When I was a kid growing up in Atlantic Canada, I, and all my classmates donned what we called a ski suit: a highly-insulated, one-piece nylon and polyester costume that withstood the winter’s most brutal winds and frigid temperatures. I wore it for every single outdoor event between December and March. As handy as they were, these flashy suits had one glaring weakness: they were sweat traps. As soon as the afternoon sun hiked the temperature by a few degrees, I would perspire faster than the snowmen melted.
Wunder Puff Jacket
Alpha SV Jacket
Men's Stormshadow Parka
Thorium SV Parka
Lawrence Puffer Jacket
Exposure Gore-Tex Unisex Parka Reissue
Helly Hansen Men's Arctic Patrol Helly Tech Puffer Parka
Two decades of innovation has begot jackets and parkas that are every bit as warm as those nostalgic — if not clownish — winter overalls, but that are also ventilated, waterproof and infinitely more stylish. The pieces I have chosen for this review are what I call catch-all winter coats: breathable, versatile garments that keep you warm and comfortable everywhere from the front yard, to the ski hill, to your commute to work, to your downtown outing. Here are seven jackets that will serve you right until the spring.
Most affordable: Lululemon Wunder Puff Jacket
Most versatile: Patagonia Men’s Stormshadow Parka
Best bang for your buck: Mountain Hardwear Men’s Exposure Gore-Tex Parka Reissue
Deep pockets with zipper
Loose fit that tapers at the hips
The Wunder Puff is more air than matter: a bulging, chic cloak that fits over any outfit. Despite its size, it doesn’t have the insulation to shield against intense cold like others on this list, and the SoftMatte fabric is water repellant, but not fully waterproof; so I would only designate it as a proper winter jacket in temperate parts of the country (like, say, B.C.). In most parts of Canada, however, it thrives in the not-quite-freezing twilight of the year; the Wunder Puff is hard to beat on those chilly, early winter days when a classic bomber jacket doesn’t cut it, but a heavy-duty parka feels like overkill. I love it for strolls across town: it comes with large pockets and a sleek phone sleeve, roomy construction that allows for a free-flowing range of motion, and close-fitting hood and arm cuffs that help to keep the cold out. But buyers, take note: the coat runs a bit big: consider going down one size.
Super lightweight at 485g
The Alpha SV Jacket is not easy on the wallet but, for adventure seekers and expeditionists, it’s well worth the money. This coat is waterproof and windproof, with a micro-grid backer shell that is highly breathable, as well as abrasion and contamination-resistant. It’s the coat you want for scaling a mountain: zero movement restriction, high ventilation to keep you cool during activity, a range of high-performance features like the RECCO reflector for improved visibility, and a hood that wraps around the neck and head without sacrificing visibility. It’s very good at what it does; my only qualm with the Alpha is that it’s almost too slight to keep the chills out during the deep winter. So, while it’s an absolute silver bullet for those who dare to explore the most challenging outdoor environments, I would not choose it to shovel snow in Thunder Bay.
Adjustable storm cuffs
Water-repellant, DWC coating
The Stormshadow is the Swiss army knife of jackets, and combines function, form and warmth without being loud about any of it. The parka’s classic button-down look, along with its neutral colours, makes it wearable nearly everywhere, and its polyester shell conceals super-dense insulation sourced from reclaimed duck and goose down that keeps its inner contents toasty even in sub-zero temperatures. Wearers can also control ventilation by manipulating the storm cuffs, the main flap over the chest, and hidden drawcords in the deep front pockets. Though the jacket’s greatest surprise is how it allows free movement despite being on the bulky end of this winter coats list (1.2 kilograms, or two Arc’teryx alphas). One could don the Stormshadow on the ski hill without feeling trapped — and certainly without feeling cold — and use it for just about every other winter function and activity.
Waterproof and moisture resistant
Full of pockets
Free range of motion construction
Comparing the Arc’teryx Thorium with the Patagonia Stormshadow is a lot like picking a favourite smartphone between the iPhone and Galaxy: both are incredibly high-performing, and it really comes down to brand preference. Like its counterpart, the Thorium is a jack-of-all-trades, everything coat: a water-wicking shell with a body and hood thickly insulated with grey goose down that protects against intense cold, that still manages to be breathable and comfortable on warm weather days. It also boasts a two-way zipper, elasticized cuffs and six pockets that make it practical for any outing. The key difference between the Thorium and the Stormshadow, however, is in the fabric: the Thorium is slightly looser-fitting, which allows for even better range of motion, but also more air penetration.
Two-way centre front zipper
Sueded tricot chin guard
Three interior pockets
Every early December, two things happen: Mariah Carey fills the airways, and, just as reliably, a discussion about whether or not we should all drop a wad of cash on a Canada Goose jacket erupts inside of my friends circle. Here is the constant debating point: are the luxury jacket's frills — the two-way centre front zipper, the suede tricot chin guard, and recessed rib-knit cuffs, to name a few — worth the premium? My answer: these coats are worth it, but less for the frills than for their insulation and durability. Canada Goose designed this jacket to be suitable for temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius and bolstered it with a quilted body, insulated collar, and soft, water-repellant fabric. It’s also highly functional. The jacket has a longer back hem for extra protection, a reflective double-stripe grab strap on the back, and even interior backpack straps for easy carrying when not in use. It’s also a walking storage unit, with two zippered exterior pockets, and three interior ones. The best part: they will last you years.
Underarm ventilation zip
Mitten rings on sleeve
Internal waist cinch for customized fit
This Gore-Tex Parka by Mountain Hardwear has a list of specs that rivals that of the Canada Goose Lawrence Jacket and the Arc’teryx Alpha while being half the cost. It comes with a highly-adjustable hood, cuffs and waist cinch; underarm zip vents to release excess heat; and a surprisingly light polyethylene water and wind-proof membrane. It also harbours five spacious pockets and also features a two-way front zipper with weather flap and rain gutter. This coat would be my top choice for a leisurely walk through the woods or mountains, or an against-the-elements winter camping trip. Sure, style-wise, it is more appropriate for the ski hill than the speakeasy, but it is an absolute force everywhere else. And for that reason, it’s the best bang for your buck on this list.
Double-entry front pockets
Water-repellant puff and cuffs
This one rivalled the Mountain Hard Wear Exposure Parka in the "bang for your buck" category: it’s a puffy, water-repellent down jacket, synthetically insulated and covered in reflective bands for half the price of its competitors. It also comes with the usual specs: foldable arm cuffs, a drawstring-adjustable waist, and deep cargo pockets flanking a two-way zipper. Where it falls behind some of the more expensive jackets on this list is in its ability to buffer extreme temperatures. The cold tends to seep in as you descend to lower temperatures than negative 10, and it does not ventilate quite as well as the Patagonia or Arc’teryx parkas. That being said, if you are not expecting big temperature fluctuations, it is well worth the $400.