We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but according to the scientists at AccuWeather, this winter is shaping up to be exceptionally cold, extra snowy and punctuated by Arctic blasts in some parts of the country. It could be a doozy, even by Canadian standards. The good news? Hostile weather is the perfect excuse to go coat shopping. Not all winter coats are created equal, so we asked the experts to break down the three warmest styles you can find, along with tips on what to look for (and how much you can expect to spend) when shopping.
A synthetic puffer
Pros: Hypoallergenic and easy-to-wash, they tend to be a more affordable option and dry quickly.
Cons: Synthetic fill offers less warmth per weight than down.
A synthetic puffer coat is as easy to wear as it is on your wallet. When shopping for a puffer or a down coat, Robyn Haliburton, divisional merchandise manager at Sporting Life, says to look for the following features: a two-way zipper, pockets both inside and outside and soft fabric, such as knit or fleece, at the chin and inside the cuffs to prevent wind or snow from entering (brrr!).
There are many types of synthetic insulators, such as Primaloft, which Haliburton says is incredibly compressible and soft as goose down. It’s best known for its optimum protection, even in wet weather (hi, Vancouverites) and is very easy to clean. Many manufacturers will offer warranties on their puffer coats, so be sure to follow the washing instructions for yours as they will differ based on the material.
A down-filled parka
Pros: Compressible, durable and long-lasting, down-filled coats have the highest warmth-to-weight ratio.
Cons: Down does not play well with water—it won’t insulate as well when it’s wet and can take a long time to dry.
The down-filled parka is as classic Canadian as a “double double.” Offering the most warmth for their weight, they’ve come a long way in the style department, with designers finding ways to make them slimmer without sacrificing warmth and adding chic details and embellishments. Before buying a parka, Haliburton recommends checking the percentage of down inside the coat. For example, 80/20 means that 80 percent of the insulation is down while 20 percent is “other.” “The higher the percentage of down, the lighter the coat.”
To protect your investment, Haliburton advises following the washing instructions outlined on the coat, which will differ based on the exterior material. “For coats that are machine washable and dryer-friendly, a good tip is to use tennis balls in the dryer to help fluff up the down,” she says. Depending on wear-and-care, these coats can be extremely long-lasting, says Haliburton. “People usually grow tired of their down coat style before they wear them out!”
A wool coat
Pros: Sustainable materials that offer great tailoring and a unique fit.
Cons: Can be heavy with little stretch for layering other garments and have the potential to irritate skin.
Arguably more elegant than their puffy counterparts, wool coats are ideal for the city slicker who needs to navigate from the office to the opera, often on public transit. Beyond its status in the style department, biodegradable wool gets points for being a super sustainable fabric choice, one that Prince Charles supports through his Prince’s Charities Canada. Matthew J. Rowe, the organization’s vice president, says that a wool coat can last for decades if cared for properly—at the end of the season, it should be hand washed and laid to dry, or dry-cleaned, before being put away for the summer. To maintain the coat’s original shape, Haliburton stresses the importance of fastening all buttons, zipping all zippers and hanging the coat on a durable wooden hanger.
The natural fabric is considered a hygroscopic fibre, meaning it has an innate way to regulate temperature. “It has a unique structure that reacts to the wearer’s body temperature, absorbing and releasing moisture to provide comfort in warm or cold weather,” explains Rowe. When shopping for a wool coat with warmth in mind, consider length (the longer, the warmer), closure styles, lining (make sure it’s wind-proof) and fabric content. “Look for 100 percent wool since it is the most sustainable natural fibre there is,” says Rowe. “Wool is breathable and a natural insulator—great qualities to have in a coat.”