic time to buy discounted winter apparel.)
Such multi-layered jackets or coats are designed to keep out the snow, wind, and cold in extreme weather. You can find parkas made for every type of weather from a cool San Francisco fog to Antarctic conditions, and the prices vary just that widely, too. We took a look at a variety of jackets from quality manufacturers to show you just what to look for in the perfect parka.
Different Parkas for Different Climates
The first things to consider when purchasing a parka are the types of weather conditions you are likely to face. If you live in a temperate climate, a very basic coat like the Woolrich Men's Mountain Parka ($89.95 with $10.95 s&h, a low by $33) is advisable. It features a shell of DuPont Taslan nylon and a 70% wool liner, and comes with a hood and plenty of cargo pockets. This parka isn't completely waterproof, and the light lining won't protect you on the lower end of the thermometer, but it's a reasonable price for a cool weather parka.
If you live in a region where temperature doesn't often dip down into single digits but wet snow can be expected, like along the Carolina coast, you probably don't need a great deal of insulation, but waterproofing is crucial. The London Fog Men's Chester Microfiber Parka ($114.41 with $6.49 s&h, a low by $62) comes with a lightweight zip-out liner and detachable faux fur collar inside a shell of rain-resistant bonded microfiber. This parka also has ample pockets to protect your electronics from the elements.
Speaking of zip-outs, many popular parkas are designed with layering in mind. A quality parka can be separated into three pieces of clothing: the parka, the zip-out jacket, and the outer shell. These modular coats are particularly useful in fall and spring when the weather patterns can be unpredictable. A great modular option is the Columbia Sportswear 3-in-1 Sleet to Street Interchange Parka ($127.99 with free shipping, a low by $12). Its shell is waterproof, making for a fine raincoat and the zip-out jacket is made of fleece, a snuggly option on a cool fall morning. The Bugaboo has several other features you might look for in a parka: taped seams to keep water and wind from finding a way in; zippered pockets; and snap cuffs that allow you to seal in warmth.
There are also parkas for the fashion conscious. The Patagonia Women's Down With It Parka ($253.99 with free shipping, a low by $45) is a knee-length quilted coat with a slim cut that's made from recycled fibers. This jacket also features the best insulator: goose down.
Parka Insulation: Wool, Fleece, Goose Down, and More
As you shop for a parka, you'll find that there are a variety of insulating materials available, which can be broken down into four types:
- Wool and Fleece: These materials can hold in a modest amount of heat and function even when wet. They also breathe, which is an important consideration if you are generating a great deal of body heat while hiking, for example.
- Thinsulate: Used in jackets where bulk is deemed undesirable, the weave of this synthetic fiber insulation is very tight, allowing it to trap more heat while still permitting water in the form of perspiration to escape, though it is not as warm as synthetic or down fill.
- Synthetic Fill: For really warm jackets, it's necessary to sew in thicker pockets of insulating materials, which gives parkas their bulky, Michelin Tire Man appearance. Under the trade names Primaloft, Hollofil, Quallofil, and others, this material emulates the insulating properties of goose down, with the additional benefit of not soaking up water that ruins its ability to hold in heat.
- Goose Down: The gold standard for insulation is goose down, which is very light yet dense enough that it traps heat better than any other fill. The downsides to goose down are its expense and the fact that as it soaks up water which causes it to lose its loft.
How these insulating materials are sewn into a jacket also determines how well they work. A cold spot in the parka is created when inner and outer shells come into contact via stitching. A two-walled construction prevents this; the inner and outer shells are held apart by baffles filled with down or synthetic fill.
The Parka That Puts All Other Parkas to Shame
If you live in a place that truly takes the worst punches from Old Man Winter — say North Dakota or Alaska mdash; you'll really want to dress for success against winter's onslaughts. Take a look at a parka like The North Face's Men's McMurdo Down Parka ($330 with free shipping). This ultimate parka boasts:
- A waterproof, yet breathable coating (allowing the moisture of perspiration to escape while not letting melting snow in)
- A faux-fur trim along the hood and a drawcord that allows you to pull the hood tightly around your head
- Two-way zipper with a draft flap
- A waist drawstring to allow you to fit the coat to your body and create a pocket of warmth
- Inside pockets to keep electronics from the extreme cold
- A thigh-length design for the best combination of warmth and flexibility
- Hood: Detachable? Insulated? Drawstring to pull it tightly over your head? Faux-fur banded?
- Collar: Insulated? Will it fasten?
- Zipper: Two-way? Heavy-duty?
- Storm flap, to cover your zipper: Does it snap shut?
- Body: Insulated with the right material for your climate? Is the shell waterproof? Does it breathe? Zip-out liner or 3-in-1 coat? Taped seams? Baffles or sewn-through construction? Draw string to cinch along your waist?
- Pockets: Handwarmer pockets? Inside pockets for electronics and other items?
- Sleeves: Insulated? Can you cinch them against your wrists to keep out the cold?
Before you know it, the wind and snow will be upon us. Don't spend another winter shivering and miserable, when you can embrace it from the comfort of your warm, dry parka.
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