The Best Winter Jacket For Women Review
What's the best winter jacket? We compared 11 of the top rated women's winter jackets. Whether you're looking for a jacket that can handle brutally cold winters while still looking mega fashionable, or you are looking for one that is waterproof for a wet climate, we've got you covered. Over a two month period, we trekked these contenders up to Canada on a road trip and explored all around Lake Tahoe, California in snow storms, rain, wind, and even sunny weather, to determine their full potential. We rated each performer based on the following metrics: Warmth, Weather Resistance, Style, Comfort, and Durability. Interested in which ones make the cut? Read on to find out!
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
The days are shorter and the temperatures are dropping. It's time to dust off the older winter jacket, or consider buying a new one. A great winter jacket is the difference between spending time outside and finding it enjoyable, versus feeling that the temperatures are just bearable. When it comes to buying the right contender for you, it's important to first look at the climate that you live in.
For example, the Canada Goose Kensington Parka is a great parka for a cold environment, but it may not be the best option if you live in Los Angeles. The North Face Thermoball Parka would be a better choice, as it's lightweight, not overwhelmingly warm, and the synthetic insulation is better suited for a mild and wet climate. It's easy to add layers to the Thermoball when it is cold out, but it's impossible to detract from the Kensington Parka's warmth. Besides climate, there are are other factors that go into deciding what jacket to buy; length, style, insulation, durability, etc. We considered all these factors to help determine which jacket is the best for you.
Types of Winter Jackets
For this review, we focused on casual parkas, with an emphasis on warmth and style. We tested contenders from some of the top outdoor gear manufacturers, like Patagonia and Marmot.
There are two main types of shells, or outer layers, on the models we tested in this review: nylon or polyester fabrics with DWR coatings, and two-layer waterproof membranes.
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 absorbing through and wetting 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 Parka or the Arc'teryx Nuri. These jackets maximize style and warmth, and are well-suited to winter climates where it's cold enough to snow for months on end.
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 Performance Standard Fabric. 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 and the Helly Hansen Long Belfast.
Is it down or synthetic? That was a frequently asked question while we were testing the jackets. So what is the difference?
Many people may not be aware of 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.
The highest fill-power we've seen is is 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.
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. Overall, synthetic insulation is typically not as warm as down, but it is less expensive. The synthetic models in this review include the Arc'teryx Sylva Parka, the Columbia Mighty Lite and the North Face ThermoBall Hooded Parka. For more information on synthetic insulation and specific technical jackets made with it, check out our Women's Insulated Jacket review.
Criteria for Evaluation
All the jackets we tested delivered some degree of warmth. When buying a winter jacket, one of the most important features is the warmth that is being offered. It's also important to look at the climate you experience on a regular basis and think about what you actually intend on using the jacket for. Choosing the right jacket is crucial for staying comfortable and warm and enjoying the great outdoors during the winter.
A jacket's warmth is based on the loft or fill-power of the insulation, along with the fill-weight. Lucky for you, we tested all of the contenders side-by-side in snow, rain, wind, and extremely cold temperatures in our effort to find out which ones were the warmest for various climates. We stood still for long periods of time, went hiking, and wore them in hot and cold weather, crazy wind storms, in the middle of the night, you name it - we did it. Overall, the Warmth section accounted for 30% of the total rating, as we believe it to be the primary function.
The warmest jacket we tested was our Best Buy award winner, the Marmot Montreaux, scoring a perfect 10 out of 10. Loaded with 700 fill-power down from hood to knee, we stayed toasty on some seriously cold days. The loft of the down performed extraordinarily, trapping heat and keeping the wind out. Our Editors' Choice award winner, the Canada Goose Kensington Parka, was almost as equally as warm, and was filled with 625 fill white duck down. The durable shell on the Kensington Parka kept cold air out and warm air in, scoring a near perfect 9 out of 10 in the warmth metric.
Also scoring a 9 out of 10, The Patagonia Downtown Parka, insulated with 600-fill-power traceable duck down, and the North Face Miss Metro Parka with 550 fill down, are comparable in warmth. Both are insulated with plush, thick down from the hood to above our knee and did a great job keeping cold air out and heat trapped in. Most of the jackets offered certain features, which helped improve our warmth on cold days - the main one being fleece-lined pockets! What a lovely, cozy feature on a supremely cold day.
