Updated November 2017
In many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, you don't need an HBO subscription to know that Winter is Coming. To help you stay ahead of the chill, we're keeping watch on product developments in this category. Some products received updates since our hands-on review of this category. Our Best Buy winner, the McMurdo II, is now the McMurdo III, and the Top Pick-earning Fission SV drops some weight, changes its fabric, and adds an internal drop-in pocket in its latest iteration. To help you know exactly what you're getting into, we updated the individual reviews with detailed comparisons of the model we reviewed and its updated version. We've had some weeks now to test the latest jackets, including a selection of not-yet-reviewed products. Stay tuned for ongoing updates and for the addition of all new products in the coming weeks.
The Best Overall
Arc'teryx Camosun Parka
Great protection from inclement weather
Beating out the competition in 2017 is the Arc'teryx Camosun Parka
. In all winter conditions, from hard sleet to snow to assaulting winds to bitter cold, this model keeps you well-protected. Its stylish looks are ready for chilly jaunts around town, too. With this model, you'll look good no matter what harsh weather conditions you find yourself in. The Arc'teryx
designers employed high-quality goose down in critical areas where warmth is paramount, and strategically placed synthetic fiber insulation where higher than average moisture exposure is expected, such as on the hood, shoulders, and cuffs. It wasn't the absolute warmest and doesn't qualify as formal attire, but the overall reliable performance of the Camosun
in all of our test metrics that it became the model we reached for the most.
Read review: Arc'teryx Camosun Parka
Best Bang for the Buck, Overall
Not our wet-weather favorite
Low in price yet high quality in construction and materials, the Marmot Fordham
earns a Best Buy Award. It delivers a fashionable coat that keeps you warm and dry using a waterproof exterior insulated with goose down. The Fordham
has some features that impressed us for such an inexpensive jacket, like a comfortable cut and an abundance of pockets. It's available in a range of colors so you can decide what suits you best. Comfy and cozy, the Marmot Fordham
gets you through the winter and last you for a long time at a reasonable cost. At a modest price of $200, the Marmot Fordham Vest
may make for an excellent layering piece.
Read review: Marmot Fordham
Best Bang for the Buck, Coldest Conditions
The North Face McMurdo Parka III
If your winters aren't "normal," your jacket needs to be above average, too. We can't all afford the $1000 Top Pick for Extreme Cold, the Canada Goose Expedition Parka
, but the price of McMurdo
is reasonable. At a third of the cost of the Canada Goose
, but almost as warm, this is a natural choice for a second Best Buy Award. For northerly latitudes, and the coldest days, the McMurdo's
down insulation, long cut, and generous hood combine to protect in day-to-day life; all under a competitive price tag. This latest review is based on the latest, greatest, and subtly changed McMurdo III. For a few weeks already we've had the most recent McMurdo out and about in the cold and raw of late autumn New York. We've found that the latest iteration makes improvements that have their pros and cons but don't change the overall scoring and award ranking.
Read review: The North Face McMurdo III
Top Pick for Extreme Cold
Canada Goose Expedition Parka
Brings the heat!
Overkill for some climates
High price tag
While bitter cold, feet of snow, and icy sidewalks may not describe winter for some, for those living in the northern latitudes in the Midwest, East Coast and Alaska, there is a need for a winter-specific jacket that protects you from prolonged sub-freezing temperatures. Enter the Canada Goose Expedition Parka
. This parka is the pinnacle of warmth, has abundant features, and is the coziest jacket reviewed. All these traits come at a cost though, and besides being the bulkiest and heaviest parka reviewed, it is also the most expensive. This is a parka for the specific needs of the coldest weather, designed with Arctic and Antarctic applications in mind. On that note, a special Polar Bears International (PBI) edition is available called the Canada Goose PBI Expedition Parka
. This jacket comes in a special royal blue color, has a polar bear patch on the shoulder and is an extra $50. A portion of the sales goes to PBI and their mission of saving the polar bears and their habitats.
Read review: Canada Goose Expedition Parka
Top Pick for Wet and Dreary Weather
Arcteryx Fission SV
Stellar in soggy, cold conditions
Keeps hands warm
Synthetic insulation lacks durability
Extreme weather isn't just the lowest temperatures. Sometimes it's bone-chilling rain and sleet. In shoulder seasons and moderate latitudes, this version of winter is all too familiar. We want to remember the crisp cold, but it is the drearier days that often dominate in specific locales. For those conditions, the waterproof shell, bomber design and seals, and synthetic insulation of the Arc'teryx Fission SV
is just the ticket. There are warmer jackets in our review, but there are none as well-suited to cold, wet weather.
Read review: Arc'teryx Fission SV
Analysis and Test Results
The above table details the Overall Performance score of each winter jacket reviewed. Read on for specifics on each metric that helped comprise this overall score.
