Photography: Genevieve Caron
One of the essentials to enjoying a cold winter season, wherever you are, is a winter parka that keeps you comfortably warm. Here’s what you need to know before investing in a new one.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” Sound familiar? This is something thousands, if not millions, of Canadians have heard sputtered from our parents mouths when they were trying to get us to bundle up and enjoy the great Canadian outdoors. Or maybe just to get us out of their hair for a few precious kid-free hours. But they weren’t wrong. A coat that can protect you from snow, arctic winds and frost bite is a wonderful thing. It allows us to appreciate winter for all the beauty and fun it holds.
It might have been Canada Goose that turned parkas into a must-have fashion garment around the world—but it’s Woods that created one of the first ever parkas in 1903. James W. Woods was commissioned to create a winter jacket for Arctic explorations, appropriately named the Expedition, it was the prototype for the kind of extreme weather coat that is so ubiquitous in Canadian winter wardrobes. “While temperatures and conditions vary from year to year and from coast to coast, having a reliable cold-weather parka is key to being warm and comfortable when the mercury drops,” says James Prescott, associate vice president of Woods Brand.
One thing you’ll notice across the category is the price—they don’t come cheap. Depending on brand and model, winter parkas can range from $250 to $2000 plus. Why so expensive? For one, it takes a lot of components to make a single parka, which also means it takes skilled labour and additional time to produce. One of Woods newest offerings, the Alverstone Expedition Down Parka, is constructed from 46 pieces from a combination of seven different types of materials. Purchasing one is truly an investment for many households, which makes it important to do your research and choose one that’s good quality, functional and still speaks to your sartorial sensibilities. Prescott shares his expertise on what you should look for when purchasing your next parka.
Woods Women's Alverstone Expedition Down Parka, $550, sportchek.ca.
Consider where you live
Do you live on the west coast or do your winters consist of a mix of rain, sleet and snow? If so, Prescott says to find a coat with a waterproof/breathable membrane. Do you live in the heart of Canada or are your temps a frosty combo of cold and biting winds? “Be considerate of the type and amount of insulation, jacket length and features such as storm flaps on zippers, storm cuffs on sleeves and a properly fitted hood,” says Prescott.
Bigger isn’t better
“Fit is very important in providing the best level of warmth and comfort,” says Prescott. A winter coat that is too big won’t insulate as efficiently as a coat that fits just right. “Although consider leaving enough room for the layers you anticipate wearing underneath, you want to avoid purchasing a parka that is too big as your body needs to work harder to warm up the negative airspace between you and the jacket,” says Prescott. All the open, empty space allows the cold air to hang out there and keeps your coat from being productive and efficiently keeping you warm.
Too tight, too cold
A winter coat is meant to keep you warm when the temperatures drop and you’re stuck outside braving the bone-chilling winds, not to perfectly hug your body like a glove. “When a coat is too snug, the insulation becomes compressed and loses its ability to trap warm air within the insulation’s loft,” says Prescott. If the coat you are wearing is too tight in certain parts of your body, such as the armpit, the down or synthetic insulation may be compressed and have no space to spread out and retain its fullness.
What’s the warmest insulation?
Down, the soft and warm part under feathers from ducks or geese, is still considered the gold standard in parka insulation because of its warmth to weight ratio, “meaning you can stay warm without being weighed down with heavy insulation,” says Prescott. He also notes that hydrophobic down—down that is chemically treated to repel moisture and maintain its loft—is a popular choice. At Woods’ the 2018 Alverstone Parka incorporates a certified ethically sourced Downtek™ water repellent 800 fill-power down.
What does fill mean?
What is fill? “Fill power is a measure of the down’s loft or fluffiness and is correlated to the insulating value of the down,” says Prescott. “A down fill rating of 800, for example, means that one ounce of down can cover 800 cubic inches.” In other words, the higher the fill number the warmer the parka is. When purchasing a down fill parka, you should look for a fill power rating of at least 550.
Woods Parka Lodge yurt
Looking to reach full Canadian actualization, all the while giving yourself an opportunity to test out your new parka? Consider booking a night in this winterized Woods Parka Lodge yurt, the first parka-insulated yurt constructed from the same durable materials found in the Woods Alverstone Expedition Parka. Listed exclusively on Airbnb in Ontario’s Haliburton Highlands, this activation, executed by Sport Chek, aims to promote Woods’ new winter parka collection by showing guests exactly just how toasty the yurt itself is using the new Alverstone Expedition Parka. Read about it more here.
Not interested in wearing down for ethical reasons? Here are our picks of the warmest and cruelty-free coats and brands on the market.