Pertinent Pointers for Cosy Coats

Ultimate Outdoors8 min readBuyers Guides

We’ve all been there. You walk into an outdoor store to get kitted out for winter and on seeing the range available you think to yourself...  ‘Wow, that’s a lot of jackets’. Unless you were fortunate enough to have been ambushed by a helpful and knowledgeable sales assistant you probably walked straight out again and headed home to do some research.

So here we are, and if you are sitting comfortably I will attempt to make sense of the bewildering array of winter jackets without leading you in circles. In an attempt to simplify the benefits of each category of jacket I have come up with a set of general ratings;

Temperature Ratings

  • Cool – Autumn/spring wear
  • Chilly – General winter wear
  • F-F-Freezing – For the depths of winter

 

Rain Rating

  • Shower-proof – Repels light to moderate showers
  • Water Resistant – Resists prolonged showers
  • Waterproof – For prolonged use in heavy rain

 

Style

  • High Street – Available in styles that closely mimic high street fashion
  • Outdoor – Have the roots of their design in outdoor wear    

 

3 in 1 Jackets

Temperature Rating:

 Chilly

Rain Rating:

 Waterproof

Style:

 Outdoor

 

We have a saying in our stores, ‘You can’t go wrong with a 3 in 1’. You get a waterproof windproof outer jacket and a lightweight breathable fleece which can be zipped inside for total protection.

For those looking for a good all-round jacket a 3 in 1 is a ‘no brainer’. I’d even go as far to say that unless one of the other jackets mentioned here really appeals, a 3 in 1 is probably your best bet. Available in a wide range of styles and prices, from virtually every manufacturer, there’s a 3 in 1 out there to suit you.

 

Insulated Jackets

With many new styles now available the popularity of insulated jackets has snowballed (pun intended). So why are they so popular?  ...because they are the warmest thing you will ever wear!

Originally only the ‘Michelin Man’ look was on offer but now insulated jackets vary in performance and style with everything from lightweight shower-proofs, to fully waterproof, to ‘hip’ high street parkas.

 

Shower-proof Insulated Jackets

 

Temperature Rating:

 Chilly to F-F-Freezing

Rain Rating:

 Shower-proof

Style:

 Outdoor or High Street

 

Shower-proof Insulated Jackets have higher warmth to weight ratio’s than any other jacket. For outdoorsy types this means they won’t take up too much space in your rucksack. For the man or woman about town it gives you a comfortable, warm, and breathable jacket which you’ll barely notice you’re wearing.

In the past goose or duck down was the fill material of choice for insulated jackets. Down was and still is the best insulating material available. That said new synthetic alternatives have been developed that are more water resistant, more affordable, and easier to care for. In terms of different levels of insulation you are spoilt for choice. Different weighs of fill are available and will keep you cosy whether you’re battling up Everest or popping to the shops. A word of warning however, insulation terminology is a jargon minefield. Getting your head around g/m², fill weight, and fill power is enough to get you so lost you’ll need a GPS to get home. Unless you are going on an expedition my advice is to simply remember that... ‘Thicker is Warmer!’

 

Waterproof Insulated Jackets

 

Temperature Rating:

 Chilly to F-F-Freezing

Rain Rating:

 Waterproof

Style:

 Outdoor

 

Let’s face it we live on an island surrounded on all sides, and usually above, by water. For anyone heading outside for prolonged periods in winter, the concept of a jacket not being waterproof is pretty flawed. Fortunately some bright spark started making insulated jackets with waterproof shells so we no longer have to emigrate to solve the problem.

These days for every type of shower-proof insulated jacket there is a waterproof equivalent. The waterproofing used is the same as you would find in normal waterproof jackets. For example; Berghaus will use AQ2, for The North Face it’s Hyvent. If you’re not sure which are waterproof and which aren’t simply have a scan through the swing tags.

 

Parkas

 

Temperature Rating:

 F-F-Freezing

Rain Rating:

 Waterproof

Style:

 High Street

 

So what if you’re a little bit hip and a little bit groovy, and want to stay warm without looking like a trekker? Well fear not there is even an insulated jacket for your fine (but frozen) tastes. Parkas have been around for a while, we all remember the ones with walrus tooth buttons and hoods that ruin your hearing and peripheral vision. Well fortunately the finest outdoor brands have gone to work on the beleaguered old parka and now, like a VW Beetle with a V8 engine, they not only look cool but also banish the most bitter weather.

 

Softshells

The bizarre thing about softshells is that no one can really agree on what they are. To highlight how bad things have become here’s a list of what we do know; Softshells are not waterproof (apart from the ones that are), they are fully windproof (apart from the ones that are not) and they are highly breathable (mostly). See what I mean?

In my opinion a soft shell is the outdoor industries answer to a sports jacket. A shorter, lighter jacket for when the weather is less favourable but not horrific. They are made from soft pliable fabrics with a matt finish, and offer some degrees of rain and wind protection. Now here’s the important bit. In simple terms the degree of rain or wind protection offered comes down to one factor. Does it have a membrane (a thin weather resistant layer bonded inside the material) or not?

Non Membrane Softshells

Temperature Rating:

 Cool

Rain Rating:

 Shower-proof

Style:

 High Street or Outdoor

 

Without a membrane softshells feel lighter and more supple. In addition if you’re being particularly active, or if it’s muggy, a non membrane softshell will be significantly more breathable.

 

Membrane Softshells (Bonded Softshells)

Temperature Rating:

 Cool

Rain Rating:

 Water Resistant

Style:

 High Street or Outdoor

 

With the addition of a membrane a softshell is better suited to poorer weather conditions. Such softshells are both fully windproof and highly water resistant, with some even being totally waterproof. Unfortunately models with and without membranes can look almost identical so have a read through the swing tags and look out for leading membrane materials like Gore Windstopper, Polartec Power Shield, and North Face’s Apex Bionic.

 

Summary

So what have we learned? Well hopefully I’ve helped you get to grips with the two main considerations you’ll have when buying a winter jacket, 1) How will it perform? 2) How will it look?

What performance you need comes down to what you’ll be doing, and in what kind of weather you’ll be doing it. Regarding the amount of insulation required it’s not only about how cold it is but also how active you’ll be. You may not believe it but I’ve been colder watching football matches than I have climbing most mountains. In a similar way waterproofing isn’t all about how hard it’s raining. The duration you’re forced to stay out in the rain is arguably more important. A half day walking in drizzle is far wetter than dashing to the shops in a downpour. 

So finally we come to the aesthetics. Some jackets look more outdoorsy and others less so, but as style is such a personal thing there’s little point in going any further. At the end of the day if you want fashion advice there are far better qualified than me. If you imagine getting dressed from a sale rail in a power cut you’ll have a rough idea of the look I generally achieve.

 

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