Thick insulated hoods, like the Canada Goose Camp Hooded and the Marmot Montreaux kept us toasty and secure in stormy weather. The knee-length parkas were our favorite to wear in super cold weather. We found this to the be case with two of the warmest jackets we tested, the Patagonia Downtown Parka and the North Face Miss Metro Parka. The extra protection and down insulation really made a difference in terms of warmth in very cold weather (10F and below). If you are someone that tends to always be cold, we'd recommend considering a knee-length parka.
A common misconception is that because a jacket or parka has a higher fill, it will be the warmest. The Arc'teryx Nuri has 750 fill European down, but is not the warmest contender; in fact, it ranks towards the bottom in regards to keeping us toasty on a cold winter day, scoring a 6 out of 10. While it is not as lofty as the Montreaux or the Kensington Parka, the Arc'teryx Nuri uses Coreloft synthetic fill in high moisture spots - inner arms, hem, and collar. We could feel cold air on our arms and shoulders in cold weather because of this. However, in a milder climate of 35-40F, we appreciated the Coreloft synthetic fill while out on a short hike, as we were starting to get hot and sweaty. If you're seeking a jacket that handles breathability and ventilation, the Nuri is for you.
Each jacket we tested delivered some level of warmth. We generally found that synthetic and insulated models with low fill powers lacked considerable warmth and were among the lowest, in regards to warmth, among contenders in our testing. The Arc'teryx Sylva Parka is a synthetically insulated winter option, complete with 140g of Coreloft synthetic insulation. It's not the best parka for weather below 25F or for super cold snow storms, but we were impressed with how well it performed while blocking wind and keeping our core warm. Compared to the Helly Hansen Long Belfast, with only 60g Primaloft synthetic fill, the Arc'teryx Sylva Parka was much warmer, but not as waterproof.
The North Face Thermoball Parka and the Columbia Mighty Lite were two other synthetic jackets we tested. While they were both surprisingly warm, they were not as toasty as the jackets that were insulated with thick down and high fill powers, such as the Canada Goose Camp or the Marmot Montreaux. The Columbia Mighty Lite is insulated with 80g of Omni-Heat synthetic fill, while The North Face ThermoBall synthetic insulation is equivalent to 600-fill goose down. Despite being insulated with the equivalent of 600-fill goose down, we felt the Arc'teryx Sylva Parka was warmer in windy and stormy conditions.
We'd say that warmth and water resistance almost go hand in hand. Winter weather can range from snow, sleet, wind, freezing rain, or just plain old heavy rain. All the models we tested offered some level of protection from the elements, from DWR (durable water repellent) coated nylon or polyester shell to full blown waterproof fabric. Before buying a winter jacket, it's important to consider the climate you live in and the purpose of the jacket. If you are living in a wet climate like Seattle, having a jacket that is waterproof and warm is important. If cold temperatures and snow are your typical winter conditions, a DWR coating should suffice. To figure out each jacket's degree of Weather Resistance, we put them through an array of tests.
We went on walks on snow days, stood in place for an extended period of time in windy conditions, braved blizzards in the middle of the night, and we even brought the two-layer waterproof models in the shower. It's no surprise that the two waterproof models we tested, the Helly Hansen Long Belfast and the Patagonia Tres Down Parka did better than the DWR coated Arc'teryx Nuri in wet weather. Some models we tested had windproof outer shells and hoods, like the Canada Goose Camp Hooded Parka and the Arc'teryx Sylva Parka. The durable outer shells kept us toasty and warm in windy weather, as did the thick down of Patagonia Downtown Parka and the Marmot Montreaux.
Whether you're holiday shopping in New York City on a blustery day, or running errands around town in a light snow - why not look stylish and warm? The jackets we tested ranged in length, fit and function. Some had a smooth, sleek outer shell like the Arc'teryx Sylva Parka, while others had beautiful chevron baffling, like the Marmot Montreaux. Everyone has their own preference, but what stood out the most in terms of style was the fit. If your jacket doesn't fit you correctly, chances are you won't like wearing it, which sounds to us like a waste of money. With that said, make sure to know your size and how the jacket fits before buying one, or brace yourself for the impact of reordering and returning until you figure out the best fit.
