I am what most would call a “winter wimp” despite living where winters are not nearly as horrendous as some; for example, we don’t often get more than 4 feet of snow in an entire season (the 2014 Winter From Hell was an exception.) Our average temperature is about 32°F/0°C in January, and by March it’s usually in the 40sF. Although there is the occasional blizzard or nasty winter nor’easter, cold snaps in the teens F rarely last more than a week at a time. Our winters are often a symphony of freeze/thaw cycles. So why am I complaining??
Because I’m one of those people who classifies anything below 60°F/16°C as “chilly.” [I can hear my New England and Upper Midwest readers guffawing at this.] I’m also one of those people who hates to layer clothing: I want to throw a single item of Appropriate Outerwear over a cotton shirt and go outside without having to immediately start shivering, stamping my feet, and rubbing my arms in order to keep my blood from freezing. The heating thermostat in my house is set at 69°F in early November and left that way 24/7 until the crocuses emerge. (By the way, anything above 85°F/29°C is “hot” and anything over 95°F/35°C qualifies as “gaaaah! I can hardly breeeathe!!” ..… in case you were wondering.)
I do have some winter coats in my closet. For instance there’s a ski suit even though I never have nor ever will engage in anything remotely resembling skiing but it’s perfect when clearing the driveway with a snowblower or even just for shoveling when it’s windy, because the snow can’t sneak inside anywhere and then melt. I do have an impossibly gorgeous long winter coat that would be the perfect thing to wear to an Inaugural Ball but is totally unsuitable for my now-current lifestyle. Also there’s a fur-lined hooded short jacket that keeps (only) my upper body toasty warm…as long as the weather is neither below freezing nor windy.
So this year I decided that I wanted a coat that was long-ish, hooded, windproof, impervious to sleet or snow, would keep me totally warm way down into single digits or below, and could be tossed into the washer/dryer as needed. Oh, and that would not make me look like the Michelin Man or as if I’m on my way to the Winter Olympics tryouts. In other words, the Ultimate Winter Coat.
It turns out that finding such a coat is not easy. After researching synthetic insulating materials, Primaloft® and OmniHeat® were the best rated but 99% of the coats using them are of the “winter sports” styling and/or colors which just isn’t my thing. I finally settled on Columbia’s Mighty Lite jacket for $140. Supposedly the high-tech silvery dots lining the entire interior reflect the wearer’s body heat and keep them toasty warm in combination with the OmniHeat® insulating layer.
The coat itself is quite thin and lightweight (advertised these days as “packable”, i.e., what once used to be called “flimsy”.) But it instantly made me feel very warm when I tried it on in-store, although there was no useful outdoor test possible for more than a month. On the first mid-40s day I tossed it on and out the door I went. And came right back five minutes later to change to my furlined jacket because by that time I was seriously shivering. So much for “retaining my body heat.” Piffle. All the reviews claiming that this coat “keeps me wonderfully warm in bitterly cold weather” must be ghostwritten, or maybe that person was wears three layers underneath? Back to the Google Search drawingboard.
Searching for “hooded long Primaloft® coat” led me to some blog posts about a company named Vaute Couture. They’re based in New York and Toronto and make vegan (using no down, leather or fur) clothing in limited quantities. Their Lincoln coat is hooded, windproof, sleek and super-stylish even though it’s stuffed with plenty of Primaloft® insulation, and hits mid-calf which seemed the perfect length for maximum warmth.
What it is not, however, is inexpensive. My first reaction to the price was “No way.” But then I began to rationalize “well, if it does keep me totally completely warm no matter what the weather, for years and years to come…” (you can see where this is going) So I decided to give it a whirl.
One thing I’d failed to internalize was that the coat in the photo was a size Small worn by a 5’10” fashion model. I am about five inches shorter than that young lady and although having a slim torso (how’s that for a euphemism?) I cannot comfortably wear a Small in anything that has sleeves because I have deceptively wide shoulders. Sometimes even a Medium is skimpy, so a Large was suggested in my case due to the coat’s tailored cut. Given both these factors, the Large was a bit longer than the coat in the photo; okay, it ended at just barely above my ankles.
