Thinking of buying a down jacket for the Canadian winter? What you need to look for

We all have wardrobe “staples”- basic items of clothing that almost every person has which mix and match to work in every situation. From a structured black blazer and nice dress pants, to a white t-shirt and your go-to sweat pants- no matter what other goodies are added to our closets, these are the basics we come back to.

For Canadians, we also have our cold weather staples to help us get through those long winter months- a warm scarf, thick gloves, toque with a pom-pom and boots of some sort.  The leader of the cold weather wardrobe staples is the coat. However, not all coats were created equal.

When we were younger, we sometimes sacrificed function for fashion, choosing that beautiful cashmere wool coat over the plushy, down-filled long parka because the coat was more “figure-flattering”. Well, as winters get colder and ice storms keep coming, we’ve smartened up. Looking trendy isn’t going to help us forget that our legs are freezing and our faces are stinging from the wind.

Over the past few years, down jackets have established themselves as the new winter wardrobe “must”. These jackets are filled with soft goose or duck feathers which insulate really well. They come in a variety of lengths from short (hitting the waist) to long (hitting the mid-calf), and everywhere in between. Hoods with a good lining (fur and faux fur are popular) also help make sure all your body heat stays close to you.

Depending on the quality and brand, these down jackets don’t always come cheap. With its popularity growing, there are some things you need to know, whether you buy it used or new, to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

Think About Your Needs:
We all have different jobs, routines, habits, and interests. All these factors influence what type of down jacket will work best for you. Length and weight of the down jacket are important aspects of the jacket to keep in mind. If you’re out in the cold all day or for very long periods of time or you’re constantly outside doing winter sports, it would make sense to invest in a full or medium length jacket that will shield you from snow, ice pellets, hail, biting wind, etc. On the other hand, if you just need a warm jacket to shield you from the walk from your office building to your car (and maybe a few outings in between), a short to mid-length would work fine. Often, the longer your down jacket is, the more expensive it will be which is why it’s important to know your needs in order to figure out if what you’re buying is worth it.

Along with length, weight is also important to consider. Same rules apply: if you’re going to be wearing the jacket for a long time everyday, obviously you won’t want to buy a down jacket that is incredibly heavy. Heaviness in a jacket also affects pricing, which leads us to our next point:

Fill Power:
Fill power affects the weight and cost of your jacket. The “fill” of your jacket depends on the type of down (feathers) used and also how much is filled per cubic inch. The “Fill Power” is listed on the label or tag. As a general guideline, any number over 550 is usually a good jacket that will keep you warm. However, for optimal warmth and insulation, you would want a jacket with a fill power of 750 or higher. The higher the fill power, the less “plushy” or poofy your coat is going to be. As with the first point, this is something to consider if you’re outside a lot and need to be flexible and moving.

Whether you’re purchasing a down jacket second-hand or from a store, it’s important to carefully inspect it. But what exactly should you be looking for?

The most important aspects of your down jacket are the following:

  • There shouldn’t be any gaps or holes where the feathers stick out.
  • Compress the jacket to double check for unwanted spaces and gaps
  • Look at the material it’s made out of; nylon and polyester are 2 of the more common and durable fabrics
  • Make sure you’re buying a down jacket made specifically for your gender because the stitching is different for men and women
  • If you’re buying used, ask the seller how long they’ve used the jacket, or inspect it for signs of wear to get an idea of how worn it actually is

Decide Which Features You Actually Need:
When you start heading down the rabbit hole of down jackets, you’ll notice that there are actually A LOT of added-on features that SEEM necessary but can sneakily add on to your cost. Zippers, extra zippers, latches, hoods, hoods with fur trim, hoods with real animal fur trim, buckles, adjustable hems, and Velcro straps are all extra details on a down jacket that can boost its style factor but may not be as nice to your wallet. Do your research and find out how each feature actually affects the function of your down jacket before deciding what you do and don’t need.

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