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Hands-on Gear Review
The North Face McMurdo Parka III Review
Cons: Bulky, small hood
Bottom line: A budget-conscious jacket for those in the coldest regions.
The North Face McMurdo III is right up there with the warmest of jackets in this review. In fact, the only contender to edge the McMurdo out of the first place warmth-factor position is the Canada Goose Expedition Parka, which is a thousand dollar expedition parka. At one-third the price of the Canada Goose Expedition, this product is an easy Best Buy choice. There are products we reviewed that may be better all around, or better in wet conditions, but there is no better budget insulator. Check out our comprehensive Men's Winter Jacket review for a full breakdown of all the options in the field.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Winter Jackets for Men of 2018
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The North Face McMurdo III is an expedition-weight parka at a reasonable price. For the coldest climates, for sedentary use, the warmest jacket is necessary. The absolute warmest jacket in our test is the Canada Goose Expedition Parka. That comes at a premium regarding cost and bulk. Running a close second regarding warmth is the contender reviewed here. At a third the price of Canada Goose Expedition, and slightly less bulky, it's is a good budget alternative, ringing in at $330. It is for this reason that we grant the McMurdo a Best Buy Award. We also handed a Best Buy Award for an all-around jacket, to the Marmot Fordham. The Fordham is less expensive, less warm, and better suited to day-to-day use by most people, while the McMurdo is the budget choice for the coldest of climates.
In overall scoring, the McMurdo is right near the top with jackets that all cost twice to three times as much. The main attribute that pushes that overall score up so high is the warmth. In achieving such warmth at a low price, the jacket trades some comfort, mobility, and weather protection. For the coldest climates, though, the McMurdo III is a great value and awesome overall choice.
We evaluated the warmth of all our tested jackets by using them in the coldest temperatures we could find in the Teton region, in late autumn New York, and in the high altitudes of California's Sierra. In these testing scenarios, we found a strong correlation to warmth with the type and amount of insulation, the length of the jacket's hem, and the hood and wrist seals. In each of these categories, the McMurdo is strong.
The parka is insulated with plentiful down insulation. Of the three major types we tested (down, synthetic, and pile), down is the warmest. The hem is as long as almost any other jacket in our review. Finally, the hood is good enough to trap heat in one's vulnerable head, though we wish it was larger. The North Face has updated the McMurdo over the years, and we have always dug it. The latest iteration, the third, has a hood that is smaller than the previous. If you don't like the style of the fur trim, you can remove it. However, you then leave your forehead more exposed than you might like. Updated hood notwithstanding, the whole combination makes for a super-warm jacket. Only the Canada Goose Expedition is warmer. The Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Camosun comes close but is twice the cost of the McMurdo.
When we talk about weather resistance, we are primarily talking about rain and wet snow. Rain and wet snow predominate in the relatively warmer winter climates. This jacket is mainly targeted to the coldest of climates and conditions. In that regard, it is important to somewhat discount the importance of weather resistance. It isn't as important that the McMurdo blocks out rain as it does such a good job of blocking the cold. If you want a jacket that is excellent for shedding wet weather, check out our Top Pick Arc'teryx Fission SV.
Even though you won't face much liquid or near-liquid precipitation in the temperatures the McMurdo is designed for, the waterproof shell is appreciated and valuable. It isn't nearly as wet-weather ready as something like the Editors Choice Arc Teryx Camosun or the 3-in-1 Patagonia Windsweep, but it does the job in all but the dampest, most extended wet weather.
We have little to note about the comfort of this winter jacket. Super warm jackets like this will be inherently confining. This contender isn't as bulky and restrictive as the Canada Goose. Other jackets, like the Woolrich Bitter Chill and The North Face Arrowood Triclimate, are certainly more comfortable, but not nearly as warm. To ensure the McMurdo is as warm as it is, there is plentiful insulation. Down insulation is more free moving than synthetic.
