How to Choose Outerwear
by Jane Marshall
Buying quality outerwear is an investment. You want to make sure you get just the right wardrobe piece for your activity of choice, whether it’s snowshoeing or walking to work. The truth is, there’s a big difference between cheaper quality jackets and pants and ones created and tested by trusted outdoor companies. That’s our job at Campers Village—to curate a collection of the best outwear.
There’s lots to consider: Fabric type, insulation, waterproofing options, breathability… But don't get overwhelmed. Our buyers and staff can give you the goods without bogging you down with the rest. Let learning about tech specs become a fun read, or an outing to our stores.
Let’s break it down into layman’s terms for some pre-shopping research.
We’ve chosen two categories: Aerobic and casual.
When cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and winter running it’s all about breathability and mobility. Upper garments have strategically placed wind blockers on the core to protect you against elements hitting your chest. This area also has insulation to regulate your core temperature. It might be down, wool, or synthetic material for insulation, then a wind-blocking face fabric on top. The arms and back have less insulation and more breathability so you don’t get too toasty.
Layering is key. When you start your activity, your outer layer will likely be a light down or synthetic jacket, or perhaps a wind-breaker. But as soon as you get moving and sweating, off it comes. This is where you’ll be protecting your core, but needing breathability. Look for garments with venting zips or extra breathable patches under the arms. Your body will push the heat out through these areas to keep you comfortable.
When you’re not out for a workout, you need something warmer. This is less about layering and more about having something long, warm, and with wind-resistant face fabric, like a classic parka.
If you’re colder by nature or need to spend time outside without too much movement, go for down. It traps heat quickly and has the best warmth-to-weight ratio. Down can even come with waterproofing these days; it’s treated in huge tumblers. If you’re going to be in wet conditions, treated down won’t clump and will retain its warmth better than non-treated down.
Synthetic is more durable and affordable, but you must produce a certain amount of heat to warm up the jacket. PrimaLoft is one of the best synthetic insulations available and comes in sheets. It can also be used in innovative ways like shredding it and forming it into puffy little balls to make it warmer.
A good parka can last 15 years or more, and reputable brands will warranty zippers and other key design items for the garment’s lifespan.
It’s a balancing act between waterproof ability and breathability. You’ll find laminates like GoreTex and similar fabrics, DWR (Durable Water Repellency) treatments, as well as waxed options on the market.
GoreTex and similar technical fabrics, is fabric that is waterproof, but still breathes. The waterproofing doesn’t wear off because it’s the fabric itself that’s waterproof. It’s usually layered between inner and outer protective fabrics. DWR is a chemical coating used to shed water off a garment’s surface. It can be applied and re-applied with a wash-in or spray-on product. The key to having your garments function best is to keep them clean so the pores can breathe.
Wax is less breathable but more environmentally sustainable. It fills the material’s pores, so it’s best used on the knees of pants or areas that don’t need maximum breathability. Here’s a video to learn more:
Some companies are getting funky, like Columbia. With their OutDry line, they’ve put the waterproof membrane on the outside of the garment, to eliminate the need for a chemical DWR treatment. An inner fabric provides softness against the skin.
This is something lots of us misunderstand: The number on the side of a down jacket doesn’t describe the jacket’s warmth; it describes the loft of the down clusters inside. This is called fill power.
If you see 800 fill on the jacket’s arm, this number refers to the air space between down clusters. The more space, the more loft, and therefore the more compressible the garment becomes. An 800 fill jacket might be very light and thin, but extremely compressible and quite breathable.
Heavier poofy jackets will have a lower fill power but can be warmer because of the amount of down used. Look for something with lots of thickness and loft.
Watch for seams. Is the seam sewn right through? This will let in cold air. Is it baffled? Baffling helps trap air in the down for extra warmth.
Brands like Icebreaker and SmartWool are playing with baffles of wool as insulation. Wool has a lower warmth-to-weight ratio than down, but it can be great for aerobic activities.
Is it Worth it to Pay More?
It’s totally up to you. But something to watch for with less-expensive jackets is that the insulation can settle and create cold spots. Also, some down can have a higher percentage of feathers that can bleed through the fabric. To prevent this, manufacturers will put in a thicker face fabric that makes the coat less breathable.
For more information, please visit us in store. Campers staff receive special training from each brand so they can help you find just what you need.
Stay warm, stay happy.