If you live in a part of the world with harsh winters and you don't already own a heavy duty parka, it's time to get serious.
It's a strange, empowering feeling to be out walking in the bitter cold, witnessing the sheer pain and panic on peoples faces as you smile from your fur-framed view finder.
When it comes to choosing outerwear, most people err on the side of trying to look good.
But in reality, scampering from your car to the office in your insufficient coat won't do much for your image.
Meanwhile, a person wearing an appropriate parka can walk with poise and confidence.
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I've had some decent winter coats in the past.
This past winter though, with it's never-ending sub-zero temperatures and vicious winds, motivated me to step up my game in the outerwear department.
So this year, I'm rocking a Carhartt Kalkasa Snorkel Parka and I feel ready to take on anything Mother Nature can dish out.
Though I'm a big fan of layering, sometimes it can become quite tedious.
With outside temps below freezing and indoor temps usually somewhere in the neighborhood of Death Valley, it can be a pain have to strip multiple layers all day long when you walk into a store, home, or office.
With a parka like this, you can put it on over a single layer, walk outside in perfect comfort, and take it off right when you walk into a building. Couldn't be easier.
Why it's important to buy quality.
Last year I was in the market for a new parka, so I went out searching. I kept seeing all of these great looking coats, but the price tags were $300-$700.
Even though I could pay that price, I didn't want to.
So I went to Old Navy and picked up an almost identical looking coat for less than $100. “Clever boy,” I thought to myself.
Then the temperatures dropped below 20F and I realized that my coat really was lacking in the warmth department.
And that wasn't the only thing that bothered me.
For starters, the zipper got stuck on the inner baffle every time I tried to unzip it.
The hood was so shallow and poorly shaped that the fur trim was in the perfect position to stick to my eyeballs whenever I had it up (I seriously considered styling the faux fur with pomade).
There weren't any inside pockets, the buttons were nearly impossible to use with gloves, and the “hand warmer” pockets weren't insulated on the outside, kind of defeating the purpose.
None of these shortcomings are a real tragedy, but given that winter can last for about six months in Chicago, it was enough for me to replace it this year.
Now I don't mean to bash Old Navy. I like their products and think it's a great place for stocking up on basics.
But let's face it, Old Navy, and similar stores, is not a place to shop for “investment” pieces.
While I initially thought I'd gotten a “good deal”, the reality is that I paid almost $100 for the pleasure of being only partially warm and mostly annoyed for one of the most brutal winters of my life.
Optimal Parka Features
Make this winter a much more pleasant experience by investing in a quality parka.
As an easy rule-of-thumb, you can be sure that a parka from a company that's built its reputation on providing warm, practical outdoor gear is going to perform better than one from a mall brand/fashion store.
With quality outdoor gear, the details are already worked out.
The hand warmer pockets are insulated so they can actually do their job.
The zippers don't eat themselves.
Everything is designed to be used with gloved hands.
They don't cut cost by excluding pockets.
And I'm pretty sure they have someone try the coat on to make sure the fur isn't sticking to their eyeballs before it goes into production.
Here is a breakdown of the features that you will want in your parka purchase (seek out ones that cover the majority of these bases):
Fur Trimmed Hood – Besides looking cool, a fur trimmed hood (real or faux) acts as a wind diffuser and helps prevent water from rolling down the hood and dripping on your face.
Drawcords – These are essential for keeping the wind out and adjusting to different body types. You should look for adjustments around the hood, at the waist, and around the hem.
Down Fill Insulation – Down is the warmest insulation for a given weight available. This is what allows you to have a big puffy coat that doesn't weigh thirty pounds. Synthetic insulation is used in some situations but, for the most part, quality parkas will be down.
Waterproof Finish – You probably won't be wearing a coat like this in a thunderstorm, but you still want to keep the snow from melting and soaking in. Down looses a great deal of its ability to insulate when wet, so this is a very important feature.
Plentiful Pockets – By neglecting this aspect, “fashion” brands can save some serious cost. The reality is that you may want to have your cell phone on an inside pocket where it can stay warm. Also, having a variety of pockets available is useful when you're bundled up like Randy from A Christmas Story and it's hard to reach certain places.
Sleeve baffles – This isn't an adjustable feature, just a sweater-like cuff inside the outer cuff that keeps the wind from racing up your arms.
Zipper Pulls – These are tabs attached to your regular zipper. To fully understand their usefulness, try operating zippers without them while wearing thick ski gloves.
Velcro Closures – Sticking with the loss of dexterity theme. If your hands are freezing or inside a pair of chunky gloves, operating buttons or snaps could very well drive you mad. You could get in and out of the pockets of my coat while wearing boxing gloves.
Hand Warmer Pockets – These are the pockets behind the large, front patch pockets. This allows your hands to be closer to your body and thus stay warmer. It's a big plus if they're insulated on the outside, too.
Iron & Tweed Approved
A quality parka is an investment. These parkas walk the line between functional and stylish and give you the best bang for your buck.
Stay toasty, my friends.