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The Best Winter Coats for Braving the Cold

Wind, snow, and frigid conditions are no match for these jackets and parkas.

winter jackets
Amy Wolff

Whether you decide to invest in an eco-friendly design or a down jacket with stitch-free baffles, our list of the best winter coats includes options to keep you toasty while at the job site, carving lines on the slopes, or running to town for supplies. Many have classic silhouettes, but brands are also introducing new styles that blend performance with a minimalist aesthetic by placing baffles or quilted insulation inside waterproof shells. The result: Coats that are sleeker and warmer than ever. But there will always be a place for the Stay Puft-esque puffies we know and love. Read on for some buying advice, followed by reviews of the best coats from our testing.

The Short List

What You Need to Know about Insulation

Down, synthetic materials, and wool are the most common types of insulation used in winter coats. Each has its own advantages, but the way they keep you warm is similar: Your body generates heat and warms the still air trapped between the fibers and filaments of the materials. “We know air is the best insulator on earth,” says Hsiou-Lien Chen, a textile researcher and associate professor at Oregon State University. “If you can create more spaces to trap that air, the material will have better insulation.” Here’s how each does it and how to determine which is right for you.

Down

Numerous filaments diverging from a central point create the spherical shape of—and pockets of air in—down clusters. These clusters offer the most warmth for their weight of any insulator. But they collapse when wet, losing their ability to retain warm air. In the face of winter’s snow, sleet, and sometimes rain, look for a coat with a water-resistant or waterproof shell or one that uses hydrophobic down, which is created when filaments are treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) coating. Also, down is usually the most expensive insulator because it’s sourced from goose or duck, so be prepared to pay a premium if you’re committed to a down jacket.

Synthetic Insulation

Polyester insulation is made of terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol, two petroleum derivatives (though it’s becoming increasingly common to source these compounds from recycled water bottles). The resulting fibers are crimped to create air-trapping loft and spun into a bolt of fabric. Newer, more sophisticated synthetic insulation, such as Patagonia’s PlumaFill and The North Face’s ThermoBall, is designed to mimic down with ultra-fine threads and clustered shapes. Regardless of shape, synthetic insulation is generally cheaper to produce than down and better at retaining its insulating power when wet, but still can’t quite compete with down when it comes to pure warmth.

Wool

Some coats skip down and synthetic insulation altogether and rely on wool instead. These organic threads have a naturally crimped shape, similar to the man-made structure of polyester fibers, that provides space for air. Wool is also a poor conductor of heat, meaning your warmth stays within the jacket well. These together make wool a good insulating material, but one that is heavy and can absorb moisture up to 30 percent of its weight. Accordingly, wool is often used in casual-use coats instead of performance-oriented jackets.

Fill Power and Gram Ratings

When you’re shopping, pay attention to the fill power of down or the weight of synthetic insulation that’s used in winter coats. Fill power is the amount of loft that one ounce of down produces, and a higher number indicates a better quality down. Most winter coats have 500- to 800-fill. Synthetic insulation is measured in grams per square meter, with higher amounts traditionally signaling a thicker and therefore warmer material. Most synthetic insulation for winter coats is less than 200-gram.

These numbers are important, but the overall warmth-trapping ability of a coat also depends on other factors. For example, insulation can lose its loft when stuffed into baffles that are too small. And keep in mind that if you’ll be skiing, running, hiking, or otherwise exercising in the cold, more insulation can lead to excess sweat. If this moisture isn’t wicked away from your skin, it can freeze and make you feel colder.

Other Features

Speaking of moisture, it’s a good idea to choose a coat with some level of waterproofing to keep you dry from snow and sleet. Most on our list are water-resistant (usually because the exterior has a DWR or wax coating), and some are even fully waterproof. Waterproof fabrics can have two, 2.5, or three layers. A jacket with a hood can also protect you from the elements and trap more warmth around your head. Make sure you can adjust the hood to your liking, or if you’ll be partaking in alpine sports, find a coat with a helmet-compatible hood.

How We Tested

To find the best winter coats, we considered price, insulating ability, comfort, and style. Over the current and past cold seasons, our test editors have worn dozens intended for a variety of uses to assess the fit, feel, and performance of each. For the outdoor and casual-wear jackets, we also did a warmth comparison test, during which we sat or walked outside for an hour while wearing the coats on slightly windy days when the temperature was at or just above freezing. We gave the coats our own rating—warm, warmer, and warmest—based on how we felt at the end of the hour.