We tested these jackets in winter conditions and then rated them on the following criteria: warmth, weather resistance, comfort, features, style, and durability.
Warmth is the most important metric we used to rank these winter jackets. Warmth is determined by the amount of insulation, no matter if it is down or synthetic insulation. The more insulation a jacket contains, the more loft it provides. We looked at the fill weight to determine how much insulation each winter jacket had, and then compared that weight to the cut and length to see how that insulation was distributed. If we have two jackets with an equal fill weight of 10 ounces, but one has a waist-length hem while the other has a mid-thigh length hem, these two jackets are not equally warm.
As we discuss more in our Buying Advice
article, the higher the down's fill power number, the higher the quality of the down feathers. This translates into lighter down and more compression. The amount
of insulation, not the quality
, is what determines a jacket's warmth. The Rab Neutrino Endurance
features high quality, 800-fill down to keep the weight down and packable size small. The rest of the down insulated parkas feature down below 750 all the way down to 550-fill for The North Face Gotham III Jacket
This number should not dissuade shoppers, though, as the casual parka can get away with using a heavier down product than a technical parka that you might be carrying in your backpack with you. The Canada Goose Expedition Parka
has an average quality 625-fill down, but it has so much that it was the warmest model reviewed. The Patagonia Tres 3-in-1 Parka
also kept us warm, as did the Arc'teryx Camosun Parka
. Competing with the warmest jackets in our review, the Mountain Hardwear Therminator
deserves mention. It is the warmest synthetic insulated piece reviewed. After the Canada Goose
jacket, the next warmest earned a Best Buy award. The North Face McMurdo
is nearly an expedition parka, with the price tag of a casual jacket. This lattermost model is the best value in our test and turns heads with its significant warmth and low price tag.
On the whole, except for the Mountain Hardwear
version, the synthetically insulated models tested were not as warm as the down models. The Arc'teryx Fission SV
and Helly Hansen Dubliner
were less warm than the down models reviewed. This is likely due to less insulation in the garments overall rather than a fault of the synthetic fibers, though it did reinforce the idea for us that if you are looking for warmth, opt for down. Some parkas reviewed feature a combination of down and synthetic insulation.
The Editors' Choice winning Arc'teryx Camosun
uses a synthetic material in areas exposed to moisture, such as the shoulders and hood, and down in the core. The Columbia Gold 650 TurboDown Hooded
Jacket contains a mixture of 550-fill down and an additional 100 grams of synthetic fiber. Columbia used its proprietary OmniHeat fabric to line the inside of the parka, which gives it an emergency blanket feel. This material may add warmth without much weight, but we have not independently tested it. We do feel as though the TurboDown Jacket
was warmer than other, similar thickness jackets, in a given temperature range.
Our Editors' Choice winner, Arc'teryx Camosun Parka, is very warm despite its slim appearance, thanks to body-mapped down and synthetic insulation.
Finally, regarding warmth, the pile insulated jackets are the least insulating products reviewed. Well-suited to more moderate climates, the Patagonia Isthmus
and Fjallraven Greenland
are durable and stylish, insulated with synthetic fleece, that just don't stack up to the rest of the field regarding warmth.
Since all of the parkas feature insulation, and 8 out of 13 use at least some down fill, we need a weather-resistant outer fabric to protect ourselves from winter weather and also to protect the insulation from becoming wet. All of the parkas have some resistant fabric, from basic durable water resistant (DWR) coated nylon to a fully waterproof membrane with taped seams, but they have a wide degree of resistance to soaking through, depending on the weather.
No matter if you choose a DWR treated material or a layered shell like Gore-Tex, proper care is essential for it to stay waterproof. Use of detergents strip the waterproof treatment from the fabric, so go for a DWR or Gore-Tex specific cleaner, then a wash-in or spray-on waterproofing to restore your winter jacket's weather resistance.
If you live in a low elevation or low latitude area where the winter precipitation tends to fall as rain rather than snow, look at a parka with a waterproof outer shell, such as the Patagonia Tres
with its H2NO fabric, or the Arc'teryx Fission SV
that uses Gore-Tex. These waterproof/breathable materials shed water faster and for a longer duration than a typical DWR treatment. But, if you wear your jacket in lower temperatures where it tends to snow, then the parkas with DWR treatments such as the Canada Goose Expedition Parka
, or the Rab Neutrino Endurance
are more than adequately protected. Similarly, the McMurdo III
jacket from The North Face excels in truly sub-freezing conditions. In those temperatures, the precipitation will remain in its solid form, and the compromised weather protection won't be a problem. With these lattermost, deep freeze specialists, the compromise in weather protection comes at the seams. The seams of the McMurdo are not sealed or taped like those on either Arc Teryx jackets, for instance.
