When I moved to Chicago on the first of September two years ago, there was about a month before the temperatures became brutally cold and gave me the rude awakening I’d been warned about. Coming from Charleston, South Carolina, and never having needed a real winter coat before, I drove to some nearby shops and picked out a black hooded parka from Zara that hit at the top of my thigh. It was warm enough, but come next winter, the zipper started giving me hell and the black of the outer fabric began rubbing off on a beloved cross-body bag. About two months before winter ended, the zipper completely gave out and I suffered through the rest of the icy season, not wanting to fork out the big bucks to fix it.
Now I’m about to head into my third Chicago winter and I’ve got some hard-earned Chiberia experience under my belt. No more messing around, I did the research and found a real winter coat. When the temps dropped to 28 degrees last weekend and the first snow fell, I was snug and comfortable in this North Face number.
There are several factors that brought me to choose the parka pictured–a few practical matters and a couple of style preferences. Below, what I learned on my hunt for the perfect winter jacket. Take from it and don’t make the same mistake I did in choosing lukewarm, sub-par coat.
1. Opt for tried-and-true outdoor brand
Zara is suited for looking street-style chic. It will not hold up to a real winter, and neither will other high-street brands (looking at you Topshop, H&M, Aritzia, etc.). Go for labels like North Face, Patagonia, Marmot, and Columbia. They specialize in outdoor and active clothing, and they will keep you warm while enduring wear and tear over the long run. What’s more, most of them have warranties should something happen to your coat (like a zipper breaking!)
2. Look for real duck or goose down
Synthetic material won’t do in extreme cold. Look for 550-down fill or higher and find a coat that’s insulated. It’ll trap the hot air. Goose down is lighter than synthetic material, so it will keep a parka thin and not bulky–a plus if you’re into keeping a semblance of a body shape under your layers.
3. Know the importance of a waterproof exterior
Snow is wet. So find a parka that’ll stand up to heavy precipitation. The specs will let you know if it’s waterproof or not. Down puffer coats are warm, but I’m hesitant about them if they’re not waterproof. Choose a coat with a waterproof layer that covers the down so it wicks the moisture off. Of course, if you live in a cold but dry climate, this might not be a priority.
4. Spend the big bucks
Sorry to break it to you, but oftentimes the more you spend the warmer you’ll be. Don’t go for a cheaply made jacket you found for $100. At the same time, there’s no need to spend upwards of $800 on a Canada Goose. The most I wanted to pay was $300, and I found several options meeting that requirement.
Parkas That’ll Do The Trick
North Face Arctic parka
Patagonia Vosque parka
Marmot Chelsea coat
Columbia Barlow Pass jacket
North Face Metropolis down coat