For workwear jackets, we considered price, features, comfort, style, and the needs of a wide range of jobs. We wore these jackets in temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to just under freezing, in sunny, rainy, damp, and windy conditions. We cut firewood, trimmed trees, worked on carpentry projects, raked leaves, cleaned gutters, did landscaping, toiled in an unheated shop, and ran our weekend errands in these jackets to determine how well they performed.

After our thorough evaluations, we’re certain there’s a jacket here that can fit your needs.

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Outdoor and Casual Jackets
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Best Down
The North Face Gotham Jacket III
backcountry.com
$299.95
  • Insulation: 550-fill down
  • Rating: Warmest
  • Moisture protection: 2-layer waterproof shell

The Gotham Jacket III is as stylish as it is capable of keeping you warm and dry. The standard-fit men’s coat accomplishes that with 550-fill goose down insulation, a gaiter built into the hood, and rib-knit cuffs within the sleeves and at the hem to seal out the cold. To prevent water from seeping in, The North Face deploys its DryVent fabric—a material that’s been coated with polyurethane—and seals the seams. The Gotham is a bit bulky for intense physical activity, but it kept us warm when the temperature dropped below freezing and offered plenty of room for storage thanks to one internal and five external pockets. Our only real gripe: The brim of the large faux fur-lined hood can fall to or below eye level, making it difficult to see.

Best Synthetic
Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody
backcountry.com
$259.00
  • Insulation: 60-gram synthetic
  • Rating: Warmest
  • Moisture protection: DWR coating

If you’re looking for warmth without heft, pick the 13.2-ounce Atom LT. Arc’teryx tweaked the design slightly for 2020 to include wider cuffs for easier layering. We were very impressed with the 60-gram Coreloft insulation that kept us as warm as heavier jackets would. We adjusted the cinch cords at the waist and on the hood to further seal in heat. But when we were moving quickly, the fleece-lined uninsulated side dumped heat effectively. Because of the typical Arc’teryx slim fit, our tester, who falls between a large and extra large, was more comfortable sizing up. He also praised the Goldilocks height of the zipped-up collar, which hits right at the chin and offers wind protection without getting in the way. The Atom is versatile, ideal as a mid-layer or in shoulder seasons, when you might consider buying the jacket without a hood

Buy Men’s | Buy Women’s   

Best Puffy
Fjällräven Expedition Pack Down Hoodie
backcountry.com
$274.95
  • Insulation: 700-fill down
  • Rating: Warmest
  • Moisture protection: None

The new Pack Down Hoodie is a nod to Fjällräven’s original Expedition Down Jacket. But instead of a bulky parka-like coat, the Pack Down fits the mold of a traditional puffy. It’s simple, yet the addition of thoughtful touches—like the synthetic padding at the shoulders, ideal for when you’re carrying a pack and need some extra cushioning under the straps—make it standout. The 700-fill down is highly packable and sandwiched between a recycled nylon shell and lining. We had room to layer underneath the standard-fitting coat and could adjust the drawcord at the waist to prevent heat from escaping. The hood helped, too. We found it more adjustable than those on other premium puffies, thanks to the classic drawcord around the face and the cinch cord at the back. When the jacket was fully zipped, the tall collar reached our nose (all the better for blocking chill-inducing gusts), and we were glad to find soft fleece installed on this portion of the lining. The reasonably priced coat doesn’t have much in the way of water protection, so you’ll want to wear a shell in wet conditions or opt for the fully synthetic version instead. 

Buy Men’s | Buy Women’s
 

Best Value Down
Flylow Stiles Jacket
amazon.com
$199.95
  • Insulation: 550-fill down
  • Rating: Warmer
  • Moisture protection: DWR-treated polyester taffeta

The Stiles is an unassuming jacket with serious heat retention. The large baffles and lack of a hood give it an around-town vibe, but (though we haven’t used it in this way) those attributes should also lend it nicely to layering under a ski jacket. No surprise there, given Flylow‘s heritage; the company makes premium apparel for the slopes. Yet the Stiles is among the more affordable down jackets. The high collar and the baffles that creep beyond the cuffs extend the warmth coverage. The Stiles’s one weak spot is at the snaps. Though we like the look and ease of getting in and out of the jacket, cold air sometimes leaks in past them.

