Outdoors gear is made for out there. As trends take wilderness apparel from the summits to the streets, Highsnobiety is recasting a seminal part of the outdoors for its new home. Trail Mix is a wear-test series, by Highsnobiety. Instead of climbing mountains, we put gear through tests that ring closer to home. Is that winter parka too warm for a subway commute? Which long johns come up short? Each month, we’ll take on a new category, testing five pieces in the wilds of New York City to answer questions just like these.
This time, we’re stuffed with parkas.
Big, bulky, and built to endure, parkas are the Dreadnoughts of the outdoors world. The typical outdoors layering system consists of a base layer, an insulator, and a shell. Parkas combine the weather resistance of a shell layer with the warmth of an insulator into a single garment, providing ease of dressing at the cost of agility.
In the wild, parkas are used when the wearer needs overwhelming warmth and weather resistance, but can’t depend on their own activity to warm themselves up. Sled-dog drivers, Arctic researchers, and climbers belaying the glacial slopes all don parkas.
While parkas may be potent, the same traits that make them overkill in the outdoors also make them surprisingly suitable around town. For car commuters, throwing on a parka provides instant comfort for the 5 minutes between doors. For urbanites, it’s a get-out-of-cold-free card that won’t snag and tear. Plus, with a parka, delayering is as simple as unzipping one single garment.
Call it a coincidence. Or if you’re clever, a “parkadox.” However you square it, this extreme outdoors gear has found a place in city wardrobes due to its practicality. With Covid restrictions keeping many of us outdoors for longer than expected this winter, Trail Mix left no rocks unturned to find the coolest, warmest parkas around. Here’s our picks for the season’s best.
The Responsible Retro
Founded in 1929, Oslo-based Norrøna is no stranger to the wet and the cold, or how to dress for it. The brand’s new GORE-TEX Outdoors Coat is a throwback-inspired 3-in-1 parka designed to help happy campers stay that way, no matter the weather.
While slimmer than most on this list, the Outdoors Coat makes up for its sub-Arctic warmth with sustainability and versatility. What looks like one parka is actually two separate garments: a 2L GORE-TEX shell cut from recycled nylon and a cardigan-style, biodegradable Primaloft liner. With the liner buttoned in, it’s a standard all-in-one heater. But should the temperature rise - in April, perhaps - just drop the liner and you have a high-quality retro shell. Need more versatility? It’s unisex. Need less? You’re at the wrong coat, friend.
In our testing, the Outdoors Coat stood out for its everyday wearability. It’s missing a beat style-wise, but its wide cut and moderate insulation made it easier to work into existing fall/winter fits than most other parkas. A hoodie under the Outdoors Coat made for comfy, all-weather going through the 45° F rain that defines Anthropocene winters - and when I stepped inside, it wasn’t a race to undress. Add in the fact that it’s one of the first Primaloft Bio pieces to hit the market, and Norrøna’s modular midweight becomes downright intriguing. Collectors and conservations alike should give it a closer look.
The Cool Kid Cold Killer
Toronto’s storied Canada Goose went from national treasure to National Treasure to 2010s mega-brand faster than you can say “duck duck.” While fickle winds may have blown the brand’s iconic patch off of many city sidewalks, Goose is still turning out some absolute heaters. Case in point: this season’s CG x Y/Project Constable Jacket.
The Constable - a four-pocket utility parka originally developed alongside Canada’s Northern Police and Special Forces - is one of the brand’s better-known silhouettes. But in the hands of Paris-based Y/Project, it’s just wet clay. The result of their pinching and prodding is a hunched, asymmetric construction straight off of Quasimodo; a touch of torment on top of an ultra-functional jacket. Throw in the Constable’s swishy signature side zips, and it’s almost too cool. Surprisingly, it’s not too warm.
To be certain, this is a massive parka. Stuffings of down and Canada Goose’s signature cotton-poly shell protect wearers from the cold. But here, it’s bearable - bad in rain and above 50° F, but great on clear nights you can feel the temperature dropping. You wouldn’t want to run stairs in it. But then again, why would you? It’s 2022. The vaccine is out. You’re in line at Berghain. And everyone around you is wearing this coat.
Constable Parka Coat
Y/Project x Canada Goose
For When It’s Mad Chilly
Holden Outerwear is the original tasteful technical brand. Founded in 2002 by pro snowboarder Mike LeBlanc, the LA brand rose to prominence throughout the aughts, even garnering its own seasonal Stüssy collab in the early 2010s. Now, after a brief hiatus, Holden is back. Rest assured, The outerwear is there, too.
Holden’s Long Down Parka is an oversized, A-cut insulator that certainly lives up to its name. The jacket’s face is made from an Italian-milled cotton/nylon blend treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating, so like the Goose, it isn’t a great option in the wet. But unlike the Goose, Holden’s parka is filled with super potent 850 fill power down. A higher down fill power means more insulating power per weight. And a more insulating power weight means you need less heft for the same warmth.
Styling-wise, the Long Down is a brilliant piece - a combination of Italy’s military-inspired sportswear and Japan’s artful approach to volume. I found its floaty silhouette and soft handfeel immediately wearable with both #outdoorsy fits and the Uniqlo everything I rock day-to-day. The price tag makes it a hard bite considering it’s unprepared for more than light rain, but hey, that’s LA for you.
For When It’s Deadass
As New York as dollar slice and hating James Dolan, the Marmot Mammoth is a GORE-equipped, 700 fill alpine parka infamous for its connection to Big Apple street culture. Because of their supreme warmth, elephantine size, and bold color palette, Mammoths became a must-have circa late 2000s. By 2010, kids Uptown were calling winter ”Biggie season.” There’s real. Then there’s really real.
Sadly, the hype turned to tragedy. In 2013, lust for Biggies led to two fatal shootings, both directly over the victim’s jacket. Paragon Sports, the Biggie’s exclusive retailer, pulled the product because - come on, man. Stop the violence.
After a few years away from Gotham, the Biggie came back - first as a 2018 Opening Ceremony Collab, then in 2019, through the famous racks at Paragon. This 2020 edition has all the oversized charm of the O.G., and even comes in a range of hyper-dipped flavors like the Enamel Blue we tested. Plus, at $575, it’s one of the cheaper GORE-and-down parkas out there. Despite its tainted history, the Mammoth is an awesome winter piece, especially for the wet cold of New York City. Just don’t forget your Timbs.
The Juggernaut, Bitch
There are absolute units. And then there’s Absolute Zero.
Mountain Hardwear’s Absolute Zero Parka is a sledgehammer - a bull moose drunk on fermented apples crashing its way through the Centigrade. Packed with literal pounds of 800 fill Allied down, this waterproof, windproof, welded-seam power armor haunts George Costanza’s nightmares. I love it deeply and emotionally. Perhaps because it just can’t be worn.
Seriously: this thing is unbearably, sweating-just-putting-it-on warm. Forget about a breeze or a drizzle cooling you down. This is a jacket made for climbing mountains whose Wikipedia pages list “notable deaths.” Even in the crucible of 2020 New York City winter - a 4-hour wait for a Covid test - it overperforms. Better yet, it looks the part.
Aesthetically, the Absolute Zero is the parka at the end of the universe. With a utility belt’s worth of dangly bits and more logos than a Borderlands gun, this hulking, contrast-paneled beast looks exactly how a big chonk should. Worn open with black jeans and Hoka Tor’s, it radiates outdoors-y cool to a degree like no other parka this season. Worn closed, it just irradiates you.
Don’t get the Absolute Zero. But like, totally get the Absolute Zero.