It's been a mild winter season in most of the country thus far — especially compared to last January — and we've been enjoying our fall jackets and hoodies all the while. But since it is in fact January and the temperature is dipping, it might be time to break out that fur-trimmed parka.
Don't have a one, you say? Well, this month will be the best time to buy one! Post-holiday shopping in January may be the last thing on your to-do list, but once the weather becomes frigid, you'll be thankful you bought something cozy. So as to not give yourself heatstroke trying on 15 parkas in a 70-degree department store, read through our guidelines for picking out the best winter coat.
Parkas come in a wide variety of styles, but here we're talking about a multi-layered jacket or coat designed to hold 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 Styles for Different Climates
First, consider what conditions you are likely to face. If you live in a temperate climate and price is an important consideration (and isn't it always?), you could start your shopping with a very basic coat like the Cabela's Men's Packable Nylon Parka ($9.99 with $5.95 s&h, a low by $40). It features a lightweight nylon shell coated with a durable water-repellent treatment and has heat-tape-sealed seams for infallible moisture-beading performance. Featuring an adjustable hood and a mesh lining that wicks away moisture, this is a great basic parka for a warmer winter. What's more, this parka folds up into one of its two chest pockets for easy storage.
If you live where the 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 Perry Ellis Men's Microfiber Parka ($50.99 with free shipping, a low by $9) has a soft, quilted lining inside a shell of rain-resistant bonded microfiber. This parka also features roomier arms for layering, four pockets for storage, and a high-neck snap closure collar.
Another popular type of parka features a zip-out jacket that converts the item into three pieces of clothing: the parka, the zip-out jacket, and the outer shell. These modular coats worn separately are particularly useful in fall and spring when the weather patterns can be unpredictable. But put them all together, and you're prepared for a cold, wet winter. The Eddie Bauer Men's Weatheredge Port Townsend 3-in-1 Parka ($73.94 via coupon code "BAUER1210" with $9.99 s&h, a low by $145) in Plaid is warm, waterproof, and windproof. The polyester zip-out can be worn on its own (making for a great raincoat), or snapped into the shell for additional warmth. This parka also has several other features you might look for: a full-zip front with a covered placket, taped seams to keep water and wind from finding a way in, and an adjustable/retractable hood.
There are also parkas for the fashion sensible. L.L.Bean's Women's Warm and Light Coat, 3/4 Length Parka ($119 with free shipping, $30 off) is a knee-length quilted coat with a slim cut that's seriously warm and noticeably lightweight with minimal bulk. Side panels and contoured double-needle stitching give it a flattering fit. Plus, it's water- and stain-resistant made from a microfiber nylon shell. This jacket also features a great insulator: goose down.
Insulation Options to Keep You Toasty
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, 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 perspiration to escape. Though Thinsulate is not as warm as synthetic or down fill, this L.L. Bean's Men's Warm-Up Parka ($79.20 with free shipping, a low by $20) is available in five different colors and will keep you warm in 25-degree weather.
- 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. Although it lacks the puffy look, this Marmont Cauldron Men's Insulated Jacket ($116.99 with free shipping, a low by $13) is made from recycled plastic and Thermal R Eco fill.
- 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 however are that its expense and it soaks up water which causes it to lose its loft. Several of the options above feature goose down, as does this Cabela's Men's Alaskan Guide Goose-Down Parka ($159.99 via rebate code with free shipping, a low by $120).
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 North Face's Men's McMurdo Down Parka ($224.99 with $4.95 s&h, a low by $14). 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
- Thigh-length, for the best combination of warmth and flexibility
Last, but not least, here's a brief checklist to help you find the right parka for your needs:
- 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 three-in-one 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.
Front photo credit: Stephanie via Flickr