The Best Winter Jacket For Women Review
Looking for the best women's winter jacket? Do you need something that can withstand bone chilling temperatures or do you live in a wet climate and require a waterproof and warm outer layer? Whatever your needs, we have you covered here at OutdoorGearLab. We took ten of the top rated women's winter specific jackets and compared them side-by-side over several months of use. We wore them in snowstorms, exploring outside on chilly days, commuting to and from work, and even hopped into the shower in them to see how they would withstand a serious drenching. We then rated each one based on its Warmth, Weather Resistance, Style, Comfort, Features and Durability. Keep reading to see which ones stood out from the rest.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Winter Jacket for Women
Canada Goose Kensington Parka
Best Bang for the Buck
Top Pick for Wet Climates: Patagonia Tres Down Parka
Three jackets in one, the Patagonia Tres Down Parka combines warmth, waterproofness and style, making it an all-around great winter specific jacket for sloppy weather. Designed for a wet climate like the Pacific NW, this jacket is a great option if you live in Seattle, WA or Portland, OR, or anywhere that winter weather tends to be on the rainy side rather than the snowy one. Waterproof, windproof and highly durable, the Tres Down protected us in wet weather better than any other coat we tested. The removable down layer is insulated with 600-fill-power 100% traceable duck down. You can wear the down layer on its own for clear but cool days, or the shell layer for wet but mild ones. When worn together, this parka is warm and toasty, and we felt completely protected from stormy weather. The Patagonia Tres Down Parka costs $529, but considering the three-in-one option and high quality in each layer, this is actually a pretty good deal.
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Analysis and Test Results
One of first things that comes to mind as soon as pumpkin spice lattes are available again is that it's time to get your winter jacket out of storage. For many people, the most crucial layer for surviving winter is a good parka. It's what allows us to leave our homes comfortably and warm on mornings that are below freezing, and stay dry whether it's snowing, sleeting, or raining. When it comes to selecting the right parka for you, there are many factors that you need to consider, including the style, length, insulation and most importantly, the climate that you live in. A plush down parka may look great, but it's not the right jacket for an area that gets mostly rain in the winter. A thin, lightweight model may seem practical and functional, but is probably not the best choice for a snowy and cold mountain town. And with the price of some parkas exceeding $500, this is not a purchase that you want to make a mistake with and have to repeat. We considered all of these factors and more to help you figure out which one is going to suit you and your lifestyle best.
Types of Winter Jackets
There are many types of outerwear that you could wear in the winter, including leather jackets, wool felt coats, and even big puffy 8000 meter down parkas, but we didn't test all of those in this review. Instead, we chose to focus on casual parkas that are designed with winter and warmth in mind from some of the top outdoor gear manufacturers, like Patagonia and The North Face. While there are numerous options out there to choose from (too many in fact!), by selecting from this specific market we were attempting to find the best winter jacket possible. We tested models that are stylish enough for city life but incorporated the technical details that these companies are well-known for, to help keep you protected from the elements and looking good at the same time. Within this grouping we selected a mix of shell types and insulation.
There are two main types of shells, or outer layer, on the women's models we tested in this review: nylon or polyester fabrics with DWR coatings, and two-layer waterproof membranes.
DWR coatings: Durable water repellent coatings are applied to the exterior fabric to create a water resistant barrier. These coatings cause water to bead up on the surface of the material and roll off instead of absorb through and wet the insulation. DWR coatings are fairly effective at making a parka water resistant, but are not fully waterproof. In heavy precipitation, the material will still usually saturate through, which then compromises the warmth of the insulation. The typical model with a DWR coating is a "puffy" down jacket, like the Patagonia Downtown Loft Parka or the Marmot Montreaux. These jackets maximize style and warmth, and are well-suited to winter climates where it's cold enough to snow for months on end.
Two-layer membranes: These types of outer shells combine an outer waterproof fabric with a breathable membrane (and then an inner lining), for maximum water repellency and breathability. In addition, these shells are usually also coated with a DWR to truly seal out moisture. Familiar brand names are Gore-Tex and NeoShell, which many different manufacturers use in their products, while others have developed their own proprietary fabrics, like Patagonia's H2No and Marmot's MemBrain. This type of shell is a great option if you live in an area like the Pacific Northwest, where winters are cold but very wet. Some of the models that we tested with two-layer membranes include the Patagonia Tres Down Parka, the Arc'teryx Patera Parka and the Marmot Chelsea Down.