The Rab Neutrino Endurance, and other DWR coated parkas, shed water well, though not as well as two- and three-layer membranes.
Special mention must be made here of the shell fabric of the Fjallraven Greenland
jacket. The cotton/poly blend is a traditional shell material that requires more maintenance than the nylon shell materials on the other jackets. Fjallraven sells a unique "Greenland Wax" that is used to treat the fabric for water resistance and durability. Modulate the amount of treatment applied in the interest of tailoring your protection.
The Rab Neutrino Endurance
uses hydrophobic, coated down feathers, which will not save the jacket from soaking through in the event of a downpour, but can add a bit more latitude in going out in wetter weather. In our "real world" experience, this hydrophobic down helps but does not adequately simulate the weather protection and wetness forgiveness of synthetic insulated clothing.
Even though a jacket might claim to be waterproof, make sure that the seams are fully taped. Why? When a shell jacket is put together, it is stitched through (or in some cases welded together using high-frequency microwave technology). This stitching leaves small holes in the fabric, and if they are not taped, they become an easy entry for moisture.
Wintertime is uncomfortable enough for many, so don't put on an uncomfortable winter parka, too. Most of the models reviewed have added in extra ways to make braving the cold and wind more forgiving.
Fleece lining on the inside of the pockets and where the chin flap meets the face add coziness to the parka. The North Face Gotham
parkas, as well as Helly Hansen Dubliner Parka
and the Canada Goose Expedition
include a fur (or faux fur) hood trim. When cinched tight it makes you feel like you are at home in front of the fire. The cut of the parka also keeps comfort in mind. A meticulously designed jacket like the Arc'teryx Camosun Parka
is going to fit your body better than some of the other square-cut designs, and the longer hem, which many of these parkas use, keeps the waist from riding up and exposing you to drafts.
The more comfortable parkas reviewed, like the Arc'teryx Camosun
, also have elastic rib knit cuffs, which seal out drafts and snow the best. In assessing the comfort of various products, we found a general correlation between cost and comfort. More expensive jackets use softer materials and tailored to achieve maximum comfort. A notable exception, however, is our Best Buy Marmot Fordham
. At a bargain price, every tester who tried on the Fordham
was impressed to find its initial comfort to exceed that of the competition.
The integrated stretchy liner that is sewn to the sleeve on the Camosun prevents any air or moisture from sneaking inside. This feature greatly adds to the comfort of this jacket.
It is the addition of winter-specific features that have already set the jackets in this review apart from the rest. Features such as a hood, multiple hand pockets, two-way zippers, and thought out cuff closures are important attributes of a good winter jacket. A hood is mandatory during nasty winter weather, and while it is not a substitute for a warm hat, a hood makes life a lot nicer.
Only the non-hooded version of the Columbia Turbo Down
(we have, over the years, tested both hooded and non-hooded versions) does not come with any hood, meaning that a warm hat is necessary. Additional hood adjustments to get a customizable and secure fit are essential for a well-rounded parka. The best hood in our test is on the chart-topping Canada Goose
. The hood is warm - it's also large, but can be cinched down securely and comfortably, and the stiffness of the brim keeps it all but out of your view. The hood of the updated Best Buy winning McMurdo III
is smaller than previous versions. This is unfortunate, as the latest hood is little enough that warmth and weather protection suffers. If you leave the removable fur ruff on and don't have to move your head much, you can make the McMurdo seal out the weather. Otherwise, the more sophisticated hoods of the Arc Teryx and Patagonia jackets lockdown at the head, literally, of the pack.
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.
Handwarmer pockets are an excellent place to keep cold hands or to keep gloves, and most have a fleecy liner. The best hand-warmers are on the Arc'teryx
jackets. Both of these award winners feature fully insulated hand warmer pockets with fleece lining the fabric the back of your hand touches. There is insulation between your hand and body, and between your hand and the outdoors. This not only means that your hand is insulated while in the pocket, but that there is no draft when the pocket is open. The next best hand warmer pockets, like those on the Therminator
, put the user's hand between the insulation and the wearer's body.
Finally, while better than nothing, we wish for a more sophisticated design than the jackets that feature a single layer of fabric protecting the hands in a warming pocket. The Canada Goose
and Patagonia Tres
, for instance, both have uninsulated hand pockets. Special mention must be made of the hand warmer pockets on our Best Buy, The North Face McMurdo III
. The pockets are uninsulated, but they are fleece-lined, and there are four of them! With a set at chest level and waist level, there is a hand warming option for every posture. Again, in updating the McMurdo to version 3, The North Face has compromised one of the things we best liked. The newest version still has four fleece-lined hand warmer pockets, but the upper, chest level ones are now situated further from the main jacket center zipper. This means that you have to contort your shoulders and elbows to get your hands into them. So much so, in fact, that these pockets aren't comfortably usable. Nonetheless, the jacket is worthy.
