As several characters in the fictional Game of Thrones universe kept reminding us, winter is coming. Whether you like it or not, the mercury will soon begin to drop and you’ll be trading your swimmers for snow jackets, all in the name of beating the chill.
While it’s incredibly easy to remove layers of clothing during summer to keep yourself cool, keeping warm and toasty during winter is a completely different ball game. There is the obvious method of donning several layers of clothing, but if you start to boil from the inside, you need to remove them and carry them around with you for the rest of the day.
What you really need is a top-performing winter coat or jacket that will serve as a single layer either over a sweater or fleece when temperatures really do plummet, or over a simple t-shirt when all you need is something to fight the cold when taking a weekend stroll. However, practically every clothing brand under the sun has its own interpretation of what constitutes a ‘best’ winter coat or jacket, but that isn’t always the case.
We’ve, therefore, placed ourselves in your soon-to-be winter boots to sift through the coats and jackets that you really ought to spend your money on in preparation for winter. Of course, no two jackets are made the same, and different brands will utilise different fabric technologies in the fight against harsh winter conditions. To help you with some of the more technical jargon, here’s what you should be looking out for when looking for a winter jacket or coat.
Gore-Tex is perhaps the biggest name in waterproof, breathable fabrics, having been around since 1969. Gore-Tex fabrics, and with that, jackets that employ the use of it, can both repel water – such as rain – while still allowing water vapour (such as sweat) to pass through its membrane, resulting in a breathable finish.
Coreloft is a brand of synthetic non-woven insulation material. Instead, polyester fibres are crimped together to trap air, which results in a material that is highly effective at retaining warmth. It’s naturally hydrophobic too, so will be equally effective in both wet and dry conditions. Coreloft is primarily found in Arc’teryx products.
Down vs Synthetic Insulation
Two of the main terms you’re likely to come across when searching for a winter jacket or coat refers to the insulation: down or synthetic. Which insulation type you choose will depend on what you intend to use your jacket for.
Unless the manufacturer clearly specifies the insulation in its jacket is made from feathers, down is in fact made from the plumage found underneath the feathers on a goose or duck. Down is a complete natural at retaining heat (ideal for jackets intended for extremely cold weather climates) as well being naturally breathable, meaning it will happily wick sweat away from your body.
It’s lightweight nature also lends it to be packable, so if you ever get so warm you need to take your jacket off, you can easily stuff it into a bag. The main downside to down is that it doesn’t function so well if it gets wet. Some jackets will cater to this, covering them in a highly effective waterproof outer layer, but if the down layer is on the outside, you’ll want to hope you don’t get caught in the rain.
However, with down also comes the addition of fill power, which we’ll cover later.
On to synthetic insulation, which as its name implies, is manmade. However, it is designed to mimic the qualities of down insulation but can still function as well even when wet. It’s made by taking various sizes of polyester fibres and intertwining them, which in turn holds heat within several air pockets.
While this is great news for synthetic insulation, more of it is needed to replicate the same effect as down, so synthetically insulated jackets and coats will be heavier than their down counterparts. However, if caught in the rain, synthetic insulation will dry much much faster than down.
Durable water repellent refers to a coating that is applied to various fabrics before they roll off the production line to make them water-resistant. It’s not uncommon to find DWR treatments on materials such as Gore-Tex to help minimise the amount of water it’s required to repel. DWR treatments can become less effective over time, but can be re-treated as necessary.
Down Fill Power
Down fill power is indicated by a number, usually between 300 and 900, that indicates the loft of the down insulation. This basically refers to how warm the down jacket will be, with the higher the number meaning the warmer it will be, due to the larger weight of air the down can trap.
Hard Shell vs Soft Shell
Another commonly used term used in relation to outerwear is either hard shell or soft shell, but what do they mean? In general, a hard shell jacket is what you want to protect against rain and wind. The actual fabric that goes into their construction can vary, they all have the same overall goal. You will, however, need to think about the layers you wear under your hard shell, as if you build up a lot of sweat, the outer layer may not be as effective at wicking sweat if you’re wearing a thick fleece.
Conversely, if you’re outside in cold and wet rain, and don’t have any layers underneath, the hard shell jacket will pass on that cold temperature to your body. With this taken care of though, you can easily wear a hard shell jacket all year round, not just in winter.
Soft shell jackets, on the other hand, aren’t fully waterproof but can be water-resistant and extremely breathable. They tend to be warmer than their hard shell counterpart too and offer a greater range of movement, making them more suitable for climbing.
Winter Jackets FAQ
Before buying, consider the type of jacket you need based on your activities, the insulation it provides and of course, the quality. Make sure it fits you well so take your time trying on different styles. A good winter jacket is an investment, so be prepared to shell out hundreds of bucks for it. Buyers usually spend an average of $100 to $300 for a coat from Columbia or L.L. Bean. Your wool coats and down jackets must be cleaned once or twice a season. For your fleece jackets, washing after wearing them six to seven times is the norm.
How to choose the right winter jacket?
How much does a good winter jacket cost?
How often do you wash your winter coat?
Before buying, consider the type of jacket you need based on your activities, the insulation it provides and of course, the quality. Make sure it fits you well so take your time trying on different styles.
A good winter jacket is an investment, so be prepared to shell out hundreds of bucks for it. Buyers usually spend an average of $100 to $300 for a coat from Columbia or L.L. Bean.
Your wool coats and down jackets must be cleaned once or twice a season. For your fleece jackets, washing after wearing them six to seven times is the norm.