Winter jackets are also defined by how they are insulated; the two options being down or synthetic.
Down Insulation: Most people don't know this, but down is actually the plumage found underneath the exterior feathers of ducks, geese and other waterfowl. Down insulation has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio, and is highly compressible. The quality of the down is measured by how many cubic inches one ounce of down fills when compressed by a set weight, and this is referred to as fill-power. Down feathers create pockets that trap cold air. The higher the fill-power, the higher the loft, which means more air pockets to trap cold air between us and the environment. Fill-power goes up to 900, but most casual parkas use down in the 500 to 700 range. While a higher fill-power rating means the jacket will be more compressible and lighter than a lower one, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is warmer, because warmth also depends on the fill-weight. A winter jacket with 10 ounces of 700-fill-power down will be warmer than one with 10 ounces of 500-fill-power down, but if you up the 500's fill-weight to 20 ounces, it will then be the warmer one. Some of the down models we tested include The North Face Arctic Down Parka and our Editors' Choice winner, the Canada Goose Kensington Parka.
Synthetic Insulation: Synthetic insulation is made of manmade fibers that mirror the structure of down. Long threads of synthetic fibers provide loft, while short clusters mimic the shape of down and trap warm air. When synthetic insulation gets wet it traps the moisture in the air pockets between the fibers, rather than the fibers themselves. This helps synthetic insulation keep you warm even when wet, and also dry out quickly. Down clusters completely collapse and clump up when wet, losing all their insulative properties, which can make synthetic insulated jackets a better choice for really wet climates. For more information on synthetic insulation and specific technical jackets made with it, check out our Women's Insulated Jacket review. Overall, synthetic insulation is typically not as warm as down, but it is less expensive. The synthetic models in this review include the Columbia Snow Eclipse Mid Jacket- Women's and the Mountain Hardwear ZeroGrand Metro Coat. The Arc'teryx Patera Parka is unique is this review in that it uses down insulation in the core and synthetic in the hood, shoulders and outer sleeves - areas that are more likely to come into contact with moisture.
With so many types of insulation and shells, it can be difficult to know which is best for what and for whom. By using these ten different models side-by-side for several months, we were able to gauge what their different strengths and weaknesses were and rank them accordingly. Keep reading below to see how they compared in our testing categories, or check out the award winners to see which ones were our favorites and why.
Criteria for Evaluation
One of the most important and distinctive features of a winter jacket is its warmth. Being outside for an extended period of time in freezing cold weather requires a warm, reliable coat, and as we mentioned above that is achieved by both the loft, or fill-power, of the insulation, along with the fill-weight. Manufacturers don't typically rate their winter jackets for warmth like they do their sleeping bags, so we had to test out this category by wearing the different models in very cold conditions. Overall, the Warmth score accounted for 30% of the total rating, as in our minds this is its primary function. So, if a jacket wasn't very warm, like the Mountain Hardwear ZeroGrand Metro Coat, it didn't score very high overall even if we liked other features about it. That being said, if you live in a southern state and don't have very cold winters, a coat's warmth will be less of a priority for you.
The models that scored highest for warmth were the Marmot Montreaux and the Canada Goose Kensington Parka. These parkas had 700- and 625-fill-power down inside them, respectively, and more importantly, lots of it! The Montreaux was also fleece-lined, which provided extra warmth and coziness. The Marmot Chelsea Down and Patagonia Tres Down Parka also scored high in this category with their ample amounts of 700- and 600-fill-power down.
Some of the least warm models were the ones with lower fill-powers as well as the ones with synthetic insulation, but we also felt the Arc'teryx Patera Parka was not very warm even though it is insulated with 750-fill-power goose down. Arc'teryx used a "body mapping" technique to place more insulation in the core, along with synthetic Coreloft insulation in areas that are exposed to moisture. So even though the Patera has the highest fill-power of any model we tested, we could really feel a difference in warmth between the spots that were insulated with Coreloft as opposed to down, and our arms were noticeably colder, which brought down our overall feeling of warmth.
