What is the Difference Between a Parka and a Jacket?

With autumn and winter around the corner, it's time to start choosing warmer clothes and outerwear. Getting a solid coat is essential to make sure you stay warm and avoid getting sick. 

Two of the more popular choices are the parka and jacket. Though they look similar, there are differences between the two. Aside from the visual appearance, they also serve different purposes when it comes to performance. 

This quick breakdown of each article, where and when you would normally wear them, and what makes for a quality item will get you started on picking the best option. 

If you want to know which one is right for you, or you want to be informed on the difference between parka and jacket, stay tuned!

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hiking in parkas

What is a Parka?

A parka is a long coat with good insulation. The length of the parka is for warmth. The idea was to protect as much of the body as possible from extreme weather conditions. 

The parka also has a fur lining on the hood. The type of fur can be different from parka to parka. Depending on which brand you go with and the asking price, the fur may be faux or real. 

The padding inside the parka is either down or synthetic feathers, sometimes wool, which provides insulation and warmth. This factor also depends on the brand that you buy from and the type of parka you select. 

Parkas are typically made from waterproof materials to keep the wearers warm and dry at all times, no matter the temperature. Most often, parkas got worn in the Arctic because of the constant frigid weather.
hiking jacket

What is a Jacket?

A jacket, on the other hand, has a more lightweight design. It also can keep you warm, but it isn't necessarily long. You can also buy a jacket for use in other seasons besides winter because they vary in thickness.

You can get a jacket in various lengths, depending on the reason you bought it. Jackets come in different materials like nylon, wool, polyester, denim, cotton, leather, and more. 

Jackets also come in numerous styles and shapes. Some have hoods, no hoods, and the list goes on. So you could say that jackets are more versatile in this regard. 

Differences Between a Parka and a Jacket

Aside from the visual appearance, what makes a parka and a jacket different from one another? Let's break down the other aspects.

Length

The first thing mentioned in passing is that the length between the two is not the same consistently. So while you can buy a long jacket, you can also get a short jacket. Parkas, on the other hand, are always long. 

It could seem like just a visual difference, but the extra length that the jacket doesn't have means that your legs won't be as warm if you pick a standard jacket. You will get better protection from cold weather and other elements like rain and strong winds with the parka. 

If you're in the middle of winter or live in a cold state, you probably want to go with the parka to get optimal warmth and coverage.

Materials

Another one of the differences between a parka and a jacket is the materials used to make them. For example, the fur trim on the parka keeps your face warmer than a typical jacket would. 

Jackets don't necessarily have hoods, so you may not have any protection for your ears if you wear just the jacket without earmuffs. 

Parkas come from nylon or polyester usually, which are waterproof materials. Jackets may contain the same materials, but they will be a special jacket, like quilted or a down. 

One positive for the jacket is that it feels lighter against your body than a parka, as it probably isn't as heavy. So, if you experience mild winters or you just want a cute warm layer over your clothes, a jacket may be the best pick. 

Occasion

People don't wear parkas to attend formal events. They wear them strictly for cold weather. As stated before, jackets are more versatile, and you can always find a suitable style to match different types of events and weather.

hiker in the forest

Should I Get a Parka or a Jacket?

The consensus is that parkas are warmer than jackets because they cover more of your body, and they have better insulation as a whole. That's not to say that you can't find a really warm jacket, but this just speaks of your typical jacket. 

You may have to worry about your waistline or lower back getting exposed if you get a jacket because jackets usually stop right above your hips or right below them. 

So what are the downsides to parkas? For starters, they are heavier, bigger, and bulkier. They are also difficult to carry if you're packing a couple to take into the backcountry. 

Moreover, for those who enjoy mountaineering and climbing, the extra length can obstruct your access to your climbing gear and your harness. Jackets are better suited for excursions such as these. 

Lastly, the hood of a large parka can form an uncomfortable lump against your loaded pack when not in use.

Another aspect to consider when choosing between parkas and jackets is creating a tight seal around your waist. If you can not do this, cold air will enter into and force the warm air out. This is especially true if there are gaps around the neck area. 

Thankfully, most parkas and jackets virtually always have an elastic drawstring at and around the bottom of the hem. However, getting an acceptable seal around your upper thighs and the lower backside is still a challenge. For this reason, lots of parkas will feature a separate internal drawstring, particularly for the waist.

Additional Considerations

If you find yourself skiing, hiking, or snowshoeing, you'll only use your jacket or parka when you're in camp, stopped, or resting. You will most likely overheat quite quickly if you wear one during travel. 

At any rate, you may want to consider buying a fitting garment that enables you to throw it on quickly over all of your layers of clothing.

Remember that parkas and jackets are simply the layer of clothing on the outside of a full winter clothing ensemble. Your base layers and mid-layers make a considerable difference in the level of warmth that you can achieve.

Price

Most parkas and jackets that are super-warm will use down for insulation. This kind of insulation can last for decades at a time without losing any levels of warmth. 

The prices for a quality parka can vary drastically, ranging anywhere from $300 to more than $1,000 for the best gear. However, if you wish to have a more durable option, expect to pay between $250 to $500.

On average, jackets will cost you a little less but not by any significant amount.

Waterproof and Windproof

If having a coat that is both windproof and waterproof is on your wish list, you won't go wrong choosing a jacket or a parka. Just be sure to examine its materials, construction quality, and exterior coating.

Any waterproof jacket or parka should be equipped with a DWR coating if they are not made for a quality waterproof fabric and seam-sealed construction. These are the essential features that you are looking for in a parka and a jacket.

Furthermore, be on the lookout for coats that are equipped with waterproof zippers, especially if you're going to be spending a ton of time outside in heavy rain. 

This is doubly important if you're carrying electronics in your pocket, such as your phone.

If you're braving heavy rains, then a cheap zipper will only serve to be useless, and your valuables will all be in jeopardy of being damaged. Instead, look for guard zippers if reliable waterproofing is what you want. Just be mindful that these zippers are rare and only found on high-end coats.

If a coat being windproof is more of a priority for you, examine the other features of the coat as well. A coat with a snap placket feature over the zipper will guarantee that the wind penetrates the coat through the teeth of the zipper.

This is also true for adjustable velcro cuffs and even drawcords at the hem. An authentic windproof coat will have the option to make a seal over every hole, eliminating any hole where air could get in.

Portability and Travel

If portability is essential to you, then a standard jacket may be the best option for you. This is because parkas tend to be bulky, heavy, and big, making it a headache to pack since it takes up so much space.

However, some high-end parkas come equipped with backpack straps inside. Therefore, you have the option to wear your jacket as a backpack, distributing the weight evenly, making it feel much lighter than it is. 

Having to carry a cumbersome parka over your arm for 20 mins or more will put you in an awkward and uncomfortable situation. 

On the other hand, a conventional winter jacket is easy to travel with. You won't have any problems packing and unpacking your classic winter jacket.

Wrap-Up

Jackets and parkas are different both visually and functionally. Ultimately, the length you decide on will determine the level of warmth your parka or jacket has to protect you against the cold. Additionally, the materials will affect how warm you feel when wearing a parka vs. a jacket.

Now that you know the difference between a parka and a jacket, you can now choose which best suits your individual needs!

Andrew Mullen
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