SAIL Blog

What to look for in a winter jacket

SAIL

November 01, 2022

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how to choose the right winter jacket

A winter jacket is meant to keep you warm and dry. Which sounds simple, but in reality, there are many factors to consider, and picking the wrong type of jacket could leave you cold and miserable on your winter outings. From waterproofing to flexibility, from breathability to insulation type, what should you prioritize in order to stay nice and toasty without overheating or getting wet? The truth is that it all depends on your chosen activity. Fortunately, the experts at SAIL are here to help you pick the perfect jacket for you.

 

In this article you will learn more about:

  1. What to look for in a winter jacket
  2. The different types of winter jackets
  3. Insulated winter jackets
  4. Soft shells
  5. Outer shells
  6. 3-in-1 winter jackets
  7. Other jacket features
  8. A few pro tips

What to look for in a winter jacket

The main characteristics to consider are as follows:

  • Breathability (whether your jacket lets body heat escape)
  • Insulation (whether your jacket contains an extra layer of down or synthetic insulation)
  • Waterproofing (how good your jacket is at keeping water out)
  • Flexibility (how stretchy the fabric is, so you can move freely)

While technology has evolved when it comes to outdoor gear, it is still not possible to find a jacket that can do it all, which is why it’s important to determine which criteria are most important to you based on your needs.

The different types of winter jackets

Insulated winter jackets

Some jackets have an extra layer of insulation for those cold days when a shell or an extra mid-layer just isn’t enough. Insulation can be made of down or a synthetic fill, both of which have pros and cons when it comes to keeping you as warm as possible.

Have a look at SAIL’s range of men’s and women’s insulated jackets here.

Best for light activity or everyday wear: down winter jackets

Down jackets are very convenient as they are light, durable and they pack small. However, it’s important to note that down doesn’t perform well when wet and can take a long time to dry, which is not ideal when facing rainy, wet or humid conditions, or if you’re going to break a sweat.

Brands RAB and Kanuk offer a wide selection of down winter jackets.

Best for strenuous activity: synthetic winter jackets

If you need an insulated jacket but require one that can handle wet weather, synthetic fill is your best bet. Synthetic winter jackets will keep you warm and dry even if water has reached the insulation lining. While they are heavier, less packable, and sometimes less durable, they are worth considering, especially if you expect to sweat a fair bit, or if you want to be able to go out whatever the conditions.

Best for skiing: ski jackets

When you’re standing at the top of a mountain, an insulated puffer jacket may not be enough to protect you from the elements. Therefore, most manufacturers add a nylon or Gore-Tex membrane to their ski jackets to fend off the cold, rain and wind. An insulated jacket with a waterproof or water-resistant membrane will keep you warm as you wait in line, sit on the ski lift on your way up the slope or wait for your turn at the top.

Shop men’s or women’s ski jackets.

Soft shells

Best for: high-intensity cardio sports such as snowshoeing, hiking or cross-country skiing

A soft shell is a hybrid between a fleece (which keeps you warm but doesn’t protect you against the elements) and a hard shell (a fully waterproof jacket). Most soft shells are treated to be water-resistant, which means they can keep you dry in light rain or snow.

Soft shells are breathable, and usually quite stretchy, which allows for a greater range of movement. This makes them ideal for sports such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or hiking. On very cold days, you can add a mid-layer to your kit to keep your core warmer, or take a hard shell with you in case of heavy snow so your clothes don’t get wet.

Have a look at SAIL’s selection of cross-country winter jackets for both men and women. Swix in particular is well-known for its range of cross-country ski clothing.

Outer shells

Best for: city walking, or activities such as mountaineering or ice climbing

Outer shells typically do not have an insulating layer; they are lightweight and both windproof and waterproof. Their main purpose is to keep you dry, and they are often made of nylon or waterproof membranes such as Gore-Tex. Shells can be worn on their own, or over a mid-layer or soft shell for added warmth. A fully waterproof jacket will be stiffer and therefore not as flexible or breathable as a soft shell. That’s why it’s important to try on a few to ensure you select one that feels comfortable as you move about.

It’s interesting to note that the line between soft and outer shells is becoming increasingly blurred. Many manufacturers are adding Gore-Tex to certain areas of their jackets (such as the shoulders and the front), while also adding breathable panels or zips to others (the arms, for example) to let the heat escape and allow for more freedom of movement.

Have a look at SAIL’s range of outer shells for men and women, or browse The North Face’s winter sports jackets.

3-in-1 winter jackets

Best for: winter enthusiasts who require a versatile jacket

Now that we’ve gone through soft and outer shells, what if your first thought is that you need one of each? This is where 3-in-1 jackets come in. 3-in-1s are outer shells which also feature a detachable mid-layer. This means you can wear the mid-layer or the shell on their own, depending on the weather, or both on days when Mother Nature is throwing rain, wind and cold temperatures at you. The mid-layer will often be a fleece or wool liner, and the outer shell can be either waterproof or water-resistant.

3-in-1 winter jackets are one of the most flexible options out there and could save you a lot of money, as you don’t need to buy separate items to cover all your bases, but are still able to use layering principles to stay warm (read our article on layering clothes to stay warm here).

Columbia offers some great 3-in-1 jackets for both men and women.

Other jacket features

Some additional nifty little features could prove quite useful in a winter jacket. Look for hoods and hood adjusters, drawcords at the bottom hen, Velcro cuffs at the wrists or sealed seams and zippers to stop the cold air from coming in. Or choose a jacket with mesh panels for high-intensity sports, or conveniently placed pockets in which to stash your hat or gloves once you get a bit too warm.

A few pro tips

Make sure you try on a few jackets before making your final decision, and move about in the store so you can test if the fabric is stretchy enough.
Some manufacturers use a polymer treatment (Durable Water Repellency) to treat down and improve its performance in wet conditions. However, while insulated jackets filled with DWR treated down allow you to sweat a bit more and still remain warm, they can be quite expensive.

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