- If you don’t have a parka and you live where the mercury drops below freezing, it’s probably about time you added one to your closet. Winter’s about to get a lot more manageable.
- We tested nearly a dozen parkas, and our favorites come from Triple F.A.T. Goose, Fjällräven, Save the Duck, and L.L.Bean.
A parka is a wintertime essential for much of humankind. Without one, layering enough to stay warm can be a nuisance.
But oh, what a sea of decisions: How thick does it need to be? Do you need the hood to be lined with fur? How do you feel about faux fur? We’re still left to ponder pockets, length, and lining. And what on earth does “fill power” mean? While all of the above may or may not be critical decisions, they’re all things we have to consider.
A parka is something we hope to invest in for the long haul, and a parka that doesn’t last more than a few seasons is, in our humble opinion, not a parka at all.
Here’s what to look for in a parka
Let’s start with the filling, and what fill power means. Measured in cuin, fill power represents how many cubic inches of loft one ounce of a given variety of feather occupies at maximum (unencumbered) loft. 800 fill power is considered to have superior insulating quality, while anything south of 600 starts to become less insulating and also heavier at the same time. Still, fill power does not necessarily tell you how warm a parka might be because it doesn’t denote how heavily packed the down is inside your coat. Some brands, like Triple F.A.T. Goose, do share the contents of their jackets (9 ounces in lighter models, 15.5 ounces in heavier ones).
What the fill power of a down does tell you is how well the quality of a given down traps air and, in effect, warmth. Precious as it may be, a lightweight 800-fill-power down packed lightly and loosely into a jacket might not do nearly as much as a heavier 400-fill-power down stuffed to the edges of each compartment. Another thing to keep in mind, especially for travelers, is that the higher the fill power of a down, the lighter the weight of it by volume, which can result in a lighter jacket overall.
While fill power does dictate something about the quality of a down, what really matters is how densely packed a down is inside the baffles, or the compartments that compose a down jacket. Without those compartments, the down would drop and collect and sag along the hem.
The outer lining of a parka can require a little explanation, too. Parkas are not generally waterproof but water-resistant (treated with wax, DWR, or other coatings), which might come as a shock, but then we don’t generally reach for a parka when it’s raining. We also tend to be active outside when wearing them, and so they need to be a little breathable.
Work up even the slightest sweat and a jacket that thick and warm will quickly do the rest of the sweating for you until you’re unbearably drenched. That said, we’ve worn all of the parkas below in a bit of rain and come out dry, but it’d be best to look for something that’s fully waterproof if you’re spending much of your winter in, 35-degree Fahrenheit rain for any prolonged period of time.
We also have to discuss fur, which is commonly used in trim and lining. Yes, it feels wonderful, and there’s no denying its beauty. But it comes at a high cost in many regards. We’ll get into the sustainability and ethics surrounding fur later on, and in the end, it’s your decision. We’re not judging.
Length is another big concern both for style and function. While it’s stylish to have jackets cropped at the waist or even above the waist, the bomber cut doesn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense on the functional side of the debate. Still, people on the shorter side often don’t want a jacket that comes down to their calves, while taller folks might look like they’re walking on stilts with a short hem. We’ll leave that to you, too, though.
Here are the best men’s parkas you can buy:
Updated on 12/23/2019 by Owen Burke: Updated copy, added Save the Duck as a most sustainable option, and adjusted formatting and pricing. After careful editorial consideration (and debate), our editorial team has decided to discontinue our recommendations of fur products. Herein, we’ve recommended fur-free parkas we’ve worn and tested by brands we know and trust. Some of these brands still carry fur, and we’ve linked to their sustainability statements to let you decide where you want to shop (and whether you want to purchase fur). We’ll continue to test more fur- and down-free parkas throughout the winter in our ongoing search for the perfect winter parka.