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7 Things to Know Before You Go Winter Coat Shopping

A couple dressed in winter coats and hats holding hands and walking in the snow.
Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Fall technically lasts until December 21, but in many parts of the country, it already feels like winter’s coming in hot (or cold, rather). Do you have a coat that can handle the season?

Depending on how you feel about a fashion, your winter coat can be a practical closet staple, or a chance to make a statement whenever you leave the house. No matter how invested you are in its appearance, though, a good winter coat is a necessity if you live in a cold climate.

Fortunately, due to the growth of popular high-end brands, like Canada Goose, you have more options (and a higher price range) than ever before.

However, with so many choices, how do you narrow them down? And is a coat really worth $1,000?

Here’s what you need to know before you invest in a coat to keep you warm and toasty this winter—and beyond!

Choose the Right Materials

The most important question to ask yourself when you’re coat shopping is, “What’s it made of?”

This doesn’t matter as much for spring and fall coats and jackets because you don’t need as much protection from the weather. In the winter, however, the material a coat is made of can make or break it.

Eddie Bauer learned this lesson the hard way before he invented the world’s first puffer coat in 1936. Back then, even outdoors enthusiasts like Bauer didn’t have coats that were both waterproof and insulated. After his outerwear got soaked during a wintertime fishing trip, Bauer almost died of hypothermia. However, it gave him the idea for a quilted, down-filled coat.

Down remains one of the top materials for wintertime warmth. However wool and synthetic fill materials (if you prefer to avoid animal products) also work well. Do make sure the exterior of the coat is waterproof, though—even high-quality fill materials will do you no good if they get wet.

A coat’s label tells you everything you need to know about its materials. Keep in mind that while some name brands are made of high-quality materials, cheaper brands can be, too. Don’t just shop based on brand—always check the label to see what you’re really buying.

Need a fancier, non-puffer coat for formal occasions? Look for wool with a minimum of other materials blended in. It won’t be totally waterproof, but it will keep you warm and looking good!

Check the Fill Power

Down coats—as well as comforters and other items filled with down—have something called “fill power.”

The fill power number corresponds to the quality level of the down. This doesn’t tell you how warm a coat will be, but it does tell you something about how well its down will insulate.

The warmth of down comes from the air space the fluffy material creates. Down with a high fill power can be packed tightly, and then fluff back up for maximum warmth.

A coat with high fill power is lightweight, and you can easily pack it into a compressed shape without losing warmth when you put it back on. This is why high fill power coats are so popular with serious outdoor enthusiasts.

However, high fill power also translates to high cost. If you don’t need to pack your coat, you can get a warm one with a lower fill power.

Check for a Temperature Rating

A temperature rating is a much better measure than fill power of how warm a coat will be.

Unfortunately, not all companies give their coats temperature ratings. Those that do definitely make shopping for a winter coat much easier, though!

First, see what the average winter temperature is in your area, and then shop for a coat rated for that temperature or lower—you’ll be comfortable throughout the season!

Examine the Details

A man wearing a winter coat and hat outside, pouring a drink from a thermos into a mug.
Anatoliy Karlyuk/Shutterstock

The details on a winter coat might be more functional than just making it look nice. Some play an important role in how warm you’ll be—and how long the coat will last.

For example, a coat with a zipper instead of buttons does a much better job of protecting you from the cold winter air. A coat with a high-quality zipper also lasts longer and won’t need as many repairs. A coat with a flap that covers the zipper is even better at trapping warmth. However, if you do choose a coat with buttons, you might want to ask for some extras in case one falls off.

Drawstrings at the bottom or waist of a coat also help lock in the heat, and fur-trimmed hoods add an extra level of warmth around your face. Some coats come with removable hoods or linings, so you can adjust your coat’s warmth according to the weather.

Find the Best Fit

For most people, winter coats should be one size larger than your clothing size. You want it to cover your body completely and leave enough room for layers beneath.

Plus, a coat that’s too tight is more likely to rip along a seam before the season is out.

Shop Form and Function

If you care about style, you’ll have to weigh a coat’s appearance versus its functionality.

For example, winter coats in white or light colors look glamorous, but they’re hard to keep clean if you wear them every day. It’s much easier to find a pretty coat than it is to find one that’s warm, durable, and attractive.

However, if you put in the time to find a coat that offers both fashion and function, you’ll be glad when the lowest temps of the season hit.

Consider the Washing Options

Whether your coat is snow-white or mud-brown, you’re going to have to wash it, eventually.

Many nice winter coats are machine-washable, but plenty are dry clean only. You generally don’t have to wash a winter coat more than once or twice a season, unless its color is too light to hide the dirt.

When it’s time to wash, though, can you live without your coat for a few days while it’s at the cleaners? If not, look for one you can toss in the washing machine.

If a coat’s machine washable, it should be good to go in the dryer, too. However, if you choose a puffer, make sure you toss a couple of clean tennis balls in the dryer along with it. This will keep the fill from bunching up on one side of your coat while it tumbles around in the dryer.


For those who are blessed to live in balmy winter climates, a winter coat isn’t a necessity. For the rest of us, though, a nice winter coat can make or break the season. If you haven’t bought a winter coat yet, they’re already starting to go on sale, as stores prepare to bring in spring inventory.

So, keep this guide handy, and you’ll walk out with a coat that’ll see you through the New Year, and beyond.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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