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A good, warm parka is a barrier to wind and cold temperatures, and is an insulation device to prevent heat loss. If you are looking for a suitable parka for sub-freezing conditions, there are several criteria to look at to ensure getting the best possible parka for your conditions.
Humidity and Precipitation
Below freezing temperatures (under 32 degrees Fahrenheit) occur in dry or wet environments. A parka designed for one is not necessarily a good option for the other. If you live in a cold and damp region such as the Northwest, coastal Alaska or the New England seashore, avoid using a goose down parka unless it has a waterproof shell. Instead, the best possible option for a sub-zero parka is using a parka that is packed with synthetic material such as Qualofill or Holofil. Unlike goose down, these fibers maintain heat retention and thermal qualities even when wet.
Dry and Semi-Arid Conditions
Your best option for a sub-freezing parka in a dry environment like the high country in the Rockies or the high desert of eastern Washington and Oregon is goose down. Down is a very lightweight material that is an exceptional insulator. Goose down packs down smaller than most synthetic fillers. Down does not retain thermal qualities when wet, making it a poor choice for wet environments, but a great choice for semi-arid and dry environments. Look for down parkas with a minimum 650 down rating. The absolute best down rating is an 800 fill rating.
The fabric that holds the insulation is as important as the insulation itself. When looking for the best option in a sub-freezing parka, choose one with a breathable and waterproof shell. Look for fabrics such as Gore-Tex or H2No. This allows the body to sweat without the insulating material accumulating the moisture from the evaporated sweat.
If you walk into most outdoor outfitters or outdoor sports stores you find a vast selection of winter parkas. Look for a temperature rating tag on the coat. Make sure to find one rated below 32 degrees, and if at all possible, find one with the red octagon announcing the parka is a "Windstopper" fabric, as well as breathable. This means the parka has a wind shell barrier in addition to the breathable fabric and insulation.
A former Alaskan of 20 years, Eric Cedric now resides in California. He's published in "Outside" and "Backpacker" and has written a book on life in small-town Alaska, "North by Southeast." Cedric was a professional mountain guide and backcountry expedition leader for 18 years. He worked in Russia, Iceland, Greece, Turkey and Belize. Cedric attended Syracuse University and is a private pilot.