Some of the jackets we tested were very form-fitting, like The North Face Miss Metro Parka and the Patagonia Downtown Parka, while others had extra room and had a baggy fit, like the Columbia Mighty Lite Hooded Jacket. If you're someone that likes to layer up, a jacket that offers more room in the arms and torso will be perfect for fitting a heavy layer or sweater underneath. While everyone has their own opinion when it comes to style and how a jacket fits, the jackets we found to be the most appealing over our two months of testing were the form-fitting ones, like the Canada Goose Kensington Parka, and the Arc'teryx Nuri; both scored a perfect 10 out of 10.
Our Editors' Choice award winner, the Canada Goose Kensington Parka, is the epitome of a classic winter jacket. Oozing with style from head to toe, this knee-length jacket is a show stopper. From the smooth, sleek water-resistant outer shell to the adjustable cinched-waist, no detail is left out when it comes to style. The quality construction of the Kensington Parka is also apparent. Compared to The North Face ThermoBall Hooded Parka, which has an internal adjustable cinched-waist, the Canada Goose Kensington offers a heavy duty option that's going to last longer. Military grade buttons and zippers add a durable touch, without jeopardizing the classy look of the jacket. The coyote fur ruff is highly functional in cold weather, as well as super stylish. We found this jacket comparable to armor; attractive, form-fitting, and feminine armor.
In cold weather and stormy conditions, if your jacket isn't keeping you warm, you most likely aren't comfortable. For some, fashion is more important than practicality, but for this review, we focused on both. We tested a range of jackets with various kinds and levels of insulation. The knee-length Marmot Montreaux Coat insulated with plush 700 fill-power down, to the lightweight synthetic Arc'teryx Sylva Parka.
The jackets we tested delivered varying levels of comfort. Certain comfort features that attributed to high scores were thick and insulating hoods like on the Marmot Montreaux and the Canada Goose Kensington Parka. Plush down that was warm and not restricting was also taken into consideration, such as the down found on the Canada Goose Camp Hooded Jacket. The Arc'teryx Nuri isn't insulated with thick down, but it is very lightweight and form-fitting, while offering great mobility. Whether we were running errands or going for a walk, we had no issues being comfortable. We found the Marmot Montreaux to be comfortable, despite being insulated with plush down from our head to above the knee; it's very cozy and warm, which allowed us to be comfortable in the frigid outside elements. The torso, cuffs, pockets, and collar are also lined with fleece. These subtle, but vital features, add a cozy and warm touch.
You may not realize how important a warm hood is, until you try on a contender that doesn't have any insulation at all, like the Patagonia Tres Down Parka; however, there is enough room underneath the hood for a beanie. We found our head to be noticeably colder in stormy or very cold conditions, versus when we were wearing a contender that had a toasty hood. Another factor that was important in measuring comfort was mobility. Jackets that ran small, or were tight in the shoulders, like The North Face Thermoball Hooded Parka, weren't as comfortable to wear, because they were restricting and hard to fit another layer underneath.
Alternatively, a jacket that is too tight or too loose may be restricting, distracting, and not as comfortable as it could and should be. If a jacket is too big for your body, it may not be trapping heat properly. Take the time to make sure you are buying a jacket that fits your body type.
If you are ever on a road trip and in need of a pillow, the Canada Goose Camp Hooded Jacket turns into one. While it might not top your list as a super important feature, we have to admit that we think it's cool. During testing, there were certain features that we found necessary to include in a long winter jacket - double zippers, fleece-lined pockets, insulated hoods, etc. A lot of the features we tested catered to comfort, as well as functionality.
One of the most overlooked but crucial features when buying a winter jacket is the hood. A thick insulated hood makes a huge difference in cold weather, as opposed to a thin non-insulated hood. For someone living in a climate that gets heavy snow and cold temps, a hood with thick insulation and faux or real fur will protect your face and keep you warm. We understand that the real fur can be controversial and not for everyone. Feel free to read more about this in our Sourcing Ethics section of our buying advice. The Canada Goose Camp offers a two-way adjustable hood for an even tighter fit on those extra windy days. Detachable hoods are common, and offer versatility, but what if you get caught outside in a storm without it? The hood on the Patagonia Downtown Parka doubles as a neck buff; perfect for when you want it, and stowable for when you don't.