A synthetic jacket this warm would be very constricting. Also, the McMurdo is made with a long cut in the hem. This completely covers your behind and upper thighs. A long hemmed jacket can be somewhat confining, but this is mitigated by opening up the front zipper from below. First, the McMurdo's main zipper doesn't even start until about six inches from the hem. You can't zip it tight to the bottom. This is good. Next, the main front zipper can be opened from below, allowing the user to tailor the amount of freedom there. Standing, zip it all the way down for greatest protection. Walking, unzip it a little for freedom of motion. When sitting, zip it even further up and the hem of the jacket hangs to the side of your chair. In short, this award winner is as comfortable as we'd expect a model this warm to be.
The eight pockets in this Best Buy Award Winner are fairly standard in the count. The removable hood with detachable fur is standard on a jacket of this warmth. The cuffs are Velcroed, and the hem can be cinched for greater butt protection. The feature that stands out the most on this contender is the hand warmer pockets. There are two pairs of hand warmer pockets! At your chest is a set of side-entry, zippered pockets lined with fleece and sitting outside the insulation. If they were inside the insulation, they would be even more useful, but your chest would be vulnerable to greater drafts.
The most elegant solution, and one employed in the Arc'teryx Fission SV is to insulate both sides of the hand warmer pockets. Prior and current versions of the McMurdo have had this same dual set of hand warmer pockets. The latest version numbered 3, has chest hand warmer pockets that are still outside the insulation and lined with fleece, but they sit farther from the jacket's center zip. At this height, on a jacket of this bulk, this makes it difficult to get your hands into these pockets. Only those with excellent shoulder mobility will be able to take advantage of this otherwise intelligent addition. Even those that can reach them won't be as comfortable in the chest pockets of this jacket as they would have been in the previous version.
Complementing the chest-high hand warmers on the McMurdo is a pair of waist-high, fleece-lined, uninsulated pockets on the waist. These could be much more easily put inside the insulation, as compared to the chest mounted ones. We dig that there are an unprecedented four handwarmer pockets (we only have two hands… how decadent), but we wish that the hand warmers were insulated all around. In addition to the hand warming pockets, and much like the North Face Gotham II Jacket, we dug the unobtrusive and straightforward utility of the integrated face mask on the McMurdo jacket. This simple layer of fleece dramatically enhances weather protection and warmth.
This winter jacket is a practical piece. The bulk and warmth and length aren't particularly fashionable, but it does the job. The style is not at all offensive, but it isn't sophisticated, either. Something more svelte like the Fjallraven Greenland is certainly a gentler style, while the athletic "puffy jacket" look of the Columbia Gold 650 TurboDown will appeal to some more.
The tested black jacket is bland around mountain towns, but fit right in for our lead tester visiting New York City. Even in the sophisticated fashion climate of the Big Apple, the McMurdo jacket fit right in on the coldest of days.
Down insulation and beefy shell fabric combine in this winter jacket to make for a piece of clothing that should last the user years and years. Like with the classic look of the Patagonia Isthmus, the style will also last, making the warmth relevant for a generation. We had no issues whatsoever with the McMurdo in our short, yet intense testing period. In fact, our initial selection process is thorough enough that we had no issues with durability with any of our tested products. We simply don't test products known for poor performance in any metric. With extensive experience with outdoor clothing, but lacking time to test any one piece of clothing to failure, we can make reasonably accurate generalizations about the integrity of different materials and construction styles. Like our Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Camosun, the materials and design of the McMurdo will last a long, long time.
This is a budget-conscious jacket for those living, traveling, and playing in the coldest climates. Fairbanks, Chicago, and Winnipeg residents alike will appreciate the warmth and understated style.
For a specialized, cold-weather piece that this is, it is an excellent value. The next warmest jacket, the Canada Goose Expedition Parka is many times more expensive; about $700 more expensive. The only jackets less expensive than this contender are far less protective. In this price class, the Marmot Fordham is a close competitor, and is arguably more comfortable. However, the McMurdo is just so much warmer.
We have selected two different Best Buy winners in this review. The Marmot Fordham is our primary pick, with all-around functionality, lasting materials, and a cut that is extremely comfortable, while the McMurdo is more of a specialized choice for the Best Buy Award. It is a budget choice for consumers in cold climates and with lots of need for insulation.
— Jediah Porter
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