In our on-going 7-year mission to find the best winter jacket for women, we've tested nearly 40 models ranging from faux fur-lined luxury jackets to coats that wrap you in a lofty down cloud. For 2020, we put 18 of the top models side-by-side for comprehensive testing. While looking good is crucial for your around-town winter coat, our team of testers doesn't shy away from dawning these coats for all manner of winter scenarios, from chopping wood to shoveling snow on bluebird days or in the harshest winter conditions. We mixed things up with every combination of layers to figure out the best use for each model and stood out in the rain (or in the shower) to test each jacket's weather resistance.
The Best Winter Jackets for Women
Best Overall Jacket for Women
The North Face Outer Boroughs Parka - Women's
The North Face Outer Boroughs Parka is a classic winter parka that will last you years to come without breaking the bank. Insulated with 550 fill goose down and reaching just above our knee, this parka kept us warm when temperatures hit freezing. Besides being waterproof, windproof and breathable, this jacket is loaded with features. These features are practical as well as stylish. Unlike any other jackets, the Outer Boroughs Parka has internal cuffs that actually turn into mittens. This small, but awesome feature actually came in handy when the weather turned cold or stormy on us. There is a cinched waist on the exterior of the jacket that allowed us to tailor the look of the coat. Despite having six exterior pockets, the Outer Boroughs has a streamlined appearance.
The double-sided zipper is heavy-duty and zips all the way to the bottom of the jacket. The collar is somewhat stiff around the face, but after we wore it for a while it wasn't as bad. The hood isn't detachable, but we didn't mind. The faux fur ruff around the hood is beautiful. The fur is also removable which is great for the weather was very wet.
Read review: The North Face Outer Boroughs Parka
Best Bang for the Buck
Who says winter has to be miserable? Why not look fabulous and stay warm? The Marmot Montreaux kept us looking stylish and incredibly warm all winter long. Insulated with plush Down Defender 700 fill power down, this jacket is thicker and loftier than any other model we tested. We kept comfortable when standing around in 10-degree weather. Treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) coating, the polyester fabric is water-resistant, but not waterproof. It certainly keeps us dry in the snowy conditions it was designed for and effectively blocks harsh winds thanks to its thick down. Besides being incredibly warm, the Montreaux is also very stylish.
Keep in mind that this jacket is not waterproof, only water-resistant. Water initially beads up and rolls off, but the fabric saturates in heavy rain. Unfortunately, wet down doesn't do much to hold warmth. And, if you tend to live an on the go lifestyle — running errands, picking up kids — this jacket's heft and length could get it the way, despite its double zipper. It's not light and can be annoying to cart around. Still, if you're in the market for a knee-length parka with a form-fitting look and sleek faux fur hood, this is the jacket for you.
Read review: Marmot Montreaux
Best Buy on a Budget
Eddie Bauer Women's Sun Valley Down Jacket
Eddie Bauer nailed it with the Sun Valley Down Jacket. It's highly water-resistant, stylish and warm. We are impressed by how well rounded this jacket is at a budget-friendly price. It wins our best buy on a budget award as a result. Insulated with 650 fill down, it kept us toasty on cold morning walks and while running errands around town. This jacket's shorter length is also practical and functional for someone with an active lifestyle, who doesn't want to be held back by a longer jacket. The fabric is only water-resistant, but it holds up surprisingly well in stormy weather, and the outer shell is durable. We didn't notice any feather loss during testing. The removal faux fur hood helps keep our faces warm in windy weather and helps to dress this jacket up for a night out.
The Sun Valley is water-resistant but not waterproof, and it saturates if exposed to rain for very long. This jacket is form-fitting and it runs small. The shoulders are tight and the sleeves are short, exposing our wrist easily. We recommend sizing up, especially if you want more room to fit another layer underneath. The hood is also snug, almost too small. There isn't any room to fit a beanie underneath. Despite not nailing the sizing, we really appreciate this jacket's classic looks, warmth, weather resistance, and price.
Read review: Eddie Bauer Women's Sun Valley Down Jacket
Best for Wet Climates
Patagonia Tres 3-in-1 Parka - Women's
Winter can be messy — sleet, snow, freezing rain, the whole nine yards. If you live in a wet climate, having a waterproof winter jacket is crucial. The Patagonia Tres 3-in-1 is the perfect parka to tackle any weather conditions. Its three layers keep you ready for ever-changing conditions. The outer layer is Patagonia's H2No shell. Waterproof, windproof, and breathable, this layer is a force to be reckoned with. When combined with the 600-fill-power 100% traceable duck down inner jacket, it feels unstoppable. A great standalone option for clear and cold days, the inner down jacket has a DWR coating and is water-resistant. When we combine both layers, we feel more protected in sloppy wet weather than in any other winter jacket we tested.
