The Best Winter Jacket for Men Review
What's the best winter jacket to keep you warm and dry no matter the weather? Winter means shorter days, colder temperatures, and a spectrum of inclement weather to outright blizzards. Depending on where you live, you may need an outer layer that protects you from these elements. We took 11 of the most popular casual and technical winter jackets and compared them side-by-side during activities we would want to bundle up for, whether that be shoveling snow or walking from the bus stop to work on a stormy day. We assessed each model on various criteria, including warmth, comfort, and weather resistance in order to come up with our top picks in this category. While your specific needs for a winter jacket will determine the best fit for you, there were clearly a few models that rose to the top in terms of quality and value.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
The Best Overall Winter Jacket
Arc'teryx Camosun Parka
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Gotham II Jacket
Top Pick for Extreme Cold
Canada Goose Expedition Parka
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Analysis and Test Results
A winter jacket is designed to provide you with warmth and protection from winter weather. But that "winter" weather is highly variable depending on where you live. The model that works for a rainy, but not too cold Pacific Northwest winter is not the same one you'll need for a frigid day in Chicago. While all winter jackets have some type of insulation and some means to act as a barrier to the weather, selecting the right one for you is determined by your needs, including the type of weather you are expecting and the types of activities planned. Head on over to our Buying Advice Article to learn different tips and tricks to selecting your next model, or keep reading below to see what different types of winter jackets are available and how the different models that we tested fared in our side-by-side comparison process.
Types of Winter Jackets
When you walk into a big outdoor store, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the number of ski jackets, down jackets, winter parkas, technical coats, rain shells and more. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, so let's define what some of these jackets do for us to determine which is going to suit our needs.
Down insulation is derived from either duck or goose feathers, and is graded on its quality. This quality number, or fill-power rating, goes up with the loftiness or fluffiness of the down. As the loft of the insulation increases, so does the garment's ability to trap body heat, and you stay warmer at a given temperature range. Down insulated jackets are lightweight, highly compressible and will retain their loft for many years if cared for. This warmth-to-weight ratio is what makes down jackets so useful to backcountry travelers.
Down's main downside is its loss of insulation properties when wet. When inundated, down will clump up and can only be truly revived with a drying machine. While many of the jackets in this review feature down insulation, they feature materials of a heavier variety than those you would want to take on a backcountry trip. If you are looking for a lightweight or backcountry activity oriented jacket, look at our Down Jacket Review. Some of the down models we tested include the Canada Goose Expedition Parka and the Patagonia Wanaka Down.
Synthetic jackets feature man-made, plasticized fibers that mimic down feathers. These fibers, which go by names such as Polarguard, Primaloft or CoreLoft, also trap body heat in the same way that down feathers do. Synthetic insulation is less susceptible to wetness than down insulation, and will regain its full insulation value faster once wet. Since it does not ball or clump like down when wet, it still has some, though not all, insulation properties if soaked through. Also, since synthetic insulation dries out more efficiently than down, a Coreloft insulated jacket like the Arc'teryx Koda Parka won't necessarily require you to put it in a dryer to do so.
In wet climates, like the maritime winters of the Pacific Northwest where there is constant and incipient moisture present, down insulation can be tough to take care of. Synthetic fiber-filled garments will not last as long as their down counterparts, though, as the repeated compression of synthetic fibers will pack them down, decreasing their loftiness. For this reason, the warmth of heavily used synthetic jackets declines and they are less durable over the long term.
In this review we tested only three jackets that featured full synthetic insulation: the Arc'teryx Koda Parka, the Mountain Hardwear ZeroGrand Trench Coat and the Helly Hansen Dubliner Parka. If you are looking for more choices for an insulated jacket in a wet environment, check out our Best Insulated Jacket Review which features all synthetic materials.
A technical parka is a jacket which will keep you warm and protected from the weather, but which places a higher importance on the features and functionality designed to support its use in an extreme environment or during athletic activities. Technical parkas tend to have larger coverage, and are built for use in harsher environments than the average down or insulated jacket, which is why they are not featured in those reviews. Technical parkas can be either down or synthetic.
The technical fit and features of these parkas lend themselves to uses such as winter mountaineering, ice climbing or ski touring, but are usually available in neutral colors that can be worn in casual settings as well. We tested two technical parkas, the Rab Neutrino Endurance and Patagonia Fitz Roy Down Parka. Both are insulated with high fill-power down.
A casual parka is a warm jacket that will protect you from the elements but tends to place more emphasis on comfort and style while keeping you dry and warm, as it is designed to be used during everyday activities such as going to the ice skating rink, walking the dog on a cold day or while commuting to work.
Casual parkas can be insulated with either down or synthetic as well, though the lightweight benefits of down tend to be overshadowed by heavier materials used to make these parkas more comfortable. One of the main differences between casual and technical jackets is the activities they are designed to be used with. The technical parkas we reviewed, for instance, have only a thin outer shell with a DWR (durable water repellent) coating, allowing them to be used for more high-output athletic activities, while many of the casual parkas use a heavier duty, style-oriented material that looks great, sheds snow and rain, but would be ill-suited to moving vigorously and sweating inside. These casual coats are designed to keep you warm on their own, not while exercising.
