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I live in one of the coldest places on Earth—Alaska. Not many people have to wear a jacket to go to the bathroom, but I do because I live in a dry cabin outside of Denali National Park, and trips to the outhouse during the heart of winter are brutal. I wear parkas essentially from October through April. The worst weather I’ve experienced in my life was -52 degrees with winds that swept me off my feet while climbing Denali, the highest peak in North America.
Given the Alaska life, I knew I could easily vet out the best parkas in the business. If you are exploring the great outdoors anytime and anywhere during the winter, you are going to want some kind of parka. Whether you are skiing, snowshoeing, snow machining, mountaineering, or hiking, the parka can keep you warm while on the move. Here are some of the best men’s parkas I’ve tested over the years
- Best for Hunting: Kuiu Super Down Parka
- Best for a Climbing: Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downclime Alpine Parka
- Best Value: Helly Hansen Active Winter Parka
Things to Consider When Buying a Parka
First and foremost, comfort is key. Think of a parka as your favorite blanket wrapped around you, something you cherish and go back to constantly. The jacket needs to fit you well and be able to move with you. It should be able to fit multiple layers underneath, so going one size larger may be a better choice. If you are at a store trying on parkas, walk around, bend over, sit and move around in them to make sure they feel like an extension of your body and aren’t getting in the way or cumbersome.
Most likely, you are going to own this jacket for a very long time, and you want to last a lifetime. Make sure the outer shell is made with a heavier fabric that won’t rip as easily as your puffy jacket. Constantly check and inspect your parka for any rips, tears, and pulls, and fix them before they get worse.
This is an obvious one. If you are researching parkas, you must be going to or living in a cold place. Ask this question: would you rather be too warm or too cold? I would choose too warm, so pick out a parka you think would match or exceed the weather conditions you are venturing into.
Wind and water resistance
Look for parkas that state they have DWR coating or some type of waterproof quality to them if you think you will be getting wet. It is best to have a windproof parka.
Beefy zipper with long pulls is a must. Most of the time, you are trying to unzip with heavy gloves on. Make sure you have long pulls you can grab on your zipper. Having a two-way zipper helps when you need the dump some heat or when wearing a climbing harness.
The cuffs on your sleeves are important too. Make sure they are adjustable or have some type of cinch to them. This keeps the cold and snow out. It also allows you to cinch them over your glove.
An adjustable hood is a must for a reliable parka. I like hoods that adjust on the back of the hood as well as on either side of your neck. A bigger hood is a plus for when you are wearing a climbing helmet.
Having a cinch around the hem of your waist helps keep your parka down when you lift up your arms and keeps the cold air and snow out.
Most of the time, you store your parka in your pack when not using it. Down packs smaller than synthetic materials. If the parka comes with a stuff sack, that is great. If not, consider getting one.
Pockets help keep your gear organized when not stored in your pack. It is better to be able to reach into one of your pockets than stop and take off your pack. Make sure you have at least a few pockets that can zip up and some interior pockets that are big enough to hold food and maybe a water bottle to prevent it from freezing. I like pockets that can hold my avalanche receiver, phone, camera, GoPro, snacks, SPOT, sun lotion, chapstick, and knife.
Synthetic vs. Down
This is a personal preference, and they both have different benefits.
Pros: It is typically warmer than synthetic. It is very compressible, durable, and can last a long time with proper care.
Cons: Loses its insulation when it gets wet and takes a long time to dry out. Cleaning a down parka requires special care. Down is more expensive than synthetic.
Synthetic: Pros: Water-resistant, even when wet. Less expensive than down.
Cons: Heavier and bulkier than down. Less warmth. After a time, it loses its full insulation ability when constantly being stuffed.
Newer to the market is Hydrophobic Down, which is down material that has been coated with a chemical to make it absorb less water and dry faster.
Best for Hunting: Kuiu Super Down Parka
- 9 ounces of insulation
Why It Made the Cut
This feature-rich, fully adjustable, bombproof parka is also water and windproof.
- Mesh pit zips
- Included stuff sack
- Comes in a camouflage pattern
A traditional down jacket is not what you want to be wearing on hunting trips. Not only does down loses its’ insulating capability when wet, but there’s bound to be bushwacking while deep in the backcountry searching for game. Jackets get caught on branches and tear easily.
In this parka, the stretchy three-layer nylon exterior is more durable, and the proprietary 850-fill Quixdown down is treated with DWR, thus keeping moisture away, so you stay dry even when wet.