When wearing a trench-coat-length parka, the need for two-way zippers becomes apparent as the extended length can inhibit stride, and wearing a long coat while seated can be awkward and uncomfortable without this feature. Cuff closures can be simple elastic closures, a snap closure, or Velcro, but a good winter parka needs to allow you to seal out the snow and cold and to enable you to use gloves. Open cuffs with internal gaskets, like on the Patagonia Wanaka Down
, combine fashion and function.
Other features that may be important to you are internal phone pockets with headphone ports, snow skirts to seal out the cold, or built-in face warmers. We liked the features on the Canada Goose Expedition Parka
. It has almost a dozen pockets, a snow skirt, and a drawcord waist, not to mention a fur-trimmed hood. We also liked the features on both The North Face Gotham III Jacket
and our Best Buy Marmot Fordham
. Both come with an array of pockets, including an internal Napoleon pocket that has a headphone channel, so your electronics stay dry. The Gotham
jackets add removable fur hood lining and unique integrated face mask/neck gaiter. Other jackets, like the Columbia Gold 650 TurboDown
, were bare-bones models with little more than two hand pockets.
The McMurdo has both chest mounted hand warmers, as used here, and waist level ones.
The Mountain Hardwear Therminator leads the pack in features
. With a full suite of pockets, great hood and cuff seals, and an integrated powder skirt, we can't ask for any more features.
Style is personal, and we allow our personalities to show through some of our clothing choices, including a winter jacket. This review includes parkas that could be worn from a nice restaurant to a Broadway show, and ones that look clean and simple, but are more at home walking the dog or taking the gondola. We already talked about the differences between technical and casual parkas, and while technical jackets might be at home in the mountains, they are easily worn in urban settings and can let some of your outdoorsy personality show through. Casual urban parkas don't usually work the other way, though, as they may be missing crucial elements for safe winter adventuring, such as hoods or waterproofing.
Most of the models reviewed have a longer cut, which adds warmth and weather resistance, giving a different look than the waist-length athletic cuts that most of the backcountry-inspired jackets have. We liked the style of the Patagonia Isthmus
and Arc'teryx Camosun
, which are both stylish enough to dress up with but can be worn while snowshoeing or ice skating and still perform well.
In the wild or around town, the look of the Camosun is smooth and clean.
The technical Rab Neutrino
is a different style than the city cut of the Fjallraven Greenland
. The snowboarder-inspired Mountain Hardwear Therminator
contrasts with the practical bulk of the Canada Goose
. The Marmot Fordham
and Patagonia Tres
are neutral products. Across the board, we tested different "looks" to find something for everyone.
One reviewer commented that the form fitting cut of the Dubliner appeared a bit feminine.
With few exceptions, quality winter outerwear is not inexpensive. For a quality winter parka, expect to invest, but expect that investment to pay off for a few years of consistent use, depending on the activity. Are you going to be in contact with razor-sharp winter climbing gear, like ice axes, or will you only be using the parka to get from home to the bus stop during the winter? After investing a large sum of money in a winter jacket, we want to feel like our investment is protected, so we like the lifetime guarantees of companies like Canada Goose
, who stand by the craftsmanship and materials of their products.
One of the most important things we looked at is outer fabric. The more substantial duty, canvas-like outer material of The North Face Gotham III
withstands more abuse than the thinner Pertex shell of the Rab Neutrino
. Zippers, snaps, and Velcro receive a lot of wear as well, so we looked at these closures to make sure they were durable enough. We gave our highest score in this category to the Canada Goose Expedition Parka
. The large zippers, durable outer material, and substantial construction make this jacket last. We were concerned about the durability of the technical models tested. These are used around sharp ice climbing tools, and the thin shells on the Rab Neutrino Endurance
and Columbia Turbo Down
don't hold up well to a wayward ice screw or axe.
We loved the burly shell fabric of the Canada Goose for hard-working chores in brutal cold temps.
We put 14 top rated winter jackets to the test to help you find the best one, whether you're commuting to work, hanging in a mountain town or heading out into the backcountry. We rated each model on its warmth, weather resistance, comfort, features, style, and durability.
A good jacket in this category protects you from winter's harsh elements by keeping you warm and dry. The challenge is finding the right type of jacket for your individual needs. Depending on your location and lifestyle, you may be in the market for something casual and stylish to keep you warm when going outside, or you may be looking for something more technical with features designed for an athletic lifestyle. Regardless of your preference, we hope that this review has helped you find the best for you. Check out our Buying Advice
article for more detailed advice on sorting through the different types of jackets available.