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Selecting a Winter Jacket

Links to Selecting a Winter Jacket
Types of JacketsJacket Fit & SizeOuterwear Insulations
Jacket RatingsOuterwear Fabrics & FinishesJacket Features

Whether you're gearing up for your favorite winter sport, like skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing, or preparing for another extreme outdoor activity like hiking or rock climbing, choosing the best jacket for your needs is one of the most important elements of planning. A high-quality winter jacket should ensure that you remain dry and comfortable, even in the most extreme climates.

Types of Jackets

Before purchasing a new jacket, it is a good idea to learn about all of the outerwear options available. It's important to understand the key components of winter wear, such as the insulation materials, fabrics and finishes.

The three primary outerwear options include non-insulated jackets, insulated jackets, and system jackets, which typically combine the two. All of these provide varying levels of protection from snow, sleet, rain and wind, so it's important to understand the differences among them before making a purchase.

Non-Insulated Jackets

Soft Shell Jackets

  • Stretch-woven jackets that provide comfortable, lightweight warmth
  • Generally water and wind resistant
  • Can be worn alone in mild weather or serve as an extra layer in the cold
  • Require the addition of a waterproof outer garment for wear in heavy rain or snow

Fleece Jackets

  • Typically made of synthetic fibers that are loosely knit for warmth and softness
  • Degree of warmth is proportional to the jacket's weight
  • Best used for moderate activity in mild or cold environments
  • Good to use as a layering piece under a water or wind resistant jacket
  • Great mid layer piece in cold conditions and most effective when paired with an outlet layer

Shell Jackets

  • Lightweight, water-resistant or waterproof jackets
  • Provide a single layer of protection against the effects of moisture and wind
  • Shells can be used alone in mild temperatures or worn over soft shells or fleece in harsher weather
  • Best for customers who prefer to build customized layers for specific activities

Insulated Jackets

Insulated jackets are essentially lined shells that are filled with a specialized material that can trap body heat and keep you warm. The outer portion of insulated jackets can range from being water-resistant to waterproof and breathable with all seams sealed, and they can be filled with a wide variety of materials, both natural and synthetic. Insulated jackets are best in cold temperatures and for moderate to high energy activity.

Down Insulated Jackets

  • Generally water-resistant or waterproof shells that are insulated with the fluffy undercoating of ducks or geese
  • Down is the best natural insulator
  • Efficiency is measured in terms of "fill power", which indicates the amount of space taken up by one ounce of down in a particular garment
  • Typically come in two weights:

Sweater Weight

  • Usually higher loft (700-800 fill)
  • Smaller baffles
  • Great in cold temperatures for low to moderate activity
  • Can be used effectively as a mid-layer item

Traditional Weight

  • Usually lower loft (400-500 fill)
  • Larger baffles
  • Great in arctic temperatures and low energy activities

3-in-1 System Jackets

3-in-1 System Jackets feature multiple components that can be zipped together to form a single garment for cold climates or used separately in milder climates.

  • Typically include some type of water resistant outer shell and insulated jacket
  • Very versatile because you can use in a variety of temperatures and activities
  • Offered in all water protection categories
  • Inner liners zip off for flexibility when wearing in different weather conditions

Jacket Fit & Size

Once you determine what type of winter jacket you want, you need to think about sizing. You want your winter jacket to be comfortable for every outdoor activity, so remember to consider the layers you will be wearing underneath your jacket. The size charts below are a general fit guide for winter jackets, if you're looking for a more detailed and exact size chart, please check the garment's product page for the brand specific size chart.

Outerwear Insulation

Most cold weather activities require insulated outerwear to keep you warm. Determining whether you need an insulated jacket and what type of insulation you require, consider the temperature rating you'll need and the activity level you expect to maintain, as well as what layers you plan on wearing underneath.

If you plan on forgoing layers or expect to ski in cold or severe climates, you'll definitely want a garment with some type of insulation. There are two primary types of insulators, synthetic and natural. Both have different pros and cons, so it's useful to understand their characteristics before making a purchase:


  • Most are polyester and come in a range of weights and lofts
  • Becoming increasingly lighter and warmer due to new technologies
  • Effective even when wet and dry quickly
  • Efficient alternative to down, especially for those who suffer from down allergies
  • Level of warmth is directly proportional to weight and loft
  • Bulkier and not as durable or proficient at moisture wicking as down


  • Down is fluffy undercoating found beneath the feathers of water birds, like elder ducks and geese that acts as a natural insulator in jackets
  • Extremely warm, easily compressible and long lasting
  • Requires special cleaning but with proper care, a good down jacket can generally outlast a synthetic one
  • Natural moisture-wicking ability, which helps you dry and enhances breathability
  • Dries much slower and can trigger allergies

Jacket Ratings

At DICK'S Sporting Goods, we make it fast and easy for our customers to zero in on the best winter jacket for their needs by using a clear rating system that assesses each garment for two key comfort factors: water protection and temperature rating. Our customers can reference this information on handy fact tags, which are attached to every jacket we sell. For example:

Water Protection indicates the ability of the garment to keep the wearer dry. Our outerwear garments are rated either water resistant, offering minimal protection in wet conditions; waterproof and breathable with critical seams sealed, offering greater protection; or waterproof and breathable with all seams sealed, providing the greatest protection in wet environments.