There are zero cold spots on this jacket. You can cinch this tighter in just about every part on the upper body—two different spots on the hood, both sides of the waist, a middle cinch about 9 inches around the torso accessed from each pocket, and both cuffs with Velcro. Cold cannot penetrate the two-way zipper thanks to the 2 inches of material behind the zipper as well as a snap button on the bottom and a zipper pouch on top (one of my pet peeves is my zipper hitting me in the chin). The massive hood is packed with insulation and has a 4-inch draft collar.
You can never have enough pockets, especially on a hunt. This parka has two seam-sealed hand pockets where I stored my phone and GoPro, one zippered interior pocket on the chest where I kept my SPOT, and a huge open dump pocket where I stored my gloves and beanie when I heated up.
One standout feature that is a rare find in down jackets is the pits have internal mesh pit zips, which means a bit of breathability when sweating up a storm.
At 1 pound 12 ounces, this jacket isn’t the lightest, but it kept me dry and warm while exploring the windy, wet southern coast of Alaska, where the weather can turn on a dime. Bonus: I used this as extra insulation while camping, allowing me to carry a lighter sleeping bag.
Best for Climbing: Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downclime Alpine Parka
- Climbing harness capable
- 800-fill down combined with synthetic insulation
- Set back elastic cuffs
Why It Made the Cut
Wearing a climbing harness and a parka can be bulky, but this parka tries to avoid that.
- Made with DWR materials
- Responsible, trackable down insulation
- Hand pockets are high up (not ideal when not wearing a harness)
This parka made the cut mainly because it’s made for mountaineering. The 2-way zipper and high hand pockets mean it fits perfectly with a climbing harness making for easy belaying and accessing your pockets without taking your harness off. Adjustability is nice, with one at the waist and two on the hood.
The insulation is a blend of 800-fill down and synthetic, so it not only kept me plenty warm while snowshoeing on the outskirts of Denali National Park, but I didn’t have to worry when it started to change to freezing rain. The warmth was sustained. The 30-denier ripstop nylon fabric kept all the down in with no problems even when bushwhacking through thickets of willows and alders.
The hood works perfectly with or without a helmet, and I especially love the elastic cuffs, which are set back in the sleeve and can fit under or over your glove.
Six pockets (4 of them zippered) provide plenty of room to stash all types of gear, snacks, and your beacon. I used this jacket when temps dipped into the -30s, and with minimal layers underneath I was plenty warm.
Best Value: Helly Hansen Active Winter Parka
- Polyester synthetic fill
- Water repellent
Why It Made the Cut
Parkas are really not ever affordable, but this synthetic variety can work for just everyday use as well as winter escapes in the mountains.
Huge front zipper pull
Front zipper pull can hit you in the face when fully zipped up
“Helly Hansen” written in huge letters across the hood
Small zipper pulls for the hand pockets
At $300, this is cheaper than others out there, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well it held its warmth and how many features it still boasts.
I feel like the stay puff marshmallow man in this parka, as you can feel the compressed polyester throughout the jacket with each baffle bulging out. Yet, I appreciated the full-bodied insulation that kept me warm when temps dipped to the -20s.
I loved that the cinch around the cuffs retracts into the jacket, mimicking gaiters around your wrist. The hood is well insulated with easy-to-adjust drawstrings on either side. The back of the jacket has a drop-in tail, which helps keep the cold air from blowing in from underneath and provides a seat warmer when taking a break on snow.
The chest pocket is easy to access with a huge pull but was not as big as I wanted it to be as it could not fit my avalanche beacon. The interior pockets make up for this, as there is one large mesh and one large zipper pocket on either side. The two exterior hand pockets are average size. But do zip up. With gloves on, I give it a ding for the small zipper pulls—a bit cumbersome.
Pro Tip: I recommend upsizing the parka. I am a medium and feel the large would have been a better fit, especially with additional clothing underneath.
I researched and used my past experiences with parkas to find who makes the best and why. I wanted to find a range of jackets from budget-friendly to expensive ones and compare the differences. I then ventured out into the Alaska wilderness just outside my front door.
Before investing in my first expensive parka, I did a ton of research. I looked at magazines and online for quality reviews that would lead me in the right direction. I also talked to like-minded people who have been doing the same activity that I wanted the parka for. I gathered real feedback and then went to my local store to try on several options. I even rented a heavy parka for a Mount Rainier climb.