When it comes to the synthetic insulated models, of the two coats that used it exclusively, the Mountain Hardwear ZeroGrand Metro Coat felt warmer than the Columbia Snow Eclipse Mid, even though the Snow Eclipse had 150 grams (5.3 ounces) of insulation compared to the Metro's 100 grams (3.5 ounces). The Thermal.Q Elite insulation in the Metro Coat is designed "to mimic the structure of goose down" and we agree with Mountain Hardwear's assertion that it is one of warmest synthetic insulations available.
Almost as important as Warmth is Weather Resistance, as let's face it, winter is usually synonymous with blizzards and freezing rain, not sunshine and roses. All of the models we tested provide some degree of protection from the elements, whether it's a DWR coated nylon shell or a fully waterproof fabric. And how much weather protection you need largely depends on your winter climate and typical activities. Walk to work every day, rain or shine, in Seattle? You'll need a waterproof option, or a good umbrella! If you live in the Northeast but only need protection for short jaunts from the subway to your destination, then a DWR coating may just be sufficient.
In order to gauge the Weather Resistance of each model, we not only wore them each in variable weather, but then we also jumped in the shower with the two-layer waterproof models for a final determination. You can read more about that fun experiment in our How We Test section. It was no surprise that the two-layer shell models, like the Arc'teryx Patera Parka and Marmot Chelsea Down, did a better job that those with just a DWR coating on a thin nylon shell, like The North Face Gotham Parka - Women's and the Columbia Snow Eclipse Mid. The "MemBrain" fabric on the Marmot Chelsea Down provided a perfect balance between waterproofness, breathability, and water repellency. This fabric also reduced internal condensation, which helped keep us dry on the inside too even when being active. We were impressed by this soft fabric even in blizzard-like conditions.
The one surprise was the Canada Goose Kensington Parka – its "Arctic-Tech" fabric is only described as "water-resistant" and even 15% cotton, but it must have a serious DWR coating as it held up just as well as some waterproof models. The real standout though was the Patagonia Tres Down Parka. This three-in-one jacket has an H2No Performance Standard outer shell which kept us driest the longest out in the elements and in our shower test. While every model that we tested eventually saturated through, this one lasted longer than any other model and was also quick to dry out afterwards. As an added bonus, when the weather warms up but the April rains pour down, you can take out the inner down layer and wear the outer shell as a rain jacket - just one more reason to give it our Top Pick for Wet Climates award.
Style is another key consideration for your winter jacket purchase, particularly when purchasing a casual coat for city life rather than a technical parka for the backcountry. Each model that we tested had some degree of style, whether it be the length, fit, or baffle pattern, but what stood out most in terms of style was the fit. The way a parka fits can either make or break its look. One such example was the Marmot Chelsea Down, which had a lot going for it including warmth, waterproofness, and a nice looking faux fur hood; however, the cut through the chest and waist was very baggy and not flattering, and this caused it to drop out of award contention for us. While style preferences and fit are different for everyone, by trying these winter jackets on a variety of shapes and sizes and polling our friends, we were able to find some consensus when it came to this category. Everyone liked the look of the Patagonia Downtown Loft Parka, which is form-fitting and has a satin finish on the shell. The Marmot Montreaux also earned praise for its artful chevron baffling and classy faux fur hood, and we also loved the sleek, simple, and professional looks of the Mountain Hardwear ZeroGrand Metro Coat and The Patagonia Tres Down Parka.
What really stole the show though was our Editors' Choice award winner, the Canada Goose Kensington Parka. It is a perfect blend of function and style, with a classic parka look and plush coyote fur ruff. The outer fabric looks smooth and clean, but is also durable and water resistant. But what really made this parka stand out for style was the cinched waist; in fact, no other model that we tested had this feature. The adjustable exterior straps at the waist allowed us to tailor the fit and look, depending on the situation or who was wearing it. While others, like The North Face Gotham Down Parka, used elastic at the waist to achieve the same effect, the strap system on the Kensington will outlast any elastic and is more adjustable. Overall, we felt like a snowy bunny in the Kensington Parka, and even more so with the fluffy hood on. It's attractive, feminine and flattering, and it'll make you wish winter never ended.
