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? Then it's time to get shopping. Retailers like L.L.Bean, REI, and Backcountry often have great deals on parkas at this time of year. We've found that January is a fantastic time to buy discounted winter apparel; you may be able to find clearance deals during after-Christmas sales, too.
Such multilayered 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 basic coat like the Hollister Coastal Trail Parka ($96 with free shipping, 40% off) is advisable. It features polyester sherpa lining, and comes with a removable hood and plenty of pockets. This parka isn't completely waterproof, and polyester doesn't trap heat quite like goose down does, 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 lighter-weight Merrell Women's Bandol Insulated Rain Parka ($114.73 with free shipping, 50% off) features a waterproof, breathable coating, and a hood that comes with a zip-off, faux-fur ruff. This parka also has pockets with water-resistant YKK AquaGuard zippers for further protection against the elements.
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 weather patterns can be unpredictable.
There are also parkas for the fashion conscious. The Vince Camuto Faux Fur Trimmed Hooded Parka (from $102 with free shipping, 70% off) is a mid-length down coat with a detachable faux-fur-trimmed hood and quilted design. It also features an optional belt at the waist.
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.
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.
For really warm jackets, it's necessary to sew in thicker pockets of insulating materials, which gives parkas their bulky, Michelin 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.
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 soaking up water 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 — you'll really want to dress for success against winter's onslaughts. Take a look at a parka like the Patagonia Women's Fitz Roy Down Parka (from $224 with free shipping, 50% off). This ultimate parka boasts:
- Water-resistant coating (to repel light snow and rain while decreasing dry times)
- Lightweight, fully baffled construction with a two-way front zipper
- An adjustable, baffled hood
- Goose down insulation for lots of warmth
- Numerous pockets, including zippered handwarmer pockets and an interior pocket
- A longer-cut design for the best combination of warmth and flexibility
So, if you're shopping for a parka in the coming weeks, here's a quick checklist of the things you should be looking out for:
Hood: It is detachable? Insulated? Drawstring to pull it tightly over your head? Faux-fur banded?
Collar: Is it insulated? Will it fasten?
Zipper: Is it two-way? Heavy-duty?
Storm flap (to cover your zipper): Does it snap shut?
Body: Is it 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? Drawstring to cinch along your waist?
Pockets: Does it have handwarmer pockets? Inside pockets for electronics and other items?
Sleeves: Are they insulated? Can you cinch them against your wrists to keep out the cold?
With winter here, the wind and snow can be upon us at any time. Don't spend another winter shivering and miserable, when you can embrace it from the comfort of your warm, dry parka.