Temperature Rating reflects the level of warmth the garment can provide. Our garments are either rated for Mild Temperatures for activities like walking the dog, commuting and attending sporting events; Cold Temperatures for recreational snow activities like sled riding and snow tubing; or Arctic Temperatures for snow sports in colder climates like snowboarding, snowshoeing and skiing.

Note that these ratings are only guidelines - warmth and comfort levels will fluctuate based on the level of activity you maintain. They often vary from one person to another.

Outerwear Fabrics and Finishes

Most snow jackets are made of tightly woven nylon or polyester, both of which are inherently lightweight, durable, water-repellent and wind-resistant. Ultimately, the goal of these outer materials is to provide sustainable protection from water and wind.

Water Protection

Whether you're an experienced skier or a newbie, one of the most important things you can do to ensure your comfort and safety on the slopes is to stay dry - regardless of falls, precipitation and perspiration. The only way to achieve this is to select outerwear that offers a combination of water protection, to keep snow and rain out, and breathability, to allow perspiration vapors to escape.

Seeing as there are several different levels of water protection available, it is important to understand the distinctions before making a selection. Below are some quick definitions of common water protection terms:

Water-Repellant Fabrics

  • Typically synthetic materials that are tightly woven and sometimes chemically treated with a Durable Water Repellant (DWR) to resist water
  • Provide minimal protection against rain and snow
  • Lose effectiveness after prolonged or heavy exposure to rain

Water-Resistant Fabrics

  • Typically maintain water protection for longer periods of time
  • Some manufacturers use water-repellant and water-resistant interchangeably, which can lead to confusion among consumers
  • When in doubt, always refer to a product's numeric waterproof rating

Waterproof Fabrics

  • Synthetic materials that are tightly woven and chemically treated with a Durable Water Repellant (DWR) to be impervious to water
  • Unlike water-repellant and water-resistant fabrics, waterproof fabrics will maintain their water protection properties even after prolonged exposure to rain, sleet or snow

Breathable Fabrics

  • Allow water vapor generated by perspiration to escape, keeping the wearer dry and comfortable
  • Many natural fabrics, like cotton and wool, are naturally breathable
  • Most synthetic fabrics, like nylon and polyester, must be specially constructed or treated to enable breathability

Waterproof and breathable fabrics are made by applying specialized laminates, tightly woven synthetic fibers. The resulting fabrics have pores that are significantly smaller than a drop of water, but far larger than a molecule of vapor. As a result, outerwear made from these materials effectively prevents moisture from the outside from penetrating the material, while enabling perspiration vapor generated inside to escape.

Windproof Fabrics

  • Typically made of synthetic fibers that are woven together so tightly that they do not allow wind to pass through with any speed.

Moisture Wicking Fabrics

  • Designed to absorb perspiration
  • Transfer moisture helping to enhance the wearer's warmth and comfort

Sealed Seams

Sealed Seams are seams that are covered with waterproof tape to ensure that no water can penetrate the tiny thread holes and enter the garment.

Waterproof and Breathable with Critical Seams

  • Refers to outerwear that is constructed of a waterproof and breathable fabric
  • Seams considered to be necessary to maintain dryness in a jacket
  • Critical seams generally include those in the shoulders, chest and sleeves.

Waterproof and Breathable with All Seams Sealed

  • Indicates a type of outerwear that is constructed of a waterproof and breathable fabric
  • Every seam is sealed
  • These jackets are considered fully waterproof

Winter Jacket Features

Many jackets offer special construction features designed to let you adjust your garment to changes in your activity level and shifting weather demands.

  • Interchangeable Components, including zip-apart liners and shells, can be worn together or separately, giving the wearer the flexibility of three separate jackets.
  • Detachable or Fold-Up Hoods can be snapped or zipped into place during active snow or rain to keep your head dry. These hoods can also be removed when not needed.
  • Zipper Vents in the underarm or chest areas of the jacket can be opened to provide additional ventilation.
  • Storm Flaps fold over or snap down to conceal the gaps in zipper teeth, helping to block the wind and cold.
  • Adjustable Cuffs snap down and offer hook-and-loop strip closures on the sleeves, creating a seal between your gloves and jacket that prevents snow, ice and wind from penetrating.
  • Internal Hem Adjustments/Adjustable Powder Skirts are elasticized bands or cords threaded through the jacket lining that can be drawn or released from the inside to tighten the lining and keep the elements at bay.
  • Articulation/Radial Sleeves/Gussets employ a special construction of the shoulder and underarm panels that create more space in the shoulder area of the jacket, allowing for greater ease of movement.
  • Arms-Up Construction consists of special gussets in the underarm area that keeps the jacket from "riding up" when the wearer lifts his or her arms, thereby offering greater mobility and more efficient protection from wind and cold.
  • Optic Cloths for cleaning your ski goggles are a useful feature built into the front pocket of many snow jackets.
  • Radio/Cell Phone Pockets are ideally sized and located to hold your small electronic communications device for quick and easy access.
  • Music Pockets are tailored to hold your portable music player. They feature a special headphone routing port that enables you to listen to your favorite tunes while keeping your device safe and dry.
  • Goggle Pockets are the perfect spot to store your goggles when not in use.
  • Lift Ticket D-Rings provide a convenient and hands-free way to secure and display lift tickets.
  • Large pulls attached to zippers make it easy to open and close your jacket and to adjust your vents while wearing bulky gloves.