Owning a proper winter jacket is crucial no matter where you live. Whether you're looking to just survive winter, or perhaps even enjoy it, selecting the right jacket is the first step. The climate and environment that you spend your time in, as well as your intended uses, play a significant role in deciding on the best winter jacket for your needs. A casual knee-length parka with thick down and nylon fabric may be great for keeping you warm, but if you live in a wet climate like the Pacific NW, it's probably not the best option. Similarly, the coat that is going to keep you warm and dry in below 0 degree Fahrenheit weather is probably not the best option for someone looking for a technical layer for ski touring or ice climbing.
In this article, we'll break down all the different features and construction details to consider when purchasing a winter jacket. For this review, we've chosen to focus our women's winter jacket review on casual parkas manufactured by some of the leading outdoor apparel manufacturers. These models are all designed to keep you warm in cold weather while stationary. If you are looking for technical layers to wear during active winter pursuits, have a look at our Women's Down Jacket, Women's Insulated Jacket and Women's Softshell Jacket reviews. We also have a specific Women's Ski Jacket review if you are looking for something to hit the slopes in, and you can read our full Women's Winter Jacket review to see how the different models we tested fared in our side-by-side comparison process.
The climate and environment you live in should be the number one determining factor when buying a winter jacket. Having a stylin' jacket is important, we know, and luckily this year we tested jackets that had a durable shell and stylish look. Some are designed to be only water "resistant", while others are completely waterproof. The ability to completely (or only partially) seal out water largely depends on the type of shell used, either light nylon or polyester materials with DWR coatings, or two-layer membranes.DWR coatings
DWR (durable water repellent) coatings are commonly used on fabrics as a finish to make them water-resistant. A DWR coating repels light rain and snow, but it isn't fully waterproof. Nylon and polyester fabrics have a low absorbency rate, and when treated with a DWR, water will typically bead up on the outside of the fabric and roll off. While a DWR treatment can help extend your time out in the elements, they are not fully waterproof and will eventually saturate through. DWR coatings wear off over time, and once that occurs, you can buy aftermarket treatments that you can reapply at home, like ReviveX Durable Waterproofing or Nikwax.All of the models that we tested in this review had some DWR coating applied by the manufacturer. This is an advantage to buying one manufactured by an outdoor apparel company; they understand that a winter jacket needs to be able to protect you from wet weather, and they have the technical expertise and materials to do so. While you might really like the look and style of a long "puffy" down parka, like the Patagonia Down With It Parka or The North Face Metropolis Parka II, if you live in a wet winter climate, then you should consider a model with a hard-sided shell that is actually waterproof, not just water resistant. The Patagonia Tres Down wins our Top Pick for Wet Weather.
A waterproof jacket consists of several different layers. The exterior layer is a waterproof fabric that is laminated to an inner breathable membrane. The "breathable" membranes contain millions of pores per cubic inch, and they allow your water vapor to pass through the shell — hence the "breathability." The exterior layer is also coated with a DWR (durable water repellent) coating, as it can't breathe your water vapor if it is saturated with rain. Some fabrics will have an inner mesh or taffeta layer, and there are many variations in construction.These highly technical fabrics, like Gore-Tex, The North Face's "HyVent," and Patagonia's "H2No," were designed with active pursuits in the mountains in mind, but also work well in any wet weather situation. When used on a casual winter jacket, they bring a fantastic layer of protection to your everyday use. An MM rating designates the waterproofness of the material. MM refers to how many millimeters of water a jacket can withstand in 24 hours before becoming saturated. A rating of 10,000 MM is perfect for light rain or snow. Our Top Pick for Wet climates, the Patagonia Tres Down Parka, is rated to 20,000 MM.
Down insulation comes from ducks and geese. It's the fluffy plumage that grows underneath their outer feathers and helps insulate them. And in case you didn't know, here's the sad news; harvesting down usually involves the death of the bird. In most situations, down comes from birds that are raised for their meat. You can see our Sourcing Ethics discussion below for more information on this topic. The quality and loft of the down are measured by how many cubic inches one ounce of down fills, or the fill-power. So, one ounce of 600-fill-power down takes up 600 cubic inches when compressed by a set weight, and 900-fill-power takes up 900 cubic inches.
