A parka is a wintertime essential for much of humankind. Without one, layering enough to stay warm can be a nuisance.
But oh, what a sea of decisions: How thick does it need to be? Do you need the hood to be lined with fur? How do you feel about faux fur? We're still left to ponder pockets, length, and lining. And what on earth does "fill power" mean? While all of the above may or may not be critical decisions, they're all things we have to consider.
A parka is something we hope to invest in for the long haul, and a parka that doesn't last more than a few seasons is, in my humble opinion, not a parka at all.
Let's start with the filling, and what fill power means, exactly. That's how many cubic inches of loft one ounce of a given variety of feather produces. Fill power does not necessarily tell you how warm a parka might be because it doesn't denote how heavily packed the down is inside your coat.
What the fill power of a down does tell you is how well a certain type of down traps air and, in effect, warmth. Precious as it may be, an 800-fill-power down packed lightly and loosely into a jacket might not do nearly as much as a 400-fill-power down stuffed to the edges of each compartment.
So while fill power does dictate something about the quality of a down, what really matters is how densely packed a down is. Another thing to keep in mind, especially for travelers, is that the higher the fill power of a down, the lighter the weight of it by volume, which can result in a lighter jacket overall.
The outer lining of a parka can require a little explanation, too. Why is it that most parkas seem to be made using a waxed combination of cotton and nylon or polyester? This is not a waterproofing solution. For one thing, we don't generally associate parkas with rain. We also tend to be active outside when wearing them. A parka generally needs to be breathable.
Work up even the slightest sweat and a jacket that thick and warm will quickly do the rest of the sweating for you until you're unbearably drenched. That said, we've worn all of the parkas below in a bit of rain and come out dry, but it'd be best to look for something that's fully waterproof if you're headed out into a cold, relentless rain for any prolonged period of time. Also, fur doesn't fare too well in rain, either.
While we're at it, we also have to discuss fur. Yes, it feels wonderful, and there's no denying its beauty. But it comes at a high cost in many, often questionable, regards. It's up to you, and we'll leave it at that. We include both real and faux fur options in our guide.
Length is another big concern both for style and function. While it's stylish to have jackets cropped at the waist or even above the waist, it doesn't necessarily make a whole lot of sense on the functional side of the debate. Still, people on the shorter side often don't want a jacket that comes down to their calves, while taller folks might look like they're walking on stilts with a short hem. We'll leave that to you, but it's certainly something to consider.
Packed full with 700-fill-power down, the Stratus from Triple F.A.T. Goose is an Insider Picks favorite, and several of our writers have deemed it our go-to winter jacket.
Fur fans will also be pleased: You'll get a beautiful trim of coyote fur, which zips away from the hood in case you wish to remove it. The fur also has a wire insert that helps you shape your hood to your head and face so you're not walking around as though you have horse-blinders on.
While fur and down are not the most widely accepted materials on the market, Triple F.A.T. Goose is on the relatively "responsible" side of things when it comes to sourcing down and fur. You can read about the company's fur and down policy here.
If you're in a somewhat milder climate like the maritime, you might still want a parka, but you're going to want to make sure it's equipped for the rain. Triple F.A.T. Goose's Chenega II might be the best option with its three-part waterproofing and 700 fill power down. We also tried the Eldridge, a slightly shorter jacket that's also a tad cheaper at $600, and loved it.
Fjällräven has been around since 1960 when it started with framed backpacks to better distribute weight for hikers. The company has branched out in the years since, and its parkas are some of the warmest around.
During testing this fall, I spent a day wearing the Kyl parka while fishing from a small exposed boat in 30-degree temperatures and high winds. I was wearing nothing but a T-Shirt underneath, and it was toasty as could be.
Still, the Kyl isn't stuffed to the brim with down, and the fill power of the down is of surprisingly low at 500 cuin, especially when ranked with other parkas in this price range, but you can rest assured that it's sustainably sourced.
It's still plenty warm, though, and runs a little large, so if it's not going to keep you warm enough, there's certainly enough room to tuck a medium-weight wool sweater underneath.
There are pockets galore in the Kyl. A large wallet, phone, magazine, and even the occasional breakfast sandwich have all comfortably tucked into mine on my morning subway commute.
Stylistically, the Kyl is up there with the best. It's the kind of parka that flies fashionably in urban and rural settings alike. There's no massive logo or patch, just a subtly-placed leather patch of Fjällräven's iconic Arctic fox on the shoulder.