We loved the Tres Down Parka, but keep in mind that it does tend to run small. The shoulders are tight and restrictive. If you like to wear thick winter sweaters underneath your jacket, you should probably size up. The hood generously sized and we can wear a beanie underneath. That's good because the hood is uninsulated. It does take time to put all the layers together, but it didn't really bother us. The Tres Down Parka is expensive, but you have to consider that you're getting three high-quality jackets for the price of one.
Read review: Patagonia Tres 3-in-1 Parka - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
Liz Williamson, our lead tester, has tested winter jackets in Yosemite and around Lake Tahoe since 2015. She has tested over 100 jackets in some of the harshest conditions of the High Sierra, the Andes and around Patagonia. Her background in design and wildlife management gives her knowledge of the practical needs of outerwear in cold environments as well as the more functional and style considerations of day-to-day use around town. Liz is joined by Clark Tate, a Senior Review Editor of three years at OutdoorGearLab. Clark combines a Masters Degree in Environmental Science with a decade of science writing to build our jacket testing plans and ratings. Clark developed an appreciation for finding the right winter coat over 9 winters in mountain towns ranging from Breckenridge and Durango to Lake Tahoe. Before joining OutdoorGearLab she spent four years as a freelance outdoor recreation and science journalist.
After a dozen hours researching 50 different jackets, we purchased top models for side-by-side tests. We then spent 150 hours wearing jackets in the same manner to get detailed comparative results. This included over 100 miles of hiking and walking as well as hours of side-by-side lab-style tests. We tested these in temps ranging from 50 to -10 degrees Fahrenheit and varying wind conditions.
Analysis and Test Results
We judged these jackets based on their warmth, weather resistance, comfort, style, durability, and value. Remember to consider your climate and what activities you need the jacket for as you read through the metrics. One aspect of a jacket's performance may be far more important to you than others.
An important aspect to consider when choosing a winter jacket is its value, and value goes hand-in-hand with durability. For example, the North Face Outer Boroughs Parka, isn't going to be in the bargain basement, and there's a reason for that. It is exceptionally high quality and will keep you warm for many seasons. The zippers, buttons, luxurious faux fur rough, and cuffs are made to the highest standard, plus it has hidden mittens in the cuffs. There are also well-made jackets built for less extreme environments that cost a lot less and will still last you many a winter. Our Best Buy winner, the Eddie Bauer Sun Valley jacket, offers great performance considering the price. Economic, warm, highly water-resistant and durable, this jacket represents a killer value for a versatile and stylish winter coat. We also like the Marmot Montreaux for its warmth to cost ratio, which earned it a Best Buy award. While it's fabric is not as burly as many options here, it's the warmest jacket in the review and yet costs far less than the most expensive options.
When buying a winter jacket, you really want to know that it's going to be warm enough for your needs. If a jacket has down insulation, its warmth is determined by the down's loft, or fill-power, and its fill-weight. While companies always display their fill-power (higher numbers mean higher quality down and more warmth), they almost never tell you a jacket's fill weight (or how much down is actually in the jacket). A common misconception is that a higher fill power equals a warmer jacket. But it also matters how much of that high quality down is actually in the jacket. Jackets with synthetic insulation can be even harder to gauge by the numbers.
Lucky for you, we tested each of these jackets side-by-side in snow, rain, wind, and frigid temperatures — all in our effort to find out which ones are warmest. We went hiking, braved windy storms, and stood in place for extended periods.
The warmest jacket we tested is the best buy award-winning Marmot Montreaux. Loaded with 700 fill-power down from its hood to its hem, this jacket kept us toasty on some seriously cold days. It performed extraordinarily to trap heat and keep the wind out. Knee-length parkas are our favorite option in super cold weather, particularly the Montreaux. The extra protection makes a difference when it comes to staying warm in frigid weather (10-degrees and below). If you are always cold, or you just like to stay toasty warm, we'd recommend considering a knee-length parka.
The The North Face Outer Boroughs Parka, Kuhl Arktik, Arc'teryx Seyla Down, and Patagonia Down With It Parka are all hot on the Monteaux's heels. The Down With It Parka is incredibly warm thanks to its masses of 600 fill-power recycled down. The Arktik has a different insulation strategy, using less, but higher quality (800 fill), down to achieve comparable warmth.
