Gear Review: Polar Parkas

A beefy parka lets sledders do camp chores comfortably at -40. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko

Compared to sleeping bags or tents, picking a down parka for extreme cold-weather expeditions is pretty simple. All the parkas below can handle -40. It’s possible that there are others out there. When in doubt about the polar worthiness of a potential model, look for these features:

– offset baffled. This means that there are no sewn-through seams where cold can leak through. The seams of the baffles, or down chambers, are protected by another down baffle on top of it, so the insulation is continuous. This is an old principle in sleeping bags, but only the warmest parkas have this feature.

– length. Some superwarm parkas are made not for polar expeditions but for 8,000m peaks. Some of these are cut short so that climbing harnesses can be worn with them. These aren’t appropriate for polar travel. You want a parka that’s reaches the floor of the tent when you’re sitting down, without being cumbersome car-coat length.

– good neck protection. You don’t always want to close the hood flaps. Good parkas have a meaty down-filled collar that zips or Velcros well under the chin.

– check the numbers: these parkas should have a pound or nearly a pound of down insulation and cost US$600 to $1,100. That doesn’t mean that every $1,000 down parka is arctic expedition appropriate. Sometimes, part of the cost is style rather than substance.

– a big inner pocket for insulating a water bottle.

Unnecessary Features

– fur ruff. A ruff is for wind protection, and around camp or in the tent, wind is not an issue. A ruff is just one more thing to ice up from breath. For the same reason, you don’t need a tunnel hood that extends far in front of the face.

– snaps. This is not a deal breaker (the Fjallraven and Rab parkas below are full of them) but no one does up snaps. So why put them in? This lack of thoughtful design might indicate problems in more important areas of the parka.

– knit cuffs. These just get in the way of gloves and wristlets.

 All the models below work for polar expeditions: (cost in US$)

Rock and Ice Parka by Feathered Friends, $829

Expedition Down Jacket by Fjallraven, $900

Absolute Zero Parka by Mountain Hardwear, $800

Xero Down Jacket, K Series by PHD, $1,100

Expedition jacket by Mountain Equipment, $590

Batura Jacket by Rab, $680

Grade VII Down Parka by Patagonia, $900

About the Author

Jerry Kobalenko

Jerry Kobalenko

Jerry Kobalenko is the editor of ExplorersWeb. Canada's premier arctic traveler, he is the author of The Horizontal Everest and Arctic Eden, and is currently working on a book about adventures in Labrador.

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4 Comments on "Gear Review: Polar Parkas"

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Christopher Morris

I wore this parka on Baffin Island, and it was fabulous:

Jerry, have you used all these parkas ? Several have features that represent serious faults in what is a critical piece of equipment. The Rab for eg, is impossible to adequately & comfortably close around the neck/face area, especially if wearing anything under it, as do it seems , several of the others featured here, and the weight of the Fjallraven parkas can be super high. I review many of these products, both in the field, and annually at ISPO. Most are made for mountaineering applications and are seldom suitable to the needs of polar travel. There are several manufacturers… Read more »