Posted on November 15, 2012 under General, Trip Planning Resources
Puffy Jackets

Dressing warmly for Alaska

Northern Alaska is one of the few places where the term “Summer Parka” is not an oxymoron. Both Inupiaq and Yupik Eskimo languages have a word for Summer Parka. While most of our nation swelters in July and August, we on the arctic coast sit snug in our puffy jackets. But which puffy parka is best for your trip to Alaska? The choices are many so I asked a neighbor (not your average neighbor; one who spends months in Antarctica in the winter, and the rest of the year in Alaska), who has a puffy parka for everyday of the week which ones she liked the best.

Before I tout her favorite brands, or reveal my purchasing bias, I should say that we both agreed on the basic elements of the ideal winter jacket to wear for summer.

#1 – Simplicty – Look for a jacket without too many bells and whistles. Not only do they make the jacket unnecessarily heavy but some of those doodads really hurt when the wind whips them around and they whack you in the face.

#2 – Durability – Solid zippers, quality stitching and a shell fabric that isn’t gossamer thin. You don’t need it for commercial logging but it should survive an armload of firewood brought back to camp.

#3 – Warmth (of course) – A puffy jacket should be warm enough that you can hang-out in camp after dinner and enjoy the rich evening light without having to run for your sleeping bag. Many puffy jackets are marketed as a garment you can wear while exerting yourself. Skip those and get something warm enough for a blizzard. Fill weight of around 4 oz is a decent benchmark for warmth.

#4 – Down – Yes it could get wet, and yes there are some great synthetic materials, but down is warm and light and perfectly suited for the arctic.

#5 – Hoods – A must in any warm jacket. I wouldn’t consider a parka without one.

#6-Length-A cropped jacket looks good, but you dont’ need a cold wind blowing up your back every time you lean over. Consider how the length of the jacket fits your torso.

So which jackets are going to be best for a northerly gale on the Arctic Coast this summer? Try one of these:

Montbell makes solid down-filled parkas and the “Alpine Light” is a good compromise between weight and warmth.

Patagonia has a well made “Down Sweater” that has kept me warm in many a chill wind.

Mountain Hardware also makes a good jacket the “Phantom”. (Get the one with the hood).

or if you want to go big and make sure you will be warm even in the worst fall weather Patagonia’s Das Parka is a good choice. It isn’t down, but since Cloudveil went out of business, we think this is the best super warm summer parka out there.

Let us know your favorites. We certainly haven’t tried them all.

By Michael Wald – Co-owner and guide