There were certain features we loved, like fleece-lined pockets. Whether the exterior pockets were lined on one sided or both, fleece pockets are a stand-out feature that attributed to added warmth and comfort on super cold days. Not everyone carries gloves with them at all times; because of this, we found the fleece-lined pockets to be super practical. Fleece also was a theme with collars and cuffs. We loved the fleece-lined torso of the Marmot Montreaux. The nylon cuffs on the Columbia Mighty Lite Hooded Jacket were nice, but they weren't as soft or warm as the fleece-lined cuffs found on Patagonia Tres Down Parka or Helly Hansen Belfast. Double-sided zippers were almost a mandatory requirement on all the winter jackets; we found this especially true with the knee-length parkas. While somewhat restricting, we gained a significant amount of mobility with the double sided zipper (when walking).
The Canada Goose Kensington Parka offers kick-pleats on the back of the jacket for better mobility. Secured by button snaps, we could feel the cold air leaking in and the snaps were noticeably uncomfortable when we were sitting on hard surfaces; we honestly didn't find this feature that useful. Even though both offered a tailored look, the cinched waist on the Kensington Parka was more robust than the waist on the The North Face ThermoBall Hooded Jacket.
Another interesting feature that the Kensington Parka offered was internal carrying straps. We didn't find ourselves utilizing the straps all that often, but for the weight (close to nothing), it's a good option to include - especially if you are living in a mild climate and foresee yourself not wanting to carry or wear the jacket all the time. The Canada Goose Camp can literally fit inside the large interior pocket, creating a soft and cozy travel pillow, while the Patagonia Tres Down Parka offers a 3-in-1 option - the only jacket like it in our review. If you are in the market for a raincoat, a puffy jacket and a winter jacket, the Tres may be the jacket for you!
A durable jacket has the potential to last you multiple seasons. Often times that means having to dish out extra money for better quality construction, but at least you'll know you are getting your monies worth. So what actually makes a jacket durable? To us, durability means that the jacket is able to handle what it is intended to do, plus some, with quality construction that will last for years to come. We tested jackets that had soft, polyester or nylon DWR shells, as well as thick, burly two-layer waterproof fabrics. Obviously, in most cases, the heavy duty waterproof fabric is going to be more durable and will protect against snags and tears more than the DWR shells. If you are someone that plans on adventuring to new levels in their winter jacket, a heavy duty durable coat will be right up your alley.
The equivalent of snow bunny armor, the Canada Goose Kensington is highly durable and attractive and is the only jacket to score a perfect 10 out of 10 in the durability metric. The water-resistant polyester fabric almost feels impenetrable to snags and tears. The lack of stitching on the outer shell helps make this jacket more durable and we feel as though this jacket will last you for years to come. In fact, we'd venture to say it's a solid investment.
We loved the Patagonia Tres Down Parka; however, when we were zipping the outer shell into the down layer, the down kept getting caught in the zipper, and we really had to take our time. There's potential to snag the down on the zipper, compromising the down layer. Fortunately, if you take your time, you can avoid this issue. The two-layer waterproof fabric on the outer shell is what makes this jacket very durable. Patagonia's signature H2No breathable, waterproof, and stretchy fabric seems almost impenetrable and doesn't have much exterior stitching; because of this, we don't see much room for snags occurring. We tested this jacket in the shower and the outer shell did a stand up job repelling water, earning it a near perfect 9 out of 10.
We noticed minimal down feathers escaping from the Patagonia Downtown Parka and the Patagonia Tres Parka's down layer. While we only tested these jackets for two months, we can tell you that if too much down escapes from a jacket, the loft and warmth will start to diminish, potentially affecting your winter investment. If a jacket has a lot of stitching on the outer shell, there is definitely potential for a snag to occur. The Patagonia Tres had a strong, durable outer shell that was ready to withstand anything that we threw at it.
We did notice that it was easier for snags to occur on The North Face Thermoball Hooded Parka. It was a tiny snag, but the Thermoball has tons of exterior stitching. Finicky zippers seem to be a common issue with some of the jackets we tested; for example, the main zipper on the Helly Hansen Long Belfast kept getting stuck in the storm flap, while the Patagonia Downtown Parka's small zippers were getting snagged on the fabric by the exterior pockets. The Helly Hansen Long Belfast is highly durable, despite its finicky zipper. The outer shell is Helly Tech 2- ply waterproof, windproof, and breathable fabric. We found the outer shell to be very durable against snags, due to the lack of exterior stitching. When tested in high winds and heavy rain, we found this jacket comparable to the Patagonia Tres Down Parka in terms of their level of durability.
We hope that we've been able to help you decide what type of winter jacket is the right style and fit for your life. If you're still wavering between a few contenders and need help narrowing 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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