The Arc'teryx Patera has both down and synthetic insulation. And, while it boasts 750 fill European goose down, it ranks below average in warmth and really only kept us comfortable at temperatures above 25F. This is because the Patera uses Coreloft synthetic fill in high moisture spots like the inner arms, hem, and collar. We could feel the cold air on our arms and shoulders in cold weather. In milder weather, between 35F and 40F, we appreciated the Coreloft synthetic fill while out on a short hike. It helped us cool us off when we started to get hot and sweaty.
Most of the jackets have features that help keep us warm on cold days. Thickly insulated hoods, like those on the The North Face Outer Boroughs Parka and the Marmot Montreaux kept our heads safe in stormy weather. Cuffed sleeves kept our arms cozy, and fleece-lined pockets are lifesavers on truly frigid days.
Winter weather can range from snow, sleet, wind, freezing rain, to just plain old wet rain. It's important to know how you're jacket is going to hold up. If it doesn't, you're not going to stay very warm no matter how much insulation your jacket has. Before buying a winter jacket, consider how much wet weather you're likely to see. If you live in a wet climate like Seattle, having warm and waterproof is important. If cold temperatures and dry snow are your typical winter conditions, a DWR coating should suffice.
All the models we tested offered some level of protection from the elements, from a DWR coated nylon or polyester shell to a full-blown waterproof membrane. To figure out each jacket's weather resistance, we went for walks on snow days, stood in place for an extended period 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 two of the waterproof models we tested, Fjallraven Nuuk Insulated Parka and the Patagonia Tres 3-in-1 Down Parka performed the best in wet weather. Both are truly waterproof, offering bomber protection in wet weather. Others, like the Canda Goose Shelburne feature a combination of burly shell fabric with a DWR treatment. These jackets will keep you protected in a serious snowstorm and will shrug off light rain long enough for you to hightail it inside. The Eddie Bauer Sun Valley is a great budget option in this realm of quality weather protection. The super warm and reasonably priced Montreaux does not fare so well in wet weather. It can only fend off dry snow or light drizzles.
Some competitors we tested had windproof outer shells and hoods like the Canada Goose Shelburne the Arc'teryx Patera and The North Face Outer Boroughs parkas. The durable exterior shells kept us toasty and warm in windy weather, as did the thick down of Patagonia Down With It Parka and the Marmot Montreaux.
The winter jackets we tested deliver varying levels of comfort. Examples of comfort features that contribute to high marks are thick and insulating hoods like those on the Marmot Montreaux and the The North Face Outer Boroughs Parka . Plush down that is warm but unrestrictive was also taken into consideration, like the down found on the Rab Deep Cover Parka.
Most of the most comfortable jackets we reviewed have down insulation with a minimal, flexible shell. They offer mobility and warm in a soft package that always makes us think of a hug. The Canada Goose Camp Hooded earned a perfect score in this metric, providing us with enough heavenly comfort to sail through the winter. The North Face Gotham II Hooded Down Jacket ranks very highly as well. Hitting just below the waist it offers unrivaled mobility with a soft feel and pleasant, down comforter-like weight.
The Marmot Montreaux is also exceptionally comfortable and never felt cloying, despite being insulated with plush down from our head to our knees. (It doesn't hurt also very cozy and warm, which allowed us to be content in the frigid outside elements.) The torso, cuffs, pockets, and collar are also lined with fleece. These subtle features, add a comforting touch.
You may not realize how important a warm hood is until you try on a contender that doesn't have any insulation in the hood at all, like the Patagonia Tres 3-in-1. Our head was noticeably colder in stormy or freezing conditions in this jacket. Smaller hoods can hold warmth more effectively but also restrict movement and your ability to wear a cap. We prefer roomy hoods. Two models with small hoods are the Eddie Bauer Sun Valley and the Kuhl Arktik Down Parka.
Another factor that was important in measuring comfort was mobility. Jackets that run small or are tight on the shoulders aren't as comfortable. They restrict movement and are hard to fit another layer underneath. Alternatively, a jacket that is too loose may be distracting, and not as comfortable as it could and should be. If it's too big for your body, it may not be trapping heat properly. We encourage you to take the time to make sure you are buying a jacket that fits your body type.
Whether you're holiday shopping in New York City on a blustery day or running errands around town in light snow, why be warm and stylish? The models we tested ranged in length, fit and function. Some had a smooth, sleek outer shell like the Arc'teryx Patera Parka, while others had beautiful chevron baffling, like the Marmot Montreaux and the North Face Gotham II.