Down keeps you warm by trapping air that you've warmed up against your skin. The more space that the down takes up, the more air it can trap, and the warmer you stay. So, one ounce of 900-fill-power down will keep you warmer than the same weight of a lower fill-power. Don't only buy a jacket based on that, unless you know that what you want; 900-fill-power down is very expensive and not necessarily needed for a casual winter coat. The other consideration with down is the fill-weight or total amount of down in the jacket. If you have twice as much 600-fill-power down as 900, the 600 coat will be warmer because there is more down overall. The down models in this review ranged from 550-fill-power to 700-fill-power. Down insulation has a high warmth-to-weight ratio; lightweight and highly compressible, it is an excellent choice for cold climates.Pros: High warmth-to-weight ratio, compressible, lightweight, long lasting with the proper care.
Cons: Loft and warmth jeopardized when wet, hard to clean, expensive.
Synthetic insulation is made from synthetic materials, like polyester threading and fibers that mimic the structure of down. The fibers trap your warm air just like down does, and won't clump up or lose loft when it gets wet, unlike down insulation. Synthetic insulation is typically less expensive than down, but also heavier and not as warm for its weight. It's sometimes a better choice depending on what you intend to use it for, because of its ability to help you maintain warmth (even when wet) and dry out quickly as well. If you've ever washed a down jacket or sleeping bag, you know there is no way to get the loft back without popping it into the drier with a couple of tennis balls for an hour or so, but synthetic insulation dries easier and faster (though the tennis ball trick can help, too). Synthetic insulation is a great option for wet climates, people on a budget, or if you don't live in a particularly cold climate and only need a bit of extra warmth in your winter jacket.
Pros: Water-resistant, less expensive, still provides some warmth if wet.
Cons: Heavier than down for same warmth, less compressible, loses loft over time.
An important part of a winter jacket is the hood. Not only does it help protect you in stormy weather, but it also provides extra warmth on frigid days. Not everyone likes or needs a hood, though, which is why it's great that some models have removable ones, like The North Face Metropolis Parka II. Some have hoods that don't come off at all.
A lot of the models that we tested had fur ruffs around the hood, either faux or in the case of the Canada Goose Shelburne Parka or the Canada Goose Kensington Parka, real coyote fur. A fur ruff, besides offering a stylish touch to a parka, can provide an extra level of protection in windy or stormy conditions. Real fur can help trap heat around your face and protect from frostbite, which is why you see them on polar expedition parkas; however, for most people in the lower 48, this is probably not a huge concern. The ruffs are usually removable, so if you love a particular design but not the fur, you can always take it off. Note that not all faux fur ruffs are created equal. Some are loftier than others, like the North Face Arctic Parka II, which is fuller than the Legendary Whitetails Anchorage Parka. If you are looking for a soft fur ruff, the Marmot Montreaux and the Canada Goose jackets take the cake.
Insulation is a key component of warmth. We could feel the difference in hoods that were lined with plush down or fleece, such as the Marmot Montreaux or the Canada Goose Kensington Parka, than those that weren't, like the Patagonia Tres Down Parka. If you anticipate wearing your coat in stormy or very cold conditions, you'll want to make sure the hood is properly insulated. In our review, we also took note of how much space each hood has, in case you want to be able to wear a beanie underneath it.
There are many different features available in a winter jacket, and every year there seem to be new ones. Some features you can find on most winter jackets, like fleece-lined pockets and removable hoods to higher quality insulation and waterproof outer shells. One of our favorite features this year were nylon cuffs with thumb holes on the Rab Deep Cover Parka and the Columbia Heavenly Hooded Long Jacket. There are even unique features like internal carrying straps and adjustable cinched waist. These functional features can be critical to making our time outside in winter more enjoyable. We'll break "down" what features we loved and what ones we found so-so. Read on to find out more!
We are on our cell phones a good amount of the day, and it's near impossible to use your phone with (most) gloves on. What we loved about all the women's winter jackets that we tested was is that they almost all had at least one side of the pockets lined with fleece, the exception being the Legendary Whitetails Anchorage Parka. We didn't realize how it important it was to have pockets lined with fleece until we were outside in freezing weather without gloves on. Small details like fleece-lined pockets made a big difference in warming our hands up quickly, so definitely look for this feature on your next coat. They are also more comfortable than unlined pockets. Something else to consider is the amount of insulation between the front of the pockets and the outside of the coat. The North Face Arctic Parka II was warm, but when we had our hands in the pockets, the lack of insulation in the front of the pockets was noticeable.