Fjällräven focuses on sustainability, and the company is working with Stockholm University to save the Arctic fox. It's also one of the few companies that can prove that all of the down used in its parkas is 100% traceable.
The outer lining is made of Fjällräven's signature G-1000 waxed polyester and cotton blend. It's durable, but it is nowhere near waterproof, meaning this is not a good jacket for wet snow or precipitation in above-freezing temps. It eventually soaks through and while you'll stay mostly dry, it will get extremely heavy, and you'll eventually start to collect dew on the inside. You can wax it further to increase the water resistance.
Durability is Fjällräven's winning quality, all in all, though, its outstanding customer service doesn't hurt, either.
If you want the most technical parka adorned with the plushest, most exotic, real fur, then look elsewhere, but if you're seeking something practical and relatively sporty yet fashion-forward enough to pull off in town, this might be your move.
Cons: Not waterproof (only good in a very cold snowstorm), price, low/entry-level fill power, real fur substitution is not available to those who want it
Canada-based Moose Knuckles is a younger company, but an Insider Picks favorite. The company has done a brilliant job of merging outdoorsy functionality with urban sensibility, covering all the weather-ready necessities while still keeping plenty of attention on looks.
While the Sommerset is our favorite, Moose Knuckles' full line covers pretty much everyone. Insider Picks reporter Amir Ismael writes: "Moose Knuckles is known for infusing cold-weather sportswear with luxury. As one of its original designs, the Ballistic Bomber is becoming a staple among fashion lovers in need of a fully capable jacket."
This is a true cold-weather jacket. The outer lining is a cotton/nylon blend, and cotton just doesn't do well wet. And while the hood is detachable, the fox fur trim is not, and you really don't want to get that wet.
The fill power of the down comes in at 650 for the Sommerset, the jacket isn't exactly packed with the stuff, and you might find yourself in a bit of a chill if you don't make sure to wear something moderately substantial underneath.
Moose Knuckles claims to use only Saga-Certified furs, and those interested can read its fur policy and other product information here.
At the time of publishing, the Sommerset Parka is only available through Neiman Marcus, but we're hoping it'll be back in stock soon. Also, be wary of purchasing Moose Knuckles' clothing and apparel on Amazon as many reviews there suggest fraud.
We're impressed by Everlane and its innovations with recycled plastic, which resulted in the ReNew collection of parkas, sweaters, and more. The parka from the collection is made entirely from recycled plastics, including 55 used water bottles. The only parts that aren't made from recycled plastic are the trim and zipper, but Everlane says its working on those.
The water-resistant outer shell is Bluesign-approved, meaning it's made with the safety of the environment and the shopper in mind, using non-toxic dyes and finishes. Bluesign is the same standard to which Patagonia and several other outdoor brands adhere.
The insulation is 100% recycled PrimaLoft, which is an almost biodegradable material that isn't quite as warm as waterfowl down, but it's rated for 10 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It will do the trick in most places so long as you incorporate a bit of layering.
The Everlane ReNew parka uses a fairly spartan design that is still very stylish. It's got two patch pockets, two fleece-lined handwarmer pockets behind them, and an interior chest pocket, so you have just enough to store what you need to.
We tested the ReNew parka and loved it. Not only is it relatively affordable and ecofriendly, it's also stylish and warm enough for most people's needs. Like all Everlane products, the design is deceptively simple, but very well thought out and stylish. From the bill on the hood that shields your face to the fleece-lined hand warmers, this is a great parka. It's also ideal for shorter men who prefer shorter parkas.
Good Housekeeping is an enthusiastic fan of the ReNew parka, and those purchasing them don't seem to be returning them. There's a waitlist of tens of thousands for them, after all. Which leads us to the only real issue with these spectacularly affordable coats: They seem to be out of stock often, and the long version is currently unavailable in Everlane's men's section, so you'll have to grab one when you can. Last we checked, the short version is still in stock.
No, you won't get that fox or coyote fur trim, but if it's not real fur you're after, it's hard to make a case against L.L. Bean's Baxter State Parka. It's loaded with pockets, windproof and waterproof, and warm as anything.
L.L.Bean tests its parkas in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, which might not be the harshest or coldest place on earth, but for most anyone's intents and purposes, we can suffice it to say that it'll stand up to the elements and a good deal of wear and tear.
With seven exterior pockets and three on the interior, you'll have no problem fitting everything you need on your a person for your daily slump across town to the office or your intrepid wintertime trek up a mountain. Good luck finding everything again, though.