The coat is windproof because it’s made entirely of ripstop nylon, which is a material I’d never worn before; my whole wardrobe is made of natural-fiber garments, mostly 90%-100% cotton. Turns out that moving around in a nylon coat causes me to generate enough static electricity to power a small building. This interaction between myself and the coat was totally unforseen, especially the hood which would be something constantly in use. And enough of a downside for me to head back to the drawing shopping board again. (Note: Others may well not have the static issue that I did with this coat, because I know many people do wear nylon garments with absolutely no problem.)
My next candidate was found in a local winter-sports specialty store, where the three-quarter-length Primaloft®-filled Bogner Irena seemed to fit the bill. This coat is part of their “Fire + Ice” line, which sounded promising.
I took great care to make sure that none of the fabric content was nylon. The coat is thicker than the Mighty Lite (almost anything would be) but thinner than the Lincoln. It fit very well (though again I required a Large in order to avoid “pulling” across the shoulders) and is a nicely understated “townie” style with no advertising on the exterior. It was priced the same as the Vaute coat but hey, if it would keep me totally warm in all conditions without turning me into a walking Van deGraaff generator.…
Except that, surprisingly, it didn’t keep me all that warm. It was 27°F and not even windy, yet I found myself shivering just walking to and from the car and stores. That was unexpected and did not bode well for any days when the temperature or windchill might fall into the single digits. In fact, when I first got into the car that morning I’d felt the the cold from the leather seat travel right through the coat. Brrrrr. Back to the…well, you know.
After returning the Bogner I went on a try-on blitz of dozens of other insulated coats; all were found severely wanting in fit, quality, appearance or combinations thereof. I had convinced myself that I absolutely did not want a down garment because they need to be drycleaned (don’t believe the hype about so-called ‘washable down’; they are never the same afterwards, trust me) and they inevitably leak feathers from the seams. And then there’s the arguments over the relative merits of goose down, duck down, down blends, hypoallergenic down, natural down, washed down, sheesh, enough already! I must have read more “reviews” verbiage on Amazon than is contained in War and Peace. However, a few of the reviews mentioned a brand called Canada Goose being the gold standard of winter outerwear and out of curiosity/desperation I investigated.
I discovered that Canada Goose is one of those brands that evoke strong opinions because during the Polar Vortex of winter 2014 their coats suddenly became mega-trendy. They are also pricey (though not as much as Moncler coats which start at four digits instead of the high threes.) Some people feel that Canada Goose coats are worth every cent, while others decry them as nothing more than a marketing coup. Personally I couldn’t care less about which celebrities or athletes wear them; I just want a coat that will keep me 100% warm every moment no matter what Old Man Winter might deliver, fits me comfortably, and is constructed to last decades with normal care. This brand sounded like it might be it. Also, the fact that they are not made in China was a serious point in its favor.
What I ended up with is their Trillium model which on me ends about 2″ above the knee in the Large size. They do make a knee length (Kensington) and a calf length (Mystique) style but neither of those fit me as comfortably as does the Trillium. Yes it’s a down-filled coat which will need drycleaning, and no it doesn’t cover 75% of my legs but oh baby, is this coat ever warm! At first I disliked the coyote fur trim on the hood but later came to like the look. The coat is utterly windproof. It doesn’t generate even one single nano-zap of static electricity. It has clever interior straps that allow you to quickly switch to wearing it like a backback (arms-free) indoors if desired; this sounds awkward but it’s not, and you don’t even feel the straps when not in use. The hood is adjustable two ways, and removable (though that’ll never happen with me). The fabric is excellent quality, feels luxe, and is far nicer than the not-much-less-expensive made-in-China competitive model made by North Face. The construction is impeccable, which is something I rarely say about any off-the-rack garment nowadays. This coat looks and feels as if it will last for the rest of my life (as well it should, at that pricepoint.)
So through trial and error I have finally found what for me is the Ultimate Winter Coat….which probably means that global warming will kick into overdrive next year and we’ll never see another snowflake in my area again!