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. We took 14 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, weather resistance, style, features, and durability in order to come up with our top picks in this category. Read on to see which models rose to the top in terms of quality and value.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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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 contenders 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 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.
The main downside of down 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 Tres 3-in-1 Parka.
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 Fission SV 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 Fission, the Mountain Hardwear Therminator, 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.
New to our review this year, but hardly new to the market, are jackets insulated with synthetic fleece insulation. Replicating the fleece of a sheep in manufactured materials, pile insulation is highly durable, quite comfortable and warm against one's skin, and relatively inexpensive. The drawbacks are that pile is inherently limited in terms of insulation value, and the sleeves must be lined with a different material for easy on and off. Pile insulation is the easiest to maintain and longest lasting insulation type available, but it has drawbacks. The least warm jackets in our test were insulated, not coincidentally, with pile. In the latest iteration of our multi-year, comparative review, we tested the pile-insulated Patagonia Isthmus and Fjallraven Greenland.
Blending the attributes of the different options, hybrid insulated pieces match the function of one type to different parts of the users torso for a jacket that is theoretically better tuned for performance. In our review, almost half of the jackets now feature at least some sort of hybrid insulation. The pile-insulated jackets, for instance, actually feature some sort of undefined synthetic puff insulation in the sleeves, behind smooth nylon linings.
The Arc'teryx Camosun features both down and synthetic insulation, mapped to the users body and likely wet spots. The REI Stratocloud Hoodie uses a synthetic/down blend that is reported to be "as warm as 650-fill-power down." Finally, the Columbia TurboDown contains 550 fill power down and 100 grams of synthetic insulation, in an orientation that is not quite clear. The hybrid nature of these various jackets doesn't seem to really change the performance all that much. If we wanted to split hairs we could probably find subtle differences. However, we didn't find any obvious pros or cons to the hybrid designs.
A technical parka is a jacket that 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 Columbia Gold 650 TurboDown. 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; 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, these 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 Rab Neutrino Endurance features high quality, 800-fill down to keep the weight down and packable size small. The rest of the down insulated parkas feature down below 750 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 Tres also kept us warm, as did the Arc'teryx Camosun Parka. Competing admirably with the warmest jackets in our review, the Mountain Hardwear Therminator deserves special mention. It is handily the warmest synthetic insulated piece in our review. After the Canada Goose jacket, the next warmest earned a Best Buy award. The North Face McMurdo is nearly an expedition parka ready for polar travel, with the price tag of a casual jacket.
On the whole, except for the Mountain Hardwear version, the synthetic insulated models that we tested were just not as warm as the down models. The Arc'teryx Fission SV and Helly Hansen Dubliner were less warm than the down 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. Some 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.
Finally, in terms of warmth, the pile insulated jackets are the least insulating products in our review. Well-suited to more moderate climates, the Patagonia Isthmus and Fjallraven Greenland are durable and stylish products, insulated with synthetic fleece, that just don't stack up in terms of warmth to the rest of the field.
Since all of the parkas feature insulation, and 8 out of 13 of them use at least some 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 Tres with its H2NO fabric, or the Arc'teryx Fission SV that uses a Gore Tex 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 temperatures, where the precipitation tends to fall as snow, then the parkas with DWR treatments such as the Canada Goose Expedition Parka, or the Rab Neutrino Endurance will be more than adequately protected.
Special mention must be made here of the shell fabric of the Fjallraven jacket. The cotton/poly blend is a traditional shell material that requires more maintenance than the fully nylon shell materials on the other jackets. Fjallraven sells a special "Greenland Wax" that is used to treat the fabric for water resistance and durability. You can modulate the amount of treatment you apply in the interest of tailoring your protection.
The Rab Neutrino Endurance uses 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. The North Face Gotham and McMurdo parkas, as well as Helly Hansen's Dubliner and the Canada Goose Expedition, include a fur (or 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. In assessing the comfort of various products, we weren't surprised to, generally, find a correlation between cost and comfort. More expensive jackets use softer materials and greater tailoring to achieve maximum comfort. A notable exception, however, is our Best Buy Marmot Fordham. At a bargain basement price, every tester who tried on the Fordham was impressed to find its basic, initial comfort appeal to exceed basically the rest of the field. The only more comfortable jacket was the REI Stratocloud Hoodie, which is more of a specific function "down sweater" than it is a full-featured winter jacket. The Stratocloud is comfy, but it requires a separate shell layer for full protection.
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 non-hooded version of the Columbia Turbo Down (we have, over the years, tested both hooded and non hooded versions) 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. The best hood in our test is on the chart topping Canada Goose. The hood is large, but can be cinched down securely and comfortably. The hood is warm, but the stiffness of the brim keeps it out of your view, largely.
Handwarmer pockets are a good place to keep cold hands or to keep gloves, and most have a fleecy liner inside. The best hand-warmers in the test are on the Arc'teryx jackets. Both of these award winners feature fully insulated hand warmer pockets with fleece lining the fabric the back of your hand touches. There is insulation between your hand and body, and between your hand and the outdoors. This means that your hand is insulated, but there is no draft when the pocket is open without a hand in it. The next best hand warmer pockets, like those on the Therminator, put the user's hand between the insulation and the wearer's body.
Finally, while better than nothing, we wish for more sophisticated design than the jackets that feature a single layer of fabric protecting the hands in a warming pocket. The Canada Goose and Patagonia Tres, for instance, both have basically uninsulated hand warmer pockets. Special mention must be made of the hand warmer pockets on our Best Buy, The North Face McMurdo II. The pockets are uninsulated, but they are fleece lined and there are a total of four of them! With a set at chest level and a set at waist level, there is a hand warming option for every posture.
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 both The North Face Gotham II Jacket and our Best Buy Marmot Fordham. Both come with an array of pockets, including an internal Napoleon pocket that has a headphone channel so your electronics stay dry. The Gotham and McMurdo jackets add removable fur hood lining and unique in class integrated face mask/neck gaiter. Other jackets, like the Columbia Gold 650 TurboDown and REI Stratocloud, were barebones models with little more than two hand pockets.
The Mountain Hardwear Therminator leads the pack in terms of features. With a full suite of pockets, great hood and cuff seals, and an integrated powder skirt, we can't ask for any more features than this jacket provides.
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 Isthmus and Arc'teryx Camosun, which are both stylish enough to dress up with, but can be worn while out snowshoeing or ice skating and still perform well.
The technical Rab Neutrino is an entirely different style than the city cut of the Fjallraven Greenland. The snowboarder inspired Mountain Hardwear Therminator contrasts with the practical bulk of the Canada Goose. The Marmot Fordham and Patagonia Tres are neutral, all around looking products. Across the board, we tested subtly different "looks" to find something for everyone.
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 Rab Neutrino or the whisper thin shell of the REI Stratocloud. 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 Columbia Turbo Down don't hold up well to an wayward ice screw or axe.
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.
Buying Advice article for more detailed advice on sorting through the different types jackets on the market.
— Jediah Porter
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