A good parka is the last line of defense against extreme winter weather. Like the best winter jackets, they are typically they are burly, waterproof, and lengthy outer layers that max out on insulation, and therefore are not thought of as the most nimble of garments. But with advances in technology allowing for lighter insulation, more stretch, heat dumping zippers, and pocket overload, a new generation of parkas is ready to tackle the worst of winter exploration, or just a frigid walk around the block.
For this round-up we turned to the pros who make a living in cold, difficult climates—who rely on their gear to get the job done and get them home safe and sound. Our experts include famed adventure photographers Alex Strohl & Chris Burkard, celebrated guide and mountaineer Garrett Madison, endurance athlete and author Colin O’Brady, and Evan Green, filmmaker and expedition photographer for Full Circle Everest, the first all-Black team to summit the world's tallest mountain. We also included a few of our favorite parkas, too, since we're experts in our own right, of course.
Read on below for what to look for and which parka to trust this winter.
Field Mag's Top Picks:
- Best Lightweight Parka: Salomon Elixir Ultra Down Jacket
- Best Under $200: LL Bean Mountain Classic Down Parka
- Warmest Winter Jacket: 66 North Tindur Down Jacket
- Best Waterproof Parka: Mountain Hardwear Absolute Zero Parka
- Best Men’s Parka for City Use: Vuori Northmost Parka
- Most Sustainable: Paka Apu Parka
- Best Long Parka: Houdini Fall In Parka
- Best for Mountaineering: The North Face Pumori Down Parka
- Best Non-Insulated Parka: Klattermusen Ansur Windproof Parka
What Should You Look For In a Winter Jacket?
When selecting a winter parka, several crucial factors should be considered. Firstly, insulation is paramount; opt for down or synthetic fill to ensure warmth. Waterproof and windproof materials are essential to shield against the harsh elements. Look for a parka with a well-insulated hood and a high collar for added protection. Functional features like adjustable cuffs, multiple pockets, and a durable zipper are essential for practicality. Lastly, ensure a proper fit to trap heat effectively without feeling bulky. A quality winter parka should balance style, comfort, and functionality to keep you warm and stylish during the coldest months.
The 9 Best Winter Parkas for 2024
Best Lightweight Parka: Salomon Elixir Ultra Down Jacket
At just 400 grams, the Salomon Elixir Ultra Down jacket is the lightest on this list. The weight-to-warmth ratio makes it ideal for photographer Alex Strohl: “I always chose the warmest out there. My job involves spending long hours in chest deep snow, waiting for the light to improve. The Salomon Elixir Ultra Down is my jacket of choice for winter photo missions because it just works. Packs well, is warm enough for most places, and it looks good in sage green.”
Best Under $200: LL Bean Mountain Classic Down Parka
LL Bean is based in Maine, so the folks there know a thing or two about staying warm. Their 650-fill Mountain Classic Parka is long, warm, and water-resistant. At just under $200 it is also going to provide the most warmth for your dollar.
Insulation: 650-fill DownTek (down treated with DWR)
Warmest Winter Jacket: 66 North Tindur Down Jacket
Considering he is often shooting in frigid environments, the explorer, photographer, and author Chris Burkard does not mess around when it comes to warmth: “This is the piece I’ve used in the coldest possible conditions atop glaciers with katabatic winds, and in urban environments. It’s a hefty price tag but easily the most valuable piece of gear I personally own. I am in love with it. It was designed for Everest so I know it can hold up to expedition use and is burly enough to withstand anything I throw at it.”
Insulation: 800-fill RDS certified duck down
Best Waterproof Parka: Mountain Hardwear Absolute Zero Parka
When dealing with extreme conditions, getting wet isn’t an option. Colin O’Brady, the endurance athlete and author who was the first person to cross Antarctica solo and unsupported, understands this all too well: “The Mountain Hardwear Absolute Zero down parka has been my tried and true parka on many expeditions including twice on Everest, K2 in winter, crossing Antarctica, and crossing Greenland. Garrett Madison, who has summited Everest 15 times, designed the jacket, and his expertise helped make it superior in many ways, including warmth as well as functionality. Little details go a very long way.”