Best Parka
Kühl Arktik Down Parka
backcountry.com
$498.95
  • Insulation: 800-fill down
  • Rating: Warmest
  • Moisture protection: Water-resistant coating

There’s a lot to appreciate about the Arktik Down Parka: A large hood, five pockets, a two-way zipper with a draft flap, and internal cuffs with thumb holes top the list. Kühl also adds some flair with an attractive cotton-blend shell, high-quality metal hardware, faux-fur hood brim, and micro-suede trim, without sacrificing performance (as we would hope from a coat this expensive). The 800-fill down insulation kept us plenty warm and is protected by a water-resistant PU-and-synthetic-wax coating on the shell. We like the long sleeves and the double layer front pockets at the waist. Secure your phone, keys, or wallet in the top, and stuff your hands into the side pockets underneath when the wind picks up. Consider purchasing one size down, though, as we noticed the Arktik runs big.

Buy Men’s | Buy Women’s
 

Best Value Parka
L.L. Bean Baxter State Parka
llbean.com
$299.00
  • Insulation: 650-fill down
  • Rating: Warmest
  • Moisture protection: 2-layer waterproof shell and DWR-treated down

The waterproof Baxter State Parka is comfortable, very warm, and packed with features. There are 10 pockets (three of which are internal), a two-way zipper, fleece wrist cuffs inside the sleeves, and both the hood and its faux-fur brim are removable. The 650-fill hydrophobic down instantly warmed us up after we donned the coat, and it kept us toasty enough when zipped closed that we were comfortable while walking and sitting in sub-freezing temperatures. The more affordable price tag does come with some sacrifices, though. Available in extended sizes for men and women, the jacket runs true-to-size, but some of its proportions are askew. The sleeves are very long and wide (we were glad the wrist cuffs kept warm air from escaping), and the stiff collar reaches chin height even when the coat isn’t zipped. The zipper can be finicky, and although massive and warm, the hood isn’t adjustable. 

Buy Men’s | Buy Women’s   

Best 3-In-1
The North Face ThermoBall Eco Triclimate Jacket
moosejaw.com
$299.95
  • Insulation: 10-gram synthetic
  • Rating: Warmer
  • Moisture protection: 2.5-layer waterproof shell

The versatility of three-in-one coats—comprised of an outer waterproof shell, an inner jacket or vest that zips in and out, and both worn together—makes them a smart investment. And the ThermoBall TriClimate is the best we’ve tested. It’s comfortable, lightweight, and protective. Soft to the touch, the PU-coated waterproof shell kept us dry during a drizzly hike and has a soft fleece-lined chin guard on the collar. The inner shell (which we noticed shows sweat easily) has 10-gram insulation. Combined, they offered just enough warmth for days when the mercury hovers in the 30s. The hood’s cinch cords tighten with a quick pull, so we didn’t have to mess with any buttons when the skies opened up suddenly. We do wish, however, that the pockets on the outer shell were lined for additional warmth. But if you’re contending with colder temperatures, there’s a snow-specific version of the TriClimate, which has more insulation and slope-ready features like a powder skirt and a helmet-compatible hood.

Buy Men’s | Buy Women’s

Best Wool Coat
Fjällräven Vidda Pro Wool Padded Jacket
rei.com
$420.00
  • Insulation: Wool and bio-based polyester
  • Rating: Warmest
  • Moisture protection: Greenland wax

Like most wool coats, the new Vidda Pro Wool has some heft to it, and it’s made with durable fabric that won’t falter in the face of harsh environments. Still, there’s nothing restrictive or oppressive about this trekking jacket. “It may as well be considered a second layer of skin,” our tester reported. That’s on account of the flexible G-1000 Lite Eco shell, which has a slightly looser weave than Fjällräven’s classic G-1000 fabric, enabling movement and enhancing breathability. During a walk on a warm fall day, we stayed sweat-free, and on windy days, the G-1000 has blocked gusts, except at the large wrist cuffs. When the mercury drops, the insulation—a combination of wool and a corn starch-based polyester added to prevent the wool from compressing over time—kicks in. The bevy of pockets (eight on the men’s style, seven on the women’s) adds to the tactical look of the waxed jacket and stored our essentials within easy reach. The Vidda Pro Wool is an investment, but one worth making if you’re looking for a warm coat that can stand up to a weekend in the woods or a morning in the workshop.  

