What is the best jacket for cold weather?
A great winter jacket should be insulated and waterproof, or at least water-repellent.
To determine how waterproof a winter coat is, look for its hydrostatic head rating, which rates how waterproof the outer material is in millimetres. 1,500mm and above is waterproof and good for most wet conditions, 10,000mm and above is highly waterproof and great for mountain conditions and snow. If you're buying a winter jacket for outdoor use, we'd recommend spending extra to get one with 10,000mm of waterproofing, or one that uses recognised waterproofing technology, such as Gore-Tex or Nikwax Analogy.
Think about how and where you plan to use your jacket. The warmest winter coats, suitable for freezing cold dog walks or working outdoors, are highly insulated with down or synthetic materials. If you're getting active, choose something more breathable, ideally with underarm zips for ventilation. Shorter jacket-style coats are best for sports, longer parka-style coats offer more warmth. Don't forget that you'll probably want to layer up underneath your new coat - try on jackets in person if possible, to get the right fit, and look for a coat with room to layer underneath and that doesn't feel restrictive when you move.
All about warmth? An insulated jacket that is lined with either down or synthetic insulation is your best choice. Note that down and synthetic insulated jackets aren't always fully waterproof (so you'll need to wear a waterproof shell jacket on top in heavy rain) but some are water resistant or fully waterproof, and are thus a more versatile pick when it comes to coats for winter.
If you're choosing an insulated jacket to fight off the winter weather, check what the insulation is made from. The two options are down or synthetic insulation. Down is usually lighter and can be warmer, but isn't always ethically sourced. Increasingly, synthetic insulation performs just as well as down, and is more effective at keeping you warm when wet. If you do choose animal down, look for a jacket lined with traceable, humanely produced down.
Whichever style you choose in a winter coat look for plentiful pockets, a well-fitting hood and a good-quality zip. If you'll be using your new jacket for climbing, mountaineering or cycling, pick one with a helmet-compatible hood. Skier or snowboarder? Snowsports jackets tend to be warm, waterproof and breathable, so if you're heading to the mountains this season it could be worth investing in just one great jacket to see you through winter everywhere from pistes to the pub.
Top ten best winter jackets
North Face Gotham men's jacket | £480
Best for: Extreme temperatures
Our top down jacket for men on test, the excellent Gotham is expensive, but worth every penny if you need a truly winterproof jacket that can tackle serious cold or long hours spent outdoors. Plenty of down keeps things cosy, the outer material is waterproofed with Gore-Tex and the jacket is reasonably breathable, too. There are plenty of pockets and the hood is comfortable and well-cut, with a detachable fur trim. The only downside is that the Gotham is just too warm for spring temperatures - save it for use on the chilliest days of the year.
Kathmandu Styper women's jacket | £199
Best for: A perfect fit
Kathmandu's newest version of the Styper jacket is warm, waterproof and windproof enough to deal with the foulest weather. We liked how easily it is to adjust the Styper's hood, hem and cuffs for the perfect heat-trapping fit, and there's other great attention to detail here, including a two-way zip, great pockets protected by storm flaps and a high collar lined with fleece that protects your face from the elements. Synthetic insulation keeps things cosy without adding bulk and keeps cold air out, and the outer fabric is fully waterproof. Top marks, and for a fair price at a smidge under £200.
Protest Letton men's jacket | £90
Best for: Getting active
This slim-fitting down jacket makes a great warm outer coat but also works as a mid layer if temperatures are truly Baltic. The main body of the Letton jacket is quilted with synthetic insulation, but panels under the arms are designed with a stretchy softshell material, making the jacket feel flexible and easy to move in. The hip-skimming length of the Letton works well when with a backpack, too. If you're climbing, hiking or mountaineering this winter and need a coat that's warm but breathable when you're getting active, this is a great pick, although this coat isn't waterproof, so you'll need to pop a shell on top in a storm.
