Canadians know winter. For half our year, we face snowfalls that would grind other countries to a halt, winds that would drive lesser lands to distraction. We brave daily temperatures that would render most people immobile with little more than a stereotypical "bit nippy out there today, eh?"
But we don't do it alone. Crazy Canuks we may be, but only the truly foolish brave our winters without some worthwhile gear. That said, there's gear, and there's gear. Even the best of us have been tempted by a random jacket seen in a big box store. You're there, it's there, things just seem easy. And it looks ok, right? How bad could it really be?
The word 'quality' gets bandied around quite a bit. But encased within it are a whole bunch of other important words - words like 'warmth,' 'longevity,' 'windproof' and--best of all--'lifetime guarantee'. When you're buying a jacket you're going to wear every day between November and March, a jacket that you want to last not a month or a season, but years, those words matter.
So why bother buying a brand name jacket? When you stick with a trusted brand--brands like The North Face, Patagonia, Outdoor Research, and Mountain Hardware--you're not just buying a name, you're buying a whole lot more
Materials - High quality winter jackets are made with down fill. Down is an exceptional natural insulator. Lightweight, warm and easily compressible, it'll keep you toasty warm on cold days, but packs down to a fraction of the size when you need to stuff it into a weekend bag. The higher quality the down, the better warmth-to-weight ratio--though not necessarily the warmer the jacket. A number of other factors influence a jacket's overall warmth.
Beyond the fill, both the lining and outer fabric of a jacket contribute to keeping you warm and toasty. Water resistant fabrics are great for snowy climates, where your own body heat can melt snow causing damp jackets that suck away vital warmth. Especially in our prairie provinces wind resistant materials are crucial, cutting down on the warmth-sucking windchill factor. The best winter jackets provide both wind and water protection, while still using breathable materials so you don't feel like you're wrapped in a piece of plastic. Cheap materials mean sub-standard warmth--plus a much higher likelihood your jacket's going to wear out before it should.
Sustainability - With a country this beautiful, it just makes sense to take care of it. When corners are cut it's the environment that suffers. At one time, manufacturers across the industry had little regard for the environmental and social impact of their products, but in the past few years outdoor brands have started to take notice of how their products are made. Our brands are committed to sustainable products at every level of the development process, from the materials down to the packaging you receive. Patagonia donates 1% of its profits to the '1% for the planet' initiative, and has its own nonprofit gear-trading program. Mountain Hardwear uses organic cotton and reclaimed wool in its products. The North Face actively works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at every level of production. The accountability of these manufacturers lets you rest easy, knowing the environmental impact of your purchase is being minimized.
Testing - Performance brands take their products seriously, and utilize teams of athletes to rigorously test them at multiple levels of development. Want something tried and proven? How does a parka that's been tested by climbers on Everest sound? The North Face did that, and we've got it. Canadian winters won't know what hit them.
Guarantees - Here's where trusted brands really blow things out of the water. You've got this jacket with all its great materials and features, and then the company steps in and says that if it stops being fantastic, they'll support you. In some cases, if you're simply dissatisfied with the product--for any reason--they'll work with you to fix it. North Face is famous for their lifetime guarantee of product performance. Patagonia offers a lifetime satisfaction guarantee that is unprecedented. When a company makes a good product, they aren't afraid to stand behind it. When a low-quality jacket flattens out a few months in, you end up cold, wet, and out of luck. So you go buy a new one. And then another. And then another...
Come in and break the cycle.
Photo 1: The North Face Himalayan Parka - our warmest jacket in store!
Photo 2: Warmth doesn't have to make you feel like the Michalen Man. This cute North Face Arctic Parka is a customer favourite, selling fast