The hood comes with a wire insert that allows you to shape it around your head, which we like a lot, though that's subjective. You can also just zip the faux fur ruff away and forget about it altogether. We tried the Maine Mountain Parka, which is similar, but currently sold out, and we were very impressed with the quality.
Like many of L.L.Bean's products these days, the Baxter State Parka is made overseas, and the company does not let on where, exactly, on the product page, leaving us a little concerned about the amount of social responsibility the company takes on abroad. Also, this is a fairly high-quality jacket for the price, which also suggests they may be cutting some corners, though we can't say for sure. You can read L.L. Bean's policies on sustainability here.
In all, this is a very popular coat for very good reason. There are almost 900 reviews of the Baxter State Parka on L.L.Bean's site, and they're largely enthusiastic, rounding out to 4.4/5 stars. And while it's a little old, Outside's Gear Guy section recommended this very parka in 2007, and we're pretty sure it hasn't changed all that much since then anyhow.
Sustainability and ethics around down and fur are murky, if not mucky, particularly depending on how you feel about things.
Down is slightly more clearcut and traceable: Many of the brands in our guide, including Fjällräven and Triple F.A.T. Goose, put their down through rigorous testing to identify whether or not the down was plucked from live animals or not.
Triple F.A.T. Goose puts its down through the IDFL (International Down and Feather Testing Laboratory), while brands like L.L.Bean meet the Responsible Down Standard (RDS). The IDFL performs an actual set of tests, while the RDS is merely a matter of vague compliance.
There's a host of these different standards and labs, and while the differences seem marginal, it's difficult, if not near impossible, to make heads or tails of much of them.
Fur, whether it's "ethically sourced" or not, tends to be the byproduct of age-old trapping methods. Many brands make sure to list compliance and cooperation with game trapping laws and standards set forth by the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS) in Canada and the Best Management Practices (BMP) standards in the United States, but the fact of the matter is that trapping is still trapping, and many if not most animals are killed solely for their hide. Further, links to the various standards and agreements often lead to invalid pages or domains.
Whether it's a fox, coyote, or some other unfortunate woodland creature, they're snared or trapped and stuck there until they freeze to death or a trapper comes along and puts them out of their misery. Whichever comes first. Yes, this is grim, but people still like fur, and that's also why we've included faux fur and fur-free options in our guide.
Puffer jackets provide warmth without weighing you down, making them perfect for layering in extreme cold or for use as your only jacket on milder days. These compressible, packable jackets can tuck away into a bag, or in some cases, even a pocket, so they're ideal for travel or trekking.
A good winter coat will keep you warm and dry even when the snow is falling and the wind is howling. A great winter coat will keep you warm, dry, and looking good, too.
The word "beanie" is kind of one of those catch-alls that encompasses a ton of different styles, from slouchy cuts to ultra-fitted ones with a variety of embellishments and fabric variations. The sheer number of options is overwhelming. After all, when you can buy a beanie anywhere, how do you narrow it down?
You could do a ton of research on the topic. Or you can read on for our top five favorite picks for men and women from around the Internet.
Your choice of scarf can make or break your comfort level in the wintertime. Opt for one that's wooly and warm and you'll be toasty. Choose a too-thin fabric and you, well, won't. Scarves are also a great opportunity to infuse a bit of personality into your winter wardrobe. And when you get bored of your outerwear, you can always pick a new scarf to mix things up.
These five brands are your best bet for warm, attractive options that will keep you cozy all winter long.
A good pair of thermal gloves can make all the difference on a cold winter day. We did the research to find the best thermal gloves you can buy to keep your hands nice and toasty for the rest of this winter and for many more winters to come.
Your body loses a significant portion of its heat through your head, so keep yourself warm this winter with a great winter hat.
The winter hat makers we're featuring today offer hats in myriad styles, so once you've narrowed down the type of winter cap you need, you should be able to find several fine options from each brand.
Mittens keep your hands warmer than gloves, so if it's cold where you live, work, or play, slip a pair on and keep the chill out.
100% Cotton French Terry Fabric
Yes, you will lose a measure of dexterity when choosing mittens versus gloves. But you won't risk losing a finger to frostbite, or simple suffering from frigid digits, to be a bit less dramatic. Today we've lined up some of the best mittens on the market, including mittens for babies, kids, adults, and some specialty pairs, too.
Make the most of that winter wonderland this year by keeping yourself warm and dry with well-made snow pants when you're skiing, sledding, or generally romping about in the snow.
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