Maier Sports Dammkar women's jacket | £346
Best for: Skiers
Maier Sports' Dammkar jacket looks and feels excellent quality, and boasts fantastic performance to match. The Dammkar is delightfully lightweight and unrestrictive to wear, but still delivers warmth from built-in Primaloft insulation - just pull it on to feel instantly cosy. The soft, woven outer material is waterproof to 20,000mm, and also proves highly breathable when you're working up a sweat. The Dammkar also doubles up as a technical ski jacket, with an easily adjustable neck and hood and great inner cuffs, and the cut is generous without being too roomy. Top marks all round - this is the perfect jacket for fast-paced skiers who want a coat they can wear at home, too.
Arc'teryx Therme men's parka | £550
Best for: City wear
Like a longer-length coat to keep more of your body warm? Look no further than the excellent Therme parka from Arc'Teryx. Its subtle looks and muted colourways make it ideal for city wear and commuting as well as outdoor use. Despite its smart exterior, this a also a highly technical winter jacket, insulated with goose down on the torso and the sleeves for warmth and with synthetic materials everywhere else to cut weight and give more breathability. We loved the lining of the Therme, which is quilted and feels like you're wearing a down jacket inside your outer coat. The outer material of the coat is fully waterproofed with Gore-Tex, and the bulky high collar is great for keeping your face warm in a blizzard.
Moose Knuckles Knowlesville women's jacket | £865
Best for: Splashing the cash
If only the very best will do for your winter wear, plump for this extremely luxe down jacket from cult Canadian brand Moose Knuckles. The finest duck down provides more than enough warmth on the bitterest days and the wide hood is lined with lambswool - fancy. The Knowlesville's outer material is only rated as water resistant, but we found it could face up to rain and snow without issues. Yes, this is a jacket at a silly price, and you could get a great coat for far less, but if you're travelling to the Arctic circle on a winter adventure or just want to look seriously flash while staying cosy, this duvet-like jacket might be worth the splurge.
Decathlon Forclaz Travel 100 3-in-1 men's jacket | £35
Best for: Best on a budget
You get a serious amount of bang for your buck with Decathlon's Forclaz jacket. The 3-in-1 in its name refers to the fact that the inner fleece lining of this functional coat zips out, so you can wear it or the shell jacket alone or both together, making the Forclaz ideal for winter travels when you're packing light. The jacket is waterproof to 2,000mm, and so is only suitable for light rain, but it's definitely warm and insulated enough to compete with far more expensive jackets on test. Definitely worth snapping up at just £35.
Seasalt Plant Hunter women's jacket | £140
Best for: Casual use
If you're after a super warm, waterproof coat that's still smart enough to wear to work, pick the Plant Hunter - Seasalt's lovely longer-length coat is ideal if you want more coverage than a short jacket. It's waterproofed with Nikwax for wet weather, sports a great cosy fleece-lined hood and is lined with a thick cotton that feels comfortable against the skin. The boxy cut means there's plenty of room to layer underneath. This is one of the warmest jackets we tested and isn't breathable enough for high-paced sports, but for walking and general winter use it's a great choice.
Fjallraven Greenland men's winter jacket | £300
Best for: The eco-conscious
Retro looks meet bang-up-to-date technology in Fjallraven's high-performing and handsome Greenland jacket. The teddy lining of the Greenland is definitely the softest and comfiest to wear of all the jackets we tested, and feels very comforting on freezing days. This jacket is an eco-friendly choice, too, made using recycled polyester and organic cotton. The outer material of the jacket is rendered weatherproof with Fjallraven's Greenland wax, which is also a planet-friendly waterproofing choice and is easy to top up at home. The Greenland jacket has been an outdoor classic keeping outdoorsy types warm and dry since the seventies, and for good reason.
Eider The Rocks 3.0 women's jacket | £275
Best for: Snow
This smart jacket is that elusive thing - a ski and snow-friendly jacket that you can also use as a versatile all-rounder all winter long. The Rocks is cut beautifully, with enough room for layering underneath but a slim enough fit to trap warmth in without restricting your movement. Eider's own Defender waterproof membrane technology is highly water- and snow-proof and rain simply beads off the surface, and toasty E-loft insulation will keep you cosy even when the mercury drops below zero. The practical hood is snug and stays put even in high winds, and that faux fur trim is removable if you don't fancy looking like an Arctic explorer.