The North Face Circaloft: Geared Toward Function and Circularity
Eco-Friendly Brands | September 22, 2023
November 1, 2022
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:
The main characteristics to consider are as follows:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
To cope with the varied (and often unpredictable) winter conditions, it is important to choose a winter coat for men, women or children that effectively protects against the elements. For this, pay special attention to the outer layer of the coat; it must be able to withstand bad weather and serve as a barrier against snow, wind, rain… and weather cocktails.
Several models of winter coats have a DWR (durable water repellent) coating, which keeps water on the surface of the outer layer and thus prevents it from penetrating inside the fabric. These coats offer excellent protection in cold weather, when there is no (or little) precipitation and the snow is dry.
To face cold and wet conditions, melting or wet snow, and what is commonly called “slush”, additional protection may be necessary. An outer layer with a Gore-Tex membrane provides an infallible barrier against the elements. Breathable, windproof and fully impervious to snow and rain, Gore-Tex also wicks moisture away, keeping you dry even when your body temperature rises (especially during dynamic activities or in the event of temperature variations).
When shopping for a winter coat, do not underestimate the importance of pockets. These are ideal for carrying small items and for storing hats, neck warmers and gloves when you get too hot. They must be easily accessible when you are wearing the coat, and large enough to fit your essentials for winter outings: map, portable GPS, snacks, spare accessories… An internal pocket can also be very useful to keep precious or cold-sensitive items close to you (cell phone, payment cards, identification, etc.).
Besides the pockets, take the time to consider a few other practical features that can improve your comfort and the quality of your outdoor experiences: drawstrings at the waist, hood with an adjustment system, Velcro cuffs, waterproof seams and zippers to keep cold air out, mesh panels for optimal ventilation, etc. Evaluate your needs carefully and choose your optimal combination accordingly.