Insulation: 800-fill Responsible Down Standard (RDS) Certified Goose Down
Best Men’s Parka for City Use: Vuori Northmost Parka
When a performance apparel brand launches outerwear it is natural to be skeptical. Vuori’s bread and butter is uber stretchy and comfortable workout clothes. So I was surprised by the comforting weightiness and warmth of their Northmost Parka, which is incredibly soft on the inside and waterproof on the outside. The clean lines make it an ideal choice for frigid winter outings around town.
Insulation: 650-fill Responsibly Sourced Down
Most Sustainable: Paka Apu Parka
Last year the brand Paka, which utilizes alpaca fibers in their apparel, released PAKAFILL, an ethical insulation that they featured in their first line of jackets. This winter they’ve leveled up with the Apu Parka, which just won an ISPO Award for its sustainable and innovative construction. In addition to the alpaca-derived insulation, the parka also features a helmet compatible hood, armpit zips to dump heat, a stretchy and rainproof shell, and thumb holes so the sleeves move with you during high performance activities.
Insulation: PAKAFILL (130 grams per square meter in the body and 110 GSM in the arms and hood)
Best Long Parka: Houdini Fall In Parka
You’ll have to bend down when zippering up the Houdini Fall In Parka. It is long, hitting below the thigh and nearly reaching the knee. This allows it to excel when maximum coverage is required. It also hugs the body better than more bubble-like parkas, so it can move with you through a variety of conditions. Bonus: Houdini’s circular design practices mean it is recyclable.
Insulation: Primaloft Silver Insulation Hi-Loft Ultra (120 GSM in body, 80 GSM in hood and shoulders)
Best for Mountaineering: The North Face Pumori Down Parka
When snapping photos and working at high elevations, professional photographer and filmmaker Evan Green needs something that can insulate reliably: “My pick for a great cold weather parka would be the North Face Pumori Down Parka. I'm always so thankful to pull it out of my pack when conditions turn sideways. It's super puffy and very warm thanks to 800-fill down. The double zipper is great for accessing a climbing harness or just increasing mobility. I practically lived in this jacket at Everest base camp. It's like a wearable sleeping bag.”
Insulation: 800-fill RDS ProDown (retains loft in wet conditions)
Best Non-Insulated Parka: Klattermusen Ansur Windproof Parka
Most parkas feature insulation, but if you need coverage from high winds and precipitation in an otherwise temperate climate look no further than Klattermusen’s Ansur Windproof Parka. It is windproof and water-resistant, offering respite from high alpine gusts and repelling light precipitation, while remaining breathable and durable.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a parka and a jacket?
The main difference between a parka and a typical jacket is the length. Jackets usually hit near the waist whereas parkas are intended to provide more coverage, hitting below the hips and sometimes more. Since parkas provide ample coverage they often are used for harsh environments, and therefore commonly feature insulation as well as weather-resistant properties. Parkas are the outer layer that provides the most coverage.
How should a winter jacket fit?
A well-fitting winter jacket should provide enough room for layering without feeling overly bulky. It should cover your torso and extend slightly below the waist. The sleeves should reach your wrists but not bunch up, and the hem should cover your lower back. A snug but not constricting fit in the shoulders and chest will ensure mobility and warmth, whether you’re out hiking or in town running errands.
What kind of insulation should I be looking for in a parka?
Down jackets often feature duck down feathers or goose down feathers to create a warm, insulating layer between the outer and inner shells. Down is measured by how much space in cubic inches is produced by one ounce of down, from 550-fill (less insulating) to 1000-fill (more insulating). Natural down doesn’t insulate and becomes heavy when wet and therefore benefits from a DWR coating or a waterproof shell. Natural down has a history of production through exploiting animals leading to many companies sourcing only down that adheres to the Responsible Down Standard which ensures that the animals that provide the down have been treated humanely. Other brands like Paka have looked towards animals like alpacas to find other sustainable ways of creating insulation.
Synthetic down is engineered from polyester and other fabrics that allow it to mimic natural down. It does a better job insulating when wet though the production of synthetic down can be harmful to the environment. Many brands have worked to address this issue by using recycled fabrics to create synthetic insulation.
Ultimately when purchasing a parka there is no right kind of insulation, but understanding insulation can help in finding one that fits your specific needs and environmental principles.