While some might sacrifice function and comfort for fashion, when it comes to winter jackets we want them to be comfortable in addition to looking good. While there are endless features designed to make being outside more comfortable and enjoyable, sometimes it is the lack of those things that caused us discomfort instead. For example, you might not notice how nice an insulated hood feels until you try a model without one on, like the Patagonia Tres Down Parka. Or you might think the 550-fill-power down in The North Face Artic Parka is plush and cozy, until you try on the Marmot Montreaux with its luxurious and lofty 700-fill-power down insulation. The same goes for simple comforts, like fleece-lined pockets and collars, or knitted cuffs. These features add a warm and protective touch to a coat, which you might not think twice about until they are not there.
There were only a few features that caused active discomfort, such as the kick pleat snaps on the Canada Goose Kensington Parka or the loud rustling fabric on the Marmot Chelsea Down. As a whole, winter jackets seem to be made with comfort in mind, and we found most of the models in this review sufficiently cozy.
While the variability between all the different models' features is seemingly endless (is the fleece-lining on one side or both sides of the pocket?), we did find a few of them that are almost mandatory in a long winter jacket, including hoods, two-way zippers, and yes, fleece-lined pockets. A hood is probably one of the most important aspects of a cold-weather coat, as it helps seal in warmth and keep the wet stuff out. While every model in this review came with some type of hood, there was a lot variance to them, including detachability, faux and real fur ruffs, insulation, and whether or not they even stayed on our heads in windy weather. Detachable hoods offer some versatility, but what if you take it off and leave it at home and then a storm hits? The hood on the Patagonia Downtown Loft Parka actually zips in on itself and turns into a neck buff, which lets you hide it when you don't want it but pull it out when you do. While a fur ruff adds a nice style touch, they can be controversial if they are real and not to everyone's taste. You can read more about this in the Sourcing Ethics section of our Buying Advice article. All in all, a hood is a must have, and the warmer and more adjustable it is, the better.
Two-way zippers are a must-have feature for better mobility in a thigh or knee-length coat. This lets you seal the jacket down when standing around, and then open it up a bit when going for a walk. The Canada Goose Kensington Parka even has kick pleats on the back of the coat for even greater range of motion, though this did let a bit of cold air in. And as for those fleece-lined pockets, we noticed sometimes that they were almost more practical and comfortable than wearing gloves. Fleece-linings helped warm our hands up fast on cold days, and all of the models we tested had it on at least one side of the pocket.
There were also some unique features in this review, like the three-in-one option for the Patagonia Tres Down Parka and the whole body fleece lining on the Marmot Montreaux. The Canada Goose Kensington Parka went above and beyond in this category, and even included internal carrying straps for when it's too warm to wear the jacket but you don't want to carry it in your hands.
When spending a good chunk of money on a winter jacket, it's important and necessary that it last more than one season. So what makes a coat durable? The type of shell, materials used, and quality of construction all contribute to its longevity. Just by nature, a hard Gore-Tex waterproof shell is going to last longer than a soft polyester fabric treated with a DWR coating. The thin fabric on the Patagonia Downtown Loft Parka will be more prone to snags and tears than the Gore-Tex shell of the Arc'teryx Patera Parka, so that is always one thing to consider when deciding between those two types of coats. While we didn't purposefully go around and snag every model to see what would happen, we did gauge the thickness and strength of the outer shells along with examine all the zippers and stitching to help assess this category.
Several models had zippers that snagged either on the pocket or the front. The North Face Gotham Down and Patagonia Downtown Loft had some zipper issues, and the Columbia Snow Eclipse Mid had Velcro tabs on the storm flap which easily filled with debris, impeding its effectiveness. We also noticed some feathers escaping at the stitching on the Downtown Loft, as well as the Tres Parka's down layer. This could jeopardize warmth and durability down the line. On the flip side, the Canada Goose Kensington Parka seemed built to last a lifetime, with burly zippers, buttons, materials and stitching. Some other high scorers in this category were The North Face Arctic Down Parka and the Mountain Hardwear ZeroGrand Metro Coat.
We hope that we've been able to help you decide whether or not a winter specific jacket is an item that is necessary to add to your wardrobe. If you've decided that you could use one, but have not been able to narrow down your selections, consider reading or re-reading the Buying Advice in your quest to determine which model will best suit your needs.
— Liz Williamson
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