Winter officially begins this Friday, and it’s time to rug up. But if you live in a city, like more than half the world’s population, you need something more versatile—and stylish—than just a sealskin or a pillow with sleeves.
No, a solid winter jacket is arguably the most important piece of winter gear in your anti-cold arsenal, and there’s never been a better time to level up. Down may still be the king of the insulators, but between technical fabrics and smart design, they’re not all the same marshmallowy overcoats of yesteryear. All of the jackets we tested were seriously good; but all had tragic flaws as well. So which is the Bestmodo?
In order to be considered, the jacket had to meet these four preliminary qualifications:
• Screw layering. There can be only one. Layer.
• Down. For warmth-to-weight, there’s still nothing better.
• Waterproof. Once down is wet, it’s useless. It must be shielded, see?
• US$400 max price. There are plenty of amazing jackets out there for more, but the economy sucks.
• Coolness. This is the Internet Age—a video of you could end up on YouTube at any time, and you don’t want to look like the Michelin Man’s goofy younger brother.
I wore the jackets in a New York winter at the start of 2012. A lot. For something as personal as a jacket, you’ve got to live in it for a while. Some days I would switch between all four to objectively compare them in the same weather conditions. At times, each of them were tested with just a t-shirt (no hat, gloves, or scarf) to see how it did in a grab-and-go situation. To test water-proofiness I literally stood in a cold shower, wearing each of them for 20 minutes. It was weird.
4th Place: Patagonia Wanaka
This is arguably the best-looking of the four jackets tested. The 2-layer waterproof polyester shell has an attractive texture to it. The jacket is short cut, which frees up mobility and makes it look more urban, but it leaves more of your legs/butt uncovered. The hand pockets are deep and have a very thick microfiber lining which actually makes them reasonably warm, but they are outside of the down, so you’ll still need gloves when it gets really cold. It has two additional outer chest pockets, and one inner stash pocket. [imgclear]
It held up well in the waterproof test, but you will probably want to reapply some waterproof sealant at least once or twice per winter as it seems to wear off easily.
It’s also not as comfortable as the others. The collar has a soft micro-fleece lining but it inexplicably stops in front of your chin. That, combined with a very stiff zipper, makes it really dig into the underside of your jaw in an very displeasing way. The whole torso is also very baggy. The jacket seems to be out of stock most places right now, so it’s either extremely popular or being discontinued. US$280-$350
3rd Place: The North Face Glitchin
It absolutely killed the waterproof test; water skidded right off and the fabric dried almost instantly (although the non-adjustable elastic cuffs let water into the sleeves when I held my hands up). It has four pockets: two hand, one chest, and one inner water-bottle pocket. The hood is not removable (the only one of the group), and the brim could be a little stiffer. It’s a short jacket, and it looks nice n’ trim. It can compress down to the size of a football and weighs just over a pound and a half.
It’s really too bad. I absolutely recommend it to anyone in a milder climate, but this thing simply could not hack it in a New York winter. US$400
Note: Fill power is a measurement of the fluffiness or density of the down. It has nothing to do with how much down is actually used in the product, and therefore, does not tell you how warm the product will keep you. In theory the higher the fill power the less down the jacket needs because it will provide more loft for with less material. However the 800-fill down was not nearly enough to compensate for the very low amount that was in there.
2nd Place: Marmot Yukon Classic
This jacket is just not very attractive. It’s big, heavy, and bulky. Pockets jump out at you from every direction, but the dorkiest thing of all is the face-flap (see photo in gallery). If it’s crazy-cold you’ll want it covering you, but most of the time you won’t and you’ll just have it, well, flapping around, getting in your way, being generally awkward and annoying. You can’t snap it back or anything. There’s also a weird sizing-problem. I’m 6-foot and 175 pounds, which is to say, not small. I got the medium and I am absolutely swimming in this thing. It’s somewhat baffling. Also, it’s not the comfiest jacket. There’s no micro-fleece around the chin or neck which can lead to some chafing. But damn this thing is warm.US$400
BESTMODO: Mountain Hardwear Downtown Coat
This meant I could use this jacket when it was below zero with no hat, scarf, or gloves. There is plenty of stuffing in the body and in the hood. You can cinch in the waist to give it a snugger fit (though you can’t pull in the bottom, so there can be some updrafting), and the rib-knit elastic cuffs don’t let in any wind. Aside from my favorite hand-pockets of all time, it has a small chest-pocket and a small inner-pocket (a larger interior pocket for a scarf/hat really would have been nice). It comes in black or in khaki. Khaki costs US$105 less, amazingly.