Besides warmth and comfort, pockets protect your valuables. No one wants to lose their keys or brand new smartphone in a snowbank, so pockets with zippers are preferred. One thing to consider though is the durability and size of the zipper. The Legendary Whitetails Anchorage Parka has seven exterior pockets, but the most important ones (at our waist) are awkwardly shaped and don't have a zipper to secure valuables. Be sure to check out the structure of the pockets and size of the zippers when buying your next coat, even assessing if you can manipulate the pull tabs with gloves on or not.
A two-way zipper should almost be mandatory on all knee-length parkas. By nature, long jackets are harder to move around in than a mid-thigh or hip-length coat. All of the different models we tested came with a two-way zipper, except the down layer of the Patagonia Tres Down Parka (since it is designed to zip into the outer shell). We always come across some finicky zippers while testing. Two-way zippers are great, but it's a shame when they are difficult to zip up. The Arc'teryx Darrah is a great coat, but the zipper is extremely finicky and has to be lined up perfectly for it to work.
Cuffs are great for trapping heat in and keeping precipitation out. The cuffs on the different models we tested included fleece, knit, elastic and nylon and some had addition snap or Velcro closures. Each kind of cuff had something to offer. The fleece cuffs on the Marmot Montreaux were soft and warm, but in wet conditions, their warmth and comfort were compromised. Knitted cuffs were warmer and more durable than fleece, and the ones on the Columbia Heavenly Long Hooded Jacket were great because their thumb holes and stayed in place the best and didn't allow any room for precipitation to enter or heat to escape. The Patagonia Down With It Parka lacked cuffs, and we noticed it!
If you live in a climate that gets a lot of rain, or you need to clear mounds of snow away from your car every day, you'll want a coat that has adjustable exterior cuffs on the sleeves, like the snaps on the Canada Goose Kensington Parka or the Canada Goose Shelburne Parka. This feature lets you lock the cuffs down around your wrists or gloves, providing an extra layer of protection against the elements.
Warmth & Climate
A winter jacket's most vital function is to keep you warm, whether you're standing outside at the bus stop or shoveling the driveway in a snowstorm. While each parka did a good job at keeping us warm, it's important to look at the climate and environment you live in because some options make more sense than others. While it can be tempting to buy the latest, greatest, warmest model on the market, not everyone needs a coat that can withstand below 0 degrees Fahrenheit weather.
Moreover, most manufacturers don't even rate their jackets for temperature like they do a sleeping bag (except for Canada Goose which gives a temperature rating on all of their coats), so it can be hard even to know how warm a jacket will keep you. Check out our Warmth column on our rating chart to get a sense of which ones were warmer than others, and don't shy away from some of the least warm jackets if you don't experience frigid winters. You can always throw an extra layer on underneath on freezing days, but can't take some extra down out on mild ones. Less insulation can often make for a more versatile coat.
It's refreshing to see that so many customers are concerned with the eco-friendliness of the products they buy. There are numerous products on the market that are reusing old, discarded items to make something new and using recycled materials. So this brings to light the critical question: Where do all the elements come from? And what about the materials that come from animals?
Many consumers choose not to buy products that use real fur because they don't want an animal to die for them to have a jacket, but in most cases, down-filled products also require the death of an animal to produce it. Recently, it's great to see companies paying attention to where their down comes from and how it is produced. Patagonia has redesigned all of their down products to now use traceable down, which they claim is third-party-verified, not live-plucked, and comes from animals that are never force-fed. This resulted in a reduction in quality for all of the down used in their products, but we applaud the increase in concern about the footprint the company is leaving on the globe.
Canada Goose also does not agree with live-plucking geese, so they have partnered with a supplier that shares this value: Feather Industries Canada Limited. Feather Industries was founded as a division of Canada Packers, a food distributor, and all down is harvested from animals raised for meat. No birds are raised and then killed for the sole purpose of down production. Canada Goose also uses real coyote fur to line the hoods of their jackets because it protects faces better than faux fur. They have chosen coyote fur specifically because these animals are not endangered and are in fact plentiful in North America. The company states that it only purchases fur from certified Canadian trappers who comply with humane trapping methods.
Arc'teryx also values ethically sourcing down. They disclose their down supplier, Allied Feather, and Down, which gets the feathers from small European farms that have the same standards as Patagonia: no-force feeding and no live-plucking. The North Face also uses RDS (Responsible Down Standards) in partnership with Textile Exchange and doesn't believe in the unnecessary harm, such as force-feeding or live-plucking. It's heartwarming to see that so many manufacturers are considering the impact they are making on the world with their products, and they are aiming to do it right. Like it or not, times are changing, and it's our turn as consumers to follow suit with our purchases.