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The North Face McMurdo Parka III Review

The North Face McMurdo III Parka 2017
Best Buy Award
Price:   $330 List | $297.00 at Amazon
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Warm, long hem
Cons:  Bulky
Bottom line:  A budget-conscious jacket for those in the coldest regions.
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   The North Face
By Jed Porter
Tuesday October 10, 2017

Our Verdict

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 certainly 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.

Product Update
The McMurdo II Parka is now the McMurdo III Parka (pictured above). The changes are mostly stylistic but there are a few accompanying technical upgrades. Check out our comparison in the paragraphs below.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Men's Winter Jackets of 2017

Our Analysis and Test Results

The North Face McMurdo III Parka next to the McMurdo II


Sometimes we change things only to realize they were better before. This is the case for the fabric in the McMurdo III, which is the same used in the original McMurdo. The new DryVent 2L material is slightly heavier and likely more durable than the HyVent 2L fabric used in the McMurdo II. Additionally, the pockets were redesigned. The McMurdo III drops a few ounces and keeps the same low price tag of $350.

See the two models below. The updated version is pictured on the left, alongside its predecessor on the right.
The North Face McMurdo III Parka 2017
The North Face McMurdo II Down Parka

Take a look at a summary of the updates:
  • Updated Material — The McMurdo III has gone back to its roots and traded in the HyVent™ 2L fabric for the DryVent™ 2L, which is both heavier and more durable.
  • Pocket Augmentation — The four pockets on the front of the jacket flaunt a new shape and style.
  • New Back Sleeve Pocket — The back sleeve pocket is a new addition for the McMurdo.
  • Exposed Zippers — The zippered side pockets are no longer protected by a fabric flap.
  • Weight — The weight of the latest McMurdo prototype is 61.7 oz (compared with 67.6 oz).
  • New colors — As is custom with a version update, there plenty of new colors to choose from. A few of our favorites are British Khaki and TNF Red.

While we don't think these augmentations make too much of a difference in performance, we can't say for sure until we hold it up to our strict testing methods. For now, the text below is indicative of the McMurdo II.

Hands-on Review of the McMurdo II Parka


The McMurdo II from The North Face 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 in terms of cost and bulk. Running a close second in terms of 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.

When the weather is truly atrocious  something super-warm like the thick down insulation of The North Face McMurdo is in order.
When the weather is truly atrocious, something super-warm like the thick down insulation of The North Face McMurdo is in order.

Warmth


We evaluated the warmth of all our tested jackets by using them in the coldest temperatures we could find in the Teton region 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 a robust, large, well-sealed behemoth that traps heat into one's vulnerable head. 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.

The fur-trimmed hood of the McMurdo is functional  but a bit tickly.
The fur-trimmed hood of the McMurdo is functional, but a bit tickly.

Weather Resistance


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 at shedding wet weather, check out our Top Pick Arc'teryx Fission SV.


Comfort


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. The mid-weight jackets we tested, like The North Face Gotham II and the other Best Buy Marmot Fordham, are certainly more comfortable, but not nearly as warm. To make the McMurdo 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 jacket this warm to be.

The large  well-filled down tubes inside the McMurdo provide the generous warmth this thing is awarded for.
The large, well-filled down tubes inside the McMurdo provide the generous warmth this thing is awarded for.

Features


The seven pockets in this Best Buy Award Winner are fairly standard in count. The removable hood with removable 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.


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 hand warmer 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 totally dug the unobtrusive and simple utility of the integrated face mask on the McMurdo jacket. This simple layer of fleece greatly enhances weather protection and warmth of the jacket.

A salient attribute of the McMurdo is the integrated neck gaiter. This flap of fabric lives unobtrusively against the hood until you need it. Then  it is indispensable.
A salient attribute of the McMurdo is the integrated neck gaiter. This flap of fabric lives unobtrusively against the hood until you need it. Then, it is indispensable.

Style


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.


Durability


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 the 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 or fellow Best Buy winner Marmot Fordham, the materials and design of the McMurdo will last a long long time.


Best Applications


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.

The long hem keeps you warm  while the separating zipper allows range of movement.
The long hem keeps you warm, while the separating zipper allows range of movement.

Value


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.

The McMurdo has both chest mounted hand warmers  as used here  and waist level ones.
The McMurdo has both chest mounted hand warmers, as used here, and waist level ones.

Conclusion


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.
McMurdo II

Jed Porter
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