Our review selections contain a mixture of technical and casual parkas, with most fitting into this casual subcategory. The key attributes that all of these jackets share is that they keep the user warm no matter if they are being active or not. Most of the models in our Down Jacket review or Insulated Jacket review are designed to be used as part of an active layering system. The parkas we have reviewed here will be equally adept at keeping a stationary user warm while winter camping or while sitting at the bus stop. Each parka has its intended uses and users, however, so read on to see which ones we liked best and for which application.
Criteria for Evaluation
Warmth is the single most important metric we used to rank these winter jackets. This warmth is determined by the amount of insulation it contains, no matter if it is down or synthetic insulation. The more insulation a jacket contains, the more loft it provides. We looked at the fill weight to determine exactly how much insulation was placed in each winter jacket, and then compared that weight to the cut and length to see how that insulation was distributed. If we have two jackets with an equal fill weight of 10 ounces, but one has a waist length hem while the other has a mid-thigh length hem, the two jackets will not be equally warm.
As we discuss more in our Buying Advice article, the higher the down's fill-power number, the higher the quality of the down feathers. But this only translates into lighter down and more compression. The amount of insulation, not the quality, is what determines a jacket's warmth. The two technical parkas that we tested, the Rab Neutrino Endurance and the Patagonia Fitz Roy, feature high quality, 800-fill down to keep the weight down and packable size small. The rest of the down insulated parkas feature 625-fill and lower, all the way down to 550-fill for The North Face Gotham II Jacket. This number should not dissuade shoppers from looking at these parkas, though, as the casual parka can get away with using a slightly heavier down product than a technical parka that you might be carrying in your backpack with you. The Canada Goose Expedition Parka has an average quality 625-fill down, but it has so much that it was easily the warmest model we reviewed. The Patagonia Wanaka Down Parka also kept up warm, as did the Arc'teryx Camosun Parka.
On the whole, the synthetic insulated models that we tested were just not as warm as the down models. The Mountain Hardwear ZeroGrand Trench, Arc'teryx Koda and Helly Hansen Dubliner were some of the least warm models in this review. This is likely due to the lesser amount of insulation in the garments overall rather than a fault of the synthetic fibers, though it did reinforce the idea for us that if you are looking for warmth, you should opt for down. Two parkas in this review actually feature a combination of down and synthetic insulation. The Editors' Choice winning Arc'teryx Camosun uses synthetic material in areas exposed to moisture, such as the shoulders and hood, and down in the core for warmth. The Columbia Gold 650 TurboDown Hooded Jacket contains a mixture of 550-fill down and an additional 100 grams of synthetic fiber. Columbia has also used its proprietary OmniHeat fabric to line the inside of the parka, which ends up giving it a shiny, emergency blanket feel. This fabric may indeed add warmth without much weight, but we have not independently tested the fabric. We do feel as though the TurboDown Jacket was warmer than other, similar thickness jackets, in a given temperature range.
Since all of the parkas feature insulation, and 8 out of 11 of them use a down fill, we need a weather resistant outer fabric to protect ourselves from the harsh winter weather, but also to protect the insulation from becoming wet and clumpy. All of the parkas here have some kind of resistant fabric, from basic durable water resistant (DWR) coated nylon to a fully waterproof membrane with taped seams, but they have a wide degree of actual resistance to soaking through, depending on the weather encountered.
No matter if you choose a DWR treated material or a layered shell like Gore-Tex, proper care is essential for it to stay waterproof. Use of detergents strip the waterproof treatment from the fabric, so try to use a DWR or Gore-Tex specific cleaner for spots and stains, then a wash-in or spray-on waterproofing to restore your winter jacket's weather resistance.
If you live in a low elevation or low latitude area, where the winter precipitation tends to fall as rain rather than snow, you should look at one of the parkas with a waterproof outer shell such as the Patagonia Wanaka Down with its H2NO fabric, or the Marmot Njord Down that uses a MemBrain barrier. These waterproof/breathable fabrics shed water quicker and for a longer duration than a typical DWR treatment. But, if you'll be wearing your winter jacket in lower temperatures, where the precipitation tends to fall as snow, then the parkas with DWR treatments such as the Canada Goose Expedition Parka, or the Arc'teryx Koda, which uses Gore Windstopper fabric, will be more than adequately protected.
A couple of models, like the Rab Neutrino Endurance and Marmot Njord, use hydrophobic, coated down feathers, which will not save the jacket from soaking through in the event of a downpour, but can add a bit more latitude in going out in wetter weather.
Even though a jacket might claim to be waterproof, you should make sure to double check that the seams are fully taped. Why? When a shell jacket is put together, it is stitched through (or in some cases welded together using a high frequency microwave technology). This stitching leaves small holes in the fabric, and if they are not additionally taped they will become an easy entry for moisture.
