OUR GUIDE TO CHOOSING THE PERFECT WINTER JACKET FOR ANY OCCASION AND ANY WEATHER
Winter jackets don’t have it easy. That’s because not only are they expected to keep their owners warm and dry in a wide variety of inclement weather, they’re supposed to look good while doing it, not be too bulky or restrictive, and be tough enough to withstand all sorts of winter fun.
For all these reasons, and maybe a few more, picking the perfect winter jacket requires a bit of thought. But while the jacket market offers a dizzying array of options, it’s really not that hard to narrow it down to one (or maybe two) jackets that are just right for you. And that’s especially true if you take a few minutes to read our handy guide.
It’s probably safe to say that when you think “winter jacket,” the image that pops into your head is from this category. That’s because we tend to assume that the primary function of winter jackets is to keep us warm (this is at least partially true), and nothing keeps us warmer than an insulating jacket.
It’s also probably safe to say that while an insulating jacket might not be the best choice for every outing, it’s going to be the best choice for an awful lot of your outings, and therefore, you should absolutely find a place on your coat rack for one of these.
That said, there are still a few considerations. For one, you’ll need to think about how much insulation you need, which really boils down to two questions:
1. How cold is it likely to be?
2. How active are you likely to be?
In other words, you need a very different jacket for a high-exertion activity (such as cross-country skiing) in relatively warm temperatures, than you do for a low-exertion activity (such as ice fishing) during an arctic blast.
Finally, you’ll need to decide if you prefer synthetic or down insulation. In a nutshell, synthetic generally wins the cost competition, while down is generally lighter, and offers more insulation (and therefore, warmth) at a given weight. Our advice: Go for synthetic when cost is a primary consideration, or when ultimate warmth isn’t necessary. Choose down when ultimate insulating performance in cold conditions is paramount.
One of the huge benefits of modern fabric technologies is the ability for a jacket to shed precipitation while also allowing water vapor (aka “sweat”) to escape. Waterproof-breathable jackets come in many forms, but often take the shape of lightweight, uninsulated or lightly insulated shells that are intended to be paired with a secondary insulative layer when extra warmth is needed (see our post on effective layering for more). As with other jackets intended for active use in changeable conditions, choosing the perfect waterproof-breathable jacket boils down to two primary considerations:
If you’re planning to hit the local cross-country ski trails, or are looking for a jacket to wear while running (or any other high-exertion activity), look for something with plenty of zippered venting, which you’ll likely need once your heart rate climbs and the sweat starts flowing.
If you’re going to be on the move in changeable weather, look for a lighter, more compressible jacket that packs down for easy carry, which will allow you to take it on and off as needed. On the other hand, if it’s raining cats and dogs, and the sky’s as solid as brick, you’ll do well to choose something a bit more robust.
Although materials like wool and other natural fibers lack the technological wizardry of their humanmade counterparts, they’re still an excellent choice, especially when light weight is not a priority. Jackets in this category are generally best for casual nights on the town, or for activities (such as hunting, ice fishing, and firewood stacking) that don’t generally require high levels of exertion.