Buy Women’s | Buy Men’s
 

Warmest
Marmot West Rib Parka
backcountry.com
$599.95
  • Insulation: 800-fill down and 40-gram synthetic
  • Rating: Warmest
  • Moisture protection: DWR coating

Sliding on the West Rib feels like wrapping up in a sleeping bag, and we mean that in the best way. It’s soft, cozy, stuffed with a ton of insulation, and outfitted with a deep hood. Accordingly, we were plenty toasty while wearing it. A layer of synthetic insulation tops square baffles packed with down on the coat’s lining. This construction, as opposed to traditional baffles, creates additional spaces—between the cubes—to trap air. We like how warm and lightweight the coat is, and its generous pockets easily store gloves, keys, and a wallet (or hardcore gear if you’re using this mountaineering coat as intended). But it’s almost too puffy and too expensive for casual use. Also, Marmot considers the West Rib a unisex design, but we found the coat was far too big for our female tester, even in a size smaller than her usual.

Workwear Jackets
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Best Workwear
Caterpillar Workwear Triton Insulated Jacket
amazon.com
$114.99
  • Insulation: Polyester 
  • Moisture protection: Waterproof shell

This men’s-only coat came with some other workwear we called in, and we didn’t pay much attention to it at first. When we got around to trying it on, the Triton Insulated quickly became the star in the lineup, as we discovered feature after feature. We stayed warm on a 19-degree night thanks to the soft, quilted insulation, and there’s enough of it that we expect to be comfortable down to 0 degrees while actively working outside. The shell is made from a heavy waterproof material that stretches in four directions. We bent our elbows ninety degrees and pulled them together in front of us, and guess what? No binding. While our hands were in front of us, we noticed the angled cut on the cuffs—shorter to the inside—by our wrists. This kept them from getting in the way when we were working with our hands. Heavier material reinforces the elbows, and the hidden storm cuffs fit comfortably without being too snug and irritating. The detachable (and adjustable) hood integrates seamlessly, with the ends tucking into pockets to keep them from flapping around the chin. Front two-way, weatherproof zippers allowed access to double pockets and provided maximum ventilation when needed. Better still, all these bells and whistles come at a very reasonable price.

Most Comfortable
Berne High Country Hooded Jacket
amazon.com
$72.99
  • Insulation: 12-oz cotton duck with sherpa lining 
  • Moisture protection: None

This jacket from Berne was a pleasure to wear right from day one. Although the company doesn’t say, the super-duty cotton duck feels to be pre-washed, so it was soft and comfortable without any break-in period. A heavy sherpa lining and tailored hood make the High Country cozy in the sub-freezing morning temperatures of late fall here in Pennsylvania. Being a jacket, rather than a coat, it’s cut a little shorter, so keeping the cold off the lower back can be a challenge. But the knit waistband and cuffs helped to keep drafts out without being too snug. As did the broad shoulder pleats and two small elbow pleats, which provided ample mobility without the back or sleeves riding up. The two patch pockets on the front were big enough to accommodate gloved hands and have brass rivets reinforcing the stitching at stress points. The three inside pockets—one with a zipper—had plenty of room for a cellphone, a wallet, and other odds and ends. While Berne’s heritage lies in agricultural work clothing, the High Country is for just about any kind of rough outdoor chore or activity.

Best Value
Carhartt Duck Quilted Flannel-Lined Active Jacket
moosejaw.com
$99.99
  • Insulation: 7.2-oz flannel and 4.4-oz nylon 
  • Moisture protection: Water-repellent cotton duck

At 3 pounds, 6.4 ounces, this affordable jacket is among the heaviest in the test. But that weight is a fair trade-off for such a durable, warm coat that won’t wither under a hard day’s work. The 12-ounce cotton duck exterior on the Active is made of ring-spun fibers that are woven to create the tough canvas-like fabric that can stand up to abuse at construction sites and home workshops, not to mention the occasional dog bite. Meanwhile, a quilted-flannel lining in the body and hood and quilted nylon in the sleeves add comfort and warmth. It felt more like a super-soft blanket than a capable piece of workwear. Inner and outer pockets allow you to fit tools or a wallet and were large enough that they didn’t appear bulky when full. However, the hood is a touch large for casual use when you don’t need to fit a helmet under it. 

Buy Men’s | Buy Women’s   

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