Everyone has their own preference, but what stood out the most concerning style was a jacket's fit. If your jacket doesn't fit you correctly, chances are you won't like wearing it. That sounds like a waste of money. Some of the jackets we tested are very form-fitting, like the Kuhl Arktik, while others had extra room and had a baggy fit, like the Columbia Heavenly Hooded Long Jacket and the Fjallraven Nuuk Insulated Parka.
The North Face Outer Boroughs Parka features a tailored fit with the addition of snaps to tighten or loosen the waist depending on your style and layering preferences
Unlike other jackets we tested, the Kuhl Arktik Down Parka outer shell is a blend of nylon, polyester, and cotton. It's coated with a water-resistant wax that, along with Italian faux leather trim, added a different style to the parka. It has the appearance of a classic, rugged winter parka. If you are in the market for a unique jacket, check it out.
A durable jacket can last you multiple seasons. Often that means having to dish out extra money for better quality construction, but at least you'll know you are getting your money's worth. So what makes a jacket durable? To us, durability means that the jacket can handle what it is intended to do, and then some, with quality construction that will last for years to come. We tested jackets with soft, polyester or nylon DWR shells, as well as thick, burly two-layer waterproof fabrics. Obviously, the heavy-duty waterproof fabric is often is more durable and will better protect against snags and tears than the DWR shells. If you plan to adventure to new levels in your winter jacket, a heavy-duty durable coat will be right up your alley.
The North Face Outer Boroughs Parka with its minimal exterior stitching and tough nylon shell ensures multiple seasons of warmth and comfort.
We loved the Patagonia Tres Down Parka. But when we were zipping the outer shell into the down layer, the down kept catching in the zipper. We really had to take our time to get it right to avoid 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 invincible. It doesn't have much exterior stitching to snag and unravel either. We tested this jacket in the shower, and the outer shell did a stand-up job repelling water. So much that we don't see it needing a new DWR coat anytime soon.
We noticed a few down feathers escaping from the Patagonia Tres Parka's inner layer, not enough to be concerning. But if you did snag the down layer in the zipper and too much down escapes, the loft and warmth will start to diminish, which will affect your winter investment.
We did notice that jackets with a lot of exterior stitching were more likely to snag. (The Deep Cover Parka has tons of exterior stitching.) Finicky zippers seem to be a common issue with some of the jackets we tested.
The Arc'teryx Patera had a similar zipper problem but seems highly durable otherwise. The outer shell is 2-layer Gore-Tex with DWR treatment and is waterproof, windproof, and breathable. 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, this jacket was comparable to the Patagonia Tres Down Parka regarding their level of durability. The Arc'teryx Seyla Down keep the weight down with its thin shell fabric, but this was a concern when it comes to durability.
One of the most overlooked but crucial features when buying a winter jacket is the hood. A thickly insulated hood makes a huge difference in cold weather. 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 real fur can be controversial and not for everyone. The Canada Goose Shelburne Parka offers an oversized 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?
There are certain winter jacket features we love, like fleece-lined pockets. Whether the exterior pockets are lined on one-sided or both, fleece pockets are a stand-out feature that contributes to added warmth and comfort on super cold days. Not everyone carries gloves with them at all times, because of this, fleece-lined pockets are super practical. Fleece is also a theme on collars and cuffs. We loved the fleece-lined torso of the Marmot Montreaux, and the nylon cuffs on the Rab Deep Cover Parka are also plush and super warm.
Double-sided zippers are almost a mandatory requirement on all the winter jackets. We found this especially true with the knee-length parkas, which can feel restrictive when you're walking. We gained a significant amount of mobility with a double-sided zipper.
The Canada Goose Shelburne parka offers kick-pleats for better mobility. Secured by button snaps, we could feel the cold air leaking in, and the snaps were noticeably uncomfortable when we sat on hard surfaces. Overall we didn't find this feature that useful.
The North Face Outer Boroughs Parka offers a unique feature that we instantly fell in love with; Mittens that are concealed in the cuffs, ready to flip down in case of icy winds, or impromptu snowball fights.
The Patagonia Tres Down Parka and The North Face Arrowood Triclimate offer three jackets in one. While the Tres is a proper winter jacket, the Arrowood is only appropriate for very mild climates. If you are in the market for a raincoat, a puffy jacket, and a winter jacket, the Tres may be the jacket for you!
We hope that we've helped you decide which winter jacket is the right style and fit for your life. There is no one jacket for every occasion, but there are a number of great options for winter application.
— Liz Williamson