Wintertime is already uncomfortable enough for many people, so you shouldn't have to put on an uncomfortable winter parka, too. Most of the models in this review have added in extra ways to make braving the cold and wind a bit more forgiving.
Fleece lining on the inside of the pockets, and where the chin flap meets the face add coziness to the feel of the parka. Helly Hansen's Dubliner Parka and the Canada Goose Expedition Parka include a fur (and faux fur) trim around the hood. When cinched up tight it makes you feel like you are at home bundled up in front of the fire. The cut of the parka also keeps comfort in mind. A meticulously designed jacket like the Arc'teryx Camosun Parka is going to fit your body much better than some of the other, more square cut designs, and the longer hem which many of these parkas use keeps the waist from riding up and exposing you to unwanted drafts. The more comfortable parkas we reviewed, like the Arc'teryx Camosun, also have elastic rib knit cuffs, which seal out cold drafts and snow the best.
It is the addition of winter jacket specific features that have already set the jackets in this review apart from the rest. Features such as a hood, multiple handwarmer pockets, two-way zippers, and well thought out cuff closures are all important attributes of a good winter jacket. A hood is virtually mandatory during nasty winter weather, and while it is not a substitute for a warm hat as well, a hood makes life a lot nicer. Only the Marmot Njord does not come with any kind of hood, meaning that a warm hat will be necessary. Additional hood adjustments to get a customizable and secure fit should be considered the gold standard for a well-rounded parka.
Handwarmer pockets are a good place to keep cold hands or to keep gloves, and most have a fleecy liner inside. When wearing a trench coat length parka, the need for two-way zippers becomes apparent as the long length can inhibit a comfortable stride, and wearing a long coat while seated can be awkward and uncomfortable without this feature. Cuff closures can be simple elastic closures, a snap closure, or Velcro, but a good winter parka needs to allow you to seal out the snow and cold, and to allow you to use gloves. Open cuffs with interior gaskets, like on the Patagonia Wanaka Down, are a good combination of fashion and function.
Other features that may be important to you are internal phone pockets with headphone ports, snow skirts to really seal out the cold or built-in facewarmers. We really liked the features on the Canada Goose Expedition Parka. It has almost a dozen pockets, a snow skirt and a drawcord waist, not to mention a coyote fur trimmed hood. We also liked the features on our Best Buy winner, The North Face Gotham II Jacket. It comes with an array of pockets as well, including an internal Napoleon pocket that has a headphone channel so your electronics stay dry, a removable faux fur hood trim and a face gaiter. Other jackets, like the Columbia Gold 650 TurboDown, were barebones models with little more than two hand pockets.
Style is a personal choice, and we allow our personalities to show through some of our clothing choices, including a winter jacket. This review includes parkas that could be comfortably worn from a nice restaurant to a Broadway show, and ones that look clean and simple, but are more at home walking the dog or taking the gondola to the ski area. We have already talked about the differences between technical and casual parkas, and while technical jackets might be truly at home in the mountains, they are easily worn on casual occasions in urban settings, and can let some of your outdoorsy personality show through. Casual urban parkas don't usually work the other way though, as they may be missing crucial elements for safe winter adventuring, such as hoods, waterproofing or warmth.
Most of the models we reviewed have a longer cut, which adds warmth and weather resistance and gives a different look than the waist length athletic cuts that most of the backcountry inspired jackets have. We really liked the style of the Patagonia Wanaka Down and Arc'teryx Koda, which are both stylish enough to dress up with, but can be worn while out snowshoeing or ice skating and still perform well.
With few exceptions, quality winter outerwear is not inexpensive. For a quality winter parka, expect to make an investment, but you should expect that investment to pay off for at least a few years of consistent use, depending on the activity. Are you going to be in contact with razor sharp winter climbing gear like ice axes, or will you only be using the parka to get from home to the bus stop five days a week during the winter? After investing a large sum of money in a winter jacket, we want to feel like our investment is protected, so we like the lifetime guarantees of companies like Canada Goose and Patagonia, who will stand by the craftsmanship and materials of their products.
One of the most important things we looked at is the outer fabric. The heavier duty, canvas-like outer material of The North Face Gotham II will withstand much more abuse than the thinner Pertex shell of the Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka. Zippers, snaps and Velcro receive a lot of wear as well, so we looked at these closure systems to make sure they were durable enough for the tasks at hand. We gave our highest score in this category to the Canada Goose Expedition Parka. The large zippers, durable outer material and solid construction are sure to make this jacket last a lifetime. We were more concerned about the durability of the technical models that we tested. Those parkas will be used around sharp ice climbing tools, and the thin shells on the Rab Neutrino Endurance and Patagonia Fits Roy don't hold up well to an wayward ice screw or axe.
Buying Advice article for more detailed advice on sorting through the different types jackets on the market.
Even with a hood and insulated pockets, a pair of gloves and a hat may be a good idea. Consider the Bird Head Toque and the Outdoor Research Sueno Beanie to prevent heat loss from the head.
For gloves, check out our review of The Best Ski Gloves.
— Ryan Huetter
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