What to look for in a winter jacket for the west coast
It is that time of year again. The leaves are changing colours, the mornings are darker and the evenings shorter. Autumn is here on the west coast and it will not be long before winter has come as well.
For some, this is the worst news they have heard all year. For others, their eyes are alight with thoughts of trips to Mount Washington and some skiing and shoe-shoeing fun. Still, more are dreaming of whitewater trips and rushing rivers. One thing is for sure: it is sweater weather on the west coast. What do you need to look for in a good quality technical winter jacket this year?
Purpose of the jacket
The most important thing to think of is the purpose of the jacket. What are you going to be asking it to stand up to? Are you a snowboarder looking to get up to the mountain as often as possible? Are you a commuter who bikes to work each day rain or shine? If you are going to be in wet environments you are going to need a high-quality waterproof and breathable outer layer on your jacket or even an insulation layer with a waterproof shell.
A good winter jacket will keep you both dry and warm. If you need to be dry more than warm, as is the case on our temperate coast, you should be placing more focus on a high-quality water-proof jacket. If you plan on venturing into sub-zero environments often, or are someone who is always cold, you need to make sure you are getting enough insulation. If you are going to be wearing your jacket for an activity where you are going to be producing a lot of heat you need to make sure that you are opting for a jacket that is breathable enough to handle the heat output from your body.
Another thing to keep in mind when picking a jacket is weight. The difference between a heavy winter coat for snowboarding and a lightweight rain jacket for hiking may not seem like a lot but when you are packing everything on your back for hours a heavy winter coat can be a pain in the neck, literally. On the other end of the spectrum if you are wearing a lightweight shell skiing every day on the mountain don’t be surprised if it is full of holes by the end of the season.
Waterproof outer layer
If you are going to be in wet environments you are going to need a high-quality waterproof outer layer with taped seams on your jacket or even an insulation layer with a waterproof shell on top. If you are looking more for warmth in those sub-zero snowy environments then the insulation will be something you need to look more closely at.
Arc’teryx is the premier Gore-tex provider on the market and Patagonia does a great job of keeping us dry as well with Gore-tex. Many brands also have an alternative waterproofing method; Patagonia has H2NO for example and Fjall Raven has Eco-Shell.
Many insulated winter jackets that are considered technical jackets for specific winter-related sports and activities will feature both insulation as well as a quality waterproof outer shell. If you do not plan to be in any kind of snowy or alpine environments, however, you do not need to look for that level of insulation and should focus more on a higher-quality water-proof and breathable jacket.
You have a few choices when it comes to insulation. These choices can further be broken down into natural fibres and then synthetic choices. Below are some of the common types we deal with at Ocean River.
Down is one of the premium insulators and is still widely used in the outdoor clothing and gear industry. Down has a great weight to warmth ratio. The only downside is that is is not very water-proof and when it gets wet it balls up and looses a lot of its ability to insulate against the cold. In wet environments down can be a very bad idea if not paired with a strong outer shell that can keep the insulation dry. There are techniques used to keep down jackets dry (DWR as well as chemical treatments that create hydrophobic down) but in very wet environments these cannot always be relied upon.
Plasticized fibres are the basis of synthetic materials. In the insulation world, these fibres are then inserted into garments to create an insulation similar to down. Unlike down jackets, synthetic jackets can withstand exposure to moisture better and dry faster. However, they do tend to hold odour and over time with a lot of compression and storage it will lose its loft, or fluffiness, and thus its ability to keep you warm.
Icebreaker has recently started making an insulated jacket with lofted Merino Wool. The advantage of this is that Merino Wool has anti-microbial properties, meaning that it will not hold odour like synthetic insulation. Merino Wool also has the ability to remain warm when it is wet making it a great insulation option on the west coast.
Once you know your needs for a winter jacket it will be easier for you to decide what qualities you need. If you are still feeling overwhelmed come in and talk to our outdoor gear experts and try on a few options.
Many people purchase a good quality winter jacket and then neglect to take proper care of it. A technical jacket requires more care than your average clothing piece. With proper care, a jacket can keep its performance qualities for far longer. To learn how to properly care for Gore-tex and waterproof shells check out our blog article on How to Care for Gore-tex. If you are looking for how to care for a baffled or down-filled jacket we have a blog post for that too.